Telling History

And in the thirty and eighth year of Asa king of Judah began Ahab the son of Omri to reign over Israel: and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty and two years. And Ahab the son of Omri did that which was evil in the sight of YHWH above all that were before him (1 Kings 16:29-30).

Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. Twenty and five years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem: and his mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did that which was right in the eyes of YHWH, according to all that David his father had done (2 Kings 18:1-3).

What is history?

Most people understand history as “what happened in the past.” We all endured history class while in school; we learned about the rise and fall of successive world empires. We therefore ascertained very quickly that history seemed to be the story of those who gained the most power or made new things or developed this or that. The more prominent and successful a culture, defined by its consolidation of power, wealth, and influence, the more likely we would learn about them.

But what happens when we approach the Scriptures? What history does it tell?

We can compare and contrast the stories of two kings, Ahab and Hezekiah, in terms of how they are presented in Scripture and how they would be presented in a standard historical account.

The portrayal of Ahab king of Israel in Scripture is less than pleasant. He was strongly influenced by his wife Jezebel; he elevated service to Baal in Israel; Elijah the prophet strongly opposed him. The Biblical assessment of Ahab is seen sharply in 1 Kings 16:29-30, as children are taught in Bible classes to this day: he was the most wicked of the kings of Israel.

Yet, if seen in a socio-political perspective, things never seem better for Israel than in Ahab’s day. Ahab maintained control over Moab; he made an alliance with Jehoshaphat king of Judah; his marriage is an indication of a strong alliance with the Phoenicians. He seemed to preside over one of the most prosperous and stable periods in the history of the northern Kingdom. From Assyrian chronicles we learn that Ahab along with other allied kings fought against the Assyrian Shalmaneser III in the Battle of Qarqar and seemed to fight him to a draw; who else among the kings of Israel could make such a claim?

Hezekiah king of Judah is portrayed in Scripture starkly different terms. He attempts to reform the worship and service of Judah toward greater faithfulness to YHWH; he is spoken of in terms of his father David, as seen in 2 Kings 18:1-3. After David only Hezekiah and Josiah are spoken of in glowing terms as kings in Judah in the Scriptures.

And yet Hezekiah’s reign, in socio-political terms, was a complete disaster. He rebelled against the Assyrians and faced the full wrath of the Assyrian war machine. All of Hezekiah’s major cities were destroyed save Jerusalem, which itself was besieged and spared only by divine intervention. Judah’s condition was described well by Isaiah in Isaiah 1:2-9: Judah barely escaped total annihilation, and should not glory in its close call.

We should certainly be able to see why so many modern historians view the Scriptures with cynicism and skepticism: they do not exactly tell the story the way the historians have told stories. We who seek to follow God would do well to consider, however, whether the problem is with the Scriptures or with the way the historians would like to tell the story.

The historical narrative of 1 and 2 Kings is often claimed to be a heavily biased source writing during Israel’s exile. Without a doubt the final author is writing during the exile (cf. 2 Kings 25:27-30); he most assuredly uses court or other records more contemporary of the events described. And yes, he is heavily biased; we should expect nothing less. He has a particular message to tell, and a very particular reason for it.

We today tend to speak of 1 and 2 Kings as part of the “historical books.” The Jews considered 1 and 2 Kings part of the Nevi’im, “the Prophets.” Most of the books we consider to be “historical” they believed to have been written by the “former prophets” (Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings). To the Israelites the way their story was told was itself inspired, the proper way to tell what happened in past days.

They certainly could have told their story in a way a bit more amenable to the expectations of historians; many in Israel in fact told themselves that story. Israel had its heyday in past days; Assyria and Babylon proved too strong, and so Israel was overrun. What did Israel get for attempting to follow YHWH? Hezekiah reforms the worship and the Assyrians overrun the land; Josiah would do a similar act and his death would precipitate the chain of events leading to Judah’s doom. In fact, probably more Jewish people would have agreed with their fellow exiles in Egypt who were offering to the “Queen of Heaven,” believing that things were better when they committed idolatry, than those who were moved to repentance and followed YHWH exclusively (cf. Jeremiah 44:15-18). In the story of history, after all, empires rise and fall. Israel rose and fell. So be it.

