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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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2 KINGS 5

ELISHA HEALED THE LEPROSY OF NAAMAN, THE GREAT GENERAL

This is one of the most popular stories of the O.T., and it has the distinction of being specifically mentioned by our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 4:27). It is difficult to find fault with Matthew Henry's observation that Jesus Christ by that reference made the episode, "Typical of the calling of the Gentiles; and therefore Gehazi's stroke may be looked upon as typical of the blinding and rejecting of the Jews, who envied God's grace to the Gentiles, as Gehazi envied Elisha's favor to Naaman."F1

A CAPTIVE MAIDEN SPOKE OF GOD'S PROPHET


 
Verses 1-4
Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honorable, because by him Jehovah had given victory unto Syria: he was also a mighty man of valor, [but he was] a leper. And the Syrians had gone out in bands, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maiden; and she waited on Naaman's wife. And she said unto her mistress, Would that my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! then would he recover him of his leprosy. And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maiden that is of the land of Israel.

The unsung heroine of this whole narrative is this precious little girl who had been captured by the Syrians and made a slave to the house of Naaman. Instead of becoming bitter against her exploiters and harboring an undying hatred of them, she accepted her fate with meekness and exhibited deep friendship and sympathy with her mistress and her husband, Naaman.

It was this captive maiden who enlightened the great lord of the Syrian armies of the existence of a true prophet of God in Samaria and of his ability to cure leprosy.

What an exhortation is this for everyone to seize all opportunities to speak of God and His great power to benefit sinful and suffering humanity! Through the word of this servant girl, the king of Syria received the knowledge of a true prophet of God in Samaria, information which was not even known (because of his own fault) by the king of Israel (Joram).

By him Jehovah had given the victory unto Syria
(2 Kings 5:1). Some scholars have marveled that Jehovah in this expression is accredited with the victory of Syria, but this is in full keeping with Dan. 4:25c. As for which victory is spoken of here, Hammond thought it was probably a victory over an army of Shalmanezer II that had threatened the independence of Syria.F2

But he was a leper
(2 Kings 5:1). It is rather annoying that a number of commentators go out of the way to tell us that the word leper in this passage came from a Hebrew term, covering a large variety of scabious diseases, being used even of mould in houses.F3 Such a comment has no utility except that of DOWNGRADING this miracle. One writer even mentioned that Hansen's disease (the modern name of true leprosy) was rare in those times. However, the king of Israel rated the king of Syria's request for the healing of Naaman's disease as the equivalent of God's ability to kill and to make alive (2 Kings 5:7); and that states in tones of thunder that Naaman was truly a leper in the current sense of the word.

The absence of any statement indicating that Naaman had become a social outcast because of his leprosy (as would certainly have been the case in Israel) does not mean that his disease was anything different from leprosy, but that the pagan reaction to it was different from that in Israel.

Would that my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria
(2 Kings 5:3). It is sometimes insinuated that this contradicts other Biblical passages. Montgomery wrote that, The prophet is presented as having a house in Samaria, and yet he was last seen in Shunem.F4 So what! Elisha never lived in Shunem, but only stopped overnight there on his occasional passing through the place. Besides that, 2 Kings 6:32 indicates clearly that Elisha had a house in Samaria, a fact strongly supported by the offer of the prophet to speak to the king on behalf of the Shunammite woman. Elisha doubtless had access to the presence of the kings both of Israel and of Judah.

THE KING OF ISRAEL WAS UPSET BY THE SYRIAN'S REQUEST


 
Verses 5-7
And the king of Syria said, Go now, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel. And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand [pieces] of gold, and ten changes of raiment. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, And now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy. And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? but consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me.

He took with him ten talents of silver,…
(2 Kings 5:5). It does not appear that this was intended as a present for the king of Israel, because he is addressed here by the king of Syria as a vassal.

He seeketh a quarrel against me
(2 Kings 5:7). The time of this miracle seems to have been rather late in the career of Elisha, because Gehazi's leprosy would have terminated that servant's association with the prophet. We cannot agree with the suggestion of Montgomery that, The afflicted Gehazi was still a member of society in a later story (2 Kings 8:4ff).F5 We have already determined that the stories of this section of 2 Kings are not recorded in any chronological sequence.

On this account, we cannot plead any ignorance on the part of Joram regarding the great miracles wrought by Elisha. Joram's failure to think of Elisha in this situation was not due to his ignorance but to his unbelief and his unwillingness to accept the authenticity of Elisha's prophetic ministry.

Joram's mistaken notion that Benhadad (the probable king of Syria) who sent Naaman to Samaria sought a quarrel with him, was not altogether unreasonable. "It will be remembered that Benhadad, seeking the subjugation of Ahab, had made unreasonable demands of Joram's father (1 Kings 20:3-6)."F6

ELISHA HEARD OF THE KING'S ACTION AND OFFERED HELP


 
Verses 8, 9
And it was so, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel. So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariots, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha.

When the man of God heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes
(2 Kings 5:8). Such an action on the part of the king would have at once enlisted the attention and concern of the whole city. The widespread gossip about the event reached the ears of Elisha, who at once sent an offer to the king proposing that Naaman be sent to him. Joram at once complied with Elisha's request.

