Elisha’s Question about Faithfulness

Title: Elisha's Question about Faithfulness

Bible Book: 2 Kings 5 : 8

Author: David E. Owen

Subject: Faithfulness



We have been dealing with some questions from the life and ministry of Elisha. We began by considering Elisha’s question about the Father in 2 Kings 2:14 when he said, “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” Then we looked at Elisha’s question to the widow woman who asked for help. In 2 Kings 4:2 he said, “What shall I do for thee?” This was a question pertaining to what favor he might offer this needy soul. Next, we considered the question that the prophet asked the woman of Shunem about her family in 2 Kings 4:26: “Is it well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child?”

Tonight, we’re going to deal with a question that Elisha asked the king of Israel in 2 Kings 5:8, and this question seems to put the spotlight on faithlessness.

Jehoram, the second son of Ahab and Jezebel, was the king of Israel at this time, and he had been king for possibly two years when a Syrian captain called Naaman came before his throne with a letter sent by Ben-hadad, the king of Syria…

And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy. And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes... And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? (2 Kings 5:6-8).

The king of Israel is so worried about this situation. And we really shouldn’t be surprised because faith has never been a strong point in the Ahab family. But when Jehoram rent his clothes, it was a clear manifestation of faithlessness and doubt. He certainly didn’t expect or believe that God or God’s prophet would do anything to help in this time of crisis.

If there is a New Testament counterpart to Elisha’s question in verse 8, it would have to be in Matthew 14:31 when Jesus reached out to sinking Simon, “and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”

As we deal with this passage of scripture...

I. Let’s Consider The Matter Associated With This Question

What was the matter with the king of Israel? First of all, this was a matter of illness. Naaman, in 2 Kings 5:1, is said to have been a high-ranking servant, “a great man with his master,” an “honourable” Syrian, and an heroic soldier, for “he was also a mighty man in valour.” “But,” the Bible says, “he was a leper.”

One contributor to the Monday Club Sermons wrote, “There is no mention of Naaman in the Bible, save in this connection. There is, however, a Jewish tradition as old as the time of Josephus, which identifies him as the archer whose arrow struck Ahab with his mortal wound, and thus gave deliverance to Syria. Whether this be true or not, some brave deed of Naaman had lifted him into special prominence, and crowned him with exceptional honour. But he was a leper!”[1]

Providence, though, had allowed a certain Israelite maid to be serving in the household of Naaman, and she vocally expressed her desire that Naaman could go to “the prophet that is in Samaria! For he would recover him of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:3). Word of this reached the king of Syria who then sent Naaman with his letter and his gifts to the king of Israel.

We’ve seen what was wrong with Naaman, but what was the matter with the king of Israel? What prompted the reaction that we see in 2 Kings 5:7? As James Hastings explains, “The king of Israel himself was neither physician nor prophet; and he saw, or chose to see, in the despatch of the Syrian monarch only one of those impossible demands with which ambitious monarchs are wont to preface a declaration of war.”[2] He believed that Ben-hadad was simply trying to create some far-fetched reason to go to war. That’s why Jehoram said, “See how he seeketh a quarrel against me” (vs. 7).

You see – this was a matter of inability. With all of his authority as king, Jehoram realized that there was nothing he could do to help Naaman; there was no way for him to respond to the request of Ben-hadad within his own power. And “he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy?” (vs. 7). With all of the technology and sophistication that we possess in this age, I can’t help but be reminded of our own inability when it comes to such dire circumstances.

II. Let’s Consider The Meaning Associated With This Question

The Bible says, “And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes?” (2 Kings 5:8). Even from an exegetical standpoint, this is a good question. Why did he tear his clothes?

Let’s think for a moment about the illustrative meaning of this action. James Freeman wrote, “Tearing the clothes is a symbol of the inward anguish the mourner is feeling, a violent expression of emotional pain, an outward sign to others that the person is suffering great inner turmoil. In moments of great anguish, the grief-stricken person might tear whatever clothing they were wearing and put ashes on their head.”[3]

This was the response of Jacob when he was led to believe that Joseph was dead (Genesis 37:34). This was the reaction of Joshua when Israel was defeated at Ai in Joshua 7:6. This was the result when Jephthah saw his only child and realized that his awful vow would affect her (Judges 11:35).

