Thursday, August 9, 2012

Naaman, Elisha, and Jupiter (2 Kings 5:1-19)

Naaman is the general of the Syrian army. His king is very pleased with him. He has been very successful in battles against Israel. But then this story makes an odd statement. It says that Naaman has only been successful because Israel’s god has enabled him to beat Israel. It says that Israel’s god has given victory to Israel’s enemies. Already we can see the difference between Israel’s god and the Olympian gods Jupiter (god of politics) and Mars (god of war). They would never act so strangely!

Not all, however, goes well for Naaman. He suffers from leprosy. But in his household lives an Israelite girl kidnapped during one of his raids. She slaves for his wife. Even so, she still chooses to live as a faithful witness to the one odd god of vitality. She tells Naaman’s wife that there lives a prophet in Israel who would cure her husband of his leprosy.

Naaman is told and believes these words. This is odd too. The general of the Syrian army believes that the words of a young Israelite slave girl are true. This is the work of the one odd god who loves Naaman too.

Then the kings of Syria and Israel get involved. They are both devoted to Jupiter. They both believe that the meaning of life lies in gaining political power. This is to be expected of the king of Syria. He’s Olympian. It’s wrong, though, for the king of Israel. He’s supposed to be a witness to the one odd god.

The king of Syria writes a letter on behalf of his favorite general and sends both to the king of Israel. The king of Israel reads the letter. He sees nothing in it but political tricks. He shouts in fear and frustration.

Happily, Elisha the prophet remains a faithful witness to the one odd god. He tells the king to stop worrying and send Naaman to him.

Naaman is an Olympian. In Olympianity, very important people always receive lots of kind words and special acts of gratitude from very unimportant people. Naaman arrives at Elisha’s house and expects such words and acts from Elisha. They don’t happen. Elisha doesn’t even come to the door. Instead, Elisha sends a messenger who tells Naaman to go wash himself in the Jordan to get healed. That’s all.

Naaman rages. To his Olympian way of thinking, such behavior is wicked. It should be punished. But with no special words, Naaman’s servants persuade him to wash in the Jordan. The one odd god honors their words too. Naaman washes in the Jordan and is healed.

Now everything is different for Naaman. He is no longer an Olympian. He returns to Elisha and tells him that indeed the one odd god of Israel is the one and only true god.

Naaman wants to give gifts to Elisha. Elisha says no to them. Elisha does not serve Pluto the god of money.

Before leaving, Naaman asks two things of Elisha. One, he wants to take some Israelite dirt with him back to Syria. Naaman is thinking that he can’t make offerings to the god of Israel without doing so on some dirt of Israel. Two, Naaman tells Elisha that, because he remains the Syrian general, he must still go with the Syrian king each day into the temple of Jupiter and bow down even though he doesn’t mean it in his heart.

The last odd words to this very strange story: Elisha says to him, “Go in peace.”

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.