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The Healing of Naaman

A Sermon

O Lord our God, almighty and merciful Father! how long wilt thou delay having mercy on Jerusalem, and the outcasts of thy people? Behold! our city is desolate, and but a ruin remains of thy sanctuary; and thy children are scattered over the face of the earth, without a government, without a shepherd, and many of them are lost among the gentiles, through the length of the captivity and are drawn unto sin, because they listen to the overtures of their adversaries, and worship the strange gods which others worship, as though the hope of Israel were lost and extinguished in the whirlpool of eternity. Whereas  thou, O living God! art the sole Hope of our race, the God whom <<73>>alone we will worship; the true Shepherd, who wilt lead us securely, on rich pastures, the Saviour of Jacob, who wilt in mercy send the redeemer to us to reinstate us in our inheritance, to restore thy law to its ancient power over the heart and affairs of man, to banish all false belief, all vanity from the earth, when all who have spirit will truly see thy glory, and call alone on Thee, and worship none beside Thee, on that glorious day when justice and righteousness will rule the earth, and nation will not lift up sword against nation, and mankind no more learn war. And then will our temple again be the dwelling of thy Name, and offerings will be acceptable to Thee as of old, when Thou wilt abide in our midst, to bless us and all the world with thy peace. Amen.


In the Haphtorah of to-day, taken from the fourth and fifth chapters of the second book of Kings, is told the history of the leper Naaman, the chief officer of the ruler of Syria, who on being informed that the Israelitish prophet had power not granted to any other man, was prevailed upon to visit Samaria, with the permission of his master, to obtain from the man of God that relief from his incurable disease, which he had hoped for in vain from the remedies of the physicians of his own country and belief. Behold him full of doubts and misgivings on his adventurous journey; a Jewish captive maiden had indeed assured his wife that he should of a certainty be cured by the prophet of Samaria; but it might be the boasting of a captive, who reverted back with regret to her native land, where she had sported in innocent mirth among maidens as gleesome as herself, and whose romantic soul covered everything in her lost home with the mantle of a peculiar holiness not appertaining to other lands. It was merely the desperation of hopelessness, perhaps, which induced the valiant soldier to listen to such a wonderful tale; his own priests, the worshippers of his own gods, had no such power, they claimed not to restore a man from leprosy; and why should such a power be inherent in the men of that people over which he had so often triumphed? And, still he had heard of the mighty God of Israel, of the many great deeds which He had wrought in Egypt and Palestine for his people; and how He was supposed by them to be superior to all gods, and all-sufficient to do of himself whatever might be <<74>>pleasing to his will. But again he may have thought, if this God be so great why does He not extend his kingdom over all the earth, which the Israelites allege is the work of his creation? Why does he allow other gods to be worshipped when He is God alone? Again he may have supposed that, granted even that God had power, would He heal one like himself who worshipped Him not? who paid his adoration to what must be false in case the idea of the Hebrews with regard to the Deity were true? And observe farther in our narrative, the general had gone and told the king of Syria of the marvelous story of the maiden; and as potentates of the earth always think their power paramount to all, he at once conceived the idea, that if Naaman could be cured in Samaria it must be through means of the king of Israel, who if even not able to devise the required remedy himself, would to a certainty have the influence with the humble prophet, who had no armed legions to do his will, nor courtiers to flatter his vanity, to do all that he desired.

