Naaman, Numbers and Nobodies
The story of Naaman, the Syrian (2 Kings 5), when viewed through spiritual eyes, can represent the story of a modern day pastor. He has an outward physical problem depicted, in type, as leprosy, but he has a deeper inward problem of which he is not aware—a ruling mindset that has kept him enslaved to false gods. After God, represented by Elisha, corrects his thinking, he is then healed of his outward physical condition.
Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the LORD had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper. Syria, in this particular allegorical interpretation, represents a large portion of the church of the Western world today; the king of Syria is the mindset that rules over this church and Naaman is a pastor subjected to this ruling mindset.
Most Bible students would agree that Israel is a type of the church but few would interpret Syria as being an offshoot of that church. To see this, we need to trace Syria’s roots back to Genesis where we learn the Syrians were descended from Noah’s son, Shem, an ancester of Abraham and Christ. The Syrians were not a part of true Israel because they had fallen into idolatry and worshiped the gods Rimmon and Adrammelech; therefore, Syrians, in type, represent a portion of the present-day church that has fallen into idolatry. A little research into the nature of these gods will reveal what these ancient gods represent and then we shall see their counterpart for today’s church.
Rimmon means “exalted” and “pomegranate.” A pomegranate is a round fruit with a red leathery rind and many seeds covered with red, juicy edible flesh. The pomegranate was worshiped as a fertility god because of its many seeds and, biblically speaking, seeds represent people. Is it not true today that a church with large numbers of people is “exalted” in a community? If the local TV station wants to do a story on a local church, they’ll probably choose the biggest one. When a pastor is needed for prayer at a sporting event or other community affair, or when the leaders of the city want an invocation for their meeting, the man with the largest church is usually the one invited to do this service.
When pastors congregate at conventions and seminars, one question will inevitably be asked. Some can hardly wait for the question while others want to avoid it at all costs, but, make no mistake about it, this all important question will be asked, “Well, my friend, how many are you running now?” The pastor with the large church feels confident and fulfilled as he answers the question, but the man with the tiny church, feeling like a nobody, is tempted to inflate the numbers in order not to lose face with his colleagues; and all this because the king of Syria’s god (Rimmon) is often influencing the minds of church leaders today. As soon as these all-important numbers are known, an unspoken ranking inevitably takes place in the minds of all those present. The man with the numbers is God’s man of the hour with faith and power, but the man with the little church feels he is a failure.
In addition to Rimmon, they worshiped Adrammelech. Adrammelech, according to An Interpreting Dictionary of Scripture Proper Names , means “cloak,” “glory,” “grandeur or power of a king.” Sometimes, in addition to the importance of numbers, the desire to dress in expensive clothing and erect grandiose buildings with lavish furnishings takes over a church, and these may be outward manifestations of the inward sin of pride.
Naaman, (a pastor) was captain of the host (masses) of the king of Syria and a man who had brought deliverance to many but when he came before Elisha (God) seeking deliverance from his leprosy, he was not allowed into his presence (2 Kings 5:9,10). “…Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha, and Elisha sent a messenger unto him…” Apparently God didn’t recognize how important this man was and instead of meeting him personally, sent a messenger. Isn’t it good to know God is not impressed by numbers or grandiose architecture! God looks on the heart of individuals and all of us, pastor and layperson alike, has access to God based on the condition of his heart and nothing else.
Elisha knew that Naaman was in bondage to false gods but Naaman needed to know this and his refusal to see him brought out the real sin underlying the idolatry. Naaman was enraged by Elisha’s refusal to see him and by his seemingly useless instructions to wash in the Jordan River seven times as he exclaimed, “Behold, I 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. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean?”
Now we see Naaman’s real problem—pride—and had it not been for his servants’ entreating him to at least give it a try, he would have stormed away and missed the blessing of God. Naaman’s outward problem had its genesis in his inward sin and God’s answer for pride is the same today as it was thousands of years ago, “Wash in the Jordan River seven times.”
The Jordan River, the place where Jesus was baptized, is a symbol of death and only as we die to self are we delivered from the sin that so easily besets us. Naaman had to die to his elevated opinion of himself that was based on the grandiose scale of his ministry. His servants had said to him, “…if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? How much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” Naaman had a set way of doing things that corresponded to his opinion of himself and this had to die before he could even obey God in the simplest thing regarding his own relationship with God.
It is easy for us to see that a man with a large successful ministry may be tempted to succumb to pride, but what about the man with the small church? Is he humble and contrite because his ministry is small? Strange as it may seem, he suffers from the same tendency for sin as the man with the large church! It is pride that makes him feel inferior over the smallness of his ministry. Pride says, “A man of your talents and gifts, should have a large following. If people knew the sincerity of your heart and the depth of your preaching, there wouldn’t be enough room in the building to hold the people. You deserve a bigger building than this after all you’ve sacrificed to serve God.”
After listening to this for a few years, many pastors leave the ministry. One pastor said to me, “God refused to bless my ministry, so I decided to leave.” He didn’t seem to realize he had the wrong standard of measure! God’s blessing on a ministry is not determined by numbers of people or the size and condition of the building. God’s blessing on a ministry is His presence.
I have stood alongside my pastor husband through over forty years of pastoral ministry. If we had understood the numbers trap when we first entered the ministry, we would have been spared many years of misery. We’ve had small churches that grew rapidly and we’ve had small churches that stayed small—we still haven’t figured out why the numbers were sometimes there and sometimes not—but it has taken us many years to agree with God that validity of ministry is not measured in numbers but in our faithfulness.
When I self-published my first book over the Internet, first as an e-book and then additionally in hard copy, I felt led to buy a large map of the world and put it up on my office wall so I could put in a pin each time I sold a book. That way I could see how my writing was affecting the lives of people all over the world. This was exhilarating at first as I put the pins in Australia, England, South Africa and other places, but soon the joy of the experience turned to frustration. After one year I had sold a mere sixty-six books. That is when the Lord began speaking to me about pride.
It was pride that robbed me of the joy of ministry. First of all, I needed to know the book was God’s, not mine. He was the one who gave me the experiences and knowledge to put into the book. It was His idea to write it and He gave me the words. If He chose to have sixty-six copies sell then that was His business, not mine. If I were truly humble, my attitude would have been, “Wow! Lord, this is awesome! Just look how this ministry is going all over the world. What an honor and privilege to have been given the opportunity to write this book. I am amazed that You would use me like this.”
This should be our attitude as we stand before our congregations on Sunday morning. The pastor with the large congregation needs to remember the numbers are not necessarily God’s sign of blessing and the one standing before a handful must remember this is not a sign of God’s lack of blessing. If we take credit for having large numbers, we are in pride. If we consider ourselves failures for the lack of numbers, we are still in pride. We must remember God’s standard for success is not according to the world. God looks on the heart and God is pleased with faithfulness. When we are right with God, we will enjoy the ministry and our heart will be filled with joy and gratitude for the privilege of serving Him in this capacity.
God does want our churches filled with people, but first, He may need to deal with a hidden ruling mindset rooted in pride so that when the numbers are there, we won’t fall into greater sin. We, like Naaman, will eventually find an outward blessing if we repent and allow God to purge our heart of the insidious inner sin of pride.