The miracle wrought by Elijah for a Gentile woman, the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-24), was used by Jesus in Luke 4:25, 26 as a lesson concerning God’s grace and unmerited favor reaching to non-Jews. The same is true in Jesus’ reference to Naaman in Luke 4:27. These events carry deep theological significance for an understanding of the expansive purpose of redemptive favor to people of every tongue, tribe, and nation. The covenant with Abraham was for the people of Israel at one level and then included all the sons of Adam (Romans 5:12-21; Galatians 3:7, 8. 28, 29; Ephesians 2:11-22) in the eternal covenant of redemption.

I. The fragility of a Great Soldier (5:1). This introduction to Naaman gives a resume of the greatness of the man and adds the note of a debility that no amount of self-effort or devotion could rectify.

A. Naaman was captain of the army. Probably he is the one who had defeated Ahab and might have been the archer whose randomly-shot arrow was given precise course by divine design (1 Kings 22:29-35)

B. His master, the king of Syria, greatly respected him for his military strategy and the status and riches that had come to Syria through Naaman’s victories.

C. Not only was he a strategist, he engaged the fight himself and did not lead from behind but from the fore. He was a “valiant warrior.”

D. Even as the arrow found its mark by divine purpose and immediate guidance, so the victors achieved by Naaman were the result of God’s providence—“by him the Lord had given victory to Aram.” God’s purpose spans the universe, controls the movements of all nations as well as the interrelationship of all stars, planets, animals, and leaves: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).

E. “A leper.” No matter what status he had achieved and what honors were granted him, none in Syria would want his skin. No strategy could cure him, no courage in war would heal him, and no respect from his king could reverse the course of this putrefying disease. God alone could intervene by sovereign disposition.

II. The Humility of a Servant Girl (5:2-4). The brief story of this servant girl, the little Israelite girl (who had not bowed the knee to Baal), gives a picture of amazing and joyful resignation to the disposition of providence in her life.

A. Raiding parties regularly antagonized Israel from Syria, banditti cohorts whose living arose from unlawful looting and kidnapping. They were making themselves subject to remarkable displays of divine wrath in this life perhaps but with absolute certainty at death and finally at the great day of the judgment of all people (2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27; 10:30, 31; Revelation 20:11-15).

B. God used their wickedness, nevertheless, to bring about hope for Naaman and convert him to a sincere worship of the Lord God. On one of their raids, they captured this young girl and probably sold her as a slave, and she landed in the house of Naaman as a maid to his wife. Even being displaced from Israel, she maintained her worship of the Lord, her confidence in God’s mercy and providence, and her knowledge of the work of Elisha. It is quite possible that her temporal condition was improved, being in the household of Naaman, over what it had been in Israel.

C. She showed trust in her mistress being willing to mention to her a prophet in Israel. She showed respect and sympathy for Naaman, desiring for him to be free of this loathsome debility that gave him public shame.

D. She manifest a commitment to the special covenant relationship that Israel had to God by his sovereign arrangement—not because they were greater than others or more deserving of any special interaction with God. She knew that there was a true prophet in Israel who was sent there for the demonstration of God’s holiness, power, and sole prerogative over all forces on earth, even leprosy (3). God had placed a witness in the house of this pagan in order to bring him to a saving relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

E. Her faithful work and sincere respect had gained trust and credibility with Naaman. He did not hesitate, but acted on her words. He went to the king to request some kind of royal notice to give him safe passage and a degree of certainty that this request would be honored.

III. The Naivety of the Mighty (5:5, 6) -Misperceptions of the place of the true prophet among the Jews led to an ill- stated request.

A. In pagan nations, the priesthood was a position of state and under the authority of the king. The king of Syria assumed this was the case of a prophet in Israel. In light of this, the king sent a request to the king, asking him to see that Naaman was cured of his leprosy. He probably did not expect the king to do this himself but to arrange for the prophet to do it.

B. To make this journey for such an important, life-changing reason required every show of deference and respect. Naaman did not disguise himself or his reason for the journey but went in full disclosure of his identity. The king sent Naaman with a large amount of money and several changes of garments. This was for their own travel as well as for a present. He took along the letter from his king to the king of Israel in deference to his dignity and that a great favor was being asked.

