Reviewing and renewing Biblical faith through story and study

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Go in peace!

There is an amazing ending to the story of Naaman's healing from lepersy that is often not mentioned when the story is told. And yet, I think it teaches amazing lessons about God's nature and his love for true worship.

Naaman has just finished dipping seven times into the Jordan river, has been healed and has returned to thank Elisha the prophet. Elisha will accept no reward and so, here is Naaman's response:

2 Kings 5:15-19
Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant."
The prophet answered, "As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing." And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.
"If you will not," said Naaman, "please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD. But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this."
"Go in peace," Elisha said.

What just happened here? Naaman offers gifts to Elisha and is told: "Worship God, not me."
So, Naaman asks for a bit of Israel to take home with him so he can build an altar on "God's soil." He even takes it from the prophet's front yard! Naaman is serious about his new commitment to worship only Yahweh - the true God.
But then Naaman asks for something very strange. In one breath he says he will never again worship any God but the one true God. And then, after loading two donkeys with dirt, he comes back to say, "Actually, I will be worshipping Rimmon with my king, may the lord forgive your servant for this?"
Elisha's response is absolutely remarkable. It should take our view of God, turn it upside down, shake it around a bit and then hand it back to us, glorified.

Elisha says, "No, you can't worship false gods! You've just made a full commitment to Yahweh." ummmm... no...

Elisha says, "You will have to tell the king of your new faith, leave your old ways and cease all things that take you near false worship." actually... no...

Elisha says, "False worship is the mark of the beast. Go ahead and worship, but you're marked, buddy. Either 'choose you this day whom you will serve,' or 'try and serve two masters'...but h" Nope...

Elisha actually says, without condition, "Go in peace." That's it.

What? No condemnation for false worship? No new convert compelled to tell the conversion story to his boss? No distancing self from temptation and false worship? What is going on here?
Elisha is showing us some remarkable things about God.

I'm sure I haven't found all the lessons this postscript can teach us, but here is what I have learned so far:

1. God sees the heart and what resides there. He judges us by what he alone can see.

2. God honours those who honour their leaders - and He even honours 'pagan' leaders (see vs 2 Kings 5:1 -- the often forgotten begining of this story!)

3. God believes in his believers and trusts them to be faithful - even in their 'pagan' culture.

4. It is impossible to judge people by their actions alone - their heart may not be 'in it'.

What a powerful story! And what an amazing God. What do you see in this story? What have you learned? What will you do about it?