love that Normal Rockwell painting of the lady bringing in the turkey to her
family and friends and all are smiling and happy. That painting is called “Freedom
from Want.” It was the fourth in a series of Freedom paintings which Rockwell
painted in 1943, during World War II, and in support of the vision of President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address, the president outlined
the reasons for our country’s support of the Allied nations in World War II.
In his speech, Roosevelt promoted the concept of the four basic freedoms to
which all people are entitled: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom
from want, and freedom from fear.”1
was from that speech that Rockwell painted his four freedoms. And that is how
that beautiful Thanksgiving painting came to be. It was nostalgic. It was idealistic
and it was intended to be. When your survival is being threatened, you want
to go back and look to your best dreams. And Thanksgiving is a great dream of
this nation. But the truth is, like Rockwell’s painting, it is a dream that
is best dreamt in days of trial.
was proclaimed by General Washington amidst the heroic but costly struggle for
freedom from our Mother country. And National Thanksgiving came when a tired
but visionary leader named Lincoln called for a day of national gratitude amidst
the backdrop of the bloodiest war in American history.
year, Thanksgiving comes at a time when our nation is at war and terrorists
have targeted our country for attack. Many of our sons and fathers are risking
their lives, going door to door in terrorist-infested bombed-out villages in
Iraq. There are disagreements in families, tensions over past problems, and
anxieties over family health, finances and a lot of other things.
so in the Word of God. Thanksgiving is the overflow of our hearts when we come
to see our desperate need and God’s gracious deliverance.
happened like that with a man named Naaman. Today I want to consider the story
of Naaman and the lessons of his Thanksgiving.
Story of Naaman’s Thanksgiving
latter days of the reign of Israel’s King Jehoram, in the ninth century BC,
there were endless raids by the Syrian King Ben Hadad II into the Northern Kingdom.
These raids were led by the brilliant and highly decorated Syrian Field General
Naaman. But this great man suffered from leprosy. It is important to note that
the Hebrew condition and word which is rendered ‘leprosy’ is likely not Hansen’s
disease as we know it today. But it was a serious skin disease. The ancients
were particularly repulsed by these diseases as they reminded them of the rotting
flesh of the dead. Thus, we have a great man, a man highly esteemed, but a man
with a great disease. Matthew Henry said that the least slave would not have
traded to be in the skin of this great military leader.
the greater storyline of Ben Hadad II and Field Marshall Naaman and war and
rumors of war, there is another storyline. I will have more to say about this
later. But don’t miss it. It is the story of a Hebrew maidservant to the wife
of Naaman. She had been taken captive. And she tells her mistress about the
great prophet Elisha. We must understand that this girl believes in God and
that God is moving and speaking through Elisha. She tells Mrs. Naaman about
the power of God residing in the prophet Elisha. He can heal the disease of
the Field General asks the King, Ben-Hadad, about this matter. People rush today
to Mexico for special drugs they can’t get here and Naaman was also desperate.
So the King, wanting his All-Star General to keep the victories coming, sent
a letter to the King of the Northern Kingdom, Jehoram. Now in the letter he
mentions a whole lot of money: ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels
of gold and ten changes of clothes. Scholars who study such things believe that
the amount offered by the Syrian King to the King of Israel was equivalent to
three-quarters of a billion dollars. Obviously, this Field General was
a moneymaker for Syria and was worth the amount.
story then moves to Israel. And the healing goes like this:
King of Israel gets the communiqué from the King of Syria, but he mistakenly
thinks that he is the one who is expected to heal. The money looks good, but
he knows that he has no such power. He thinks it is a trick and that soon, once
again, the Field General Naaman and the mighty Syrian army will come marching
into his country. So he tears his clothes. That is, in ancient style, he lets
everyone know that doom is coming. It is an ancient way of raising the terror
alert. The Man of God, Elisha, hears about it, so he sends word through the
King of Israel to reply to the letter and tell the great General Naaman to come
on over. He tells him to come to his place.
