The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

My Notes on 2 Kings 5:1-17

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 10, 2012

I didn’t have a lot of time to work on this and so only ended up giving some brief thoughts on most of the verses. I had hoped to get into the baptismal motif but that didn’t happen.

The translation I’m quoting from is the RSV which is under copyright:

The [New] Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted.

Notice of copyright must appear on the title or copyright page of the work as follows:

“Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

2Ki 5:1. Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.

Naaman is introduced with a series of admirable descriptors which introduce him as a man of influence, fame, fortune and, also, as a man who has been blessed by the Lord (“by him the LORD had given victory to Syria“).  The series of descriptors ends with a shocking one, one which stands at odds with the rest, he was “a leper.” How Naaman is to be freed from this affliction is the subject of what follows.

King of Syria. This is probably Ben-Hadad (see 2 Kings 8:7). Naaman was a great man with this king (“his master”) and in high favor Because by him (Naaman) the LORD had given victory to Syria.  That God gave “victory to Syria” indicates that he is universal Lord, a theme already made known in 1 Kings 19:15 where the prophet Elijah is told to anoint Hazael as King of Aram (i.e., Syria). See also Amos 2:1-3 where Moab is punished for offenses against Edom, and Amos 9:7 where Israel is compared to the Philistines and Arameans (Syrians) because, like them, the Lord is the one who gave them land and led them out of captivity.

2Ki 5:2. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little maid from the land of Israel, and she waited on Naaman’s wife.

This verse is a reminder that the Syrians (Arameans) where often hostile to one another.

The description of the little (קטן  = qâṭân) maid who waits (היה
= hâyâh) on (literally, before פּנים = pânı̂ym) Naaman’s wife, both parallels and contrast with the description that  Naaman was (היה = hâyâh) a great (גּדול = gâdôl) man with (פּנים = pânı̂ym) his master.

2Ki 5:3. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! The word with (פּנים = pânı̂ym)  is here repeated for the third time in the story and suggests in very subtle fashion the superiority of the prophet (Elisha) over the King of Syria whom Naaman has been described as being with. The maid’s words He would cure him of his leprosy become known to Naaman, no doubt through his wife.

2Ki 5:4.  So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the maiden from the land of Israel.”

Thus and so spoke. The author has simply used a “shorthand” phrase to summarize the girl’s words and the circumstances of how he came to learn of them. Such summarizing formulas are often found in curses (e.g., “May God do such and such”), but whether this is of any significance is uncertain to me (see 1 Kings 2:23; 1 Kings 19:2; 2 Kings 6:31. Certainly the words of the maiden end up leading to a blessing for Naaman but, again, I’m not sure such a contrast is intended by the author.

2Ki 5:5.  And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten festal garments.
2Ki 5:6 And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

2Ki 5:7 And when the king of Israel read the letter, he rent his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”

So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, &c. The gifts become a factor latter in the story (not part of our reading, see 2 Kings 5:19-27). In that passage we see that the greed of Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, stands in contrast to the selfless desire for Naaman’s well-being exhibited by the maiden (verse 3).

And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read... No doubt the letter between two kings was much more formal than what we are given here. Once again we see the author’s summarizing tendencies.The king of Israel at this time was Joram, a fact which will take on meaning when we see the implication of verse 8.

When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy. Either (1) the king of Syria misunderstood the details of Naaman’s information which concerned a prophet who could do the healing, and not the king, or, (2) he thinks the prophet is under the king’s control as perhaps they were in Syria. Whatever the case may be, most scholars see the response of the king of Israel as indicating that the author of Second Kings “mocks the impotence of royal authority” (Berit Olam: 2 Kings by Robert L. Cohn). Concerning the theme of ineffectual kings see 1 Kings 21:22; 2 Kings 1.

The King of Israel rent his clothes, suggesting he thinks the request a blasphemy. In the context of the two Books of Kings the action should probably be interpreted as feigned piety since none of the Kings of Israel are judged righteous.

2Ki 5:8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you rent your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.”

Let him come now to me. Rather than continue wasting his time with the impotent king!

That he may know that there is a prophet in Israel. As already noted, the King of Israel at this time was Joram, who had succeeded his brother, Ahaziah. Ahaziah brought down the divine punishment on himself for consulting baalzebub, god of Ekron. The prophet Elisha was sent to him to announce the judgment against him with these words: “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baalzebub, the god of Ekron?” (see 2 Kings 1). In Israel, God and  (true) prophets are closely allied, not so God and kings.

2Kin 5:9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the door of Elisha’s house.

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots. These are weapons of war. We see latter that Naaman is also accompanied by a retinue of people (verse 15). Is Naaman attempting to intimidate the prophet? The ostentation recalls the gifts mentioned earlier (verse 5) and, also, the fact that the girl from whom Naaman learned of the prophet was a war captive.

2Ki 5:10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”

Elisha sent a messenger. The prophet is not impressed, intimidated, or worried, in contrast to the King of Israel who feared Naaman was seeking a quarrel with him (verse 7).

2 Ki 5:11 But Naaman was angry, and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and cure the leper.

Naaman went away. Provides a stark contrast with the prophet’s beneficial command to “go”. Naaman’s pride is hurt. He not only expected the prophet to come out to him, but to also stand before him and so provide the healing. His words more literally read: “To me I thought he would come out and stand…” What underlies this sort of thinking? Does he think that the God of Elisha, like the prophet himself, is at his beck and call because of his money or power? Possibly, but he seems to be the victim of his own ideas as to how the healing should have happened;

2Ki 5:12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.

Are not…the rivers of Damascus better than the waters of Israel? Not only was Naaman’s pride hurt, his patriotism was also bruised, at least according to some scholars. But it is not the man’s patriotism that is the problem here. Note that the prophet had told him his flesh would be restored by bathing in the Jordan seven times, but Naaman had his own ideas about how the cure should happen: i.e., with a calling on the name of the Lord and a wave of the hand (verse 11). With these preconceptions he has been led to the mistaken assumption that the prophet is merely offering him an opportunity for bodily cleansing, rather than an actual healing, and such a cleansing could be had in the rivers of Damascus (the capitol of Syria).

2Ki 5:13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, if the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he says to you, `Wash, and be clean’?”

Once again a servant of the proud Naaman comes to his aid in the matter of his leprosy.

2 Ki 5:14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

And his flesh was restored. Just as the prophet had promised.

2Ki 5:15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him; and he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel;so accept now a present from your servant.” 

Naaman, who had “turned and went away in a rage” from the prophet (verse 12), now returns to him with all his company. Having previously expected the prophet to come and stand before him, as if he were nothing more than one of the servants in his entourage, Naaman (with that entourage) now stands before the prophet and declares Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.

2Ki 5:16 But he said, “As the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused.
2Ki 5:17 Then Naaman said, “If not, I pray you, let there be given to your servant two mules’ burden of earth; for henceforth your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the LORD.

Elisha’s refusal to take payment or reward from Naaman prepares for Elisha’s servant, Gehazi’s, underhanded dealings with the healed man in the remainder of the chapter; thus a gentile servant to a pagan king will come off looking more pious and devout than an Israelite servant of an Israelite prophet!

2 Responses to “My Notes on 2 Kings 5:1-17”

  1. […] My Notes on Today’s First Reading (2 Kings 5:1-15ab). […]

  2. […] My Notes on Today’s First Reading (2 Kings 5:1-15ab). […]

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