Elisha Heals Naaman
- Main Text: 2 Kings 5:1-15a
- Accompanying text: Matthew 8:2-3
The story of Elisha’s healing of Naaman is a story of God’s grace being shown to unexpected people in unexpected ways. Naaman is not an Israelite, but a foreigner. More than that, he is the enemy of Israel, the general of the Syrian (Aramean) army, and was responsible for several successful raids against Israel. In addition, we are also told that Naaman is a leper – someone who is unclean. Also, in the opening verse, we are told that God used Naaman to give ‘victory to Syria’.
Leprosy in the Bible is used to cover a range of skin ailments, and it should not necessarily be associated with Hansen’s disease (what is generally what we refer to as leprosy today). Leviticus 13-14 gives an indication of the range of conditions that fall under the title leprosy, and different conditions resulted in different levels of social exclusion. It speaks of the King’s high regard (2 Kings 5:1) for Naaman in that he is so keen on seeing Naaman healed rather than finding a new commander for his army.
Hope for Naaman comes from an unexpected source. A captured slave, an Israelite, who had every reason to resent those responsible for her fate, comes forwards and tells Naaman’s wife that there is a prophet in Samaria (Elisha) who can heal Naaman. Despite her own life circumstances, this servant girl has faith that the prophet of the Lord has both the power and will to heal Naaman. Her role in this plays a part in bringing peace between Israel and Syria (2 Kings 6:23).
Naaman petitions his king and he obtains a letter to take to the king of Israel along with a great fortune to pay for his healing (around 340kg of silver, 66kg of gold). The involvement of the king of Israel is in line with ‘the ancient conception of the king as the channel of divine blessing’ . Upon being presented with the king’s letter, the king of Israel’s response is dramatic. Shockingly, unlike the servant girl, the king does not believe that there is healing to be found in Israel. He laments that he is not God as opposed to turning to God for help. He believes it more likely that the Syrians are trying to start a quarrel with him than that they genuinely believe there is healing to be found in Israel.
Somehow, Elisha hears what happens and calls the king of Israel to repentance. He instructs the king to send Naaman to him so that Naaman (and also Israel) will know that there is a prophet (and healing) in Israel. Yet when Naaman arrives, with all his horses and chariots and their precious cargo, we are met with another surprise! Elisha does not even come out to greet him! Instead he sends a messenger with seemingly mundane instructions on how Naaman can be healed.
Naaman’s response in 5:11 seems understandable. This is not how God is supposed to work! What difference does his washing in a small, seemingly insignificant river in Israel make when he could wash in the mighty rivers of Syria? Why would Elisha not even come out to greet him when he had travelled so far! Yet for Naaman, salvation comes from Israel alone and in the most unlikely of places. It is found in the cleansing waters of the river Jordan, which, years later, also inaugurate Jesus’s redemptive ministry to the world through his baptism.
In 5:13 we see that, once again, a servant steps in to save Naaman. It is not Naaman’s faith that saves him, but the faithfulness of his servants. Having been healed from leprosy, he returns to Elisha and recognises ‘what many in Israel did not, that there is only one God’ .
How does this text testify to Jesus Christ?
This story foreshadows the compassionate ministry of Jesus Christ who came to heal and save not just the Jews but also the foreigners and outcasts – even his enemies. Just as Naaman was saved not through his own faith, but through the faithfulness of those who serve him, we are saved not through our faith, but the faithfulness of our servant King, Jesus Christ.
‘Because the Lord has been generous with his grace to us (Rom. 5:10), we are free to be gracious with others, even desiring to see God’s grace poured out in the lives of our enemies. May we never become blind or callous to this grace, but rather see it in all of life, especially in the weak, humble, and foolish things’ .
- Luke 4:16-30
- 1 Corinthians 1:27-29
- Acts 10:34-48
- Romans 3:29
- Merrill C. Tenney and Moises Silva, Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible. Digital Edition
- John Olley, The Bible Speak Today: the Message of Kings, 2012. Digital Edition.
- The ESV Gospel Transformation Bible, 2013. Digital Edition.