Naaman, the Leper

“Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.” —Luke 11:35

LEPROSY is a disfiguring disease. Until recent times, to those who contracted leprosy it was a death sentence—similar in this respect to the modern day disease, AIDS. In fact, many who have fallen victim to AIDS are treated as though they had leprosy since many in our society want to treat the disease by isolating those who have it, as they did for centuries with those who had leprosy.

Today we say “someone who has AIDS.” But the Bible does not say “someone who has leprosy.” It says someone IS a leper. Notice how language changes the situation. We might think we are the same person even when we are sick. But our language implies we are not the same when we become a leper. Lepers in Israel were cut off from the fellowship of their friends and family—they were without hope, living the best way they could by begging. In a few instances, lepers were healed. In Leviticus, chapter 14, the High Priest is told how to be sure someone has been healed of leprosy, and the rituals to be performed if the claim was accurate.

One of the more interesting accounts of the healing of a leper is contained in I Kings, chapter 5. This leper was a Syrian general whose name was Naaman. We read: “At this time the armies of the king of Syria were commanded by a certain Naaman; a great captain, high in his master’s favor; brave, too, and a man of wealth, but a leper. Naaman’s wife had a servant, a young Israelite maid that had been captured by Syrian freebooters; and this maid said to her mistress, If only my lord would betake himself to the prophet in Samaria! He would have cured him soon enough of his leprosy. Upon this, Naaman went to this master, and told him what the Israelite maid had said; and the king of Syria promised to send him with a letter to the king of Israel. So he set out with thirty talents of silver and 6,000 gold pieces, and ten suits of clothing. And the letter he carried to the king of Israel ran thus, Know by these presents that I am sending my servant Naaman to thee to be cured of his leprosy.”—II Kings 5:1-6, Knox Translation

Naaman must have been an outstanding general to hold such a high position despite his handicapping disease. If he had been an Israelite, he would not have been allowed to command an army. He would have been quarantined, and considered unclean. Our conclusions are that Naaman had faith that the Israelitish prophet could cure him; that he was quite willing to pay a great deal of money to regain his health; and he was also quite willing to go to the king of Israel for help in this matter. He assumed that the royal court would be the home of such a great prophet in Israel.

Consider this situation from the viewpoint of the king of Israel. He read the letter from the king of Syria and reasoned that it might be some sort of plot to provoke a war. The king reasoned, “Am I God that he should send a leper to me to be cured?” Everyone was aware that if God did not heal the leper, leprosy was not a curable disease. He wondered why the king did not send Naaman to the Prophet Elisha? Did the king fear that Elisha did not have the power to cure leprosy; or if he had the power, perhaps he would not use it on behalf of a Syrian?

But Elisha did learn of this affair, and told the king to send Naaman to him. “So Naaman came with his horses and his chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent word out to him, Go and bathe seven times in the Jordan, if thou wouldst have health restored to thy flesh and be clean. At this, Naaman was for going back home; Why, he said angrily, I thought he would come out to meet me and stand here invoking the name of his God; that he would touch the sore with his hand and cure me. Has not Damascus its rivers, such water as is not to be found in Israel? Why may I not bathe and find healing there? But as he turned indignantly to go away, his servants came and pleaded with him [to do what the prophet had prescribed].”—II Kings 5:9-13, KT

Naaman was a powerful personage, not used to being treated with such indifference. This “great” prophet did not even come out to see how great Naaman was, and how much can be earned by treating him. No wonder Naaman was angry! Yet we become more familiar with his character when we realize that his servants were not afraid to offer him their advice, even contrary to his own expressed wishes. They could have said, “How terrible! We have all been insulted by this so-called Israelitish prophet!” But Naaman did not become a great general by surrounding himself with “yes” men. He listened to their good counsel, and although it might prove him quite foolish, he did as the Prophet Elisha had directed and went down to the Jordan River. He dipped himself once—no change! He dipped himself a second time—still no change! A third, and a fourth time! It may have seemed as if he was making a big mistake. A fifth and sixth dipping, and still no change. But, after washing in the Jordan’s waters a seventh time—Naaman was healed! His faith had made him whole!

Returning to Elisha’s home, he graciously thanked the prophet, saying, “Now pray accept a gift from thy servant to prove his gratitude! As the Lord I serve is a living God, Elisha answered, I will accept nothing from thee.” Here we receive more insight into Naaman’s character. He could have been delighted about being freed from the dread disease, especially since it was so simple—not even involving an audience with the prophet, and devoid of any charges of any kind! But Naaman felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for this miracle, compelling him to return and to offer Elisha a gift. His heart was enlarged because of the wonderful salvation God had given to him!

Jesus used Naaman as an example of faith when teaching the people of Nazareth. (Luke 4:25-27) At the time that Jesus returned to Nazareth, the townspeople were amazed at how different Joseph’s ‘son’ had become. They expected him to perform miracles such as those he did in Capernaum. But, because familiarity breeds indifference, if not contempt, Jesus showed them that God’s special people do not always receive the blessing: “I tell you of a truth many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; but unto none of them was Elijah sent save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them were cleansed save Naaman the Syrian.”

Were there many lepers in Israel at that time? Two chapters after the story of Naaman (II Kings 7) we read about Elisha and four lepers. Why didn’t Elisha heal those lepers? Obviously, it was not that he lacked the power to do so. But they lacked faith that God would heal them through the prophet, and so they remained lepers. The profession of faith is not what is important—it is easy to say, “Lord, Lord!” But the exercise of an active, living faith brings the blessing. Naaman demonstrated his faith by repeatedly—seven times—washing himself in the Jordan. The number seven is used in the Bible as a representation of completeness. A half-hearted, incomplete faith would not have brought about his cleansing from the leprous, sinful condition.

