The Gospel In Israel’s War Story? (2 Kings 5)

Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg and Lisa Loden

184780079The Story of Naaman is one of the most beloved and memorable stories in all of the Hebrew Bible. Believers easily identify with Naaman – commander of Syrian army who had a major problem in his life. He suffered from a terrible skin disease. The miracle of his healing after following the simple instructions of Elisha reminds New Testament believers of their new birth. After all, they have experienced it by simply trusting God and calling on Jesus for salvation. They are also able to identify with Naaman as a fellow sufferer. To be human is in some way to be a sufferer and no one is immune from problems, suffering and difficulties.  Those who trust God and have known suffering and misery also know what it means for God to break through to their hearts and bless them with his covenantal blessing of healing that is always spiritual and sometimes physical. However, we would argue that such an interpretation of this chapter, while inspiring, completely misses its main point. What do we mean? Please, allow us to explain.

The biblical writers used many literary techniques. For the purposes of this chapter, we must briefly introduce the current term for the technique that was used by the biblical authors.  That term is inclusion. The term is self explanatory.  It has to with defining the borders of the text. For a text to be designated as inclusio it must begin and end with the same verse, be exact or at least contain the same idea. There are thousands of such examples in the Bible. One of the main reasons why inclusio was used by the original writers was so that the reader and hearer would know where the literary unit begins and ends. This helps readers and hearers not to take a story out of its context. But, what does all of this have to do with a proper reading of the story of Naaman’s healing?

The story of Naaman, from the standpoint of the original author, begins in 2 Kings 5:1-2 when a Syrian (Aramean) para-military group kidnaps a young Israeli woman on one of their incursions into the ancient Israelite territory. The young woman loses everything and becomes a slave who is owned by Naaman’s wife. The inclusio ends with the stunning statement, however, that the Syrian para-military groups will no longer make incursions into Israel (2 Kings 6:23). This means that the original author wanted us to see the whole story from the teenager’s kidnapping to the reconciliation of the hostile nations. It is one literary unit. The healing of Naaman is only the first part of the larger story.

This gives us a clue that Naaman is not the main hero of the story. Instead, it is the young Israelite woman whose forgiving action in the beginning of the story results in the avalanche of events leading to national reconciliation by the end of the story.  While Naaman’s healing is an important part the whole story, it must be read with an eye for the bigger picture and as such, for the bigger theological and practical considerations that we as authors are dealing with in this book.

Without further introduction, let us start at the beginning and walk to the end of the story. We will see how this ancient story can speak to us today and influence our actions in our world as it speaks to us with prophetic power.

The first verse of the chapter alerts us to that fact that something very unusual will be told in what follows. We read:

“The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the LORD had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.”

Stop and read that verse again. Does everything make sense? You should notice if you read it carefully that there is something in the text that is meant to immediately alert you to something very important. We read, “The LORD (covenantal God of Israel) had given Aram (Israel’s national enemy) great victories” through Naaman. From the start, we are given a clear pointer to God’s total control and his wise administration of his world shown by the way God perfectly governs it. There are times, however, when His governance makes absolutely no sense to His most intelligent creation.

As Naaman, whose name in Hebrew means “pleasant”, is introduced in the text he is portrayed as a great and honourable man in his country. Yet Naaman suffered from a skin disease called leprosy. The next verse introduces the young Israelite woman who was kidnapped from her home in Israel and sold into slavery in Syria: “At this time Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid.” In the providence of the Most High God, she became ,a servant of Naaman’s wife and exercised true forgiveness towards the Aramean nation. She expressed that forgiveness by a heart-felt concern for the well-being of Naaman, the master of the home. There are interesting parallels here with the story of Joseph who was also sold into slavery and whose increasingly righteous life in Egypt led to salvation from starvation for his own father’s family.

What should be noted here is that the Bible often uses literary devices such as repetition for emphasis, or on the contrary chooses not to mention a person’s name to underscore the insignificance of that person. Yet it is this young helpless female slave in a country that was not her own that begins the story with a twist that later becomes a powerful avalanche with unstoppable power to make peace.

It all began like this: One day the girl said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.” Next, Naaman’s reaction underscores his level of suffering from leprosy: “So Naaman told the king what the young girl from Israel had said.” Just imagine the situation in which the second most powerful man in the country tells the King that a slave girl from Israel had given wise advice. The situation could have taken place only if Naaman was so hopelessly miserable from his skin disease that he could no longer tolerate the status quo.  He was willing to go any length and try any alternative to be free of his affliction.

What we need to keep in mind is that at that time Israel was not a strong military power as it is today. Syria felt confident in her ability to defeat Israel in military conflict. So the King of Syria told Naaman: “Go and visit the prophet … I will send a letter of introduction for you to take to the King of Israel.” The letter simply read: “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.” The King of Israel understood the letter to mean that the Syrian King had decided to provoke another military conflict with Israel by using his commander’s request to go to Israel for medical treatment. Naturally, he reacted as soon as he read the letter: “This man sends me a leper to heal! Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.” Now… it may seem that the King of Israel displayed doctrinal soundness. Perhaps today most believers in the world would have agreed with him. However, when Elisha the prophet heard about the letter, his reaction was different. He rightfully perceived lack of faith and vision on the part of Israel’s king. In the mind of Elisha, the King was missing a wonderful opportunity to preach the gospel to Syria. He sent a message to Israel’s King: “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.”

