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Monday, August 17, 2015

Summer Reading Week 8: August 17 - 23: 2 Kings 5 – healing and pride

This weeks reading takes us away from king David into the time of the split kingdoms and to the prophet Elisha.  (note:  Not Elijah).  It is a story of need, of fear, of healing, of pride and greed.  The point seems to be that ours is a good who will not be confined to Israel, but whose influence and mercy will include the whole world.   For those who have enjoyed The Message, here is the link.

2 Kings 5New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Healing of Naaman

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.[a] Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”[b] So Naaman[c] went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”
DIJCK, Abraham van The Prophet Elisha Refuses to Accept Gifts from Naaman
c. 1655
He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”[d] When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?[e] Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy![f] 12 Are not Abana[g] and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.” 16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!” He urged him to accept, but he refused. 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord. 18 But may the Lord pardon your servant on one count: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow down in the house of Rimmon, when I do bow down in the house of Rimmon, may the Lord pardon your servant on this one count.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”

Gehazi’s Greed

But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, thought, “My master has let that Aramean Naaman off too lightly by not accepting from him what he offered. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something out of him.” 21 So Gehazi went after Naaman. When Naaman saw someone running after him, he jumped down from the chariot to meet him and said, “Is everything all right?” 22 He replied, “Yes, but my master has sent me to say, ‘Two members of a company of prophets[h] have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim; please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.’” 23 Naaman said, “Please accept two talents.” He urged him, and tied up two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and gave them to two of his servants, who carried them in front of Gehazi.[i] 24 When he came to the citadel, he took the bags[j] from them, and stored them inside; he dismissed the men, and they left.
25 He went in and stood before his master; and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” He answered, “Your servant has not gone anywhere at all.” 26 But he said to him, “Did I not go with you in spirit when someone left his chariot to meet you? Is this a time to accept money and to accept clothing, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, and male and female slaves? 27 Therefore the leprosy[k] of Naaman shall cling to you, and to your descendants forever.” So he left his presence leprous,[l] as white as snow.

Footnotes:

  1. 2 Kings 5:1 A term for several skin diseases; precise meaning uncertain
  2. 2 Kings 5:3 A term for several skin diseases; precise meaning uncertain
  3. 2 Kings 5:4 Heb he
  4. 2 Kings 5:6 A term for several skin diseases; precise meaning uncertain
  5. 2 Kings 5:7 A term for several skin diseases; precise meaning uncertain
  6. 2 Kings 5:11 A term for several skin diseases; precise meaning uncertain
  7. 2 Kings 5:12 Another reading is Amana
  8. 2 Kings 5:22 Heb sons of the prophets
  9. 2 Kings 5:23 Heb him
  10. 2 Kings 5:24 Heb lacks the bags
  11. 2 Kings 5:27 A term for several skin diseases; precise meaning uncertain
  12. 2 Kings 5:27 A term for several skin diseases; precise meaning uncertain

Some questions to ponder:
1. What do you make of the unnamed servant girl who was captured during a raid in Israel?   She has no name, is of the lowest rank, reduced to the spoils of war; and yet she knows something that Naaman doesn't?   What does this say about God?
2. Naaman is a strong and successful warrior, yet he has no control over the skin affliction that attacks his body; what does this say about human beings?
3. Why do you think Elisha sent a messenger out to Naaman and didn't go out himself?
4.  What is the source of Naaman's anger?  Was it really that Elisha didn't show him due respect or was it that he thought the solution to easy?
5. Did you notice that once again it is seemingly the lowest (his servants) that have true wisdom in encouraging him to listen to the prophet.  What does this say about power and humility?
6.  Why do you think Elisha will accept no payment or gifts of thanks?
7.  Naaman has a real problem as he knows he'll still have to bow to the gods of his king, he asks for forgiveness in advance and it seems that Elijah recognizes the problem and grants him pardon "go in peace."  Does this surprise you?  Is this a breaking of the first commandment--you shall have no other gods or is it like Paul's suggestion that eating meat first given in pagan temples is ok, since those gods don't really exist anyways?
8. What do you think Gehazi's motivation was?   He is also a servant but unlike the servants of Naaman, he seems unwise.  What do you make of that?
9.  What do you think of his punishment?  Fair?  Too extreme?  Not enough?
10.  What is the big truth that you think this story is trying to tell us about God?

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