Author Topic: Naaman, Elisha, and the First Commandment  (Read 1168 times)

Michael Slusser

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Naaman, Elisha, and the First Commandment
« on: February 28, 2016, 03:38:03 PM »
Getting ready for Monday morning's Mass, I let my eyes stray beyond the verses of the first reading (2 Kings 5.1-15) and was startled to read,

15He returned with his whole retinue to the man of God. On his arrival he stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your servant.” 16Elisha replied, “As the LORD lives whom I serve, I will not take it.” And despite Naaman’s urging, he still refused. 17Naaman said: “If you will not accept, please let me, your servant, have two mule-loads of earth,* for your servant will no longer make burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the LORD. 18But may the LORD forgive your servant this: when my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down there, as he leans upon my arm, I too must bow down in the temple of Rimmon. When I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD please forgive your servant this.” 19Elisha said to him, “Go in peace.”

I never noticed that before, or heard any commentary on it except that it apparently means what it says.

Peace,
Michael
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Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Naaman, Elisha, and the First Commandment
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2016, 06:45:54 PM »
The CEB Study Bible has the following notes by Gordon Matties (professor of biblical and theological studies, Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba), on these verses. They suggest much deeper significance.

5:15 Now I know … no God anywhere on earth except in Israel: Although 2 Kings 5:8 anticipates Naaman's knowledge of Elisha's prophetic role, here readers discover the heart of the matter. Naaman's confession echoes Solomon's confession at the beginning of his prayer at the dedication of the temple (1 Kgs 8:23). Naaman is a textbook example of the foreigner (translated "immigrant" in 1 Kgs 8:41) who "comes form a distant country because of your reputation." The hope, prays Solomon, is "so that all the people of the earth may know your reputation and revere you" (1 Kgs 8:43). Similarly, Solomon's blessing on the people also includes the hope "that all the earth's peoples may know that the LORD is God. There is no other God!" (1 Kgs 8:60). Naaman has demonstrated the fulfillment (perhaps as a representative of all foreigners) of Solomon's hopes. 2 Kings begins with Ahaziah going to inquire of the foreign god. This is a problem because, as Elijah puts it, "Is it because there's no God in Israel" (2 Kgs 1:3) that Ahaziah is consulting Baal-zebub? Naaman puts that question to rest. Not only is the LORD (Yahweh) actually Israel's God, but the LORD is the only God on earth. Perhaps this is the grandest confessional statement in the books of Kings, and that from the mouth of an outsider.

5:17 two mule loads of earth: Although Elisha refuses payment, Naaman asks for earth. Some suggest that he wishes to make a mud-brick altar when he arrives at home (cf. Exod 20:24-25). Others think the earth represents the sacred land of Israel, the land of Israel's God; and the Lord's power is limited to that territory. The more important point is that Naaman's worship won't be directed toward any other gods except the LORD.

5:18 may the LORD forgive: Naaman's request echoes Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple (1 Kgs 8:30, 34, 36, 39, 50). He represents the foreigner who prays toward the temple (see note on 2 Kgs 5:15). Rimmon: another name for the Aramean storm god Hadad (cf. 1 Kgs 16:31-33; Zech 12:11).
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Michael Slusser

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Re: Naaman, Elisha, and the First Commandment
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2016, 07:43:34 PM »
The CEB Study Bible has the following notes by Gordon Matties (professor of biblical and theological studies, Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba), on these verses. They suggest much deeper significance.

5:15 Now I know … no God anywhere on earth except in Israel: Although 2 Kings 5:8 anticipates Naaman's knowledge of Elisha's prophetic role, here readers discover the heart of the matter. Naaman's confession echoes Solomon's confession at the beginning of his prayer at the dedication of the temple (1 Kgs 8:23). Naaman is a textbook example of the foreigner (translated "immigrant" in 1 Kgs 8:41) who "comes form a distant country because of your reputation." The hope, prays Solomon, is "so that all the people of the earth may know your reputation and revere you" (1 Kgs 8:43). Similarly, Solomon's blessing on the people also includes the hope "that all the earth's peoples may know that the LORD is God. There is no other God!" (1 Kgs 8:60). Naaman has demonstrated the fulfillment (perhaps as a representative of all foreigners) of Solomon's hopes. 2 Kings begins with Ahaziah going to inquire of the foreign god. This is a problem because, as Elijah puts it, "Is it because there's no God in Israel" (2 Kgs 1:3) that Ahaziah is consulting Baal-zebub? Naaman puts that question to rest. Not only is the LORD (Yahweh) actually Israel's God, but the LORD is the only God on earth. Perhaps this is the grandest confessional statement in the books of Kings, and that from the mouth of an outsider.

5:17 two mule loads of earth: Although Elisha refuses payment, Naaman asks for earth. Some suggest that he wishes to make a mud-brick altar when he arrives at home (cf. Exod 20:24-25). Others think the earth represents the sacred land of Israel, the land of Israel's God; and the Lord's power is limited to that territory. The more important point is that Naaman's worship won't be directed toward any other gods except the LORD.

5:18 may the LORD forgive: Naaman's request echoes Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple (1 Kgs 8:30, 34, 36, 39, 50). He represents the foreigner who prays toward the temple (see note on 2 Kgs 5:15). Rimmon: another name for the Aramean storm god Hadad (cf. 1 Kgs 16:31-33; Zech 12:11).
Interesting, but not addressing the bolded text in my citation, where Naaman seeks forgiveness in advance or authorization fir continuing to accompany his pagan master to the temple and bowing down to the pagan God Rimmon. Elisha apparently gives him that authorization--to combine worship of Israel's God with a pagan God.

Is God's Word telling us that sometimes the First Commandment admits of exceptions?

Peace,
Michael
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Re: Naaman, Elisha, and the First Commandment
« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2016, 08:24:01 PM »
The CEB Study Bible has the following notes by Gordon Matties (professor of biblical and theological studies, Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba), on these verses. They suggest much deeper significance.

5:15 Now I know … no God anywhere on earth except in Israel: Although 2 Kings 5:8 anticipates Naaman's knowledge of Elisha's prophetic role, here readers discover the heart of the matter. Naaman's confession echoes Solomon's confession at the beginning of his prayer at the dedication of the temple (1 Kgs 8:23). Naaman is a textbook example of the foreigner (translated "immigrant" in 1 Kgs 8:41) who "comes form a distant country because of your reputation." The hope, prays Solomon, is "so that all the people of the earth may know your reputation and revere you" (1 Kgs 8:43). Similarly, Solomon's blessing on the people also includes the hope "that all the earth's peoples may know that the LORD is God. There is no other God!" (1 Kgs 8:60). Naaman has demonstrated the fulfillment (perhaps as a representative of all foreigners) of Solomon's hopes. 2 Kings begins with Ahaziah going to inquire of the foreign god. This is a problem because, as Elijah puts it, "Is it because there's no God in Israel" (2 Kgs 1:3) that Ahaziah is consulting Baal-zebub? Naaman puts that question to rest. Not only is the LORD (Yahweh) actually Israel's God, but the LORD is the only God on earth. Perhaps this is the grandest confessional statement in the books of Kings, and that from the mouth of an outsider.

5:17 two mule loads of earth: Although Elisha refuses payment, Naaman asks for earth. Some suggest that he wishes to make a mud-brick altar when he arrives at home (cf. Exod 20:24-25). Others think the earth represents the sacred land of Israel, the land of Israel's God; and the Lord's power is limited to that territory. The more important point is that Naaman's worship won't be directed toward any other gods except the LORD.

5:18 may the LORD forgive: Naaman's request echoes Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple (1 Kgs 8:30, 34, 36, 39, 50). He represents the foreigner who prays toward the temple (see note on 2 Kgs 5:15). Rimmon: another name for the Aramean storm god Hadad (cf. 1 Kgs 16:31-33; Zech 12:11).
Interesting, but not addressing the bolded text in my citation, where Naaman seeks forgiveness in advance or authorization fir continuing to accompany his pagan master to the temple and bowing down to the pagan God Rimmon. Elisha apparently gives him that authorization--to combine worship of Israel's God with a pagan God.

Is God's Word telling us that sometimes the First Commandment admits of exceptions?

Peace,
Michael
No. It seems to me it is precisely because the commandment doesn't admit of exceptions that there is a potential problem of appearances. Naaman says he has to bow because his master has to lean on him; Naaman is his physical support, so if the master wants to bow, Naaman has to bow. He knows it will look like he is bowing to the pagan god but Naaman wants Elisha to know that he isn't bowing to the god or even pretending to. He is helping his master bow. In the same way, someone might say, "If you see my car pulling into the strip joint, it isn't what you think. I'm an uber driver and sometimes I drop people off there." A person doing his job serving someone else might give the appearance of doing something wrong because the person he is serving is doing something wrong. At issue is not whether the commandments admit of exception but whether appearances are always accurate.

Michael Slusser

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Re: Naaman, Elisha, and the First Commandment
« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2016, 08:37:13 PM »
Interesting, but not addressing the bolded text in my citation, where Naaman seeks forgiveness in advance or authorization fir continuing to accompany his pagan master to the temple and bowing down to the pagan God Rimmon. Elisha apparently gives him that authorization--to combine worship of Israel's God with a pagan God.

Is God's Word telling us that sometimes the First Commandment admits of exceptions?
No. It seems to me it is precisely because the commandment doesn't admit of exceptions that there is a potential problem of appearances. Naaman says he has to bow because his master has to lean on him; Naaman is his physical support, so if the master wants to bow, Naaman has to bow. He knows it will look like he is bowing to the pagan god but Naaman wants Elisha to know that he isn't bowing to the god or even pretending to. He is helping his master bow. In the same way, someone might say, "If you see my car pulling into the strip joint, it isn't what you think. I'm an uber driver and sometimes I drop people off there." A person doing his job serving someone else might give the appearance of doing something wrong because the person he is serving is doing something wrong. At issue is not whether the commandments admit of exception but whether appearances are always accurate.
Aren't appearances important? Naaman seems to think so. He takes it as certain that he is violating his commitment to the LORD, because he asks if God will forgive him.  In fact, if even the appearance of worshipping other gods is OK, then the Maccabees and many early Christian martyrs were overly scrupulous.

Peace,
Michael
« Last Edit: February 28, 2016, 08:58:39 PM by Michael Slusser »
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Re: Naaman, Elisha, and the First Commandment
« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2016, 09:17:29 PM »
Interesting, but not addressing the bolded text in my citation, where Naaman seeks forgiveness in advance or authorization fir continuing to accompany his pagan master to the temple and bowing down to the pagan God Rimmon. Elisha apparently gives him that authorization--to combine worship of Israel's God with a pagan God.

Is God's Word telling us that sometimes the First Commandment admits of exceptions?
No. It seems to me it is precisely because the commandment doesn't admit of exceptions that there is a potential problem of appearances. Naaman says he has to bow because his master has to lean on him; Naaman is his physical support, so if the master wants to bow, Naaman has to bow. He knows it will look like he is bowing to the pagan god but Naaman wants Elisha to know that he isn't bowing to the god or even pretending to. He is helping his master bow. In the same way, someone might say, "If you see my car pulling into the strip joint, it isn't what you think. I'm an uber driver and sometimes I drop people off there." A person doing his job serving someone else might give the appearance of doing something wrong because the person he is serving is doing something wrong. At issue is not whether the commandments admit of exception but whether appearances are always accurate.
Aren't appearances important? Naaman seems to think so. He takes it as certain that he is violating his commitment to the LORD, because he asks if God will forgive him.  In fact, if even the appearance of worshipping other gods is OK, then the Maccabees and many early Christian martyrs were overly scrupulous.

Peace,
Michael
There is a big difference between deliberately giving the appearance of whorshiping a false god in order to go along and get along (which is an act of faithlessness) and inadvertently giving the appearance of worshiping a false god, which appears to Naaman's dilemma.

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Re: Naaman, Elisha, and the First Commandment
« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2016, 09:37:20 PM »
So "appearances can be misleading" coupled with the Nuremburg ("I was only following orders") defense exonerates  Naaman from a perceived breach of the First Commandment?
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Re: Naaman, Elisha, and the First Commandment
« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2016, 09:54:53 PM »
So "appearances can be misleading" coupled with the Nuremburg ("I was only following orders") defense exonerates  Naaman from a perceived breach of the First Commandment?
The commandment is not about appearances and "perceived" (but not real) breaches of any commandemnt do not need exoneration. Naaman wan't "bowing down to worship" nor was he trying to give the appearance of bowing down to worship. His job required him to lower himself to the floor while in the vicinity of an idol. His actions had nothing to do with that idol but he understood how someone could perceive it that way.

Imagine practicing a foreign language and mouthing words that sound in English like "God Damn it" but which in that other language refer to something completely innocent. You aren't breaking the 2nd commandment by making those noises when practicing a foreign language, but someone overhearing you practicing might think you were. So you'd probably clarify beforehand. "I know what this sounds like, but I'm speaking in x language, not swearing in English." That's all Naaman was doing. "My job requires me to help frail people bow to idols. It looks likes I'm bowing along with them. I'm not. Just so you know."

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Re: Naaman, Elisha, and the First Commandment
« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2016, 10:08:06 PM »
Elisha's response, "Go in peace," would seem to indicate assurance that God can tell the difference between appearances and reality.

A pastor I knew had some church members questioning his fitness for ministry after they observed him in the middle of the afternoon accompanying a drunk walking down the street in town.  What was he doing being in the company of someone intoxicated.  As a matter of fact, he was with someone intoxicated, stumbling along, weaving all over the sidewalk etc., would not have passed any field sobriety test.  But he was intoxicated with nitrous oxide after an afternoon of oral surgery.  Appearances can be misleading.
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Re: Naaman, Elisha, and the First Commandment
« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2016, 10:20:42 PM »
And if he had been with a drunk, he might have been saving the drunk's life. Fitness for ministry? Yes.
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Re: Naaman, Elisha, and the First Commandment
« Reply #10 on: February 29, 2016, 10:47:55 AM »
There is a big difference between deliberately giving the appearance of whorshiping a false god in order to go along and get along (which is an act of faithlessness) and inadvertently giving the appearance of worshiping a false god, which appears to Naaman's dilemma.

An interesting neologism.

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Re: Naaman, Elisha, and the First Commandment
« Reply #11 on: February 29, 2016, 10:57:12 AM »
There is a big difference between deliberately giving the appearance of whorshiping a false god in order to go along and get along (which is an act of faithlessness) and inadvertently giving the appearance of worshiping a false god, which appears to Naaman's dilemma.

An interesting neologism.
Typo. But indeed, whorshiping is a good shorthand for whoring after other gods.

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Re: Naaman, Elisha, and the First Commandment
« Reply #12 on: February 29, 2016, 12:05:37 PM »
So "appearances can be misleading" coupled with the Nuremburg ("I was only following orders") defense exonerates  Naaman from a perceived breach of the First Commandment?
The commandment is not about appearances and "perceived" (but not real) breaches of any commandemnt do not need exoneration. Naaman wan't "bowing down to worship" nor was he trying to give the appearance of bowing down to worship. His job required him to lower himself to the floor while in the vicinity of an idol. His actions had nothing to do with that idol but he understood how someone could perceive it that way.

Imagine practicing a foreign language and mouthing words that sound in English like "God Damn it" but which in that other language refer to something completely innocent. You aren't breaking the 2nd commandment by making those noises when practicing a foreign language, but someone overhearing you practicing might think you were. So you'd probably clarify beforehand. "I know what this sounds like, but I'm speaking in x language, not swearing in English." That's all Naaman was doing. "My job requires me to help frail people bow to idols. It looks likes I'm bowing along with them. I'm not. Just so you know."

Totally agree with the phrase "perceived but not real breaches of any commandment do not need exoneration."

Dave Benke