Can the people of God, the descendants of Abraham, serve the Lord outside the promised land? The answer to that question may seem obvious, but it was not so obvious to the original readers of 1 and 2 Kings. Ancient Near Eastern peoples tended to tie their deities very closely to specific territories. In Syria, one served the god of the Syrians; in Babylon, the god of the Babylonians; and so on. Of course, Yahweh, the God of Israel, revealed Himself as the Creator of all things, so He was to be the only God worshiped no matter where one was (Gen. 1:1). However, the ancient Israelites had trouble really internalizing that truth, as their repeated falls into idolatry demonstrate.
The first readers of 1 and 2 Kings were Jews who lived in exile in Babylon, and for the faithful among them, a burning question was whether and how they could serve Yahweh outside the promised land (Ps. 137:4). Today’s passage told them that yes, they could still serve God in exile. The Israelite servant girl mentioned in 2 Kings 5:1–3 was living in exile in Syria, and when the Syrian commander Naaman fell ill with leprosy, she bore witness to the one true God by informing him that he should go find the prophet (Elisha) in Israel, and he would be healed. If she could serve the Lord in exile, so could the original readers of 1 and 2 Kings. So too can we who live as strangers and exiles on the earth, waiting for the consummation of the kingdom of God (Heb. 11:13).
Today’s passage is also remarkable for how it shows the grace of God to Naaman, one outside the covenant with Israel, and his faithful response. God’s love and concern for the nations of the world did not begin with the new covenant. Although the Lord worked primarily among the physical descendants of Abraham during the old covenant period, He still extended the grace of salvation to those beyond the borders of the promised land. We have seen that already in the case of individuals such as Ruth (Ruth 1–4) and Rahab (Josh. 2), and here in today’s passage we have the healing of Naaman and his consequent commitment to worship only the God of Israel (2 Kings 5:4–19a). Naaman, in fact, was a far better model of faith than Gehazi, Elisha’s Israelite servant who took payment for Naaman’s healing even when Elisha refused to. Gehazi missed the freedom of God’s grace shown to Naaman, who wanted only to show his gratitude for the Lord’s work in his life (vv. 19b–27).