Naaman’s illness

Chapter 5

Naaman’s illness

v1 Naaman was the leader of a king’s army. It was the army of the king of Syria. Naaman’s master respected him and his master gave honour to him. That was because the *Lord had given success to the army from Syria. And that success had happened by means of Naaman. He was a brave soldier, but he had a serious disease in his skin.

v2 The soldiers from Syria had made attacks against *Israel. During one attack, they *captured a little *Israelite girl. So she was working as a maid for Naaman’s wife. v3 The girl spoke to her master’s wife. ‘I wish my master could go to the *prophet in Samaria. He would cure my master of the disease in his skin.’

v4 Naaman went to the king. He told the king what the *Israelite girl had said. v5 The king said, ‘Go. I will send a letter to the king of *Israel.’ So Naaman left. He took these things with him. He took 10 talents (750 pounds or 340 kilos) of silver. And he took 6000 shekels (150 pounds or 70 kilos) of gold. He also took 10 sets of fine clothes. v6 These are the words in the letter that he took to the king of *Israel. ‘With this letter, I am sending my servant Naaman to you. I want you to cure him of the disease in his skin.’

v7 As soon as the king of *Israel had read the letter, he tore his clothes because of his shock. ‘I am not God,’ he said. ‘If I kill someone, I cannot make that person alive again. Only God can do that! But this man (the king of Syria) has sent me someone with a disease in his skin. And he wants me to arrange for this man (Naaman) to become well again. I can only imagine that the king of Syria wants to start a quarrel with me!’

v8 Elisha heard about the king of *Israel’s shock. So Elisha sent this message to him. ‘There is no need for you to be in such a state of shock. Send the man to me. I will show him that there is a *prophet in *Israel.’

Naaman was an important man who led a powerful army. That army had success in many battles. The king of Syria had benefited greatly from Naaman’s skill. But the author is careful to remind us that Naaman’s success was not merely the result of human effort. Naaman was successful because the *Lord gave him that success. At that time, Naaman did not know the *Lord. But the *Lord was using Naaman to bring about his (the *Lord’s) purposes.

Verse 2 tells us a little about Naaman’s technique. He would send small groups of soldiers into other countries. These soldiers would return with goods that they had taken. They would also take people away to be their slaves. It seems that these attacks continued for several years. In the end, God would use Elisha to stop these attacks against *Israel (6:23).

Even the most successful person is still human. So even the strongest person is actually weak. Even a person who gains the whole world will lose his life (Matthew 16:26). Naaman knew that fact very well. His great success in battle could not keep him in good health. His skin was white because of a terrible disease. Probably he had paid doctors to cure him. And probably he paid priests and people who used magic too. But they all had no success. Naaman was still ill. And he was desperate to find someone who could cure him.

The girl in verse 3 was one of the people whom Naaman’s soldiers had taken from *Israel. She was just a slave in a foreign country. But like Joseph (Genesis chapter 39), she carried out her duties in a responsible manner. So she became a maid for Naaman’s wife. And, like Joseph, she did not forget God. She told Naaman’s wife about the *prophet Elisha. And the girl had *faith that God would use Elisha to cure her master.

Naaman discussed this with the king of Syria. Naaman did not want to leave the country unless the king agreed. The king strongly urged Naaman to go. The king wanted the leader of his army to be healthy. The king even wrote a letter to the king of *Israel in order to support Naaman. This letter was like a modern passport. The king of Syria urged the king of *Israel to help Naaman in every possible manner.

Naaman made careful preparations for his journey. He did not realise that the *Lord is God over the whole world. And he did not realise that the *Lord cares about people from every nation (Jonah 4:11). Naaman thought that he was asking a foreign god in a foreign country to help him. So Naaman hoped that the king of *Israel would introduce him to this great *prophet. Naaman did not realise that even the king of *Israel followed a different religion from the *prophet!

Naaman did not know that God’s *grace is free (Ephesians 2:8-9). But Naaman was willing to pay the *prophet well. He took a vast quantity of gold and silver for that purpose. Naaman wanted to be generous to the *prophet and his God. Naaman was not trying to get something for nothing.

