2 Kings 5:1-17.

Speaking Helpful Words

        American Journal of Biblical Theology               June 6, 2004                    Copyright 2004, J.W. Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com          Scripture quotes from KJV

What kind of power do words have? None? Great Power? Before we get into the focal passage that gives some examples of the power of words, let's look at some of the scriptural teachings on the subject:

Job 15:5-6.  Your sin prompts your mouth; you adopt the tongue of the crafty. Your own mouth condemns you, not mine; your own lips testify against you.

Job 27:2-43.  "As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made me taste bitterness of soul, as long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not speak wickedness, and my tongue will utter no deceit.

Psalm 5:8-9.  Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies-- make straight your way before me. Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit.

Psalm 10:6-7.  He says to himself, "Nothing will shake me; I'll always be happy and never have trouble." His mouth is full of curses and lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue.

Psalm 12:2-3.  Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception. May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue

Psalm 15:2-5.  He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.

Psalm 16:8-9.  I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure,

Psalm 34:12-13.  Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.

Psalm 35:27-28.  May those who delight in my vindication shout for joy and gladness; may they always say, "The LORD be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant." My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long.

Psalm 37:30.  The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just.

Psalm 39:1.  For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David. I said, "I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence."

Psalm 45:1.  For the director of music. To the tune of "Lilies." Of the Sons of Korah. A maskil. A wedding song. My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.

Psalm 50:19-20.  You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit. You speak continually against your brother and slander your own mother's son.

Psalm 51:14-15.  Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

Psalm 52:2-4.  Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit. You love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth. Selah You love every harmful word, O you deceitful tongue!

Psalm 71:23-24.  My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you-- I, whom you have redeemed. My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long, for those who wanted to harm me have been put to shame and confusion.

Psalm 119:172.  May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous.

Psalm 120:2-3.  Save me, O LORD, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues. What will he do to you, and what more besides, O deceitful tongue?

Psalm 139:3-4.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.

Proverbs 6:16-19.  There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Proverbs 10:18-21.  He who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool. When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value. The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment.

Proverbs 10:31-32.  The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but a perverse tongue will be cut out. The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse.

Proverbs 11:11-13.  Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed. A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue. A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.

Proverbs 12:17-19.  A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies. Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.

Proverbs 12:22-23.  The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful. A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but the heart of fools blurts out folly.

Proverbs 15:1-2.  A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.

Proverbs 15:4-5.  The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. A fool spurns his father's discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.

Proverbs 15:7.  The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools.

Proverbs 17:4.  A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue.

Proverbs 17:20.  A man of perverse heart does not prosper; he whose tongue is deceitful falls into trouble.

Proverbs 17:27-28.  A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

Proverbs 18:20-21.  From the fruit of his mouth a man's stomach is filled; with the harvest from his lips he is satisfied. The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Proverbs 21:6.  A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare.

Proverbs 21:23.  He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.

Proverbs 25:14-15.  Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of gifts he does not give.  Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.

Proverbs 25:23.  As a north wind brings rain, so a sly tongue brings angry looks.

Proverbs 26:28.  A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

Proverbs 27:1-2.  Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.

Proverbs 28:23.  He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.

Jeremiah 9:8.  Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks with deceit. With his mouth each speaks cordially to his neighbor, but in his heart he sets a trap for him.

Romans 14:11.  It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'"

James 1:26.  If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

1 Peter 3:10.  For, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.

James 3:2.  We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

James 3:3-5.  When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

James 3:6-8.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3:9-12.  With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

What are some of the conclusions that you can make concerning God's instruction concerning the use of the tongue?

What are some of the ways that an individual's words have influenced your life?

The focal passage for this lesson describes an experience of Naaman, the commander of the army of Aram. His life was radically changed through a few words spoken at critical times.

2 Kings 5:1.

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

The word Aram means high, or highlands, and as the name of a country denotes that elevated region extending from the northeast of Palestine to the Euphrates. It corresponded generally with the Syria and Mesopotamia of the Greeks and Romans. The word Syrian is the same as the word, Aramean. Damascus became at length the capital of the several smaller kingdoms comprehended under the designation Aram or Syria.  The original Aram was the son of Shem and grandson of Noah. 

