Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the LORD had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper.V.
ELISHA HEALS NAAMAN THE SYRIAN’S LEPROSY, AND PUNISHES GEHAZI THEREWITH.
(1) Now.—The construction implies a break between this narrative and the preceding. Whether the events related belong to the time of Jehoram or of the dynasty of Jehu is not clear. Evidently it was a time of peace between Israel and Syria.
Naaman (beauty).—A title of the sun-god. (See Note on Isaiah 17:10.)
A great man with his master.—Literally, before his lord. (Comp. Genesis 10:9.)
By him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria.—Notice the high prophetic view that it is Jehovah, not Hadad or Rimmon, who gives victory to Syria as well as Israel. (Comp. Amos 9:7.) It is natural to think of the battle in which Ahab received his mortal wound (1Kings 22:30, seq.). The Midrash makes Naaman the man who “drew the bow at a venture” on that occasion. The “deliverance” was victory over Israel.
He was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper.—Literally, and the man was a brave warrior, stricken with leprosy. His leprosy need not have been so severe as to incapacitate him for military duties. The victor over Israel is represented as a leper who has to seek, and finds, his only help in Israel (Thenius).
And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman's wife.(2) The Syrians.—Heb., Aram, the word rendered “Syria” in 2Kings 5:1.
By companies.—Or, in troops, referring to a marauding incursion made at some time prior to the events here recorded.
Brought away captive . . . a little maid.—Comp. the reference in Joel 3:6 to the Phœnician traffic in Jewish slaves.
And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.(3) Would God.—O that! ’Ahalê here; in Psalm 119:5, ’Ahalay. The word seems to follow the analogy of ’ashrê, “O the bliss of!” (Psalm 1:1). It perhaps means “O the delight of!” the root ’ahal being assumed equivalent to the Arabic halâ, Syriac halî, “dulcis fuit.”
For he would recover him.—Then he would receive him back. (Comp. Numbers 12:14-15.) In Israel lepers were excluded from society. Restoration to society implied restoration to health. Hence the same verb came to be used in the sense of healing as well as of receiving back the leper. Thenius, however, argues that as the phrase “from leprosy” is wanting in Numbers 12, the real meaning is, “to take a person away from leprosy,” to which he had been, as it were, delivered up.
And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel.(4) And one went in.—And he (i.e., Naaman) went in: scil., into the palace. Some MSS.: “and she went in and told.”
Thus and thus.—To avoid repetition of her actual words.
And the king of Syria said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel. And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment.(5) Go to, go.—Depart thou (thither), enter (the land of Israel).
A letter.—Written, probably, in that old Aramean script of which we have examples on Assyrian seals of the eighth century B.C. , and which closely resembled the old Phœnician and Hebrew characters, as well as that of the Moabite stone (2Kings 1:1, Note).
With him.—In his hand. (Comp. the expression “to fill the hand for Jehovah”—i.e., with presents; 1Chronicles 29:5.)
Changes of raiment.—Or, holiday suits. Reuss, habits de fête. (See the same word, halîphôth, in Genesis 45:22.) Curiously enough, similar expressions (nahlaptum, hitlupatum) were used in the like sense by the Assyrians (Schrader).
Ten talents of silver.—About £3,750 in our money. The money talent was equivalent to sixty minas, the mina to fifty shekels. The shekel came to about 2 Samuel 6 d. of our money.
Six thousand pieces of gold.—Heb., six thousand (in) gold: i.e., six thousand gold shekels=two talents of gold, about £13,500. The gold shekel was worth about 45s. of our currency. The total sum appears much too large, and the numbers are probably corrupt, as is so often the case.
