As the season of Passover approaches, there are many things I want to write about. In fact, I felt a little stressed because I there were too many ideas in my head and I couldn’t decide which one to focus on.
Then one morning, I happened to be reading a daily devotion which told the story of Naaman the Syrian. I’ve heard this story before, but for some reason there were things that stood out like a blasting trumpet when I read it this time. Once I finished reading it, I knew this is what I wanted to write about for Passover because it describes a man who was given a “new life” not because he deserved it, but because of God’s mercy. Just as Jesus became the Passover lamb, so death would “pass over” us, Naaman is cured of a disease associated with death because he recognizes the One True God who can save him.
By the way, Passover this year begins at sundown on April 15, 2022 and lasts through sundown on April 23. For more information on its symbolism, check out these posts. Keep in mind that the dates of Passover listed in those articles will be different, but the info about Passover will help you understand the significance of this appointed time on God’s calendar.
Here is the story of Naaman as it’s written in the Bible: 2 Kings 5:1-18
The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. Though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.
At this time Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid. One day the girl said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.”
So Naaman told the king what the young girl from Israel had said. “Go and visit the prophet,” the king of Aram told him. “I will send a letter of introduction for you to take to the king of Israel.” So Naaman started out, carrying as gifts 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothing. The letter to the king of Israel said: “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.”
When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and said, “Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? Why is this man asking me to heal someone with leprosy? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.”
But when Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes in dismay, he sent this message to him: “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.”
So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house. But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”
But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.
But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So, you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed!
Then Naaman and his entire party went back to find the man of God. They stood before him, and Naaman said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”
But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept any gifts.” And though Naaman urged him to take the gift, Elisha refused.
Then Naaman said, “All right, but please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me. From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord. However, may the Lord pardon me in this one thing: When my master the king goes into the temple of the god Rimmon to worship there and leans on my arm, may the Lord pardon me when I bow, too.”
“Go in peace,” Elisha said. So Naaman started home again.”
The Passover Connections
I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed after reading this because it reminded me of the Passover story. What stood out the most was the new life that Naaman received when he put his trust in God. Passover is the season where we remember the blood Jesus shed on the cross so that we could have a new, transformed life. To obtain this, we must have faith like a child and receive Jesus wholeheartedly. Naaman suffered from a horrible skin disease that caused disfigurement, but he is healed and given new, transformed skin like that of a child.
Naaman wasn’t a religious Jew or someone who followed God. He was a Gentile from the country of Syria, and he worshipped the pagan gods of his nation. He suffered from leprosy, which was a horrible skin disease. Interestingly enough, the word leprosy is mentioned at least 40 times in the Bible and the number 40 is associated with testing or difficulty. Symbolically, leprosy is used to show the destructive power of sin in a person’s life.
God provided instructions to the Israelites for dealing with leprosy in Leviticus 13. Anyone with the disease had to go to a priest to be examined. Anyone suspected of having it was declared unclean and had to live alone outside the camp. So, a leper was considered unclean both physically and spiritually.
Numbers 5:2 says, “Command the people of Israel that they put out of the camp everyone who is leprous or has a discharge and everyone who is unclean through contact with the dead.” In fact, leprosy was second only to a dead body in terms of defilement.
Additionally, a leper had to maintain a six-foot distance from other people (that sounds familiar, but let’s not talk about Covid right now). If the wind was blowing, they had to stay 150 feet away! The only way a leper could become part of the community again was if they got better, or were healed.
Naaman wasn’t an Israelite and didn’t have to follow all the rules in Israel, but he still had to live with the disgrace of being a leper. He was highly acclaimed as a general and this earned him a lot of favor, but he still had to suffer with an incurable disease. The Bible calls him a “mighty man of valor.” This reminds us that no matter how big, brave and powerful we are, we can be stricken with disease both physically, and spiritually. Sin, however, is the worst disease of humankind and all people suffer from it, from the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor. It is only through the supernatural healing of Jesus that we are cured of this leprous (soul-destroying) disease.
A Humble Servant-Girl Made the Difference
It’s amazing to me that it was an Israelite servant girl who told Naaman’s wife there was a prophet in Israel who could cure him of his leprosy. After all, this servant girl was taken captive at some point by the enemies of her homeland and made to become a slave in Syria. Nonetheless, she had mercy on Naaman and suggested a way for him to be healed. This reminds us of the power of forgiveness.
What’s even more amazing is that when Naaman was told what the servant girl said, he listened! This means he must have been pretty desperate because he is willing to listen to a lowly slave girl and trust her advice. It also shows humility. Sickness can often bring people the end of themselves as they realize they are helpless without God.
Naaman takes a leap of faith
Naaman goes to his master (the King) and asks to see the prophet in Israel. The King of Syria gladly sends him and even supplies a letter to give to the King of Israel with the request that Naaman be healed.
When Naaman arrives with the letter, the King of Israel is upset because he believes the King of Syria is trying to pick a fight with him. After all, is he really asking him to cure a man of leprosy? How will he do that? If he cannot meet the request, he believes the King of Syria will use it as an excuse to attack, or provoke a war.
But Israel’s King forgot one gigantic detail! They have a God who performs miracles and a prophet who obediently serves the Lord.
Enter the prophet Elisha. He hears about the letter and tells the King to send Naaman to him.
Naaman arrives at the home of the prophet Elisha and he expects a grand welcome. He shows up with his strong horses and chariots, but he is greeted by a messenger instead of the famed prophet. The messenger tells him he must wash in the Jordan River seven times to be healed. Naaman is furious for several reasons:
First, Elisha did not come out to meet him personally.
Second, there were no prayers or incantations recited over him.
Third, he thinks the waters of the Jordan River are inferior to those of his home country, Syria.
Namaan lets pride get the best of him and decides to forget the healing and go home.
Thankfully, Naaman’s officers wisely advise him and say:
“Sir if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So, you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’
This part screams Passover, Passover, Passover.
To receive Jesus and remove our “leprous” condition, we simply need to be washed in the waters of the Living Water, Jesus. His blood is the cleansing water that washes away our sin and permanently heals our soul. It gives us LIFE, but not just an earthly one – we receive eternal life! Receiving Jesus isn’t a complicated matter. It doesn’t involve a list of tasks that are riddled with danger or intrigue. To receive the Living Water, we simply put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. We say yes to his gift of salvation.
Interestingly enough, Naaman couldn’t be healed in just any river. No, it had to be the Jordan.
Why? Because Jesus was baptized in this very place and the spirit descended on him like a dove. Baptism involves being immersed in the water and then being raised to new life. Essentially, Naaman was being told to trust in the Living God of Israel because it is only through the One True God that Naaman could ever be physically and spiritually healed of his leprous skin and heart.
Like a sinner who suddenly understands they need a Savior, Naaman realizes he must humble himself and go to the Jordan River. Even though this acclaimed warrior was expecting to do something big and bold, he decided he would have to trust in something simple that he didn’t completely understand. Nonetheless, he went for it!
And here’s where it gets really good!
Naaman dipped himself in the Jordan seven times and he was healed! There’s that wonderful biblical number! Seven is the number of completion. Naaman is completely healed of his condition. The same is true for those who receive the Living Water, Jesus. We are restored and healed in the sight of our Lord. We are made complete (shalom) through him.
Naaman’s healing is a miraculous event as far as his physical healing, but something much greater than this takes place. He says, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel!”
This tells us that he had a change of heart!
Think about this for a moment. Naaman initially came with the intent of being healed, but not of being transformed. He planned on going back to his homeland with the same thinking he had before. He would still worship and serve the same gods. Nothing would have changed except his physical condition. But something miraculous happened that Naaman didn’t expect. He realized the gods of his nation were useless because met the real God in Israel.
He says to Elisha, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord.”
Naaman is saying he will never again offer pagan sacrifices to other gods! He will only sacrifice to the One True God of Israel. This is a huge deal because in his home country, their pagan gods were everything to them.
