EVEN THOUGH HE did not hail from Israel, the Bible emphasizes Naaman’s fame and favor at least three times in the first verse of 2 Kings 5:
- He was “COMMANDER of the army of the king of Syria…” (v. 1a).
- “[He] was a GREAT AND HONORABLE man in the eyes of his master…” (v. 1b).
- “He was also a MIGHTY MAN of valor…” (v. 1c).
And yet, despite this incredible work-related resume, Naaman endured hardship on a level few of us today can truly fathom or appreciate.
Scripture says he was a leper (v. 1d).
Leper. Leprous. Leprosy.
Think of all of the words in Scripture that immediately prompted fear in the ancient heart, and leprosy was at the top of the list.
Dr. Alan L. Gillen, in the June 10, 2007 issue of Answers in Genesis provides some in-depth insight as to why this was so. Below are some excerpts from his article:
“…Mycobacterium leprae, the infectious bacterial agent of leprosy… While its definition in modern times is different from biblical times, there is no doubt that the definitions overlap… The term ‘leprosy’ (including leper, leprosy, leprous) occurs 68 times in the Bible–55 times in the Old Testament (Hebrew = tsara’ath) and 13 times in the New Testament (Greek = lepros, lepra). In the Old Testament, the instances of leprosy most likely meant a variety of infectious skin diseases, and even mold and mildew on clothing and walls…nnIt did not kill, but neither did it seem to end. Instead, it lingered for years, causing tissues to degenerate and deforming the body… Many have thought leprosy to be a disease of the skin. It is better classified, however, as a disease of the nervous system because the leprosy bacterium attacks the nerves. Leprosy’s agent M. leprae is a rod-shaped bacterium related to the tuberculosis bacterium. Leprosy is spread by multiple skin contacts, as well as by droplets from the upper respiratory tracts, such as nasal secretions that are transmitted from person to person… It’s symptoms start in the skin and peripheral nervous system (outside the brain and spinal cord), then spread to other parts, such as the hands, feet, face, and earlobes. Patients with leprosy experience disfigurement of the skin and bones, twisting of the limbs, and curling of the fingers to form the characteristic claw hand. Facial changes include thickening of the outer ear and collapsing of the nose… Tumor-like growths called lepromas may form on the skin and in the respiratory tract, and the optic nerve may deteriorate. The largest number of deformities develop from loss of pain sensation due to extensive nerve damage. For instance, inattentive patients can pick up a cup of boiling water without flinching… The leprosy bacillus destroys nerve endings that carry pain signals; therefore patients with advanced leprosy experience a total loss of physical pain. When these people cannot sense touch or pain, they tend to injure themselves or be unaware of injury caused by an outside agent…”1
In some dim, shadowy way I can envision Naaman’s physical plight in my mind’s eye, but I can never comprehend the depths of what must have been deep, emotional torment:
- How long had he suffered, and how far had his condition progressed?
- Was his body, and were his physical features, contorted and mangled as was/is often the case?
- When was the last time Naaman felt the gentle, loving embrace of his dear wife (v. 2)?
- How did his Gentile peers act and react to his illness? Were they, like Job’s friends, repulsed by his appearance and could Naaman perceive their shock? Could anyone look Naaman in the eye and not shake his head in broken-hearted disgust? Did any of his peers and fellow-soldiers walk away from his presence and think, “How can Naaman awaken to face another day with such a marred and maimed body?”
I don’t know. The Bible just doesn’t say. It doesn’t give me color commentary – not that I actually want it anyway.
I do know however, on some level, what Naaman’s skin looked like after he plunged himself neath the waters of the Jordan that seventh and final time. Scripture says, “So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (v. 14–emphasis mine, mb).
Imagine it if you can. Naaman’s body tissue and skin was suddenly, instantaneously clean! Capture his excitement and how his heart must have rejoiced at that first instant when he came up out of the water (cf. Acts 8:39)! Put yourself in his sandals and revel in that split second when every canker and every evidence of that horrendous blight was removed!
Now good reader, stay with me for just a moment.
Naaman’s “old normal” was leprosy. His “new normal” was washed, cleansed and unblemished. Do you suppose there ever came a time when Naaman said to himself, “Man, I sure wish I still had leprosy…”?
I’m not a prophet, but I’ve got a pretty good idea what you might be thinking. “Of course not, Mike. No one in their right mind would ever want to go back to leprosy,” and I would agree. But now think of Naaman’s new normal on a different level.
- Naaman’s physical cleaning was an Old Testament, fleshly example of our spiritual cleansing at baptism. “Arise and be baptized, and WASH AWAY your sins…” (Acts 22:16; cf. John 9:7).
- When we by obedient faith put away our stubborn, selfish ways (cf. 2 Kings 5:11-13) and are immersed in water (cf. John 3:23), our spiritual leprosy (i.e., sin) is removed by the blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Rev. 1:5).
So why would any Christian want to go back to the old normal (i.e., that old way life)? Why would any of us want to be dominated again by spiritual contamination and defilement (cf. Heb. 10:26-39)? Why would any of us want turn back to a disease-ridden, sin-filled life (cf. Rom. 7:5-6)? After our cleansing, why would any saint want spiritual leprosy again?
My brother, my sister–are you walking in the light, are you walking in newness of life, are you living in the new normal of faithfulness to Jesus? Please, please don’t return to leprosy.
“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!” – Mike