Chapter 1: Naaman
2 Kings 5:1-19:
1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. 2 Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little maid from the land of Israel, and she waited on Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4 So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the maiden from the land of Israel.” 5 And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”
So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten festal garments. 6 And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 7 And when the king of Israel read the letter, he rent his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”
8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you rent your clothes? Let him now come to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman was angry, and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” So he turned, and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, if the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him; and he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.” 16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, I pray you, let there be given to your servant two mules’ burden of earth; for henceforth your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any God but the Lord. 18 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.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”
This is unquestionably one of the best-known stories in the book. The healing of the leper is full of many different lessons both as regards the omnipotence and love of God and also as a prophecy of the healings of Christ. Nevertheless, it seems to us that the text has many aspects which are often neglected and that in the last resort it forces us to raise more questions than it helps us to answer.
In the first instance, and with a reference to the saying of Jesus himself, this miracle is surprising inasmuch as it is not a pure and simple manifestation of God’s pity for the sick man. This is not the point. Jesus tells: ‘And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27). In another story we shall come across some of those lepers in Israel who were not cured. It is not because the leper is in a sorry state that Naaman is healed. This is not one of the miracles of God’s love which is a sign of the restoration of all things in the kingdom. The miracle has another dimension for Naaman. It has a different orientation. Everything in it astonishes us. Naaman is a general. In spite of the meaning of his name, he is a man of war, a man of blood. Pacifists and proponents of nonviolence have to understand that the man of blood is not excluded from the love of God. Yet our first reaction is necessarily unfavorable. He has chosen violence. Is it not normal, then, that he should be smitten and that he should bear upon himself this uncleanness, the mark of his sin, the sign of his violence?
But Naaman is not only a man of war. He is also a mighty man. He is the king’s confidant, the premier. And we know so well that God loves the humble, the poor, and the weak.
We have now seen clearly that the gospel is for the sick, that Jesus makes himself poor among the poor. We know by heart: A curse on your riches. We see only this aspect of God’s judgment, that he exalts the humble and abases the proud. Other ages have confused social and political elevation (or success) with God’s blessing and with excellence before him. They have known the alliance of throne and altar. To them it would have seemed normal that God should in effect be concerned about this powerful Naaman and that he should cure him … in order that he might continue to fulfil his eminent role.
This is no longer the case today. We think the leprosy is simply an expression of the threat: A curse on your riches.
Again, this Naaman is a Syrian. At that time this did not just mean that he was a foreigner. It meant that he was a representative of the power which was perpetually hostile and which was then the most menacing for the kingdom of Israel, having already invaded it several times. Naaman, as a Syrian general, had undoubtedly participated already in the wars against Israel, for we are told that he was an outstanding soldier. This is the man to whom God will manifest his love. Let us recall once more that this is not unique in Scripture. Let us also recall the constant misunderstanding of the gospel we hear today when there is reference to publicans and harlots. Sentimentality has it that these are poor people. Publicans are portrayed as little people and harlots as the miserable prostitutes found on the sidewalks of our big towns. On the other hand the Pharisees are supposedly rich bourgeois. But the historical reality was the exact opposite. The Pharisees were poor enough and they strained their resources by alms and sacrifices. The publicans belonged to great capitalist corporations and were either capitalists themselves or highly paid executives. The harlots were more like the “mondames” of 1900, i.e., very rich women. Their misery was not at the level of money or social position, which was high, but at the level of contempt. They were despised by those who were really the honest poor and who knew that God is with the poor. They were despised by patriotic Israelites (for these publicans were collaborators with the invader, with the enemy of the chosen people) and by those who upheld the moral standards God had taught his people.
I am sad to say that if we relate this period to a French experience which is just fading, that of 1944-1945, the publicans and harlots around Jesus correspond in some sense to dealers in the black market, to collaborators, and to the women whose hair was sheared off at the liberation. They were that part of the people of Israel which had power through wealth and influence but which was rejected, disdained, and hated by those who were faithful. God constantly reverses our judgments and impulses.