Also, he asks to bring back the earth (dirt) from the land of Israel. This says volumes because it reveals he wanted to bring some of Israel back with him to his homeland. Naaman recognized that the territory where he was healed belonged to the God of Israel and therefore, it was holy ground. He wanted to remember the miraculous event that changed his life and acknowledge that it came from a holy God.
As Christians we are called to give up our old idols when we receive Jesus. Even if we live on an island full of pagans, we have to put our worship in the right place. We too stand on holy ground when we honor Jesus above all other things.
Naaman’s heart change is seen in these words:
“But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: when my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also–when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”
He asks for forgiveness. He explains that he doesn’t want to bow down to other gods now. His heart is with the God of Israel.
Elisha can see that Naaman is sincere in his request and senses that the healing has changed this man. He tells Naaman to “go in peace.” His choice of words tells us a lot because what he’s saying is, “go in shalom,” which means, “go in wholeness…go in completeness.” This is what God gave to Naaman. Yes, he healed him, but more than anything, he gave him the one thing he needed to make him whole.
Jesus refers to Naaman the Syrian in Luke 4. He says,
“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.”
Wow! Think about that! The people in Israel knew about God, and many had experienced his miracles. They had the books of the Law, as well as the prophets. Yet, none of them with leprosy (living during Elisha’s time) were cleansed.
Naaman–an outsider and a pagan–was somehow able to put his faith in a God he didn’t know or understand. Yet, those who should have understood, didn’t seem to get it.
And herein lies the key takeaway. We cannot receive Jesus (God) through our knowledge, tradition, deeds or just by being in a church. We have to be like a little child who takes a leap of faith, without getting too hung up on all the details. Naaman’s leprous flesh became like the flesh of a little child again. But first he had to have the obedience and faith of a little child. Matthew 18:2-4 says:
Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Everyone must humble themselves in the sight of the Lord. It is only then that he will lift us up, as stated in James 4:10.
When Jesus calls to our hearts, we need to answer the door. Above all, we must be obedient, even if we don’t understand everything. We have to be humble and become small. I always think of the Apostle Paul who used to be called Saul. The name Saul was considered a strong, traditional name in the Jewish culture. But, God changed his name to Paul, which means SMALL and HUMBLE. So, here was this big zealous, strong man who surrendered his life to Jesus and became small. In essence, this is what happened to Naaman as well. On the outside, he was still a strong, acclaimed warrior. But on the inside, he became small and humble.
On Passover every year, thousands of young, small, year-old lambs were sacrificed at the Temple. Really these lambs were still “children,” and they are a picture of how we need to come to Jesus as we lay down our own lives, so they can be made new.
Jesus became a humble servant who was sacrificed like an innocent lamb. The Lamb of God took away the sins of the world. This King didn’t have to become a man and die on a cross. But he did it anyway. Why? So, like Naaman, we could be healed. No, we aren’t all miraculously healed physically while on earth. But Naaman’s healing pointed to a greater truth–we are made complete and whole when we receive the healing water Jesus provides. In heaven, our infirmities, deformities and wounds will be gone. I look forward to this myself as there are people in my family who continue to suffer. Nonetheless, there are still miracles I see happening on earth and in my life so we must continue praying and hoping until we take our last breath. God still works in signs and wonders and he will continue to do even greater things in the days ahead.
Perhaps the biggest miracle many of us need right now is for the salvation of loved ones who, like Naaman, suffer from a “leprous” condition in their heart that they cannot cure. Sometimes it takes that person coming to the end of their rope-and the end of themselves, for them to take the next step of faith. We must continually pray that they will lay down their swords, their chariots and their idols–then humbly they can immerse themselves in the water standing before them. Jesus, the Living Water, who takes away the sins of the world.
Don’t forget, Passover begins at sundown on April 15, 2022. This just happens to be the date the Titanic sank in 1912. The Titanic is still immersed in the icy waters off the coast of Newfoundland. We can either sink in sin with the world, or we can take the plunge with Jesus. I choose Jesus, how about you?