So Naaman came. and stood at the door of the house of Elisha
(2 Kings 5:9). At first glance, this seems to say that Naaman was standing at Elisha's door, intending to be admitted to his house, but Naaman's own words (2 Kings 5:11) indicate that Naaman had merely driven up to the front of Elisha's house, expecting the prophet to come out of his house and serve Naaman in his chariot. Thus it was Naaman and his impressive party, chariots, horses and all, that stood at the door of the house.

RECEIVING ELISHA'S COMMAND, NAAMAN LEFT IN A RAGE


 
Verses 10-12
And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean. But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of Jehovah his God, and wave his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.

Go and wash in the Jordan seven times
(2 Kings 5:10). The word for `wash' here is `dip'; and it is identified with `baptism' in the N.T.F7 (See the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the O.T.) Thus, what was commanded was that Naaman should be IMMERSED seven times in Jordan. Jesus gave a similar command to the man born blind, Go wash in the pool of Siloam (John 9:7); and it should be remembered that all mankind are commanded to Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

Significantly, the reaction of countless sons of Adam to that Divine injunction is very similar to that of Naaman's initial reaction here, with exactly the same result. He remained a leper; they remain in their sins.

This leads us to inquire as to why Naaman was angry. There were several reasons: (1) The implication that he needed a bath was offensive. (2) The waters of Jordan were usually muddy as compared with the crystal streams of Damascus. (3) His pride had been wounded. He was a great man and expected to be honored and respected by the prophet, but Elisha's merely SENDING him a message appeared to him as an insult.

However, his salvation from leprosy, designed to serve as a type of the whole Gentile world receiving salvation, required that he obey God's Word as conveyed to him by a messenger. All people are to be saved "through their word" (John 17:20), that is, the word of the apostles, the messengers and preachers of the truth, through whom they shall hear the words of eternal life.

Behold, I thought, He will come out to me. and call on the name of Jehovah his God
(2 Kings 5:11). It is significant that Naaman knew the name of the God of Israel, a name also mentioned on the Moabite Stone. In fact, one of the important revelations of this episode is that the Gentiles indeed knew God, as Paul declared that, Knowing God, they glorified him not as God (Romans 1:21).

Are not Abanah and Pharpar better than all the waters of Israel
(2 Kings 5:12). There is a sense, of course, in which it was true that the Jordan did not compare favorably with the crystal rivers of Damascus. Abanah is identified with the Barada, and the Pharpar was either a tributary to Abanah called Fidjeh, or another independent river, the Awaaj, running several miles south of Damascus. The Romans called the Abanah the Chrysorrhoas.F8

NAAMAN OBEYED GOD'S WORD AND WAS HEALED


 
Verses 13, 14
And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? Then went he down, and dipped [himself] seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing
(2 Kings 5:13). The very simplicity and insignificance of what the man of God commanded appears to have been another one of the reasons why he, at first, refused to obey. Alas, this is an attitude often found in mortal sinners on the brink of the grave. This writer vividly remembers an incident in 1932 at the base hospital in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, when the wife of a high-ranking military officer fell ill while visiting her son in that area. She sent word to this young preacher to visit her, and she asked what to do to be saved, since she realized that her death was near. The great passages pertaining to the forgiveness of sins, as found in the holy N.T., were read in her hearing, prayers were offered, and she was invited and urged to obey the gospel. She thought about it awhile; and then said, Well, baptism has always seemed to me to be such an insignificant thing that I just can't believe that it would do any good!

His flesh came again
(2 Kings 5:14). It appears from this that some of Naaman's flesh had been lost, as also indicated by the words of the prophet, Thy flesh shall come again to thee (2 Kings 5:10). When this writer visited a leper compound in Pusan, Korea in 1953, he observed sufferers from this disease who had lost their nose, or eyelids, or ear, or portions of their lips, and it is certain from the terminology used here that Naaman had suffered such loss of flesh. If there had been any doubt of what his disease was, these words would have certified the diagnosis as confirming a case of Hansen's disease, or leprosy.

NAAMAN RETURNED TO THANK AND HONOR ELISHA, THE MAN OF GOD


 
Verses 15-19
And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him; and he said, Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a present of thy servant. But he said, As Jehovah liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. And he urged him to take it; but he refused. And Naaman said, If not, yet, I pray thee, let there be given to thy servant two mules' burden of earth; for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto Jehovah. In this thing Jehovah pardon thy servant: when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, Jehovah pardon thy servant in this thing. And he said unto him, Go in peace. So he departed from him a little way.

And he returned to the man of God
(2 Kings 5:15). It was no easy thing that Naaman did here. His dipping seven times in Jordan had been accomplished on his way back to Syria, at least some twenty miles from Samaria, and some scholars say thirty miles. Making the whole round trip with the animal-drawn conveyances of that era was a matter of several days additional travel. It is therefore a mark of Naaman's character and of his high appreciation for the miracle God had been performed on his behalf that he would undertake this additional travel to return to Samaria.

