Connections 07.07.2019: Our Faith, Their Health

2 Kings 5:1-3, 9-14

Naaman was the general in charge of Syria’s army. He was important and powerful. He also had a disease.

Because Naaman was important and powerful, he had servants. One of them was a captured Israelite girl who told Naaman’s wife about a prophet in her home country who could cure Naaman.

Because Naaman was important and powerful, he had resources. Because he had resources, he was able to set out for Israel to visit Elisha, the prophet the servant was talking about. He took a lot of money and other valuables with him in case the prophet’s services required steep payment. Or maybe Naaman’s health insurance plan included a high deductible.

Let’s imagine a different scenario. Suppose the servant was sick. Suppose she mentioned to her masters that a prophet in her home country could help her. How likely is it that a servant with no privilege and no financial resources would be able to access the healthcare available through the prophet?

I had a conversation a while back with someone who had good health insurance and considerable personal wealth. He had recently traveled a long way to undergo a very specialized surgery for a life-threatening disease. He was telling me that his prescriptions cost him several thousand dollars out of pocket per month after his insurance paid what it would pay.

I asked him what people in his situation would do if they didn’t have a lot of money.

He shrugged.

It was a powerful shrug.

He probably meant it to say, “I don’t know what they’d do,” but it really said, “They’d die.” They would die because they aren’t privileged and wealthy enough to have access to the kind of care he received.

Many reports inform us of problems associated with a lack of access to healthcare or the cost of healthcare in the United States. For example, about 530,000 families file for bankruptcy each year, mainly due to medical bills (that’s 66.5% of all bankruptcies). About 27 million nonelderly individuals are uninsured, and one in five of them will not seek medical care because of concerns about cost. Women and people of color experience harmful disparities in receiving healthcare.

Some of us are like Naaman in that we have the resources to get whatever treatment we need. Some of us are like the servant in that we don’t have such resources. And others of us are somewhere in the middle—we have insurance and access to healthcare, but a serious illness might still cause us considerable financial strain.

Some of you may be thinking, “Now wait a minute. This unit is on ‘Prophetic Reminders: Keeping God at the Center,’ and this lesson is titled ‘God Is Present.’ Why are you talking about healthcare? Don’t the unit and the lesson focus on what God does? Shouldn’t you be writing about how God healed Naaman? Shouldn’t you be emphasizing what God did and does?”

Those are good questions.

God healed Naaman, but God worked through the servant and through Elisha to create the opportunity for healing. The servant and the prophet were both God’s people, and as God’s people they contributed to Naaman’s healing.

Access to and payment for healthcare are complicated issues, and I don’t pretend to know the solutions.

But as God’s people living in the United States in 2019, shouldn’t we be asking how God might want to work through us to make the opportunity for healing more available to everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic standing?

Shouldn’t we want Naaman’s employee to have the same access to healthcare that Naaman had?

Discussion

  1. What do we make of the statement that “the Lord had given victory to Aram” through Naaman (v. 1)? Do we find it surprising that God worked in this way in the foreign nation of Syria (Aram)? Why or why not?
  2. Why do you think Elisha didn’t come out to meet Naaman and his entourage?
  3. Why does Naaman become angry when Elisha instructs him to bathe in the Jordan River? What does this reaction reveal about Naaman? Do we ever have the same kind of reaction? How should we handle it if and when we do?
  4. How might Naaman’s life have been different if the servant hadn’t cared enough to make her suggestion?
  5. How can our faith lead us to contribute to people’s healing? How can such contributions lead others to develop faith in God?

Reference Shelf

Leprosy. Leprosy is an indefinite and general word for an eruptive scourge, or a morbid, whitish scaliness on the skin. It is recognized by either swelling or an eruption or spot. The priestly literature deals with the subject at length in Lev 13-14.

Leviticus instructs the priest to examine the afflicted person to observe whether the spot is spreading or not, whether it is deep or superficial, and whether the hair is discolored or not. Raw flesh is considered unclean and spots that spread are unclean. The leprosy may follow a boil or a burn; it may be in the beard or the hair; it may cause itching.

The leper must wear torn clothes, cover his mouth, and cry, ”Unclean,” in the presence of others. Also the leper must be quarantined ”outside the camp.”

Leprosy may be discovered in a garment of wool or linen, or of leather. It will appear as mold, mildew, or discoloration. The damaged garment must be washed, and if the leprosy does not disappear, it must be burned.

