The healing of Naaman the leper is not just a story of the healing of a man from one of the most dreaded diseases of the ancient world, but it is a story of salvation that in many respects mirrors our own. Naaman’s healing is an illustration of what God does for believers through baptism. In this story is an anticipation of the gospel that would extend from the Jews to the Gentiles (cf. Luke 4:16-30). Just like with Naaman, today God extends His grace and mercy to a people in the darkness of sin, using their afflictions to draw them to Himself, and giving them an opportunity to be cleansed through the waters of baptism. Throughout this lesson, we’ll draw out the parallels to baptism and our own salvation today. Let’s begin by reading 1 Kings 5:1-14.
1.NAAMAN WAS A MIGHTY MAN, “BUT HE WAS A LEPER”
a. Four phrases are used to describe the importance of Naaman. He was commander of the army of Syria (the superpower of its day), a great man of social standing, enjoyed high favor with the king, and was a mighty man of valor. Despite all his success, he was a leper (v. 1)
b. No matter who we are or how great we might be, we’ve all “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
2. A LITTLE ISRAELITE SLAVE-GIRL TALKS ABOUT GOD’S PROPHET
a. Next we’re introduced to a little Israelite slave-girl. Distressed by her master’s condition, she laments, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy” (vv. 2-3).
b. Though she had been taken captive by a foreign power, she didn’t lose her humanity and compassion even for the one who enslaved her. As we will see, this little girl’s actions and attitude motivates Naaman to go to Israel to seek the prophet who can heal him (v. 4).
c. There are those all around us who are hurting. We can talk all day long about how people need Jesus, but first, they must see Jesus living in us (Matthew 5:16).
3. NAAMAN JOURNEYS TO ISRAEL
a. On the advice of the little slave-girl, Naaman set off for Israel. He took great gifts of silver, gold, and clothing. He also bore a diplomatic letter from king Ben-hadad telling the Israelite king Jehoram to heal Naaman of his leprosy. The king of Israel didn’t react well to the letter (vv. 4-7).
b. Despite the fact that Jehoram name means, Jehovah is exalted, he was a wicked king (2 Kings 3:1-3). Jehoram looked religious, but it was in name only. He had nothing to offer.
c. There are many religious-looking people who don’t have anything to offer when it comes to salvation and baptism.
i. Some say, pray the sinner’s prayer and you’ll be saved, but this isn’t taught in the New Testament. Rather, believers were told to be baptized (Acts 2:37-38; 8:12-13, 36-38; 10:47-48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5).
ii. Others say, baptism is a human work of salvation and should be rejected, but this too isn’t true. In Colossians 3:12, the apostle Paul expressly says through baptism the believer experiences the “powerful working of God.” Furthermore, the power behind baptism is the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21; Romans 6:1-4).
iii. While others say baptism is only a public demonstration that one is already saved but this too isn’t true. The apostle Peter unambiguously states, “Baptism… now saves you… as an appeal to God for a good conscience…” (1 Peter 3:21).
d. Finally Elisha extends an invitation. Hearing of Jehoram’s distress, the prophet sends for Naaman so “that he may know that there is a prophet [of God] in Israel” (v. 8).
4. ELISHA’S SIMPLE COMMAND, “GO, WASH IN THE JORDAN… AND BE CLEAN.”
a. Naaman arrived at Elisha’s door with all the pomp and prestige of a great man (v. 9).
b. Elisha simply sent his servant out saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean” (v. 10). This was no doubt a test of Naaman’s faith; a test that he will initially fail.
5. NAAMAN’S PRIDE KEEPs HIM FROM OBEYING THE COMMAND
a. With his pride wounded by the prophet Elisha, Naaman “was angry and went away… in a rage” (vv. 11a, 12b). Two points of pride come up:
i. His Pride in Position: Because of his personal greatness, his princely gift, and diplomatic letter, Naaman expected personal attention to his need by Elisha (v. 11).
ii. His Pride in His Nation: The Jordan is a lazy, muddy river. Naaman thought if he needed to wash in a river, the waters of his own country were superior (v. 12).
b. Naaman is the perfect example of the prideful man warned about in Proverbs 16:18, 25. If he stayed on this course it would lead to his downfall and death.
6. NAAMAN’S SERVANTS APPEAL TO THEIR MASTER
a. Naaman’s servants try to reason with their angry master. There are two ways of reading their advice to Naaman.
i. First, from the English Standard Version: “But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (v. 13 ESV). Naaman wanted something grand and great to do, his servants reasoned washing in the Jordan was great not because of the act itself, but the promise it held.
ii. Second, from the Christian Standard Bible: “But his servants approached and said to him, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more should you do it when he only tells you, ‘Wash and be clean’?” (v. 13 CSB). In this reading, Naaman’s servants pointed out that he had been willing to do anything, no matter how hard, to be cured. He should be even more willing, therefore, to do something as easy as washing in a muddy river because of the promise it held.
b. Whichever reading one prefers the point is clear, it’s believing in the promises that empowers the washing. We can easily make parallels to baptism from the servant’s answers.
i. On one hand, baptism is a great act of faith because of the promises attached, “He that believes and is baptized will be saved” (cf. Mark 16:16).
ii. Again using our second reading we might say baptism is no great thing, it’s not the getting wet (or as Peter put it, “not as a removal of dirt from the body” 1 Peter 3:21) but the promises of God attached to baptism, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
7. NAAMAN WAS CLEANSED THROUGH THE WATER
a. Moved by his servant’s appeal, Naaman set aside his pride and went and washed in the Jordan River seven times. The result was just as the prophet had promised, “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child and he was clean” (v. 14).
b. Naaman’s cleansing through the water is a beautiful picture of baptism. We come to the waters sin sick needing to be cleansed. “And now why do you wait?” Paul was asked, “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
c. We too can experience the “washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:4-7) and have our souls made as pure as the soul of a new babe.
d. As Jesus said, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Later He will explain, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit” (v. 5).
e. Naaman had done nothing great to earn his cleaning, and neither can we. God’s saving grace comes when we, like Naaman, submit to His ways through faith (cf. Ephesians 2:1-10).
When Naaman returned to Elisha from washing in the Jordan he declared, “I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel” (v. 15). He had experienced God’s grace and mercy and he returned to praise Him. As baptized believers, we too have a God to praise and a story to tell. Go from here and tell others where they can receive healing for their sin sickness. Tell them there is cleansing through the waters of baptism, powered by God through the resurrection of Jesus.