It is likely that some of you are thinking: Elisha lived before the incarnation of God’s Son, before the horrible events of the cross that resulted miraculously in the salvation of the world. What Gospel could Elisha possibly preach to Naaman? Don’t you have chronology of the biblical events confused? Not really, please, allow us to explain.

The Gospel (good news) is not just a New Testament term. This New Testament term can only be properly understood in the context of its previous uses, especially in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. For example, in Isaiah 40:8-10 we read:

“The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”O Zion, messenger of good news, shout from the mountaintops…Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power. He will rule with a powerful arm. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.”

The meaning of this term (Gospel/Good News) is rooted in the declaration of the presence, power and therefore the worldwide fame of Israel’s God. This is even clearer in Isaiah 52:7-9. There we read:

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns! The watchmen shout and sing with joy, for before their very eyes they see the Lord returning to Jerusalem. Let the ruins of Jerusalem break into joyful song, for the Lord has comforted his people. He has redeemed Jerusalem.The Lord has demonstrated his holy power before the eyes of all the nations. All the ends of the earth will see the victory of our God.”

This means that when we understand the Gospel of Jesus we must understand it in the same context that the New Testament writers themselves would have understood it. We must always be careful not to import or read in our much later understanding into the much older texts. For New Testament authors, Jesus’ rising from the dead on the third day was nothing less than a declaration of the presence, power and fame of Israel’s God. Now this Good News was destined to be proclaimed not passively as before, but actively to the entire world! So in a very real sense the Gospel of the Lord Jesus is the Good News that Israel’s God is alive and well. He continues to reign over all the earth, not just the Land of Israel, from His Heavenly throne. In the end of all things, He will come to judge the living and the dead. This is precisely why Elisha said to Israel’s King who was not overcome with the vision of proclamation of the presence, power and fame of Israel’s God: “Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.”

In the beginning of the story, Naaman is depicted as a powerful and proud man, but as the rest of the story unfolds, it traces God’s humbling of human pride and showing his own power instead. Here once again it is the nameless, the small, the insignificant people that are used by God, while those with power, money and authority are unable to live wisely. They don’t see the things that are obvious to the poor in spirit and flesh.

Here’s how Naaman prepared for the meeting with Elisha: “So Naaman started out, carrying as gifts 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothing… Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house He came to do honest business with the God of Israel and he reasoned as worshiper of Syria’s god would: Generous gifts of the worshiper (Naaman) buy blessings of forgiveness, cleansing and prosperity, including physical healing. He took an amount of silver, gold and extremely expensive clothing that a priest of Israel’s God would find to be fair price or even a generous reward for services rendered. In this way Naaman approached the God of Israel as a moral man who, proud of his morality, approaches God today. He knows his need for God, but wants to save his pride once this need is met by divinity. He wants to pay the price or give a very generous gift. However, he is not looking to enter into a life-long relationship of dependency and servitude to that divinity whose temporary help he is now seeking.

In the Bible, horses and chariots are usually symbols of power and authority. This is how Naaman comes to Elisha – a posture that will sharply change to one of walking and a desire to humbly serve instead of flaunting his powerful position. When he comes to Elisha he cannot yet acknowledge with the psalmist that “Some nations boast of their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7)

Elisha no doubt heard the noise of chariots from afar. He would have had time to think how he would greet the distinguished guest. When Naaman arrived, Elisha “sent a messenger out to him with this message: ‘Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.’” Naturally, this angered Naaman. You see, there were two major problems. One was the humiliation of the important Syrian General by an “Israeli shaman.” Naaman needed to swallow his pride and overlook the insult of not being personally greeted by Elisha. The major problem had to do with a change of worldview that needed to take place in Naaman’s thinking. That change was actually far more problematic than it seems to us today or than it seemed to the servants who accompanied Naaman on this trip to Samaria.

In ancient times, people believed that there were many gods in the world and some were more powerful than others. The belief that each country/state had at least one god of their own who was faithful to them as long as the people of the country did their part of the bargain in worshiping that particularly deity was almost universal. So, Israel had YHWH as their god, while Syria by all accounts worshiped another deity known in the Middle East as Rommon-Haddad.

People living in an agricultural society understood that the two most important things for the prosperity of their country were the quality of the ground and an amount of the water sufficient to ensure that the land actually produced abundant harvest. In the ancient mind, there was an unbreakable connection between the particular god, the particular land, and particular people. We will call this the “holy triangle.” People carried out service to the god of their land, and in return, he, sometimes she, blessed them through the most important channels of blessings he had – rivers. In this way, rivers were not simply ancient conduits through which water came to people, but indeed, in the mind of the ancients, they were nothing less than special channels of covenantal blessings from the particular god to the particular people to make the particular land given to this people prosper.

Have you ever wondered why throughout most of their history the Egyptians did not engage in colonization? The reason is that the Egyptians understood and believed in this holy triangle of God, People and Land. They believed that the Land of Egypt was the Holy Land and that Egyptian gods were blessing this wonderful land through the powerful channel of heavenly blessing called the Nile River. They believed strongly in eternal life, but they believed that that eternal life was intricately connected with the Land of Egypt. Egyptians did not colonize because they could not get Egyptian soldiers to be stationed outside of Egypt for any significant period. No Egyptian wanted to die outside of the Holy Land (Egypt) where he would be forever lost to the life of eternity and blessing. Can you imagine how ridiculous it must have seemed to the Pharaoh that the God of the slaves had called them leave Egypt and go to the Promised Land? Letting-my-people-go required a paradigm shift in the mind of the Egyptian leadership. The change was only achieved by the miracles of monumental proportions that we read in the Exodus story.

Our story, however, is about Naaman. Contrary to our normal understanding of Naaman’s reaction, he understood that he was being asked to do something enormously difficult. Indeed, he was asked to do nothing less than to betray the faith of his fathers. He was being asked to be willing to acknowledge that there was a possibility that Israel’s God could do something the Syrian god was unable to do. Just as Abraham was asked to kill his only son, through whom Abraham’s God promised make a great nation and bless all the nations of the world); Naaman was asked to do something senseless  and to his patriotic mind amounted to national, and  religious treason. Naaman’s rage now seems far more understandable:

“‘I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!’ he said.  ‘I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the LORD his God and heal me! Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?’ So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.”

He was willing to receive something from the magical power of Israel’s holy men, but at the same time he was totally unwilling to abandon his great faith in Rommon-Haddad.  He no doubt thought that it was this deity who gave him victories and not the covenantal God of Israel. This is the reason he brought bribes. He wanted to enter into a temporary arrangement with the religion of Israel. He wanted to get the product, get the bill, pay it, and move on in life. The problem was that Israel’s God is not a pagan deity. Naaman was unprepared for this reality. Israel’s God does not cut deals and he does not play games, but He absolutely loves to show mercy to people regardless of their ethnic or even religious identity. Naaman learned this once he finally listened to the advice of the nameless, theologically unsophisticated slaves who came with him on this trip to Elisha.

“But his servants tried to reason with him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!'” So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child’s, and he was healed!”

Once Naaman experienced the overwhelming power, presence, and mercy of Israel’s God his whole attitude changed. The storyteller makes sure that we notice this. He purposely uses the kind of vocabulary that shows Naaman’s whole-hearted transformation:

“Then Naaman and his entire party went back to find the man of God. They stood before him, and Naaman said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.’”

Three things must be noted in this text. First, the posture of Naaman has changed dramatically. Naaman, instead of riding his chariot, walked and stood before the prophet Elisha. Second, Naaman has changed most important part of his worldview. He now acknowledged the true identity of the God who had been blessing him all his life and watching his back in battle. He now openly declared that the covenantal God of Israel is the only God there is in the entire world! This is a radical statement for a man of his time, living in a polytheistic society.  Third, Naaman’s attitude of trading value for value became an attitude of radical service to the One whom he now understood to be his true benefactor. He humbly said to Elisha: “So please accept a gift from your servant.”

Elisha’s response testifies that the same God who inspired Paul and his writings regarding the undeserved nature of God’s ultimate blessings of salvation also inspired the author of the 2 Kings. Long before the times of the reformation, when many believers rediscovered the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, Elisha tells Naaman that he will not accept his gifts. Even when Naaman urged him, Elisha did not do so. Why? Elisha was a true Israelite who saw every situation in life as an opportunity for spreading the fame of Israel’s God and the discipling of anyone who wanted to learn. He knew that nothing would cement Naaman’s new theological direction more than emphasizing that what he received from Israel’s God was indeed free of charge.

You may recall that in the parable of the Prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32),one of the two children demanded his inheritance long  before the father’s passing. This son  then leaves his home country and wastes his life and his inheritance while he is  far away from his home. We have come to call this parable the parable of the prodigal son. In reality, this is a parable about two prodigal sons, not just one. One left the house, the other did not. In the end, perhaps, ironically, the son who wandered off showed that he knew his father better than the son who never physically left the house. It is the second son, who is the prodigal son par excellence. The first son did not know the father at all.

Later in the story, Elisha’s infamous servant Gehazi acted like the second prodigal son in the  parable in Luke. He followed Naaman and lied to him saying that Elisha was now asking  Naaman for money to provide hospitality to two prophets who have supposedly just come  from the territory of another tribe:

“but my master has sent me to tell you that two young prophets from the hill country of Ephraim have just arrived. He would like 75 pounds of silver and two sets of clothing to give to them.” “By all means, take twice as much* silver,” Naaman insisted.”

The storyteller explains that Elisha took this so seriously that when Gehazi returned, he cursed him with the same curse that plagued Naaman. The curse was enlarged to include Gehazi’s decedents. This reflects an important biblical principle: the more knowledge you have, the more responsible you are:

“But Elisha asked him, ‘Don’t you realize that I was there in spirit when Naaman stepped down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to receive money and clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and cattle, and male and female servants? Because you have done this, you and your descendants will suffer from Naaman’s leprosy forever.’ When Gehazi left the room, he was covered with leprosy; his skin was white as snow.”