C. The wording was in line with the expectation that a man of such reported power and authority would certainly be immediately under the governance of the king and would respond only to a request from the king. The servant girl had talked about the prophet and that was the report (“thus and thus”) given by Naaman. Israel’s king, being unaware of the nature of the information given did not discern the meaning of the request delivered to him.

IV. The Terror of the Impotent (5:7) – The radical implication of this sort of letter and the way in which it was worded caused a sense of helplessness and terror to come into the mind of the king.

A. He “tore his clothes.” This action indicates a great deal of fear and perhaps some element of at least formal piety. It indicates fear for himself before God, for if he considered for a moment that his position as king gave him divine powers, he believed that the Lord would require his life for it. In addition, he knew that God’s prerogative was being transferred to another, a blasphemous assumption that called for a display of utter rejection (cf. Matthew 26:65 for the high priest’s tearing his robe when Jesus asserted his Messiahship).

B. The wording, “that you may cure him of his leprosy,” completely unnerved the king for the presence of leprosy was seen as a case of hopelessness and subject to the control of God alone (See Matthew 8:1-3; Luke 5:12-14; Luke 17:11-19). In Matthew 11:5 and Luke 7:22, Jesus gave to John the Baptist as evidence that he was indeed the Christ the statement, “lepers are cleansed.” At the healing of the ten lepers, it seems to be a purposeful observation that the one who returned in gratitude was a Samaritan. He, perhaps more than the others, was aware of the incident with Elisha and Naaman having occurred in Samaria, that a true prophet was among them in the person of Jesus.

C. John Gill made this observation: “a leper was reckoned as one dead, his disease incurable, his flesh upon him being mortified by it, see Numb xii. 12. And therefore not supposed to be in the power of man, only of God to cure.”

D. The king of Israel also thought that the king of Syria was seeking a reason to take offense and begin some aggression against him.

V. The Assurance of Prophetic Calling (5:8). The news traveled quickly of the king’s terror and response to the letter. Elisha heard it and knew that God was opening an opportunity for a display of sovereign power combined with tender mercy.

A. Elisha sent word to the king, Jehoram, that he should send Naaman to him. This would be welcome news to the king to have another take responsibility for fulfilling this request. Elisha gives a mild rebuke to the king in this, asking why he has torn his clothes, as if the God of Israel is not a God who kills and gives life, makes sick and heals, brings disaster and protects from harm. Elisha and Jehoram have had encounters (3:13-19). He should have welcomed the opportunity to show that Israel’s God is the true God; he should have immediately said, “Yes, there is a prophet of God among us; he will tell if the Lord is willing to heal you. I will send you to him.” Had it been on his mind that God had blessed Israel with a prophet, unlike the false prophets of Ahab, he would not have thought immediately, “This is all about me.”Ignorance or neglect or self-absorption pushed the royal personage into a state of mortification.

B. “Let him come to me. He shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” In the lowly form of a kidnapped slave girl, Syria had a witness to the authenticity of a prophet of God in Israel but had no prophet. Israel had a prophet anointed by God for truth and mighty works, but even the exalted monarch could not bear witness to him. “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thought of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:51-53).

C. Elisha saw this as an opportunity for the glory of the one true God. A prophet can exist only where God himself has shown mercy to a people through the presence of revelation and promises of redemption. Elisha wanted Naaman, and thus Syria, to know that the slave girl’s witness was true, “I wish my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria:” indeed, “He shall know that there is a prophet in Israel” (8).

VI. The Destructive Arrogance of Assumed Exaltation (5:9-12).

A. Naaman’s appearance before Elisha manifested the pomp of one who was worthy of the attention of the prophet and whose supplication was worthy of a personal and genial response. Instead, Elisha responded through a servant with a remedy and a word of assurance. “Go wash … you will be clean” (10). Nothing more was needed; no formal introductions, no recognition of exalted status, only a God-ordained answer to the problem.

B. Having made the trip from Samaria to Gilgal to meet this prophet, Naaman expected more personal attention and a display of greater circumstantial glory.

