A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Naaman’s responses to Elisha — how are they like an abuser’s responses?

This post is for you to write, dear readers. In this account of Naaman being healed of leprosy, what analogies or likenesses do you see with common behaviors and responses of abusers?   … I could have told you what I see, but I figure it would be more worthwhile for you to identify and articulate the likenesses yourselves.

Note: because Jeff Crippen was sick last week and couldn’t deliver a Sunday Sermon, we don’t have a Wise As Serpents post this Sunday. But we expect the Wise As Serpents series will continue next week.

2 Kings 5:1-19 ESV

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, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”

So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, 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.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”

But 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.

But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the LORD. In this matter may the LORD pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon your servant in this matter.” He said to him, “Go in peace.”

12 Comments

  1. Sister

    In this case, I and my sister see Naaman as the opposite of an abuser. What we wish the abusers would be, but are not. He appears to have become a real Christian. He was well respected. His servants cared about him, even a little girl. They were not afraid to admonish him and he listened to his servants. Abusers would not listen and would consider them his property. There’s no evidence of a pattern of abusiveness. Who can blame him, a leprous man, for not wanting to wash in the dirty Jordan River which was well known to be filthy vs. the clean ones he mentioned in the text? And who can blame him for being angry that Elisha didn’t even greet him outside of his house after Naaman had traveled so far to see him? (That is the only anger outburst that we know of and it was not about coercive power and control.) And then he actually repented and turned to God! As my sister pointed out to me, this is a story of God knowing Naaman to be a good man. His name in Aramean even means pleasantness. God constructed the whole scenario to draw Naaman to Him by using a very implausible way of being healed (no flashy magic, no showy demonstration from a prophet, just dirty water and obedience). The glory is to God alone. God honored Naaman’s heart. Jesus even used him as part of his list of Gentiles (outsiders) that were helped or healed by God rather than the Jews who were the equivalent of the “c”hristians of that time period. ( Luke 4:18-30). The contexts in both 2 Kings and Luke are about salvation not power and control.

    Sidenote: He wanted the dirt/land to take back with him because in those days people associated gods with their land/country so he wanted to take Israel’s God with him.

    • E

      Yes, this is what I would say. He took heed to his servant girl’s word through his wife. His servants knew he was approachable, obviously cared for him, and basically told him he would be silly not to do this little bath thing. He showed extreme gratitude.

      He may have had some entitled behavior, or just have been tired from a long journey, but was not an abuser in essence, not a manipulator by nature.

  2. kind of anonymous

    I see elements of both entitlement and of mercy. For instance, the raiding that was common for armies to do on other people groups suggests a lack of recognition of the humanity of those who were not of their group; taking someone else’s child suggests merciless entitlement, with no regard for the pain and devastation resulting to a family. At the same time, the little girl clearly wished for Naaman to be healed. It is possible that Naaman and his wife were kind to her in her captivity despite having taken her from her homeland. The child’s response indicates that she had a real knowledge of God that enabled her to see beyond the human elements of sin and depravity and be able to extend mercy and truth. She knew if Naaman hooked up with God it would change him. Very reminiscent of Esther, also displaced to another land against her will and routed into a marriage to a pagan King which she could likely not refuse. And yet as her uncle said to her ” Who knows but that you have come to the kingdom but for such a time as this”?

    Naaman, having achieved renown and honor as a military man, was probably used to any kind of victory being won with a great deal of drama and muscle flexing with he himelf the instrument of victory. This mission was probably no different to him. a conquest of sorts. And, being sent with a letter from his King suggests the King valued him. So I am guessing its possible that Naaman went with the idea that there was going to be a certain amount of pomp, ceremony and drama and perhaps he even thought he was going to be healed because he merited it. His contemptous comments about having better rivers where he was from and his idea that the prophet should behave like one of the pagan priests or magicians he was used to shows a complete ignorance of the holy and of his own place before God. He is prideful and used to having his, uh, rear armour kissed. Totally the opposite of the well placed roman centurion who demonstrated great faith and humbly acknowledged to Jesus that he was a man under authority as well and he knew Who had the real authority. He’ s a man with some of Herod’s attitudues and also those of the roman centurion, I think. With a good dose of entitled consumer mentality thrown in, as if the prophet was failing to give the good customer service he as a paying customer, was owed.

    No doubt when the prophet merely said ” Go dip yourself seven times in the river” Naaman may have thought he was being mocked by his enemies, being unable to recognize that God doesn’t do things the way he expected Him to. And he may have been peeved because he expected to be bowed down to by people he thought himself a superior victor over Not the first time God’s prescription was tailor made for what the person needed. Imagine having Jesus spit on the ground, make slimy mud out of it and smear it over your face. Or tell you to go put yourself and your riches at the disposal of the poor when you are used to being carried about the city on a litter by your servants, wearing silks and satins and having people bow before you. Talk about an uprooting and an about face.

    Naaman seems to me to be a man who has made his living by the sword all his life, a rough military man capable of great brutality and arrogance, used to the ways of a Godless world with no knowledge of the holy, entitled and sure of himself as a mighty man enjoying well deserved success and honor, and at the same time, having some degree of humility and mercy, some redeeming qualities. He’s a command man/type A dude in every sense . Yet, when his servants, all people of lesser standing, urged him to humble himself and submit to the prophet, Naaman yielded and accepted their suggestion. That seems to move Naaman out of the ilk of say, Nabal, whose own servants said he was a churlish, brutal man and a fool, whom no one could speak to. Clearly nasty old Nabal listened to no one but himself. Additionally, Naaman considered the word of a child from a foreign land AND repeated them to his King. Unlike say, Haman the enemy of the jews from the book of Esther who not only would NOT have repeated someone else’s idea as valid and worthy of consideration to the King whose approval and honor he craved, but went to murderous lengths to make sure no one else got honor from the King, esp. a jew.

    He shows real repentance when he says he will never sacrifice to another God. His offer of payment shows again both clueless pride and pagan ignorance of God’s ways and perhaps is reminsicent of Simon Magus who thought he could buy the gifts of the Spirit. Yet it also makes me think of a common modern day scenario, where a pagan person is invited to a christian home for the first time ever, and thinking he is doing well, brings you a bottle of scotch as a hostess gift to thank you for your hospitality. these are the usual ways and social graces of the world and how people of decent standing behave, the pagan person thinks. You’ve given up drinking realizing that it was part of the destructive out of control idolatrous lifestyle you were used to living and are tempted to recoil with horror and offense. But you don’t, realizing that this person is just beginning to approach God and doesn’t yet know any better; you remember you were once also in this person’s place of ignorance. Naaman seems to be capable of gross acts of mistreatment of others and yet also significan’t acts of honor, even humility though it takes him some urging to get there.

    There is another one in this story who reminds me of an abuser even more so; he is the servant of Elisha, who runs after Naaman and commits an act of selfish, greedy soul stealing manipulation, in the section that comes after this passage. Gehazi not only deceitfully robs Naaman of his posessions out of greed and an evil heart, but he also in the process, spiritually robs Naaman of the free grace he just rec’d and cheapens it, confusing the truth about God and taking advantage of Naaman’s ignorance, and even playing it against him to get what he wants. He may indeed have risked Naaman’s eternal life by doing this. Gehazi doesn’t see Naaman as a person but as “this Aramean” who should pay. He thinks his judgement is more righteous than Gods and he thinks Naaman should not have rec’d that grace at all. A relative of the elder brother in Jesus’ parable about two sons?

    Naaman gets down from his chariot when Gehazi runs after him, an act of humilty for a ranking commander in itself, as he would be used to giving orders from there without dismounting and probably to sending one of his servants to see what someone else wants. He puts himself at Gehazi’s disposal, assuming that the servant shares the heart of his master and that by doing so he is in fact, trusting a messenger of God. How like an abuser to trade on the image of righteousness with no intent of righteous follow through. He dishonors God by leading Naaman back into the trap that Elisha blocked him from entering when Elisha refused payment. He makes out like Naaman is now having to pay for what he just rec’d freely as an act of mercy and in the process, makes God out to be like the pagan deities who have no love or mercy and demand people sacrifice themselves in degrading ways that amount to prostitution of soul and body.

    He robs Naaman of God’s love and mercy and attacks his newly found faith in the process, as well as robbing God of glory. He in effect pushes Naaman off balance in the direction of the pagan deity he had just left behind. He has been in the presence of God and seen miracles a plenty and yet he seems not to have regard for God at all. Gehazi was assesed a steep rebuke and punishment for his own act of hateful condescending arrogance – by recieving from God’s hand what God had just taken from this foreigner who dared to risk humbling himself before a God he did not know and before his watching servants who were with him. He is a thief of grace and acts like the devil with no regard for this man’s eternal soul, only for getting what he wanted from him. Shutting up now 🙂

  3. Lee

    The King! He was the guy in charge (like a pastor of a church). So when the downtrodden, oppressed person asked him for help, his response was just plain mean. “Why is this person bothering me with his request for help and healing? Does he think I’m God??? He’s just trying to start a fight and make me look bad. See, I’m going to pitch a fit now and tear my clothes so everyone will see how put upon I am in my important role. This subject of mine needs to let me do my important work of kinging (or studying for my sermon). I can’t be bothered right now.” The king did not even try to see if he could find genuine help for Naaman. He was too important for that.

  4. Thanks everyone who contributed to this thread 🙂

    I had seen Naaman’s pride and entitlement when he took umbrage against Elisha’s instructing him to bathe in the Jordan. And I’d also picked up on his not being like a full-blown abuser like Nabal (– thanks for that contrast, Anon, and thanks also for your comments about Gehazi; spot on!)

    I agree that Naaman didn’t display the pattern of coercive control and the manipulativeness that a typical domestic abuser has. In my asking ‘where are the analogies?’ I wasn’t intending to say that Naaman fitted the whole type of a domestic abuser. Only that there were some points of analogy or similarity.

    Thanks Lee for pointing out about the King’s prideful and rather self-centered response. 🙂 Men who are in political leadership have to think about the potential political significance and political danger which may be lurking underneath every communication from a foreign power. And there is wisdom in a country’s leader having that awareness; otherwise he might naively expose his country and its citizens to danger. But it can be unwise to default right away to the assumption that the foreign power is planning some wicked scheme, because that rules out the possibility that the foreign power really has benign intentions in this particular instance.

    I’m not sure about the idea that the Jordan was known to be dirtier than the major rivers in Syria. Is there any research or documentation on that?

    Regarding the panniers of Israelite soil that Naaman wanted to take back to Syria, I get that he thought that was the best or right way to continue worshipping the God of Israel once he went home. In the Ancient Near East, there was strong belief that the God of a nation or people was inseperably linked to the actual physical land of that people.

    At the same time, it seems to me (and I’m only making a gentle inference of analogy here, not setting it in concrete as certain) – it seems to me that Naaman wanting Israelite soil to worship on, is a little like the following not common situation ——

    A man is domestic abuser and has not professed or followed Christianity. His Christian wife has separated from him because of the abuse. He wants her back. He wants the marriage back. He goes to a church service and responds to the altar call. He says the sinners prayer. He feels the grace of God operating in his life — and there is some outward evidence that he has been converted. He is flushed with feeling some miraculous things happen to him — words of Scripture jump out at him because the Spirit is convicting him. He knows something is happening to him and it is supernatural. He sees and senses some of the power of the Spirit and the intervention of God in his life and the lives of other people around him who are Christians.

    But… as time goes by, it becomes clear that he’s not really converted. He was just one of these:

    the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. (Matthew 13:20)

    I have observed that some of those people, in the early flush of their excitement with Christianity, grab hold of the outward elements of Christian life and practice (the Israelite soil) and think that if they have them, they have true religion. Like the new converts who we should NOT put in leadership positions: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil;.” (1Tim 3:6) They have sensed the Spirit, but they do not necessarily have the Spirit indwelling them.

    Simon the magician, in Acts 8, seems like a type of these. He had believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. He then witnessed the apostles laying hands on new converts and they received the Holy Spirit. And he grabbed out the outward things, the things he could see with his eyes:

    Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:17-19)

    Whether or not those things were true for Naaman we cannot say, because we are not told anything about how his life transpired after his leprosy was healed. But in the case of some domestic abusers, they can undergo emotional experiences that seem like conversion at the time, but in fact these people are not and have never been translated from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.

    For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:4-6)

  5. kind of anonymous

    Hi Barb,
    Just a thought about the Jordan river, it goes into flood stage twice a year according to what I’ve read, making it up to one and a half km wide though its usually not such a huge river width wise. Some of the pics I saw of it show it looking pretty muddy.

    Re: the Hebrews scripture that one still scares me half to death. And confuses me. It appears to say that once someone falls back into sin, they are toast. Yet I have heard of christians who fell away and backslid into their old lives for several years and then came back into relationshp with the Lord, enjoying restored fellowship and a more solid walk with him. They were apparently renewed to repentance. Not quite sure how to take that one.

    Thanks for the kind comments re my thoughts on Gehazi. There are many Gehazis in the church who are quick to want to put someone back under bondage for whatever profit is in it for them. And its easy enough to inadvertenly wind up working for Gehazi rather than Elisha.

    • Yeah, that Hebrews scripture is one we need to respect, while recognising that we may never fully understand it till we get to heaven.

      And the phenomenon of deeply backslidden believers coming back to faith — it certainly does happen sometimes.

      I find the Westminster Confession helpful in this regard; I think it does a pretty good job of articulating the nuances.

      (chapter XVII of the Westminster Confession) — Of the Perseverance of the Saints

      I. They, whom God has accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

      II. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

      III. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve His Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.

      And the final paragraph (paragraph IV) of the following chapter in the Confession:

      Chapter XVIII — Of Assurance of Grace and Salvation

      IV. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never so utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair.

  6. sunshine

    I saw a few analogies to the church today. First, when Naaman went to the king asking to be healed of leprosy, it reminded me of an abusive person asking the church for help. But the king represents the typical church we have today. The king was not able to heal Naaman and was annoyed that he was expected to heal him. The modern day church is more interested in marriage-worship, than it is in helping those who are hurting from abuse. A clergyman may even get angry if he’s confronted on his refusal to help victims of abuse.

    Secondly, Elisha represents what the church ought to be. Elisha was quick and able to help Naaman with his problem.

    Thirdly, Naaman represents the typical abuser. He wanted the cure for leprosy to come easy, and only on his terms. Many abusers may say they want help but only if its easy, quick and not too uncomfortable. If a treatment program for batterers gets too uncomfortable, they may drop out.

    Fourth, when Naaman humbled himself and did what the prophet said, he was healed. Likewise if a batterer humbles himself and does all the work prescribed for him in a treatment program, he may have a chance at truly changing.

  7. Charis

    What if we flip this paradigm around? Maybe the abuser is the leprosy, the victim is Naaman…and the cure that is sought is divorce; divorce from his dread disease.

    Reading the analogy in this light, Naaman lives with a network of Safe People, those who understand his disease and the nature of its abusiveness: his wife who is also the caretaker of the Israeli girl. This girl, in an effort to help Naaman, suggests the name of a prophet – or might I suggest – a Domestic Violence advocacy group.

    Naaman, miserable and realizing things aren’t getting any better – at the encouragement of this girl, goes to the king: the law enforcement or medical community who have documented third party evidence (photos, formal charges, complaints, 911 calls, restraining orders, hospitalizations). This agency (the king) encourages Naaman to seek out the DV Group per referral and sends with him the documentation. “Go.”

    Naaman goes and arrives at…the church where the pastor (Israeli king) responds in all the ways we anticipate. He is overly dramatic. He plays the “god complex” card. He accuses Naaman of stirring up trouble (“you are seeking a quarrel with me”). How typical. We victims have received much the same.

    Just in the nick of time, in steps the DV Advocacy Group: Elisha. He puts the king in his place: “Why have you torn your clothes?” and offers words Naaman has been hoping to hear: “Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” You can almost feel the sigh of relief, finally!

    Next, the DV Advocacy Group gives Naaman advice. It is not at all what he was expecting. “Go wash…seven times…in the river.” We as victims have often gotten advice we didn’t want to hear. We wanted Harry Potter wands and *poof* our problems would disappear. Life is hard. It is work. It is one right move and then the next. One step at a time. It has many unexpected turns. And…we feel them all: bitterness. Anger. Disappointment. Frustration. Confusion. I think Naaman’s response is human. He wants flowery words and instant healing…especially after how the church/pastor/king treated him. Instead, he gets an email/phone response educating him about taking a bath (seven times). I’d be mad, too. And all those other emotions. This…is grieving.

    His friends encouraged him. You’ve come this far, don’t give up now – don’t go back! We victims have heard those words, too. Divorce is hard. Healing is hard work. There is no easy road.

    There is something emotionally healing about water: a bath, libation ceremony, soaking your feet in a stream…it has a way of slowing things down and letting things go…drifting them one by one downstream. I think this was Naaman’s healing divorce. It offered him healing, peace and a new life.

    His gratitude is telling. What once he brought as bribes or payment to *earn* his divorce – his cure – he now offers in complete gratitude. Thank YOU! The advocacy group does what it does because it firmly believes in its cause…not for payment. Most because they, too, have been victims.

    Naaman leaves with a bit of soil – a way to remember the transformation that took place, the freedom he now has as he returns home. Can you picture the celebration with his Safe Friends: his wife and the Israeli girl? I wonder what the little girl thought when she saw the cart full of soil from her home land? Did she scoop up big handfuls of it and thank Naaman for bringing some back? Perhaps she continued to education Naaman with the Truth.

    We will never know the whole story. Maybe my perspective is correct. Maybe it is completely wrong. Some day…I hope…I see Naaman in Heaven. Perhaps we will take a walk, sit by a stream and he will tell me his story.

    • Charis, I like this. Of course, it’s only an analogy — neither you nor I would for a moment suggest it is a close exegesis of the text. But as an analogy, it’s illuminating. And in the fog of domestic abuse, we need all the illumination we can get, so long as it leads us our of the fog without leading us into another structure of falsehoods.

      (An example of another structure of falsehoods might be this “The secular DV support services support DV victims in same-sex relationships too. Those services helped me, so I’ll jettison the biblical teaching that same-sex practices are sins.” And of course, that is NOT what we teach here at this blog, nor is it what our readers would fall for. )

      • Charis

        I should have clarified what I meant by DV Advocacy Group. For me, this included multiple resources *outside* the local church. These resources were knowledgeable about domestic violence. Some were secular, others were decidedly Christian in their approach. For me, this list of DV Victim Advocates included: ACFJ, my personal therapist, many of the books recommended on ACFJ, and the local DV Shelter.

        You are most certainly correct. When receiving advice from secular sources, discretion is highly advised. I would also comment that it is important not to eschew secular sources… as often they are just as knowledgeable and resourceful (if not more so) than the local pastor/church in areas concerning abuse. This was a huge obstacle for me to overcome personally as I had been raised in a very strict and fundamental environment. Every resource was more highly regarded if it was (c)hristian…and a resource was immediately suspect if it was secular (simply put – it was to be avoided at all cost).

        I can recall more than once being challenged about my choices because I *must* be getting advice from a secular source. In fact, at those times, my direct resources were not secular…they were Christian and very highly trained. When I pointed out this to them, they would comment that the resource must not be a “true Christian…otherwise they wouldn’t advise me this direction.” I think, for me, this is why I like the idea of Elisha playing the part of the DV Advocate and find it so powerful. 🙂

        Yes, as you said…it is only an analogy. I have often found that any analogy easily breaks down when taken too far. Even this one. 🙂

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