We meet Naaman. He is the highest man in Syria’s army but he has leprosy. Upon hearing of a cure he chases after in but almost misses it because of pride.
Naaman had a different life that what you would expect. In Israel, those with leprosy were kept apart from everyone else. They were required to live outside the cities. They couldn’t get near healthy people and were required to warn others of their condition by calling out “unclean” wherever they went.
But this was not Naaman’s lot in life. He was from Syria where they had different laws than Israel did. Naaman was allowed to hold down a job. Not just any job but the highest position in the military. He was commander of Syria’s army. He was well respected by his men and highly though of by his king.
Naaman lived with his problem but he didn’t let it stop him. I have no doubt that he sought out every cure imaginable. Leprosy is supposed to be painful as well as disfiguring. Nothing he had tried so far had worked.
God had worked through Naaman, giving Syria victories. We aren’t told who Syria was battling during those victories. It appears that Israel was in at least one of them because the little girl that they “carried off” during a “raid.” Was Syria’s victories because of Naaman’s favor with God or because of Israel’s disfavor?
If you remember back just a little way, God was defeating Syria under Ben-hadad. God proved to Syria that He wasn’t ONLY the God of the plains or the God of the mountains but the God of ALL. God was able to deliver Israel no matter how many drew up against her. But he was also able to use other nations to discipline her. Ahab was killed in a battle with Syria. This back and forth was at God’s will, not mans’. Syria probably didn’t even consider Israel’s God when He allowed them victory. They may have attributed it to their own gods. But they knew OF Israel’s God.
During all this time, Elisha was making his presence and God’s power known throughout the land. One of the places where his works were known was in the capital city, Samaria. I don’t believe the whole region was called Samaria at this time but Israel so the little girl was most likely speaking of the capital. This may have been Elisha’s home base but we are not told that, yet. We know he traveled quite a bit in his ministry. And his works had become famous.
I’m wondering about our little girl. How did she know about Elisha? Was her family serving the Lord? Had she witnessed one of the miracles God did through him? Was she attesting to stories she had heard about him or facts she KNEW? And was she ‘sent by God’ into this place for just such a purpose as this?
Something that we do know about her is that she was full of compassion. Instead of being angry and bitter because of being ‘carried off’ in war, she cared about the suffering of the man who now owned her. She saw his pain. She longed for his healing. And she offered it to him the only way she knew how. She had faith that Elisha would cure Naaman if he went to him. She didn’t say “he might” or “he could try”, she said “he would cure him of his leprosy” (verse 3b).
Naaman and his wife latch onto the hope the little girl was offering. Her certainty convinced them to take her report to the king. I have a feeling that she shared some of the stories about him. Just that one statement doesn’t seem strong enough (to me) to convince a high official to take it to the king.
The king believed the reports too. He was so thoroughly convinced of their veracity that he sent a letter to Israel’s king to pave the way for Naaman. But he didn’t realize that the king and the prophet were not following the same God.
Israel’s king knew Elisha and of God’s hand on him. When presented with the letter he could have sent Naaman to Elisha or even asked that Elisha come to him, but he didn’t. Instead he thought ‘woe is me’ because he knew the god he followed couldn’t do it. And he wasn’t willing to call out to the TRUE God for help.
I have NO doubt that God told Elisha about Naaman and the king’s reaction. I doubt he had spies in the palace who would tell him that the king “tore his clothes.” Elisha’s response to the king wasn’t “why didn’t you at least try?” or “why didn’t you seek the Lord?” It was ‘why are you so afraid?’ He then reminded the king right where the answers lay. “Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel” (verse 8b).
When Naaman came to Elisha he was full of entitlement, pride. He was the king’s highest servant. He had a letter from the king himself. And he brought PLEANTY of wealth to buy whatever treatment he required. As an ‘important’ man he expected personal service. But that is not what he got. Elisha sent his servant to deliver Naaman instructions and a promise.
I don’t believe Naaman listened to the whole message. All he heard were the instructions and the ‘slight’ of not being given Elisha’s personal attention. “How dare he treat me this way. Doesn’t he know who I am? And what I could have done for him?!” Even the place Elisha told him to go wash wasn’t as good as what he had at home. If washing seven times was all it took he would have been clean LONG ago! Naaman was furious and he left in a rage.
Fortunately for Naaman, his servant was listening closely. He was used to messengers relaying information from those in authority. He saw no wrong in this. He saw the authority of Elisha being delivered and he saw the promise of healing. I wonder how much courage it took for him to confront Naaman with this. He had to have had a close relationship with Naaman to speak so boldly.
Naaman had to humble himself to receive his healing. He had to follow Elisha’s instructions exactly. Any deviation would result in no cure at all.
