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Third Quarter 2015 July–September)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF LUKE
Week 3: July 11–17
COMMENTARY ON THE UNLIKELY MISSIONARY
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This weeks lesson is about the Israelite slave girl who suggested her Syrian warrior-boss consult Elisha the prophet in order to be healed from his leprosy. The lesson seeks to make moral lessons from the story, urging the reader to put aside his or her biases against other cultures and people, sharing their faith in God with everyone they meet.
The Teachers’ Comments attempt to turn this account into an intercultural lesson for those attempting to reach people from other cultural backgrounds for “Christ”.
This story, however, is not primarily about a courageous slave girl boldly sharing her faith with a Syrian leader. It is primarily about God’s grace that sovereignly rains His blessings on people of all nations.
We all know this story; in fact, many of us probably remember the picture illustrating this story in Uncle Arthur’s Bible Stories book. The lesson’s focus on making this a lesson on multiculturalism and evangelism across cultural lines is missing the point. God is God, and we do not have to contextualize Him to seduce others to believe Him.
Namaan was desperate. He was one of Syria’s brilliant soldiers; 2 Kings 5:1 even says “through him the LORD had given victory to Aram”. (Aram is an alternate name for Syria, the country north and slightly east of Israel who capital is Damascus.) Interestingly, the lesson completely ignores one of the most significant phrases in this verse:
Naaman, 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 (2 Kings 5:1 ESV).
The lesson emphasizes all the details about Namaan in this verse, but the one phrase about the Lord God is ignored: “the LORD had given victory to Syria.”
Adventism often explains God’s apparent paradoxes by saying the authors of the Scriptures explained things according to their primitive worldview. This notion, however, is grossly disrespectful of the eternal, inerrant word of God. Jesus Himself said that not one jot or tittle would disappear from the law (the total Torah) until all was fulfilled. If the dots and dashes of the Hebrew letters are eternal and unchangeable, we cannot dismiss clear statements of God’s sovereign acts because they don’t make sense to us.
The passage is clear: God had given victory over Israel to the Syrians, and He had used Namaan, the commander of the Syrian army, to bring this victory to the king of Syria. Already God was allowing Israel’s enemies to bring discipline to the apostatizing nation.
Namaan, therefore, was God’s chosen vehicle for disciplining Israel. Namaan,, though had leprosy, so he couldn’t fully enjoy his victory. As the conquering general, he had an Israelite girl in his house as a slave, God allowed Namaan to be blessed beyond the obvious pride he experienced as the conquering general; God humbled him before Him.
The Israelite slave knew that her God could heal Namaan, and she further knew that Elisha could mediate His healing. God graciously allowed this pagan general who had accomplished victory over Israel to submit to His prophet and receive healing—a miraculous healing—by the ignoble method of dipping in the Jordan River.
Jesus and Namaan the leper
Luke 4 puts this story into clearer focus. Jesus is in His hometown of Nazareth, the place where He could do almost no miracles because the people did not believe Him. In verse 27 he says to the hard Nazarenes,
And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:27 ESV).
Jesus lets us know that the real purpose of the story of Namaan was to demonstrate that when His own people reject Him, He showers His grace even on gentiles. When Jesus told this to the people of His hometown, they were furious. They were looking directly at their hometown Boy, and they refused to believe He was God’s Sent One.
Namaan is significant because he was the one leper that God healed through His prophet…none of the Israelite lepers were healed.
The Adventist twisting of this story makes it all about the slave girl and her bold witness of Elisha and Israel’s God. To be sure, she was an obedient believe in Yahweh, but she is not the star of the story. It is a misuse of this story to make the slave girl the focus and the main point. To emphasize her role is to miss the underlying message: God is sovereign, and He is no respecter of people.
God had given Syria victory over Israel in battle, and He had sovereignly and deliberately chosen Namaan to facilitate the victory of pagans over His people. Moreover, Namaan had an incurable disease, and God chose to heal this pagan general who had defeated Israel.
Namaan was had to humble himself to go to the prophet of Israel’s God; according to protocol during that era, the winning country claimed its god was stronger than the god of the country they conquered. Naaman was now being asked to trust the God of his conquest—an unheard-of dilemma.
Namaan did not want to dip in the Jordan, but his retinue knew that there was no other hope for him, and they encouraged him to go dip—it would be an easy thing to do; the leprosy, after all, would cause him great humiliation. If the Jordan dip worked, he couldn’t be worse-off than he already was.
So Namaan chose to do the Elisha said—and God healed him. God both equipped Namaan to win the battle with Israel, and He gave him the humility to humble himself and do God’s bidding. And God healed this pagan man because he had trusted His command enough to actually do it.
The story's hero
The slave girl is not the story’s hero: God is the central character, and Namaan is the object of God’s mercy and grace. God chose to immortalize a Syrian commander to demonstrate that He will bless “outsiders”—gentiles and unbelievers—instead of of His own people if those outsiders have faith in Him and His word.
The story of Namaan should leave us with a conviction of our arrogance and rebellion and strike our hearts with the awareness of our need for repentance and faith in God’s word. We are never asked to figure out how to make the gospel palatable to various cultures; the Holy Spirit knows how to do that job. We are asked to speak truthfully and to obey God’s word. Like the slave girl, we must speak of the Lord when He presents the opportunity. Like Namaan, we are to do what He asks us to do in His word.
God is sovereign. He creates trust and faith in our hearts, and when we act on what He says, He glorifies Himself and confirms His divine power and glory.
This is a story about God Himself, not a story about a slave girl. She was only a facilitator in a much bigger story.