Leprosy may be cured, and Lev 14 gives elaborate directions for cleansing the leper and certifying his recovery of health. This includes bathing, shaving, bringing a sacrifice of two birds, and later, two lambs The recovered patient must be touched with consecrated oil on the ear, thumb, and big toe. A sin offering, burnt offering, and cereal offering must be brought.

A house with leprosy will show mold, rot, or fungus. The evidences of the contamination must be scoured off and removed. If the condition persists, the affected wood or stone must be removed and destroyed.

The following instances of leprosy may be noted: Moses is given leprosy in the hand, as a sign of God’s power and authority exercised through Moses, the leprosy is removed as soon as it is given (Exod 4:6); Miriam is turned white as a divine judgment for her opposition to Moses (Num 12:10); Gehazi is stricken with leprosy as a judgment on his disobedience to Elisha (2 Kgs 5:27); four lepers in Samaria discover the flight of the Syrians, and give the news to the suffering Israelites (2 Kgs 7:3-15); Naaman is afflicted with leprosy, though still active and working, and is not isolated (2 Kgs 5:1-14); Uzziah suffered with leprosy sent as a judgment of the Lord and had to live in quarantine while his son Jotham served as regent in his father’s place (2 Kgs 15:5); ten lepers are healed by Jesus and are directed to go to the priest to get the medical clearance (Luke 17:12-19).

The identification by modern medicine of the disease or diseases described in the Bible is difficult. Several diseases are at least related to biblical leprosy. Could the biblical cases be identified with any of the following? Elephantiasis graecorum is a dreadful disease which attacks the skin and mucous membranes and finally the joints, causing fingers and toes to gradually drop off. G.H.A. Hansen discovered the bacillus which causes the disease, “microbacterium leprae.” Psoriasis vulgaris is a scaly, non-contagious disease called “dry tetter” which resembles the descriptions given of some of the cases of leprosy reported in the Bible. Psoriasis guttata is a disease which causes scattered patches of dry, scaly skin, called ”white leprosy.”

Clearly, the exact nature of the biblical leprosy is not known, and none of the modern types of disease is exactly identified with the biblical disease (or diseases). The biblical term for leprosy seems to be broadly generic, covering skin diseases of many types. Whatever its precise nature, leprosy was a dreaded plague, bringing horror and despair, and provoking anguished and desperate supplications.

William H. Geren, “Leprosy,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 508-09.

The general arrives with “horses and chariots,” still emblems of his immense importance, emblems congruent with the silver and gold itemized in his approach to the king. He still does not get it! The general continues to operate as though he is the key player, for he has the most stars on his shoulder; surely the prophet will be impressed.

Elisha the healer, however, does not make housecalls (5:10). He simply relays his strategy for healing to the general, not appearing to be much interested in what the general takes to be his deep crisis. (The doctor is never as interested as the needy, sick person, so the directions are rather like “take two aspirins.”) His instruction is terse and enigmatic: cleanness, the antithesis of the infection of leprosy, is available, on Israelite terms. The cleansing must be at the Jordan, the prophetic boundary beyond royal administration (1 Kgs 17:3; 2 Kgs 2:7-9, 13-14). “The seven times” is surely folk practice that hardly conforms to the reasonableness of royal expertise! The foreign general is offered an Israelite folk remedy! The prophet sounds almost casual, as though the treatment is obvious and unexceptional.

The general is indignant. He has better rivers than the Jordan. After all, he is a great man (5:1), with silver and gold (5:5), with horses and chariots (5:9), not to be trifled with. The flip casualness of the prophet seems to mock the general, as though the prophet is unaware of his station. Only the general’s commonsense aides prevail upon him to accept the prescription (5:13-14). The general had hoped for something more dramatic, a bigger river, a more direct intervention of the God of Israel of whom he has heard so much. The general wanted something appropriate to his own social standing. But he has now been reduced to his true status as a suppliant who comes to the healer as a leper “without one plea.” Finally, grudgingly, chastened, he obeys the prophet. And he is healed! He is made clean. He is restored to full life. He is made socially acceptable. He can now be his true, public self… “according to the word of the man of God” (5:14). The story is simple. It moves from leprosy (5:1) to healing (5:14), with two delays of misunderstanding (5:5-7) and resistance (5:11-12). Neither the misunderstanding nor the resistance of the powerful can stop prophetic power. The skin of the general, we are told, is like “baby flesh,” soft, supple, sweet smelling, a new gift of innocence.

Walter Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 333-34.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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