Tackling the Sickness of Pride Like Naaman
For those of us who attended Sunday school as kids, we may have heard a story about Naaman. This man, who had leprosy, washed himself in the Jordan river seven times, according to what Elisha the prophet instructed him to do, and he found healing (2 Kings 5).
But Sunday school didn’t often cover the historical context of people such as Naaman. Nor did we often explore the concepts of humility, salvation, and how the story of Naaman ties into our understanding of the Gospel.
We’ll dive into all of these as we uncover the personhood of a proud Syrian man who came to the prophet Elisha for healing.
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Who Was Naaman?
We do know a few things about this Syrian man. First, he had a decent amount of wealth, as we learn in 2 Kings 5:1. We also discover that he lead the Aram army as a commander. Aram resides in present-day Syria.
Although he was a successful and valiant soldier, he had one ailment: leprosy. This term in the Bible can refer to a number of skin diseases but often rendered whoever had it a social pariah. In essence, this disease kills nerve endings, so those who have it don’t feel pain when limbs disfigure, twist, and deteriorate. Dr. Alan L. Gillen explains this more here for Answers in Genesis.
Those who had leprosy were deemed unclean, and no one would touch them. Often lepers were quarantined in communities away from society, as we see in Luke 17:11-19.
Naaman had everything he could need – except for good health. This meant that even the lowliest of slaves would not go near Naaman.
Frustrated with his condition, Naaman first seeks help from the King of Aram and then seeks help from the prophet Elisha, who had worked a few miracles prior.
He had received word from his servant girl, who was an Israelite captive in Aram, that a prophet had come to Samaria (his land) who could heal a great number of ills. Namaan must have expected preferential treatment as someone with such a high social rank, so when Elisha told him to go wash himself in the Jordan River, he felt insulted. He had come all this way on his chariots only to be told he needed a bath.
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Naaman Seeks Special Treatment
Readers should take note of the interesting social mechanics at play in the narrative.
He even stops at the door like a beggar for alms, humiliating himself in hopes that Elisha will return the favor and stoop down and give him a healing.
Elisha sees right through these charades and even sends a messenger instead of going himself (the first insult) to tell Naaman to wash himself in the Jordan River (the second insult). The third insult is that Naaman came all this way only to be told to leave and bathe himself in what would have been a rather dirty and nasty river (2 Kings 5:12).
Through these instructions, the prophet is trying to point out something – that Naaman has an ailment beyond physical leprosy. He also had a problem with pride, and one cannot expect a healing of one’s own desire.
The prophet was showing Naaman that when we have a physical or spiritual leprosy (a leprosy of pride that deadens our conscience), we need to rely on how the Lord plans to heal us, instead of how we envision the healing should go.
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Why Didn't Naaman Like Elisha's "Cure"?
Naaman dislikes the cure for a number of reasons.
First, as a rich man, he had grown used to others doing, well, dirty work for him. The fact that Elisha sent him away to clean himself in the Jordan River felt beneath him.
Second, commoners washed themselves in the Jordan River. As a person of esteem, Naaman expected an esteemed cure. Especially since he had put on a false show of paying Elisha honor and “humbling” himself.
Third, he was used to giving orders, not being ordered. Here he might even think that the prophet Elisha misunderstands him. He needs to be clean of his leprosy, not from any dirt that accumulated on his person.
Nevertheless, his servants convince him to wash in the Jordan River. Once he does so, his leprosy vanishes.
As a means of thanks, Naaman tries to give Elisha a gift. Elisha refuses. However, Elisha’s servant, thinking the prophet should receive some kind of payment for his services, takes two talents (about $800,000) and returns to Elisha.
Angered, Elisha curses his servant, and the servant has Naaman’s leprosy for the rest of his life.
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What Can We Learn from Naaman?
It may be easy to get annoyed with Naaman in the narrative. After all, Elisha gave him the cure he needed. Why did he decide to be picky?
But we can actually see a great deal of ourselves in this Aram commander if we glance closely.
1. God Doesn’t Work on Our Terms
Namaan thought if he said and did all the right things and play-acted enough that Elisha would take pity on him and give him an extraordinary cure.
God does not work “harder” or “faster” if we attempt to do the right things. No matter how much time we devote to community service, give at the communion plate, etc., we can’t bribe God. He will choose to give or withhold cures based on his plan for our lives. Nothing can sway him in one direction or the other.
2. Salvation Works the Same for Everyone
Jesus tells an interesting parable in Matthew 20:1-16. An owner of a vineyard goes out and sees several workers who are in need of a job. Throughout the day, he offers a denarius (a day’s wages) for them to work in his field. He even hires people until the last hour of the working day.
Those who worked the longest think they’ll get a bigger cut. So they wind up disappointed that everyone receives the same pay and begin to grumble.
The parable is supposed to show us salvation. That no matter when someone accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior, everyone receives the same salvation. We might have some Christians, like the oldest son in the parable of the prodigal son, who get incensed that they didn’t receive a greater award for longer periods of faithfulness.
Here Jesus shows us that he gave us all grace by allowing us to enter the vineyard (the kingdom of heaven). Rich, poor, saved during childhood or saved on our deathbeds, God offers the same salvation freely and willingly.
Just like Naaman in the Jordan River, it requires humility, but it cleanses us of our spiritual leprosy.
3. God Doesn’t See Any Distinctions
It doesn’t matter that Naaman had riches. He couldn’t do anything with his leprosy. Not even the lowest of servants could touch him because of his disease.
Through his humbling cure, Naaman learns that riches and earthly possessions don’t matter (Matthew 6:19-21). After all, we cannot take those possessions with us into heaven. God doesn’t see rich and poor. He sees people in need of a Savior.
Perhaps like Naaman, we’ve attempted to bribe God into working a miracle cure for us on our terms. But just like everyone else, we need the same cure for our spiritual leprosy.
Luckily Naaman listened to his servants, those he considered beneath him, and received a cure for his leprosy by washing in the Jordan River. This river is known to have obeyed divine power in the past (Joshua 3).
And like Naaman, we are in need of a cure, the same cure given to everyone who will have it: salvation.
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Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 500 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze, (Illuminate YA) released in June, and they contracted the sequel Den for July 2020. Find out more about her here.
Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, and the author 21+ books. More than 1400 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids.