The story of Naaman is truly amazing. When we step back and look at the context within which the narrative takes place, it’s even more amazing. Naaman is the commander of the Aramean army. When I read that this morning, my brain froze: the Aramean army? How have I missed this in the past. The Arameans are the proverbial thorn in the side of Israel. The were the subject of 1 Kings 20 where 127,000 of their men died in fighting the king of Israel (even though Ahab was horrible, God chose to defeat the Arameans).
Simple put, these were not allies or friends of Israel, yet God listens to those who would honor him.
In their skirmishes, Naaman has gained a servant girl from Israel–she serves Naaman’s wife. Naaman has leprosy and the young girls knows about Elisha and presumably the Lord of all, but that might be stretching it a bit. Elisha’s fame had no doubt spread.
“If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 2 Kings 5:3
Naaman goes to the king of Aram and asks permission to go find this prophet. The king writes a letter and sends him with gifts to find the prophet and be healed. King Joram (not a good king, but not as bad as his father) read the letter and tore his robes, afraid that the king of Aram is picking a fight by asking him to do the impossible.
Elisha heard about the request and intervened, “Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” (2 Kings 5:8) So Naaman goes to see Elisha and is given a task from a messenger,
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.” 2 Kings 5:10
Naaman is ticked! It’s already humiliating enough that he has to go into the land of Israel and ask for a favor, now he has to wash in their river? What’s so special about “your” river? Argh!!
Here’s an amazing part, perhaps a side story, but don’t miss this:
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’!” 2 Kings 5:13
Naaman listens to his servants. He listened to his wife who listened to a young girl they captured (probably not for honorable reasons!). Here’s the commander of the army, a man of power and position, yet he listens to those around him and hears their wisdom. The environment he had established must have been one where he was approachable even though he commanded many.
He humbles himself, washes in the Jordan and is cleansed. Naaman is super excited, so he goes back to Elisha with all of his attendants to offer a huge sum of money, but Elisha refuses to accept any contribution. God alone is honored in this story.
Naaman acknowledges that God is the one true Lord of all. He vows to serve only God, but asks for one favor, more grace (now this is a bit odd):
“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.” 2 Kings 5:18
Elisha’s reply is simply: “Go in peace.” Naaman’s leprosy is cleansed and his heart is changed, but there is a bit of a rub here. He has to return to his pagan land, its rituals and its rulers. He doesn’t resign his position and become a priest, he keeps his position and commits to navigating the difficult path of walking in the presence of the profane while carrying the message of God in his heart. “Go in peace” is a huge burden. I wish I knew more about how Naaman walked along these lines, but perhaps the more important lesson is that God is the God of grace, even to our enemies.
Meanwhile, Elisha’s right-hand man does something foolish. He chases after Naaman and conjures up a story about needing some money after all. Naaman is more than happy to give him even more than he asks for and sends Gehazi on his way. When Gehazi returns, Elisha asks him where he’s been.
“Your servant didn’t go anywhere,” Gehazi answered. 2 Kings 5:25
Elisha gave him a chance to confess his sin, but the tongue deceives Gehazi and he lies. One so close to Elisha, it’s hard to understand what motivated him. Surely he was with Elisha when the boy was revived from the dead. No doubt Gehazi heard prophesies and watch them come true. Yet here he is lying to Elisha. Though it’s a bit of a stretch, it reminds me of Judas living a lie as a disciple, all the while fixated on money. The keeper of the purse was offended by the extravagant give of perfume on the feet of Jesus, perhaps his turning point. Gehazi can’t believe Elisha would turn down so much gold and silver and somehow figures he alone could intervene.
The Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous — it had become as white as snow. 2 Kings 5:27
More Stories of Elisha
Chapter 6 begins with an odd story where one of the company of prophets drops an axhead into the water and freaks out! “Oh no, my lord!” he cried out. “It was borrowed!” (2 Kings 6:5).
When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. “Lift it out,” he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it. 2 Kings 6:6-7
No particular explanation, just God’s provision for the faithful.
Verses 8-23 provide a narrative of Arameans attempting to fight Israel (again). The king of Aram is upset because every time they set camp, the king of Israel seems to know about it — there must be a mole on his staff! He doesn’t mention Naaman, but no doubt his ears are burning.
“Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?” “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.” 2 Kings 6:11-12
The king of Aram sends troops to capture Elisha…not a good idea. They surround the city and intend to capture him, but Elisha has other plans. His new servant (I’m presuming that Gehazi is no longer “the servant of the man of God”) is worried when he sees the army, but Elisha reveals God’s army:
“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:16-17
Instead of calling down fire and destroying the Arameans, Elisha prays for God to strike them with blindness, then leads them to Samaria. The king of Israel is excited, “Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?” (2 Kings 6:21). Elisha has a better plan, treat them with proper respect as prisoners of war. Feed them and give them water, then send them back to Aram.
“So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory” 2 Kings 6:23
Interesting. Peace was won by not using force this time.