But that story, even though it seemed to make sense of some of the historical facts, only led to assimilation, first with the Babylonians and then later with the Greeks and Romans. Such people were carried away by whoever had power. But those who stubbornly held to the story of Israel as told by the former prophets put the story together persevered, and they persevered because they continued to tell the story the way God intended. Great socio-political standing and influence meant nothing if it were not accompanied by faithfulness to God; a dire socio-political situation could be overcome if the people proved faithful to God. The former prophets showed far less concern about the socio-economic implications of royal decisions than the spiritual ones. The story of Israel was told to highlight the people’s faithlessness to warn future generations to not follow in the same pattern of disobedience (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-12).

We can learn much from the example of the historical prophets. History is never merely “what happened in the past.” No historian can tell the story of what happened in the past without providing an interpretation and a purpose to those events. They are all understood not only in terms of their believed conclusion but also in terms of the person telling the story. Even when a historical narrative is presented in an entirely factual way, plenty of other facts are left out, not out of denial, but because they do not fit the story being told.

We should not despair; we need not fall into the abyss of full-throated postmodernism, denying our ability to know anything about the past. But we must also be disabused of any notion that history is simply a set of objectively true facts about what people did in the past. History is a great natural resource which we mine in order to tell the story of who we are, from where we have come, and to learn lessons from our ancestors for good or ill. The way we decide to tell that story is as important as the facts which may comprise it.

We have inspired records of the history of Israel and the days of Jesus and the Apostles; we know how God intends for us to understand those stories. We can gain much from that perspective. We may not have an inspired story of the present, but God’s Word remains true: nations will rise and fall, people will acclaim those who gain power, wealth, and influence, but God remains far more concerned with whether people serve the King of kings and Lord of lords or not, and whether people continue to hold firm to the story which He has told in the pages of Scripture. May we tell history in a way that glorifies God and honors His purposes!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Discomfited Theology

And Naaman said, “If not, yet, I pray thee, let there be given to thy servant two mules’ burden of earth; for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto YHWH. In this thing YHWH pardon thy servant: when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, YHWH pardon thy servant in this thing.”
And he said unto him, “Go in peace.”
So he departed from him a little way (2 Kings 5:17-19).

Biblical narratives discomfit easy, comfortable theology.

2 Kings 5:1-19 relates the story of the cleansing of Naaman the Aramean. The Arameans are “frenemies” of the northern Kingdom of Israel, often forming an alliance when threatened by Assyria to the north or if they want to take advantage of Judah to the south (cf. Isaiah 7:1-7), but more often an enemy, more likely to overcome the Israelites than to be defeated by them (e.g. 2 Kings 8:11-15, 10:32-33). Naaman was a distinguished and honorable captain of the Aramean army; YHWH had given him victory, perhaps even over Israel; yet he was a leper (2 Kings 5:1). A captured Israelite servant girl informed Naaman’s wife about the prophet in Samaria who could heal Naaman’s leprosy (2 Kings 5:2-4); Naaman was dispatched to Israel, eventually was sent to Elisha the man of God, and Naaman was healed of his leprosy by dipping seven times in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:5-14). Naaman recognized that there was no god but the God of Israel; he wished to receive Israelite earth which he could ostensibly take back to his residence, and build upon it an altar so as to offer sacrifice to YHWH (2 Kings 5:15-17). Naaman then asked Elisha for pardon in one matter: when he goes into the house of Rimmon, the idol god of Aram, with his master the king of Aram, and prostrates himself there, he wished to be pardoned for doing so (2 Kings 5:18). Elisha told him to “go in peace”; he departed with the earth he requested (2 Kings 5:19).

Yet wait a moment! Did not YHWH tell Israel to put no other gods before Him, to prostrate before them and to serve them (Exodus 20:3-5)? Should Naaman not bring his sacrifices and offerings down to Jerusalem to the place where YHWH made His name to dwell (Deuteronomy 12:11)? If Naaman is so aware that there is no God but the God of Israel, should he not take that stand in Aram?

God’s working tends to be more complicated than we would like to admit. Yes, YHWH commanded Israel not to put other gods before Him; Israel and Judah would be cast into exile for not abiding by this commandment (2 Kings 17:7-23, 2 Chronicles 36:15-16). Yes, YHWH commanded that Israelites should bring their sacrifices to Jerusalem. But Naaman is not an Israelite; even while leprous and thus unclean, YHWH gave him victory, according to the author of 2 Kings. YHWH may well have given Naaman victory over Israel itself! If nothing else, YHWH allowed Naaman to advance in the Aramean army; it may be well be that YHWH elevated Naaman to his position because of his character, to provide him the opportunity not only for cleansing, but more importantly, to come to an understanding of His unique power in the universe.

