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The Rivers of Damascus

Abana and Pharpar were the names given to two rivers that flowed through or near Damascus (shown in the photo), the capital of Syria. The Abana River system was the more prominent of the two; originating in the mountains northwest of Damascus, it divided into streams that flowed through, and on each side of, the city - thereby providing a source of life and flourishing vegetation. The Greeks called it Chrysorrhoas, which meant golden stream. The Pharpar River flowed into the marshy lake east of Damascus, thereby also providing a source of lush fertility in an otherwise dry region.

"Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?"

Naaman was a high-ranking Syrian military commander who was suffering from one of the most terrible and feared diseases - leprosy. A captive Israelite girl, who became a slave to Naaman's wife, told her mistress that there was a prophet in Israel who could cure Naaman. The matter came to the attention of the king of Syria who sent a letter, along with a great amount of silver and gold, to the king of Israel for a cure for Naaman.


"Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him The Lord had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper."

"And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman's wife. And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy."

"And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel. And the king of Syria said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel. And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment." (2 Kings 5:1-5 KJV)

The Syrian king's letter was delivered to the king of Israel, who became very much dismayed at the official request because the king himself had no God-given power to heal. The prophet Elisha, who, by means of the Holy Spirit, did have the power to heal those who had faith, heard of it and went to the king to offer assistance. Elisha sent a message to Naaman to "Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean."

"And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy."

"And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me."

"And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel."

"Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean." (2 Kings 5:6-10 KJV)

Rather than receiving Elisha's message with thanks, Naaman instead flew off into an arrogant rage. Why, he asked, should he go to the waters of the Jordan, when the rivers of his hometown Damascus were far greater in size and beauty? The answer: because what Elisha told him to do was a matter of faith and obedience to God, not of water. It wasn't about the Jordan being "better," it was about faith and obedience being necessary (Naaman's experience was actually just one of a number of the recorded Old Testament Baptisms).

"But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of The Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage" (2 Kings 5:11-12 KJV)

Naaman's servants did not have their master's nationalistic arrogance, and fortunately for Naaman, he listened to their plea to simply and humbly do what the man of God told him to do to be healed. The healing was not about a matter of "our rivers are better than your river," it was about faith and obedience to the God who has the power to heal. Naaman finally realized what he must do if he was to be healed.

"And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?"

"Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean." (2 Kings 5:13-14 KJV)

Fact Finder: (a) What vital part does faith play in miraculous healing? (b) Why is it that Jesus Christ did not heal everyone?
(a) See Faith and Healing
(b) See Where Is A Prophet Without Honor?

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