But for once the worshipper of the calves of Jeroboam felt that he had no ability to do the bidding of the Syrian monarch. “Am I a god,” said he, “to slay and to make alive, that he hath sent unto me to cure a man of his leprosy?” and straightways he imagined that it was a device of the Syrian to seek a mere pretext for renewing the ancient hostilities between Aram and Israel. Yes, the idolatrous king of Samaria rent his garments, so agitated was he at the unexpected message, so horrified was he at the presence of the leper who asked to be restored to health. But what earthly kings cannot achieve, what neither wealth nor station can accomplish, is nevertheless within divine possibility. Nor had the Jewish maiden, who first had spoken of the miraculous gifts of Elisha, in common with others acquainted with the ways of God with man, for a moment thought the power inherent in, or attainable by the ruler, but in the man on whom had fallen a twofold share of the spirit of him who ascended to the abodes of the blessed without passing through the gates of death; and as said, it was only the natural error of the idolater of Damascus, who, because he was all-potent with his priests and soothsayers, imagined the same to be the case with all other religions, so that over its followers everywhere the chief of the state had ample control to mould them to his will, to coerce them to do his <<75>>bidding. But it need not be told you how utterly inapplicable all this is to our religion, which has its source from God, and knows of no authority on earth to which it must render homage, which views all alike who have received life and intellect from the Creator; since even the priests and prophets are not established for their own especial benefit, but that they might render to the people the services which their God conceives will be for the great benefit of all; so that all, whether people or their religious, nay their civil leaders, are included in the one great idea of all being banded to ether to worship the Most High, and promote each other’s greatest happiness. When Elisha therefore had heard that King Joram had rent his garments, he demanded that the Syrian should be sent to him, that he might experience that there was a prophet in Israel, not like the soothsayers of the heathens, who deceived the people by false and pretended revelations, but a true messenger who had received from the Lord the mission to prove the great power of our God, how that He is supreme and alone exalted above all.

Now the Syrian, though suffering from a loathsome disease, had not thereby diminished the least of the pride of his position as leader of the royal army, and he went with his chariots and horses and stood at the door of Elisha’s house, expecting that the prophet should come out to him, lay his hand on the diseased part, call on the name of the Lord, and thus not alone restore him to health, but exhibit to him at once the connexion between the power of God, and the prayer and influence of Elisha. This procedure would have shown Naaman to be a man whose well-being was of importance to the divine economy, and the evident miraculousness of the cure, the solemnity of the prophet’s prayer, in the presence of the chiefs and nobles of Damascus and Samaria, would have been well pleasing to the haughty military commander who came to expect relief, not to look for it in humility. It was therefore with deep chagrin that he received a message merely frorn Elisha, who himself did not deign even to look upon his military visitor, the noise of whose followers, and the tramplings of whose steeds resounded in the street in front of his dwelling. And what was the message? was any great demand made? any deep medical skill displayed? any immediate miracle to be performed? any public prayer to be offered <<76>>up? None of all this was done; but Naaman was ordered to go farther to the east till he reached the banks of the sacred Jordan, and in its waters he was to bathe seven times, neither more nor less, when his flesh should again assume a healthy complexion, and he should be cleansed from the contagion. You can easily picture to yourselves the wrath of the proud soldier, at finding his dignity so thoroughly slighted by the holy man of Samaria. So there was to be no prayer even offered up in his behalf; and who could tell why he bid him to go on that errand? was it perhaps to gain time? was it a mere device because he had no power to act in the case? and why not order him to the beautiful rivers of Damascus, to the lovely Amanah, and the clear Pharpar? were they not far superior to the unpretending rivers of Palestine? what virtue could there be in Jordan which his own streams did not possess? But he forgot all the time, that neither he nor any other man had a right to demand that an unusual cure should be wrought in his behalf: that nothing he had done could entitle him to be exhibited before the world as one for whose restoration signs and wonders should be performed, and that at length, if he would do something to deserve the divine mercy, it must be first by submitting himself entirely and unconditionally to the demands of God, as extended to him by his prophet. It was not then that Elisha had not power to cure by prayer; but it was withheld in order to afford Naaman some slight opportunity to render himself worthy of the blessing for which he solicited; he had not yet learned the worship of the Lord, and he became thus familiarized with the sublime truth, that it is obedience which is demanded, if we wish to be pleasing to God, and that as its reward only can mercy be shown to us. Moreover, though bathing seven times in the Jordan made the wonderfulness of the cure no less evident than any other inadequate means to produce a given cause, still was it employing some natural method, some aid from man himself, through which means the divine blessing could be conferred; and again was Naaman thus taught another important lesson, that man must do something of his own, that he must be active in some shape or other, in order to obtain that assistance from above, without which all labour is vain, and against which nothing can avail. After Naaman had therefore turned away in <<77>>anger, his servants persuaded him not to throw away lightly the promise of divine mercy which the prophet had opened to him. Yes a great thing, the slaying of a thousand steers, the giving away of treasures to any amount, wading through blood of conquered armies, would have appeared insignificant in his sight, if he could only thereby regain his strength; and only the smallness of the trial displeased him even more than the prophet’s own apparent indifference to his suffering. They entreated him then to submit to this little condition; and when thus subdued, lo! he went into the water which he had esteemed so lightly, and barely had the seventh ablution taken place, than his flesh was again like the flesh of a little boy, and he was clean, and the marks of the contagion which had made him shunned, despite of his greatness, were at once removed, in accordance with the conditional promise of the man of God.