In a similar way we can understand Naaman’s request for pardon. He is an Aramean, not an Israelite; in his station he is expected to show at least the pretense of honoring the god of Aram. We do well to note just how extraordinary this situation proves to be: while Israelites are falling over themselves to serve the Baals, this Aramean comes to the understanding that Israel should have maintained for 600 years! He may prostrate before and serve Rimmon in pretense, but Israel may be serving him substantively!

Naaman, a Gentile, wished to serve YHWH, God of Israel, as the only God; he wanted earth and to offer sacrifice to YHWH; he had to put on a pretense of serving Rimmon to satisfy his master. Whatever we may wish to think about these matters, Elisha, the prophet, the man of God, told him to “go in peace.” If Elisha, a mighty prophet of God, commends and pardons Naaman in this way, who are we to disagree? When Jesus, our Lord and Savior, commends Naaman (Luke 4:27), who are we to condemn?

What are we to make of Naaman’s faith and pardon? Some, wishing to defend their construct of theology at all costs, wish to cast aspersions on the narrative and any consequences that may be drawn from it. Others, looking to overthrow constructs at all costs, make much of such narratives and draw many consequences from it. Neither is a wise way forward. Naaman is extraordinary in every sense of the term; what God may allow for him in his situation is not what is expected out of the people of God who received Torah and will be held liable to it. Nevertheless, God is extraordinary, and does extraordinary things, and it is not for us His creation to force Him into tight theological boxes of our convenience. Any god that fits into a box is not the Creator God; what we know of Him is thanks to His revelation to us regarding Himself (Hebrews 1:1-3). We can be sure that there is far more that is true about Him than He has or could reveal to us (Isaiah 55:8-9). What seems contradictory to us in our perspective may not be at all from a higher perspective. God understands what He is doing; we are invited to get a glimpse into some of His work, but must never pretend that what He has revealed provides a fully comprehensible and accurate view of things.

Our basic impulse, as humans, is to know; once we know, then we can trust. With God we must trust in order to know; He has proven faithful, and we are to put our trust in Him so that we can have true wisdom and insight (Job 28:28, Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10, 15:33). Every so often we will get a glimpse of something that does not seem right or that fits existing categories. In those moments, will we despair in our discomfited theology, or will we be spurred on to greater trust in our great and magnificent God who is above all else?

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Immanuel Sign

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, when he knoweth to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings thou abhorrest shall be forsaken” (Isaiah 7:14-16).

The Kingdom of Judah seemed to be in deep trouble.

Around 735 BCE, faced with the ascendant power of Assyria to the north, Rezin king of Aram and Pekah king of Israel solidified their alliance and not so subtly suggested to Ahaz king of Judah that he should join their league. Ahaz resisted, and Rezin and Pekah retaliated by invading Judah and fighting against Jerusalem, intending to depose Ahaz and install a more compliant pretender on the throne (ca. 735-732 BCE, sometimes called the “Syro-Ephraimitic War”; Isaiah 7:1-6). Just before the invasion, when Judah was told of the confederation, they were terrified: Israel was likely stronger than Judah, let alone a Syro-Ephramitic alliance against Judah. How could Judah stand (cf. Isaiah 7:2)?

In the midst of this trial YHWH God of Israel sends a message to Ahaz through His prophet Isaiah. YHWH knew the plans of Aram and Israel and wanted to assure Ahaz that nothing would come of it (Isaiah 7:7). Within 65 years YHWH would see to it that there would be nothing left of Ephraim in Israel (Isaiah 7:8). All Ahaz needed to do was to do nothing, put his confidence in YHWH, and all would be well (Isaiah 7:9).

Yet Ahaz is famous (or infamous?) in Scripture for not putting his trust in YHWH but instead into the gods of other nations and what seemed like intelligent foreign policy (cf. 2 Kings 16:1-20). Now, it seemed, he was facing an existential threat to not only his own life but to the throne of David and Jerusalem itself. To do nothing while his adversaries encircled him and destroyed him? It seemed preposterous!