And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy.(6) Now.—Heb., And now, continuing an omitted passage. Only the principal sentence of the letter is given. The message pre-supposes a not altogether hostile relation between the two kings; and the words of the next verse, “He seeketh a quarrel against me,” point to the time of comparative lull which ensued after the luckless expedition to Ramoth-gilead (1. Kings 22), and the short reign of the invalid Ahaziah; i.e., to the reign of Jehoram, not to that of Jehoahaz, in which Israel was wholly crushed by Syria (2Kings 13:3-7). Schenkel thinks the Syrian inroads (2Kings 5:2) indicate the reign of Jehu, and that Hazael was the king who wrote the letter, as he was personally acquainted with Elisha (2Kings 5:5, seq.). But, as Thenius remarks, he forgets that the relations between Jehu and Syria were throughout strained to the last degree, so that such a friendly passage between the two kings as is here described is not to be thought of.
And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me.(7) He rent his clothes.—As if he had heard blasphemy. (Comp. Matthew 26:65.)
Am I God, to kill and to make alive?—Deuteronomy 32:39, “I kill, and I make alive;” 1Samuel 2:6, “The Lord killeth, and maketh alive.” Leprosy was a kind of living death. (Comp. Numbers 12:12, Heb., “Let her not become as the dead, who, when he cometh forth of his mother’s womb, hath half his flesh consumed.”)
Wherefore.—Heb., For only know (i.e., notice), and see. Plural verbs are used, because the king is addressing his grandees, in whose presence the letter would be delivered and read.
He seeketh a quarrel.—This form of the verb (hithpael) occurs here only. (Comp. the noun, Judges 14:4.) Jehoram was hardly in a position to renew the war, after the severe defeat of his father (1Kings 22:30, seq.).
And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.(8) There is a prophet.—With stress on there is (yēsh): scil., as his message pre-supposes.
When Elisha . . . had heard.—He was in Samaria at the time (2Kings 5:3), and would hear of the coming of the great Syrian captain and of the king’s alarm. Why did not Jehoram think at once of Elisha? King and prophet were not on good terms with each other. (Comp. 2Kings 3:14.) Besides, Elisha had not as yet done any miracle of this sort; and his apprehensions may have made the king unable, for the moment, to think at all.
So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha.(9) With his horses and with his chariot.—Chariots. (See on 2Kings 2:11-12; and comp. 2Kings 5:15, infra.) The proper term for a single chariot is used in 2Kings 5:21. The magnificence of his retinue is suggested.
Stood.—Stopped. The text hardly conveys, as Bähr thinks, the idea that Elisha’s house in Samaria was “a poor hovel,” which the great man would not deign to enter, but waited for the prophet to come forth to him. The prophet had “a messenger” (2Kings 5:10) at his command.
And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.(10) Elisha sent a messenger.—Avoiding personal contact with a leper. (Comp. 2Kings 5:15, where Naaman, when restored, goes in and stands before the prophet.) Perhaps reverence held back those who consulted a great prophet from entering his presence (comp. 2Kings 4:12); and therefore, Naaman stopped with his followers outside the house. Keil suggests that Elisha did not come out to Naaman, because he wished to humble his pride, and to show that his worldly magnificence did not impress the prophet. But, as Thenius says, there is no trace of pride about Naaman.
Wash in (the) Jordan.—This command would make it clear that Naaman was not cured by any external means applied by the prophet. “The Syrians knew as well as the Israelites that the Jordan could not heal leprosy” (Bähr). Naaman was to understand that he was healed by the God of Israel, at His prophet’s prayer. (Comp. 2Kings 5:15.)
Thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.—Literally, and let thy flesh come back to thee, and be thou clean. Leprosy is characterised by raw flesh and running sores, which end in entire wasting away of the tissues.
But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.(11) But (and) Naaman was wroth.—Because, as his words show, he thought he was mocked by the prophet.
I thought.—I said to myself.
Recover the leper.—Or, take away the leprous (part). So Thenius; but everywhere else měçōrā‘ means “leprous man,” “leper” (Leviticus 14:2).
Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.(12) Abana.—So Hebrew text; Hebrew margin, Amana; and so many MSS., Complut., LXX., Targum, Syriac. (Comp. Amana, Song of Solomon 4:8, as name of a peak of the Lebanon, which is common in the Assyrian inscriptions also.) 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. (The Arabic version has Bardâ.)