Incidentally the text shows us that this Naaman was in his military function a servant of the Lord whom he did not know. It was by him that the Eternal had delivered the Syrians. This is a strange statement if one takes it seriously. It is an affirmation of Yahweh’s universal rule. It is over-facile to evade the difficulty by saying that this is a verse written at the time when Israel was beginning to realize that its God was the God of the whole earth. The point of the incident is to give prominence to this theological affirmation and also to give prominence to the superiority of the people of Israel over all other peoples. Here is an explanation which is no explanation. For one thing, the reference is to the enemy. How could it be admitted that God has as much concern and affection for these Syrians, the constant threat and hereditary enemy, as he does for the Jews themselves? God’s interest in this people is truly odd. Again, whether we like it or not, the incident has now been inserted in the book which was accepted by God’s people as God’s Word. We cannot view it as a stage in the theological elaboration of the concept of God by Israel. We shall continually return to this problem. Either Israel is the chosen people and receives a revelation from God, so that what it holds, transcribes, and transmits is a Word of God and not its own ideas, or Israel is not the chosen people and its ideas and myths and writings are of no more interest than those of the Aztecs or the Japanese.
We have to make a decision here, a decision of faith. For my part I confess that Israel is the chosen people. When, therefore, it holds that God delivered Syria by Naaman, this is not a stage in its own religious evolution; it is the truth of God. Evidently we shall receive no further light on the motives of God in willing this.
Why does God act in favor of the Syrians? There is no point in mentioning the reasons we usually adduce. It is not for the sake of justice. It is not in the name of Syrian independence; the right of national self-determination does not exist in the Bible. Before God nations have neither a right to exist nor a right to liberty. They have no assurance of perpetuity. On the contrary, the lesson of the Bible seems to be that nations are swept away like dead leaves and that occasionally, almost by accident, one might endure rather longer. We do not need to search further. God willed that the Syrians should be delivered, probably from the Assyrians, and he chose a servant to do it, Naaman.
Historical events, then, are basically incomprehensible even though historians can superficially link together causes and effects. The only sure point is that the clearer our understanding is, the more superficial and artificial is the explanation. All the text tells us is that there is an express will of God in historical events for every people, whether it is a believing people or not. But this does not mean in the least that in some evident way historical events are a plain figure of the will of God, as, for example, in Gesta Dei per Francos, or Bossuet’s Explication de 1‘Histoire Universelle. We must resolutely resist any such idea, even though we may find it again today in the formulae of modern theologians: “Historical events express a Word of God to the church,” or: “Christ lives in history.”
On the contrary, we must insist on the complete liberty of God and the mysterious character of history. On the one hand we find manifest interventions and declarations between power and power which are in no way related to the will of God. On the other hand we discover invisible, humble interventions which are just the ones that God uses. The king of Syria stands by his general. If there is a chance of curing him it must be taken, and since the healer lives in the kingdom of Samaria, to whom should a king write except to another king? The letter of the king of Syria, and similarly the reaction of the king of Israel, tells us a great deal about the relation between the two peoples. It is obvious that the king of Syria is the stronger. He is of higher rank. He gives the orders. This king of Syria acts like a normal pagan ruler. He believes in magic. In his own land it is the king who controls magical power for the whole people, since he is the divine king. He assumes that the same is true in Israel, and he thus asks his equivalent directly for the miracle.
Again, for one who holds secular power, the other relations are power relations, and the king makes the mistake of the normal politician; he turns to a politician to solve a problem. Now the king of Israel, when he receives the letter, reacts just like the king of Syria. He interprets the act of the latter on the political level. It is strange to note that in the last resort the king of Israel, of all those involved, shows the least faith and the least obedience to the will of God. He acts with reasonable doubt. To be sure, he knows Elisha. He has already had dealings with him. But all the same he does not believe in him. It seems most unlikely to him that the king of Israel has really come seeking a miracle. At the political level such a request can only be a provocation. The whole thing is a disaster. The king of Syria wants a new pretext for war. He is thus asking the impossible. The king of Israel never even thinks of Elisha. After all, who is king? Who holds titular power? Who is in fact the Lord’s anointed? Himself. Again we have the self-contemplation of political power which thinks that everything should be arranged at the political level by political means, and that everything has political signification.
