Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. ___ But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.’ So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! 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?’ He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’ So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!’ He urged him to accept, but he refused. Then Naaman said, ‘If not, please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt-offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord. But may the Lord pardon your servant on one count: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow down in the house of Rimmon, when I do bow down in the house of Rimmon, may the Lord pardon your servant on this one count.’ He said to him, ‘Go in peace.’ ___ But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance…He went in and stood before his master; and Elisha said to him, ‘Where have you been, Gehazi?’ He answered, ‘Your servant has not gone anywhere at all.’ But he said to him, ‘Did I not go with you in spirit when someone left his chariot to meet you? Is this a time to accept money and to accept clothing, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, and male and female slaves? Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you, and to your descendants for ever.’ So he left his presence leprous, as white as snow.
These verses focus on Elisha’s role in the story of Naaman, a high ranking Aramean army officer. Once again God’s healing power is demonstrated; but here it is mediated through the prophet to a foreigner, one whose nation worshipped a different god (v.18).
As the story unfolds we are reminded that the ancient world linked Yahweh explicitly to the land of Israel, hence Naaman’s request for a substantial quantity of Israelite soil to become a site in Aram where he could worship in future. We also see the reality of a polytheistic world – Naaman will need to respect Aram’s religious traditions as he serves his king, despite his own conversion.
Issues of status, expectation, reward and truth are central to this story. Naaman expects VIP treatment from Elisha and is angry that a messenger is sent to him. He expects Elisha to perform a public ritual to effect his healing – his sense of self-importance demands signs and wonders; he is affronted when told to go and wash in the Jordan. It’s too easy!
Having complied, through the good sense of his servants, Naaman returns to Elisha wanting to pay for his service, presuming that prophetic power is a commodity that can be bought. Elisha robustly rejects the offer – God’s gifts are freely offered. However, his servant, Gehazi, sees an opportunity for personal gain and deceives Naaman into believing that Elisha has changed his mind.
When confronted by Elisha, Gehazi lies; but the prophet reveals that he knows what he has done – truth will out! The harsh punishment inflicted on Gehazi makes sense in a world that understood justice in terms of ‘an eye for an eye’; and reminds us that blatant wrongdoing is not condoned by God.
Through Christ, we know more about God’s forgiveness; but this doesn’t give us licence to sin!
Sometimes I regard myself as more important than I am – forgive me.
Sometimes I foolishly imagine that you require ‘payback’ for your love – forgive me.
Sometimes I knowingly offend against your ways – bring me to repentance through the activity of your Spirit and forgive me.
At all times help me to accept your generosity with thanksgiving and to live to your praise and glory.
In Christ’s name, Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.