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INTRODUCTION. Syria was a nation to the northeast of Israel and throughout the years fought many battles against the children of Israel. David conquered and subdued the Syrians, at one time killing 22,000 and another time 18,000 (II Sam. 8:3-13). King Ahab of Israel fought three different battles with the Syrians. He conquered them in the first two battles but lost his life in the third (I Kings 20; 22; II Chron.18).
During part of Elisha's ministry, one of Ahab's sons, Joram, was king of Israel. At that time the captain of the Syrian army was Naaman, a great and honorable man, but he was a leper. During one Syrian raid into Israel, a young Israelite girl was captured, brought back to Syria, and became a servant to Naaman's wife. She told her mistress that a prophet in Samaria could cure Naaman of his leprosy.
The king of Syria wrote a letter to the king of Israel and sent the letter by Naaman with gifts of gold, silver, and clothing. The letter stated that the king of Israel could cure Naaman. After reading the letter, the king of Israel tore his clothes, for he believed the king of Syria was seeking a quarrel with him by giving him this impossible task.
Elisha heard about the incident and sent a message to the king of Israel, telling him to send Naaman to him. When Naaman arrived at Elisha's house, Elisha sent his servant out to him. The servant told Naaman to go wash in the Jordan River seven times and his flesh would be restored.
Naaman was furious and went away, saying the rivers of Damascus in Syria were better than all the waters of Israel. However, Naaman's servants persuaded him to do as Elisha had said–after all if the prophet had told him to do some great deed, would he not do it? Naaman then humbled himself, did as Elisha commanded, and was healed.
Naaman was so grateful, he returned to Elisha offering him gifts and acknowledging faith in the God of Israel. Elisha refused the gifts even though Naaman urged him to accept. Naaman then asked that he might take back to Syria two mule-loads of earth, apparently for the purpose of erecting an altar of Israelite soil in order to worship the God of Israel in his own country of Syria. Elisha bid him to go in peace.