The text teaches us that everything does not have to have a political signification and that everything is not necessarily a concern of political powers. At all events we see clearly that it is not by their mediation that God is going to act. The intervention of institutional power is of no interest to God. We have here human actions and reactions that are of no significance. But there is still another character who comes within the sector of powers. This is Naaman himself. He is a mighty man in his own rank from the world’s standpoint. He is obeyed and respected. He thinks the prophet will be honored by his visit. Again, he has his own conception of what magicians are like. He has seen them at work in his own land and he expects the same kind of operation. As a man of the world Naaman can allow that the power of one magician may be quantitatively different from that of another. But he can see no qualitative difference. It is always thus in the presence of God. We can grant that he is more powerful, more merciful, etc. But we cannot think of him as quite other than the gods of the world to which we are accustomed.
Naaman, then, is angry because he is not shown due respect, because he is mocked, because he has not been politely treated, and because the man of God has not acted as every proper magician ought to act. Naaman belongs to the secular order. He doubts, and he has reason to doubt, since what is asked of him is in effect absurd. According to his situation, according to his intelligence, and according to his experience, the saying of Elisha is worthless.
It is always thus when the Word of God comes to us. A priori it necessarily seems to be absurd, for it is of a different order. And our conversion does not consist in assimilating this Word so that it becomes reasonable. The absurd element persists, but from this moment what becomes absurd is the world, its wisdom, its intelligence, its power, its politics, its experience. For the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. After Naaman’s conversion what will seem absurd and ridiculous to him will be the manners, the customs, and the religion of Syria.
In comparison with all the decisions and reactions of man which God does not use, which he leaves on one side, we must consider the modest and humble means which God does choose to achieve his purpose. First there is a little girl from the land of Israel who is a slave at Damascus in the household of Naaman. (This proves that there had been earlier wars and that Naaman had had a part in them.) She is the first of God’s instruments, a girl (and we know how unimportant women were at this time), a child, a slave. It would be hard to find a more commonplace starting-point or one of less significance from the human standpoint. Yet the words of this girl carry conviction. They obviously express her faith. She speaks the truth. She has seen that Elisha is in truth a prophet of the Eternal. But once she has expressed this truth and thus borne testimony to her faith (and convinced Naaman), she vanishes from the story. There is no further reference to her; even her name is not recorded, and the rest of her human adventure is without importance. She has borne the Word of God, and this is the decisive event in her life both for herself and for others. We shall see, however, that later in the story God again uses very humble people, the servants of Naaman, who are also slaves, and pagans to boot.
Naaman angrily refuses to do what Elisha has had said to him through an intermediary (the supreme insult! the general has not even been “received”!). And now it is the slaves who decide the issue. It is not the prestige of Elisha, nor the power of the prophet, nor his word, which will convince Naaman. It is the banal words of his servants. Nor has the general any reason to believe his servants. He knows them well. He has plenty of evidence that they are not magic. And yet he is persuaded by the most simple of arguments which amounts to no more than this: “You can do this at all events. If it does no good, it will do no harm. It is not complicated. Why not try it?” This is the kind of thing we usually consider the very opposite of faith. But we have to admit that if in the last resort Naaman is swayed by this simple reasoning, it is because the argument is on his own level. This is an argument the natural man can listen to and accept. It is certainly not the saying of the prophet, and Christians must not take it as a model, but it is the kind of argument the ordinary man can address to the ordinary man, and we must be on guard against scorning it (even if we are not to overrate it either). God shows us that this is something he also uses.
In this’ nexus of circumstances, of the free words of contingent men, through which a decision of God’s will is effected, we thus see that God has plans for Naaman. Naaman has been chosen by God from among other lepers. Perhaps we might even surmise that if he is leprous, if there is this contradiction between his political power and his hidden distress, it is because God was waiting for him and planned through his mediation to penetrate the sphere of politics with the testimony to his love and also the presence of his truth. In a singular way, however, we shall see that in this story God’s action is never clear, obvious, startling, unique, or incontestable, not even in the healing. For Naaman is still haunted by the idea of magic.
