Naaman was a leper. In these times, leprosy was a general term for a number of skin diseases – not necessarily the same as the leprosy that we refer to today, but no less incurable than that sort of leprosy once was. When he learned of Elisha’s reputation as a prophet , being the commander of the Syrian army, his king sent him to the king of Israel with a gift of riches so that he would be cured. The king of Israel was deeply distressed (verse 7), as he knew he could not cure him; and was sure that the Syrian king was looking for a quarrel. But Elisha heard, and told him to send Naaman to him.
Naaman arrived at Elisha’s house, expecting to meet him personally, and have him perform some ritual to cure him. Instead, Elisha sends word for Naaman to wash himself in the Jordan river seven times, and he would be cured. Naaman went away angry – both at the impersonal instructions, as well as the fact that the Jordan was a dirty river, compared to others that he could wash in. But his servants convinced him that doing as Elisha had said was the right thing to do; and he was indeed cured.
Grateful and certain that the God of Israel was the true God, Naaman returned to offer a gift to Elisha, but he would not take it. So in verse 17, he asks for two mule-loads of earth to take home from Israel (probably for construction of a mud-brick altar – see Exodus 20:24) because he will no longer offer any sacrifices to any god but the Lord. He asks for the Lords pardon, as he will still be required to enter the house of Rimmon, the Syrian god of storms, with his master, appearing to be in service. Elisha tells him to go in peace.
Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, lets greed overtake him; and runs after Naaman, telling him a lie to make it seem that Elisha had changed his mind about accepting some payment. Had he forgotten that Elisha was a prophet? When he returned, Elisha obviously knew what he had done, and sent him away with a worse case of leprosy than had afflicted Naaman. The Lord had provided the circumstances for Naaman’s conversion, and Gehazi’s evil deeds threatened to taint Elisha’s fulfillment of that effort.
The chapter also serves to remind us that although we sometimes might not understand why God requires something of us, it is no less important for us to do it than it is to do the things for which we do understand the purpose.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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