King's Evangelical Divinity School

26 November 2012

Should Christians Eschew a Pagan Setting?

At church yesterday one of the Bible readings concerned the healing of Naaman (2 Ki 5:1-19). Naaman was a leading Syrian military leader. He was also a leper. 

I'm sure you know the story well (it's a Sunday School favourite). A young Jewish slave girl captured in a Syrian raid against Israel explains to her mistress (Naaman's wife) that there is a prophet of God in Samaria who can cure her master of leprosy. Naaman approaches the man of God (the prophet Elisha) offering him riches in return for healing. Yet Elisha doesn't quite fit the stereotype of what Naaman expected an Israelite prophet to be. Instead of performing a grandiose magical rite Elisha instructs this warrior to go wash himself seven times in the river Jordan (from Naaman's perspective, not the nicest of rivers). Naaman is furious but, coaxed by his servants, eventually succumbs, whereupon his leprosy is healed.

When Elisha refuses riches offered for his healing, Naaman requests two mule-loads of Israelite earth to take home, upon which from now on he will make sacrifices to the Lord God of Israel alone. Apparently Naaman recognised the holiness of the land and that Yahweh was the One True God. 

It's quite a transformation really, from hardened warrior to astute theological observer. But what struck me this time 'round (I've read the narrative many times, but have you noticed how often we pick up something new each time?) is verse 18. After declaring he will worship only the God of Israel, Naaman says to Elisha:
In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” (ESV)