“Once upon a time . . . “
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .”
“Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy . . .”
Every story has to start somewhere. Our story begins in Syria, located north of Israel. Immediately, we are introduced to the main character of our story. His name is Naaman. Also, within the first verse, we find out a lot of information about who Naaman is.
“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor . . .” (2 Kings 5:1, ESV)
Naaman, the Hero
First, Naaman held a very high position in the nation of Syria. The Scriptures inform us that Naaman was the “commander of the army of the King of Syria.” We could think of Naaman being the general of the entire Syrian Army. This prestige position of power meant he was second in command to the King. Naaman was a man of high authority and power.
Secondly, Naaman was incredibly popular. The Scriptures continue with Naaman’s biography by stating that he “was a great man with his master and in high favor.” The King of Syria adored Naaman. Also, people throughout the kingdom of Syria loved him and admired him.
Third, Naaman experienced great victories. The Bible declares to us that “because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria.” Naaman was not only a great military leader but also a national hero in Syria.
Fourth, Naaman had the blessing of God upon his life. Naaman’s great military victories were not merely the result of his superior battle strategies or his ability to inspire and lead troops into battle or even his expert swordsmanship. Although he might have possessed all these abilities and more, the reason that his Syrian army succeeded in defeating their enemies was due to God. God was with Naaman, and through this commander, the Lord gave military victories to Syria.
Fifth, the author tells us that Naaman “was a mighty man of valor.” That is, Naaman was a great warrior. The Hebrew word for valor communicates bravery, strength, unique ability, and strong character. Naaman was an elite fighting soldier. I imagine that all the little boys of Syria wanted for their birthday was GI Naaman action figures – not Captain America but Captain Naaman! All the little girls probably had a crush on Naaman. Young men aspired to be like Naaman.
“But . . .”
From this one verse, we learn that Naaman had everything going for him: position, power, popularity, and favor. He was a man of character and a mighty warrior. However, one word interrupts all the accolades of Naaman. One word jumps out to us as new read this first verse in the story of Naaman: “But . . .”
“. . . but he was a leper.” (2 Kings 5:1)
Naaman, the Leper
But Naaman had a problem. Verse 1 ends by stating “. . . but he was a leper.” The Hebrew word translated leper indicates that the person suffers from some disfigurement of the skin. During biblical times, leprosy was a horrible bacterial disease that attacked the nerves in the hands, feet, and face. When a person becomes infected with the disease, patches of their skin start to change to a white or pinkish color. Leprosy can cause disfiguration, the loss of feeling in arms and legs, and eventually, fingers and toes begin to fall off.
According to the Old Testament Law, the treatment of leprosy for an Israelite was complete isolation. The infected person had to live outside the camp, wear torn clothes, cover himself up to his lips, and cry out, “Unclean, unclean!” (Numbers 13:45-46). Leprosy was one of the most dreaded diseases of ancient times.
Naaman was a leper. People who are great generals, who have action figures made of them, and who are elite warriors don’t get leprosy – or at least that is what life attempts to tell us.
Tragedy Strikes Us All
The first thing that the story of Naaman reveals to us is the reminder that hardships and challenges strike everyone eventually. Jesus tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus informs his followers that in this world we are going to encounter tribulations continuously. The Greek word for “tribulation” can also be translated as: troubles, distress, suffering, oppression, trials, and afflictions. Every one of us encounters tribulations, hardships, pains, hurts, sufferings, stress, disappointments, afflictions, and conflicts. ,
Also, Jesus spoke these words to his followers, “So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34, NET). Rejection, betrayal, loss, abandonment, death, loneliness, failure, unemployment, evil, injustice, loss of income, and depression run rampant in our broken, not-yet redeemed world.
American Christianity, for the most part, has conditioned us to avoid suffering, pain, hurt, and loss at all cost. However, as we have seen from the Scriptures above, that is not a biblical reality.
When we become a follower of Jesus, we do not obtain an exemption from trials and suffering.
Being children of God does not make us immune from experiencing the storms of life. We do not become equipped with a spiritual force field that we can deploy to keep the hurts and pains of life from penetrating our hearts.
Although we do not possess a magical force field, we do have access to spiritual armor, including a shield (Ephesians 6:12-20). However, our shield doesn’t consist of energy or plasma particles that create a barrier of protection by not allowing pain and hurt to pass through to us. Our shield is composed of our faith and trust in Jesus. 1 John 5:4 declares, ““For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” Through the tribulations and troubles of life, we can overcome through our faith in Jesus!
Over the next few posts, we will continue to study the story of Naaman and let God speak to our lives.