When Sickness Strikes

Biblical Truth: God is greater than our illnesses, and He compassionately helps those who humbly trust Him.

Sickness can strike anyone:  2 Kings 5:1-5.

[1]  Now Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master, and highly respected, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man was also a valiant warrior, but he was a leper. [2]  Now the Arameans had gone out in bands and had taken captive a little girl from the land of Israel; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. [3]  She said to her mistress, “I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy.” [4]  Naaman went in and told his master, saying, “Thus and thus spoke the girl who is from the land of Israel.” [5]  Then the king of Aram said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” And he departed and took with him ten talents of silver and six thousand shekels of gold and ten changes of clothes.   [NASU]

Naaman’s healing and conversion is one of the best known and most popular stories in 1,2 Kings. This account may be compared to those in 1 Kings 1-2; 13; and 22 in that it offers a detailed plot that operates on several levels. As many as ten characters or character groups interact with one another to create the undercurrents and subplots that make the plot so compelling. Essential theological themes such as conversion, monotheism, the power of God’s word, and the danger of covetousness emerge from the carefully woven story. Few texts in the Old Testament are as fertile ground for teaching, preaching, and personal challenge.

[1]  Naaman, the story’s main character, is introduced as a great man who struggles to overcome a physical affliction. He is successful in his military career, for he commands Syria’s army, a unit that allows Damascus to dominate the region. His king duly praises him for his work. He exhibits courage. Only one issue mars his life; he is a leper. This leprosy may not have been an extremely advanced type, since he could continue his work; but it was serious enough to him, as the text indicates later. The author states that the Lord gave Naaman his victories. At first this claim may seem startling because Naaman is not an Israelite. However, 1 and 2 Kings emphasize repeatedly God’s sovereignty over all nations and all people. The Lord has already laid claim to ownership of Syria’s political future [1 Kings 19:15]. Surely he can work on behalf of a Syrian, if only to discipline Israel for idolatry [cf. 2 Kings 13:3]. The Lord also has sent the prophets earlier to non-Israelites [1 Kings 17:7-24], so it is not surprising for Him to deal with Naaman here.

[2-3]  A rather obscure source becomes the key to Naaman’s healing. Raiding parties into Israel have provided a servant girl for Naaman’s wife. This girl tells her mistress that Naaman could be cured if he would see the prophet who is in Samaria. Power and glory cannot save Naaman, but the knowledge of this young servant girl can. She shares what she knows about the Lord and the prophet out of concern for Naaman and her mistress and desire to see God’s glory magnified.

[4-7]  Anxious for any possible avenue of healing, Naaman tells his king what the girl has said. Elisha’s fame has spread from the lowest rung of society clear to the palace. Syria’s king writes a letter of introduction and demand, loads Naaman down with gifts, and sends his commander off to be healed. He does not know that true prophets do not work for money, nor are they paid by the king, nor does the king have authority over them. Thus, sending Naaman to Israel’s king does Naaman no good. Israel’s king certainly understands the futility of the letter, for he knows he is no healer. He too thinks like a king and suspects that Syria is looking for an excuse to renew old hostilities. He has no idea that deep personal pain and a child’s pure motives have caused this trip.

This was King Joram’s opportunity to honor the Lord and begin to build peace between Syria and Israel, but he failed to take advantage of it. Although 3:11 suggests that Joram and Elisha weren’t close friends, the king did know who Elisha was and what he could do. He also surely knew that Israel‘s task was to bear witness to the godless nations around them [Isaiah 42:6; 49:6]. But Joram’s concerns were personal and political, not spiritual, and he interpreted the letter as a declaration of war. Alarmed by the thought, he impulsively tore his clothes, something that kings rarely did; but his mind was blinded by unbelief and fear and he didn’t understand what the Lord was doing.

God’s ways are not always understood: 2 Kings 5:8-12.

[8]  It happened when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent word to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Now let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” [9]  So Naaman came with his horses and his chariots and stood at the doorway of the house of Elisha. [10]  Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored to you and you will be clean.” [11]  But Naaman was furious and went away and said, “Behold, I thought, ‘He will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. [12]  Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.   [NASU]

Elisha views Naaman’s presence as an opportunity to prove there is a real prophet in Israel, which is the same as saying there is a real God in Israel. Like the servant girl in 5:2-3, he decides to use this difficult situation to help Naaman. His attitude also helps the king of Israel, since Elisha intends to show Naaman that while the monarch does not heal, someone in Israel can cure him. When the Syrian arrives with his impressive entourage, the prophet does not come to meet him. Instead, he sends a messenger to instruct him to wash seven times in the Jordan if he wants to be healed. Why this aloof approach to the Syrian’s problem? Elisha may have been demonstrating that he was not a wonderworker who expected payment, or else indicating he wished no political involvement with Syria, or again he may be deliberately testing Naaman’s faith. Certainly it is a great test of humble faith and one that Naaman understandably misinterprets as an insult. National pride and personal expectations of a spectacular, magical display lead the commander to stomp away in rage.