your burdens to the Word of God is the right thing to do. And God still welcomes
us to bring our pain to Him. Would that many suffering from sin’s horrible blight
on their families and their lives would come into the House of the Lord and
just sit under the preaching of God’s Word. They would be healed.
the long and short of the story is that Naaman gets his directions, which seem
odd to him. In fact, Naaman doesn’t like the prescription. He is to wash himself
seven times in the Jordan River. Archeology has revealed through discovered
artifacts that in ancient Mesopotamia, there was a ritual where purification
was secured by dipping seven times in the river facing upstream and seven times
facing downstream and then releasing gifts into the river to appease the local
god. So Elisha gave a prescription for cure that would have likely been familiar
to Naaman. The reason that Naaman doesn’t like the prescription is that it is
to take place in the Jordan River, not one of his rivers. It would be ac act
of faith in the God of Israel, not the pagan gods of Syria. So he gets upset.
Sinners frequently buck at God’s exclusive claims and demands on their lives.
But the military leader’s servants spoke sense to him and he ate his pride and
did as Elisha commanded. And the text says that his skin was “restored like
the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”
we get to where I want to go. How does Naaman response? These are the lessons
for our lives this Thanksgiving from Naaman’s Thanksgiving.
Number One: Naaman’s Thanksgiving was a response to God’s grace. He returned
to thank God through thanking Elisha because Naaman was healed.
this great man had leprosy reminds us that no matter how blessed we think we
are, we are also all marked by sin. The Bible teaches us that we are all sinners
and that Jesus Christ will heal us of the leprosy of our souls, sin, and that
He will make us white as snow. If you have been healed of sin, forgiven, cleansed
and given a new life, your response is to come to Christ.
the Gospel of Luke, there were ten men who came to the Lord for healing of their
Of the ten, only one returned to give thanks to Jesus. And that one
was a Samaritan, a foreigner. But while the others had a physical healing that
would last for a while and then they would one day die, the man who returned
came to worship Jesus. And that man was cleansed: deeply, completely, and fully.
He was forgiven. His leprosy was healed, but even more importantly, his soul
was healed. Though he would die, yet he would live again.
remember being in Plymouth to visit the plantation there. We visited the living
history village where our Pilgrim forefathers had that first Thanksgiving. As
we toured the museum, we noticed that historians have argued about what really
happened on that first Thanksgiving. Much of what they are doing is re-writing
our older understanding. For instance, the idea that the Pilgrims actually watched
the Detroit Lions play the Dallas Cowboys has now been revealed as just faulty
oral tradition! Well, for all of the tampering with the story, even the most
secular minded, faith-bashing historians cannot escape this one point: the Pilgrims
were not thanking the Indians. They were not thanking each other. They were
worshipping God. Thanksgiving was an act of worship to the God of grace who
had saved their souls. Thanksgiving came out of an awareness of who they were
and who God is and what He did for them.
your life has been transformed by God’s grace, then that grace will transform
your Thanksgiving into an act of genuine worship to the One who has healed you.
Number Two: Naaman’s Thanksgiving was a confession of God’s glory.
healing led to a confession of God, the one and only Lord of all.
is not just pausing to say that something out there bigger than we are is giving
us some lucky breaks. Thanksgiving is not just saying, “Thank my lucky stars”
or “Life has smiled on me.” That is meaningless. Thanksgiving for Naaman was
a rejection of false gods who were powerless to heal him and receiving the God
of Israel who alone is the God of all.
in the Wall Street Journal, there was a great op-ed piece which reminded everyone
of just how politically incorrect is this holiday. The Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving
was about honoring Jesus Christ the Son of God and Savior of the World, who
is the full manifestation of the one, true God of the universe, the God of the
Bible. As the writer put it, the first Thanksgiving was by a bunch of Fundamentalists.