YHWH wishes to give a sign to Ahaz so that he can have confidence in the word He delivered through Isaiah (Isaiah 7:10-11); Ahaz, attempting to appear humble and pious, demurred (Isaiah 7:12). In so doing he wearies YHWH (Isaiah 7:13), yet the Lord will give a sign regardless: a woman will conceive a child, bear a son, called Immanuel (“God with us”; Isaiah 7:14). Before he knows how to choose good and refuse evil, likely within eight to fifteen years of his birth, he will eat butter and honey, signs of prosperity, for the land of Aram and Israel will be forsaken by that time (Isaiah 7:15-16). The danger will pass away if only Ahaz would just sit tight and trust in YHWH for deliverance.

Ahaz does not put his trust in YHWH. Rezin and Pekah invade Judah and besiege Jerusalem yet prove unable to overcome it (2 Kings 16:5-6). In distress Ahaz ends up beseeching the agent YHWH intended to use to judge Aram and Israel, Assyria, but does so at a high cost: he collected the gold and silver in the Temple and his own palace to give to Tiglath-pileser III king of Assyria and became a vassal of Assyria (2 Kings 16:7-8). Yet Tiglath-pileser III king of Assyria did not really need inducement to attack Aram and Israel; he would have likely done so without Ahaz’s appeal. In 732 BCE, Tiglath-pileser invaded Aram and Israel, exiled the inhabitants of Damascus and killed Rezin, then invaded Israel and made all of the land save for Ephraim part of his own empire (cf. 2 Kings 15:29, 16:9). About ten years later, in 722/721 BCE, Sennacherib king of Assyria finished the task by overcoming the defenses of Samaria and fully conquering the northern Kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:1-6). A child conceived in 735 BCE and born in 734 BCE would have been about 12 or 13 in 722/721 BCE, at the age of knowing to choose the good and refuse evil. YHWH made sure that the Immanuel sign was accomplished in its own time, but Ahaz’s foolish action cost Judah dearly. Had Ahaz listened to YHWH and done nothing, his foes would be gone and his (relative) independence would be maintained. Yet he voluntarily submitted to Assyria as a vassal; when his son Hezekiah rebelled against Sennacherib king of Assyria and stopped paying tribute, the full force of Assyria was unleashed against Judah, leading to the destruction of the walled cities of Judah save for Jerusalem (ca. 701 BCE; 2 Kings 18:7, 13-19:37). Ahaz sought a worldly way to maintain his throne and his head; it nearly cost his son both. They only obtained deliverance because God was with them.

Over the next seven hundred years there were many times when the Jews could have easily doubted the idea that God was with them: Babylon accomplished what Assyria sought to do, the people were exiled, returned to the land, remained under foreign domination, and experienced intense persecution at the hands of pagan oppressors for maintaining their confidence in YHWH their God. Yet through all of this the people hoped for the ultimate fulfillment of the Immanuel sign: the Child born of a virgin who would truly represent Immanuel, God with us, and He was born in a most humble way to a Galilean peasant girl in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:21-25, Luke 2:4-20). Yet again the people of Israel were beset with foes that seemed to threaten their very existence, but the time for their concerns had passed. The sign was no longer that the child would see prosperity and the destruction of the national foes of Judah by the age of 15; the Child Himself is the sign, for He is Jesus, the Immanuel, God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14). He came in the flesh to overcome the enemy of all mankind, to deliver them from sin and death, if they would only put their trust in Him to that end and stand firm (Acts 2:14-38, Romans 5:6-11, 8:1-10). By persevering to the end, Jesus obtains the Kingdom promised to the descendants of David, an everlasting Kingdom, and He serves as its Lord (Daniel 2:44, Colossians 1:13).

God was with Judah: He provided the sign of the child who would be able to enjoy peace and security at 15, and it came to pass. YHWH was able to defend and protect Judah without Ahaz needing to go compromise himself through the pursuit of what passed for human wisdom and sensible foreign policy. The cost of Ahaz’s foolishness was high, but God remained faithful to Hezekiah and preserved a remnant of Judah. Yet YHWH’s presence among His people was only ultimately demonstrated through the embodiment of the Word in Jesus of Nazareth, and it is through Him that God provides the ultimate deliverance for all mankind. We can only obtain that deliverance by trusting in Him and doing what He says; attempting to establish the fulfillment of the promise through what passes for worldly wisdom is foolhardy and can only postpone the ultimate end and danger we all face. Let us be thankful for the Immanuel sign, and unlike Ahaz, let us put our full confidence in God and seek to serve Him and glorify His name through His Son Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Enemy of My Enemy