Gehazi became leprous even though he was in close proximity to God and his word. His actions clearly proved that he really did not belong to the covenant-keeping part of Israel. Paul will much later explain to us that not all Israel is Israel (Rom.9:6). Gehazi certainly fit this category of people who endured the God of Israel’s curse by their actions that hinder the spread of YHWH’s fame among the nations. See the chapter on Covenants later in this book). It is important to see that Israel’s God was not only merciful but also just and that covenant responsibility is indeed something of a very real danger zone.

We now return to the story of Naaman. Once he was cleansed and after he declared his unwavering allegiance to Israel’s God as the only deity governing the entire known world. After Elisha refused to accept Naaman’s gifts, we read something that seems strange or at least seems to argue that Naaman had not been truly converted:

“Then Naaman said, ‘All right, but please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me. From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the LORD. However, may the LORD pardon me in this one thing: When my master the king goes into the temple of the god Rimmon to worship there and leans on my arm, may the LORD pardon me when I bow, too.’”Go in peace,’ Elisha said. So Naaman started home again.”

When compared with the conversion of Ruth, Naaman stands in stark contrast. In a very real way, he prefigures the New Covenant engrafting of the Gentiles into the Tree of Israel’s faith (Rom.11). Ruth’s conversion ends with the words “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” (Ruth 1:16) If we can borrow  Ruth’s phraseology, it may be possible to summarize Naaman’s thinking as following: Your God will be my God, but my people (Syrians) will still be my people.[1]

If you are primarily reading the New Testament collection, this story seems to fit right in, but for the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament this story is nothing less than revolutionary. Elisha announced that in response to Naaman’s plan to go back to his pagan people and remain in the same position in service to the King of Aram, the God of Israel would  place upon this new convert the greatest blessing possible.  When we see that Elisha blessed Naaman with the greatest blessing – Peace (Numbers 6:24-26), we are assured that Naaman was not doing something unfaithful here. Remember that Naaman’s name means faithful in Hebrew.

If you are puzzled, you are where you should be. The English version of the Bible does not call our attention to how Naaman changed the formal name of his Syrian god Rommon-Haddad to a Hebrew word that means Pomegranate (Rimmon). In other words, it is likely, that Naaman was not saying to Elisha: “Please, bless me while I compromise my new found faith and bow to my old pagan culture.” Instead, Naaman was saying something entirely different: “Please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me. From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the LORD.”

This recalls the discussion about the holy triangle of God, People and Land and how it functioned in the mind of the ancients. An additional lesson in Jewish history will help us to understand that story better. When in dispersion from their homeland, Jewish people were known not to engage in agricultural work. Jews would work in trade, education, medicine, but the overwhelming majority would not work in the fields or farms. Jackie Mason once said: “A Jew can buy a farm, sell a farm, but not work on the farm!” Throughout history, this fact was interpreted in a mostly anti-Semitic way: Jews don’t like to work hard, they make Gentiles do the hard work. However, if this is the case, why in the modern state of Israel are there so many Jewish farmers? Jews work the ground without any qualms. The issue is not about work, whether hard or easy.

The real answer has to do with whose land the Jews were allowed to work. Many Jewish sages operated from the same ancient worldview paradigm as Naaman’s, the Egyptians and all of the peoples of the Ancient Near East. The Jews were discouraged from working any ground except for the land that was given to them by their God. Working foreign land was spiritually “dangerous”, since the process would no doubt foster a metaphysical connection with a religious identity that was not their own. Now, after the significant influence of religious logic had passed, Jewish people, without knowing the original reasons, simply continued in the traditional ways of choosing professions that stayed away from agriculture. Obviously there were always exceptions to the rule and there is always a danger of a Jewish farmer reading this book somewhere on the planet Earth.

Since you may be wondering why Naaman would need the earth from Israel, then you are on the right track. The same holy triangle of the rabbis was also believed by Naaman. He believed that the God of Israel had given Israel a special land in which the People of Israel would be blessed upon the condition of covenant-keeping life. Therefore, what Naaman asked for was completely consistent with his worldview. He asked for as much dirt as his mules could carry. It’s likely that he regretted not bringing more mules instead of all the silver and gold. He now wished he could take more of Israel’s earth to Aram. Now he was committed to spread Yahweh’s fame and to establish the metaphysical connection between the God of Israel and his own beloved country.

In the New Covenant, Gentiles are not called to become cultural Jews, though some may choose to do so anyway. Gentiles are fully loved and treasured by Israel’s God. Paul writes that this mystery, in which Gentiles would be equal co-heirs without formal conversion to Judaism, was wholly unknown to the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. He states:

“When I think of all this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the benefit of you Gentiles, assuming, by the way, that you know God gave me the special responsibility of extending his grace to you Gentiles.As I briefly wrote earlier, God himself revealed his mysterious plan to me. As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ. God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets. And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.”

The prophets anticipated Gentiles coming to the God of Israel and worshiping Him. However, their equal standing in the Kingdom of God was revealed only through Paul’s and other writings in the New Covenant collection. This upgraded and expanded relationship between the God of Israel and all the nations of the world was not at all clear from a reading of the Hebrew Bible. There was no problem in bringing Gentiles to faith in Israel’s Messiah within the context of the “traditional” Judaism of the times. The difficulty was that Paul did not believe that Gentiles needed to actually become Jews as would have been required by the former covenants. This message was the reason that Paul was persecuted.  In Galatians 5:11 he stated the reason for his troubles:

“Dear brothers and sisters, if I were still preaching that you must be circumcised – as some say I do – why am I still being persecuted? If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross of Christ, no one would be offended.”

But let us get back to Naaman’s story. Earlier, we stated that one of the literary techniques used by ancient authors used was the technique known as inclusio. This device helps us to know when the biblical story begins and ends. In the case of the story of Naaman, the story begins in 2 Kings 5:1-2 continues all through 2 Kings 6:23.

What we read later only confirms that the fears of Israel’s king regarding the intentions of the King of Aram were well founded. Remember the king’s reaction when he received a letter with the request for Naaman’s healing? We read that:

“When the king of Aram was at war with Israel, he would confer with his officers and say, ‘We will mobilize our forces at such and such a place.’ But immediately Elisha, the man of God, would warn the king of Israel, ‘Do not go near that place, for the Arameans are planning to mobilize their troops there.’ Therefore, the king of Israel would send word to the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he would be on the alert there.”

Someone was warning the king of Israel about every move of the king of Aram. Obviously, after a while, the king of Aram began suspecting someone on his senior military team was a spy and given Naaman’s sudden spiritual change after his trip to Israel, the possible candidate for that role was Naaman.

The king of Aram became very upset over this. He called his officers together and demanded, ‘Which of you is the traitor? Who has been informing the King of Israel of my plans?’ ‘It’s not us, my lord the King,’ one of the officers replied. ‘Elisha, the prophet in Israel, tells the King of Israel even the words you speak in the privacy of your bedroom!’”

The king of Aram then gave orders to have Elisha killed. Once the report was given to the king of Aram that the prophet was in Dothan that was north of Samaria the king took no chance that his plans would be foiled. Instead of sending a few assassins, he sent what appeared to be the larger portion of his army. He realized that Israel had been victorious only because of Elisha’s ability to guide Israel’s military strategists in their evasive movements. We read, “One night the king of Aram sent a great army with many chariots and horses to surround the city.” When Elisha’s servant got up one morning (we don’t know if it was Gehazi or a differ man now at the service of Elisha) and stepped outside of the house he was dumfounded. There were troops, horses and chariots everywhere surrounding their town. When the servant called out to Elisha in fear, Elisha prayed to YHWH.  His prayer was not for victory or for salvation. His prayer was for the servant to be able to see what his master saw. Heavenly troops were encamped in far greater number and strength all around the area of Dothan where the men were situated. What followed quickly accelerated the story’s development towards the end:

“As the Aramean army advanced toward him, Elisha prayed, ‘O Lord, please make them blind.’ So the Lord struck them with blindness as Elisha had asked. Then Elisha went out and told them, ‘You have come the wrong way! This isn’t the right city! Follow me, and I will take you to the man you are looking for.’ And he led them to the city of Samaria. As soon as they had entered Samaria, Elisha prayed, ‘O Lord, now open their eyes and let them see.’ So the Lord opened their eyes, and they discovered that they were in the middle of Samaria.”

The more important and less dramatic part of the story does deal with the mechanics of how exactly the Arameans were trapped and moved from Dothan to neighbouring Samaria. The king of Israel could not believe his sudden reversal of situation. He shouted to Elisha:

“‘My father, should I kill them? Should I kill them?’ ‘Of course not!’ Elisha replied. ‘Do we kill prisoners of war? Give them food and drink and send them home again to their master.’ So the king made a great feast for them and then sent them home to their master.”

If you think about this, it is a rather stunning military strategy: Honour the conquered enemies and send them home fed and refreshed without fearing that you will be perceived as weak, thus inviting future military confrontations. This kind of strategy is stunningly similar to what Jesus would say centuries later in the famous talk he gave when, like Moses, he climbed a mountain to say something really important in Mathew 5:3-7: “God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Both Jesus and Hillel are reported to have said that we are to treat people as we ourselves wish to be treated.

In today’s Palestinian-Israeli conflict both sides of the argument say the same about their opponents: “The other side understands only the language of strength. Palestinians say that only when they engage in military pressure or terrorism do they get any results. The Israeli side generally argues the same way concerning military rule or occupation. In other words, we have a problem of logic here. If both sides are right, and the other side understands only the language of strength, then why does speaking the same language not make any difference?

We are not saying that this story alone if followed will resolve the current Middle Eastern crisis. Current authors are not that naive. However, ignoring its message all together is immoral. In the end, ignoring it will continue to produce same results of war, bloodshed, occupation, terrorism, starvation, fear, humiliation, and a peace-process that ends with the next armed conflict. The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament has much wisdom to offer Jews and Arabs on both sides of the conflict. Indeed, it would be both foolish and immoral to not draw on the rich resource of Biblical wisdom of peace making.