The Syrians and Israelites are ethnically related (Deut 26:5), though have always been enemies, as they still are today.  Do you find it interesting that the scripture describes Syrian victories over Israel as given to Naaman by the Lord? (About 800 BC)  God works in the lives of all people.  He works in the lives of the lost as He reveals Himself to them and gives them opportunities to turn to Him in faith.  He works in the lives of the saved to draw them closer to Himself in relationship, in obedience, and in blessing. 

What is leprosy?  Modern leprosy refers to a viral condition that causes degeneration of the nerves in the extremities, causing numbness. This numbness then causes those stricken with the illness to injure themselves, resulting in many sores, cuts, bruises, broken and lost fingers, toes and limbs. I once had a university student in my class who suffered from leprosy brought on by the continual inhaling of paint fumes at his place of employment.  He was constantly dealing with the injuries that are sustained in the condition.  The scripture uses the word leprosy to refer to this condition, as well as many others that have similar symptoms that cause open sores and discoloration of the skin, including psoriasis, leucodermia, and ringworm.

People were isolated from society when their leprosy was evident.  People did not understand its source, attributing such conditions to sin or a judgment of God.  People did not want to, by association, receive the same "treatment" by God.  So as the commander of the army, one who interacts with people from a position of authority, Naaman was in a difficult situation.   Probably, he was just beginning to develop signs of the disorder, and though he was able to keep it from those he met on the way, it was evident to his family, and the family was very concerned. Naaman had everything to lose, and his loss would leave his family as destitute as they would be if he had died, and maybe worse. The prognosis was not good for a man who is well-respected and has many responsibilities.

2 Kings 5:2-3 

Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. 3 She said to her mistress, "If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy."

1. A Timely word.

We see here that Naaman's wife is being served by a slave girl taken from Israel. This girl remembers the Israel she knew, and the faith she has in God. Upon learning of Naaman's plight, her response was to say to her mistress, "If only.." Obviously she had no doubts as to what the prophet could do for Naaman, even as an enemy of Israel.

Note that there is no command here. It is simply a statement of regret. She probably has no thoughts concerning Naaman actually going to Elisha, because she considers it impossible. However, she cares enough for him to wish that he could be healed. Her statement simply came out of who she was at a time when someone was listening.

This Godly spirit is further proven by her circumstance. She had every reason to resent Naaman and his family and be glad to see him suffer. Why? As the commander of the Army, those who raided her home, broke up her family, and sold her into slavery were under his command. The commander had the choice of any of the slaves, so she was probably quite a beauty with the potential of a good future ahead of her. Instead of resentment, she had compassion for her captor, and spoke words of concern and care.

How many times have you looked back and said, "I wish I had said something when I had the chance!" What causes us to fail to speak when opportunities present themselves?

The slave girl's statement made an impression on Naaman's wife, because she then went to Naaman.

2 Kings 5:4 

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said.

It is interesting that there seems no hesitation on Naaman's part to subject himself to a foreign prophet, and include the King of Syria in the plan to do so. It certainly was a bold move, and showed a measure of his own desperation. 

2 Kings 5:5-8 

"By all means, go," the king of Aram replied. "I will send a letter to the king of Israel." So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: "With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy." 7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, "Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!" 8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: "Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel."

2. A reassuring word.

The King showed him tremendous support, providing him with 10 talents (750 pounds, $55,000) of silver and 6,000 shekels (150 pounds, $750,000) of gold. The clothing was probably of fine Syrian linen. Surely, Naaman expected to have to pay for the service, and wanted to be sure to have funds enough to do so.

Apparently the King and Naaman thought that it was the Israelite king who had the power to heal Naaman, and this caused the King of Israel no shortage of concern. He became quite distraught, as indicated by his tearing of his robe, an indication of profound sorrow. Why did he respond this way? He knew that he had no power to heal leprosy, and saw this as a tool that the King of Syria was using to provoke warfare. His recent defeat to the Syrians was lost to this particular commander, and he grieved over the impending loss of the entire Kingdom that such a one-sided battle would bring.

