Naaman, the Syrian Leper

Naaman, the Syrian Leper

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 13, 2008

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

The story of Naaman the leper is set in the period of the kings of Israel and Judah, the time in the history of the Jewish nation that followed the glorious days of David and Solomon. Unlike the glory of the past, these were days of civil war, idolatry, and famine. In these sad times, the Lord provided first the prophet Elijah to travel throughout the land reminding the people of their need to follow God’s commandments and performing miracles.. When Elijah’s work was done he has passed his mantle to Elisha (literally – the phrase we use today to indicate the passing of authority comes from this) and gone to heaven in a chariot of fire, leaving Elisha to carry on his work. Elisha was also given the power to perform miracles and he multiplied the widow’s oil, raised a boy from the dead, healed a deadly stew, and fed a multitude with only a few loaves of bread.

This was also a time when Syria, the nation to the north of Israel, was beginning to expand, striking out on all sides to increase its empire, often looking down on Israel as a suitable victim. For it’s part, Israel was a very weak country, tearing itself apart from within through civil war and rebellion. It was rapidly losing its power to resist any external enemy. There was good reason for the kings of Israel to suspect treachery in any dealings with Syria.

It is against this backdrop of evil and disorder that we view the story of Naaman. The Word tells us Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. (2KI 5:1)

Naaman was a brave and honoured man, whose many blessings and uses were being destroyed by his disease. Leprosy, known today as Hansen’s syndrome, is a disease with many symptoms, such as skin ulcerations. In ancient times, when there was no known treatment, the end result of the disease was usually horrible disfigurement leading to a slow and painful death. Although the variety of the disease that exists today is only mildly infectious, in ancient times it was believed to be highly infectious, so lepers were shunned and feared. Obviously a man disfigured by leprosy could not be a military leader or royal adviser as he would be sent away to live out his remaining time with other lepers far from his family and the court.

Naaman’s whole life was being destroyed by his disease. The letter of the Word tells us that he was willing to pay a great fortune to be rid of it, if only that were possible. No doubt he sought the help of the best physicians and wise men that could be found in Syria, but they had been unable to help him, leaving him in despair.

But the Lord finds us in our despair, sometimes in surprising ways. Naaman had a Hebrew servant who said to Naaman’s wife, If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy (2KI 5:3). Another servant overheard this, and carried the message to Naaman, who then requested permission of his king to travel to Samaria. The king gave Naaman permission, and a letter to carry to the king of Israel, making the visit official and thus protecting Naaman in an enemy country. One assumes, from the story in the letter that this was a well-intentioned act, intended to help Naaman in his search for a cure. As we shall see, it was not received in that spirit.

Naaman took a great fortune with him: ten talents of silver, and six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. (2KI 5:5), as a gift for Elisha if he was cured. He arrived at the house of Elisha with his retinue, fully expecting a welcome befitting his exalted position. But, Elisha did not come to the door to greet him, but merely sent a messenger to tell Naaman that he should go wash seven times in the Jordan.

This made Naaman furious! He expected the prophet to at least come out personally, call upon the name of the Lord, perhaps dramatically sacrifice a few animals, and then declare him cured! He was, after all, an important man with an important problem, and he wanted something to cure him that would be suited to his elevated rank. So, he replied, Are not the Abana and the 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 (2KI 5:12).

Although Naaman was angry and insulted, there was still a basic sense of affirmation with him, for he listened when his servant reminded him that, If the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, Wash, and be clean? (2KI 5:13). This touched the hope of eventual healing that lived within him. He did not really understand what the prophet wanted him to do, since he felt that since the rivers of Damascus were not as small and muddy as the Jordan, they would be much better than the river of Israel for any kind of washing. But at the prompting of a trusted advisor, he was willing to submit, willing to bring himself into the Lord’s order, no matter what he personally thought of the request. Naaman made his decision to follow Jehovah through the word of the prophet Elisha. He washed himself seven times in the Jordan, and his rotted flesh was restored so that it was like that of a little child.

What was it that really cleansed Naaman? The waters of the Jordan are not in themselves miraculous. They do not contain any magic potion. If a leper were to wash seven times in that river now, or at any time, he would not be healed by the waters. What really healed Naaman was his own obedience to the word of the Lord through Elisha. He listened to him, put his own feelings, beliefs and prejudices aside, and submitted himself to the truth of the Word, without excuse or qualification. Thus, his body was restored to its former health.

Naaman’s delight was boundless, as we might expect. He said, Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant. (2KI 5:15). In saying this, Naaman meant to give Elisha his fortune, but Elisha would not accept. Then Naaman made an unusual request and declared his faith in Jehovah: Then, if not, please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD. (2KI 5:17).

Whether we speak of Naaman, the Syrian leper, or a person who discovers that they are in a state of profanation, it is the same. To understand the internal sense of this story, it is important to note that Naaman was a Syrian. Syria, although the prime enemy of Israel at this time, has a good representation. The Syrian nation was a remnant of the Ancient Church, and they were in the knowledges of good (AC 3762), which they had from the Ancient Word (SS 102).

Leprosy represents the profanation of truth (AC 6963, 9468:9). This is the key to Naaman’s representation. He represents a person who has had the Word, has learned truths from it, and even lived according to them. There was something of the marriage of good and truth within him, but it has become adulterated. This happened because, for some reason, he began to turn away from the truth, deliberately bending it, adding qualifications and conditions to the truth, conditions that would allow him to justify the breaking of them in his own mind. He began to look to himself instead of the Lord for the truth.

