There’s an old saying:
“Beauty is only skin deep.”
In other words, your physical appearance isn’t as important as what’s inside of you.
Nobody knows that better than God, who even told the prophet Samuel that while people look at a person’s appearance, our Lord looks at their hearts.
We see another interesting example of heart-versus-outward appearance in the story of the man, Naaman.
This Bible story is found in the Old Testament book of 2 Kings, chapter 5.
Now, Naaman is quite an impressive fellow.
He commands the army for the King of Syria.
Naaman is a mighty man of valor and highly favored, because God has given victory to Syria through him.
There’s just one problem.
He has leprosy, an incurable disease and one that certainly led to death during Bible times.
But Naaman will find an unexpected ally.
During one of the Syrian raids, they carry off a little girl from Israel.
The girl, who works for Naaman’s wife, says she wishes the army commander would go to a prophet in Samaria.
“He would cure him of his leprosy,” the girl says.
So Naaman shares this information with his king, who agrees to send him on a trip to Israel and even sends along a letter telling the ruler of that country to heal him.
Naaman packs gold, silver and 10 changes of clothing and heads out. He takes the letter to the king of Israel, who has a meltdown when he reads it.
The king tears his royal robe.
“Am I God?” the king asks.
The king knows he has no power to heal anybody and figures the Syrian ruler is just trying to start a fight.
When the prophet Elisha hears about this, he tells the king to send Naaman to him.
Naaman hits the road again in grand style with his horses and chariots.
It must have been quite an impressive caravan.
But when Naaman arrives at Elisha’s house, he sure isn’t invited in for tea and toast.
He isn’t invited in at all.
Instead, Elisha sends out a servant with a message: “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”
Let’s put this in perspective.
Imagine the President of the United States sends a prominent, foreign military leader to your pastor.
The military leader has traveled a long way with his motorized caravan of armor-plated vehicles and bodyguards with sunglasses and stops right in front of your minister’s house.
And your pastor sends out an administrative assistant, who tells the guy to go jump in the lake — and then he’ll be clean.
I could see where Naaman might be a little miffed.
Actually, he storms away in a rage.
He’s not happy with Elisha.
“I thought 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,” Naaman says, almost sounding like the leper is someone else.
He complains about the assignment.
And aren’t the rivers in his own country better than all the waters in Israel?
Couldn’t he wash in them and be cured?
I love the insights that author Priscilla Shirer shares in her marvelous video Bible study “Discerning the Voice of God.”
Priscilla says the Jordan River was a filthy body of water. What’s more, it would have been inconvenient for Naaman to go there.
But Naaman’s servants think Elisha has offered him a wonderful opportunity and they have a question:
If the prophet had asked him to do some big deed, wouldn’t he have done it?
I wonder if that’s what Naaman imagined during his journey to Israel.
Maybe Naaman thought he’d be asked to climb the tallest mountain and bring down a rock from there. Or capture some enemy soldiers.
Or find a white camel.
OK, maybe not the white camel.
But I wonder if he thought people would be in awe when he accomplished yet another amazing feat and obtained healing in the process.
Wouldn’t he get the acclaim and applause then?
That doesn’t happen.
Instead, Naaman’s servants help him realize he would have done any incredible thing to receive healing.
So why not do this simple thing?
Naaman relents. He goes to that mucky Jordan River and immerses himself in it seven times.
And guess what?
His skin is restored like that of a little child.
It’s a miracle.
Naaman returns to Elisha’s house.
“I now know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel,” Naaman says, urging Elisha to accept a gift.
Elisha won’t take it.
You just can’t buy some things.
And here’s one of my favorite parts of the story:
Naaman’s transformation really is more than skin deep. Naaman says he’ll never worship any other god, but the Lord.
He asks Elisha if the Lord will pardon him whenever he must accompany the Syrian king into the house of his false God — leaning on Naaman’s arm — and the army commander must bow along with the ruler.
“Go in peace,” Elisha says.
Here’s where Priscilla’s insights have me thinking.
Priscilla says leprosy can lie dormant for 10 to 15 years. There may be nuances that tell the person who has leprosy that he has it, but it may not show up for five to 15 years.
So it’s possible to be a functional leper.
Can you see the spiritual analogy?
She says our marriages may be crumbling. We may be having financial issues.
But on social media, it looks like we cook gourmet meals, have wonderful spouses, perfect children and a beautiful house.
Yet underneath it all, we’re functional lepers. Tears fall from our eyes after we turn out the lights for the night.
Those closest to us may not know what’s eating away inside of us and we’ve grown so used to hiding it.
Isn’t she right?
Some of us cover our pain with new clothes and a great haircut.
Others do so with busyness. And some seek to dull the pain with alcohol or drugs.
What spiritual leprosy is eating at you? What do you need God to heal in your life?
“Before he deals with our finances, marriage or relational issue, he’s going to try to deal with the leprosy in your heart and one of the ways you can know it’s the voice of God is that it shines a spotlight in the ailment of your soul before it ever deals with the difficulty in your circumstances,” she says.
God speaks to us in different ways and I think we all deal with spiritual leprosy of some sort.
Priscilla says the leprosy in Naaman’s soul was pride. I love how she says he had to get off his high horse to dip in that dirty river, and that humility is the bridge to our healing.
Naaman couldn’t have known that Jesus would mention him centuries later.
That’s when our Lord pointed out that there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, but only Naaman, the Syrian, was healed.
I believe it shows Christ died for us all and the book of Revelation even tells how people from every nation will stand before the throne and the Lamb of God.
Among them I think we’ll find a Syrian man, grateful for his long-ago healing, and forever indebted to the God he loves so much.