— a devotion on 2 Kings 5:1-19, written by W. Brian Aucker, in the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible.
Jesus inaugurates his ministry in Luke 4 by standing up in a synagogue and reading from Isaiah 61:1-2. He does this to highlight both the good news proclamation as well as the healing that will characterise his ministry. At the end of this address, Jesus states,
And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.
Why this story? What about the healing of Naaman so richly reflects gospel realities that Jesus would use it to illustrate his ministry?
The chapter opens by showing us a series of contrasts. Naaman, a great Syrian commander, elevated before his master, must struggle with leprosy. An unnamed little Israelite girl, captured in a Syrian raid, must serve Naaman’s wife. However, this child locates the source of healing with the prophet of Samaria. The God who gave Naaman victory also controls his destiny. Entering God’s kingdom will require a humbled Naaman to recognise his need and the reality that there is a prophet in Israel (2 Kings 5:8).
Nevertheless, Naaman’s pride complicates the process of his healing. Like some today, he believes that healing comes through political connections or shows of lavish prosperity (vv 5-7). When this fails, he goes to Elisha, who issues a simple command to perform a ritual healing. An important man, Naaman expects an audience and display of power from Elisha. The fact that the prophet sends a command by messenger is not satisfactory. So, anger and rage begin and end Naaman’s internal deliberations (vv 11-12). Experiencing God’s transformation will require Naaman to learn that divine grace comes not through powerful kings or material wealth but through obeying humble servants (vv 3,13).
The great Syrian commander comes to the end of himself. He descends into the Jordan. In a beautiful Old Testament wordplay, his flesh turns (wayyashob, v. 14) and he turns (wayyashob, v. 15) towards Elisha. The restored ‘little boy’ flesh of his physical healing now reflects a deeper spiritual return. He humbles himself. Repentance in God’s kingdom requires humble submission to God’s Word. The way up is down.
And yet Naaman’s healing serves a greater purpose. His confession that ‘there is no God in all the earth but Israel’ (v.15) ultimately issues in peaceful blessing from Elisha. This answers Solomon’s pryer in 1 Kings 8:41-43 concerning foreigners, demonstrating that the blessings of Abraham overflow Israel’s borders. This prayer would be more fully answered in Jesus, whose earthly ministry also encompassed healing lepers and proclaiming the good news (Matt 11:5).
Jesus said, ‘Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 18:3).