Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was honored by his master, and he had much respect because the Lord used him to give victory to Aram. He was a mighty and brave man, but he had a skin disease.
The Arameans had gone out to raid the Israelites and had taken a little girl as a captive. This little girl served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “I wish my master would meet the prophet who lives in Samaria. He would cure him of his disease.”
Naaman went to the king and told him what the girl from Israel had said. The king of Aram said, “Go ahead, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left and took with him about seven hundred fifty pounds of silver, as well as one hundred fifty pounds of gold and ten changes of clothes. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “I am sending my servant Naaman to you so you can heal him of his skin disease.”
When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes to show how upset he was. He said, “I’m not God! I can’t kill and make alive again! Why does this man send someone with a skin disease for me to heal? You can see that the king of Aram is trying to start trouble with me.”
When Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent the king this message: “Why have you torn your clothes? Let Naaman come to me. Then he will know there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots to Elisha’s house and stood outside the door.
Elisha sent Naaman a messenger who said, “Go and wash in the Jordan River seven times. Then your skin will be healed, and you will be clean.”
Naaman became angry and left. He said, “I thought Elisha would surely come out and stand before me and call on the name of the Lord his God. I thought he would wave his hand over the place and heal the disease. The Abana and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, are better than all the waters of Israel. Why can’t I wash in them and become clean?” So Naaman went away very angry.
Naaman’s servants came near and said to him, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, wouldn’t you have done it? Doesn’t it make more sense just to do it? After all, he only told you, ‘Wash, and you will be clean.’” So Naaman went down and dipped in the Jordan seven times, just as Elisha had said. Then his skin became new again, like the skin of a child. And he was clean (2 Kings 5:1-14, Common English Bible).
I am Naaman. I am commanding general for the armies of King Ben Hadad II, King of Aram and Damascus. I have worked hard throughout my life to learn the art of warfare and to gain the trust and confidence of my king. The king almost always listens to me and follows my advice. He said, “You are the general. You know much more about this than I.” Occasionally he would tell me to do it his way, but not often. When he gave me an instruction, I ALWAYS followed it.
Before, the biggest problem I ever had was dealing with some little pesky army that had a general who wasn’t smart enough to know when he was beat and men in my lower ranks who believed they knew more about how to fight a war than their general. Some of them weren’t smart enough to keep their mouths shut or to know when they were insubordinate. They almost always paid for that mistake. When they wouldn’t follow my instructions on the battlefield, they almost always paid for it with their life. I never had any of the men executed, but when you don’t follow your leader’s instructions in battle the results can be devastating for all concerned.
When I was a younger soldier, I spent much time on the front lines, where the fighting is fiercest and the danger is greatest. In more recent years I am back further behind the lines. With the weapons at our disposal, it is much safer behind the lines. That simply meant, I had far less to fear. Well, at least I had little to fear in battle. In the world outside the army, I would soon learn, I had much to fear.
Our army had just returned from battle. The first thing required of me was to make a report, in person, to the king. I had sent a messenger to report when the battle ended but King Ben Hadad expected me to report to him immediately on my return. I wanted to always meet the expectations of my king. Once my officers and men were in and working to get things in order, I left to see the king.
When I walked in, King Ben Hadad took a quick look at me and then did a double take. He immediately asked me what was the sore on my face. I didn’t realize I had one so I told him it must be a scrape, a battle wound. Perhaps I deserved your Purple Heart. I didn’t think it was anything to worry about. At first the king just said, “It doesn’t look like any battle wound I have seen but if you say so….” I went on and made my report from the battle. We had a decisive victory and had almost no casualties. That pleased the king. We rarely lost battles which was a really good thing because when we did lose, I incurred the wrath of my king. But, even when I won, he was none too happy if the casualties were high. High casualties made it difficult to fight another day. No men generally means no war.
After making my report I requested from the king to be dismissed. I was excited about a few days at home and wanted to go home and see my wife and children. The king told me I was free to go. As I was making my exit the king stopped me. “I want you to go see one of the physicians about that battle wound of yours.” I told him I really thought it was nothing but I would do as requested.
Just because I said I would do it didn’t mean I was going to do it right then. The king didn’t say when I had to go to the physician, just that I had to go. I headed for home and family. When I arrived home my wife seemed a bit frazzled. That, however, was nothing unusual. With six kids at home, four boys and two girls, well, I am sure you can imagine.
When I walked into the house, I was immediately bombarded with questions. The boys wanted to know all the details of the battle. My girls, including my wife wanted to know about my battle wound. What could I tell them? I knew nothing about how I got it.
“The king told me to go see one of the physicians about the wound. He wanted it checked.” I said.
“So did you go,” replied my wife.
“Not yet, I was more interested in getting home to see you and the kids. The king probably meant to go see a physician right then but that isn’t what he said so I decided to take advantage of the loop hole. So here I am.”
“I completely agree with the king. That wound doesn’t look good to me at all. First thing in the morning, you go!”
“Yes, dear, I will.”
