Wednesday, April 17, 2013

N is for Naaman and O is for Onesimus

The story of Naaman has become one of my favorite stories in the Bible.  It shows how God helped out Gentiles even before the coming of Christ.  The account can be found in 2 Kings 5
Naaman was the commander of the army of Aram, who was at war with Israel.  He had leprosy, a rather nasty disease.
Naaman's wife had a slave girl who had been captured from Israel.  This girl was a believer in God which is a small miracle considering she was from the Northern Kingdom of Israel which always had evil kings and worshipped many different idols.  In any case, she didn't hide her faith "under a bushel" as the popular Bible song says.  She tells her mistress that Naaman should go visit the prophet in Samaria so he could be healed.
Naaman goes to the king of Aram who gives him leave to go see this prophet and sends him with generous gifts and a letter:
So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 
The king of Aram believed that such a prophet must be in the employ of the king.  How was he to know that the King of Israel didn't fear the true God?  The King of Israel, Joram, was all in a panic when he got the letter, fearing it was plot against him.  Fortunately, news of the letter reaches Elisha (through the grapevine or directly from God, we aren't told) and he tells the king to calm down and send Naaman over to him.
Naaman travels to Elisha's house.  Elisha doesn't even come to the door but sends a messenger to say:
“Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
Naaman is not happy with this answer and went away angry, grumbling:
“I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?”
Let me stop the narrative right there and interject that God could have indeed healed him by having Elisha wave his hand over the spot.  But he didn't.  We're talking about a God who created the entire universe with WORDS!  I ran into this quandary one day when I was reading the New Testament account where Jesus healed a blind man by spitting on the ground and putting mud on his eyes.  He had to do this not once but twice to restore the man's sight.  I asked my college classmate who is now a pastor why Jesus went to all that trouble to heal a man when he should have only to say the word.  He told me that Jesus always did miracles in accordance with the person's faith.  The blind man may have had a weak faith and needed the extra personal attention.  Other people like the Roman centurion, the woman subject to bleeding and the Canaanite woman had very strong faith and Jesus healed their needs over long distances with only his word or in the bleeding woman's case, without words at all.
Naaman, being a non believer, may have just needed an extra boost to give him faith.
Fortunately for Naaman, his servants talk some sense into him.
"My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”
Naaman was convinced and washed in the Jordan and was healed.  He also becomes a believer in God and returns to Elisha.  Elisha refuses to take any gifts from Naaman, although at the end of the chapter Elisha's servant Gehazi accepts some gifts and is stricken with leprosy for his dishonesty. 
Onesimus is mentioned in the book of Philemon.  The book was written by Paul to a man named Philemon.  Onesimus was a runaway slave who met Paul, who at this point in his life had been imprisoned.  In ancient Rome, a runaway slave could face the penalty of death but Paul encourages Philemon to take Onesimus back as a dear brother and fellow believer.  Paul also asks that Philemon charge any damages from Onesimus to his account. 
This situation is a mirror image of our relationship with God.  We are like Onesimus, sinners with a death sentence for our sins.  Paul is like Jesus, a redeemer, paying the price that we could not pay.  As a result, we are accepted by God as his dear children instead of the pitiful trash that we are. 

1 comment:

  1. I do not bible verses and am afraid this was over my head, trying to keep up with who's who in your narrative. I know from Sunday School days many were healed, but would not be able to recant stories in such detail. Impressive.



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