The Healing of Naaman
Naaman was a very powerful and successful commander in the Syrian army, and the personal assistant to Ben-Hadad II, the king of Syria. He was, however, a leper. When the Syrians found out that Elisha could perform miracles, Ben-Hadad sent Naaman to Israel. Naaman arrived with an entourage at Elisha's house, expecting an "official" and pompous welcome—and that Elisha would come out and perform a spectacular healing right before his eyes. Elisha, however, told him through a messenger to wash himself seven times in the Jordan to be healed. Naaman became furious, as this "prescription" to restore his health did not meet with his expectations. Receiving second-hand instructions to bathe in the silt-laden waters of the Jordan was offensive to him. Feeling humiliation and anger, he snorted out the names of Syrian rivers, which were cleaner and colder than the Jordan (see Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary, note on 5:12).
We don't know exactly why Elisha would not meet with Naaman in person. In the long run, that decision certainly helped Naaman to see that it was God, not Elisha, who performed the healing—and that may have been a factor. Perhaps the reason also involved Naaman's disease rendering him unclean—so that contact with Elisha would have made Elisha unclean, interfering with his ministry to others (compare Numbers 5:1-4 Numbers 5:1-4  And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
 Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp every leper, and every one that has an issue, and whoever is defiled by the dead:
 Both male and female shall you put out, without the camp shall you put them; that they defile not their camps, in the middle whereof I dwell.
 And the children of Israel did so, and put them out without the camp: as the LORD spoke to Moses, so did the children of Israel.
American King James Version×). The command to wash in running water was in line with the law for those to be cleansed of leprosy by the priesthood (Leviticus 14:8-9 Leviticus 14:8-9  And he that is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean: and after that he shall come into the camp, and shall tarry abroad out of his tent seven days.  But it shall be on the seventh day, that he shall shave all his hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair he shall shave off: and he shall wash his clothes, also he shall wash his flesh in water, and he shall be clean.
American King James Version×). With no Levitical priesthood in the northern kingdom, it seems that God's prophets there carried out certain priestly functions. Perhaps the washing in the Jordan was symbolic. After all, the Old Testament washings prefigured spiritual purification and baptism—and seven times would denote completeness. Moreover, of all rivers Elisha chose the Jordan—which would seem to be symbolic of entering the Promised Land, or at least a connection with it, and receiving God's blessings there. In that sense, it may be that this gentile had to be symbolically "cleansed" before partaking of God's promises to Israel, in this case for physical healing.
It could also be that Elisha's seeming snub and the comparably humiliating instructions were to humble Naaman and test him as to whether he would obey instructions. In any event, Naaman's servants encouraged him to follow Elisha's direction and, to his credit, he did what he was told. When he did, his leprosy was healed. Because health trials have such a profound effect on us, mentally as well as physically, God will often use these experiences to work with us spiritually. It appears He may have been doing this with Naaman.
The commander returned to Elisha and offered him money, but Elisha refused to accept it. Again, as we saw earlier, it was the power of God that healed—Elisha understanding himself to merely be God's instrument. No one can buy this power, nor can anyone "pay" for a miracle. But Elisha's servant, Gehazi, had a different mindset and secretly and deceitfully asked for and accepted payment. Not only was the servant guilty of greed, but also he greatly misrepresented God's truth and His ways. Elisha, though, saw in a vision from God what Gehazi had done and pronounced the curse of leprosy on Gehazi and his descendants.
Before Naaman departed, he told Elisha that he had now accepted the God of Israel as his God. Then he asked for two things—two mule-loads of earth and that he be pardoned for his future bowing in a pagan temple. The Broadman Bible Commentary states: "Naaman leaves Elisha with two requests. His desire for dirt from Israel is closely linked to the common belief that gods were identified with the land itself—an attitude that continued even in Israel for an embarrassingly long period of time.... Naaman's second request dealt with the necessity of accompanying his master (apparently the king of Syria) when he worshipped Rimmon, or better, Rammon, the god of storm and rain better known as Hadad. Elisha apparently grants both requests, for the text records that Elisha sent Naaman away with the traditional benediction, 'Go in peace'" (note on 2 Kings 5:17-19 2 Kings 5:17-19  And Naaman said, Shall there not then, I pray you, be given to your servant two mules' burden of earth? for your servant will from now on offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD.
 In this thing the LORD pardon your servant, that when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon your servant in this thing.
 And he said to him, Go in peace. So he departed from him a little way.
American King James Version×).
Regarding the first item, it would appear that Naaman's belief system was not really "educated" yet. The concept of the God of heaven being connected and somehow limited to the land of a particular territory—if such was his thinking—was not accurate. However, a slightly different explanation of his view on the matter of land is that he accepted the concept expressed in the Old Testament that "foreign lands were polluted by the existence there of idolatry (cf. Joshua 22:19 Joshua 22:19Notwithstanding, if the land of your possession be unclean, then pass you over to the land of the possession of the LORD, wherein the LORD's tabernacle dwells, and take possession among us: but rebel not against the LORD, nor rebel against us, in building you an altar beside the altar of the LORD our God.
American King James Version×; Hosea 9:3-5 Hosea 9:3-5  They shall not dwell in the LORD's land; but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean things in Assyria.  They shall not offer wine offerings to the LORD, neither shall they be pleasing to him: their sacrifices shall be to them as the bread of mourners; all that eat thereof shall be polluted: for their bread for their soul shall not come into the house of the LORD.  What will you do in the solemn day, and in the day of the feast of the LORD?
American King James Version×; Amos 7:17 Amos 7:17Therefore thus said the LORD; Your wife shall be an harlot in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be divided by line; and you shall die in a polluted land: and Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land.