The next morning, bright and early, I went to see the physician. I was not ready to hear what he had to say. I had leprosy. Today you know a great deal more about leprosy than we did back then. There were a number of skin diseases in my day that looked a great deal alike. Some were more dangerous than others but we really couldn’t tell them apart. Anyway, with the physician’s diagnosis, I was about to be banished to the country-side around the city. I was about to go from having it all, to having nothing. No army to lead. No king to visit. No wife and no children. I couldn’t risk exposing any of them. Now, when I saw someone coming, I was to yell as loud as possible, “diseased!” so people would know to avoid me.
I made my way to see the king. I stayed a distance away and he wanted to know why. I told him what the physician said. He told me exile was the only alternative, he couldn’t risk losing his whole army. He then dismissed me. I could see the tears in his eyes as I left. There were tears in my eyes too.
I went home but I stayed outside and made my wife come out to me. I told her what the physician had said. I so wanted to hug my children but the risk was too great. So, I headed out of the city.
Later in the day my wife was talking with a friend. My wife also has a handmaiden who is a slave girl, captured during a battle with the Israelites. In her captivity, she became very committed to my wife and even to me. After overhearing the conversation between my wife and her friend about the disease that exiled me, the slave girl came to my wife and said, “I wish the general could come before the prophet who lives in Samaria. He would cure him of his skin disease.” My wife and the girl talked a little longer. Then my wife headed out of town, out to the leper colony to talk with me. She told me all about what the slave girl said. I then told my wife to send, Jacob, the oldest of the children to request an audience with the king. If the king won’t see you, tell Jacob all you know about my disease and the prophet in Samaria.
Much to my surprise, the king agreed to see my wife. He told her for her to request an audience with the king, a most unusual thing for a woman to do, he knew it was truly important. My wife explained what she knew about the prophet and then asked the king if there was anything he could do. He told her to get me to come into town, to come to his home. I think my wife must have ran all the way. I know I ran all the way back to the king’s home.
“So you want to go to Israel to see if there is something the prophet of their God can do?”
“Yes, my King!”
Go to your home. Avoid people as much as possible both as you travel and once you are home. Pack what you will need. While you are gone I will get some additional supplies ready along with a small contingent of soldiers to travel with you to Israel.
“Yes, sir.” I replied and left for my home. I knew that if things didn’t work out as I had planned I might never see my home again. While I was at home, it broke my heart to keep my children away from me but leprosy is such a contagious disease, we just couldn’t take the risk.
When I returned the king had soldiers ready to travel. Additionally he had supplies loaded on pack horses that were ready to travel. There was 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold and ten sets of fine clothing. The king, while not getting close to me, had a letter for me to carry to Joram, King of Israel. With that, my party set off on our way.
When we arrived in Israel I immediately went to see King Joram and presented him with the letter from King Ben Hadad. The letter explained the situation and asked for King Joram’s help in getting me cured. It all scared King Joram who thought sending me there was just pretence for going to war and the only way Joram would be able to stop war was for me to be cured. So, Joram tore his clothing, a sign of grief and mourning in Israel.
It didn’t look as though anything was going to happen. I thought I had wasted time and my king’s resources but I had to see if a cure were possible. Now it looked as if it were not. I couldn’t set out on my own to find the prophet as I had no idea where to even start looking. Still, I decided to hang around for a few days and see what happened.
One day a messenger came into our camp. The prophet had heard about my plight. The prophet asked why the king was grieved. He told the king to allow me to go and see him. Then I and all of Aram would know the power of Israel’s God. The king passed the word to us that we were to set out immediately.
It didn’t take us long to be on our way. We traveled for a full two days and part of another day before we arrived at the home of the prophet named Elisha who sent a messenger out to tell me to go and wash in the Jordan River seven times. He said then and only then would I be cured.
I have to tell you friends that really made me angry. I was so mad I seriously considered having my men storm the prophet’s home and drag him out of the house. I thought he would at least come out to see me. Didn’t he know who I was? Didn’t he know what I could do to him? But, he did not leave his house. So, I started venting to my men. “Go wash in the Jordan? That little creek these people call a river. I crossed bigger and better rivers on my way to Israel, any one of them was better than all the waters of Israel. Go wash seven times in the Jordan. Pfftht. Ridiculous. All right men. Load up. Let’s go home.”
“But General,” said Abdiel, my second in command. “Did we travel all this way just to go home with our mission unfulfilled? Had the prophet told you to do something difficult would you not go and do it? If the cure for your disease is as simple as taking a bath, should you not at least try?”
I argued with him a bit but he, the man who quite possibly would benefit most from me having leprosy and no longer able to command my army, was telling me to follow the prophet’s silly instructions. It made me think, “How can I go home and tell my king I did not follow the prophet’s instructions.” Then I ordered the men to load up. “We will go to the Jordan and when this doesn’t work I can go home and tell the king thank you but it was a foolish errand.” And, we moved out.
