2 Kings 5:1-14

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2 Kings 5:1-14

Background to the Book of 1 Kings

Literary: The Books of Kings are divided into two for convenience sake and contain the story of the death of David, the reign of Solomon and the circumstances which lead to the division of the North and Southern Kingdoms. They give a potted and biased theological history of the next 350 years ending with the release of Jehoiachin in Babylon.
1 K 1-11 = SOLOMON
It is highly likely that 1 & 11 Kings forms part of the Deuteronomistic History most of which was written in the time of Josiah with additions in exile to speak to a new situation. The books of Kings have been a major focus for finding the particular theological emphases of the Deuteronomic Historian.  The whole history is set up to evaluate the kings in light of the Law. All kings of Israel are condemned and only two of the Judean kings other than David are viewed positively, Hezekiah and Josiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. Major interests which govern the material are as follows:

Cultic orthodoxy as set out in the Book of Deuteronomy with Jerusalem as the place of worship. There is no compromise between Yahwistic faith and Canaanite or other cults. Apostasy led to disaster. This is demonstrated very clearly in the stories of Jeroboam who attempted to build the sanctuaries of Dan and Bethel, 11 K 13:1-10.
Fulfilment of the Word of God in prophecy (von Rad, The Problem of the Hexateuch and other Essays, pp.205-221).
Some examples of this occurrence can be seen in the following passages:
11 Sam 7:13 ---> 1 K 8:20
1 K 11:29ff -----> 1 K 12:15b
1 K 13 ------> 11 K 23:16-18
1 K 14:6ff ------> 1 K 15:29
Joshua 6:26 -----> 1 K 16:34
1 K 22:17 ------> 1 K 22:35ff
1 K 22:21ff -----> 1 K 21:27-29
11 K 21:10 ------> 11 K 24:2
11 K 22:15ff ------> 11 K 23:30
Divine punishment occurs because of the disobedience of the kings and people to the law.
History is interpreted in light of Yahweh's purpose, so the loss of the North is because of their disobedience to the law of Moses, 11 K 17:7f, 18:12, 21:8, 23:25. That the people were now in exile was their own fault and Not Yahweh's and indeed justified his anger. David is also a measuring rod alongside the Mosaic law by which the kings are judged . The laws are the will of God for the people of Israel, punishment follows when the laws are flouted. On the other hand God's patience and faithfulness is demonstrated throughout Deuteronomic History:
1 K 11:13 - I will not tear away all the kingdom; 1 K 11:32, 1 K 11:36 et al. Many of them based on the promise made to David. Any information which does not line up directly onto these themes gets little attention e.g.
Omri's extensive building programme in Samaria.  The first 10 years of Josiah's reign hardly signifies only the reformation is of real importance.
The two reasons given for the loss of the 10 tribes is the defection of Solomon from the law (1 K 11:31-39) and Jeroboam's apostasy with his attempt to build sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel. A number of Literary Sources are identified within the books of Kings: it will be noted the author uses these written sources for his own particular theological purpose.
Book of the Acts of the Kings
Book of Chronicles of the Kings of Israel
Book of Chronicles of the Kings of Judah
Account of Ahab's wars with Damascus
Prophetic traditions of Elijah, " " Elisha, " " Isaiah in 11 Kings 18-20, " " Ahijah

History within the Text:
The books of Samuel tell us in great detail about the rise of the kings, how they came about and the role of the prophet in this new form of government. The decline of Saul, the rise of David and the relationship between Saul's son Jonathon and David is given many chapters (Samuel = 25, Saul = 22, David = 29, Solomon = 10). The second book of Samuel describes the rise of David and the gradual defeat of the countries surrounding Israel. The geographic size of the kingdom is the greatest it will be until the advent of the Six Day War in the 20th century. The Philistines are particularly difficult to overcome if the records in the Hebrew Scriptures are in chronological order. It appears as though they are defeated once and for all and then pop up as a threat in the next chapter. David has problems within his own household which indicate also the union of the twelve tribes is on a very fragile footing.

What is happening in the surrounding great empires?

During the 13th BCE the Assyrians had been a significant power in the region and had come into contact with the Hittite empire which came to an end late 13th BCE. From around 1200 BCE, Assyria was in decline and did not become a major force in the area again until the 9th BCE. It remained a significant empire until its defeat in the Fall of Ninevah by the Babylonians in 612 BCE.
After the Israelites fled Egypt, the Empire went into gradual decline except for a brief foray into Judah in the reign of Rehoboam by Shishak.

Egypt: Third Intermediate Period

The era immediately succeeding that of the New Kingdom (NK) witnessed varied developments in society, culture, and economy (Kitchen 1973). Notwithstanding the apparent paucity of royal inscriptions, much has been revealed by recent research concentrated on this hitherto presumed Dark Age of Egypt. However, the paramount and consistent trend in the dynasties following the fall of the NK is one of political decentralisation and corresponding lack of a firm unified monarchy (Yoyotte 1961). Foreigners, too, made an impact on the Nile valley, and not one but three different contenders for the prize of Egypt left their mark. First, there were the Libyans, who had already settled in the north during the reign of Ramesses III; then Egypt was faced with a southern incursion, that of the Kishites; finally, the mighty Assyrians attempted to conquer the land. As a result, the political history of this time is difficult to view as a whole if only because Egypt was not unified as before. For the sake of simplicity and ease of comprehension, modern scholarship now uses the term "Third Intermediate Period" to cover Dynasties 21-25 (ca. 1069-664 B.C.). This, in turn, was followed by the Saite Period, Dyn. 26 (664-525 B.C.), an era of unity (De Meulenaere 1951; 1967; all dates follow Kitchen 1982-83). However, it should be stressed that the 3d Intermediate Period is purely a global designation, revealing little about the 400-year span of Egyptian history, a time that witnessed the emergence of a society quite different than any preceding.

As it can be seen from the brief paragraphs describing the scenarios in Egypt and Mesopotamia there was little time or energy for intrusion into Palestine which allowed David to extend his empire without interference from the Empires either side. This does not deny the military acumen and charisma that David needed to weld the tribes together and fight as a cohesive unit.

Context of 2 Kings 5:1-14

This story, like that of last week, is part of the Elisha cycle of stories which begins in 2 Kings 2 when Elijah has been taken up and passed his mantle of authority onto Elisha. After the sons of prophets had sent fifty strong men to seek whether Elijah had really gone up to heaven or been cast into some valley, and they found nothing we read the first of Elisha's miracles. He purified the water for the city before the horrible story of some small boys teasing him about his baldness. Elisha's reaction is extreme in which his cursing brings forth two she-bears who killed 42 of them. There seems no reason why this story is remembered and written down.

2 Kings 3 moves back into the political scene in which Moab has seized the opportunity to rebel against Israel after Ahab's death. The King of Israel invited the Kings of Judah and Edom to join him in the war against Moab. Again there was the need to consult a prophet before any undertaking. Elisha prophesied the defeat of the Moabites which was exactly how it happened.

We move back to the group referred to as the some of the prophets. One of them has died and left a widow and children without means of support and a creditor is about to take her children as payment. The miracle performed by Elisha enabled her to have an abundant supply of oil to sell which cleared her debt and gave her enough to live on. This story is followed by the one in which the rich Shunammite builds a special room for Elisha. In return he prophecies she will bear a son (not that she asked for one). The son becomes an adult who dies unexpectedly. She sought Elisha on Mount Carmel who came and brought him back to life as Elijah had done in his ministry.

The next miracle occurred when the sons of the prophets had used some poisonous plant in their pot of food and Elisha made it safe to eat. This is followed by loaves of barley increased in volume so they fed the sons of the prophets.

After the healing of Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-14) we continue the story with Elisha's refusal to accept any gift. Instead, Naaman requests earth to take back to Syria on which he can offer sacrifices to Yahweh and no other god. However, he acknowledges that he will have to accompany his master to the house of a god and bow there. The servant of Elisha, Gehazi, couldn't resist the possible wealth that Naaman had offered to Elisha and ran after him to ask for money which he received. However, Elisha knows what his servant has done and punishes him by passing on the leprosy which had afflicted Naaman.

Further stories about the sons of the prophets and their need for more housing results in a another miracle when the axe-head floats in the water (2 Kings 6:1-7).

Insights/Message of 2 Kings 5:1-14

Literary::xxxThe Hebrew begins with the subject of the verb (this is a reversal of the usual order, verb-subject-object) so emphasising the person of Naaman and his status. However, the 'but' in the last sentence of v.1 denies all this status because the 'but' announces that he is a leper. The last verse of 2 Kings 5 also refers to a leper, but this person is now Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, who tried to gain money from Naaman.

The narrative divides easily into three units: vv.1-14 = Elisha, vv.15-19 = Naaman, vv.20-27 = Gehazi. Indeed, the story moves and builds from unit to another which is the reason why it is crucial to read the whole chapter. Long speaks of each section as having a climatic moment which leads into the next part of the story (p.69). The lectionary verses give the background and the reason why Naaman appears at the house of Elisha.

The movement and contrasts within the story ignore time between scenes. The humble maiden in contrast to the great commander mentions the prophet in her home land. Very quickly a letter is sent from the King of Syria to the King of Israel which is given to Naaman who sets out taking with him gifts of silver and gold. We are not told how Elisha hears that the king has rent his clothes (vv.7-8) or indeed why the king is so distraught. In his cry of despair the king uses a very unusual pair of words in v. 7, 'to kill and to make alive'. Both are hiphil infinitives which is the causative function of the Hebrew. Hobbs thinks that God is the subject in v.7, but not in Deuteronomy 32:39 (p.64). This is contrary to my reading in which the king is asking the question in 2 Kings 5:7, not God, and in Deuteronomy 32:39 it appears to be God who is the subject of the two verbs.

Naaman heard about Elisha through a maid and he is persuaded by his servants to do what Elisha's messengers convey after his initial reaction to the simple message of 'go and wash in the Jordan'. Pride was going to get in the way of his healing and lowly servants are the ones who reason with him. Naaman sees reason and 'goes down' into the Jordan. He physically goes and psychologically demonstrates his humility in obeying the messengers of Elisha. The description of the cleansing (v.14) may remind us that it was a young girl who first sent him on this journey of healing.

It's form is that of prophetic legend which confirms the authority of the prophet as the 'man of God' (a technical term to refer to a prophet in Deuteronomic literature) whose ability to heal is confirmed within the story.

Message:xxxThe most lowly slave is able to proclaim to a foreigner about a prophet and healer of Yahweh. However, the pride of Naaman could have prevented his healing if he had failed to heed the reasoning of his servant. We were not told the content of the letter only that the King of Syria wrote it- he must have thought highly of Naaman - and then the reaction of the King of Israel. If the prophet was the person referred to as the healer in the letter, one wonders why the King of Israel reacted in such a distraught manner. If he wasn't mentioned one could conjecture why not. What is the purpose of the narrator in suggesting in the King of Israel's monologue the possibility that the King of Syria is seeking a quarrel? If this was set in the time of Jehoram, King of Israel and Ben Hadad 1, King of Syria this may have been a period of peace which the King of Israel was concerned may be broken. The King of Israel seems to be clear that he does not possess the same capabilities as God (v.7),which is a plus in his favour. However, he is portrayed also as the person who may have prevented the work of Elisha and therefore another nail in his condemnation by the Deuteronomic Historian.

Naaman's behaviour is very respectful when he approaches the door of Elisha and it is peculiar that Elisha sends a messenger to tell him to wash in the Jordan seven times. Was Elisha testing the humility of this great commander from the Syrian army? In the cleanliness laws in Leviticus, the cleansing occurs after the healing has happened.

One of the major purposes of this story is in order that Naaman knows there is a prophet in Israel and his response is to worship Yahweh. Notwithstanding, he cannot withdraw from worship of Rimmon and seeks the Lord's pardon in advance for this action (v.18). He is a foreigner and a person of integrity. The Lord has been part of this story from v.1 in which it appears the Lord has given victory to the Syrian army. Elisha is confirmed in his status as a miracle healer. Although it is not part of the lectionary reading the ability of Elisha to know what his servant has done is part of the prophetic role and that his servant lied. Elisha knew the character of his servant as the sort of person that would deceive a guest of money. The foreign Naaman has been restored to health and the Israelite Gehazi has been smitten with leprosy. Healing cam through simple obedience (Seow: 198).

It is interesting to reflect on the healing of the leper in Jesus' ministry in which he couldn't keep quiet and spread the news of Jesus healing.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20. Luke 11:1 has the reference to either 70 (MT) or 72 (LXX) and both could be allusions to Nums 11:16-30 in which Moses chose 70 elder to work with him or to the list of 70 nations in Genesis 10-11. This allusion could emphasise the mission of Luke to the Gentile world. In Luke 10:3 the reference to the 'lambs in the midst of wolves' immediatley reminds one of the number of times this imagery is used in the OT. In this context it refers to the divine protection of yahweh in the midst of theri mission to the Gentiles. 'No sandals' appears to remind the disciples of the urgency of theri mission as a similar message was given to the Israelites as they were leaving Egypt. Indeed the ministry of jesus will surpass both those of Moses and Elijah in importance to the future kingdom. The comparison of the disciple's acceptance will be even more difficult than for the messengers in Gen 19 to the city of Sodom. The emphasis on God's protection in their mission is picked up again in Luke 10:19 with it srefence to the protection of the people in the wilderness (Deut 8:15).

Resources/Worship for 2 Kings 5:1-14

Worship and the Old Testament message; are there new ways to present the reading?


Childs, B.S. Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. London: SCM Press, 1993
Devries, S.J. 1 Kings. WBC. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1985
Gray, J. 1 & 11 Kings. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1964
Jones, G.H. 1 and 2 Kings, NCB. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984.
Long, B.O. 1 Kings, with an Introduction to Historical Literature. FOTL. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984.
Nelson, R.D. 1 and 2 Kings. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1987.
Seow, C-L, The First and Second Books of Kings, NIB 111. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

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