The widow of Sarepta, and Naaman the Syrian, both illustrate Jesus’ point, that God dispenses his benefits when, where, and to whom he pleases. He was instructing those in Nazareth that they could receive God’s blessings only if they had the right heart attitude, if they exercised real faith. But they did not: “All they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.”—vss. 28,29

Of course they did not succeed in killing Jesus. He left their area, never to return, because they showed that they were unworthy of God’s grace. Likewise the entire nation of Israel, with the exception of a remnant, proved unworthy. And so, a few years after Jesus had been crucified, the Gospel was sent to the Gentiles—again illustrating that God’s favors go to those who appreciate them, who have faith in Him.

We read about ten lepers whom Jesus cleansed: As Jesus “entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed, but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.”—Luke 17:12-19

Perhaps the cleansed Samaritan became a footstep follower of the Master when the Gentiles were accepted into God’s favor, for this miracle affected his heart and life. Perhaps the nine never were moved to call Jesus, Master. Although he had touched their lives dramatically, it apparently had no effect upon their hearts.

The Scriptures often use symbols to convey specific meanings. Some symbols are explained—others are not, having been left for us to determine their meaning by their use. Leprosy is of the latter category, and we have determined that it represents sin, because:

1.) Leprosy has loathsome characteristics—it grossly disfigures those who suffer from it;

2.) Leprosy is progressive in nature. It begins in a small way, but eventually infects the entire body. Another symbol of sin—leaven—is similar in this respect “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” (Gal. 5:9);

3.) Leprosy can be highly infectious, which is the reason for the isolation of the victims;

4.) Leprosy is incurable by human means.

In each of these respects, leprosy is a very apropos picture of sin. Sin has disfigured the human race, marring the beauty of perfection in God’s original creation. Sin cannot be eradicated by anyone except God. Sin is infectious in the sense that when it is nearby it becomes familiar—we can become no longer outraged by it, and, in fact, begin to think of it as natural and normal, therefore allowing it to affect our lives also. Sin starts out in a small measure, but eventually infects whatever it touches.

In a dialog between the priests and Jehovah, we read “Ask now the priests to decide this question of Law: If one carries in the skirt of his garment flesh that is holy and with his skirt touches bread or oil or any kind of food, does what he touch become holy? And the priests answered, No! [Holiness is not infectious.] Then said Haggai, If one who is unclean because he has come in contact with a dead body should touch any of these articles of food, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered, It shall be unclean. [Unholiness is infectious.] Then answered Haggai, So is this people before Me, says the Lord: and what they offer is unclean [because they who offer it are themselves unclean].”—Hag. 2:11-14, Amplified Bible

There are additional lessons to learn from the story of Elisha and Naaman, as we discover in II Kings 5:20-25: “To Gehazi, the prophet’s servant, the thought came, Here is this Syrian, this Naaman, with all his gifts, and my master has sent him away no poorer than he came. As the Lord is a living God, I mean to run after him and bring back some trifle with me. So after Naaman Gehazi went; and Naaman, when he saw him running up, dismounted from his chariot and went to meet him; Is all well? he asked. All is well, said the other, but my master has sent me with a message to thee: Here are two young prophets but now come to visit me, from the hill country of Ephraim; to these thou mayest well give a talent of silver and two suits of clothing. Better two talents, Naaman said; and would take no denial. So two of his servants must shoulder a sack that held a talent of silver and a suit of clothes each of them, and carry these in front of Gehazi. Evening had fallen when he reached home, took their load from them to lay it up in the house, and sent them away on their journey; then he went in to wait on his master.”—KT

Gehazi had long been associated with the Prophet Elisha as his servant, but apparently he learned nothing from him. Familiarity, once again, appears to have bred indifference. Gehazi reasoned that since the Syrian general was so eager to pay Elisha for his services, and Elisha would not hear of it, there would be nothing wrong with getting a little profit out of this occasion himself. Because he coveted wealth, and things that wealth can buy, he, first, lied to Naaman by telling him that his master sent him; second, lied by indicating that the money and clothes were for other young prophets, and not for himself; third, he hid the wealth in his home so he would not have to explain it to Elisha, or share it with anyone; and fourth, he lied to Elisha when asked where he has been, replying to Elisha’s question that he had not gone anywhere.

The result of these deceptions was predictable. Elisha was very displeased with his servant and said, ‘To thee, and to thy race forever, Naaman’s leprosy shall cling. And Gehazi went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.”—vs. 27

The Apostle Paul implores the Early Christians, “We beseech you that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” (I Cor. 6:1) Gehazi had surely received the grace of Elisha in vain. He forfeited whatever cleansing he had, and became unclean. Jesus said, “What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26) Gehazi dreamed of money, garments, olive groves, vineyards, sheep, oxen, menservants, and maidservants. He thought he had gained the whole world, but instead he lost his soul—his life.

We have noted how God bestows his favor upon whomever he please, generally in proportion to the active faith possessed. Naaman was healed; others in Israel were not. We have seen how leprosy pictures sin. Since we have been cleansed of our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, and his ransom sacrifice on our behalf, we should be grateful and give the glory to God.

Another lesson to learn is to never allow familiarity to breed indifference. Remember Gehazi who received in vain the grace of God in the privilege of serving Elisha the prophet. He seemed for a long period of time to serve his master faithfully, but later became unfaithful. He was tempted with worldly wealth, and lost everything to the terrible disease of leprosy which eventually took his life. We will not attain salvation because we have been walking in the right way for many years. We must continue serving God and righteousness until God says, It is enough. May the words of the psalmist, David, be our constant prayer. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”—Ps. 51:7

Dawn Bible Students Association
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