“And the Syrians… had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman’s wife.
“And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.” – 2 Kings 5:2, 3
As a “captain of the host” Naaman stood close to his master, the king of Syria. It is recorded that he was a great man with his master because by him Jehovah “had given deliverance unto Syria.” But Naaman was a leper.
Leprosy, one of the most dreaded of diseases, was common at this time. The word means “smiting” because it was supposed that one upon whom it came was smitten by God. The leper was supposed to be the special object of the Lord’s wrath. Leprosy was thought to be hereditary to the fourth generation, and we might note the relation of this to the commandment which says “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”
All diseases have their primary origin in spiritual disorders – although the disorder may not be in the particular person who contracts the disease – in mental states, in evil desires and false thoughts. These things, as the writings tell us, “destroy the interiors of man on the destruction of which the exteriors suffer, and draw man into disease, and thus into death” (A.C. 5712).
Leprosy usually begins with a whitening of the skin and works inward. It corresponds to hypocrisy, the putting on of an exterior which is false. The reason why leprosy was so prevalent among the Jews especially was because of their profanation of the Word. They were the custodians of the Word. Profanation of the Word destroys heavenly life in the soul just as leprosy destroys the body. The great power that the mind has over the body is being more and more recognized, though from the lack of a right understanding of the subject many false doctrines are current.
In our story the Syrians had made an excursion into the land of Israel, killing those who opposed them, and carrying away all that might serve them. Among these was a little maid who knew of Elisha and had faith in his power. Naaman had taken this little maid into his home to wait upon his wife, not from any affection for her but simply for the service that she might render. But she renders an unexpected service. She tells Naaman of a prophet in Samaria who can heal him. He is persuaded to go to the prophet, and is healed. Thus was this Syrian convinced that there was a God in Israel.
This is a wonderful picture of the way in which the Lord makes regeneration possible for us. First there are introduced into the household of our heart affections for holy things not for the love of holiness but for personal reasons, that through them the Lord can lead and enlighten us when afflictions come.
The story of Naaman and Elisha, like almost all of the Bible, is historically true; letters have even been found in some of the excavations in Samaria written by the king of Syria to Ahab. But there is far more here than the literal story.
Naaman was angry because, when he came to the door of the house of Elisha, the prophet showed such little concern, not even coming out to meet him but merely sending a messenger to tell him to go and wash in Jordan seven times. Jordan, the border river of Palestine, has always been recognized as a symbol of the border of heaven, and crossing the Jordan of entrance into the heavenly life. This first border which we must cross is obedience to the ten commandments.
What a great blessing we would think it to be if some physician could give us a few short rules which, if obeyed, would protect the body from every disease! The Lord has done this for the soul. The commandments, if kept, remove all evils and falsities and since, as we have noted, all physical diseases have their origin in spiritual ones, they are equally laws of physical and of spiritual life. If everyone would keep the commandments with all his mind and heart, diseases would, in a few generations, disappear from the earth. Diseases come into the world in correspondence with evil feelings and false thoughts, and if there were no evils and falsities, there would be no ultimate into which the hells could flow and produce diseases.
When Naaman was told to wash in Jordan that he might be cleansed, he reasoned: Why should I do so? “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” How like this is human reason when man is told that the Bible is the only true guide to happiness, to enduring success, to heaven! Men are so prone to think that they can of themselves determine what will bring them success and happiness! The Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Syria, stand for these streams of natural thought and reasoning against the Bible as the Word of God and the source of enlightenment and power.
Naaman is persuaded in his mind that what Elisha commands is too easy a thing to be effective. Sometimes it may be this very simplicity that turns men back from repentance. Yet man’s part is simple. In the writings (H.H. 528-535) we find the statement that it is not so difficult to lead the life that leads to heaven. Most men outwardly keep the commandments. When the rich young ruler asked “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” and the Lord told him to keep the commandments, he said that he had kept them from his youth up. Then the Lord told him that he lacked just one thing: “Sell all that thou hast.” The young man was keeping the commandments in his own strength. Man’s part is simply to look to the Lord instead of to self for guidance and to stop doing what is wrong in the Lord’s strength, not in his own. Then the Lord does the inner cleansing. He creates a new heart. No one can cleanse himself. That is the Lord’s work. But the Lord does His part through man’s cooperation. If one will cease to sin, doing the Lord’s will instead of his own will, the Lord will presently take away the desire to sin. He cannot do it at once, for spiritual cleansing requires some time and the slower process of upbuilding. So Naaman was commanded to wash seven times. Seven is a number often used in the Word. It denotes what is holy. As Naaman washed seven times, so repentance and the shunning of evil must be made habitual. Then the Lord can bless us.
Of the ten lepers cleansed by the Lord, as told in our second lesson, only one came back to express his gratitude to the Lord. If we read the rest of Naaman’s story, we find that Naaman was like that one. When he was healed, he came back to the prophet, saying, “Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel,” and he offered a gift to Elisha. But Elisha would not take it. The Lord asks no reward for His goodness to us. All life is from the Lord and it is freely given without thought of reward. This is the nature of pure love. It never thinks of a return for its services. No man, however good, can merit or pay for any blessing from the Lord. So Isaiah writes, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
Then Naaman said, “Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules’ burden of earth?” Why should he make such a request? An ancient custom was in his mind. A king who had subjugated a country sometimes required that earth and water be brought to him from the conquered land. Then he put his hand on the basin of water, one foot on the earth, and the other foot on the neck of the conquered sovereign, indicating that he was ruler over the land, sea, and people of the subjugated country. But Naaman in his request was not seeking to rule. He was merely asking for some tangible part in the land over which the God of Israel reigned, that he might worship the Lord standing on that ground. And he followed this with the petition that when, because of his office in Syria, he found it unavoidable to go into the house of Rimmon to worship, he might be pardoned. Here is the recognition of human frailty. The natural man is devoted to self, and supports himself by reasoning when he is drawn downward by natural delights from self-love.
We also read in the chapter that Elisha’s servant Gehazi secretly followed Naaman and asked and received the reward which Elisha had refused, and it is recorded that therefore the leprosy of Naaman was transferred to Gehazi. So it is with those who from self-love seek to appropriate good and truth to themselves – even natural good and truth.
The story of Naaman is the story of how heavenly truths are implanted in us from childhood and are the means by which the Lord instructs and guides us. Our Lord said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” Heavenly things are there. We should believe in them and use them, as Naaman did when he followed the advice of the little captive maid from Israel.