If Naaman began his journey at Damascus, then he had traveled over one hundred miles to get to Samaria, so another thirty miles or so shouldn’t have upset him. But it did, for the great general became angry. The basic cause of his anger was pride. He had already decided in his own mind just how the prophet would heal him, but God didn’t work that way. Before sinners can receive God’s grace, they must submit to God’s will, for "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble" [1 Peter 5:5; see Romans 10:1-3].

The Lord had already been working on Naaman’s pride and there was more to come. King Joram wasn’t able to heal him, the prophet didn’t come to court or even come out to greet him, and he had to dip in the dirty Jordan River, not once, but seven times. And he a great general and second in command over the nation of Syria! He had marked out a way of his own for the prophet to heal him, and was mad because he didn’t follow his plans. Is it any different today? People want to be saved from their sins by participating in a religious ritual, joining a church, giving money to the church, reforming their lives, doing good works, and a host of other substitutes for putting faith in Jesus Christ. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us" [Titus 3:5].

God’s grace is available:  2 Kings 5:13-16.

[13]  Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” [14]  So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child and he was clean. [15]  When he returned to the man of God with all his company, and came and stood before him, he said, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel; so please take a present from your servant now.” [16]  But he said, “As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will take nothing.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused.   [NASU]

Once again it is Naaman’s servants who come to his rescue. They attack their master’s pride with common sense. He would do something difficult, they reason, so why not try this rather small possible cure? What can it hurt? Naaman follows their advice and is healed. His quest for healing has been fulfilled. This text contains one of the great Gentile conversion accounts in the Old Testament. Like Rahab [Joshua 2:9-13], Ruth [Ruth 1:16-18], and the sailors and Ninevites in Jonah [Jonah 1:16; 3:6-10], Naaman believes in the Lord.

From Genesis 12:2-3 onward in the Old Testament, God desires to bless all nations through Israel. This ideal becomes a reality here due to the witness of the Israelite servant girl and the work of the Israelite prophet. Naaman’s conversion includes a confession of faith. He states that no other god exists besides the Lord, a conclusion he draws from the fact that only the Lord can heal him. Naaman’s confession consists of words which accord closely with Elisha’s words in verse 8. Following a major theme of these chapters, Naaman realizes that only in Israel, and through Israel’s God, is healing to be found. Following this confession, Naaman’s actions support his new-found faith. Sadly, Naaman’s confession of faith condemns most Israelites of that era, since they have rejected the one true God and embraced gods that cannot heal. Jesus makes this point while rebuking the people of Nazareth in Luke 4:23-30.


Like every new believer, Naaman still had a lot to learn. He had been saved and healed by trusting in God’s grace, and now he had to grow in grace and faith and learn how to live to please the God who saved him. Instead of hurrying home to share the good news, Naaman returned to the house of Elisha to thank the Lord and His servant. (See 2 Kings 17:11-49 .) That meant traveling another thirty miles, but he must have rejoiced during the entire trip. It was natural for him to want to reward Elisha, but had the prophet accepted the gift, he would have taken the credit to himself and robbed God of glory.  He also would have given Naaman, a new convert, the impression that his gifts had something to do with his salvation. Abraham had refused the gifts from the king of Sodom [Gen. 14:17-24], Daniel would refuse the king’s offer [Daniel 5:17], and Peter and John would reject Simon’s money [Acts 8:18-24]. Anything that robs God of all the glory needs to be rejected.

Questions for Discussion:

1.      Verse 1 says that the Lord gave Naaman his victory. Why is this surprising? What does this teach the Israelites about God’s sovereignty?

2.      How did King Joram fail to take advantage of this opportunity and use it for God’s glory?

3.      How did God work on Naaman’s pride? Why is humility essential in our relationship with God?


1, 2 Kings, Paul House, NAC, Broadman.

The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament , Warren W. Wiersbe.

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