T one time, while Elisha was living in Israel, the general of the Syrian army was named Naaman. He was a great man in his rank and power; and a brave man in battle; for he had won victories for Syria. But one sad terrible trouble came to Naaman. He was a leper. A leper was one with a disease called leprosy, which is still found in those lands. The leper's skin turns a deathly white and is covered with scales. One by one his fingers and toes, his hands and feet, his arms and limbs, decay, until at last the man dies; and for the disease there is no cure. Yet, strange to say, through it all, the leper feels no pain; and often will not for a long time believe that he has leprosy.
There was in Naaman's house at Damascus, in Syria, a little girl, who waited on Naaman's wife. She was a slave-girl stolen from her mother's home in Israel, and carried away as a captive to Syria. Even when there was no open war between Syria and Israel, parties of men were going out on both sides, and destroying villages on the border, robbing the people, and carrying them away, to be killed or sold as slaves. But this little girl, even though she had suffered wrong, had a kind heart, full of sorrow for her master Naaman; and one day she said to her mistress:
"I wish that my lord Naaman might meet the prophet who lives in Samaria; for he could cure his leprosy."
The slave girl and Naaman's wife
Some one told Naaman what the little girl had said; and Naaman spoke of it to the king of Syria. Now the king of Syria loved Naaman greatly; and when he went to worship in the temple of his god, out of all his nobles he chose Naaman as the one person upon whose arm he leaned. He greatly desired to have Naaman's leprosy cured; and he said, "I will send a letter to the king of Israel, and I will ask him to let his prophet cure you."
So Naaman, with a great train of followers, rode in his chariot from Damascus to Samaria, about a hundred miles. He took with him as a present a large sum in gold and silver, and many beautiful robes and garments. He came to the king of Israel, and gave him the letter from the king of Syria. And this was written in the letter:
"With this letter I have sent to you Naaman, my servant; and I wish you to cure him of his leprosy."
The king of Syria supposed that as this prophet who could cure leprosy was in Samaria, he was under the orders of the king of Israel, and must do whatever his king told him to do; and as he did not know the prophet, but knew the king, he wrote to him. But the king was greatly alarmed when he read the letter.
"Am I God," he said, "to kill men and to make men live! Why should the king of Syria send to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Do you not see that he is trying to find an excuse for making war, in asking me to do what no man can do?"
And the king of Israel tore his garments, as men did when they were in deep trouble. Elisha the prophet heard of the letter, and of the king's alarm, and he sent a message to the king.
"Why are you so frightened? Let this man come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet of the Lord in Israel."
So Naaman came with his chariots, his horses, and his followers, and stood before the door of Elisha's house. Elisha did not come out to meet him, but sent his servant out to him, saying:
"Go and wash in the river Jordan seven times, and your flesh and your skin shall become pure, and you shall be free from the leprosy."
But Naaman was very angry because Elisha had not treated with more respect so great a man as he was. He forgot, or he did not know, that by the laws of Israel no man might touch or even come near a leper; and he said:
"Why, I supposed that of course he would come out and meet me, and would wave his hand over the leper spot, and would call on the name of the Lord his God, and in that manner would cure my leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the two rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters in Israel? May I not wash in them and be clean?"
And Naaman turned and went away in a rage of anger. But his servants were wiser than he. They came to him, and one of them said:
"My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? Then why not do it, when he says, 'Wash and be clean'?"
After a little Naaman's anger cooled, and he rode down the mountains to the river Jordan. He washed in its water seven times, as the prophet had bidden him. And the scales of leprosy left his skin; and his flesh became like the flesh of a little child, pure and clean. Then Naaman, a leper no more, came back to Elisha's house with all his company; and he said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel. Let me make you a present in return for what you have done for me."
But the true prophets of God never gave their message or did their works for pay; and Elisha said to Naaman:
"As surely as the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing."
And Naaman urged him to take the present, but he refused. Then Naaman asked as a favor that he might be allowed to take away from the land of Israel as much soil as could be carried on two mules, with which to build an altar; for he thought that an altar to the God of Israel could be made only of earth from the land of Israel; and he said:
"From this time I will offer no burnt-offering or sacrifice to any other God except the God of Israel. When I go with my master, the king of Syria, to worship in the temple of Rimmon his god; and my master leans on my arm, and I bow down to Rimmon with him, then may the Lord forgive me for this, which will look as if I were worshipping another God."
And Elisha said to him, "Go in peace."
Then Naaman went on his way back to his own land. But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, said to himself:
"My master has let this Syrian go, without taking anything from him; but I will run after him, and ask him for a present."
So Gehazi ran after Naaman; and Naaman saw him following, and stopped his chariot, and stepped down to meet him. And Gehazi said to him:
"My master has sent me to you to say that just now two young sons of the prophets have come to his house; will you give them a talent of silver and two suits of clothing?"
And Naaman said, "Let me give you two talents of silver."
So he put two talents of silver in two bags, a talent in each bag, and gave them to Gehazi, and with them two suits of fine clothing; and he sent them back by two of his servants. But before they came to Elisha's house, Gehazi took the gifts and hid them. Then Gehazi went into the house, and stood before Elisha. And Elisha said to him, "Gehazi, where have you been?"
And Gehazi answered, "I have not been at any place."
And Elisha said to him:
"Did not my heart go with you, and did I not see you, when the man stepped down from his chariot to meet you? Is this a time to receive gifts of money, and garments, or gifts of vineyards and oliveyards, and of sheep and oxen? Because you have done this wickedness, the leprosy of Naaman shall upon you, and shall cling to you, and to your children after you forever!"
And Gehazi walked out from Elisha's presence, a leper, with his skin as white as snow.