Gleanings from the Text
2 Kings 5:1-14
2 Kings 2-8 offers a series of folktales that describe miracles of nurture and restoration that provide evidence of Elisha’s reputation and authority as prophet of God, successor to Elijah. Chapter 5 reports two miracle stories that work together as a unit. The first story (2 Kings 5:1-14) describes the healing of a foreigner from leprosy. The sequel or second miracle story (vv.15-27) has a twist on the first story with a greedy Israelite who is given leprosy.
1. Introduction (vv.1-5)
• Naaman is a foreigner, chief military commander of the Aramean army and conqueror of the Israelite army. Tradition suggests that Naaman is the “certain man” who shot the arrow that killed Israel’s King Ahab (2 Chronicles 18:33-34) (see Seow).
• Leprosy described a broad range of skin diseases. Naaman did not likely have the leprosy we refer to as Hansen’s disease, but undoubtedly it was painful, disfiguring or had negative social stigma.
• Hope for salvation comes from a captured, Israelite servant girl who suggests that Naaman could be cured of disease by the prophet from her homeland.
• Naaman prepares an enormously ostentatious gift of persuasion for the healer prophet.
2. First Obstacle (vv.6-8)
• The hapless King of Israel misunderstands the diplomatic letter thinking that he, the King, must perform the miracle of healing: only God has power over life and death.
• Elisha responds: Send Naaman to me that he might know there is a prophet in Israel (vv.7-8).
3. Second Obstacle (vv.9-12)
• Namaan takes his entourage to Elisha. Expecting personalized attention, Naaman is indignant when Elisha dispatches a messenger to tell Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan.
• Elisha’s instructions are for ritual cleansing (Lev. 13-14)—not healing. Naaman expects more ceremony or challenge. Naaman’s ego is wounded (see Seow).
• National pride is also at stake. He could just as easily have jumped into a clean river in Damascus.
4. Resolution (vv.13-14)
• Naaman’s servants have a different interpretation of Elisha’s command to “wash and be clean.” To Namman’s credit he again listens to the advice of servants.
• Without really understanding, Namaan submits to a simple routine task and washes seven times in the Jordan. Miraculously his flesh is restored to that of a young boy!
Food for Thought
• This miracle story demonstrates the healing power and universality of the Sovereign God of all. Naaman was victorious in battle against Israel (1 Kings 22:29-36) which the Israelites explain as the will of the Lord (see Seow). God’s offer of salvation extends outside the chosen people. Jesus uses this story to highlight the inclusiveness of his ministry to Gentiles (Luke 4:27).
• Elisha’s command and promise require Naaman’s obedience for his salvation to occur. In complying, Naaman learns that God’s salvation comes through the unexpected when we submit to God’s plan, not ours. It was not the Jordan’s miracle properties, but Naaman’s obedience to the prophet’s command and promise that leads to cure (see Fretheim).
• God mediates salvation in unexpected ways—through lowly servants and simple acts, and is symbolized in a baptism.
Sink Your Teeth Into This
This story contains all the elements of good movie entertainment: vivid characters, complex plot, comedy, tension, resolution and message. As I envisioned how the script might be written for the big screen, a colorful cast of characters for the various roles came to mind:
First, cast in the role of Naaman the mighty warrior, is Kelsey Grammar from TV’s “Fraser.” His Dr. Crane character has the right blend of arrogance, pomp and yet humility when his vast ego is inevitably deflated. The goofy, hapless king of Israel, running around ranting and tearing his clothes must be played by the spastic over the top characterization of Jim Carey. Keeping the emphasis on the Word and not the messenger, Elisha the prophet is an authoritative voice-over telling the King to send Naaman to him. In his best, booming, “This is CNN” voice, my pick is James Earl Jones. Finally, we need Radar O’Reilly of "M*A*S*H" fame in the role of Naaman’s servant who points out the simple, obvious truth and anticipates what his master cannot.
The HarperCollins Bible Commentary. James L. Mays, et al. editors, (HarperCollins Publishers, 1988) p. 296.
Terrance Fretheim, First and Second Kings, (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 1999) p. 153.
Choon-Leong Seow, “1 and 2 Kings.” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. III. Leander Keck, et al. editors. (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1998) p. 193.