Themes in the Books of Kings (04) - Elisha and Naaman - Israel in Exile
Themes in Kings - Elisha and Naaman/Israel in Exile
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.” . . . 27 “Therefore, the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow. 2 Kings 5:1–27
The Book of 1-2 Kings include amazing stories and some difficult passages. Beginning with the rise of Solomon’s united kingdom, through the saga of the divided kingdom, Kings tells of idolatry of Israel and Judah, then the judgment of the fall of Samaria (Israel) to Assyria and finally the exile of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. We have noted the key themes: the fulfillment of the Word of the prophets, the Davidic promise, the judgment of exile coming on Israel and Judah, and hints of the promise of “resurrection” after exile.
In our last study, we saw how the exile and return is a type, culminating in Jesus’ death and resurrection (Luke 24:25-48). We saw in the story of ch. 13 (the prophet from Judah and the old prophet) how it foreshadows the future relationship of northern Israel and southern Judah. Judah has the Word of right worship (in the temple) and a word of judgment for idolatrous worship. However, like the prophet from Judah, Judah does not obey the Word completely, either. As a result Judah must also be judged and die. However, the story does not stop there, Judah will die, but the bones of Israel will also be persevered. So idolatrous Israel is doomed and the only hope for an idolatrous people is resurrection after death. Just as the bones of the prophet from Judah will save the old prophet’s bones from destruction, so when Judah dies in exile, the rest of Israel will have the hope of return from exile.
This is not the only story and set of events in Kings that are to be instructive to the people in exile. One of the longest conversion stories in the entire Bible is that of Naaman the Syrian (2 Kgs 5). Like many stories in Scripture, it has two basic parts: the story and the coda or epilogue. We see this same form in 1 Kings 13 (above) and some of the parables of Jesus (the Prodigal Son, the coda begins, “now his older son…” Lk. 15:25). In the story of Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, the first section tells of how this leper came to the prophet of Israel (Elisha) and finally humbled himself to be cleansed in Israel’s waters. When he does so he is healed. He vows to worship Him alone (v 17). Naaman even takes a symbolic mini-Land (loads of earth) with him to worship Yahweh on holy ground. He even seeks pardon for his future assistance of the king of Syria when he worships a false god (Rimmon). Elisha grants him peace (v 19). The story makes clear that this gentile leader is converted. But then there’s more.
There is a second section, the coda. In the first part, Elisha will receive no “present” for his service from Naaman. But after Naaman has departed, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha determines to “run after him and take something from him” (v 20). Naaman gladly gives him more than he requests, two talents of silver, two sets of clothes, and two servants. Gehazi then lies about his actions to Elisha (v 25). As a result of his actions, Gehazi is cursed with the very disease Naaman had, leprosy.
Upon reflection this story is more than just a conversion story and a judgment story on a greedy servant. There are several details to consider: 1) it is an Israelite servant girl in a foreign land who tells of Israel’s God and prophet who can heal. 2) It is an Israelite servant (Gehazi) who is judged. 3) It is a gentile (Naaman) that gains healing and vows to worship Yahweh. 4) Elisha’s response suggests that this is of larger import: “Is it a time to receive money and to receive clothes and olive groves and vineyards and sheep and oxen and male and female servants?” (v 26). This story instructs Israel/Judah on how they should live in exile.
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more