The story of Naaman in 2 Kings offers to me so much encouragement. God, in his infinite mercy, pursued Naaman — the commander of the Syrian army — bringing to him physical healing and an understanding of who God is. We know that God saves the ordinary among us, but He calls the wise and noble too though their numbers are certainly few (1 Corinthians 1:26).
The back drop for Naaman’s story is in the days when the kings first began to rule over Israel. However, it was the prophets who had the biggest impact on Israel as they interceded on behalf of the people to God in times of war and in times of peace. In many cases the kings did not consult the prophets first, reaping the errors of their ways. Elisha was the prophet of that day, a protege of Elijah who had been taken up in a whirlwind to heaven (2 Kings 2:11).
Chapter 5 offers a pair of stories about Naaman which are tied together but have somewhat separate messages. In verses 1-19, we have the story of Naaman’s healing and salvation; in verses 20-27 we have the story of Gehazi, Elisha’s greedy servant. For the sake of brevity, my discussion is about the first story.
11 Steps Toward Spiritual Awakening
The following outline demonstrates the steps Naaman took which brought him to God. For those of us who believe, I think we can also say that our understanding of the things of God has come over time:
Naaman is defined — The most powerful man in the Syrian army of that day was Naaman to whom victory was given to him by the Lord. Syria was at that time an enemy of Israel, but the country had its own enemies too. We don’t know who Syria had battled, but God intervened through Naaman to give Syria that victory. Naaman was mighty in valor, but he also had the most debilitating of all diseases of his day — leprosy (v.1).
A messenger is sent — In one of Syria’s skirmishes with Israel, a young girl from that country was captured and became the servant of Naaman’s wife. She knew about Elisha and how he could heal Naaman and told Naaman’s wife that Elisha would heal him of his leprosy (v.3). Sometimes the message of hope is brought to us by the lowliest people (v.3)!
Naaman heads out to see Elisha — Naaman heeded his wife’s servant and told the king of Syria what he knew. The king of Syria gave Naaman his blessing and sent out a letter to the king of Israel along with many pieces of gold, silver, and fine clothing. Israel’s king, thinking that the king of Syria was looking for an opportunity to go to war with him, tore his clothes in exasperation, which got Elisha’s attention. Learing the real reason for Naaman’s visit, Elisha asked the king to send Naaman to him, which he did (v.9).
A second messenger is sent — Expecting to see Elisha, Naaman was surprised that a messenger was sent instead of the prophet, a man who instructed Naaman to wash himself seven times in the River Jordan in order to be healed (v.10).
Naaman tells God how to heal him — Naaman’s expectations on how he was to be healed almost caused him to miss the blessing. Furious that a messenger was sent instead of the prophet himself, Naaman’s reaction was all too typical of the way we sometimes react: we expect God to move in ways familiar to us. I wouldn’t be too hard on Naaman and God certainly wasn’t. Apparently, Naaman was familiar enough with the way God moved as he expected something else: “Behold, I thought, ‘He will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.’ “Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” Enraged that events didn’t unfold as expected, Naaman left (v. 11-12).
Additional messengers intervene — God could have let Naaman go and that would have been the end of that story. But, God wasn’t done with Naaman, sending Naaman’s own servants to him who reasoned with him. This verse is the turning point of the story as Naaman immediately heeded their advice (v.13).
Naaman is healed of his leprosy — Because Naaman listened to his servants, he went down to the River Jordan, dipped himself in it seven times as instructed by Elisha through his messenger, and received healing of his disease (v.14).
Naaman believes — Along with his healing, Naaman believed. He declared, “See now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel. Now therefore, please take a gift from your servant.” First came the physical healing, second the spiritual healing. Jesus, when he preached before the crowds, always met their physical needs first (v.15).
Naaman’s gift is refused — Elisha’s messenger refused the gift which seems at first to be an odd response. However, given that Naaman was from Syria and that it was customary to offer payment for services rendered, more than likely Elisha’s servant was teaching Naaman an important spiritual truth — you cannot repay God (v.16).
Naaman follows God — Though his gift was refused, Naaman asked that earth from the land of Israel be given to him, probably as a reminder of what God did for him. At this point he pledged to offer sacrifices to no other gods, directing his offerings and sacrifices to the Lord God Almighty alone (v.17).
Naaman asks for understanding — Even after we’re saved, how many of us immediately quit our jobs to seek other employment or to go into full time ministry? Not many. In Naaman’s case, he knew that he would be returning to Syria and be accountable to his master, the king of Syria. However, as part of his job duties, Naaman would be bringing the king to a false god’s temple, where he would find himself in a potentially compromising position — kneeling down before that idol to uphold his master. Clearly, Naaman knew just how wrong this looked and asked to be pardoned in advance of this action, something the servant of God immediately offered (v.18-19). God knows just how difficult our jobs can be!
What The Story Of Naaman Tells Us
Naaman’s story should be one of hope for everyone. Not only did God heal someone outside of the camp of Israel, He saved him too. We already know that not many wise or noble people are saved, but through this account God has demonstrated that He does, in fact, save some very powerful people. What powerful people do you move among?
We’re not too different from Naaman, are we? Naaman expected to be healed in a certain way, but God had another plan for him. Don’t we sometimes expect that our pastor will have words of comfort for us when often it is the person who cleans the sanctuary who brings God’s message to us? Does it really matter how our prayers are answered? As in Naaman’s case, God brought several messengers (servants) to him at various times, an ongoing pursuit that culminated in his salvation. God will pursue us to the ends of the earth if that is what it’ll take to save us!
Our God is a practical God too, who knows that we must live in this world working jobs and supporting our families. Naaman returned to an idolatrous environment, but God did not call him to leave Syria. Instead, Naaman was a man of new found faith, a public testimony to people in his sphere of influence that God does indeed heal and save. With thousands of troops at his disposal and a face well known throughout Syria, imagine what sort of testimony about the God of Israel was made through his life.