As the king of Israel followed the instructions of Elisha, God’s blessing of peace came to him and his people for many successive years. The prophet’s role was always to call Israel to covenant keeping. This meant that almost everything said by the prophet came from the Israelite Torah (Five Books of Moses). In other words, when Elisha asked the king a rhetorical question: “Do we kill the prisoners of war?” He was calling him to the just ideals of Israel’s Law. Elisha was saying that God of Israel already provided the standards of justice. They are all spelled out in the Torah. As a result, we see the story that began with the kidnapping of young Israeli woman by Syrian paramilitary groups, continued with her subsequent forgiveness of the offending party, and ends with a stunning statement: “After that, the Aramean raiders stayed away from the land of Israel.”

To receive more information about learning Biblical Languages with Hebrew University of Jerusalem/eTeacher Biblical program online at affordable cost, please, click here.

© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

To sign up for weekly posts by Dr. Eli, please, click here. It is recommend by Dr. Eli that you read everything from the begining in his study of John. You can do so by clicking here “Samaritan-Jewish Commentary”.




[1] The council of Jerusalem described in Acts 15 was made up of overwhelmingly if not exclusively Jewish followers in Jesus and dealt with a very important issue for that time. The issue was: What to do with the gentiles? No one had expected such an enormous success of the Jewish Gospel among gentiles at this time. The questions were raised: Should we require gentile Christians to observe kashrut as we do, circumcise male boys as we do, and keep other signs of Jewish identity as we do? After a long and spirited (these were Jewish people after all!) discussion the consensus finally emerged .  Peter told them that he even saw gentiles show signs (Acts 10) that they were indeed filled the same Spirit as the Jewish followers of Jesus were (Acts 2). The council’s decision was to write a pastoral letter that would express that, as in other branches of ancient Judaism,  gentiles who follow Jewish law were free from all the Israel land-related requirements of Torah, so were those gentiles who follow the Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. What they were required to observe was obedience to the ten commandments and refraining  from some eating meat not drained of its blood).

About the author

Dr. Eli Lizorkin-EyzenbergTo secure your spot in our new course “The Jewish Background of New Testament” - CLICK HERE NOW

You might also be interested in:

Purim: The Masquerade And Beyond

By Julia Blum

Three Plus Four: Rachel

By Julia Blum

Join the conversation (38 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Stephen

    “The English version of the Bible does not call our attention to how Naaman changed the formal name of his Syrian god Rommon-Haddad to a Hebrew word that means Pomegranate (Rimmon).”

    Are we to take it that the term ‘pomegranate’ was one of contempt?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Stephen, the Haddad was the normal name of the God, but he was some also called by his joined name Haddad-Rammon/Rimmon. Naaman calls him RIMON – only.

  2. Edward Eleazar

    Waaawooo! I had never understood the context under which Naaman received his healing and this explanation makes the gospel living!
    Elisha’s actions and words are really coherent with his words and that lead to Salvation of Namaan. And later peace in the land of Israel after their treated war captives well and sent them back verses enslavement. Hamaan changed his world view and acknowledged that there was no god like the God Of Israel. Coherance of Elisha’s actions and his words played a major role in this.
    A big challenge to the prosperity preachers of our day who would have been very glad to receive the gifts from the Namaan so that he receives a prophets blessings. Even at the expense of compromising their ability to understand the Gospel in totality.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you for your comment, Edward!

  3. Harriett

    A parallel passage in meaning is Matthew 20:1-16. Here Jesus talks about hiring laborers to work in the vineyard. The usual assumption of the ones hired last receiving the same wage as the ones hired first is that He is referring to the Gentiles. However, if you take it and see that He is referring to Israel it brings a whole new meaning. Verse 16 states, “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” The last to come will be the nation of Israel when they finally see Messiah. Everything has always centered on the Covenant people. If you go to Revelation chapter 4, John is taken up to heaven. He sees Someone sitting on a throne, yet the primary impression is that of Color. and the One on the throne is like “a Jasper and Sardine stone” with an emerald rainbow round about.

    In the O.T. these stones had a relationship to the Tribes of Israel. The high Priest wore these stones on his breastplate engraved with each of the names of the 12 tribes. Each tribe had a representative stone. They were always worn before the alter to bear them before God. The Sardine represented Ruben, the first born and the Jasper represented Benjamin the last born. Therefore these 2 may be regarded as including all other stones, or the whole of the covenanted people. The One John sees on the throne therefore is GOD IN RELATION TO ISRAEL. The rainbow was the appointed token of God’s covenant with ALL flesh and His people in particular.

    The Jews were blinded by God to allow the promise to Abraham to stand that He would bless all the nations of the world through his offspring. Even though all the Apostles and the early church were Jewish, it was quickly, within a few centuries, overtaken by Gentiles. But Israel as a Nation will once again come and see Messiah and all Israel will be saved. At that point the Jews will rule from Israel with the Messiah and they will be first in the Millennium. This is what many Gentiles hate and therefore they twist the Scriptures. These are just some of the reasons I believe that Israel is the younger son in the story of the prodigal and in Matthew.

    Thanks for not thinking I’m crazy. Harriett

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      The reason a great song that ends with the words “God is good. Beer is great. And People are crazy”. I think there is a lot of truth in this statement. 🙂 Personally I don’t like beer, I only go for red wine in moderation :-). Now… to the serious portion of my feedback. You know all these things that Paul wrote about “salvation has come to the gentiles” (hardened/softened Rom.11) strangely enough he wrote in the mid first century!!!!! WAY before historically we could make that statement.

