2 Kings 5: Naaman Healed
Who was now the Lord's prophet in the land of Israel? Elijah? No, Elisha. His home was in Samaria, where the king of Israel lived. The king at this time was a son of Ahab.
There came one day to Samaria a great man in his chariot with servants. It was Naaman the Syrian. He came from Damascus, the great city of Syria where the king of Syria lived, and he brought a letter from the king of Syria to the king of Israel, asking him to cure Naaman of his leprosy; for a little maid of Israel, who waited on Naaman's wife, had told them of the prophet in Samaria who could heal him. We often read of leprosy in the Bible. It was a disease chiefly of the skin. Sometimes leprosy was very dreadful, but Naaman's leprosy was probably the kind which made the skin white or discolored in some part of the body.
The king of Israel was frightened when he read the letter, for he knew that he could not cure Naaman's leprosy, and he thought the king of Syria by asking something that he could not do was trying to make a quarrel with him. The king rent his clothes, which was a sign of grief. But Elisha heard that the king had rent his clothes. The king should send Naaman to him. So we see the great man with his chariot and his servants coming to the door of Elisha's house. Naaman thought that the prophet would come out to him and strike his hand over the leprous place, and with some great sign of power make him well. But Elisha did not come out at all. He only sent word to Naaman, “Go and wash in Jordan seven times.” Naaman was angry and said, “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” These were beautiful rivers of his own country.
At first he was angry and would not go as Elisha told him to, but afterward he went and dipped himself in Jordan seven times and was healed. He was made sound and well as a little child. Listen while we read the story; and you will hear also what Gehazi did, who was Elisha's servant.
“Many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed. saving Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:25-27) The Lord said this to the people of Nazareth when He was rejected by them and was received only by Gentile people. This treatment of the Lord had been pictured in the treatment of the prophet long before. Do we know about Elijah and the widow? We learn today about Elisha and Naaman.
Naaman was captain of the host of the king of Syria. Syria was the country to the northeast of Naaman, and its great city was Damascus where the king of Syria lived. The king of Syria at this time was Ben-hadad, the second of the name. He often had war with Israel, and it was in one of his invasions of the land that the little maid whom we read of in our story was taken away captive.
Naaman was a leper. You hear much about leprosy in both the Old Testament and the Gospels. It was chiefly a disease of the skin, as it seems to have been in Naaman's case, but sometimes it penetrated more deeply. Among the Jews, leprosy was considered very dreadful and unclean, and very severe rules about it were given in the law because it pictures a state of life which is very evil. Lepers were not allowed to live in the town, and if they saw others coming near them, they must cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” to warn them away. (Lev. 13 and 14) When the Lord was on earth, He laid His hands upon the lepers with Divine kindness and made them clean. (Matt. 8:2-3) It was the Lord's power with Elisha and with the Jordan that healed Naaman.
In verse 5, we read that the king of Syria sent a letter by Naaman to the king of Israel, asking him to have Naaman healed. The king was not now Ahab, who had died, nor his son Ahaziah, who had also died from effects of a fall, but another son, Jehoram.
Naaman brought a rich present to give in return for his healing. A talent of silver was a weight worth between one and two thousand dollars. The piece or shekel of gold was a weight worth perhaps ten dollars.
In verse 8, you read that the king rent his clothes. Do you remember reading in other places of this sign of grief? Remember Jacob's grief when he thought that Joseph was killed (Gen. 37:34) and the pretended grief of the high priest when he heard the Lord’s words which he said were blasphemy. (Matt. 26:65)
Naaman said, “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” Damascus is a most interesting old city. Two streams, the Abana and Pharpar, rise in the mountains near Mt. Hermon and run out into the plain, carrying greenness wherever they go, and making a beautiful garden spot in the desert. The Abana, now called the Barada, which means “cold,” is a very beautiful stream. The greater part of its water bursts out at one great spring at the foot of a rocky slope, and is at once a river of clear beryl color some thirty feet wide and three feet deep. It is joined by a smaller stream from higher up the gorge, and goes rushing down to give life to Damascus. The water is led about in little canals through the gardens and orchards, so that the city is bowered in fresh green, most refreshing to the eyes of weary travelers. Naaman remembered with pride his city and the beautiful river from the mountains that gives it life. But though the rivers of Damascus might seem more beautiful than the Jordan, they had not the same power to heal, for the Jordan was the river of the Holy Land and it represented the Lord's teaching of what is true and right, which has power to make life clean and sound which no other teaching has.
