Naaman wants to pay Elisha for the gift Naaman has received. Naaman must do something! The gift cannot actually be free – he must do or pay something for what he has been given.
Thankfully, Elisha is wise in understanding what is happening and how the next words out of his mouth could destroy everything that Naaman has just come to understand.
But he (Elisha) said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he (Naaman) urged him to take it, but he refused. (vs. 16)
Why would Elisha refuse? As a prophet he could rightfully receive support from the people of God. Elisha understood that something much greater was happening. God alone had done this incredible thing for Naaman – to make much of himself and not to make much of Elisha. Naaman is seeking to pay for what he has received, and that payment would have been making much of Elisha’s role. No, the better thing, both for Elisha and for Naaman, was for Elisha to refuse any payment and keep the emphasis on God alone.
Naaman persists in his desire to do something:
Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mules’ load of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord.” (vs. 17)
In this way, Naaman could make sacrifices on an alter from the very ground that God had given to the people of Israel. But he knows he has a greater problem than just how to make appropriate sacrifices to God:
That is a problem! He has just confessed the God of Israel as the sole god of the earth, but in his official duties he will be required to go with his king into a place of idol worship. Given that Naaman has just been released from his disease and been given faith, it would be reasonable to expect Elisha to come down very hard on Naaman.
But he doesn’t:
(Elisha) said to him, “Go in peace.” (vs. 19)
Huh? Shouldn’t Naaman have been rebuked? Or even had his leprosy returned? Or at least been instructed in the commandments God had given Moses: You shall not bow down to them (idols) or serve them (Deuteronomy 5:9)?
Matthew Henry’s commentary is very helpful here:
Though Naaman’s dissembling his religion cannot be approved, yet because his promise to offer no sacrifice to any god but the God of Israel only was a great point gained with a Syrian, and because, by asking pardon in this matter, he showed such a degree of conviction and ingenuousness as gave hopes of improvement, the prophet took fair leave of him, and bade him Go in peace, 2 Kings 5:19. Young converts must be tenderly dealt with.
I have been dealt with very tenderly by many people. After my Paul was born, I abandoned my faith and any association with my church. Dear people took all my fire and bitterness and foolish talk and only returned kindness. And when my eyes were opened to the beauty of Jesus Christ, they became even more tender and helpful and encouraging.
Now, when meeting younger parents who are first experiencing disability in their child, I remember how I was treated, and Elisha’s wise comportment. But most of all, I ask for the God of Elisha and Naaman to help me and to help them.
Tomorrow, the last section on 2 Kings 5: an unhappy ending for a servant of the Prophet.