      1. Harriett

        So you do think I’m crazy, from you that is a complement. I can also be dense as I don’t quite understand your reference to Paul. Please clarify. Harriett

  4. Harriett

    Shalom Dr. Eli, I just ran across this wonderful article this morning. Thank you for the excellent commentary. I was intrigued by the prodigal son analysis. Your assertion about the elder being the most prodigal is what struck me because I have viewed this section of Scripture in a way that is different from the normal interpretation. Please feel free to criticize my interpretation, but it was a passing comment that you made in response to another comment that made me decide to write. It was your response to PeterC1 referring to a Talmudic quote ” There is a place (I don’t have the reference at moment) where Talmudic sages treat Christians as older brothers, themself as younger ones. ” This bring me back to the prodigal son.

    I have always seen that parable as the younger son being the Jews and the older one being the Gentiles. Since Gentiles became dominant within Christianity there has always been a layer of resentment against the inclusion of the Jewish people UNLESS THEY BECAME GENTILE IN THEIR EXPRESSION OF WORSHIP. Hence came the concept of replacement theology. Paul issued a strong warning in Romans 11, “18 do not be arrogant toward the branches ; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited , but fear ; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God ; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness ; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree ? 25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery -so that you will not be wise in your own estimation -that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved ; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.” 27 “THIS IS iMY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.” The younger brother left, but understood the Father’s love because of His covenant. The elder sons, the Gentiles served. However when the youngest returns He is served the fatted calf and the elder resents the acceptance of the younger on the same footing. The Gentiles have become “conceited” and have forgotten that they don’t support the roots. They resent the idea that the Jewish people are still the chosen ones of God, everlasting and without repentance.

    It’s hard to express what I am trying to say and still be concise. Please feel free to disagree with me, everyone else does 🙂 Harriett

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      You did well (being fairly concise) :-). Some of my close friends read it the same way you did, I always thought that it was importing into the original story a later concern and a later theological thought. However, it has been a while since I looked at it in its own context within Luke. I am not able at the moment to concentrate on it, but I think it is worth it for me a second look (so to speak). I am just not sure when I can get to this. Than you for bringing it to my attention, however.
      Dr. Eli

  5. Steve Barnes

    Thanks for your reply. I meant to include the concept that the more one knew the more one was held accountable so Jews would naturally be held to a higher standard. (See Lev. 4) Jews were raised up observing the Law and Gentiles were not so it would not be just to require Gentiles to instantly learn and follow all the Laws to be included as a follower of Jesus and thus ‘Saved”. History shows that there were many Synagogues where God fearers worshipped with Torah observant Jews. In fact Paul almost always started his preaching of the Gospel of Jesus at the established Synagogues. It makes sense too since it would be the logical place to begin spreading the good news of the Kingdom.

    Now I know of no other place where the actual Word of God would have been taught do you? Paul points out that Jews and Gentiles are considered One Body and you cannot have two different sets of rules and have unity. Now you can have different levels of responsibility. I served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam war so I know a little about authority as did the Centurion that sought Yeshua out for the sake of his servant. Now the reason I use the military example is because it mirrors Lev. 4 (amongst many other passages) where we are told that one can commit sin or transgressions (1st John 3:4) and be guilty but not held accountable for said sin until one is able to understand that what they have done is a sin. Only then once one knows better is one required to make atonement.

    In the military an officer is held to a much higher standard than a non commissioned officer such as I was (E-4) and I was held to a higher standard than a new recruit (E-1 = Gentile believers). To be sure from the least to the highest we were all held responsible for the uniform code of military justice but those in higher ranking positions were given less room for mistakes. We do the same in our families and especially with our children. A baby is part of the family as much as a teenager but the teen is expected to follow the rules since they are mature enough to understand whereas the baby must be taught (Acts 15:21). Acts 15 does not excuse a Gentile believer from any of the Commandments it only sets the bar concerning pagan and abominable practices that could not be tolerated. The other Commandments such as no adultery, theft, murder etc. were certainly not excused. Acts 15:21 clearly shows that the Jerusalem council with the approval of the Holy Spirit expected the new Gentile recruits to go the Synagogue on the Sabbath day and learn the Torah along with everyone else. Were the Gentiles expected to be as Torah observant as the Jews that were raised up in Torah? No of course not since they were as new born babes in the family of God.

    The real stumbling block for the Gentiles was the unrealistic expectations that the males had to be circumcised and all had to learn and observe all the Torah to be Saved. Nothing could be further from the truth! Salvation has always been by faith. Works are the natural fruit that occurs when a man/woman walks with God and learns from His instructions. One who loves God will want to please Him by following His teachings, Laws and Commandments. We do the same in a normal human family. Children often seek their parents approval by acting in a way that pleases them and gets in return praise as a reward.

    Anyway I hope my thoughts here make sense to you. I really like your style of writing and your insights. I will seek to read more of your thoughts and those of others you recommend in the near future.

