If anyone wonders about the veracity of the biblical accounts — about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, Abraham and Lot, Isaiah in heaven, Jonah in the great fish — all we have to do is see what Jesus said.
That’s right, Jesus emphatically knew all of these biblical accounts were true. After all, He’s God’s Son, the One who walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, who spoke with Noah, who visited Abraham, who revealed His glory to Isaiah in heaven, and who sent Jonah to Nineveh twice.
In other words, the children’s Sunday school Bible stories are true. This includes another Bible story Jesus spoke about in His first recorded sermon. He was preaching in His hometown synagogue. Partway through His sermon, Jesus said: “And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed — only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27).
Elisha the prophet? He was Elijah’s apprentice. Only the apprentice asked for a double portion of the Spirit and ended up doing twice as many miracles as Elijah. Perhaps the most spectacular miracle of all? Well, Jesus mentions it by name.
The Significance of Naaman the Syrian in the Bible
Naaman was the military commander of the dreaded Syrian army (2 Kings 5:1). He was personally responsible for pillaging and destroying Jewish cities and towns. The most hated man in all of Israel.
Among his trophies, Naaman the Syrian had captured a young Jewish girl and brought her home to be his wife’s slave (2 Kings 5:2). How will this little girl get even? Well, she doesn’t.
Instead, when Naaman contracts leprosy, the second greatest man in Syria is at risk of losing everything and dying. Until the Jewish slave girl speaks up. She tells her master about an Israelite prophet who can heal his horrific skin disease (2 Kings 5:3).
Depending on where the Jewish girl lived, she may or may not have seen and heard of Elisha. Then again, she certainly knew about the amazing miracles the Lord did through Elisha. And, she was absolutely certain that the Lord God, Maker of heaven and earth, the only true God, could cure her master’s leprosy.
So sure is she that Naaman believes her and repeats what she said to the king of Syria (2 Kings 5:4). Even more remarkable? The king believes the girl’s story and sends Naaman off to the king of Israel with vast riches (2 Kings 5:5). It’s unclear whether the king donates the vast riches or if Naaman takes them from his treasure house. Both were astoundingly wealthy, and what’s a few million dollars?
Naaman delivers the Syrian king’s letter to the king of Israel (2 Kings 5:6). The Israel king freaks out (2 Kings 5:7). Elisha tells him to quit and send Syria’s top military commander to him (2 Kings 5:8). Naaman arrives at Elisha’s doorstep (2 Kings 5:9).
This is where the plot thickens. Instead of inviting Naaman into his courtyard, Elisha sends someone outside to tell the Syrian to go wash in the Jordan River seven times (2 Kings 5:10). Naaman storms away, greatly insulted and absolutely furious and raging (2 Kings 5:11-12).
Surprisingly, Naaman doesn’t slaughter Elisha’s household and burn the place down, but somebody is going to pay dearly that day. Under threat of instant death, one of Naaman’s men begs him to reconsider (2 Kings 5:13). We have no idea who this man is. Just that he works for Naaman. And, like the little Jewish girl, he cares about the military commander’s healing.
Naaman calms down, goes to the Jordan River, dips seven times, and — yes, is healed (2 Kings 5:14). And not just barely healed. His skin is as fresh, new, and soft as a little child’s skin. And his heart is fresh, new, and soft as well.
Listen to Naaman’s astounding confession of faith to Elisha: “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel” (2 Kings 5:15). “When he believed in the true God, Naaman did what Israel didn’t. As a light to her Gentile master, the Jewish slave girl was what Israel wasn’t.” That’s Rob Heijermans, author of Serves You Right: Loving Those We’d Rather Hate. It’s the first full-length book about Naaman the Syrian in more than a century.
God's Extended Mercy
So, what point was Jesus making when He referred to this story? “God extends His mercy to His worst enemies — and to ours,” says Heijermans. That idea was radical enough to cause the synagogue crowd to instantly riot, drive Jesus to a nearby cliff, and try to toss the Messiah to His death.
In other words, God extends mercy to us — we relish that. God extends mercy to our worst enemies — we rage against that. So, who needs to change? God? Or us? The human heart loves to hate with a fierce passion. We feed off that anger, wrath, and rage. We want to keep hating more and more. A little Jewish slave girl who knew the Lord God of Israel’s love and mercy — and who demonstrated both to her cruel master — shows us another way.
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David Sanford’s book and Bible projects have been published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Thomas Nelson, Doubleday, Barbour, and Amazon. His newest book is Life Map Devotional for Men published concurrently with his wife Renee’s new book, Life Map Devotional for Women.