American King James Version×). In taking back earth from Israel Naaman acknowledged that the Lord is the God of Israel" (Lawrence Richards, The Bible Reader's Companion, 1991, note on 2 Kings 5). It may even be that Naaman viewed the dirt as merely symbolizing his newfound connection with God and God's special land. In any case, the taking of dirt was certainly unnecessary. Whether Naaman knew that or not is now unknowable. Either way, it is likely that, being new to God's truth, his understanding of God's requirements was rather incomplete.
Regarding Naaman's second request—that he be pardoned for continuing to bow in a pagan temple—some might use it, particularly Elisha's perceived approval, to say that a converted Christian can continue to actively participate in non-Christian worship services. But the apostle Paul makes clear that a Christian must never do this (compare 1 Corinthians 10:16-22 1 Corinthians 10:16-22  The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.
 Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?
 What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?
 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that you should have fellowship with devils.
 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: you cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils.
 Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?
American King James Version×). Why then didn't Elisha prohibit Naaman from doing so in this case?
Notice up front that 2 Kings 5:19 2 Kings 5:19And he said to him, Go in peace. So he departed from him a little way.
American King James Version×does not explicitly say that Elisha sanctioned Naaman's chosen course. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary states, "Elisha's prophetic commission not extending to any but the conversion of Israel from idolatry, he makes no remark, either approving or disapproving, on the declared course of action, but simply gives (vs. 19) the parting benediction" (note on verse 18). Soncino concurs with this understanding of Elisha's benediction, adding that Elisha left the apparent inconsistency in Naaman's proposed conduct up to Naaman's own judgment (Soncino Books of the Bible, note on verses 18-19).
What, then, are we to make of Naaman's thinking? Again, it may well revolve around the fact that his faith was not yet educated. We do see that he was very concerned about not offending God—and it is clear that his bowing in the temple of Rimmon would be only in compliance with his official duties. But he obviously could not yet have learned all of God's statutes regarding the avoidance of the accoutrements of pagan religion. God teaches us true understanding gradually—not all at once. Christ told His disciples that He had to tell them so much, but that they could not understand it then (John 16:12 John 16:12I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
American King James Version×). They would, however, understand later—in time (verse 13). Indeed, it is not at all unusual for people new to God's truth today to believe that it's acceptable to participate in Christmas parties at work and the like. Naaman may have been reasoning similarly regarding pagan temple services. Moreover, for someone in Naaman's position and society, totally avoiding any appearance of participation in the national religion would be much more difficult than it is in the freedom of the modern Western world.
Yet it should also be mentioned that it's possible that Naaman's kneeling was not really to bow in the temple himself. He mentions the king leaning on his arm. Perhaps Ben-Hadad was frail or infirm and needed someone to physically help him kneel and rise. Naaman's kneeling may have only been to physically assist the king, whom he regularly accompanied, not to bow in the temple. Still, if this is the case, it would seem wiser for Naaman to have had someone else take over this function as it would probably have conveyed a wrong impression to others—either that he was worshiping a pagan god himself or that he was helping someone else to do so. In any case, it appears that Naaman made a commitment to God according to the best of his understanding. And Elisha let it go at that.
The story of Naaman is one that demonstrates that though God is the God of Israel, He loves the whole world (see John 3:16 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
American King James Version×). It shows that God desires to bless the gentiles and bring them—not just the physical descendants of Israel—into a relationship with Him. In fact, as does the example of Nineveh's repentance at the preaching of Jonah, it demonstrates that gentiles have sometimes been keener in responding to God's instructions than the Israelites have. Christ used the example of the faith Naaman had shown to indict the lack of faith among His own countrymen (Luke 4:27 Luke 4:27And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.
American King James Version×).
Floating Ax Head
Next we see Elisha calling on God to miraculously make an iron ax head float that had fallen into the water. As always, no task is difficult for God. If there is a need, "ask, and it will be given to you" (Matthew 7:7 Matthew 7:7Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you:
American King James Version×). This was not a cheap trick to show off the power Elisha had from God—it was a legitimate need and an example of outgoing concern for the benefit of others, as the ax had been borrowed by his servant and would have to have been replaced by him (2 Kings 6:1-7 2 Kings 6:1-7  And the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with you is too strait for us.  Let us go, we pray you, to Jordan, and take there every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell. And he answered, Go you.  And one said, Be content, I pray you, and go with your servants. And he answered, I will go.  So he went with them. And when they came to Jordan, they cut down wood.  But as one was felling a beam, the ax head fell into the water: and he cried, and said, Alas, master! for it was borrowed.  And the man of God said, Where fell it? And he showed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither; and the iron did swim.  Therefore said he, Take it up to you. And he put out his hand, and took it.
American King James Version×). Miracles performed by God's true servants have meaning and are not done to draw attention to the person performing the miracles. On the other hand, many prophecies in Scripture foretell the rise of a religious figure called the False Prophet, who will perform "miracles" as well, yet "according to the working of Satan." His "miracles" are described as "lying wonders," as they will be used to impress and deceive people, not to help them (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10  Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,  And with all delusion of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
American King James Version×). We find a forerunner of this deceiver in the person of Simon Magus, a "sorcerer" who, in the days of the early apostles, attempted to "buy" the Holy Spirit to perform miracles and draw a greater following after himself (Acts 8:9-23 Acts 8:9-23  But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:  To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.  And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.  But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.  Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.  Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John:  Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:  (For as yet he was fallen on none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)  Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.  And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,  Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.  But Peter said to him, Your money perish with you, because you have thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.  You have neither part nor lot in this matter: for your heart is not right in the sight of God.  Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.  For I perceive that you are in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
American King James Version×). His concern was clearly not for the welfare of others.