Leprosy was the AIDS of the ancient world. In most cases it was incurable, and at the very least it would stigmatize a person, cut them off from society, and shorten their life. Somehow the commander of the army of Syria, a man named Naaman, had contracted leprosy. (Note: if you are reading from NIV or NLT versions, Syria is called Aram.) The little captive Israelite girl who served Naaman’s wife is one of the unnamed, unsung heroines of the Bible. Instead of being hateful and vindictive, she wanted her master to be cured. Her comment about “the prophet of Samaria” (Elisha) led to Naaman’s miraculous healing and his saving faith in the one true God of Israel. The little slave girl is proof that you don’t have to be big to make a big difference for the Lord. Don’t underestimate the power of your simple witness!
When Naaman heard Elisha’s prescription for his healing he didn’t understand; in fact, he was offended. He wanted instantaneous healing, and he was prepared to pay a fortune to get it (v.5, 11). Swimming in the muddy Jordan River seemed to be beneath the dignity of a powerful general — besides, he had better rivers back home! Naaman was not inclined to go through the seemingly silly exercise, but he missed the significance of what Elisha told him to do and where he told him to do it.
In order to receive his healing, Naaman had to do what you and I must do to receive salvation: humbly accept God’s plan and God’s mercy by faith. Yes, there were more appealing rivers than the Jordan in the region, but the Jordan was special. The Israelites had to pass through it to claim the Promised Land, Elisha had to pass through it to take up the mantle of Elijah (see 2:13-14), and Naaman would have to pass through it to be healed. Many years later John the Baptist would call on sinners to be baptized in the Jordan, symbolically washing their sins away and preparing their hearts for Messiah. If Naaman was going to have his leprosy washed away, he would have to do the same. (Note: thank God for the servants of Naaman in verse 13 who encouraged him to follow through with God’s plan! I want to be like that — an encourager to those who are struggling with the demands of the gospel.)
Naaman finally relented, and wading into the Jordan’s current, he “dipped himself seven times” (v.14; seven is the Bible’s number of completion — Naaman had completely humbled himself to believe God). When he walked up onto the riverbank, dripping wet, his skin was healed! In place of the sores and scales of leprosy there was the clean, clear skin of a baby. What an amazing miracle! But his skin was not the only thing that was changed. Naaman had a change of heart in the water, and he came up confessing that Jehovah, the God of Israel, was the one true God — his one true God. Standing before Elisha, he made the commitment that while he had to continue serving an idol-worshiping king in a pagan nation, his heart belonged to the Lord. He even took some of the soil of Israel to build his own altar of worship back in Syria.
Naaman had one more lesson to learn. The prophet had refused any payment from him, for the grace of God cannot be bought. This is one of the great truths of the gospel, that “by grace you have been saved through faith…it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). The account of Gehazi’s greed highlights this truth in a tragically memorable way. For the rest of his life Gehazi would bear in his body the consequences of convoluting God’s plan.