God used the prophet Elisha to heal a Gentile, a non-Jew.
Now Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master, and highly respected, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man was also a valiant warrior, but he was a leper. Now the Arameans had gone out in bands and had taken captive a little girl from the land of Israel; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy.” Naaman went in and told his master, saying, “Thus and thus spoke the girl who is from the land of Israel.” Then the king of Aram said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” He departed and took with him ten talents of silver and six thousand shekels of gold and ten changes of clothes. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, “And now as this letter comes to you, behold, I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 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 is sending word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? But consider now, and see how he is seeking a quarrel against me.” It happened when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent word to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Now let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and his chariots and stood at the doorway of the house of Elisha. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and was in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored to you and you will be clean.” But Naaman was furious 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 cure the leper.’ Are not Abanah 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. Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean?’” So 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. When he returned to the man of God with all his company, and came and stood before him, he said, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel; so please take a present from your servant now.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will take nothing.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. Naaman said, “If not, please let your servant at least be given two mules’ load of earth; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering nor will he sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD. In this matter may the LORD pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand 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.” 2 Kings 5: 1 – 18
So even though Israel was God’s chosen nation during the days of the Old Testament, the Lord did show kindness and mercy to the Gentiles. Yet over the years the Jews lost sight of God’s mercy for all people, and this false belief influenced their thoughts on who the Messiah would be. They expected a military or political leader, who would free the nation of Israel from their oppressors.
Yet Jesus the Messiah did not come to free the nation of Israel from its Roman occupiers, but He came to free all people from their sins and save them from the wrath of God. This is one of the great facets of the gospel – that God’s good news was intended for the Gentiles and not only the Jews.
Jesus used the account of the healing of Naaman the Aramean to foreshadow the fact that His gospel would be given to the Gentiles. He referenced the account after standing up in a synagogue and reading Scripture.
And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor, He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD.” And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went His way. Luke 4: 16 – 30
Why did the people rage? Because Jesus pointed back to Scripture and demonstrated a time in which God healed a Gentile leper and did not heal Jewish lepers. They raged because they did not believe in God’s love for all people, and they had made false assumptions about why God had chosen them as a distinct nation. They didn’t want to think that God’s love could so abundantly be given to Gentiles and they misunderstood the ministry of the Messiah.
Yet this is the teaching of the New Testament, that the gospel has no boundaries. No one is beyond its reach. God will never say “that type of people should not have the gospel preached to them”. God will never exclude someone because of their race.
Perhaps talking about the gospel not being racist seems elementary. But I can assure you there is racism in the church today, operating at different levels.
Just from my own personal experience, I have witnessed such things. When I joined the Christian dating service where I met my wife, one of the questions asked was “Would you date someone of another race?” I was surprised a Christian service would ask that question, and I was even more surprised how many of the women answered “No”. Surely this is the sign of someone with a gospel that needs maturing. And even within the last few years, I had a former pastor who was Korean and who was discriminated against by certain congregants due to his race.
So the rage of the Jews against Jesus for pointing out God’s healing of Naaman was not an isolated historical incident. Racism and people’s shallow view of God’s grace is an on-going problem and will always need to be addressed in each generation. Only the gospel can truly address racism, for only when understanding that God Himself died for the sins of all people, can one begin to see how God gives righteousness independent of tribe or nation or tongue.
But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him – a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. Colossian 3: 8 – 11
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit… Matthew 28: 19
…and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. Acts 1: 8
I didn’t realize there was a Scarlet Thread in the healing of Naaman, thanks for pointing this out to me!