Let it be observed that had any priests of falsehood obtained such a triumph over the disease attached to an important personage in the state, it would have been performed under imposing circumstances, with all possible contrivances to lend importance and high sanction to the occasion. Presents too, rich and costly, would have been demanded, not alone received; and the individual actors would have glorified themselves at their unexpected success, for however artfully contrived, there could never be any certainty in any jugglery or trick thus attempted to be consummated. The very absence, however, of Elisha in the present instance, the simplicity of the remedy, the confident tone of the promise, the entire success of the obedience of Naaman, convinced not alone the subject of the cure but the unbelieving Syrians, as well as the sinning Israelites, that the power of the Lord is indeed the irresistible influence which governs the world, and that hence, unless there be another deity of equal ability to work his will with himself, He must be the sole controller of the whole world; but as all the nations of that day worshipped a multitude of divinities, all of which partook of the nature of finite beings, and were even, according to their priests, under the influence of uncontrollable chance, and since from this consideration they could not predict, nor cause others to predict with certainty what was to occur; and whereas Elisha had clearly pointed out an unusual means to effect a given purpose, and <<78>>predicted to a certainty all the occurrences as they took place, and this all based upon the will of God: Naaman came justly to the conclusion, that as the God of Elisha had thus proved his ability to effect his purpose, and had so clearly defined how it was to be accomplished, it proved that He must be uncontrolled by any other power, and is in fact the sole God in all the earth. And so say the Scriptures,

ויבא אל איש האלהים הוא וכל מחנהו ויבא ויעמד לפניו ויאמר הנה נא ידעתי כי אין אלהים בכל הארץ כי אם בישראל׃

“And he returned unto the man of God, he with all his camp, and he came and stood before him, and said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.”

What first he had heard in anger and derision had now proved to him that with God all is possible, and that, however nothing he had done to deserve the mercy shown unto him, it was now made evident unto him, that when God desires to bless, no one can stay Him, and no circumstance, however slight, will be ineffectual to effect his almighty purposes, the moment it is his intention to bless or to punish; and he left Samaria with different feelings from those with which he had entered it, and he resolved henceforward to be a follower of the true God, and when making sacrifices, to do so only unto Him, whose are the majesty and the glory, and the dominion of all the world.

Perhaps it may be asked why so much undeserved kindness was shown to Naaman, especially as nothing farther is said of him in the subsequent passages of the Bible. But without going very deeply into the subject, it would be enough to answer in general terms, that we must apply here also, as on other occasions, the words which the Lord himself taught unto Moses when asking for a knowledge of the ways of God: “And I will be gracious unto him to whom I will be gracious, and I will have mercy on him to whom I will show mercy.”