    1. Naaman did not like the lack of impressive ceremony in light of the importance of the request, the reputed status of the prophet, and the trouble that he had taken to come from Syria to Samaria and from there to Gilgal. There must be incantations, waving of hands, personal sight of the disease, and the vision of its change from rotten flesh to newly formed skin.
    2. Naaman did not like the remedy. “Really?!—the Jordan? when better and more impressive rivers are in my homeland.” The lack of impressive hospitality, no special curing ritual, the servant-borne message, the ridiculous solution of washing away leprosy in the Jordan. He was above all of this. Naaman was angered for neither his honor nor his expectations had been met. He seemed more concerned with external conditions than the reality of a cure for leprosy.

VII. The Curing Power of Genuine Humiliation (5:13, 14).

A. The servants of Naaman immediately saw the folly of pride as a potential for destruction—“Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). They argued from a greater to a lesser. Had he given you a remedy that required great effort and perhaps danger, would you not have done it to be rid of the leprosy? How much more willingly should this simple, and actually sensible, requirement be done immediately—“Wash and be clean.” The message has been given, the remedy has been stated, and the assurance of success accompanies the simple requirement.

B. The image of cleansing is compelling from a gospel standpoint: “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. … If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7, 9).

C. Immediately, “He listened to the reasoning of his servant, and his passion subsided, and did as the prophet ordered him” [Gill]]. He went to the prescribed source of healing; no other would do. He did as required, dipping seven times. And as the word of God from the prophet had promised, “His flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child and he was clean” (14). Even so, we must not be intimidated by the pressure for syncretism in our age of relativism: “Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

VIII. The Assuring comfort of genuine repentance (15-19).

A. Having been cured, Naaman shows honor to the prophet and exclusive fidelity to the God who had just healed him.

    1. Having left the prophet in anger, he returns in submission and gratitude. The entire event has proven to him, in mind and in heart, that the God who spoke through Elisha and to whom Israel is supposed to be subject is the true God, the only God. Idolatry is banished from his mind. We have a similar transformation of a pagan Gentile in Daniel 4:34-36.
    2. Naaman offered a gift to the prophet as an expression of gratitude for his faithfulness to the word of the Lord and in humble recognition of the mercy granted to him. Elisha, to avoid any indication that he assumed the least degree of credit for what was an operation of unilateral, omnipotent, sovereign mercy on the part of the Lord, refuses the gift. Even upon Naaman’s urging, Elisha remained steadfast. The glory belonged to God alone; the unusual means of the cleansing was of God alone. The persuasion of Naaman’s mind that Jehovah alone is God was of God’s Spirit alone.

B. Naaman, sensitive of the great sinfulness and affront of idolatry, pledged to worship none but the Lord God and asked for assurance of forgiveness (17-19).

    1. Alexander MacLaren calls Naaman the original “Mr. Facing Both Ways,” the memorable compromiser of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Matthew Henry sees two errors in Naaman’s response. One, he did too much in asking for soil, an indication of some superstitious attachment to a material substance. Two, he purposed too little. Henry laments that permission to compromise so soon entered into the mind of one so profoundly the recipient of divine favor. He wrote, “If, in covenanting with God, we make a reservation for any known sin, which we will continue to indulge ourselves in, that reservation is a defeasance of his covenant.”
    2. B. H. Carroll leans toward Naaman’s being a true convert. “In this we may not judge Naaman too severely, especially in view of the fact that Naaman was a heathen, reared in a heathen religion, and going back to a heathen environment, and may we not confidently expect to meet Naaman in the ‘Sweet By and By” as one of God’s jewels gathered out of a foreign land? One could wish that he might greet this Syrian general and this little Jewish maid along with Elijah’s widow of Zarephath, Elisha’s Shunammite woman and our Lord’s Syro-Phoenician woman on the bright shores of everlasting deliverance.”
    3. John Gill, acknowledging alternate interpretations, takes the view that the request of land for the sake of making an altar to Jehovah was a way of identifying with the God of the land of Israel and was not a superstition but indicated his having “embraced the true religion and the worship of the true God.” Gill also interprets verse 18, not as seeking permission for compromise of any sort even in civil service of the king, but a description of what had happened in the past as he joined his king in bowing to Rimmon. He wanted assurance that these acts of idolatry had been forgiven. Gill says this is “the language of a true penitent.”
    4. Elisha’s words seem to confirm this as he tells him to “Go in peace.” Go in peace of mind, peace of heart, and as a recipient of peace with God.
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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