The Healing of Naaman

by Sean Foster on July 7, 2013

II Kings 5:1-14

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.” But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean. A-men.

This is one of my favorite Old Testament stories that Tom read to us from II Kings this morning. It is an easy text to preach because it has such a fascinating cast of characters and it is such a fast moving story of healing and transfiguration.

Let’s begin by looking at some of the characters in the story. The first person we are introduced to is Naaman, whose name means charm or pleasantness.

It is clear from the reading that Tom read to us – that Naaman is powerful. He is described as being commander of the army for the king of Aram Aram is modern day Syria. But listen again to how he is described. He was a great man and in high favor with his master because the Lord had given him victory. Now victory over whom you might ask, and I would assume with a fair measure of confidence that the victory was over Israel. Israel and Aram had been at war with one another for years.

So, in the opening sentences, it is clear that Naaman was at the height of his career. He was on top of the world. Except,… there was one thing,… Naaman suffered from leprosy.

The problem with the label of leprosy in these ancient times is that it referred to all kinds of skin diseases and ailments. But from the way it is described, it is highly doubtful that Naaman suffered from actual leprosy or what we would call Hansen’s disease today. Leprosy is a dis-figuring, nerve destroying disease. If Naaman had Hansen’s disease, he would have been cut off from the community and would have no access to the King. Nevertheless, whatever the skin condition is that Naaman suffers it was bad enough for Naaman to be seeking out a cure.

So, here the old saying shouts a great truth – you can have it all, but if you don’t have your health – you have nothing.

Then, we are introduced to another character in the story. And the part this character plays is so important … it is a significant role that leads to the eventual healing of Naaman.

The irony is that despite the fact that this character plays such an important role in the story, she is at the absolute bottom of the social ladder. First, she is female, but second, she is a slave. It seems that during one of Naaman’s conquests in Israel, he takes a slave girl captive who is brought back to serve as his wife’s servant.

But here the captive helps the captor.
Here the slave helps her Master.

She speaks up: Mistress, if only my Lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria. He would cure master Naaman of his leprosy.

Now, why would Naaman ever listen to this slave girl? The very fact that he does only seems to heighten Naaman’s desperation to be healed in the fact that he listens. And Naaman takes quite a risk here of going to his enemy and asking for help.

He first goes to the king and asks permission to go to Israel to seek out healing. And of course, the king who highly favors Naaman gives him permission and sends a letter of explanation with him.

Dear King,

When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.

Sincerely,
The King of Aram.

When the King of Israel received the request – he tears his clothes in anguish.
• Who do you think I am?
• Do you think I am God that I have the power to give death or life?
• Why does the King of Aram send you to me?
• Does the king really think that I can cure leprosy?
• The King of Aram is trying to pick a fight with me.

It is disappointing that the King forgets that he serves under the God of Israel, for whom nothing is impossible. But the king of Israel assumes that this is a set up.

Now I’m not sure why Naaman went with a request for the King of Israel to cure Naaman of his skin disease. The slave girl clearly shared that it was the prophet in Samaria who had the power to heal, not the King.

But then we are introduced to the prophet Elisha. It seems that Elisha has somehow heard that Naaman went to the king for help.

In our day, Church and State have been separated like oil and water. But in this ancient world, the prophet and the king are linked together. It was the job of the prophet to remind and instruct the King on God’s Word and God’s will for the people of Israel.

But it was the people who wanted a king. They saw the nations around them with kings and asked that God also allow them to have a king too. And at first, God said no, but the people persevered with their request. And finally God allowed them to have a King, but they would also have a prophet to guide the king. There was a reason why church and state worked together. The purpose of the church was to keep the state honest and God-honoring. Well, that’s been lost.

But Elisha hears that the king has torn his clothes in response to Naaman’s request to be healed. And essentially he asks the king: why didn’t you send Naaman to me? Then they would know that there is a prophet in Israel.

Now Elisha is the prophet who follows the prophet Elijah. And it is important to note that Elisha has a completely different agenda than his predecessor Elijah

Elijah constantly reiterated the message of his ministry: that Israel must choose whether they will follow the God of Israel: YAHWEY, or the god, Baal.

However, the prophet Elisha has no real central message to his ministry. He never presents ultimatums to either the people of Israel or the kings of Israel. He even leaves the other prophets of other gods to their own devices.

And Elisha performs many miracles:
• He purifies poisoned wells
• He helps a widow pay her debts.
• He restores a young man from death to life.
• He feed a hundred men with just 20 barley loaves and some grain.

You see, it is nothing more than Elisha’s own presence that is a constant reminder of Yahweh’s power. A power that is greater:
• than any king of Israel
• than any foreign ruler
• than any other god.

Listen to the prophet Elisha again. Let him come to me that he may learn there is a prophet in Israel. And it may just serve as a good reminder to you as well – O king of Israel.

We are told that Naaman went with his horses and chariots and halts at the entrance of Elisha’s house. But there is a strange interaction between the prophet Elisha and Naaman; to the point that Naaman almost misses the blessing of healing.

You see, instead of Elisha coming out to greet Naaman personally, Elisha sends out a messenger with instructions for Naaman. Go. Wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh will be restored, and you will be clean.

This enrages Naaman to the point that he refuses to obey. He goes away saying: I thought that for me he would surely come out and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God. And that he would wave his hand over the spot and cure the leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus better that all the waters of Israel? Could I not have washed in them and be clean? He turned and went away in a rage.

It’s fascinating to me the difference of reaction from the king of Israel who is clearly afraid of Naaman and thinks Naaman is pulling a trick to wage war; and the reaction of the prophet Elisha. Elisha is so un-impressed with the fact that this, the great commander of the army of Aram – that he doesn’t even go outside to greet him. Elisha has no fear of Naaman, not even when Naaman stomps and shouts and has a temper tantrum while leaving the house.

Poor Naaman. Does the prophet not know who I am? Naaman wants things done on his own terms. He wanted it done his way. And because he refuses to submit – he almost missed the miracle of healing.

And once again in this text, one of the lowliest on the social ladder shows wisdom and offers advice to the great commander of the Army, Naaman.

With all due respect Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult – would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said was wash and be clean?

I mean, you come all this way to be healed and then storm off is a rage because the prophet wouldn’t come out to see you. Father,… please,… wash and be made clean.

It seems that the words of Naaman’s servant bring Naaman back to reality. Of course, I can go and wash in the Jordan.

He stops being the military commander, the friend of kings, the man of wealth and influence, and instead, acknowledges that he was a leper who needed to be healed.

In obedience to the instruction he received, Naaman goes to the Jordan. Into the waters he baths, then again, and then a third time, and 4th, and 5th, and 6th, for a total of seven times. And after that seventh dip into the water, something happens. The Scripture reads that his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

However, the story does not end there and if you will indulge me to go a little beyond our lesson today. Naaman goes back to the prophet Elisha, and this time Naaman gets a face to face meeting with the prophet.

Very early in the story we are told that as Naaman sets off on the journey to Israel, he takes with him: ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and tens sets of garments. It is a huge sum of money.

Naaman is so grateful for the healing he has received, he is ready to present the gifts of silver, gold and fine linens as gift of thanks and appreciation. But Naaman also recognizes the source of his healing. Now I know, he says, that there is no God is all the earth except in Israel.

But Elisha refuses the gifts. As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing. More than riches of silver and gold and fine garments, all that the prophet needs; all that the prophet desires is to be close to his Lord, the God of Israel.

Naaman almost missed being healed. And perhaps there is the lesson for us today. That we set aside our own pre-conditions of how God should work in our lives.

I mean, as we pray for things, we often (and it is something that we do naturally), we think through how God might answer our prayers, and we may even come to the conclusion that it is the only way for the prayer to be answered.

Let us trust our God, that God knows better what is best for us. That God always has our best interests in mind when he answers our prayers. That God sees the future better than we do. Whether the answer be:
• Yes, and according to our desires and will.
• Or no,
• Or even, not yet, or not now,
• Or yes, but not how you expect.

Today as we come before his table, let us remember again how blessed we truly are.

Come, enjoy and receive God’s goodness. Let Christ’s grace wash over you,
• and be clean
• be restored
• be healed
• and know that you are loved by God.

A-men.

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