We read in verse 17 that Naaman took home earth to make an altar, for he thought that Canaan was the Lord's land and that offerings made on other earth would not be acceptable to Him. “Rimmon,” which means “most high,” was the name given by the Syrians to the god that they worshiped.
When we read how Elisha knew all that Gehazi did and what was in his heart, we remember that the Lord sees still more clearly all that we do or think: nothing is hidden from Him.
1. Where is Damascus? Who was king there? What had his relations been with Israel?
2. Who was Naaman? How is he mentioned in the New Testament?
3. How was Naaman healed? Where must he wash and how many times?
4. What is the little thing which the Lord requires of us, so small a thing that we may be in danger of despising it, and so of losing His blessing?
Let someone show us what is meant by washing, and then particularly what is meant by washing in the Jordan. Suppose we bring in a child from the street both physically and spiritually unclean. To cleanse him physically we wash him with water. What do we do to cleanse him spiritually? We teach him the difference between right and wrong, and help him to separate the wrong things from his life. This is spiritual washing, and the instruction or the truth in regard to right and wrong is the spiritual water. But the water of the Jordan has a special meaning. The Jordan runs at the entrance of the Holy Land, which represents heaven and a heavenly life, and the river represents the Lord's own teaching of right and wrong, such as is given in the Ten Commandments. This is the truth that has power. It was for this reason that John the Baptist baptized in the Jordan when he preached repentance. It was for the same reason that Naaman was commanded to wash in the Jordan. (R. 378; A. 4255)
If the Jordan, the river of the Holy Land, represents the Lord's teaching of right and wrong, what do the rivers of Damascus represent? Syria and Damascus, outside the Holy Land, stand in the Scriptures for an intellectual power, but a power based upon the learning of the world. The rivers of Damascus represent truth not from the Lord but from natural prudence and intelligence. It is often easier and pleasanter to cleanse one's life according to the opinions and standards of the world, but these have not the power of the Lord's commandments to search out and make right the deep things of the heart. The rivers of Damascus are attractive, but they have not the cleansing power of the Jordan. (A. 4112, 4720)
Let someone make a study of the meaning of leprosy of which we read so much in the Scriptures. Leprosy is often said to represent profanation, a willful mixing of good and evil. That kind of leprosy in which the skin was dead although it might be of unnatural whiteness represents life which may seem outwardly fair but is insincere and hypocritical. So life will be if it is cleansed by standards of the world, and not made deeply living by keeping the Lord's commandments. Do you see that there was spiritual leprosy in Gehazi, Elisha's servant, which was truly pictured in the disease which came upon his body? (A. 6963; P. 231)
It was the little maid of Israel living captive in Damascus who turned the thought of Naaman to the Lord's prophet for healing. There is a little child of Israel captive with everyone who is living a natural and worldly life—the innocence of heaven which has been given to all of us by the Lord. This reminds us when it can of heaven and the Lord, and leads us to Him for healing and to make life genuine. (E. 475)
What is meant by washing seven times in Jordan? Can we overcome a wrong habit by remembering the Lord's commandments once? We must do it patiently again and again, many times, until we come to the heavenly state when it is easy to do right. Remember how the ark was carried around Jericho seven days, and seven times on the seventh day, and how the Lord tells us to forgive seventy times seven. (A. 716: E. 257)