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Naaman the Leper

July 19, 2006

The account of Naaman the leper is found in 2 Kings 5. He was an Aramean (modern Syria) and commander of the armies of Benhadad II during the time of Joram king of Israel, around 850 BC.

He was no trifle of a man. He was successful, powerful, rich, important and he was afflicted with a leprosy of the white kind (v. 27) which had so far defied cure.

He was a great man with two diseases – leprosy and pride.

A summary of 2 Kings 5 – Note: The words in italics give the gist of what each person had to say and are not direct quotes.

1-4 – A powerful man listened to a slave girl who said a few words that caused a lot of commotion in two kingdoms and which revealed the power and nature of the One True God, as well as revealed the hearts and minds of many powerful people.

5-6 – Naaman brings a letter from his king and money and clothes to pay for healing.

7 – Joram, king of Israel, an idolater, thought the letter meant that he was to cure Naaman. He knew he couldn’t do it so he suspected a trap and pretense for attack.

8 – Elisha, ‘Relax, the man of God will handle this.’ There were idolaters at the palace, but a man of God in the streets. There is a true prophet in Israel, which means the true God is the God of Israel.

9-10 – Naaman was a great man, with great things, ready to pay a great price, but Elisha did not even bother to see him. He was all business when about God’s business and sent word to Naaman, ‘Here is the cure, just go do it. Lets see what kind of faith you have. Just believe and obey.

11-12 – Naaman thought Elisha was a fool and he was not willing to obey, ‘What about me and the way I think it should be done? What is so special about your way, Elijah? We have better rivers back home! What about the show, the religious spectacle? This is not the way we do it in the big city. I’ve washed in cleaner waters and nothing ever happened. You ignorant bumpkin, do you take me for a fool? What a waste of time, I’m outta here.’

13-14 – His servants had more faith than he did and if it were not for them he would have just gone home. They said, ‘It can’t hurt to try.’ Naaman thought everything was achieved the way he and others had achieved success in this world, by their own power and abilities. He wanted to do it his way, not God’s way.

15 – God was merciful and He healed in spite of Naaman and so he said, ‘Whoa, your God really is the true God. So, how much for the healing?’ Naaman wanted to pay for the healing because that is the way things were done in his world.

16 – Elisha, ‘No. No payment asked or accepted. It was God, not me, that healed you and God’s mercy and miracles cannot be bought. He does not need and does not want your money. You cannot treat Him like the so-called ‘gods’ of the other nations.’

17-18 – Naaman, ‘Oh, no money? Well then, how about I worship the true God? I’ll do that, but I’m a rich and powerful man who would rather not lose all he has in this world, so, do you think the One True God could just accept my lip-service and let me go on living like I have and not let my belief actually affect my life because if it did I would lose all that the world has to offer. I’m in the position of having to choose between the things of this world and God and I have a lot of the things of this world and following God would actually cost me something.’

Naaman had money, power and fame. All he lacked was health and now God had given that to him too.

19 – Elisha, ‘Yeah, whatever, Naaman, take the dirt, it won’t do you any good, and I pray the peace of God will go with you, really, I do.

20-27 – Gehazi, ‘What!?!?! Free money from an unbeliever! Let’s take this infidel to the cleaners!’ Gehazi secretly took money from Naaman and Elisha called him on it, ‘I know it all. Your sin was to make Naaman think that what God gives for free was not free at all. You have misrepresented God and made Him look like all the false gods. Is it time to work for the things of the world or to work for God? If you work for the things of this world you will end up being cursed.’

Based on the events Naaman came to the correct conclusion, “I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (v.15), but I don’t think he had a change of heart along with his change of mind for the following reasons.

First, he thought you paid for what God gives. Only when his money was refused (v.16) did he then decide to ask for the dirt to worship with (v.17). This is significant. Notice what Naaman said after his money was refused, “If not . . .” (v.17). This shows that if he had been able to pay for the healing then he would not have asked for the dirt in order to worship.

His intention was not to worship the Lord based on the truth he now knew, but instead to pay for what God had done for him.

His subsequent request for the dirt and statement that he would worship the Lord was not motivated by belief, but still by his ‘pay for it’ mentality. He was thinking, ‘Well, if the God of Israel and his prophet don’t want to be paid with money then my ‘worship’ will pay the bill.’ He was motivated by a sense of debt and payment, not by a change of heart.

Second, he did not intend to change his ways and stop doing what he knew to be wrong. Naaman was no idiot. He knew that if the God of Israel was the One True God then that meant He was the only God who could be worshipped and to worship any other god would be wrong. This is why he asks for pre-forgiveness concerning his duties in the worship of the Aramean god Rimmon (v.18).

Though he came to the right conclusion the truth did not penetrate any further than his mind. Naaman’s dedication to the Lord was merely mental and outward. He was actually planning to sin against God and thought it would be OK as long as he made arrangements before hand. After all, he was going to give the God of Israel His due and compensate Him by worshipping Him privately so surely the God of Israel could overlook his “duties” in the worship of a false god.

This mentality is a slap in the face of God. It says, ‘I’ll give God my mental assent, I’ll compensate Him and give Him His due in my own private way, but don’t expect what I know to be true to actually change the way I live. I paid God back, He can’t expect more from me.’

Even worse than that, it is an affront to the very character of God to think you could make arrangements with Him to sin in the future and He would approve of the idea!

Third, Elisha was very non-committal in his response to Naaman. Naaman said the right thing (there is no God but in Israel and I will worship Him, vs.15 & 17), but then he also said he wanted to do the wrong thing (still worship a false god, v.18) and Naaman wanted Elisha to ask God to give him a pass on this particular sin (“may the Lord pardon your servant when . . .”, v.18).

Elisha recognized the incongruity and neither approved nor disapproved, but gave a benediction concerning is journey and said “Go in peace” (v.19).

Taking into account Naaman’s motivation, actions and intentions for the future I think they outweigh his words, and even the great prophet Elisha did not pronounce him a changed man.

Hopefully Naaman, and others like him, will be in heaven, but I just don’t see any change of heart. It is dangerous to lift up Naaman as a changed person because it could give the impression that God winks at sin and that it is OK to say the right thing, be privately religious and yet not live a changed life and even expect God to give you a pass on your sin.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2009 7:48 pm

    The story of general Naaman is a perfect story to use in a business seminar. It illustrates how the top brass that knows it all needs to pay attention to what the people on the floor in production know and have to say.

  2. November 24, 2009 10:25 am

    Oh my god loved reading your blogpost. I added your rss to my reader.

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  1. What’s Up With Naaman the Leper? « plodblog

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