Naaman’s Legacy

The healing of Naaman by the prophet Elisha, found in the Old Testament, serves as a precursor to the many miracles of reported in the New Testament. Naaman was a captain in the army of the king of Aram, a valiant warrior who had earned the respect of the king. But Naaman had leprosy, which was no doubt a source of great embarrassment to a man of his status. The story is set in motion by an unlikely heroine—a little Israeli servant girl, who remains nameless.

The servant girl, who was captured by Naaman and his men during one of his campaigns, tells Naaman's wife that if the master would go to a Jewish prophet in Samaria, he would be cured of his leprosy. The wife conveys the message to Naaman, who in turn consults his master, the king of Aram. The king offers Naaman a letter of introduction to the king of Israel, and encourages him to seek healing from the Jewish prophet. Loaded with silver and gold and fine garments, the wealthy Naaman sets out to seek his cure.

Then the king said to Aram, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” And he departed and took with him 10 talents of silver and 6,000 shekels of gold and 10 changes of clothes” (2 Kings 5:5).

It appears that Naaman was well equipped for an exchange. He was willing to pay a hefty price for a cure and ready to capitalize on his connections in high places. But when Naaman arrives at the court, the events that unfold do not conform to his preconceived ideas about the role of exchange for healing. Much like most of us who expect a quick-fix solution from modern medicine, Naaman expects an immediate miracle from the prophet at king's court.

With much expectation, he submits the letter of introduction from the king of Aram that states, “And now as this letter comes to you, behold, I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may cure him of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:6). To his shock, the king of Israel interprets the letter borne by the powerful captain from the king of Aram as an excuse to pick a quarrel. He is baffled by the request with a king's seal demanding a cure from leprosy. What an unreasonable request? He tears his clothes and asks, “Am I God to kill and make alive?”

When the news that the king was distraught reaches the prophet Elisha, he sends word immediately. “Why have you torn your clothes?” he questions. “Now let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel” (2 Kings 5:8). This is welcome news indeed and before long Naaman arrives with his horses and chariots at Elisha's front door. To Naaman's dismay and anger, the prophet's response is cold and odd. Elisha does not come out to meet the mighty Naaman. He simply sends word through his servant who delivers a strange remedy: “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you and you shall be clean” (2 Kings 5: 11).

He has made this long trip only to be snubbed by this Jewish prophet who offers a seemingly unimaginative remedy of washing in the Jordan seven times. How could this be? Naaman was expecting fanfare and an elaborate magical ceremony to rid him of his leprosy. An exasperated Naaman says, “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 spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed” (2 Kings 5: 11-12)? With that Naaman turns around to leave.

What follows is a series of simple actions by ordinary people, which is at the heart of faith and health. The caring social support of friends, the power of belief, and the self-discipline to follow through on a prescribed plan of action emerge as important traits that are discordant from the process of exchange that Naaman had envisioned. Shaped by the social marketing approach to health, much like Naaman, we are programmed to believe that we can exchange money or pleasure or pain for wellness. But the Old Testament miracle shows that a faith-based approach to health is not founded on exchange.

When the site is launched, I will offer my next installment of Namaan's story, which will serve as a foundation to examine the healings reported in the Gospels. I am working on a series of postings on New Testament healings and the insights they offer for wellness and healing. Also, I hope to write about scientific research findings that examine the tie between faith and health.


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Excellent post Dr. David, thank you for sharing your insights with us!

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