Like the wise men who followed the star (Matthew 2:1-8), Naaman first went to the palace. Like them, he came from abroad in order to see a very important person. And like them, he discovered that the king was unable to introduce him to that person.

When Naaman produced the letter, the king of *Israel was in a desperate state. He thought that the king of Syria was trying to start a war. The king of *Israel had no power over what God did. The king of *Israel did not even *worship the real God. So it was clearly impossible for the king of *Israel to help Naaman. But the king of Syria would be very angry if the king of *Israel refused to help Naaman. So the king of *Israel tore his clothes. People used to do that when they felt very sad or desperate about something.

However, Elisha was not afraid when he heard about Naaman’s visit. Elisha knew that God could cure illnesses. He told the king to send Naaman. God would prove to Naaman that ‘there was a *prophet in *Israel’. In other words, the *Lord would prove that he is the real God. And Naaman would see that God was working by his *prophet.

v9 Naaman went with his horses and *chariots. He stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. v10 Elisha sent a person with a message, who spoke to Naaman. ‘Go and wash 7 times in the Jordan river. That will cure you of your disease.’

v11 But Naaman was very angry when he went away. He said this. ‘I thought that Elisha would come out to me. I thought that he would pray to the *Lord, his God. Then he would wave his hand over the part of my body that is ill. And so he would cure me. v12 Surely the Abana river and the Pharpar river in Damascus are better than *Israel’s waters. I would rather wash in those rivers in order to be healthy.’ So Naaman turned and he went away in great anger.

v13 Naaman’s servants went to him and they spoke to him. ‘Sir, if the *prophet had told you to do a difficult thing, you would have done it. Surely it is much easier to wash. It is much easier to get a remedy in that way.’ v14 So Naaman obeyed Elisha, the man of God. Naaman went down and he washed himself in the Jordan river 7 times. His remedy was complete. His skin became firm and healthy like a young boy’s skin.

v15 Naaman and all his men went back to the man of God. Naaman stood in front of him. And Naaman said this to him. ‘Now I know that the God of *Israel is the only God. Please accept a gift from me; I am your servant.’

v16 The *prophet gave this answer. ‘I will not accept a gift. I make that promise as surely as the *Lord lives. He is the God whom I serve.’ Although Naaman insisted, Elisha still refused.

v17 So Naaman said this. ‘If you will not accept my gift, please give something to me. Give to me enough earth to load two *mules. I want to take the earth home with me. Because I will only *sacrifice to the *Lord in future. v18 But I ask the *Lord to forgive me for this one thing. I have to go into the *temple where people *worship Rimmon. I go there with my master. He bends down his body in order to give honour to Rimmon. And he leans on my arm, so I bend down there too. I ask that the *Lord will forgive me for that.’

v19 ‘Go in *peace,’ said Elisha.

Naaman expected that Elisha would show his power. He thought that Elisha would cure him in public. Naaman thought that he deserved a great ceremony. He intended to pay well for it. He was a proud man who commanded a great army. So he wanted Elisha to give him honour.

Instead, Elisha sent his instructions by means of a servant. That offended Naaman. He wanted to see the *prophet, not a servant! Also, Elisha told him to go and to wash himself in the Jordan river. That river was narrow and dirty. The rivers in Syria were wide. But we can only receive God’s *blessing and *forgiveness in the way that he tells us. Jesus said, ‘Nobody comes to the Father unless that person comes by means of me’ (John 14:6). In Acts 2:37-38 the crowds asked Peter, ‘What shall we do?’ He told them to *repent. And he told them to let someone then *baptise them. They had to be humble in front of God.

Elisha was dealing with Naaman’s proud attitudes. Naaman could give commands to his soldiers and servants. But nobody can give orders to God. God only accepts people who are humble. So in order to become well, Naaman would have to obey a mere servant. He would have to bathe in a river that seemed unimportant to him. He would have to wash 7 times. The Bible often uses the number 7 as a word-picture of something that is complete. So Naaman would have to be completely humble in front of God. And if Naaman was completely humble, God would cure him.