It is, in other words, the province of our Father alone to determine who is to be blessed, and also to cause it to have a permanent influence on the affairs of the world at large. We may not, indeed, have any knowledge or conception even how any one occurrence, for instance this one of Naaman, may or can affect mankind in general; but for all that there may have been a great necessity in the fearful demoralization of that age, as it was in the preceding one <<79>>through Elijah’s miracles, to teach the Israelites, as the depositaries of the law—the great truths which Moses had first handed down to the assembled people. Fearful inroads had the various systems of idolatry made upon the simple religion of the Bible; the Israelites had adopted the vagaries of the heathen mythologies, and the observance of the commandments fell daily more in abeyance. It mattered not then so much who the instruments that were made the cause of arresting the total extinction of religion were, as that such were raised up for the wisest of purposes, by the most benevolent of all beings; and that they were so various, from the poor man who had to borrow an axe to chop down a tree, to the general of Benhadad’s army,—from the simple female of Shunem to the valiant king of Israel, only confirmed the more thoroughly the many who yet adhered to the truth, that they would not be forsaken themselves, and that the God whom they adored and the religion which they followed would for ever remain the inheritance of their people, and that nothing done by them within, and nothing done by others from without would ever obliterate the belief in the sole Creator from the hearts of their latest descendants, or let the law perish from out of their mouth.

Whatever God has created is for his glory; and hence those whom He deems so are the most fitting to carry out his benevolent views. If, then, to our apprehension even they are not the most suitable, we ought to be very cautious how we allow ourselves to sin by impugning the wisdom of which we cannot understand the very beginning; and that the actors in these great events appear but once on the scene, is not to assert that they were useless. The example needed was one of a peculiar kind, we may assume; and it having been given, its repetition was not needed, and the actors also required not to be dwelt upon in the future development of the history of the world. The Bible, let it be remembered, was not written for our amusement, or to satisfy our curiosity, but to instruct us in the way of life; and the healing of Naaman is accordingly complete in itself, and teaches the lessons which we have already touched upon, and which we will now recapitulate in a connected form.

First, whatever afflicts us is a divine dispensation: Naaman’s disease was evidently within the divine cognizance, and consequently we must not imagine that we are neglected or forsaken of God, if <<80>>the pleasant current of our days is interrupted, and sickness and its pain invade our domicil.

Secondly, that all our cures are in the hands of Him who afflicts us; consequently we should always hope that we shall be relieved from all our sorrows, so soon as divine mercy deems the end of our trials has arrived.

Thirdly, that we are permitted to use human remedies and natural means to restore ourselves to health; but we must never forget when so applying them, that they can only be efficacious when blessed by God, but that otherwise the skill of the physician is exhausted in vain, and no balm can heal the wound against which the decree has gone forth that it should hasten the sufferer’s end.

Fourthly, that in order to obtain the blessing of God, we must relinquish all our preconceived opinions of what we may deem right and proper, but should assiduously endeavour to submit without question and reluctance to what religion teaches us, in order that God may bless us and accomplish the desires of our heart. It was said to Naaman, “Bathe thyself and become cleansed;” and the healing which he obtained was as the immediate consequence of his fulfilling what he had in this respect been told was the will of God.

And, fifthly, that the power of God is unlimited by what we call impossibilities and contradictions; with Him the will and the power are inseparably connected, and no matter what the conditions of the case may be, the ability of the Lord to effect his will is not in the slightest degree abridged. Men speak of impossibilities, because they soon feel the extent of their power; they speak of their not knowing, because they speedily discover the limit which their wisdom can attain; they soon complain of weariness and sleepiness, because their endurance has been tasked to the utmost extent of their ability;—but with God there is no conceivable want of power, not the remotest idea of a want of mental comprehension, no possibility of weariness and sleep; but He is always in the full enjoyment of strength, a constant source of inexhaustible wisdom, and unflagging endurance and a wakefulness which needs not rest to enable it to stand firm in a new task, to bear with all the hardships which continued toil would require. In short, man is all-dependent, God is self-sufficient; man is powerless, God is omnipotent; man derives his being and whatever comprises it, God is self existence, perfect and happy <<81>>in himself, and requires nothing beyond Him to add to his perfection and happiness.