Many people look to themselves for their truth, in ignorance. They do not really know that there is any other source of truth. The important thing about the person represented by Naaman is that while he does have the Word, and he has lived according to it, he has deliberately chosen to twist the truth for the sake of his own gain, making it false.

When anyone qualifies the commandments of the Lord in the Word, and begins to believe the Lord’s commandments apply to him only under certain circumstances, he has then become a spiritual leper, for he has profaned the truth. He has put himself in the place of the Lord, choosing what he will do from his own perverted truths. His spiritual body, reflecting the state of his mind and will, begins to be more and more disfigured as the twisted falsities that he has instead of truth begin to show in his spiritual face and body.

When a person examines himself and finds that he is a spiritual leper, there remains a means for him to be cured, to return to a life of order, if he still has an affirmative attitude about the Lord and the Word. He must first see that he is spiritually sick through self-examination. The only cure is to return to the Word, the truth that cleanses the spirit of man, that is, he must repent.

When Naaman travelled to Israel to see Elisha, it represented the spiritual leper’s turning back to the Word when he finally realizes how bad his spiritual state is, turning away from his profanation, back to the one source of genuine truth. At such a time, he believes that if only this punishment could be removed, he’d do anything. He wants to return to a state prior to his disorder. In the turmoil of his own mind, he promises the Lord that he will never do it again, if only the Lord will save him now. He desperately wants to strike a bargain with the Lord, giving up all the things that he loves so that the Lord will take away the sins that are bringing misery to his life – the misery that has come from his own free choices and their results. In this state, the man offers his whole fortune to the Lord, if only the disease, the trouble, can be taken away.

States of Grieving?

When we turn to the Word for the answer to a specific problem, for the cure for some evil or falsity that we have found within ourselves, like Naaman, we are impatient with the Lord. We think our problems are the most important problems in the world. Like Naaman, we want some very impressive, important sounding, complex instructions that we can feel is designed especially for us. It is like when we go to the doctor with some complaint – unless the doctor gives us a prescription of some sort (whether we really need the medicine or not), we feel he doesn’t believe we are really sick.

It is very important to us that our spiritual medicine should require some public sacrifice or penance so that others will know how hard we are working on our spiritual state. However, when we turn to the Word we find no such instruction, no complex repentance, nothing very showy at all. We are simply reminded of the very simple basic truths of the Word, and reminded further that all that is necessary for us to be cleansed is that we put ourselves in obedience to the truth, to wash in the spiritual water because we believe it is from the Lord. All we really need do to be cleansed of our spiritual leprosy is to put ourselves back within the confines of spiritual law, undefiled by our own interpretations. And, as with Naaman, the effect is that the truth, like the Jordan washing away leprosy, washes away our sins, but the cause is the fact that we have from our own desire put ourselves in obedience to the Lord’s will.

With us, it is the excuses and qualification of the truth that cause the spiritual leprosy in the first place, and when this is seen and repudiated, the leprosy is cured, and our spiritual state is advanced. This comes only when self is put away, and the Word is seen as the only source of truth.

We are all spiritual lepers whenever we think to ourselves that, for whatever the reason, the commandments of the Lord in the Word do not apply to us. We are spiritual lepers when we decide that the commandments of the Lord apply to others, but not to ourselves. We are spiritual lepers when we say that the commandments of the Word apply to us sometimes – but not under certain convenient circumstances. Thus, every one of us is to some degree a spiritual leper. If we do not recognize that fact, or refuse to seek help for our disease, we are destined to eventually find our way to the filthy caves of hell – the eternal leper colony – to spend our days in horrible disfigurement.

There is help available to us, though not from the works of man. Just as no physician in Syria could help Naaman, no earthly philosophy can cure the diseases of our spirit. There is but one hope – to go and see Elisha, to turn to the truth of the Word, and from self-compulsion come into obedience to it. We do this not once, not twice, but seven times, that is, completely. Then, and only then, we will be cured of spiritual diseases, and will be free to return to our uses and serve the Lord with a full heart, our spiritual flesh like that of a little child, clean, pure and innocent, following the Lord. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isaiah 1:16-18). AMEN.

First Lesson: 2KI 5:1-14

Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. {2} And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel. She waited on Naaman’s wife. {3} Then she said to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.” {4} And Naaman went in and told his master, saying, “Thus and thus said the girl who is from the land of Israel.” {5} Then the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he departed and took with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. {6} Then he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which said, Now be advised, when this letter comes to you, that I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy. {7} And it happened, when the king of Israel read the letter, that he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy? Therefore please consider, and see how he seeks a quarrel with me.” {8} So it was, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Please let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” {9} Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. {10} And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” {11} But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will 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 heal the leprosy.’ {12} “Are not the Abanah and the 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. {13} And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” {14} So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Second Lesson: Arcana Coelestia (Heavenly Secrets) 6959. [2]

In their childhood, and afterward in their youth, they of the spiritual church have faith in the doctrinal things of their church, but at that time they have faith from parents and masters, and not from themselves, and therefore if they afterward recede from faith, they profane the truth only slightly, which profanation can be removed by Divine means, and thus the man be freed from the guilt of it. But if a man has faith in the doctrine of the church, and in the Word, from himself, that is, by confirmations in himself, and if be then afterward recedes, and denies in himself what he had before believed, especially if he lives contrary to the truth which he had confirmed in himself, and either explains it in his own favor, or altogether rejects it, he profanes the truth; and this because he commingles and conjoins together within himself truth and falsity. As such persons have scarcely any remains of truth and good, in the other life they finally become like skeletons; and have as little life remaining as have the bones relatively to the organic life of the flesh.

Copyright © 1982 – 2007 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper

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