Pharpar.—Parpar (“the swift”), the present Nahr el-Awâj, 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.
Rivers of Damascus.—Add the. Damascus is still famous for its wholesome water.
May I not wash in them, and be clean?—If mere washing in a river be enough, it were easy to do that at home, and to much better advantage.
And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?(13) Came near.—Comp. Genesis 18:23.
My father.—A title implying at once respect and affection. (Comp. 1Samuel 24:11; 2Kings 6:21.) Perhaps, however, the word is a corruption of ’im (“if”), which is otherwise not expressed in the Hebrew.
Great thing.—Emphatic in the Hebrew.
Wouldest thou not have done?—Or,wouldest thou not do?
He saith.—He hath said.
Be clean?—i.e., thou shalt be clean: a common Hebrew idiom.
Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.(14) Then went he down.—And he went down: scil., from Samaria to the Jordan bed. The Syriac and Arabic, and some Hebrew MSS., read “and he departed;” probably an error of transcription.
Seven times.—“Because seven was significant of the Divine covenant with Israel, and the cure depended on that covenant; or to stamp the cure as a Divine work, for seven is the signature of the works of God” (Keil). In the Assyrian monuments there is an almost exact parallel to the above method of seeking a cure. It occurs among the so-called exorcisms, and belongs to the age of Sargon of Agadê (Accad), before 2200 B.C. Merodach is represented as asking his father Hea how to cure a sick man. Hea replies that the sick man must go and bathe in the sacred waters at the mouth of the Euphrates. It thus appears that in bidding Naaman bathe seven times in the Jordan, Elisha acted in accordance with ancient Semitic belief as to the healing virtue of running streams.
And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.(15) Company.—Heb., camp, host. Naaman’s following consisted of “horses and chariots” (2Kings 5:9).
Came.—Went in: into Elisha’s house. Gratitude overcame awe and dread.
Behold, now.—Behold, I pray thee. The “now” belongs to “behold,” not to “I know.”
I know that . . . in Israel.—Naaman, like most of his contemporaries, Jewish as well as Syriau, believed in locally restricted deities. The powerlessness of the Syrian gods and the potency of Jehovah having been brought home to his mind by his marvellous recovery, he concludes that there is no god anywhere save in the land of Israel. In other words, his local conception of deity still clings to him. What a mark of historic truth appears in this representation!
Now therefore.—And now.
Take a blessing of.—Accept a present from (Genesis 33:11).
But he said, As the LORD liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. And he urged him to take it; but he refused.(16) But.—And (both times).
I will receive none.—Theodoret compares our Lord’s “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). (Comp. Acts 8:20.) Such may have been Elisha’s feeling. His refusal, strongly contrasting with the conduct of ordinary prophets, Israelite and heathen (comp. 1Samuel 9:6-9), would make a deep impression upon Naaman and his retinue.
And Naaman said, Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules' burden of earth? for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the LORD.(17) Shall there not then.—Rather, If not, let there be given, I pray thee. LXX., Καὶ εἰ μή.
Two mules’ burden of earth?—Literally, a load of a yoke of mules’ (in) earth. It was natural for Naaman, with his local idea of divinity, to make this request. He wished to worship the God of Israel, so far as possible, on the soil of Israel, Jehovah’s own land. He would therefore build his altar to Jehovah on a foundation of this earth, or construct the altar itself therewith. (Comp. Exodus 20:24; 1Kings 18:38.)
Burnt offering nor sacrifice.—Burnt offering nor peace offering.
To worship.—To bow down (the same verb occurs thrice in the verse).