Let there be given to thy servant two mules' burden of earth
(2 Kings 5:17). In this request of Naaman, there is evident the ancient conception of God's being identified with a certain land. Much as he honored God, he did not at that time understand that God is God of ALL lands. Jonah learned that he could not get away from God's presence merely by going to a different country, but the common superstition of that period of history is evident in this request.

Montgomery tells us that when the Jews built a synagogue in Persia, "It was composed entirely of earth and stone brought from Jerusalem." and that, "The empress Helena imported holy soil to Rome."F9

When I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, Jehovah pardon thy servant
(2 Kings 5:18). Rimmon, of course was a pagan deity worshipped in Damascus; and Martin wrote that, Rimmon is only the Syrian title for Baal.F10 Keil wrote that, Rimmon is probably a short form for Hadad-rimmon, because Hadad was the supreme deity of the Damascene Syrians, i.e., the sun god.F11

Scholars of all generations have had trouble with this passage. Did Elisha actually give his consent to what Naaman suggested here? Did he not say, "Go in peace"? Stigers interpreted this as meaning that, "Naaman received assurance that God understood his heart." However, such a conclusion appears to be very questionable.

"Elisha answered, `Go in peace,' without thereby either approving or disapproving the religious intentions just expressed by Naaman."F12 "The clause, `go in peace,' merely means farewell."F13 "Elisha's words here, `Go in peace,' should be taken simply as Elisha's parting wish that the peace of God would accompany Naaman on his way back to Damascus."F14

So he departed from him a little way
(2 Kings 5:19). The terminology used here seems to be for the purpose of indicating that some distance (as in the margin) from the house of Elisha, Naaman paused long enough to load up that two mutes' burden of earth which he had requested. That would also have facilitated the performance of Gehazi's wicked deception.

GEHAZI'S DISAPPROVAL OF ELISHA'S REFUSAL OF NAAMAN'S GIFT


 
Verses 20-27
But Gehazi the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, Behold, my master hath spared this Naaman the Syrian, in not receiving at his hands that which he brought: as Jehovah liveth, I will run after him, and take somewhat of him. So Gehazi followed after Naaman. And when Naaman saw one running after him, he alighted from the chariot to meet him, and said, Is all well? And he said, All is well. My master hath sent me, saying, Behold, even now there are come to me from the hill-country of Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets; give them, I pray thee, a talent of silver, and two changes of raiment. And Naaman said, Be pleased to take two talents. And he urged him, and bound two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of raiment, and laid them upon two of his servants; and they bare them before him. And when he came to the hill, he took them from their hand, and bestowed them in the house; and he let the men go, and they departed. But he went in, and stood before his master. And Elisha said unto him, Whence comest thou, Gehazi? And he said, Thy servant went no whither. And he said unto him, Went not my heart [with thee], when the man turned from his chariot to meet thee? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards and vineyards, and sheep and oxen, and men-servants and maid-servants? The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper [as white] as snow.

This unhappy episode so closely allied with the healing of Naaman, as pointed out by Henry, strongly suggests the envy of racial Israel who rejected the Christ because of his receiving the Gentiles. Gehazi dearly despised and hated "this Syrian" and determined to take from him whatever he could get. There are spiritual overtones here of the very grandest dimensions.

Note this early example of crooked "fund raisers" who base their appeals upon helping others. Gehazi pretended to be seeking help for impoverished sons of the prophets, but he was merely a lying scoundrel seeking to enrich himself. Many "charities" of our own times are of that same character. "To the shame of all, a few continue to exploit unsuspecting persons on the pretext of giving aid to needy religious causes. Religious charlatans of the twentieth century are little different from Gehazi."F15

Gehazi was indeed a skillful liar. His trumped up story about those two impoverished sons of the prophets who arrived just after Naaman left must have sounded like the gospel truth to Naaman.

Is it a time to receive money. garments ... oliveyards ... vineyards ... sheep and oxen ... men-servants and maid-servants?
(2 Kings 5:26). In these words, the prophet merely pointed out all of those material benefits which would in Gehazi's mind have resulted from that great gift he had extorted from Naaman.

"This is a constant warning to all who would magnify the externals of life at the expense of spiritual realities."F16 Did not our Savior ask, "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul"?

"Gehazi was like Judas; his concern for money and material things blinded him to the great realities of Elisha's prophetic mission."F17

"It was not merely for his avarice that God punished Gehazi, but for his abuse of the prophet's name.F18

Hammond pointed out not merely the severity of God's punishment of Gehazi, but its immediacy also. "It fell upon him suddenly, as Miriam's leprosy had fallen upon her (Numbers 12:10)."F19


Footnotes for 2 Kings 5
1: Matthew Henry's Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 732.
2: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 5b, p. 92.
3: International Critical Commentary, Kings, p. 373.
4: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 374.
5: Ibid.
6: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 93.
7: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 375.
8: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 95.
9: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 277.
10: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 456.
11: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 2a, p. 320.
12: Ibid., p. 321.
13: Arthur S. Peake's Commentary, p. 306.
14: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 97.
15: Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 241.
16: Ibid.
17: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 456.
18: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 323.
19: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 98.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Kings 5". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=2ki&chapter=005>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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