The waters of the Abana and the Pharpar are just as good a remedy as those of the Jordan. The Word of God is not in any way convincing or cogent in and of itself. God’s commandment does not carry the evidence of truth and reason. On the contrary, it follows human paths each of which is both contestable and inadequate. God uses a host of concurrent agents to achieve his own end. There is the little girl who speaks with such deep conviction. There is the king of Syria who intervenes with the lofty disdain of power. There is Elisha who remains anonymous and absent, who does not even see Naaman, who encloses himself in the secret and mystery of the will of God. There are the servants who formulate the common-sense simplicity of the natural man. None of these alone can boast of having accomplished God’s design. None can pretend that he is the central point in God’s action, not even Elisha. For Elisha could have done nothing had not the little girl suggested that Naaman should come to him. And his word would have been in vain if the servants of Naaman had not provoked the general’s obedience. Each, then, entered into the plan God had for the leper. Each had his own part. Each fulfilled his own vocation, whether wittingly (like Elisha) or unwittingly. But each intervened according to his own bent, at his own level, and with his own personal decision. Each was what he chose to be at the appropriate time. At no point do we find God forcing anyone by his own action. On the contrary, the whole story is designed to show that each intervenes freely and according to his own situation and with his own free remarks. The whole story is designed to display this independence of the individual in relation to God, who does not act in his subconscious and who does not condition him either directly or indirectly.
How can I state in this way that this is the point of the story? The case seems to me to be a very simple one. If the story wanted to show us God crushing the will of man and forcing man to do what God wants, then things would have been very simple. God would have sent Naaman directly to Elisha, and Naaman’s obedience would have been pure and simple. We should thus have a schema repeated a thousand times in all the ancient and medieval legends, in which the relation between gods and men is precisely the relation of a crushing will with a man which makes a mere automaton of the will of the man himself. There is nothing in common with this here. Each acts according to his own intention. Only one man does not act. This is the prophet. The prophet knows what is God’s intention for this man. He knows the gospel of God for the leper. He can disregard his own will, his own intention, his personal level of judgment. And he is the only one who does not act. All he does is intervene with the desperate king of Israel and have the leper sent to him. But he does not leave his own house to see and receive the general. He does not welcome him. He does not act. He simply has his servant tell him what is God’s order regarding him. He does not preach the gospel to him, but with the promise he gives a command. All this ought to make us reconsider all the activist talk in the church, the supposed imperative that the church should go out to meet the world, the insistence that Christians should stop presenting to men the authoritative demand and commandment of God…. Now all the acts referred to are fragmentary and disconnected acts which have no significance alone. Similarly that of Elisha has no value of its own. It is God who weaves together the threads of these interventions, who makes of them an act of God, who brings to light their meaning and orientation. It is God who finally obtains what he hoped for by means of the liberty of each participant. But why in this way, through unimportant acts that are not connected to one another? The human link between them is obviously the person of Naaman, and if these acts are all petty, insignificant, and of no evident worth, it is because God respects the independence of Naaman just as he does that of each of the other characters in the story.
At every point the general has a decision to make. At every point this decision is not confronted by an irresistible constraint or by crushing evidence and certitude. He has to listen to what the little slave says. But why should he obey it? And even when the king of Israel sends him to Elisha, why should he not take umbrage and return to Syria to provoke the diplomatic incident? In addition, the word Elisha speaks to him is certainly not a compelling or totalitarian word. He can refuse to listen to it, and this is exactly why Elisha does not appear, why he treats him thus. This kind of anonymity which does not break through the television screen nor stun the middle-class citizen is God’s great respect for the liberty of the one he loves. Naaman, too, has to decide for himself. He has also to do this in relation to what his slaves say to him. At every point in the story, then, each decides for himself what he has to do, and at every twist Naaman is confronted by a simple word which it is just as easy to set aside or ignore. This whole nexus finally serves to express the full gospel.