The house of Rimmon.—The Assyrian Rammânu (from ramāmu, “to thunder”). One of his epithets in the cuneiform is Râmimu, “the thunderer;” and another is Barqu (=Bâriqu), “he who lightens.” Rimmon was the god of the atmosphere, called in Accadian, AN. IM (“god of the air or wind”), figured on bas-reliefs and cylinders as armed with the thunderbolt. His name is prominent in the story of the Flood (e.g., it is said Rammânu irmum, “Rimmon thundered”); and one of his standing titles is Râhiçu (“he who deluges”). The Assyrians identified Rammân with the Aramean and Edomite Hadad. (Comp. the name Hadad-rimmon, Zechariah 12:11; and Tabrimon, 1Kings 15:18.) A list of no fewer than forty-one titles of Rimmon has been found among the cuneiform tablets.
When I bow down myself.—An Aramaic form is used. The clause is omitted in some Hebrew MSS.
The Lord pardon thy servant.—Naaman had solemnly promised to serve no god but Jehovah for the future. He now prays that an unavoidable exception—which will, indeed, be such only in appearance—may be excused by Jehovah. His request is not, of course, to be judged by a Christian standard. By the reply, “Go in peace,” the prophet, as spokesman of Jehovah, acceded to Naaman’s prayer. “Naaman durst not profess conversion to the foreign cultus before the king, his master; so he asks leave to go on assisting at the national rites” (Reuss).
The Lord pardon.—In the current Hebrew text it is the Lord pardon, I pray. The LXX. appears to have had the same reading; but very many MSS. and all the other versions omit the precative particle. It is, however, probably genuine.
And he said unto him, Go in peace. So he departed from him a little way.(19) A little way.—Heb., a kibrāh of ground (Genesis 35:16). It seems to mean “a length of ground,” “a certain distance,” without defining exactly how far. Had it been a parasang, as the Syriac renders, Gehazi could not have overtaken the company so easily.
But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, Behold, my master hath spared Naaman this Syrian, in not receiving at his hands that which he brought: but, as the LORD liveth, I will run after him, and take somewhat of him.(20) Said—i.e., thought.
This Syrian.—He justifies his purpose on the principle of “spoiling the Egyptians.”
But, as the Lord liveth, I will run.—Rather, by the life of Jehovah, but I will run. (Comp. Note on 2Kings 4:30.)
So Gehazi followed after Naaman. And when Naaman saw him running after him, he lighted down from the chariot to meet him, and said, Is all well?(21) He lighted down from the chariot to meet him.—An Oriental mark of respect. Literally, fell from off the chariot: an expression denoting haste (Genesis 24:64). The LXX. has “he turned,” which implies an ellipsis of “and descended.”
Is all well?—Naaman feared something might have befallen the prophet. The LXX. omits this.
And he said, All is well. My master hath sent me, saying, Behold, even now there be come to me from mount Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets: give them, I pray thee, a talent of silver, and two changes of garments.(22) Even now.—Or, this moment, just.
Mount Ephraim.—The hill-country of Ephraim,or highlands of Ephraim, where Gilgal and Bethel were situate.
Changes of garments.—The same phrase as in 2Kings 5:5.
And Naaman said, Be content, take two talents. And he urged him, and bound two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of garments, and laid them upon two of his servants; and they bare them before him.(23) Be content.—Be willing, consent to take. The Vatican LXX. omits; the Alexandrian renders αὐτοῦ, owing to a transposition of the Hebrew letters (hălô’ for hô’êl).
Bags.—Only here and in Isaiah 3:22, where it means “purses.”
Laid them upon two.—Gave them to two of his (i.e., Naaman’s) young men. The courtesy of the act is obvious.
And when he came to the tower, he took them from their hand, and bestowed them in the house: and he let the men go, and they departed.(24) The tower.—Heb., the ’ōphel, the mound, on which the prophet’s house may have stood. There would be no window in the exterior wall from which Gehazi and his companions might have been observed approaching. Perhaps, however, a fortified hill, forming part of the system of defences surrounding Samaria, like the Ophel at Jerusalem, is to be understood. (Comp. 2Chronicles 27:3.) Elisha’s house lay within the city wall (2Kings 6:30, seq.). Keil explains the hill on which Samaria was built. (Comp. Isaiah 32:14, and Cheyne’s Note; Micah 4:8 : “And thou, O tower of the flock; O mound of the daughter of Zion.”) This note of place is also a note of historical truth.