When we arrived at the Jordan there was hardly enough water in the river for a child to take a bath, let alone a full grown adult man. Still, I stripped off all my clothes while my men stood guard. A few of them were paying more attention to me than to what might have been happening around us. I walked out into the so-called river. Once out in the deepest water, I dropped down into the water, let the water go completely over my head and then came up. I looked at my arms and my body. Nothing had changed. I really thought if this was going to work I would see some improvement. So, I dipped down into the water again. I came back up and looked again. Still, there was no change. I dropped down into the water a third time. When I came back up a third time, there was still no change. I was no longer a bit bothered by all of this. I was downright mad! I started to walk out of the water again. My thinking in that moment was, I am done. Why do I need to waste still more time with this? I was muttering as much, as I was making my way out of the water.
But Abdiel was not going to let me leave here without at least trying to get me to do everything possible to insure a successful healing. Abdiel says, “But my General. The Prophet said to bathe seven times in the river. You have only bathed three. You must bathe four more times.”
I just stopped where I was and dropped under the water. When I came back up I shouted at Abdiel. “That is four. Are you satisfied? There is still no change. The prophet’s stupid idea isn’t working. There is no healing here. We are just wasting time and I am looking foolish by doing something so ridiculous. This will never work. It is time to go home.”
“As you wish my general, but it is better to look foolish trying to find a cure than to live the rest of your life as an outcast from the world, to live with leprosy. You are right my general, you have been washed four times, but the prophet said you are to bathe seven times.”
I turned around, walked back into the deeper water and immediately I dropped under the water again. When I came back up Abdiel yelled, “That is five.” But I didn’t hear him because I dropped right back down in the water again. This time when I came up I just yelled, “SIX” and dropped back in the water one last time. When I came up I just said, “Seven,” and started walking out of the water. I didn’t even look at my skin. I knew nothing had changed. I was actually thinking that perhaps it took a bit of time for the water to soak into the wounds before they would go away. Yes, perhaps by the time we made it home to Aram the sores would be gone.
That is when I looked up at my men. Some of them were pointing at me. No one was making a sound. Every one of my soldiers were wide-eyed. There were looks of disbelief on all their faces, even Abdiel looked as though he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
“What?” I asked. “That was seven. It is time to end this foolishness and go home. Get ready. We will head back to Aram as soon as I am dressed. Get packed and mounted.”
“But my General,” Abdiel said, “Your skin. Look.”
I still didn’t look. “I know nothing has changed. Perhaps by the time we get home but probably not. I will forever be a leper.”
“No my General, you don’t understand. Look at your skin.”
“Abdiel, will you not let this go? OK…” I looked at my arm. There were no sores. I looked at my chest and stomach. There were no sores. I ran from the water and examined my legs. There were no sores. I grabbed the closest soldier. “Examine my back I told him.”
“No sores,” the soldier replied.
“What??? This foolishness actually worked. Quick, let me get dressed. We must go back to see the prophet.”
As soon as I was dressed we made our way back from the Jordan River to the home of the Prophet Elisha. Once we were there, this time the prophet came out from his home.
“I am cured. I thought this would be a waste of time and effort but now I know there is a God in Israel. Further, Israel’s God is more powerful than any other god. As we traveled back here from the Jordan I began to consider the power of Israel’s God. I came to realize that the God of Israel is the only God. From this day forward, now and forever, I will only worship Israel’s God. Now, please, I must give to you a gift to demonstrate my thankfulness for what you have done for me. Abdiel, quickly, have the men unload the gold, silver and clothing.”
“Stop!” commanded the prophet and my men froze in their tracks. Elisha continued, “As sure as the Lord lives, I will accept no gift. I did nothing but give you the instructions from the Lord. God worked and you followed the instructions. There is no need for a gift for me.”
“Please, allow me the honor of giving you something,” I pleaded with Elisha.
“No. I cannot accept a gift for what I did not do. All this, is the work of the Lord. Now, you and your men, Go in peace.”
Seeing that Elisha would take nothing, we loaded up and began making our way back to Aram, and for me back to my old life except one thing had changed. I would never again worship the false gods of Aram. I might go with my King to the temple, with the king on my arm I might bow down to assist the king, but I would not worship a false god. I knew there was but one God in all the world and that God is the Lord. That I would not forget.
As we made our way home I thought about one thing over and over again. What if we were making this trip when I started to quit after four dips into the water? What if I had stopped when the sores were still on my body? The only answer I could see would be, if I hadn’t followed the instructions God gave me through Elisha, I would not have received the blessing of healing.
God gives us many instructions. Sometimes we hear those instructions through prayer. Sometimes we hear them in our Bible study. Sometimes we hear them in worship, perhaps in the lyrics of a hymn or in the words of a pastor during a sermon. Sometimes we hear them in the still small voice we call our conscience. Sometimes we might hear them in the gentle rebuke of a friend, much like I heard them from Abdiel. However we might hear them, the truth is, if we don’t follow the instructions, we just might, no, we probably will forfeit the blessing. I pray that you have many blessings. I pray that you never forfeit one.
Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved