2 Kings 5:1-19 (Part 4) – That Moment When You Let Go of Your Kid’s Bike

Posted: April 30, 2019 in 12-2 Kings

2 Kings 5:1-19 (Part 4 of 4) – The Healing of Naaman

If you have kids then you have or will have the experience of teaching them to ride a bike at some point without the training wheels. That is probably a moment, or several moments, of life that we as parents will never forget. They are indelibly burnt in our memory banks. That moment when you have to let go of the bike and let you child ride without training wheels. There will be crashes. Sometimes immediately upon their realizing that you are not holding the bike anymore. There will be crashes too even after that have gone crash free for a while. Early on the crashes happen often even after the parents begin allowing you to ride off away from them. The crashes happen because we have not learned how about balance, different terrain, how the bike handles at different speeds, and the multitude of things you have to learn to become an experienced and less crash free bike rider. And even the most experienced biker can still have crashes because of either lack of attention or because of carelessness. Our walk with God is the same way. When we first become a Christian, we have handlers who keep us from falling. But at some point the training wheels have to come off and we are on our own.

That’s what I thought of this morning when I read this passage for the fourth time. This time I was really focused on the request from Naaman at the end of the passage. It’s really a training wheels issue. Does Elisha really give Naaman permission to participate in pagan worship – even if he knows that it is wrong? This question is one that is becoming more and more important to us in what is called this “post-Christian” world in which we live? Are we to participate in non-Christian activities just so we can get by in this world or even to give us credibility enough with non-believers to speak into their lives?  With these questions in mind, let’s read the passage once more, 2 Kings 5:1-19, now, before we move on:

5 The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.[a]

2 At this time Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid. 3 One day the girl said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.”

4 So Naaman told the king what the young girl from Israel had said. 5 “Go and visit the prophet,” the king of Aram told him. “I will send a letter of introduction for you to take to the king of Israel.” So Naaman started out, carrying as gifts 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold,[b] and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter to the king of Israel said: “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.”

7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and said, “Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? Why is this man asking me to heal someone with leprosy? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.”

8 But when Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes in dismay, he sent this message to him: “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.”

9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”

11 But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! 12 Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.

13 But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir,[c] if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” 14 So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed!

15 Then Naaman and his entire party went back to find the man of God. They stood before him, and Naaman said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

16 But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept any gifts.” And though Naaman urged him to take the gift, Elisha refused.

17 Then Naaman said, “All right, but please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me. From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord. 18 However, may the Lord pardon me in this one thing: When my master the king goes into the temple of the god Rimmon to worship there and leans on my arm, may the Lord pardon me when I bow, too.”

19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said. So Naaman started home again.

In this passage, we see that Naaman makes two requests of Elisha after he is healed but before he leaves to return home. He asks for two “mule-loads” of earth to take home with him. People in the ancient Near East believed that the gods were tied to the lands they ruled. Naaman asks for dirt from the Lord’s land to sanctify the altar he plans to build for Him in another country. He then continued to say: “Yet in this thing may the LORD pardon your servant: when my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon–when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD please pardon your servant in this thing” (verse 18). The record goes on to say, in verse 19: “Then he [Elisha] said to him, ‘Go in peace.’ So he departed from him…”

Is Elisha really saying that it is OK to participate in a pagan practice? Even if he is doing it just to fulfill part of his duties to his king?

After all, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:16-22: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?”

Paul was referring here to the common religious practice of many to incorporate pagan rituals in their worship of God. Paul specifically prohibited true Church members to do that. We also note that Daniel’s three friends refused to bow down before the image or idol erected by King Nebuchadnezzar, and that they were willing to die for their refusal to do so (compare Daniel 3).

We also read Paul’s clear command in 2 Corinthians 6:16-17: “And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God… Therefore, ‘Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord…’” Paul tells us to come out of pagan temples and forsake pagan religious worship–not, to go into those temples and participate in false religious ceremonies.

So why then does Elisha appear to get at least tacit approval to Naaman’s request if the Bible is pretty clear throughout both the Old and New Testaments that we are not to participate in pagan idol worship? What? Bow down to Rimmon after declaring allegiance to the God of Israel? Does he think that the Lord God is just another local god to be pandered to?

And why does Naaman make such a request? Is he embarrassed by his new religious commitment? Is he afraid he will lose his high-ranking post if he doesn’t accompany the King of Aram to the temple of Rimmon, or if he does, is he afraid that the King of Aram will be angry if he refuses to bow to the local god? We expect Elisha to give him some much-need instruction on the the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” But no, Elisha simply says, “Go in peace.” In other words, “Yeah, that’s a problem; you will have to work that out.” In fact, as the story continues, Elisha is a lot harder on his servant Gehazi for secretly getting some money from the departing Naaman than he is on Naaman’s incipient idolatry. What’s going on here?

The world is filled with false gods to whom we are tempted to bow our heads every day. What kinds of bowing and bending might we be willing to do to protect our jobs or status or reputation? How often do we bow to the gods of fashion, success, sex, or money when we know deep in our hearts what the heart of God is on the subject? When have we experienced the inconvenience or embarrassment of acknowledging our faith in God and hidden it away?

Elisha doesn’t give Naaman any clear direction. He simply says, “Go in peace.” It’s a word of grace. It’s a word that says to Naaman, God will guide you, and if you do mess things up, if you do find yourself turning red-faced with shame as you bow in the Temple of Rimmon, you’re covered, but you WILL have to figure out what to do about it. He will have to seek God’s guidance on what to do. We must pray as to what our response should be. That yucky feeling that you get when you are in a situation that you know is against God’s Word should be there. We should feel yucky. That’s the Holy Spirit’s cue that something is wrong here and we most go to the Lord in prayer as to what our proper response, our proper course of action should be. It’s not just an uncomfortable feeling. It’s the Holy Spirit guiding you to a position of prayer.

We cannot always run to our pastor to tell us what to do. It’s just impossible. We can’t always have our accountability partners with us to give us our advice. Sometimes, we are on our own.  Sometimes, early in our walk, we will get it wrong when on our own. But we must be honest and humble enough to admit that we got it wrong and seek forgiveness from God. As we mature, we will get it wrong less often, but we still have screw-ups and sometimes even after years of being a Christ follower, we screw up in a major way. Elisha’s “go in peace” is an acknowledgement that we do have to think for ourselves but God has grace for us when we mess things up. From our mistakes in our walk, we grow and learn.

We must develop our own ability to discern the will of God and we do that through repeated and daily prayer. Sometimes in life, we have the choice between doing the right thing on one hand and damaging relationships on the other. Some examples are: When do I confront my friends about their racist attitudes? Should I attend that same-sex wedding my friend invited me to? How much can I overlook the shady business practices of the company I work for even though I’m not directly responsible for them? We can get advice from others and I am not discounting that, but we are the ones that have to apply godly advice and God’s Word in our own words and in our own ways. And sometimes, we get it wrong by doing or saying something or we choose to do nothing which in and of itself can sometimes be wrong.

The “go in peace” is Elisha’s way of saying (1) you will have to figure some stuff out on your own, (2) sometimes you will get it wrong, and (3) God has grace for enough for our mistakes when we are humble enough to seek his forgiveness and learn from the experience.

Amen and Amen.

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