Naaman was the commander of Aram’s (now Syria) army and well regarded as a military man, but he had leprosy. His Israelite servant girl suggested he go to Elisha to be healed. Naaman left for Israel, taking a large gift with him and a letter from Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, asking the king of Israel to heal Naaman (2 Kings 5:1–6). The king of Israel’s reaction was panic—how could anyone heal leprosy? The king of Israel even thought Ben-hadad was trying to start a fight (2 Kings 5:7).
When the prophet Elisha heard of this, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel” (2 Kings 5:8). Naaman then came to Elisha’s house with his chariots, gifts, and servants.
Elisha did not even come out to greet Naaman. Instead, he sent a message telling him to wash in the Jordan River seven times to be healed. “Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’ So he turned and went away in a rage” (2 Kings 5:11–12).
What he said was:
“Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.” (NIV)
Naaman’s servants urged him to reconsider, and Naaman wisely did. After dipping himself in the Jordan River seven times, he was completely healed as Elisha had said. (2 Kings 5:14).
Naaman returned to Elisha and said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant” (verse 15). Elisha refused the gift and sent the Syrian commander away in peace.
"The River Barrada, the Ancient Pharpar" (Syria) engraved by R. Sands after a picture by W.H. Bartlett, published in Syria, The Holy Land, Asia Minor &c. Illustrated, 1838.
Abana — Hebrew Amana; (Amana, Song of Solomon 4:8, as name of a peak of the Lebanon, which is common in the Assyrian inscriptions), also Abanah. The river is identified with the present Burâda, or Barady (“the cold”), which descends from the Anti-Lebanon, and flows through Damascus in seven streams.
Pharpar — Parpar (“the swift”), the present Nahr el-Awâj, also Aawaj, which comes down from the great Hermon, and flows by Damascus on the south. Both rivers have clear water, as being mountain streams, whereas the Jordan is turbid and discoloured.
The "rivers of Damascus" are rivers of great freshness and beauty. The principal one (Abana) flows through a series of romantic glens, bursts finally from the mountains through a deep gorge and spreads over the plain. One branch passes right through the city of Damascus, cutting it almost in half. Others flow past the city both on the north and on the south, irrigating the gardens and orchards, and making the land fertile far and wide.
Another quite independent river, the Aawaj. waters the southern portion of the Damascene plain, but does not approach within several miles of the city. Most geographers regard this as the "Pharpar." It was also known to the Greeks and Romans as the Chrysorrhoas, or "river of gold." We can well understand that Naaman would look upon the streams of his own city as superior to the turbid, sluggish, sometimes "clay-colored" Jordan. If leprosy was to be washed away, it might naturally have appeared to him that the pure Abana would have more cleansing power than the muddy river recommended to him by the prophet. So he turned and went away in a rage. (2 Kings 5:12)
But he must also have overlooked that it is not the water that heals, but the God of Israel.
Abana and Pharpar rivers that flow into and by Damascus Mt Hermon is the tallest mount in Israel. These two rivers are fresh water rivers draining from this long mountain ridge. The Jordan drains from the Sea of Galilee and the quality of fresh water is just not comparable.
The water of the Abana is beautiful, clear and transparent, whereas the water of the Jordan is turbid, “of a clayey colour”. Naaman very naturally thought that his own native rivers were better than the Jordan, which undoubtedly enraged him.
Scenic Damascus countryside
“As Egypt is the gift of the Nile, so is Damascus the gift of the Abana”
Baptism of Orthodox Catholics at the Jordan river.
Looks like everyone is not looking forward to the muddy river.
Naaman was a proud man. His status made him so. He won victories at war. He had respects in his land, but Elijah did not even see him directly but just sent him to go and wash in the dirtiest river around. Naaman was about to walk away from his opportunity to live because he felt disrespected.
And he must have overlooked that it was not the water that heals, but the God of Israel.
Well, God does not always work according to our expectations!
Little did Naaman know that it is just how God usually works. He almost never does what we think He is going to do or what we think he should do. On the other hand, life’s most timely and powerful advice comes from unlikely places. His story also tells us that although he thought highly of himself, he was also a reasonable and logical man. He was humble enough to listen to his maid!
Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” (2Kings 5:13)
The lessons from the story of Naaman are powerful!
For a Bible affirming truth, if one digs into the realities of the rivers mentioned in 2Kings 5:12, one realises how accurate the Bible is.
It tells of the clarity, freshness and charm of the Aram rivers as compared to the muddy Israel river, which are still like this today. They are there for us to appreciate the truthfulness of the Bible.
Praise the Lord!
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