When word reached Elisha, the prophet's reaction was to calm and encourage the King. He knew that Naaman had come to receive a miracle from a prophet, and what better opportunity was there to demonstrate the love and power of the one true God?  In such a demonstration, God's power would be testified to the Syrians, and God's love for all people would be testified to the Israelites.  The spontaneous healing of Naaman was not Elisha's idea, that is, he did not simply expect God to follow in his lead, but rather, the relationship Elisha had with God was so personal that he understood that it was in fact God's will that the creator would be glorified in Syria (and in Israel) through this act that would cure the commander, encourage the King of Israel, validate Elisha's ministry, and cause people to turn back to Himself.  What we see here is complete confidence in what God would do, rather than a self-confidence in what Elisha could do.

This is another example of words that are brought to someone in distress. In this case, they were words of reassurance. How often do we find ourselves talking with people who are in distress? What kind of things are others around us going through? Many of the people we know are experiencing depression, loss of health, loss of loved ones, marriages in stress, financial crisis; there is an endless list.  We are continually given opportunities to give reassurance to others by reminding them of God's love and provision in our lives. Many times the losses we experience are caused by our stumbling in the battle with this world (Ephesians 6:10-17) due to chinks or missing pieces of spiritual armor. We can convey God's word to help restore that armor and help bring the stricken person back into God's fellowship.

Oftentimes we fail to see the spiritual nature of people's distress. In reality, every conflict that arises in the life of a Christian has a spiritual context, and we can always encourage and reassure others by observing their state in the context of God's love.

2 Kings 5:9-12 

So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha's house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, "Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed." 11 But Naaman went away angry and said, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?" So he turned and went off in a rage.

3. An instructive word.

How many times, when we are experiencing a problem, we seek God's help in its solution only to prescribe that solution ourselves? If God does not answer our prayer the way we think it should be answered, we think that God did not answer. When we reject God's solution to our requests we are rebelling against God. We first see such a response to the instructions given to Naaman by Elisha.

First, who delivered the message to Naaman? Elisha sent a messenger.  Naaman had traveled all this way, with a war chest worth a million dollars, and Elisha did not even come out of his house to meet with him. How did Naaman respond?  Naaman was used to being in command, with others deferring to him.  When Elisha did not show such deference, he was insulted and angry. Naaman did not understand that his healing was not to come at the hands of Elisha, but by an act of God that was simply prophesied by Elisha.  Naaman was looking for a person to heal him, and not God Himself.  Elisha's refusal to meet Naaman on his terms removed the possibility of Naaman misunderstanding the source of his healing, declaring that he was healed by Elisha. Naaman, being the man in charge, had the whole healing ceremony planned. He was to meet with Elisha, pay him a million bucks, and watch Elisha wave his hands over him and heal him. He was prepared to watch the prophet Elisha grovel before such a great man as he, who brought such a great treasure. The instructions that God gave him made no sense to him since they included none of the parts of the drama that he had envisioned.  He was treated in the same way anyone else would be treated. He was so angry that he failed to note that this simple message was a well-defined set of instructions that would result in his complete healing, and would cost him nothing.

Why do we so often reject words of instruction?  Certainly Naaman's reason was his unabated pride.  We also often do not want to surrender our personal authority to someone else, or even to God.  The further we are in autocratic distance from an authority, the more we tend to rebel. Like Naaman, we want to be in control, and we want to prescribe the solution to our problems, not realizing that God's wisdom is so much greater than ours that we cannot possibly see what it is that God really has planned for us. So, rather than follow God's plan, we reject it and settle for a far second best, or for no solution at all.

Look at the Biblical truths here. God acts through His word, not though the magic of a prophet. God acts on the behalf of all people, regardless of their worldly position. Also, it is God who heals, not us; consequently we can lead people to God to seek healing.

