“Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:1 NIV)
Leprosy. Although the Hebrew word does not necessarily identify this as what we know today as leprosy, it was some type of skin disease that was undoubtedly unsightly and probably uncomfortable. For a soldier, a commander in the army, this would have been more than just inconvenient.
Notice as well that he was not only highly regarded by his master, the king, but the Lord was working through him, giving him victories over their enemies. If nothing else, these descriptions of Naaman should evoke sympathy from us. In this present worldwide crisis of COVID-19, we can understand how something that might seem ‘simple’ could be a larger problem, particularly if he was infectious.
“Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’” (2 Kings 5:2-3)
So there was a solution to the problem, given by a captured Israelite slave girl. She had heard of God’s prophet Elisha and that he had cured people. The solution to her was simple: Naaman should go see Elisha.
The initial contact was from Naaman’s king to the king of Israel – after all, who else would know how to find a prophet of God? The king of Israel thought this must be a trap, thinking he was being asked to cure the commander.
“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).
Elisha heard about this and had the king send Naaman to him. When he arrived Elisha sent a messenger with how to be cured: “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed” (2 Kings 5:10).
Naaman was furious! How dare Elisha treat him this way! He thought the prophet would have come out, call on the name of the Lord, wave his hand over the spot, and cure him. Wash in the muddy Jordan? The rivers of Damascus were far better! “So he turned and went off in a rage” (2 Kings 5:12).
We can be thankful that he had his servants with him and they were more level headed. They reasoned with him:
“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).
He then saw sense. What could it hurt to dip seven times in the Jordan? He went, did it, “and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy” (2 Kings 5:14).
Naaman is characteristic of so many people today – perhaps even you and me. God has asked us to do some very simple things. For forgiveness, we need to believe in Jesus and be dipped in water. We then need to stay faithful, centring our lives on Jesus and imitating him, which requires becoming a disciple, a life-long learner of God’s word.
People still object to something so simple. Be dipped in water? I thought it would be some other way! But if God asked people to do something difficult they would line up to do it. Instead, it is simple.
We need to learn from Naaman. When what God asks of us isn’t what we thought it would be, we still need to do it. The blessing is in our obedience.
Photo of Jordan River near Jericho by Jon Galloway.
Readings for next week: 2 Kings 3-8; Psalms 83,88