He did not mean to say that to be demeaning to Bible-believing Christians, but
to be factual. They believed in a certain set of ideas about God and Man and
they didn’t believe other ideas. Their beliefs had consequences and in large
part, this nation is here because of their belief about Jesus of Nazareth. Their
Thanksgiving, like Naaman’s, was about God’s glory.
Revelation 11.17 we read this:
give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken
your great power and begun to reign.”
we do today in our homes is not to thank “each other,” or thank “goodness” or
to have a national day of congratulations that we made it through another year,
but to thank God. And in doing so, to confess the glory of God in our lives.
Number Three: Thanksgiving is not to repay God but to rejoice in Him.
would not be beholden to Naaman and his money. The renewed Naaman needed to
learn that the God of the Bible does not need Naaman’s money or his power or
his influence. He needs nothing from Naaman. And Naaman needs everything from
the Book Acts, Chapter 8, we see something similar:
when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’
hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone
on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him,
“May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift
of God with money!”
grace is not cause and effect, it is unconditional. God’s grace is not contractual,
it is covenantal. God’s grace is not about making a deal, but about entering
into God’s deal—His offer of new life for those who turn to His way of salvation
by faith. And that way is to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to die
to yourself and your ways, and to follow Him.
is most interesting to me in this passage is this: what ignited the act of thanksgiving
which was a response to God’s grace and a confession of God’s glory in the life
of Naaman? It was, of course, a little servant girl. The second most powerful
man in Syria was helpless in his disease. When he got his healing, he would
have to say, “I wouldn’t be clean, and I wouldn’t know God except for the power
of the testimony of that little girl.”
that sound like God? Knowing what you know about grace now, and how God secured
your salvation through a baby who came in a manger, who lived without a roof
over his head, who died on a cross between two criminals, a God who went to
the grave for you? Doesn’t that sound like God?
Thanksgiving this year will be like Naaman in this way: I too came to understand
what Thanksgiving really is through the testimony of a powerless maiden. I visited
a dear saint of God yesterday named Jean. Jean lives in the nursing care unit
of Alexian Village. When you walk into Jean’s room, you instantly sense the
presence and power of the Holy Spirit. And you sense something else: joy. Jean’s
face radiates the love of Christ. Her voice overflows with testimony to God
and thanksgiving for His grace. But you see, what makes this Thanksgiving so
special is that Jean has been bed-ridden for a great deal of her life. She has
MS. She will not walk again. She will grow weaker. She is raised and lowered
by a crane. She is fed by others, bathed by others, and cared for by others.
But that does not include a husband. She once had a husband, but for whatever
reason, her disease was too much for him and he is gone. And she didn’t get
to see her little ones grow up the way a mom would like. And there are a great
deal more painful stories. As her friend told me last night, “She has every
reason NOT to be thankful.” Jean told me that “life had been kind of tough.”
“To say the least,” I thought. She said, “But we believe that He’s in control,
don’t we pastor? And I have a choice to be thankful or not. And I have chosen
to be thankful and to be happy! I am going to praise Him! Isn’t that
what Thanksgiving is all about, pastor?” I held her hand, and we prayed. We
talked about how she loves her church, and how so many Christians, including
a special person in our congregation, means so much to her. And as I was walking
out, she cried out, “It’s going to be a great Thanksgiving, pastor!” I smiled
and held back tears and told her, “It already is.”
Thanksgiving was like Naaman’s in that it was a response to God’s grace, a confession
of God’s glory. It was unlike Naaman’s Thanksgiving in that there was no payment
offered other than the blood payment of her Savior, and the priceless gold of
a new life praising Jesus Christ. You see, when that happens, Thanksgiving happens.
it happen with us. It’s going to be a great Thanksgiving.
A. Milton is Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, TN.
1. Direct quote from <http://www.nrm.org/exhibits/current/four-freedoms.html>.
2. Luke 17.11 On the way
to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he
entered a village, he was met by ten lepers,* who stood at a distance 13 and
lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When
he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as
they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was
healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his
face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus
answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to
return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him,
“Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”