Summary: Namann’s real problem wasn’t leprosy, was it?
Namaan was a powerful man. He was a leader – the chief commander of the army of Aram – a country that today we know as Syria. He was a military man - someone who was used to giving orders and having them followed – a person who expected things to be done his way and without any questions asked – and he was a man with the ability to enforce what he wanted. A footnote in my NIV Study Bible says that the King of Syria held Namaan in high regard because at some time in the past he had defeated Israel in battle. The narrator of this passage, on the other hand, a Jew who was compiling the stories of Elijah during the time of the Babylonian exile, says that it was the Lord who gave that victory to Namaan. And that’s a significant statement. It means that even during the time of the ancient Jews, believers in God knew that God wasn’t only God of the Jews – he was God over all the earth – and all the nations and all the governments. So in the eyes of the narrator, Namaan, even though he was a Syrian, was somehow playing a part in the larger purposes of God.
But Namaan had a problem. He had leprosy. In the Bible, we know that the term leprosy didn’t only apply to what we call Hansen’s disease today. “Leprosy” stood for any skin disease that caused the sufferer to be declared unclean. So, in the long run, it didn’t matter a bit how smart Namaan was – or how courageous – or how powerful he was in the military – this one sickness, this one ‘condition’ compromised his entire future. Never could he be fully accepted socially or publicly in the courts of his King. No matter how hard he tried, no matter how hard he worked, he would never completely “fit in.” One damnable defect would override all of Namaan’s potential as long as he lived. Over and over he would work and strain to earn his master’s favor, but always, this same problem would catch up with him and he would be shamefully separated from the movers and shakers of Syria.
There are a lot of people like Namaan in the world today. People with all kinds of potential and talent and abilities – but they have some tragic flaw, some deep fault, some problem that gets them into trouble over and over again. It doesn’t have to be leprosy – leprosy is just a symbol. People like Namaan are never able to rise into real leadership positions of their own because a tragic trait or unredeemed flaw in their character keeps pulling them down. For a while folks admire might what they can do – but they will never earn the full respect of their colleagues. How sad and heartbreaking it must be to be a person like Namaan – someone with all kinds of ability, but with no influence except through the exertion of brute force. Or in today’s world we might say – except through hidden weapons of mass destruction.
Enter now into this story the hidden agenda of God. There is no flash of light from heaven, no majestic prophet announcing an answer to Namaan’s needs from on high, no trumpets or angelic visitation – at least not in the way we normally think of God’s word coming to humanity. Instead, we are told that during a border skirmish, one of the Syrian bands captured a young Israeli maiden and brought her to Namaan who made her his wife’s servant. That’s pretty low on the demographic scale isn’t it: an unwed Jewish female forced to be a slave to another female in a pagan household. Pretty powerless, I’d say. The text doesn’t even give us her name. And it’s reasonable, I think, to believe that she would be bitter about her forced slavery. Certainly we wouldn’t expect her to have sympathy for Namaan when she heard about his leprosy. In fact, as a good Jew, she would be horrified and try to avoid even crossing his path. The uncleanness of leprosy was totally unacceptable to the Jews.