2 Kings 5:13-14 

Naaman's servants went to him and said, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, 'Wash and be cleansed'!" 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

4. An Encouraging Word

Isn't it great that God surrounds us with people who care about us. We often fail to realize that they are there when we get caught up in our own little world, and engage in our own pity-party. Naaman, who was humble enough to take the advice of a slave girl, humble enough to submit himself to an insulting foreign prophet, found himself, yet again, listening to the advice of those who cared about him. His servants approached him with respect, meeting Naaman on ground that he would accept. What did they tell him?

They reminded him that Elisha did give him instructions for cleansing.  The instructions were simple, clear, and could be followed without any difficulty or sacrifice on Naaman's part.  As a commander who was often responsible for determining strategic solutions to problems, he could see the simple logic of his servant's words.   So, Naaman relented and did as Elisha had prescribed.  I have heard and/or read many interpretations of Naaman's healing, and wonder what was going through his mind when he went to the Jordan. He was told to wash seven times. If he stopped at six, he would not have been healed, and certainly by the sixth washing he saw no evidence of healing. It was after he dipped himself the seventh time that he was instantly, and completely healed. So much so that the scripture describes his skin as having been restored to a youthful quality.

When we see someone about to do something profoundly foolish what can we do?  They can be approached with love, respect and concern, making them at ease before giving them advice.  Note that the servants did not rebuke or scold Naaman.  They did not tell him he was foolish or stupid. They used a series of questions to cause the commander to deduce the truth himself. The best way to convince someone of a point is to get them to answer a question that causes them to agree to that point. That way, the truth that you want to convey is first presented by their own lips.  This is a method often used by successful counselors and teachers.

Naaman's servants used a wise choice of words to turn Naaman to God's instruction in a respectful, non-threatening manner.  What was Naaman's response to the cleansing that he received at the river? He went back to the prophet to thank him.

2 Kings 5:15-17 

Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant." 16 The prophet answered, "As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing." And even though Naaman urged him, he refused. 17 "If you will not," said Naaman, "please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD.

5. A grateful word.

Naaman had already demonstrated his wisdom in listening to people who were subject to him. He was wise enough to see now what the source of his healing really was. He still wanted to give a gift to Elisha. Why did Elisha refuse?  His acceptance of any part of the gifts would diminish Naaman's need to thank God, rather than Elisha.  Naaman's next request may sound a bit strange, as he asked for a few hundred pounds of soil, taken from Elijah's property.  Why? This was Naaman's way of saying that he wanted the Lord to be with him in Syria. He, like all others of their day, thought that Gods were metaphysical and local in authority. By taking some of the earth back, he would have a piece of Israel's God. Though he had no theological understanding, he had a heart that recognized God, and was humbled before him. Naaman's desire to know the one true God was real.  Upon recognizing this one True God, he realized that the Gods who he was worshiping back in Aram were powerless.  Though he would still be required, because of his political position, to attend pagan worship ceremonies, Naaman promised Elisha that his worship would always be to the God of the Israelites.  Naaman was not only physically healed, but his healing served as the catalyst of his spiritual healing.

All this started with the concern of a slave girl who trusted God.

Certainly you can recall many occasions when you received words of encouragement, occasions when you were directed in your path by someone who cared for you. Every day God will place people in our path those who are going through both minor and major crises and who need encouragement from someone who cares. Obviously, if that is to be us, we first must care. Then we must have the confidence in God to take the bold step of acting upon our caring heart. Then God will use us in ways that will bless others, provide blessings to ourselves, and give glory to God. 

Christians are called to share God's love with those who are in need of it, and none are more in need of God's love than those who are lost.  Often Christians will shun that calling by enumerating rationalizations that provide excuses for not loving others.  Note how Elisha was used of God to bring Naaman to Himself:  Elisha did not even come out of his house, instead simply communicating the truth through his messenger.  There are many ways to share God's love with others.  Pray each day that God will show you ways that His love can be shared, and that He would give you the courage and wisdom to do so.