READ : 2 Kings 5:1-14
What must I do to be saved? That’s a question people don’t ask much anymore, but a
famous story involving the prophet Elisha and a Syrian general called Namaan shows us the
One sabbath day Jesus came back to his home town of Nazareth, went to the synagogue,
and preached a sermon. In it he said that the day of God’s salvation had arrived, and that
it coincided with his own presence in the world (Luke 4:16ff.). How’s that for an
Some of Jesus’ listeners were less than impressed. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they
began asking themselves. In other words, “Who does this guy think he is! We know him.”
Jesus then remarked that no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But if God’s own
people choose to reject him, he will take his grace to foreigners. “There were many lepers
in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha,” Jesus announced, “and none of them was
cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27). He was referring to a Bible story told
in the book of 2 Kings, chapter 5. Let’s look at Namaan’s story.
A Great Man
Naaman was a soldier, we learn, the commander of the army of the king of Syria. This
meant that he was not only a gentile and a pagan, but also a deadly enemy to the people of
God, to Israel. He was also a man who stood in high favor with his master, the King of
Syria. In other words, Namaan had it made, as we say, except for just one thing. He had
leprosy. As the story unfolds, we learn all this about him in just one or two
We also learn that, as it happened, a young Israelite girl who had been captured in a
raid was working in Namaan’s house as a slave to his wife. This girl tells her mistress
about a prophet in Israel who could cure Namaan of his leprosy. Naaman goes immediately
and tells his king, who writes a letter to the king of Israel, saying, “Here’s my favorite
general. He’s got leprosy. You cure him.”
And the king of Israel says, “What am I? God? This guy is obviously trying to create an
excuse for invading us!” Then Elisha, the prophet in question, hear’s about it and says,
“Calm down, King. Just send the general to me.”
So [we read] Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of
Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan
seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was
angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and
stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and
cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the
waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” . . . But his servants came
near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will
you not do it? Has he actually said to you, `Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and
dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his
flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
2 Kings 5:9-14
Why did God choose to heal Naaman the Syrian? After all, as Jesus pointed out, there
were plenty of needy people closer to home. So why did he choose just this one man, and he
a gentile, on whom to show mercy?
God certainly loves some strange people, doesn’t he? We know that God loves the poor
and the humble, but Naaman was rich and important. We know that God loves the meek, but
Naaman was proud, arrogant, and powerful. We know that God loves his covenant people
Israel, but Naaman was a Syrian and an enemy of Israel. So why did God heal this man? I
think it was to teach us something important about God’s grace, namely, that it’s
available for everybody, even those we might think don’t deserve it. It could even be
available for somebody like you, or me!
Who was this Naaman anyway? He was a man of many fine qualities. He was an outstanding
military leader, highly successful in his chosen career. He was popular, a favorite of the
king, with honors lavished upon him. He was rich. He was also courageous; “a mighty man of
valor,” the Bible calls him. Naaman had just about everything the world has to offer. He
was the kind of person you see on the cover of People magazine, or maybe TIME, or whom you
watch on television specials that profile the world’s great ones.
But he was also a leper, the Bible says. And that one additional piece of information
changes everything. Namaan suffered from the most feared and dreaded disease of the
ancient world, a disease which had no respect for his prominence and fame. All Naaman’s
strength, all his valor, all his victories, all his money, could not save him from
Naaman’s was a sad case. He was so famous, so important, so rich, yet a leper. But I
don’t think his story is nearly as sad as the story of so many modern men and women who
have a kind of spiritual leprosy and don’t know it. I read somewhere once that when a
famous British scientist, actually the man who discovered chloroform in the 19th century,
was asked “What was your greatest discovery?” he replied, “That I am a sinner, and that
Jesus Christ is my Savior.” Just so. This is the most important discovery anyone can make.
Before Naaman could be cured he had to know himself to be a leper. He had to confront the
reality of his disease and do something about it. Before you and I can be cleansed we must
know ourselves to be sinners. Without that there can never be any healing for us.
Hearing the Gospel
Namaan’s healing came through the simple witness of a servant girl. What a contrast she
presents to Naaman himself. This girl had no power, no status, no fame; in fact, we don’t
even know her name. But she did have faith in God. This was her only distinction. She had
faith, and she let it be known. That’s really all God expected of her, but the whole story
hinges on her simple word of witness. Naaman’s healing is a great story, a wonderful
example of God’s power and mercy. But it never would have happened without the courage of
that unknown Israelite slave girl who spoke a word of testimony to the God of Israel.
So Namaan goes off and eventually gets in touch with the prophet Elisha, from whom he
hears this gospel message: “Go, wash, and you will be clean.” The gospel is always both a
word of command and a word of promise just like this: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and you will be saved.” Go and wash and you will be clean.
But this message is offensive to human pride. That’s really the last and strongest
barrier to salvation, not just our sin that like leprosy needs to be cleansed, but our
pride that refuses to accept and obey God’s offer. Despite his awful disease, Naaman was
offended by the prophet’s word. His anger was due to a bruised ego. After all, he had
expected more than this. Elisha didn’t even come to meet him in person! He had the gall to
simply send out a messenger. And the messenger told him, “Just go wash in the Jordan
Naaman had expected Elisha to come with solemn prayers and dramatic gestures and formal
invocations, some kind of elaborate ceremony befitting his rank. Elisha’s brusque message
did not match Naaman’s sense of self-importance. And what if Elisha were mocking him,
sending him on a fools’ errand to make Naaman the laughing-stock of the people of
So Naaman was angry at what seemed to be an unreasonable demand, a demeaning command.
If what he needed was a bath, Naaman could have had a better one at home. And in a sense
he was right. The Jordan was muddy and slow and brown, while the rivers of Damascus ran
clear and beautiful.
The gospel message seems absurd to lost people. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and
you will be saved.” That comes from another world and those who belong to this world can
never understand it or accept it unless God opens their minds and hearts to receive the
truth. Naaman became angry at the arbitrary command he was given, but the foolishness of
God is wiser than the wisdom of men, as the Bible says.
Today many alternative sources for spiritual health and healing are being touted. Like
Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, they seem much more appealing than the old
narrow Bible way of repentance and faith in Christ. But the question isn’t which way is
least offensive to the human mind and heart. The question is: which way can cure leprosy?
Naaman found the answer only when he conquered his pride, swallowed his anger, and humbled
himself to believe God’s promise and obey God’s command.
Naaman had taken a great treasure with him into Israel to pay for his cure: gold,
silver, festive garments. But all the gold in the world couldn’t buy what he needed. There
is no price we can pay for cleansing from sin. In fact, God wants something more precious
than that. He wants us to come to him, to humble ourselves, and to accept his love. Naaman
couldn’t do that in Syria. He found no gods there to heal him. And we can’t do that
anywhere but at the cross. We cannot buy forgiveness at any price. But we can receive it
free, if we humble ourselves and are washed in the blood of Christ.