“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.
2 Kings 5:17-19 NIV
Imagine that you are the first believer in your family, your people group, or your country? Additionally you are Naaman, the General of the Army, the strong right arm of the king of Rimmon. It is a thrilling story as recorded in 2 Kings 5 denoting how the leper Naaman was eventually healed through heeding the advice of a young Israelite girl taken into slavery and placed within his household. Because of her testimony, Naaman traveled a long distance to seek advice from the prophet Elisha who commanded him to bathe seven times in the small and insignificant Jordan River. After some heated discussions with Elisha and his servants, Naaman obeyed Elisha, bathed seven times in the Jordan River and was healed. In expression of his thanks, and his new faith, he offered expensive gifts to Elisha, which Elisha refused.
Naaman prepared to return to the service of the King of Rimmon. He knew his brand new faith in the God of Israel and his service to the kingdom of Rimmon, with its idol worship, would result in an acute conflict for his new, one-person faith. Therefore he suggested, recalled in the verses above, an ingenious compromise that would allow him to honor his newborn faith while apparently worshiping in the Temple of a false god. Understandably he tried to get Elisha to approve this creative compromise. Yet Elisha neither said “yes this is okay” nor did he say “this is a terrible idea.” He simply said, “Go in peace.”
In environments of persecution exercising one’s new faith is tough. It is hard to be a brand-new, flickering light from God in an overwhelming, Old Testament darkness. Many workers from the West encountering new believers who are the first to accept Christ within their family, city, religion or country rush to solve all of the new believer’s problems. After hundreds of years of believing in Jesus we think that we have all the answers for problems that we have never encountered. I wonder what advice we would have given Naaman if we would have been Elisha? With years of religious experience; churches, Bible colleges, seminaries and field savvy, we might be tempted to tell Naaman exactly what to do? We would solve his problem from our vast experience of being from “Christian” countries which entitles us, we think, to know all the answers to the Old Testament problems which we have never encountered, nor lived in.
Naaman knew not bowing with his King in the pagan temple could result in his no longer being the General of the Army and could result in the death of himself and his entire family. What was the prophet’s advice to Naaman? “You are the one living there brother and you need to live with the tension of new-born faith within a pagan environment. Work out your own salvation. Trust God and his Holy Spirit to lead you to embrace faith and the possible persecution that often accompanies new faith in God.” Elisha did not have all the answers for every new set of problems. He left the decision in this potentially life-threatening situation up to the free will of the one who had to live out his faith as the only known believer within his culture. “Go in peace,” said Elisha, neither agreeing with Naaman’s solution nor condemning him for being a coward. The prophet allowed Naaman to live within the tension of his new faith while standing beside the king. What advice might you give Naaman? What advice would you have willingly received?
But let’s not forget the believing ,Israeli slave girl whom God had planted inside of Naaman’s household!