2 Kings 5:1-27 – Naaman the Syrian


2 Kings 5:1-27


Elisha ministers to a foreign general suffering from leprosy and self-importance.


The very first verse sets up this finely tuned drama in three acts: Naaman’s Need (vv. 1-14); Naaman’s Conversion (vv. 15-19a); and Gehazi’s Greed (vv. 19b-27).

  • Naaman’s Need (vv. 1-14). Scholars usually omit “He was a mighty man of valor” as an interpretive comment added to the text later because it is lacking in an important Greek tradition (the Lucianic recensions of the Septuagint). Every verse in the Hebrew Bible is divided into two segments based on meaning not length. With the omission mentioned above, the first verse would read:

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…but he was a leper!

Is Naaman’s problem his leprosy (the last half of v. 1) or his wealth, honor, esteem, and God-given success (the first half of v. 1)? Lectionaries invariably choose the former and stop reading at verse 14 with the healing of Naaman’s skin disease. But his sense of self-importance, as seen in the introductory letter from his king, the enormous payment he offers Elisha (almost half a ton of gold and 150 pounds of silver, v. 5), and the hissy fit he throws when Elisha failed to come out to meet him or perform ostentatious liturgical rituals to effect the cure (v. 11) argue for the latter. Naaman’s problem is that he cannot accept God’s grace as grace.

  • Naaman’s Conversion (vv. 15-19a). Nevertheless, his physical healing resulted in the healing of his self-importance and led to a confession of faith, though he still wants to “pay” (v. 15). Elisha graciously comforts his worries about appearing to worship the god of Rimmon with a simple “Shalom!”-“Go in peace” (v. 19a).
  • Gehazi’s Greed (vv. 19b-27). Gehazi, however, thinks “this Aramean” (probably pejorative) needs to pay and goes after Naaman to “get something out of him” (v. 20). And get something he did! In addition to making a sizable profit from Naaman’s feelings of gratitude, he also became “leprous, as white as snow” (v. 27).
  • The instances of Jesus healing lepers in Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-44; and Luke 5:12-14 reflect the notion that only God can heal.