Naaman was an honourable man of authority and a great achiever. His victories were given to him by the Lord, but he was also a leper. Leprosy was so serious in the ancient world that the chapters of Leviticus 13 and 14 specifically deal with matters relating to it. In Luke 4:27 our Lord informs us that there were many lepers in Israel at the time of Elisha though none was cleansed but Naaman the Syrian. In this narrative we can easily identify with some or all of the characters involved and learn about spiritual priorities and our greatest need.
The search for a cure
The Jewish servant girl is a type of the gracious believer informing Naaman about the prophet Elisha who could heal him of his leprosy. Though she was held captive in a foreign land with beliefs and culture alien to her own, she sought the good of her master for the glory of God. Wiersbe writes, “The girl was a slave, but because she trusted the God of Israel, she was free. Even more, she was a humble witness to her mistress.”[i] She clearly understood that our current situation is where the Lord has permitted us to be and that there is always an opportunity to be a godly witness. The faithful evangelist is aware that reaching out to others is like one beggar telling another beggar where they can find bread.
Ben Hadad, the King of Syria sent Naaman with a letter and excessively abundant provisions of gold, silver and clothing with a letter for King Joram of Israel. On receiving those gifts King Joram tore his clothes, evidently anticipating a cunning ruse whilst also recognising his inability to heal Naaman of his leprosy. Since such wealth could be summoned so speedily, it was obvious that neither governors nor physicians could cure Naaman of his leprosy. The same applies to our inherent condition of sin. Sin cannot be cured through the skill or efforts of human resources but only through the grace of the Divine Saviour.
Naaman had travelled a distance to seek Elisha’s assistance. This wouldn’t have been a two-hour drive on the motorway but a considerable journey when kingdoms were constantly quarrelling, and alliances were swiftly forged and broken and the terrain wouldn’t have been easy going either. If he had left Damascus, he would have ventured at least one hundred miles to have a consultation with Elisha who didn’t show up but left his messenger with instructions.
What Naaman was required to do seemingly added insult to injury. To be made clean all he had to do was to wash seven times in the River Jordan. We must remember the significance of his cultural upbringing. Naaman would not of heard the account of Joshua and his army marching seven times on the seventh day around the walls of Jericho which promptly fell down, in Sunday School lessons! He was livid at what was being asked of him and reasoned that he could have done the same in his native rivers.
Naaman’s servants wisely persuaded him that if Elisha had asked him to do something grand he would have readily have done it, though if he was being asked to wash and be clean, how much more should he do what was being asked of him? This reminds us that though we may consider ourselves to be of lowly estate and again like the Jewish servant girl; we can be effectively used by the Lord if we are ready, willing and obedient.
The real barrier which prevented Naaman from obeying Elisha’s instructions wasn’t a cultural blunder or miscomprehension, but the age- old problem of pride. Pride is the opposite of humility. Pride is an offence to God and Naaman had to have that dealt with before his condition was healed. We also see a swift and distinct change in Naaman’s behaviour, following his change of heart and when his flesh was restored. When someone turns away from their sin and comes to the faith there should be a change in their character, and they should have new desires and motives.
The inward change
Naaman immediately proclaimed “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant (2 Kings 16:15).”The purpose of Naaman being healed wasn’t just so that Naaman’s quality of life would be greatly improved for the better but ultimately for the glory of God and an astonishing witness to others so that they might believe also.
He was full of gratitude and wanted to bestow a gift to Elisha who he was previously angry with. Elisha didn’t receive the gift, but why was that? True, Elisha knew that God would provide for his needs and he wasn’t in it for the money. Noted, Elisha knew that he would be answerable to God for his actions and priorities. But Elisha wouldn’t have wanted Naaman to think that his gift was a transaction for his healing or that in some way he had bought into or earned his salvation.
We are reminded again of how far Naaman has come in such a short period of time in his spiritual growth. Taking two mule loads of earth expressed his wish to worship the true God on the displaced soil of Israel. His request to be pardoned of his duties to the king in the temple in his own land reveal that further changes were taking place in his life.
We could so easily end there and mention God’s mercy and grace and forget that He is also the Judge. Elisha’s servant Gehazi sought an opportunity to benefit from this miraculous event by relieving Naaman of his gifts. He even lied about being sent by Elijah to bring back money and clothing. He stored them away and lied again to Elisha about where he had gone. Elisha told him that the leprosy of Naaman would cling to him and his descendants forever and he went out leprous, as white as snow. Williams writes, “It is a dreadful thing to sin against righteousness, but it is a more dreadful thing to sin against grace, and in a day of grace.”[ii]
For the one who hasn’t trusted in the Lord, today is the day of salvation, turn to the Lord and cast yourself before Him in humility, seek His forgiveness and be saved. For those that do know the Lord, let us remember and seek to emulate the godly actions of Naaman’s servants and seek to bless others whenever and wherever the Lord has stationed us. Matthew Henry counsels us, “Let us beware of hypocrisy and covetousness, and dread the curse of spiritual leprosy remaining on our souls.”[iii]
[i] Warren. W. Wiersbe The Wiersbe Bible Commentary Old Testament (David C. Cook, Colorado Springs; 2007), p684 [ii] George Williams Williams Complete Bible Commentary (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids; 1994), p204 [iii] Matthew Henry Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary (Moody Press, Chicago), p275