I want to introduce you to Naaman. Naaman was one of my favorite Bible characters as a kid—an obscure favorite, I know. God kindly gave me parents who committed to reading their kids the entire Bible. I would replay Naaman’s healing story, dunking myself in the couch pillows as he dunked himself in the Jordan river (true story).
I hope that what you read here will make Naaman’s story one of your favorites too, not because you love Naaman, but because you come to know his Healer better. I want you to open your phone or Bible to 2 Kings 5:1-14 first, though. Reading Naaman’s story on your own—which will take five minutes or less—will enrich what you read here.
Have you read it? Alright, let’s talk about Naaman.
Naaman, You, Me and Leprosy
Naaman commanded the Syrian army (2 Kings 5:1). Think army general. At his time, Syria was a military superpower. Thus, Naaman was beyond cool in his day—like Special Forces soldiers today. He had honors and victories under his belt. Naaman was “a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor…” (2 Kings 5:1 ESV). Our Bibles tell us the LORD, the God of Israel, had given Naaman success.
“But he was a leper” (2 Kings 5:1 ESV). Few ailments compared to leprosy. At that time people considered this disease incurable, and by law it was severely isolating (Leviticus 13). Such a sickness would devastate any man—especially one so mighty as Naaman.
In the Bible, leprosy isn’t just a terrible medical condition, it’s also a graphic, physical illustration of sin’s destructive power (Got Questions). The sores and deterioration that Naaman experienced in his body, we daily experience in our souls. Because apart from God, our nature is self-oriented, self-destructive, bent on evil in opposition to God.
Naaman isn’t the only leper. We have leprosy of the soul, and that’s why we need to hear Naaman’s story (Romans 3:10; Jeremiah 17:9). His story can become our story too.
So what happens with Naaman?
Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:2-3 ESV)
A word of hope comes to this afflicted man from a little servant girl. She knows a man who can actually cure him—the prophet of the one true God of Israel, named Elisha.
Notice that Naaman takes this servant girl at her word. She was his captive, servant, and she came from a small nation with a totally foreign god. What weight did her word hold? A lot. It got Naaman on his horse. He likely didn’t ask her advice on much. But this time he takes it. Why? Because he was in need.
One of the most kind things that the God of the Bible does for us is turn evil things for good (Genesis 50:20). And so, our kind God will often allow bad things to happen so we can see our need for soul–healing, to soften our hearts and rip away our sources of strength so that we see ourselves as we truly are—in need of the God of Israel.
He knows that each one of us suffers from a debilitating disease called sin, that will not only corrupt our joy on earth, but will demand our eternal suffering after death. Our souls are sick. We too need someone to cure us. There was a prophet many years after Elisha who said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17 ESV).
One barrier to belief in the God of the Bible is wealth. And I don’t mean money. I mean self-sufficiency, thinking we have enough. We think we’re ok, but the Scriptures tell us we are not. God indicts our self-reliance saying, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17 ESV).
One of our greatest needs is to be healed of our blindness to our need. And God did this for Naaman. Naaman’s worst nightmare was God’s means of changing his life for good. But it began with seeing his need. Nothing but experiencing helplessness like this would bring a man like Naaman to his knees.
So Naaman listens to the little girl. Get this—he writes to his enemies, Israel—a tiny nation being pummeled by encroaching nations—for rescue. He sent a letter, and got on his horse to pursue the prophet.
Why Naaman Almost Forfeited Healing
So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 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?” So he turned and went away in a rage. (2 Kings 5:9-12 ESV)
Naaman thought that he deserved healing his way. If God is powerful, why doesn’t he just heal me when I ask? Naaman was angry because he wanted a quick-fix. He wasn’t concerned with knowing God, he just wanted to be healed at the wave of a hand so that he could get back to his own concerns.
But God had other plans. He wanted Naaman to humble himself so that he could not only be healed but know the God who heals. God wanted more for Naaman. The God of Israel wanted Naaman to know him personally.
The Way to Healing
Notice that God, through the prophet Elisha, offered Naaman healing without cost. He did not discriminate against Naaman for not being an Israelite, didn’t conjure up a list of his past sins, didn’t ask for anything in return. He just said, “Go, wash.”
What did Naaman have to do to be healed?
First, he had to believe the prophet. Elsewhere in the Bible it says, “faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26 NIV). This means that if you really believe something, you’ll act upon it. Naaman had to trust the prophet’s words in order to go wash.
Second, Naaman had to humble himself. He had to submit to the one way of healing God offered. He had other thoughts about how this healing should happen. God’s way was a muddy river, dunking himself not once, nor going for a normal swim, but dunking himself seven times, which might have seemed strange.
And Naaman almost forfeited his healing because of his pride.
The Barrier to Healing
Thank God for one of Naaman’s servants who asked his angry master, “It is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash and be clean’?” (2 Kings 5:13 ESV).
God has spoken a great Word to us too about our disease. He sent his Son Jesus to the world not “to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17 ESV). Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to God. He died unjustly on a Roman cross under false accusation, and rose from the dead three days later. He did this to bear the punishment of God that we deserve, so that if we trust in his work as the only for the forgiveness of our sins, we can be freed from the punishment of sin, the power of sin, and one day rid of its presence—he died to heal us from our spiritual leprosy (1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:5). The Bible’s ultimate good news from a prophet is that God is willing to wash us clean from the inside out, from our inner leprosy called sin. But the only way to be clean is to believe in the Lord Jesus for forgiveness, plunging ourselves beneath his healing, cleansing flood (See Tis So Sweet).
But many of us are prone to think like Naaman.
I thought God would just say “I forgive you” and let me off the hook. I thought I could just go to church and then live how I want. Jesus is just one god among others, why does he have to be the only way? What’s all this about a bloody cross?
Yet all of us are like Naaman. According to the Bible, we’ve got one option.
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12 ESV)
Just like Naaman’s healing, God’s offer of salvation is free. We just have to believe, and humble ourselves.
Wash in the river! He said to Naaman. Wash your sins in Christ’s blood! He says to us.
And yet, we hang back, because of our pride. Because “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV). James tells us “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6 ESV).
Question is, will we humble ourselves?
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. Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel… for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord.” (2 Kings 5:14; 15; 17 ESV)
Naaman humbled himself. He did exactly what God told him and received exactly what God promised. But did he just get healed? No, he got to know God. This one Syrian general, through a servant girl and a lonely prophet, was introduced to the one true God, and God returned with him to his land.
The New Testament helps us understand what happened to Naaman in this story:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 ESV)
When Naaman came out of that river, having believed God’s Word, he was a new man. When we repent of our sins and believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, God recreates us into new people.
Why Did God Heal Naaman?
Let’s consider, why did God take away Naaman’s leprosy? What was the purpose of healing him? Why does he want to take away our sins—what’s his purpose in healing us?
To reconcile us to himself. To give us a new relationship with him. For, “this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV). True life is knowing the true God. Life comes from being reunited to our life-giver. And that life can’t even be taken away from us in death (Romans 8:38-39).
Just like the little girl and the prophet, God gives those who know him the opportunity to tell others about his saving work. That’s why I’m telling you this here! He’s given me new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the true God of Israel, and I want you to know Jesus too.
He has entrusted us with this “great word” that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 ESV)—saved from the punishment due your sins, from the displeasure of God, and the destructive power of sin.
I don’t know if you’re considered a “great man, a man of valor” or a great woman, or if you identify as an ordinary person. All of us are Naaman—leprous at heart, and in need of cleansing. Question is, do you know you need it, and will you call upon the only prophet that can cure you, Jesus the Christ?
If you do, he will, even today.