At that time Berodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah; for he had heard that Hezekiah had been sick. And Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and showed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious oil, and the house of his armor, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not.
Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him, “What said these men? And from whence came they unto thee?”
And Hezekiah said, “They are come from a far country, even from Babylon.”
And he said, “What have they seen in thy house?”
And Hezekiah answered, “All that is in my house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not showed them.”
And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD. Behold, the days come, that all that is in thy house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith Jehovah. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, whom thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, “Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken.”
He said moreover, “Is it not so, if peace and truth shall be in my days?” (2 Kings 20:12-19).

“The enemy of my enemy…”

When we think of this quote, we quickly supply the way it often is completed: “…is my friend.” Such has been the prevailing political logic for generations, and yet it led Israel into all sorts of problems!

There is much more going on in 2 Kings 20:12-19 than what appears on the surface. The Kings author honors Hezekiah greatly as loyal to YHWH, attempting to rid the land of idolatry and encouraging the people to honor YHWH as the One True God, the God of Israel (2 Kings 18:1-8). As that all goes, well and good, but as 2 Kings 18:13-20:37 shows, Hezekiah has a major problem: the Assyrians invade Judah, destroy all of the major fortified cities save Jerusalem, and it only survived because of God’s intervention during the siege.

The Assyrians invaded because Hezekiah ceased paying tribute and actively rebelled against Assyrian hegemony by attempting to establish alliances with Egypt and Babylon against the Assyrians. We are not told what political machinations and calculations were involved and why Hezekiah felt so confident in going against Assyria, but the results were evident. The Kingdom of Judah barely escaped complete annihilation, having been functionally abandoned by its erstwhile allies in the face of the Assyrian onslaught.

Why would Hezekiah ally himself with Egypt, the former oppressor of Israel? Why does Hezekiah feel so open in showing everything he has to the Babylonian ambassadors? We are not explicitly told, but Hezekiah’s answer to Isaiah’s declaration provides us with some indications. Isaiah declares how God is going to give over to the Babylonians everything they saw; Hezekiah seems relatively untroubled by the statement since things will be well during his own day (cf. 2 Kings 20:16-19). Hezekiah sees his short-term problem: the kingdom of Assyria is ascendant. The Assyrian Empire is now literally at his border, having conquered the Kingdom of Israel to the north (2 Kings 18:9-12). Judah now has a place of prominence in international affairs, courted by Egypt and Babylon to be a fellow ally against the Assyrian power. Hezekiah was willing to make the enemies of his enemy Assyria his friends.

It did prove to be a great short-term decision: Hezekiah’s son Manasseh ruled over a politically peaceful and economically prosperous Judah despite his spiritual depravity, and Josiah his great-grandson would be able to exercise authority over all of the historic land of Israel. And yet Hezekiah’s short-term political calculations now began to cost the kingdom greatly. The Assyrian power diminished far quicker than anyone could have ever imagined, and now Babylon was the ascendant power. Judah still maintained an alliance with Babylon; it was because of this alliance that Josiah went out to intercept Pharaoh Neko II as the latter was traveling north to fight against Nebuchadnezzar to determine who was going to be the new authority in the Near East. Josiah would die in that battle (2 Kings 23:28-30), and Neko would lose to Nebuchadnezzar at the Battle of Carchemish. For the next twenty years Judah found itself trapped between its two former allies in a power struggle; the kings of Judah seemed to prefer being allied with near Egypt than faraway Babylon, and ultimately proved Isaiah’s prophecy as true: Nebuchadnezzar sent his forces to Judah, the erstwhile Egyptian ally helped once but no more, and Jerusalem was destroyed, its people and wealth exiled to Babylon (2 Kings 25:1-21). The enemies of Israel’s enemy may have been “friends” in the short-term, but Israel paid dearly in the long-term.

