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Elijah heals Naaman

November 12, 2023

The story of the healing of Naaman is about entitlement, power, and pride.


It is about the shame attached to a chronic and visible bodily abnormality. And it is about divine power that flows through humble channels rather than through the pomp and power that humans hold in high regard and seek to attain.


A key detail of the story is that Naaman was a leper. But leprosy then and now are different conditions. The Hebrew term translated ‘leprosy’ is tzara‘ath. It refers to skin blemishes and eruptions that rendered one ritually unclean and, consequently, resulted in social stigma and exclusion. The term does not refer to Hansen’s disease, commonly referred to today as leprosy, a disfiguring and disabling bacterial disease.


Surprisingly, even walls and clothing could have tzara‘ath, in which cases the term probably referred to fungus or mould. The important point is that it was an obvious skin condition and indicated ritual uncleanness and possible divine judgement. Touching a leper made one unclean, just as touching a human corpse or carrion did. Lepers were marked and excluded so that they would not transmit ritual impurity.


Naaman commanded the army of Aram (Syria) and was himself a “mighty warrior,” a man of both physical strength and personal charisma. But he was a leper, a condition that made him ceremonially unclean and socially isolated, though it is possible that his high social status blunted the social ostracism that accompanied the disease. The story underlines Naaman’s exalted status in several ways. The king of Aram so esteems him that he endangers a fragile truce with Israel so that Naaman might seek healing. Naaman controls great wealth. He brings with him about 1,000 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten suits of clothing — huge treasure! And he comes with an entourage consisting of “horses and chariots,” a procession of power. The man who rolls up in front of Elisha’s house that afternoon, horses tossing their heads, chariots gleaming, boxes of silver and gold ready to buy a cure, is accustomed to bows of honours and unquestioning obedience. If there is a prophet in Israel powerful enough to heal him, Naaman definitely has the means to persuade that prophet. He assumes that what he needs he will get.


But Naaman is not treated with his expected deference and is told to do something unassuming with no pageantry or great fuss. For the second time he swallows his pride and listens to his servants, which leads to his actions and ultimately his healing.


I wonder what is the pride that gets in our way of healing from God?


Jay Robinson

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