    Thank you and Shalom in the Name of Yeshua to you and Yours,


    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Steve, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Steve Barnes

    Excellent insights thanks for sharing. I am definitely a fan and will invite others to read your articles. I am a bit puzzled by the txt of your footnote. I know of many that argue both sides of the Acts 15 statements made by James and the Jerusalem council. On the one side most including the Church as well as many Messianic/ Hebrew roots folks would agree with the conclusions made in the footnote concerning Gentiles and the degree of observance required. I personally think that Acts 15 is stating that the minimum standard of having a true lasting covenantal relationship with the God of Israel begins with faith in the Son of God Yeshua the Messiah and having said faith one demonstrates one’s true faith by following the Words and emulating the deeds of our one and only Lord and master Yeshua the promised Son of God. On the other hand I do believe Acts 15:21 is often overlooked and its significance missed by many. I see Acts 15:21 showing that the Gentiles once they have come to faith in the God of Israel through the hearing of the Gospel of Jesus (The Kingdom is Now) are to wash and then they would or should be acceptable and allowed to set in the Synagogues on the Sabbath day and learn Moses (Torah) as all others including Jews do. We cannot forget Paul’s opening statements to the Church at Corinth. Especially verse 10 where unity of faith is called for. In a way the Kingdom of God is much like a conventional army. Jews because salvation is of the Jews enter into service as officers and are promoted in responsibility and placed in charge of Gentiles ( I know this won’t set well with many) And Gentiles all begin as privates and are promoted as they learn. Now in my opinion this model had been kept in it’s original order we would probably not have all the division and confusion we have today. Anyway I see that everyone can become part of the one true covenant of Abraham by faith with works following once the Word and the Spirit of God become active in the believers life and under the authority and tutelage of the Jewish Torah teachers. Anyway I enjoyed your article and found it very insightful thanks for your service to God and His chosen people the commonwealth of Israel.



    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Steve, thanks for your note. I need to think about your army analogy more (at the movement you did not convince me). My personal opinion is that when the Jewish apostles made their proclamation (Acts 15) it was meant for gentiles to be practiced basically on the level of God-hearers. Joining the synagogue (if there was really such a thing as joining back then), yes (or at least perhaps), behaving like Jews in all other ways?! I must clearly say that the Spirit through the Apostles said – no. (well at least it was not required.) If you are not familiar with this guys make sure to read them Mark Nanos and Anders Runesson

      I have some of their works here –

      Let’s keep thinking together, OK?
      Dr. Eli

  7. Dennis P. Petri

    A truly extraordinary commentary!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, Dennis. Eli

  8. Rosy

    Dr. Eli- Peace be to you and your support team.
    I find the account of Naaman’s healing interesting. I fail to understand why Gehazi lied knowing the power of GOD through Elisha.
    It makes me think of how, as human, we are tempted to take privileges for granted. To meet Naaman was quite an assignment for Gehazi. Healing was the issue not gifts. All praise and glory must be given to the One True GOD.

    My prayer is that knowledge, understanding and wisdom will be received as we examine the scriptures. No one can change the truth.

  9. Lois Eaton

    I was concerned about the response ‘There is a prophet in Israel” instead of ‘There is a true God in Israel’
    Could it be a cultural difference – I did not grow up assuming every country had its own gods – whereas people then did. The God/god was assumed, but a true, loyal prophet was not?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Yes, indeed we are conditioned to read ancient texts through our modern eyes. That is natural. I think. There is a prophet simply means that the divinity is indeed real divinity and as such this God is not silent (sending his representative – a prophet).

  10. Ivan Nagy

    Thank you for this very good commentary to this portion of the OT. I enjoyed it very much.
    My question is actually only to one point in the footnotes: The gentile believer were required to observe was obedience to the ten commandments…..etc.
    Is the Law of Moses not a single unit of 613 Commandments? Should the Gentiles really keep the ten commandments? James 2:10: says, I became guilty of breaking all the Commandments, if I stumble in one point. Am I not under the Law of the Messiah? (Gal. 6:2)
    and finally, where is this point in Acts 15 or anywhere in the NT?
    Thank you and blessings

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Ivan, shalom! Thank you for your feedback and comment. Actually, gentile believers who did not make full conversion to Judaism in both early Jewish Christianity (Acts 15) and in latter Rabbinic Judaism were not bound by the 613 mitzvot. If one looks at the Noahite laws in Judaism for righteous gentiles and what NT Jewish apostles had degrees for Gentile Christians to keep, one finds significant resemblance. So, to answer your question to the Law of Moses IS and IS NOT a single unit. Let’s keep thinking together. (You can read a paper by someone I do not agree with on many points, but I still think there is a lot to learn from Stuart Dauermann

      1. Ivan Nagy

        Hi, Dr. Eli,
        thank you for your answer. I read the article from S.D. and I found it very interesting. I am in your opinion: “I do not agree with on many points, but I still think there is a lot to learn “. Of course, I believe the points where we agree or not, are different. But I certainly agree with him that there is a great need in the (mostly “Gentile” Church) to understand much better the Jewish roots and Jewish covenants Jewish evangelism, and the the “find Heaven avoid Hell” based Gospel isn’t the best news. All other parts (like the katargeo question) are longstanding debates (not only) in the Jewish Messianic Camp. I choose rather to enjoy your fascinating teachings and not open this debate here 🙂

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Ivan, I thank you for your 1) graciousness and 2) your wisdom.