Did Israel learn a lesson from this? It does not seem like it. During the “intertestamental” period, the Israelites were part of the Seleucid Empire and were fighting for their lives and their identity as Daniel predicted in Daniel 11:1-45 in the middle of the second century BCE. The apocryphal book 1 Maccabees tells us about these events; the book is not inspired of God as Scripture but is generally regarded as reliable witness to history. As the Jews are fighting these Greeks, they seek to make an alliance with a fellow enemy of the Seleucid Empire: Rome (1 Maccabees 8:1-32). It is worth noting the attitude of the author of 1 Maccabees toward the Romans:

It was told [Judah the Maccabee, leader of the insurgency against the Seleucids] besides, how [the Romans] destroyed and brought under their dominion all other kingdoms and isles that at any time resisted them; But with their friends and such as relied upon them they kept amity: and that they had conquered kingdoms both far and nigh, insomuch as all that heard of their name were afraid of them: Also that, whom they would help to a kingdom, those reign; and whom again they would, they displace: finally, that they were greatly exalted: Yet for all this none of them wore a crown or was clothed in purple, to be magnified thereby: Moreover how they had made for themselves a senate house, wherein three hundred and twenty men sat in council daily, consulting alway for the people, to the end they might be well ordered: And that they committed their government to one man every year, who ruled over all their country, and that all were obedient to that one, and that there was neither envy nor emulation among them (1 Maccabees 8:11-16).

We see nothing but praise here for the Romans: their ability in warfare, their honoring of treaties, their republican form of government. The Jews made a treaty with the Romans to assist them in their conflict against the Seleucids.

It was part of a great short-term strategy: the Seleucids had to take the Roman threat seriously. For about a hundred years the Maccabees provided a measure of freedom to Israel not seen since the days of Zedekiah and which would not be seen again until 1947 of our own era. But we know what happens in the long-term. The Romans seemed so far away in 160 BCE; a hundred years later, their republican form of government was transitioning into an imperial mode of government, and Pompey their general was taking over the Seleucid Empire and was welcomed into Jerusalem in the midst of a feud between two Maccabean descendants vying for the throne. The Romans would rule in Jerusalem, raising up the reviled half-breed Herod and his clan over the Jews; when the indignities perpetrated by the Romans could be tolerated no longer, the Jews rose up in revolt against the Romans, and yet again they saw their city and Temple destroyed, the latter to never be built again. Yet again, the enemy of Israel’s enemy might have been a decent short-term “friend,” but proved disastrous in the long-term.

Let us learn from Israel’s experience. There are many times when it seems beneficial to take up a common cause with people under the justification of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But what happens when the common enemy is vanquished? Will we find that our alliance has now placed us in a most compromising position, and we are in a relative position of weakness and not strength? Could we be overtaken because we have made an alliance choice on the basis of a common enemy rather than a common goal?

What right did Israel have uniting with Babylon, Egypt, and Rome? It seemed to make sense at the time; there were some great short-term results; but the end proved disastrous. The enemy of my enemy may still be my enemy; what interest does the enemy of my enemy have in me, especially once our common enemy is gone? Let us be careful about our choices of whom we ally ourselves, lest we find ourselves compromised like Israel!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Naaman and Obedient Faith

But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, “Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them, and be clean?”
So he turned and went away in a rage (2 Kings 5:11-12).

Naaman is a man’s man with a problem. He is an extremely respected soldier– a “mighty man of valor” (2 Kings 5:1). Through him the LORD gave Aram victory. Yet he suffered from leprosy, a condition that would mean social exclusion for a lesser man.

That he would love to be cured of his leprosy is without a doubt. When he learns from an Israelite captive that the “prophet in Samaria,” Elisha, could heal him, his excitement is evident: he goes with a significant quantity of money and clothes, and eventually comes to Elisha (2 Kings 5:5-9).

Yet Elisha’s message is certainly not what was expected.

“Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean” (2 Kings 5:10).

How simple! How…non-spiritual! Nothing fancy, no great declaration, just a few dips in a river. Furthermore, of all the rivers– the Jordan? Naaman is probably not wrong to declare the Abanah and Pharpar as superior to the Jordan in terms of cleanliness. How could his cleansing possibly be accomplished by such simple, non-spiritual means in such a comparatively dirty river?

Naaman’s anger is based upon his own unmet expectations, and its conclusion could have been quite tragic. Imagine if Naaman just went back to Aram and died eventually as a leper, all because Elisha did not act as he expected, and did not do what he thought Elisha should do. To think that Naaman might have never been cleansed because of his mental hangup with dipping in a river a few times!

