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 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
IT’S TEMPTING TO skip to the end of the Gethsemane story, because there in the final moments of the garden narrative, when Jesus was arrested, we often start thinking about the Lord’s Supper.
But please don’t do that now. Don’t rush straight to the arrest. Back up and then slow down as you consider the text. Back up, not just to any meal, but to the time of the last meal Jesus ate with His disciples (Mat. 26:2ff; John 13ff).
In a manner of speaking, this was the condemned Man’s last meal before His execution, and what exactly was Jesus doing on this occasion with His disciples? Do a little contextual reading and you discover that He was talking about, among other things, and practicing PRAYER.
Watch John’s account:
“And whatever you ask in My name (PRAYER—mb), that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (14:13).
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire (PRAYER—mb), and it shall be done for you” (15:7).
“And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name (PRAYER—mb) He will give you” (17:23).
Mark in your Bible: Jesus spoke about prayer 3x.
Then later, while the group was actually eating, Matthew records, “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed (PRAYER—mb) and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks (PRAYER—mb), and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you’” (Mat. 26:26-27).
Mark in your Bible: Jesus practiced prayer 2x.
But this redundant emphasis upon prayer didn’t stop at this meal prior to Gethsemane. After the group split up, Jesus took Peter, James and John to the garden where He continued His prayer vigil. There He started praying again—ironically offering the same thing over and over.
“He went a little father and fell on His face, and PRAYED, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Mat. 26:39).
“Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and PRAY, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (v. 40).
“Again, a second time, He went away and PRAYED, saying, ‘O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.’ And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy” (vv. 42-43).
“So He left them, went away again, and PRAYED the third time, saying the same words…” (v. 44).
Mark in your Bible: Jesus prayed 3x and mentioned prayer 1x.
If you underscore the times that the idea of, or exact mention of, prayer is used in both John and Matthew, you are hit by a veritable inspired, machine-gun barrage on this subject (8x).
What was Jesus urging, and what was He practicing before, during and after the Passover/Lord’s Supper meal?
But now, recalling our introduction, go to the garden where the arrest was about to take place.
Suddenly, there is a scuffle—a fuss.
Peter, in his rashness and impetuosity, whips out his blade and cuts of Malchus’ ear (cf. Mat. 26:51; Mark 14:47; Luke 23:50; John 18:10 for details).
Jesus immediately, miraculously healed the stricken servant and then told Peter and his peers to stop the violence.
Now mull over exactly what Jesus said:
“Or do you think that I cannot now PRAY to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels” (Mat. 26:53)?
Mark in your Bible: Jesus did NOT pray.
Please don’t miss this!
- What was Jesus talking to the disciples about around the time of that last meal? He was talking about PRAYER (i.e., asking of the Father).
- What was Jesus doing at that last meal? He was PRAYING (i.e., thanking the Father).
- What was Jesus doing after that meal while in the garden? He was PRAYING over and over again (asking His Father).
Jesus’ life and ministry was saturated in prayer. And yet–here in the garden, WHEN HE COULD HAVE PRAYED ONCE AGAIN, WHEN HE COULD HAVE summoned the host of heaven to stop the cross, WHEN HE COULD HAVE PETITIONED His Father’s intervention, He didn’t pray.
He could have, but He didn’t.
The one prayer that Jesus could have uttered, that would have effectively stopped Calvary in its tracks, never left His lips.
And why didn’t He pray that prayer?
Because He had already prayed, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will…”