02 When God calls: Rethink greatness

by | Mar 23, 2022 | 01 Podcasts, Kings

How do you accomplish great things for the kingdom of God and quiet that inner voice that says whatever you’re doing, it’s not enough? In 2Kings 5, we see a series of contrasts between how the world measures greatness and God measures greatness.


Elisha is the disciple of and successor to the Old Testament prophet Elijah.  Both Elijah & Elisha were prophets to the northern kingdom during the dynasties of Omri & Jehu.

When Omri became king in the north (885-874 BC), he sought political alliances with Tyre to increase his access to the lucrative Mediterranean trade routes.  Omri sealed the alliance by arranging the marriage of his son Ahab (874-853 BC) with the Tyrian princess Jezebel.  She arrived in Israel intent on replacing the Hebrew God with her god. Much of Elijah’s work took place under the exceedingly evil reign of Ahab and Jezebel.

More: Simple overview of biblical history

More: Northern Kingdom Introduction

More: Southern Kingdom Introduction

More: Prophets Introduction

Meet Naaman

1Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. 2Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife.  3She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”  4So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.”  5And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing.  6And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”  -2Kings 5:1-6

  • Aram (Syria) was a small country situated at the northeastern corner of Israel. It later became modern Syria.
  • During the reign of King Joram (Israel’s 9th king, who reigned 853-842 BC), Aram was ruled by King Ben-Hadad II, who kept growing stronger and bolder. He eventually became a thorn in the side of Israel, leading to a war between the two nations (approx. 841 BC; see 2Kings 6:8-7:20).
  • Aram boldly sent raiding parties into Israel and stealing food and supplies, and enslaving men and women.
  • Naaman was the commander of King Ben-Hadad’s army, held in high esteem, but he had leprosy.
  • In the first of our contrasts, God intervenes through the least significant member of Naaman’s  household: a Jewish slave girl who served his wife and has heard of Elisha.
  • In the world’s eyes, Naaman had everything: He was a free adult male who was rich and powerful and helds the king’s favor.
  • In the world’s eyes, the Jewish slave girl had nothing: She was an young, female slave living in a foreign land at the bottom of the social ladder.
  • This girl is not likely to be rewarded if her words prove true and she might pay with her life if her words prove false. Yet, she proves that God puts His people at the right place at the right time.
  • Naaman is prepared to pay richly for his healing.

7And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”  8But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.”  9So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house.  -2Kings 5:7-9

  • In our second contrast, we see the King of Israel does not know God, like the prophet and the slave girl.
  • Joram reacts in terror, realizing he has no power to cure such a powerful man.
  • Only an act of God can cure this incurable disease and the king does not know God. 
  • Elisha reacts with calm confidence. Elisha knows that our Lord is willing to heal us physically as a symbol of how willing and available He is to heal us spiritually from sin.
  • Once again the rich and powerful lack spiritual wisdom.

9So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”  11But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.  12Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. -2Kings 5:9-12

  • Naaman expects Elisha to give him a great show and red-carpet treatment for his money and trouble. If Naaman doesn’t get a show, at least he could be send on a grand quest to prove his worthiness.
  • Abana and Pharpar are rivers in Damascus that are fed by snow melt from Mt. Hebron. It’s the same snow melt that feeds the Seas of Galilee and the Jordan river. Abana and Pharpar ran clear most of the year.
  • The Jordan could be a ranging torrent during the rainy season and then dwindle to a muddy mess during the dry season. Context suggests, Namaan is not risking his life to dip in the Jordan at this time of year, so it must be the dry “muddy water” season.
  • Naaman wants “vending machine grace” (put in your money, take out your grace). But the God of Israel is not bought or manipulated.
  • God’s grace is free. God’s prophet does not even have to answer the door.
  • God doesn’t want gold, silver and a king’s fortune in clothing.  He wants humility and faith. 

13But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”  14So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.  15Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.”  16But he said, “As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused.  17Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the LORD.  18In this matter may the LORD pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon your servant in this matter.”  19He said to him, “Go in peace.” -2Kings 5:13-19

  • Perhaps Naaman’s servants had been talking to his wife’s slave girl, because they seem to trust the God of Israel and His prophet.
  • Naaman’s servants appeal to his reason: If the prophet had told you to accomplish some great quest, you would have done it. Why not obey when he says wash and be healed?
  • Naaman humbled himself before God.
  • Namaan washes in the river and comes out both physically and spiritually healed, knowing there is no other God than the God of Israel.
  • Jesus used this story to rebuke the Jewish leaders in his home town of Nazareth who had rejected him as their Messiah (Luke 4:27).
  • Naaman wanted to pay for the grace he received, but Elisha refuses.
  • Naaman was a new believer, but he still had pagan responsibilities to fulfill with the king once he arrived home.
  • Elisha assured Naaman that though he was involved in the rituals of his culture, God understood who he was now.

19He said to him, “Go in peace.” But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance,  20Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “See, my master has spared this Naaman the Syrian, in not accepting from his hand what he brought. As the LORD lives, I will run after him and get something from him.”  21So Gehazi followed Naaman. And when Naaman saw someone running after him, he got down from the chariot to meet him and said, “Is all well?”  22And he said, “All is well. My master has sent me to say, ‘There have just now come to me from the hill country of Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.’” 23And Naaman said, “Be pleased to accept two talents.” And he urged him and tied up two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and laid them on two of his servants. And they carried them before Gehazi.  24And when he came to the hill, he took them from their hand and put them in the house, and he sent the men away, and they departed.  25He went in and stood before his master, and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant went nowhere.” 26But he said to him, “Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants?  27Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow.  – 2Kings 5:19-27

  • The general was healed of his leprosy by the power of God, because he placed his faith in the words of God spoken through the prophet of God.
  • Gehazi used the same phrase Elisha had used when he refused the gift—as surely as the LORD lives—but in an ungodly context. Gehazi lies to Namman to secure the reward.
  • Elisha may have seen everything from the large hill that overlooked the city of Samaria, the valley, and the main road that led out of town toward Damascus. Or, as a prophet of God, he may have been told directly by God what sin his servant had committed.
  • Gehazi is punished for confusing the gospel message by putting a price on God’s grace.


  • Beware of self-reliance getting in the way of the gospel you teach.
  • Sometimes following God looks silly to the world.
  • God chooses what the world would see as ridiculous to bring about His kingdom (e.g. unnamed slaves, misfits and outcasts, bathing in a muddy river, the cross of Christ).
  • Being great is being faithful to the things that God has put before you. Do what God has asked you to do. If you’re doing that, you’re doing enough.
  • We resist this understanding of greatness because we are addicted to impact. We care more about being the ones who are changing the world rather that the world is changed.
  • Don’t aim for impact. Aim for self-sacrificing love.

When God calls, 5 ways to run your race well

  1. Follow God’s call with humble faith and obedience (1 Kings 19:19-21).
  2. Trust God to equip you for whatever the call He gives you (2 Kings 2).
  3. Seek greatness by doing only that which He calls you to — no more and no less (2 Kings 5).
  4. Aim for self-sacrificing love, not impact (2 Kings 5).

Please listen to the podcast for more detail and explanation.

Next: 03 When God calls: but I’m afraid

Previous: 01 When God Calls: Burn your ox

Series: When God Calls: 5 ways to run your race well

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash