The story this week continues following the history of God’s people, now many years after the reign of King Solomon. Due to Solomon’s sins (lack of wisdom), God caused the kingdom united under King David to fracture, where only Judah remained with the house of David, and the other tribes of Israel followed an outsider, Jeroboam. The period of the divided kingdom followed. The northern kingdom of Israel began with idolatry and had no kings that were pleasing to God. The southern kingdom of Judah fared a little better, it had five “good” kings out of twenty.
The King of Israel
There are two kings in this current episode: the king of Aram and the king of Israel. The storyteller does not name either king here, though it is likely King Ben-hadad of Aram (2 Kings 6:24) and King Jehoram (Joram). The last time we encountered the king of Israel was in 2 Kings 3, where Jehoram had gathered the kings of Judah and Edom to attack Moab. This campaign was in danger due to lack of water, and so Elisha was consulted. Elisha demonstrated the power of God by providing both water and victory over their enemy.
You would think that this miracle would stick in the king’s mind when the commander of an enemy army requested another miracle. “Oh, I cannot heal you,” he should have said, “but I know someone who can!” Instead of remembering the work of God through the prophet Elisha, the king despaired.
Naaman the Commander
You can contrast the king of Israel with the person of Naaman. Naaman is the commander of the army of one of Israel’s enemies, Aram. We never hear of him again, but if Naaman continued as commander of the army, he could have led the army in the war that is shortly described between Aram and Israel (2 Kings 6:8 and following). He would likely have thought the gods of Aram were more powerful than the God of Israel.
Naaman the Supplicant
Unlike the king of Israel, Naaman had never seen a miracle of God through the prophet Elisha, but he had heard a report that this was possible. Instead of coming in power to force the miracle he wanted, he came as a supplicant. He had faith that the God of Israel could heal him.
At first, the fact that the prophet wouldn’t even bother to come out of his home to see this important and powerful man offended Naaman. He expected this miracle-worker to come before him and make a showy display of power. Instead, he received instructions to take a trip to the Jordan River, a forty-mile trip one way. Despite his initial anger, a servant convinced the commander to give it a try. He obeyed the instructions of Elisha and was healed, as Elisha had said. He returned to the prophet to report the miracle and confessed faith in the God of Israel.
Here, the outsider, the enemy of the state, trusted in the goodness and power of a God not his own. The king of Israel did not live faithfully to the God of his own nation. Jehoram responded to the miracle he had witnessed previously by forgetting all about it (it seems), but Naaman promised to worship the LORD alone. This reminds me a bit of the Parable of the Good Samaritan where Jesus lifts up the outsider as the model to follow, not the insiders.
Who do we most resemble in how we live our lives, Naaman or the king of Israel? This is a question you can pose to your faith formation participants in whatever setting you are in. You can also challenge participants to respond to the work of God through worship and service to others. Our free activity this week “Washing Together” gives instructions for a ritual in which participants reenact Naaman’s washing and serve each other. This comes from our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd) resource, but you can adapt it to different ages and settings.
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
If you ordered Fall resources or are interested in just getting started, you can order now for the Winter resources, which start on the first Sunday of Advent and go to Transfiguration Sunday. As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the Winter (and Spring) quarters immediately.
For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!