This is the idea which the Decalogue meant to convey of the Supreme, inasmuch much as it announced Him as the creative power who punishes and rewards, not according to caprice, but according to the merits of the creatures themselves. To enforce this, to render it permanent, were the subsequent events recorded in the Bible contrived,—to rivet faster and faster in the minds of the people their sole dependence on the sole and only Creator. To effect this great and small deeds were wrought; the agents were either pious or sinners, high or humble, Israelites or gentiles; and with all it had for the only object contemplated, to let the world understand that the whole economy of creation is the effect of one Being, who is good and beneficent, willing only to be obeyed, in order that the greatest good may be conferred on the greatest numbers; not that He is injured by what is done in the world, but that his creatures might be rendered as happy as their nature will admit of. It is true that nature is also his, and He call alter it to suit his purposes.

But we in our limited knowledge know not what is the best for us and others; we cannot tell  how the whole economy is progressing to a point of absolute perfection; we cannot see how the grass grows or the grain ripens; but when we compare the barren field and the burnt up meadow with the state of luxuriance they present in the bright sunlight of summer, we are conscious of the creative progress which has taken place unseen to us, though our annual experience tells us to expect such a result as certain to occur, to a great extent, at least, if not to the self-same degree, in every change of seasons. So is it with the development of the world. A religion was given to us; it has been attested as excellent by the sanctifying influence it has had and still has on those of Israel who submit to its behests; sparks flying, as it were, from the rock on which it is built, shivered, as it has been, by the calamities of a long and still enduring captivity, have kindled a mighty flame all over the face of the globe; the elements are in commotion, there is a chaos in the intellectual world, there are commingled truth and error, light and darkness; but the spirit of God is moving with the swiftness of eagles’ wings over the face of the waters, and as the pinions touch the darksome element every <<82>>now and then, a spirit is awakened, and it says, “There is no God in all the earth but in Israel;” ay, it sinks again into the abyss, and its testimony is hushed amidst the roaring of adverse elements; but still the voice has gone forth, and others will take up the refrain, and new witnesses will be called forth, and new spirits will be awakened, till the whole mass of beings will be ripe for the kingdom of God, as the harvest is ready for the sickle of the harvester; and then will suddenly go forth, as in the beginning, the word “Let there be light,” and there will be light, and darkness will fly away from the face of the new creation, and error and superstition and falsehood will be for ever banished from the earth, and the new world will stand resplendent in the new light of God’s truth, when the Lord himself will be the universal Sun and Shield, as the lower world emerged from the mass of confused existence on the first day of creation.

Let it not be imagined that the world was entirely lifeless before light was called forth from the darkness; there was the Creator’s will breathing on the elements, preparing them for the new functions to which they were destined. So, too, in the moral world. The giving of the Decalogue was but the beginning of the end; the elements were set in motion by it; it is the spirit of God which floats over the human mind; it prepares all for the final triumph of truth, and it will prevail, no matter how much the wicked may despise the prophetic people, no matter how many may claim to be possessed of the truth, better truth than is in Israel. The leprosy which affects the masses must be removed; Israel, as well as the world, will have to be washed of their uncleanness; but it is faith in God which will effect this. Unwilling or willing, men will seek to throw off their load, the burden of which afflicts them, in this purifying stream; and when they find themselves restored to primitive innocence, their flesh, as it were, rendered like that of a healthful child, they all will go before those who knew the Lord and worshipped Him during the days of tribulation, and say, “Surely there is no God in all the earth but in Israel only, and we will serve Him alone who is Creator, Ruler, and Saviour, who is all in all, the sole God, whose name be blessed for evermore.” Amen.

Nissan 4th, April 7th, 5608.