Meditation on 2 Kings 5:1-14
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton
July 7, 2019
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. 2 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. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4 So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5 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. 6 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.” 7 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.”
8 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.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 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.” 11 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! 12 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. 13 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’?” 14 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.
15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.”
We endured another week without air conditioning. In spite of the heat, we had a good week and enjoyed some more Ohio firsts! We watched the Coshocton fireworks from our back deck and planted our first flower garden with Shasta Daisies, Black-eyed Susans, 2 kinds of Hosta, yellow daylilies, and a red rose.
I prayed for patience and saw the goodness of the Lord in the kindness of family and friends and the wonder of God’s Creation. For with the windows open wide, we can hear the birds singing in the trees during the day and the serenade of frogs at night. We can smell the freshness of the rain, bringing cool relief from the heat.
We see God in the ordinary and extraordinary, the everyday and surprising sights, sounds and situations. Our God of compassion is always with us, always loves us, suffers with us and desires our healing. We see the Lord with eyes of faith, believing in the one who sends us out, like Christ sent out his 70 to preach repentance, work for peace, heal the sick and cast out demons. To proclaim, “The Kingdom of God is drawing near.”
There’s so much surprising about our reading in 2 Kings. Naaman of Aram or Syria today is a mighty man, commander of the army of Aram, whose victories have earned his king’s favor. The first surprising thing is that God would grant Israel’s enemy victory. But this isn’t about God’s judgment on Israel; the overall message of this passage is God’s grace extended beyond the boundaries of a single nation or people—even those who act as God’s enemies. The story of Naaman foreshadows the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, opened to all, as Paul will say in Romans 5:10, that “while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, (and) how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
Also surprising is that the great warrior suffers from leprosy. In the ancient world, leprosy is a sign of being spiritually “unclean” and would bar him from worship and from engaging in normal life in community. But Naaman is far from a social outcast, and there is no mention of the severe crippling, paralysis or blindness that can occur with the leprosy known today as Hansen’s Disease.
The most surprising thing of all is that a little Israelite girl, taken captive by the Aramaen army to serve Naaman’s wife, is the one who shows compassion for her captor and reveals great faith in the God of Israel working through Elisha. The little unnamed slave girl is the true heroine of the story, the agent of hope. She tells her mistress, who tells her husband, and Naaman, on the slave girl’s advice, decides to go into enemy territory to trust a prophet of Israel for his cure. He tells his king, who also comes to believe and writes a letter for Naaman to take with him, along with payment for prophetic services: ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments.
Naaman goes to the Israelite King, probably Jehoram, son of Ahab, who was killed in battle with the Aramaens. Jehoram, not surprisingly, sees this visit as the Aramaens’ attempt to provoke war with Israel, again. He tears his clothes in torment. Then Elisha sends a message urging Jehoram to let Naaman come to him, so that “he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” Jehoram relents; he doesn’t like Elisha and he probably thinks it’s a good way to pass his problem onto him.
The commander goes with horses and chariots to the prophet’s house, but the one who said he wanted Naaman to learn that there is a prophet in Israel won’t come out to meet him! He isn’t impressed by his wealth and power, and he wants no payment! This, again, demonstrates the grace and mercy of God! The Lord only asks that we believe and live as a people of faith. Worldly wealth and power don’t impress the Lord! Elisha sends his servant to tell Naaman, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” The Aramean army commander expects the prophet to do something dramatic to bring about his healing. He feels humiliated when told to “wash” in a river in Israel that very likely isn’t as broad or clean as the rivers in Aram. Filled with rage, the proud man almost misses the miracle healing that God has for him because it isn’t miraculous enough! It is too ordinary for such an extraordinary man. Wash and be clean, indeed!
We aren’t surprised, this time, when the servants are the voice of reason and that Naaman, once again, listens to and values the opinions of his servants. They persuade Naaman by flattering him that he would certainly do something difficult to be healed. Wouldn’t he try this simple thing?
So he goes to the Jordan. He washes and is made clean. He declares his faith in the God of Israel and returns home, to continue to serve as commander of the army of Aram. But he is a changed man, with a powerful story to share. His flesh has been restored to that of a young boy. He has come to believe in the Lord because of the faith of a little Israelite servant girl.
Jesus will use Naaman as an example of God’s care for Gentiles in his hometown sermon in Luke 4:27, angering his Jewish audience. “There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha,” he says, “and none of them were cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
As it rained last night—keeping the air conditioning repairman away yet another day for fear of electrocution—I thought of how water is used for life and death in the Bible. How God destroyed much of life on earth in a flood and caused water to flow from a rock when the Israelites were thirsty. And how water is a symbol of the Holy, life-giving Spirit and how Jesus is Living Water for the Samaritan woman at the well. Each of us is washed and made clean in our baptisms, dying to sin and rising to new life.
The Lord showed us the way by being baptized in the Jordan, where the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land and Naaman the warrior is humbled and washed clean of leprosy. And how in Revelation 22 the water of the river of life, as clear as crystal, awaits us, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
As rain fell gently on our back deck, the birds and frogs were silent, but the trees seemed to whisper, “The Kingdom of God is drawing near.”
Let us pray…
Holy One, we thank you for your gift of water, essential for all life, and for your Spirit, symbolized by water, that leads us to new life every day. Thank you for your love, for suffering with and for us, for your promise to be with us always, your desire to heal us of our diseases, and your claiming us in our baptisms. Lord, help us to see you every day in the ordinary and extraordinary, every situation, and not miss any blessing you have for us. Stir us to see and share the good news: Your Kingdom is drawing near. In Christ we pray, Amen.