Yet the really puzzling thing in the story is that finally it all seems to be to no purpose. Certainly Naaman is cured. It is no little thing that a sick person is made well, especially a leper. But in the last resort there are still many other sick people. Again, Naaman undoubtedly perceives that this cure is God’s act. He recognizes that this God is different from all the other gods, that there is no other god but the Lord. And this again is no little thing. We see that the miracle of which he was the object leads to his conversion. But what counts is probably not so much the facticity of the miracle as the signification Naaman perceives in it. He is surely struck by the difference between Elisha’s action and that of all other magicians and sorcerers. He is struck by this mark of the power of this God, and perhaps even more so by the mercy of this God. All this is excellent. But apart from these two personal results for Naaman, what do we find? From the political standpoint first, the incident does not improve the situation between Israel and Syria nor stop the war which will very soon break out between them afresh. We see this war developing in Chapter 6, and historians agree that the same king of Israel figures in both stories. In other words Naaman, who continues to be a general, will probably lead the armies of Syria against Israel. His conversion does not change the relation between the powers. The church which is now present in both Syria and Israel does not stop politics being politics. And it is a great illusion to think that the church can prevent wars (although obviously this is not to say that it should endorse them). Furthermore, Naaman is still very superstitious. His conversion to the true God has not stripped away the beliefs of his background and civilization. He has not become a good theologian. In effect we see him asking for some of the soil of Israel, as much as can be carried by two mules, so that he can make a little bed of soil on which to build an altar to the Eternal. He is still convinced that God is a local God, that he is tied to a particular land. He is still convinced that if he carries away some of the soil of this land he will take with it a little of the presence of God. He is still convinced that God does not want to be worshiped except on the soil of this land which he willed to give to his people. He is still convinced that a sacrifice offered to God on other soil would not please him. To be sure these are all foolish notions, for us who are so spiritual that we have chased God off the earth and relocated him as far away as possible. But they are foolish notions which are not condemned by God himself.
The text does not tell us that Elisha corrects or condemns Naaman, nor that he gives him a lesson in theology. Naaman still entertains the ideas of his age, but he bends and subjugates them in the presence of the true God. It is to serve this true God that he acts in a way that seems ridiculous to us. It is in order to love exclusively, to make a rigorous demarcation, to affirm his break publicly, that, adopting the manners and ideas and customs of his day, he uses them to show that his God is not the same as that of others. Thus the very absurdity of his act is pleasing to God. “I am carrying the soil of Israel into Syria because the soil of Syria is not good.” What an offense! There would have been no offense if he had rested content with a spiritual love of God. “I am carrying soil from elsewhere into Syria in order to bear concrete witness to the presence of the one true God who cannot be loved and served on this soil, the soil of Baa!, Rimmon, and Ishtar.” This is how faith transforms customs even though it leaves a man in his own culture. This is why we must not attempt the futile enterprise of demythologizing the Bible. One has only to read it to see where and how this demythologizing is done. Nevertheless, the ambivalence of Naaman’s situation is not set aside. He takes a stand publicly. He makes a clean break by establishing his little plot for sacrifice. But from another angle he remains a politician, a councillor, a general. He is divided between his duty of state under an idolatrous prince and his faith in the Eternal. And the story continues to be surprising. He does not get the idea that as one who has been cured himself he must convert his king. He does not have the burning urge to witness. He shows none of the fire of the neophyte. Nor does he think of withdrawing, of becoming a hermit, of quitting his post. He is a politician and a soldier, and he remains so. “Every one should remain in the state in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Never mind . . .” (1 Corinthians 7:20-21). Were you a general? Never mind. Yet he knows that the god he served up to this point, and the god his king continues to serve, is a false god. He knows that when he accompanies the king in ceremonies, he will seem to be worshiping this god. Publicly he will have to do what his position demands. He will have to bow down to Rim-mon. He knows this is wrong. But he also knows he has no option but to do this wrong. He asks for forgiveness. This is another scandal.
