29 July 2008

A New Perspective on the Naaman Narrative

As I reflected on Naaman's story this weekend, the richness of the story's symbolism dawned on me in new light. We are familiar with the basics of the plot line and I find no need to rehash them here. Suffice it to say that he, as a foreigner (Gentile), sought instruction from the prophet to cure leprosy and received counsel to wash seven times in the Jordan River.
Having laid out the basics of the narrative, consider the role of foreigners/Gentiles in the context of the Jewish nation. They were considered as lacking the necessary covenants to obtain the fullness of the salvation promised to the children of Israel. In this light, the identity created by communities makes Naaman's identity as foreigner important in the trajectory of this story.
Naaman consults an Israelite to overcome leprosy--and not any Israelite, a prophet. Paul likened the prophet of Old Testament times, the high priest, unto Jesus Christ--even linking Jesus as the reality of which the prior high priests and prophets had served as types and symbols. In this light, we can rightly consider Naaman to have approached the Lord to overcome leprosy.
This turns our attention to the condition of leprosy. Ancient societies saw leprosy as one of the more abhorrent diseases. The condition which led skin to decompose and fall off of the bones merits such avoidance as appears in the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, this condition presents as a kind of living dead. Lepers remain alive, while living out a life of death. Symbolically, sin constitutes leprosy. A sinner lives, yet dies every moment. Sin creates death out of life and a mortal in a condition of sin must remain so and live out his or her days in a living demise.
The cure proposed by the prophet acting in the role of the Messiah simply asked Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan River. This prescription, however, draws on likewise rich symbolism. The history and future of Jordan merits attention at the outset. Jordan is where the children of Israel entered the Promised Land--a point of crossing. Tradition held that Abraham may have likewise traversed Jordan when he first entered Palestine. Jordan's significance culminated when Jesus "crossed" Jordan at His baptism, following his time in the wilderness in echo to (and fulfillment of the type of) the Exodus. Thus, Jordan becomes the symbol of entrance into Israel, and hence, into the covenant relationship with God.
Having seen the symbolism of Jordan, we may turn to the instruction to wash in Jordan. If Jordan may be understood as the covenant, a leper may wash in the covenant--may be washed in the atoning blood of the great and last Sacrifice--and overcome leprosy. The living death may be overcome. The instruction to wash seven times draws on the number seven's symbol of perfection and divinity. This reinforces the divine power and symbolism of Jordan, and also emphasizes that the crossing into the covenant must be complete. That a departure would render the conversion incomplete and the leprosy would remain. In this manner, Naaman's experience casts a pattern which should (must) be followed by all prospective initiates into the gospel covenant. True conversion requires all to approach the High Priest and respond to His call, which will require acting on instructions that may seem foolish or rudimentary, yet which inevitably lead to the Promised Land.

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