But that is not the case. His servants spoke sensibly to him, helping him to see that what Elisha asks is not that difficult (2 Kings 5:13). He goes and does it and receives his cleansing (2 Kings 5:14)…even though it was simple, seemed rather “un-spiritual,” and was in the Jordan of all places!

Why did it work? It was not because of the Jordan River. It was not because Naaman dipped seven times. It was because God specified through His prophet Elisha that if Naaman obeyed and dipped seven times in the Jordan River, God would accomplish the healing. Could God have healed Naaman without dipping? Sure. Could He have acted exactly as Naaman originally expected? Absolutely. But God did not– God had a different plan for Naaman, and the choice was Naaman’s as to whether he would obey and receive the blessings or disobey and remain unclean.

Naaman’s example is quite instructive for us. How many times have we neglected God’s commands because we felt that it was too simple, too “un-spiritual,” or perhaps simply was not what we were expecting?

The most evident parallel is cleansing from sin. Just as Naaman was to dip seven times in the Jordan River to be cleansed of leprosy, so God calls upon those who believe in Him to be immersed in water for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-7, 1 Peter 3:21). As with Naaman, so with us: it is not because of the water nor because we are immersed in it. It is because God specifies through Jesus and the Apostles that if one believes in Jesus, confesses His name before men, repents of his sin, and submits himself to immersion in water in the name of the Lord for the remission of past sin, God will accomplish the cleansing of that person and will re-establish association with him. Could God forgive us our sins without being baptized? Sure. Could He act according to our expectations, or in one of the various ways that people say that salvation can be obtained? Absolutely. But God has established His plan for us, and the choice is ours as to whether we will obey it and receive the blessings or disobey and remain unclean.

Naaman almost fell guilty of holding God hostage to his own expectations and his think-so, and we would recognize his great and tragic folly if he proved disobedient despite receiving such a simple command. Yet will we prove to continue in similar folly, in regards to baptism perhaps, or some other matter of some simplicity, by holding God hostage to our expectations or “think-so” or “surely God…” mentalities?

Naaman was cleansed by his willingness to humble his pride, get in the Jordan River, and obey God’s command. As such, he stands as an example of great faith in God (cf. Luke 4:27). Will we have a similar faith– faith in humility, being willing to cast aside our own expectations and suppositions in order to obey the Risen Lord? Let us seek the same commendation of Naaman and obey Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Spiritual Reality

And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, a host with horses and chariots was round about the city.
And his servant said unto him, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?”
And he answered, “Fear not; for they that are with us are more than they that are with them.”
And Elisha prayed, and said, “O LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.”
And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha (2 Kings 6:15-17).

By all accounts, the situation looked grim.

The Aramean king learned that Elisha was foiling his plans to raid Israel, and sent his army to end the threat.  The Aramean army comes toward Elisha– a terrible sight indeed.  Who can stand against the foe?  The Israelite army has enough problem, let alone some prophets!

We can understand and sympathize with the great concern of the servant.  According to the physical reality on the ground, there was little reason to hope.

Yet Elisha is unperturbed.  He recognizes the spiritual reality in their midst.  He knows that there are more on his side than there are for the enemy– even if such are invisible to man’s eyes.

We can only imagine what the servant felt when he suddenly sees the angelic host with its fiery chariots.  He, no doubt, felt amazement and wonder.  Stupefied is probably more like it.  None of it was visible a moment earlier.  Yet, in the blinking of the eye, everything was different.

Yet nothing was really different.  The angelic host was always there.  The servant simply did not perceive them!

This passage seems to teach us that there is a spiritual reality in our very midst that we do not perceive.  If our eyes were opened, we might feel amazement and wonder, utterly stunned at all that is around us.  Everything would seem different, but nothing would really be different.  It is always there, just past our physical senses.

Let us remember this when we feel alone or discouraged, believing that our situation is hopeless.  We may be struggling with a temptation to sin; we may feel some persecution for our faith; we might be experiencing some kind of trial, physical, spiritual, or otherwise.  It may seem that the forces of evil and darkness are too numerous, and we despair of victory.

Yet, as it is written,

Ye are of God, my little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).

In Jesus Christ we will have the victory.  There is no force greater than His Lordship.  We just need to have faith that an overwhelming spiritual reality is all around us, and that there are more for us than there are for them!

Ethan R. Longhenry