He intends to sin and he asks for pardon in advance. We are faced here by an attitude which could hardly be more suspect and which opens the door to all kinds of compromises. This is “mental reservation.” We act in one way publicly, but inwardly we do not believe it. We are inwardly free and this actually justifies our conformities to the present century. This is the attitude of Naaman, which he knows to be reprehensible. Nevertheless, this attitude has two positive aspects. Naaman expressly recognizes that Rimmon is an idol. He recognizes that this state service is disobedience to God, that his political action is open to condemnation. Are we so sure, when we serve idols, that we can see they are idols? Are we so sure we have the same clarity of vision in relation to the nation, the state, the independence of peoples, socialism, progress, the army, cultures, money, etc. When we choose to serve the powers that employ us, are we so sure we have the discernment of this general? “I can do no other; this is part of my service; but I know it is wrong.” Are we so sure we have the honesty not to attempt to reconcile the two? This is the difference between Naaman’s attitude and mental reservation. He does not seek inner reassurance. He does not separate the two spheres. He does not try to say that after all his secular service is willed by God even if it involves apparent worship of Rimmon—one cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs, it is impossible not to have dirty hands. Nor does he try to say that one might make a synthesis between God and Rimmon, that in apparently serving the latter one is really serving the former—we serve science or the state, but in reality we are serving God. He plainly admits the contradiction between the two. He admits that one cannot serve God and Mammon. But he sees no way out of the contradiction. He does not accept a compromise; he accuses himself. He does not try to pretend that he will henceforth be God’s faithful servant by continuing to render service to the king, a service which will be disloyal because he no longer believes what he ought to believe as a Syrian general. From this point on he lives in inner strife and tension, since his position is in fact one that defies solution. It is that of every conscientious Christian who takes part in any way in the activity of society. And Naaman condemns himself. There is no other attitude he can take, no other outcome. His conduct may seem sometimes to be primitive (carrying the earth) or mediocre (not totally obeying God). Yet it is in very truth exemplary. He carries the earth and sets up an altar to God; this marks his break henceforth with his own earth, his country, and the gods of his fellow-citizens. He breaks with everything sacred in his society. He thus enters on the way of sanctity. Yet he also rejoins this society in a new relation. He continues to serve his king in repentance and in the conviction that although it is not finally good and righteous, nevertheless he ought to do it. This honesty in asking forgiveness in advance is precisely the sign of the authenticity of his conversion.
He speaks to Elisha and explains his situation. In some sense he seeks his counsel. He asks him to be his interpreter or mediator with the God he has now recognized to be the one true God. But in the main Elisha does not reply. He offers no ethical advice. He does not tell him he ought to leave his post and background and refuse to bow down before idols. Elisha does not plunge into casuistry, differentiating what would be legitimate for him from what would not. He has no solution to propose. He lets Naaman choose himself. He lets him make his own decision. He faces him up to his responsibility without saying what it is Yet he does not let him go away empty He grants him peace from God. He finally declares the gospel to him. Perhaps it should be noted that although Elisha did not receive the famous general when he came the first time from the king of Syria and also from the king of Israel, he did receive him the second time when this man came to make a confession of faith and to show him the conflict of faith. If Elisha did not receive him when it was a question of performing a miracle of healing for him (although he did perform it), he did receive him when the basic problem was at issue And this, too, should be enlightening to us Christians who are so zealous for action and so scornful of what is only a matter of conversion and the inner life.
Elisha, then, gives him the blessing of peace. This means on the one hand that in spite of the tension between his faith and his public acts, peace is made with God. God has made peace and assures him of it. God sees beyond appearances. He knows the reality of the human heart. And since from now on the mighty general is poor in this conflict and penitence, he assures him of his peace. But again, when Elisha says: “Go in peace,” this implies affirmation of the unity of Naaman’s being. In spite of the tension, in spite of the rift between his faith and his conduct, in spite of the accusation his conscience brings against him, Naaman receives attestation that his being is not double, that he is one, that he exists in a unity that transcends the formal unity of the person. Naaman can now be what he is, not without questions and repentance, but whole and entire, a man who is no longer gnawed away by leprosy physically, a man who, resting in the peace of God, ceases to be gnawed away by the idolatry of the state which divides and corrupts the innermost depths of man.