Bestowed them in the house.—Stowed them away, laid them up carefully in the (prophet’s) house. LXX., παρέθετο.
Let the men go.—Before he “bestowed” their burdens in the house.
But he went in, and stood before his master. And Elisha said unto him, Whence comest thou, Gehazi? And he said, Thy servant went no whither.(25) But he.—And he himself (after putting away his ill-gotten gains).
Went in.—Into his master’s chamber. Gehazi was already in the house.
Stood before.—Came forward to (2Chronicles 6:12).
Thy servant went no whither.—Literally, Thy servant went not away hither nor thither. Is it a time to receive.—Comp. Ecclesiastes 3:2, seq. The LXX., pointing the Hebrew differently, reads: καὶ νῦν ἔλαβες τὸ ἀργύριον καὶ νῦν ἔλαβες τὰ ἱμάτια καὶ. (“And now thou receivedst the money,” &c.). So also the Vulg. and Arabic, but not the Targum and Syriac. Böttcher, retaining the interrogative particle of the Hebrew, adopts this: “Didst thou then take the money?” &c. But the Masoretic pointing appears to be much more suitable. The prophet’s question comes to this: “Was that above all others a proper occasion for yielding to your desire of gain, when you were dealing with a heathen? Ought you not to have been studiously disinterested in your behaviour to such an one, that he might learn not to confound the prophets of Jehovah with the mercenary diviners and soothsayers of the false gods?” The prophet’s disciple is bound, like his master, to seek, not worldly power, but spiritual; for the time is one of ardent struggle against the encroachments of paganism. And oliveyards . . . maidservants?—The prophet develops Gehazi’s object in asking for the money: he wished to purchase lands, and live stock, and slaves—whatever constituted the material wealth of the time. The Targum inserts the explanatory: “And thou thoughtest in thy heart to purchase oliveyards,” &c. So Vulg.: “ut emas oliveta.” Unto thy seed for ever.—Like other skin diseases, leprosy is hereditary. If it be thought that the sentence is too strong, it should be remembered that the prophet is really pronouncing inspired judgment upon the sin of Gehazi, and milder language might have produced erroneous impressions. Covetousness and lying are never spared in Scripture, and it is well for mankind that it is so. (Comp. Acts 5)
Is it a time to receive.—Comp. Ecclesiastes 3:2, seq. The LXX., pointing the Hebrew differently, reads: καὶ νῦν ἔλαβες τὸ ἀργύριον καὶ νῦν ἔλαβες τὰ ἱμάτια καὶ. (“And now thou receivedst the money,” &c.). So also the Vulg. and Arabic, but not the Targum and Syriac. Böttcher, retaining the interrogative particle of the Hebrew, adopts this: “Didst thou then take the money?” &c. But the Masoretic pointing appears to be much more suitable. The prophet’s question comes to this: “Was that above all others a proper occasion for yielding to your desire of gain, when you were dealing with a heathen? Ought you not to have been studiously disinterested in your behaviour to such an one, that he might learn not to confound the prophets of Jehovah with the mercenary diviners and soothsayers of the false gods?” The prophet’s disciple is bound, like his master, to seek, not worldly power, but spiritual; for the time is one of ardent struggle against the encroachments of paganism.
And oliveyards . . . maidservants?—The prophet develops Gehazi’s object in asking for the money: he wished to purchase lands, and live stock, and slaves—whatever constituted the material wealth of the time. The Targum inserts the explanatory: “And thou thoughtest in thy heart to purchase oliveyards,” &c. So Vulg.: “ut emas oliveta.”
Unto thy seed for ever.—Like other skin diseases, leprosy is hereditary. If it be thought that the sentence is too strong, it should be remembered that the prophet is really pronouncing inspired judgment upon the sin of Gehazi, and milder language might have produced erroneous impressions. Covetousness and lying are never spared in Scripture, and it is well for mankind that it is so. (Comp. Acts 5)