All men are amenable to the law of Christ as found in the New Testament, but we still can, and must, learn from the many characters and events of the Old Testament (Rom. 15:4). One such character who still teaches us today is Naaman, and his story is found in Second Kings 5. His healing presents a great parallel to today, with many great lessons. Let’s notice a few things we learn from him.
We learn from his condition. Before we even discuss who this man was, consider that he was a leper. Leprosy is a term describing a malignant skin disease, the seriousness of which can be seen in God’s legislation to Israel about it in Numbers 13 and 14. The most important characteristic about leprosy was that it was incurable and could be fatal. Compare leprosy to the real “illness” of sin: both are ugly, cause you to be unclean, affect others around you (family, etc.), are contagious, and are life-threatening. Both can kill you slowly. One is a physical death; the other is a spiritual death.
We learn from his character. The scripture says he was the captain of the Syrian army, a “great man…and honorable.” In other words, this man had a character that those around him could and did respect. Consider that, in verse three, we’re told of a young Israelite woman who, even as his slave, respected him enough to tell him that a cure for his leprosy was available. How many slaves would care that much about their captors? An interesting point to remember is that respectable men and women are not perfect. As we’ll see, Naaman is going to give us an example of what not to do. But by the time the story is finished, we’ll see how honorable he truly was.
We learn from his opportunity. Naaman now has hope of being cured—if he chooses to believe and act upon it. As we compare the two maladies (leprosy and sin), we immediately see that action is required in order to receive healing. If the average religious leader of today had been Naaman’s advisor, he would have acknowledged to Naaman that his leprosy could be cured by Elisha, but would have insisted that he “just believe; there’s no need to put forth any effort! Do you believe? Then you’re healed!” But the healing of leprosy is a little more visible than the forgiveness of sins. And Naaman most likely would have had this spiritual advisor put to death for misleading him and costing him a cure. Be careful who you listen to.
We learn from his initial interest. In verses five through nine we notice the urgency and extreme importance to Naaman. After hearing the good news, he didn’t go to Elisha directly; he pursued it through the king of Syria, who wrote to the king of Israel to inquire about this prophet (i.e., he took advantage of the resources that he had in order to bring about the result he desired). Then he made the journey to Elisha, bringing substantial gifts of gold, silver, and clothing. Even though he knew nobody in Syria could heal him, he believed in this Israelite prophet whom he’d never met. In reality, he had nothing to lose. Even if his information about Elisha had been wrong, it didn’t cost him much to find out. After all, there was no other option for a cure. Likewise with sin, when we find out that the New Testament holds the cure, what do we have to lose in reading it? We definitely won’t find a cure anywhere else.
Similar to Naaman’s initial interest in his physical health, lots of people do have an interest in curing their spiritual condition. They may start reading their Bibles occasionally. They may start attending worship somewhere sporadically. They may even be open to a personal Bible study with a member of the local congregation. But what happens when they see the truth and understand what God requires of them? Do they follow through in total obedience? What was Naaman’s initial reaction to the cure presented to him?
We learn from his arrogance. Naaman was told by Elisha’s servant to “Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean” (v. 10). This plan was very clear and simple. There was no need to repeat it and Naaman didn’t need to take notes. He understood.
This plan made no sense. The Jordan didn’t have healing properties any more than any other river, as Naaman knew (v. 12). If it had, every leper would have been there and Naaman wouldn’t have needed Elisha. Naaman understood the healing was from a higher power (the God of Israel) and that his washing was an act of obedience, at which moment he would be healed by God.
Naaman also understood that the plan didn’t earn him anything. The power to heal was in God, not the river, and not in Naaman’s washing in the river. Naaman’s obedience to the plan, while required, wouldn’t earn his healing. Maybe this is why he rejected it (v. 11-12).
He was angry for two reasons. The main reason is in verse eleven: “Behold, I thought he will surely come out to me….” Elisha had sent his servant to Naaman with the instructions; he hadn’t even come out personally. What an insult! We aren’t told why Elisha didn’t come out; but Naaman’s response seems to answer the question clearly. And, in reality, this exposing of Naaman’s arrogant attitude might just turn out to be the most important healing he would receive.
The second reason for his anger—that there were better rivers in his homeland of Syria—may have simply been Naaman’s own personal justification for his anger at being snubbed by Elisha. After all, he’d already expressed clearly that he didn’t want to wash in any river (v. 11). What Naaman needed to do to be cured was to swallow his pride. That is what dipping in the Jordan was really about.
Sadly, there will be an untold number of people on the day of judgment saying “Behold, I thought!” They may not have expected a grand display as Naaman did, but they did expect God to work according to their own ideas of how He should forgive them. “Behold I thought salvation was by faith alone” (or grace alone). “Behold I thought if I prayed the sinner’s prayer…” Some in the church may be saying “Behold I thought my baptism covered every sin…even sins for which I refused to repent” (see Matt. 7:21-23). “Behold I thought attendance didn’t matter.” “Behold I thought attendance was all that mattered.”
Finally, we learn from his penitence displayed in obedience. Many people today believe they’re saved when they aren’t because they haven’t obeyed the gospel plan of salvation as outlined in the New Testament. And they go about their lives having no idea that their sins have never been forgiven. The scourge of sin isn’t visible like leprosy is.
Naaman was still a leper. As strongly as he felt about not being baptized in the Jordan, he could still see his condition and know he was unclean. So, he put aside his pride and obeyed Elisha. But it took the help of his more level-headed servants. They used simple logic to convince him to obey. We wish more people today would accept such logic.
There are some great lessons in the similarities between the plan for Naaman’s cure and the plan for the cure of our sin. First, it’s just as simple and makes just as much sense. If only the religious world would recognize what Naaman knew—that God forgives sins when we obey His instructions. God’s command for all penitent believers to be baptized for the purpose of having their sins washed away (Acts 2:38; 22:16) is just as easy to understand as Elisha’s command for Naaman to dip in the Jordan seven times. The water of baptism (like the Jordan) isn’t holy water. It is simply the point at which God forgives sins, washing them away in the blood of Christ.
Second, neither plan earns anything. I’ve never heard it preached or taught, yet I’ve been accused of believing that baptism earns salvation. These same accusers would logically have to accuse Elisha of the same thing—teaching Naaman that he had to earn his cure by dipping in the Jordan. Yet even Naaman’s servants recognized that baptism in the Jordan was a simple act, and that if the cure for his leprosy had entailed performing a difficult task, he would have done it (v. 13). But it didn’t. Why not? Because it wasn’t for the purpose of earning the cure! It was a requisite act of obedience in order to obtain the cure. Like the Jordan water, baptism doesn’t literally wash away sins. God does—at that very point when the sinner obeys His commands by being baptized to wash away those sins (Acts 22:16).
Naaman finally recognized that Elisha’s instructions were not difficult and were in his best interest; so he obeyed and was cleansed. God’s instructions in the New Testament to have your sins washed away aren’t difficult either. Like Naaman, believe that there is a prophet in Israel Who can heal you. Then obey Him. Repent of your sins, confess Him as Lord, be baptized in order to have your sins washed away, then live the rest of your life in faithful obedience to Him.
One final point: It was because of the Israelite servant girl that Naaman was healed of his leprosy. She saw his disease, knew that there was someone who could cure him, and then spoke up. What if she hadn’t? He would have remained a leper. His leprosy wasn’t her fault, but how could she not tell him about a cure when she was aware of it? Likewise, how can we not tell people about the proper cure for their sins?