Thursday, December 29, 2022

2 Kings 5

2 Kings 5 (NIV)✞: Naaman Healed of Leprosy


This chapter introduces a man named Naaman, commander of the army for the king of the nation of Aram. He is well regarded by his king, but he also has some kind of skin disease. (The NIV text—and probably other translations as well—uses the word “leprosy,” but with a footnote indicating that the word used in the original Hebrew was used for various diseases affecting the skin, not just the disease we know as leprosy.)

Luckily for him, on one of Aram’s raids into Israel they captured a young Israelite girl who now serves Naaman’s wife, who suggests that Naaman go see “the prophet who is in Samaria” (v. 3✞) – namely Elisha. The king of Aram is supportive, and even volunteers to write a letter to the king of Israel (where this prophet lives), which he does:

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.”

2 Kings 5:6 (NIV)✞

Which, by the way, wouldn’t be atypical. Yes, the girl suggested that Naaman see a prophet in Israel, not the king, but it would be a completely normal assumption that of course that prophet would be under the command of the king of the nation, so it makes sense for Naaman to start at the top.

As we know, however, that’s not how things work in Israel or Judah. A prophet speaks on behalf of the LORD, and says what the LORD has for them to say—which is very often against the king!—so the normal assumptions don’t apply. And therefore the king of Israel (whom the passage doesn’t even bother to name), when he receives the letter, experiences some distress:

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!”

2 Kings 5:7 (NIV)✞

Elisha has things under control, though: he sends word to the king he should send Naaman to him, adding, “Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel” (v. 8✞). And Naaman does – with his entire entourage, including horses and chariots.

When he arrives Elisha doesn’t even come outside, he just sends a servant with a message: Naaman is to wash himself in the Jordan river seven times and he’ll be healed.

This is not what Naaman had been expecting or hoping for, so he is about to leave in a huff (my word) when one of his servants is able to talk him around:

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 all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.


13 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.

2 Kings 5:11–14 (NIV)✞

When this happens Naaman immediately sees the significance of what has happened – and, therefore, he immediately becomes a believer in the one, true God:

15 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. So please accept 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. 18 But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this.”


19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said.

2 Kings 5:15–19 (NIV)✞

The ESV Study Bible notes indicate that the earth Naaman is bringing back is to build an altar where he can offer sacrifices to the LORD.

After Naaman and his entourage leave, however, Elisha’s servant Gehazi (whom we met in a previous passage) decides that Elisha did the wrong thing in not accepting Naaman’s gift. He runs after Naaman and when he catches up with him he makes up a story whereby Elisha has suddenly received unexpected house guests, and would Naaman therefore please provide some silver and clothing for them?

Naaman is more than happy to provide it—provides, in fact, twice as much silver as Gehazi had requested—and sends some of his servants ahead of Gehazi to carry it all. They put it all in “the house” (I’m assuming this means Elisha’s house because I’m assuming Gehazi lives in Elisha’s house), and then Gehazi eventually ends up back in Elisha’s presence, ready to serve him as if nothing had happened. However, Elisha is not fooled:

25 When he went in and stood before his master, Elisha asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?”


“Your servant didn’t go anywhere,” Gehazi answered.


26 But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes—or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves? 27 Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow.

2 Kings 5:25–27 (NIV)✞


One immediate thing to note here is that the LORD is making His presence felt throughout the known world, not just in Israel and Judah. In fact, this is a great case of someone from a foreign land being confronted with the living God and immediately becoming a believer. I don’t think he’d be following all of the rules, regulations, and laws that God handed down to His people—there’s no indication he was bringing someone back with him who could explain all of those laws, and he definitely wouldn’t be worshipping at the Temple in Jerusalem, and I’m not sure how closely his sacrifices on his homemade altar would mirror the sacrificed made by God’s people—but Elisha doesn’t seem to be faulting Naaman for it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. When Naaman first arrived he didn’t believe God was any different from any other “god.” We can see that in the way he disdained Elisha’s initial response to him, and him scoffing at the idea of washing himself in this river in Israel; why not a river back home?

In fact, as pointed out in a sermon I once heard from Tim Keller on this passage, Naaman was probably expecting some kind of a quest: in order for a valiant warrior to receive his reward, of course this “god” would likely require him to perform some heroic deed! So not only is his “deed” disappointing (just go wash yourself in the river), he doesn’t even get to speak to the prophet in person – Elisha sends a servant to talk to him, which Naaman sees as a snub! He has gone from standing in front of the king of Israel to just getting a message from a servant. Some quest!

But of course the point is that this God is a gracious God: Naaman won’t be healed because he earns it, he’ll be healed purely as an act of Grace from the LORD. And to his credit he immediately gets the point: the very minute he’s healed he rushes back to Elisha, overwhelmed by the fact that he has discovered there is one true God, who heals because He wants to heal not because it is earned. And when when I say that Naaman gets it, he really gets it: he also recognizes, despite what everyone in that day and aged believed, that this God he’s discovered isn’t just some local god, situated in Israel/Judah, He is everywhere. So Naaman can go back home and worship God there – he doesn’t feel that he needs to move to Israel to worship this God, he can worship Him anywhere.

That does provide a practical problem, unfortunately: when Naaman goes home he’ll find himself going to the temple of the god Rimmon with his master the king of Aram, and he’s going to have to partake in some aspects of the rituals, even if he himself doesn’t believe in or worship Rimmon. But Elisha tells him to go in peace; essentially, Elisha tells him that even though he won’t be following the rituals and laws of the LORD God, and won’t be worshipping in the temple at Jerusalem, and will even be taking part in the worship of foreign gods (in a sense), it’s ok! His worship of the true God, in whatever way he’s able to do in Aram, is enough that he doesn’t need to worry about God being angry with him!

I think there’s a lesson here for modern day Christians in the 21st Century. We can fall into worrying a bit too much about how people worship God, instead of that they worship God. When we’re tempted to fall into ritualistic thinking, that there are certain ways one must worship God, we should remember this passage, when the Israelites really did have specific rituals they needed to follow in order to worship the LORD, and yet Elisha (on behalf of God) gives this man from Aram a pass on all of it.

And finally—though this is the least important part of this post—I can easily forget how important little things like a set of clothing were at this time! I can go to a store anytime I want and buy new clothes—I can even do it online and have them sent to me!—but in this day and age a set of clothes was an important possession, and someone might have only one set or only a couple of sets of clothes. (I don’t know anything about this time period, so maybe they had a couple—for work and for formal wear or that kind of thing—but I do know they didn’t have closets full of clothes!) So when Gehazi approaches Naaman and asks for a reward, he doesn’t just ask for silver, he asks for sets of clothing! It’s just an interesting fact, to me.

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