Jehoram also joined these men in “that he rent his clothes” (2 Kings 5:7). Let’s reflect then upon the individual meaning of this question as it applies to Jehoram. It seems to me that there is a subtle irony in Jehoram’s action here. In Leviticus 13:45 these instructions were given: “the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean.” Yet, we do not find that Naaman who waits with his entourage has rent his own clothes. The one in anguish here is not the leper but the leader. The prophet who had exercised divine power abode within Jehoram’s borders, and yet it was the Syrian stranger who exhibited the faith to come.

Doubt and faithlessness has been a constant in Jehoram’s experience though. In 2 Kings 3:9-10, when the coalition of kings realized that “there was no water for the host, and for the cattle that followed them,” it was the unbelieving king of Israel who said, “Alas! That the LORD hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab!” Sadly, how like Jehoram we are!

III. Let’s Consider The Miracle Associated With This Question

“When Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes,” he sent this question, “Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes?” (2 Kings 5:8). It was as if he was saying, “Why have you reacted in such a faithless fashion?”

In spite of Jehoram’s unbelief, Elisha told the king to send Naaman, saying, “Let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel” (2 Kings 5:8). As Matthew Henry reminds us, “It was not for his own honour, but for the honour of God, that he coveted to make them all know that there was a prophet in Israel, though obscure and overlooked.”[4] But when Naaman comes to Elisha’s door, we have a further example of doubt. Just as Jehoram’s doubt was revealed in his faithless worry, Naaman’s doubt was revealed in his furious wrath.

He doubted because of the lack of revealed drama. Elisha had given instructions from within the house, but Naaman thought, “He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper” (2 Kings 5:11). And he doubted because he was told to wash in Jordan, which was not a river of distinction compared to the “better” waters of “Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus” (vs. 12).

Thank God for the unnamed servants who, throughout the church age, have urged the doubters to go ahead and come God’s way. Such servants are mentioned in 2 Kings 5:13. They reasoned with Naaman and convinced him, so that in verse 14, he went down “and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”

What a fascinating example of deliverance! We do not know how long Naaman had been a leper, but at last, he was delivered from the dread disease. No more would he have to warn those around him to keep their distance. He would be able to return home to Damascus and embrace his wife, and also thank the little Israelite maid who had first encouraged him and given him hope.

Let’s again remember the words of Jesus to Simon in Matthew 14:31, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”


Timothy Mills, pastor of Whitton Baptist Church in Tyronza, Arkansas, shared the following illustration from the 1983 movie, “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.”

Luke Skywalker is learning to be a Jedi from the Jedi Master, Yoda. Luke is performing an exercise of mind over matter when he fails the exercise. Yoda tells him to raise his X-Wing fighter from the murky water where it sank upon his arrival... He says to Yoda, “I’ll try.” To which Yoda replies, “Do, or do not; there is no ‘try’.” Luke extends his hand to the fighter, and begins to strain in his attempt to raise the fighter out of the water. Luke completely fails to levitate the heavy fighter out of the water. Yoda then quickly levitates the X-Wing fighter and sets it down on dry land. Luke said, “I didn’t believe it was possible!” Yoda replies, “That is why you fail.”[5]

And that’s exactly why we fail. Not for doubting a force, but for doubting the Father. Let us cry out with the desperate man in Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Like Jehoram, you may have a lack of faith about God’s ability to help. Like Naaman you may be looking at the external factors of the situation and it has caused you to dismiss and doubt God’s power. But beloved, God is able to deliver thee!


[1] From The Monday Club Sermons, The Biblical Illustrator, Copyright © 2002 AGES and Biblesoft, Inc.

[2] James Hastings, The Greater Men And Women Of The Bible – Volume 3, T. & T. Clark, 1946, pg. 437

[3] James Freeman, The New Manners & Customs Of The Bible, Bridge-Logos, 1998, pg. 72-73.

[4] From Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1991 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

[5] From the SermonCentral.com website – the result of an illustration search in the category of “Faith” and the sub-category of “Doubt.”


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