Naaman was very angry. It was not easy for such a proud man to do such a humble thing. He almost thought that he preferred to be ill. But his servants showed wisdom. They were not afraid to do humble things; they had to do such things constantly. Often unimportant people are more willing to obey God than important people are (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). And so Naaman’s servants urged him to obey the *prophet.

Naaman’s servants told him that he would have done a difficult action. Surely it was an easy thing to obey the *prophet. So Naaman followed their advice and he went to the Jordan river. He bathed, and God cured him.

Even as God cured Naaman then, God wants to rescue people from the power of *sin. Many people still want to do things in order to earn that freedom. But they must be humble in front of God. They must confess their *sin to him. And they must believe in the *Lord Jesus Christ. If they do so, he will make them free. It is impossible to earn that freedom, because it is a gift from God (Isaiah 55:1-2).

Naaman returned in order to offer a present to Elisha. But Elisha refused the present. He wanted to show that God’s love is free. You cannot work for it and you cannot buy it.

So then Naaman asked for enough earth to load two *mules. He now believed that the God of *Israel was the only real God. Naaman’s *faith in God was very simple. He wanted to *worship the God of *Israel on the soil of *Israel. So Naaman asked for a little soil that he could take back home. Naaman was humble now. He even described himself as Elisha’s ‘servant’ (verse 15). He was trusting God as a little child trusts (Mark 10:15).

Naaman had been such a proud foreigner. But he became very humble. And that is why God carried out this *miracle for him. This happened at a time when the *Israelites were not loyal to their own God. Many of them had the same illness, but they were not ready for God to help them. Jesus spoke about that (Luke 4:27). And it astonished Jesus when a similar thing happened during his own life on earth (Luke 7:9). Sometimes foreigners are more ready to show *faith than God’s own people are (Romans 11:11-12).

Before we leave this passage, we should discuss the question of where to *worship God. Naaman thought that he should *worship on *Israel’s soil. And Elisha did not try to argue with this new believer in God. He allowed Naaman to act in simple *faith. In the *New Testament (John chapter 4), we read about a certain woman. She was from Samaria. She asked Jesus where she should give honour to God. Jesus replied that the question should not be ‘where’. It should rather be ‘how’. God is *spirit. Those people that give honour to him must do it in *spirit and truth. That means that they must *worship him in a genuine manner.

David too thought about this subject. David knew that God is present everywhere (Psalm 139:7-10). And David realised that he could not hide from God. So David asked God to be with him (Psalm 139:18). David wanted God to examine his heart and his inner thoughts (Psalm 139:23). Then God would guide David so that David’s life would please God (Psalm 139:24).

One duty that Naaman had was this. He had to go with the king to the *temple of the false god Rimmon. Naaman asked Elisha this question. ‘Will God forgive me when I do that?’

Naaman was just at the beginning of his life of *faith. He had become aware that the *Lord is the only God. And Naaman understood therefore that all other gods are false gods. Naaman could see that his new *faith would cause him problems. He was the leader of Syria’s army. So his master was the king of Syria. The king of Syria *worshipped a false god called Rimmon. The king expected Naaman to come with him to Rimmon’s *temple. Naaman did not intend to *worship the false god. But he would have to bend down when the king bent down.

Elisha did not tell Naaman not to do that. God had begun a good work in Naaman’s life, and God was able to complete it (Philippians 1:6). So Elisha simply blessed Naaman, and Naaman left.

People who serve God have often found it difficult to know when to obey their rulers. Paul taught people to obey their rulers and to pray for them (Romans 13:1; 1 Timothy 2:2). But we must not obey rulers if they order us to do evil things. Our duty to God is more important. Jesus told people to give to their ruler what is due to him. But they must also give to God what is due to him (Matthew 22:21). Soon after Jesus lived on the Earth, people persecuted Christians. That means that people were cruel to them because of their (the Christians’) beliefs. The Christians said, ‘Jesus is the Lord (master).’ They refused to say, ‘Caesar (the ruler of Rome) is the Lord (master).’ Many Christians died because they refused to say that. But they would not give to Caesar the honour that belongs to God alone.