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Naaman walked with his servant to the Jordan river. He looked out across it and saw nothing special. It was nice scenery but it wasn’t any better than the rivers of home. But THIS is where his healing was to be found; IF he would just do as the prophet said.
Naaman removed his sandals and walked to the edge of the water. He called his servant over to him and handed him his robe. Next he unfastened his sword and sheath and handed it also to his servant. He was ready.
Naaman walked out into the river to about his knees. He bent down and scooped up water and began to wash his arms, hands, neck and face. He rubbed hard to make sure it was a good washing. Then he straightened up and shook the water off. He examined his skin. It was red from scrubbing but nothing else had changed since entering the water. “One” he said to himself with a resigned sigh.
Naaman squats down again and begins scooping water up onto his shoulders and arms. He rubs his chest with wet hands. His garments are wet but not soaked. He rubs vigorously on his arms and legs this time. After a bit he stands up again and shakes the water from his hands. He examines his skin again. Still no change. “Maybe I’m doing this wrong” he thinks just before saying, “two.”
Naaman goes a little further away from the bank. Water now reaches high on his thighs. He bends his knees and is covered to the waist with water while scooping water onto his head and shoulders. He rubs his hands beneath the water this time making sure to get between his fingers and under his fingernails. He raises up and shakes the water off. His hair is wet and the bottom half of his garment sticks to his body but his skin still shows the evidence of leprosy. “Three” he mumbles to himself.
The servant has been watching from the bank. He too is keeping count. He too is watching for changes in Naaman’s skin. But where Naaman is washing grudgingly and out of desperation the servant is counting in expectation. “Four more to go” he quietly says to himself.
Naaman shakes his head and looks at his servant. His servant nods his head in encouragement. Naaman dips back down. This time he bends his knees low enough that the water rises to his breast. He scrubs at the patches where the leprosy is the worst for nearly a full two minutes. When he stands up again and shakes the water from his arms there is still no change. “Four” he says with a sigh. “Maybe I need to go deeper” he thinks.
This time Naaman sinks to his knees on the riverbed. The water reaches his face. He scrubs at his skin which is beginning to hurt even more than usual. The water is cold and the rubbing is irritating it but he continues. He stands back up and shakes the water from his arms. No change. “Five” he calls out with teeth chattering.
“You are almost there” his servant calls out in encouragement. Naaman nods and steps out a little deeper. This time Naaman’s head is covered by the water when he sinks to his knees. He is going to make sure he is fully ‘washed’ by the water. After a moment he raises his head back out of the water but continues to kneel and scrub every inch he can reach. His arms, his legs, his chest, his face, even under his garments get a thorough scrubbing. He stands up and shakes the water from his arms and examines his skin as water runs from his hair. STILL no change! “SIX” belts out Naaman.
He plunges himself back under the water. He rubs as vigorously as possible while still submerged. When he can no longer hold his breath he breaches the water. Water pours from his head and he flings his hair out of his way with his hands. As he is bringing them back down to shake them out he catches sight of them and freezes in mid motion. He looks intently at the clean and unbroken skin on his palms. He slowly turns his hands over and examines the backs of his hands. Quickly he moves onto his arms. He is CLEAN! He leaps up and begins to dance around in the water. “Seven!” he shouts with joy.
Naaman’s servant is leaping with joy too. Naaman rushes from the river, clothes clinging to him and water pouring off and embraces his servant. “The Lord God of Israel has made me clean!” he exclaims.
“He has indeed” echoed his servant.
Naaman continues to look at his skin. It is as fresh as a new baby’s. Not even red from all the scrubbing he did. The servant lays aside the articles he has been holding and begins instead to wring the water from the base of Naaman’s garments. He can see that Naaman is cold from his time in the Jordan as his teeth are chattering but it was certainly worth it. Now they need to get him dried off. Then they need to go back and apologize for his behavior and give the prophet of the God of Israel his due.
(to be continued)
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I couldn’t help it. I had to dip with Naaman. I could hear so plainly his desperation and frustration as he carried out the directions of Elisha. If it were not for his servant, would he have completed all seven washings? Such an easy thing to do but so hard to hold onto the faith of it working without seeing something happening.
I have been at that spot. Where you KNOW there is a promise waiting for you but you don’t see the results yet, no matter how hard you try. Holding on and keeping going in the face of “no change” is HARD. One of my phrases during these seasons is “Is it time yet!?” Another is to ask God if He wound His watch. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). This is what I have to hold onto in those times. That and the knowledge that God NEVER makes a promise He doesn’t keep.
Father God, help me ‘keep washing’ (keep praying) when I don’t see the evidence. I KNOW I can trust Your word but You know my little girl heart and its struggle with patience. I want to see it now! I have at least stopped asking about Your watch. Continue to encourage me Father as I walk and wait. I DON’T want to miss the blessing because I stopped at ‘six’ instead of finishing the ‘seven.’