Naaman the Syrian

Naaman the Syrian

The subject of Elisha healing the leprous Naaman is one with obvious lessons and I thought it would be good to move through the story this morning.

Naaman was an amazing example of humility and faith. His faith was so pronounced that Jesus picked him as an example to the synagogue in Nazareth. If you’ll turn to Luke 4:22 you’ll see after Jesus’ reading of Isaiah that the people were amazed and doubted by saying, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” There was a great amount of skepticism towards Jesus, so he responded to their unbelief in verse 23,

(Luke 4:23-27) “And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country. {24} And he said, Verily, I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. {25} But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; {26} But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. {27} And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian."

Just these two simple examples of faith sent the crowd into a frothing rage. Why? It all proved the point that “no prophet is accepted in his own country”. During the time of Elijah, the widow woman, outside of Israel, in Sidon had more faith then any in Israel. During the time of Elisha this Naaman, a Syrian, a leper had more faith in the prophet then did the king of Israel. It was these references to the faith of Gentiles that incited the multitude to try and lynch Jesus, but he escaped out of their hands.

The Jews during Jesus’ day were not so far removed in attitude and action to the Jews during the ministry of Elijah and Elisha. In a very similar pattern to Naaman, Jesus would say to a Centurion, “I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” Naaman’s great faith is one we should study and seek to emulate. So, let’s go back to 2 Kings 5 and look more closely at this wonderful man.

Naaman’s Background

First of all, Naaman is immediately built up for us in 2 Kings 5:1 as the “captain of the host of the king of Syria”, “a great man”, “honourable” (or “held in esteem”), “a mighty man (gibbor ish)” yet he was a leper. As the captain of the host he would have been very close to Ben-hadad, the king of Syria (or Aram), much like Joab with David. He must have been in the army for many years. He was a five-star general but unlike our modern-day generals he was right out there in the thick of the battle, as a mighty man, as a leader. At one point he must have been a very vigorous, healthy, fighting man but now he was diseased, leprous, unclean.

He was a man who had achieved great prominence... yet not by himself. You’ll notice in verse 1 that it says, “by him the LORD had given deliverance (or victory) unto Syria”? That’s odd. Was the Lord on Syria’s side? Why would God want to give victory to Syria and how was this achieved by Naaman? Sleuthing this out is interesting and will gain us some insight into this man.

At one point it was very evident that God was not with Syria. In 1 Kings 20 Ben-hadad and the Syrians (of which Naaman must have been a part) where roundly defeated by Ahab, king of Israel. Not once, but twice, since the Syrians reasoned that Israel’s God was a god of the hills and not of the valleys.

(1Ki 20:28) “And there came a man of God, and spake unto the king of Israel, and said, Thus saith the LORD, Because the Syrians have said, The LORD is God of the hills, but he is not God of the valleys, therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thine hand, and ye shall know that I am the LORD."

At one-point Ben-hadad’s life was hanging in the balance and this is what his servants said to him (and we wonder if Naaman, as captain of the host, was in the group),

(1 Ki 20:31) "And his servants said unto him, Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings: let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel: peradventure he will save thy life."

Well, Ahab falls for this ploy and brings Ben-hadad into his chariot (a sign of favor, v. 33). They would have stood face to face. Ahab not only spares his life but makes a covenant with him (v. 34). As Saul failed to slay Agag so Ahab failed to slay Ben-hadad and a prophet comes to reprimand Ahab in verse 42,

(1 Ki 20:42) "And he said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people."

These words would come to pass three years later when Ahab decides to fight Ben-hadad again (1 Ki 22:1). Ahab tried to thwart the clear prediction of God by disguising himself in the battle and have his ally Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, wear the royal robes. But the Syrians were not completely fooled, and we read about Ahab’s death in 1 Kings. 22:32-35,

(1 Ki 22:32-35) "And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots (Naaman later went to Elisha on a chariot) saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, Surely it is the king of Israel. And they turned aside to fight against him: and Jehoshaphat cried out. {33} And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots perceived that it was not the king of Israel, that they turned back from pursuing him. {34} And a certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness: wherefore he said unto the driver of his chariot, Turn thine hand, and carry me out of the host; for I am wounded. {35} And the battle increased that day: and the king was stayed up in his chariot against the Syrians, and died at even: and the blood ran out of the wound into the midst of the chariot."

Now think again about the question, “How did the LORD work through Naaman to give deliverance (or victory) to Syria?” Could this “certain man” actually be Naaman? Wouldn’t Naaman from previous experience be able to recognize Ahab for who he really was?

Bro. David Moore in the Testimony Magazine (July 2001) has a wonderful description of this battle,

“Imagine the scene in the plain where Ramoth-gilead ... nestled in front of the foothills close to the Golan Heights: a melee of hundreds of chariots, the thunder of hooves, clouds of dust, the clash of weapons, the cries of soldiers searching for Ahab as their king has commanded them; a great shout as Jehoshaphat is discovered; a cry from him which causes them to swerve away and look elsewhere; and then, the captain of the Syrian host, Naaman, sees through the disguise of the man before whom he had stood so closely when he pleaded the life of his master.

[Bro. David continues] I believe Ahab saw Naaman too late for his chariot to take evasive action, as the Syrian general drew back his bow to its fullest extent, causing an arrow to fly with immense force, so that it penetrated the overlapping scales between the shoulder harness and the breastplate of Ahab’s armour and sank deep into one of his lungs. Ahab, with tremendous courage, ordered this charioteer to withdraw from the main part of the battle, and stayed propped up in the chariot enduring the dreadful pain of his wound until the evening, when he died from loss of blood, which had been pouring over the floor of the chariot.”

Bro. David in his article suggests that it was Naaman who intentionally shot Ahab. Now the astute Bible student may be saying, “But doesn’t it say in 1 Kings 22:34 that he drew his bow at a venture”? Other translators have “drew his bow at random”. The Hebrew word is “tom” and it has been translated in other places as “completeness, innocence, full, integrity, perfect, simplicity, upright”. In fact, Rotherham’s translates it as “drawing a bow in his innocence”. But the word also has the idea of perfect or complete and thus could be translated as “the archer took perfect aim or fired a perfect shot”. The LXX backs this up in its translation by saying “and one drew a bow with a good aim.” The final witness is Josephus where he writes in “Antiquities of the Jews” (8:15:5) that,

“The Syrians were conquerors, they killed nobody, as their king had commanded them; and when they sought to kill Ahab alone, but could not find him, there was a young nobleman belonging to Benhadad, whose name was Naaman; he drew his bow against the enemy, and wounded the king through his breasplate, in his lungs.”

So Naaman had much to gloat about. With this victory over their arch-rivals he would have been bestowed with military honors and given much wealth. You can just imagine how lifted up with pride he must have been but then the hand of the Lord struck him with leprosy, brought him down. This is a pattern throughout the Bible of how God uses the nations to punish Israel, yet he holds them accountable if they turn around and boast of themselves or rejoice in the destruction of Israel (i.e Babylon, Jer. 50:11).

This may be one step above speculation but it’s certain that there was no love lost between Syria and Israel, between Naaman and the king of Israel. That makes Naaman’s humility and conversion even more astounding.

The Little Maid

In 2 King 5:2 we’re introduced to a little maid who was great in faith. A young girl that was very much like Joseph, sold as a slave into a foreign land, yet kept her faith and witnessed to those around her. Under such overwhelming circumstances, violently swept away from her family she still finds it in her heart to care for her master, Naaman. It says a lot about this young girl and Naaman too.

What’s also amazing about this little maid’s faith is that a leper had never been healed by any prophet before. Did she simply go off the story of Moses’ hand being made clean again as a sign to Israel?

On top of that she assumed that Naaman, a Gentile, would find grace to be healed. Imagine that. It’s the innocent of heart that have such great faith and what an example to us to preach no matter what the circumstances. Had she judged her master as unworthy then she would never have been a catalyst to these momentous events. Had she not even spoken, being too shy or too scared, then Naaman would have died a leper, never learning about the true God. That’s such a vital lesson for our lives.

Naaman grabs hold of the little girl’s words and runs with them. Was he just desperate? Did she tell him more then what’s recorded? Was her faith contagious? It was for the king of Syria but not for the king of Israel. When he received that letter it’s as if he didn’t know who to turn to. Who had the greater faith, the little girl or the king of Israel? When Elisha hears of it he’s astonished, “Wherefore hast thou rent they clothes? (as if to say “O ye of little faith”), let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.”

The Healing

Naaman comes to the door of Elisha’s house. Can you just picture it? I’m sure Elisha’s abode was nothing fancy. A simple hut? It must have been an unassuming structure. And here’s Naaman, in his chariot, with all his attendance in tow carrying ten talents of silver (750 lbs), six thousand pieces of gold (170 lbs) and ten changes of raiment. It must have been quite an impressive sight.

And Elisha doesn’t even bother to come to the door to greet him. He simply sends a messenger instructing Naaman to wash in the Jordan seven times. Here was the test for Naaman. Left to himself he would have failed the test.

(2 Ki 5:11-12) “But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.”

Typical of us humans to make things more difficult than they have to be. The calling of God is quite simple, repent, be baptized and you shall be saved. It’s the traditions of men which expect so much more show and fanfare.

“{12} Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage."

The Jordan is a humble river, small and muddy not like the mighty rivers of Damascus, flowing strong and clear. This was going to take some humility. Pride would have to fall and to Naaman’s credit it does. It’s such a wonderful look at human nature, at ourselves. How often we fly off the handle and it takes someone to calmly bring us to reality.

His servants came near and addressed him as “father” (not as “lord”). What a wonderful title showing their respect and love for this man. It too says something of Naaman’s true character. The little maid had cared for him as did all his servants. He was a good master and it seems to be because he listened to people. He was approachable even when angry. He listened to the little maid and he listened to these servants. Are we good listeners? Are we approachable? Caring enough to listen and understand other people?

He just listened. He didn’t answer back to them. You can almost sense the slight pause between verses 13 and 14 as his face turns from contorted rage to a sheepish frown. Naaman is true to the Proverb, "Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Prov 9:9).

His humility is shown in verse 14 by the phrase “then went he down”. He was brought low. "For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (Luke 14:11).

Following the words of Elisha, he dipped (or bathed) seven times in the Jordan. Do you wonder if it was a gradual healing each time he washed or was it instantaneous on the seventh dipping? Did he come out of the water each time with a little bit more leprosy gone and was thus encouraged throughout? Or did he come out the first time with no change, the second time and so on, testing his faith until finally, according to the word of the man of God, on the seventh time he was cleansed?

Of course, Elisha could have specified any number of times to dip but seven was special. It’s that number of completion. It was the number of the days of creation and thus this speaks of a new creation. This foreshadows baptism, doesn’t it? Leprosy in scripture is associated with sin. Cleansing represents forgiveness. Here was a man who was immersed in water and his flesh was made like unto a little child. It is the same in baptism, that our sins are washed away, and we are born again.

It’s very interesting that the words “little child” here in verse 14 are very similar (not the same) to the words “little maid” in verse 2 making the words of Jesus seem very fitting in this context.

(Mat 18:3-4) "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. {4} Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

Naturally Naaman would want to give a gift of thanks to Elisha for such a miracle. This time Elisha met him, but he refused to take anything. This was to stress that the salvation of God is truly by grace, it is a free gift.

(Eph 2:8-9) "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: {9} Not of works, lest any man should boast."

Isn’t it a shame that Gehazi marred this beautiful picture by running after Naaman and receiving a gift at his hand. I suppose the same is often true today. There are many so called Christians who would give the wrong impression to people that it’s all about giving money. At the heart of many of our problems is the “love of money”. At the heart of the solution is “contentment”.

(1 Tim 6:6-10) "But godliness with contentment is great gain. {7} For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. {8} And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. {9} But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. {10} For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."

I cannot help but think how well these words apply to Gehazi as the leprosy of Naaman clings to him and he goes from the presence of Elisha white as snow. The same things can happen to us if we are not content with what we have.


In conclusion I’d like to quote again Bro. David Moore’s article in the Testimony magazine,

“We are required to be like Naaman. Often we are proud and arrogant. Spiritually we are all lepers, doomed to death. We are desperately in need of forgiveness for our sins, and we must acknowledge this every day. When we were baptized we became as little children, innocent and washed from the sins we were covered with. We are of the earth, earthy, as Paul said, like the first Adam. That earth represents our flesh and has to be suppressed. If occasionally we are able to suppress it we must not become pleased with ourselves, because at best we are unprofitable servants, who have only done what is our duty to do.

When Naaman defeated wickedness in Israel by slaying Ahab he was an instrument of Yahweh, His servant. But the adulation he received made him proud---very understandable, but not acceptable to Yahweh. He was punished for his attitude by being infected with the most dreaded disease known to man at that time. He had to acknowledge his need to be healed. Having acknowledged the need, he was baptized and became clean. I believe that he became spiritually a member of the commonwealth of Israel, adopted as one of Abraham's seed, accepted as an heir according to the promise.

We need to approach our God daily, as Naaman did, to acknowledge His grace and goodness in bestowing the same gifts to us, and to realise the need for our own sins to be forgiven. The lesson of Gehazi is that if we turn back on this gracious redemption our leprosy will return.”