Gehazi, the servant of Elisha

After Naaman had left, v20 Elisha’s servant Gehazi thought this. ‘My master was too kind to Naaman, the man from Syria. My master did not accept what he brought. As surely as the *Lord lives, I will run after Naaman. Then I will get something from him.’

v21 So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. Naaman saw that Gehazi was running towards him. So Naaman got down from his *chariot. ‘Is everything all right?’ Naaman asked.

v22 ‘Everything is all right,’ Gehazi said. ‘My master sent me with this message. “Two young men have come to me. They have come from the group of *prophets in Ephraim. Please give to those young men a talent (75 pounds or 34 kilos) of silver. And give to them two sets of clothing.” ’

v23 ‘Take two talents,’ said Naaman. He insisted that Gehazi should accept them. Naaman gave two talents (that is, 150 pounds or 68 kilos) of silver in total. He tied up the silver in 2 bags and he also put in 2 sets of clothing. He gave the bags to 2 servants. They carried them ahead of Gehazi. v24 They reached the hill. Then Gehazi took the things from the servants and he put them in the house. He sent the men away and they left. v25 Then Gehazi went in and he stood in front of his master Elisha.

‘Where have you been, Gehazi?’ asked Elisha.

‘I have not been anywhere,’ answered Gehazi.

v26 Elisha said, ‘The man got down from his *chariot in order to meet you. I knew in my spirit where you were then. It is not the right time to take money. It is not the right time to accept clothes. It is not the right time to accept trees or bushes, cows or sheep, servants or maids. v27 The disease that was in Naaman’s skin will come to you. You and your *descendants will have it always.’ Then Gehazi left Elisha. Gehazi had the disease. His skin was as white as snow.

Elisha’s servant Gehazi was like Judas, a man that followed Jesus as his teacher. Both Gehazi and Judas loved money (John 12:6; Matthew 26:14-15). That attitude is terrible. A person cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24). The love of money causes much *sin (1 Timothy 6:10). And in the end, this attitude would ruin the lives of both Gehazi and Judas.

Gehazi was sad because Elisha had refused Naaman’s gifts. Gehazi did not think that Elisha should have been kind to Naaman. And Gehazi thought that he could make a personal profit from God’s *grace. It was terrible that he was thinking such things. These thoughts were so unlike the thoughts of his master, Elisha. Elisha gladly left all his possessions in order to become Elijah’s servant (1 Kings 19:21). Since that time, Elisha had to trust God for everything that he needed. And God provided both for him, and for other people (4:38-44).

Gehazi had to run in order to catch up with Naaman’s *chariot. Gehazi was a fast runner. Previously, he had to run to carry out the *Lord’s work (4:29). But now Gehazi was running for his own benefit. It was as if he was running away from God.

Now Naaman had learnt to be humble. It was a difficult lesson for him, but in the end he learned well. He even got down from his *chariot to show honour to the servant. Naaman did not know that Gehazi deserved no honour.

Gehazi told Naaman a lie. Gehazi made a big request. Naaman was generous. For him, this was an opportunity to give to God. Naaman wanted to thank God. And Naaman was pleased that the *prophet had allowed him to give something. Of course, Naaman knew nothing about the servant’s wicked scheme. He trusted the *prophet, so he trusted the *prophet’s servant.

Naaman gave to Gehazi twice as much as Gehazi had asked for. The gifts were so heavy that Naaman had to send two servants to carry them. Gehazi led the servants to the hill, that is, Samaria. And Gehazi hid the money in the house before Elisha could see it.

Then Gehazi went to serve Elisha as if nothing had happened. He lied to Elisha, but Elisha knew about Gehazi’s actions. God had shown Elisha what happened. Elisha even saw, in his spirit, that Naaman got down from his *chariot to meet Gehazi. Elisha knew what his servant had lied on his behalf. And Elisha knew that Gehazi intended to do this wicked thing against God.

There was no proper excuse for such behaviour. But it was not Elisha who punished Gehazi. Gehazi was responsible for his own *sin. And Gehazi was responsible for his own illness. He suffered for the rest of his life.

Gehazi thought that he could make himself rich. But *sin does not reward a person well. ‘The person who serves *sin will receive death instead of wages’ (Romans 6:23).