Let us consider.

The little maid of Israel, Naaman and the king of Syria

It was the unwavering faith of the household servant of Naaman and his wife, “a little maid”, still with an unbroken connection in her heart to “the land of Israel” (2 Kings 5:2,4), which set in train a process that led in its outworking to the salvation of the “captain of the host of the king of Syria…a leper” (v1). In her captivity she had developed a deep regard and respect for Naaman, and a desire to see him loosed from his terrible malady. What’s more she was the only person in all Syria who could suggest an effective solution: “if only my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! For he would recover him of his leprosy” (v3). Here was a seed, faithfully sown, and what fruit would follow!

Both Naaman and the “little maid” were surely examples of the power of good character. Had Naaman been a churlish fellow, brutal and overbearing, or even merely indifferent, there would have been nothing to call forth that comment from the Israelitish girl. If she had been a person given to flights of fancy, and flippant in demeanour and language, Naaman would scarcely have placed such weight in her comment (surely expanded on by her) as to believe it himself and make such a case to the king as to garner his wholehearted support for the proposed expedition to Samaria. But with a formidable entourage, with considerable wealth at his disposal, and armed with a letter from the king of Syria to the Israelite king, Naaman set off for Samaria.

Naaman’s healing and conversion to the hope of Israel

We can read for ourselves of the faithlessness of the king of Israel (2 Kings 5:6-8), and then of the foolish pride of Naaman at the first (v9-12), and finally of his submission to the wise advice of his servants, which led him to humility and obedience to the instructions of the man of God (v13-14). His “baptism” in the Jordan, not once, but seven times, brought him out of the water after the seventh immersion filled with overwhelming joy and thanksgiving, his formerly leprous flesh now “come again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (v14; Lev 14:1-9).

It is a converted man who now makes the long trip from the Jordan back to the house of the man of God in Samaria, with his troops scarcely able to take their eyes of the face and form of their loved leader so miraculously transformed before them. Before Elisha and all the other witnesses he makes his solemn statement of faith: “now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel”. The words of his “little maid” were proved true, and there’s a relationship that could never be quite the same again. Naaman offers to Elisha what to him was surely merely a thank offering. But using the language of Elijah (1 Kings 17:1; 18:15), Elisha refuses; he cannot accept payment for this mighty work of God (v15-16). It is hard to imagine that Elisha would have let Naaman depart without giving him instruction in the hope of Israel and the God of Israel, perhaps too providing him with copies of the scrolls of Scripture available to the prophet.

Naaman’s difficulty

Before he departs, Naaman has two final requests for Elisha, the man of God. The first is for “two mules’ burden of earth” (2 Kings 5:17). His desire is to take the soil of Israel back to his estate and to make from it an altar, “for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto Yahweh.” Naaman has become a new man, determined to live a life of commitment to the God of Israel. His second request is set out in verse 18: Naaman’s official duties involve attending on the king when “my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there”. But as the king bows down to worship, apparently needing the strong arm of his bodyguard to support him, Naaman identifies the nature of what might seem to be compromise: “and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon”.

The problem expressed, and the divine response

The dilemma is clear enough. An observer would see both the king and Naaman seemingly bowing down to the idol. But Naaman is more concerned about the divine observer. How would the God he has come to worship and love, view his behaviour in this instance? So Naaman seeks pardon in advance (through Elisha, the man of God), for what he knows will come: “when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, Yahweh pardon thy servant in this thing”. The response from Elisha is swift and brief: “Go in peace.” Shalom. Yes, Yahweh will pardon Naaman in that situation.

We might note that it seems that Naaman is asking not only for himself, but for the soldiers with him who have seen and heard all that has transpired. Might not they consider that Naaman says one thing and does another. Naaman’s question and the answer of the prophet, ensures that their possible concern is answered in advance as well. The response of Elisha is really quite conclusive as to Naaman’s position before his God. But did not Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego show the example of true faith and courage when they refused to worship the golden image? Should not Naaman have done the same? The circumstances are not comparable. Naaman was not worshipping in the house of Rimmon; his master the king was. He was simply accompanying the king as part of his official duties. If the king was leaning on Naaman’s right hand (and v18 suggests that this was a physical demand of his position) and the king wanted to bow down, Naaman would have had no other option but to physically lower himself to facilitate the king’s wish. He sought mercy from God in doing this.

For us the issues we confront may generally relate to our involvement in employment activities which may impinge on our responsibility to remain separate from the world. The apostle set before the Corinthians some of the issues which they needed to consider in their environment; meats offered to idols was one. Being “bidden to a feast” by “them that believe not” was another. These matters involve the exercise of wisdom, care for our brothers and sisters, and a prudent focus on maintaining our own personal holiness. We might carefully read 1 Corinthians 8–10 to consider Paul’s advice. Issues which have troubled converts such as Naaman the Syrian, have been common to the daily circumstances of believers through the ages, including our own. He wisely sought divine guidance, and so should we.

Naaman and the king of Syria

What transpired when Naaman returned to Damascus and reported to the king of Syria? The record is silent. But when Naaman returned home, there must have been amazement and joy at this outcome for the popular commander. The king had been involved. He had sent a letter, with provision from the treasury and military involvement. He would want to know the outcome. We can imagine his excitement and wonder at first sight of Naaman, free from his leprosy, looking like a young man again. He may not have been quite so excited to hear from Naaman that he was now committed to the exclusive worship of the God of Israel, the one true God. And though for a time their visits to the house of Rimmon—with the king understanding that Naaman’s heart was not in the exercise at all—may have continued, the discomfort must have grown. Subsequent events indicate that Naaman’s position as captain of the host soon came to an end. The record of 2 Kings 6:8-9 and 11-14 suggests that the servants of the king do not include Naaman. And we cannot imagine Naaman leading the armies of Syria into Samaria to take Elisha. Naaman’s position was clear, his commitment firm. He might finally have lost his life for his faith.

We await the kingdom to learn the rest of his story.