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October 5, 2009

     There’s a sickness in this story. 

     A disgusting disease, one that has a radical effect on the lives of any who came in contact with it. It is not a sickness to be taken lightly, and at the beginning of 2 Kings 5, a valiant Aramean army captain is in its grip.

     Here is how the account plays out in this chapter. Naaman is a well-respected authority figure (picture a four-star general). His high social status has not made him immune to leprosy, however, and he is concerned for his life. His wife has an Israelite servant girl who tells her about a prophet in Samaria who can heal Naaman’s leprosy. Naaman is desperate enough to take her advice, and eventually he finds Elisha. Even though we know about the God Elisha served, this treatment option might have seemed like visiting a faith healer in a foreign land. Elisha sends a messenger out to him with a plan for Naaman’s healing. If he washes seven times in the muddy Jordan River, he will be clean. Naaman is upset; he is frustrated that Elisha sent a messenger instead of making a personal appearance and reluctant to wash in the Jordan River, which was not nearly as clean or desirable as the rivers in Damascus. Naaman eventually submits and follows Elisha’s instructions.

     After that seventh dip in the Jordan River, Namaan’s leprosy was gone. But it didn’t stay away long. That’s right – Naaman’s leprosy came back, just not to Naaman. It came to a servant named Gehazi, and Elisha said it would remain on Gehazi’s descendents. The last verse ends where the first verse began – with leprosy.

     But that’s not the only sickness in this story. At least, it is not the disease I mentioned earlier. Gehazi contracted that disease before ever talking to Elisha about where he went. In verse 20, the sickness of selfishness settles in over Gehazi, after he watches Elisha turn down the generous offers of Naaman, and he decides to take matters into his own hands and get some gifts for himself.

     After all, wasn’t Naaman struggling with the sin of selfishness? Think back to how he initially handled finding Elisha to cure him. A closer look at these verses reveals the fingerprints of selfishness all over Naaman’s battle plan. He started by loading up silver, gold, and changes of clothes in verse 5. He was used to the way things were handled in the ancient world, and he probably assumed that showing up with this kind of wealth would open doors for him (like slipping a $50 bill to get seated quickly at a restaurant).

     Instead of going to Elisha for healing, he initially goes to the King of Israel. After all, a high-ranking officer doesn’t need to travel all the way to the humble home of a prophet. A private conference with the king should handle everything. When he finally makes it to Elisha, he stands with his horses, chariots, servants, and gifts at Elisha’s door, expecting the red-carpet treatment. He doesn’t get it. The famous army captain who just met with the king didn’t even rate a few minutes on Elisha’s schedule. He got a servant. Naaman wasn’t just frustrated, he was enraged. Enraged because all he got was a servant. Enraged because Elisha’s plan didn’t meet his expectations. Enraged because God wanted him to do something that didn’t fit with his own plans. Only when he got over the spiritual disease was he healed of the physical disease.

     If I don’t guard myself, the sickness in this story can be the sickness in my life. It’s a good thing we serve the God who healed Naaman.

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