Two Mule-Loads of Earth

Elisha Refusing the Gifts of Naaman by Ferdinand Bol

2 Kings 5:15-19

15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.” 16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!” He urged him to accept, but he refused. 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord. 18 But may the Lord pardon your servant on one count: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow down in the house of Rimmon, when I do bow down in the house of Rimmon, may the Lord pardon your servant on this one count.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”

Naaman’s life has changed. His experience with the Living God and his messengers in the world has shown him the power and reality of truth. He desires to respond with gratitude and to give Elisha gifts, but Elisha has no interest in what Naaman has to offer. If anything, Elisha wants Naaman and us to understand one key truth about this event: Elisha has no power to do anything miraculous on his own. He is a prophet only at the behest and calling of God. God has provided for him in all he does so he doesn’t need to peddle miracles for personal gain. The LORD is sufficient and only the LORD is due glory, praise, credit, and honor. More importantly, Naaman’s gratitude should be solely focused upon the God who healed him.

Naaman understands this and asks for something else instead. He desires to take two mule-loads of earth from Israel back to Syria. Though the request sounds bizarre, we are more familiar with it than we realize. Naaman desires to take dirt from the land where he was healed so that he may make a space where he can worship the Living God. He has had a change of heart from earlier when he was offended by Elisha telling him to dip himself in the Jordan seven times to be healed. Before his healing, the water of the Jordan was not valuable to Naaman, but after, the very dirt evoked new respect and worship in Naaman’s heart. 

It is important for us that see the fine line between worship of the Living God and empty sentimentalism which could evolve into idolatry, but nevertheless, Naaman’s impulse to take holy ground back home to worship the Living God is something that strikes a cord with me. We live as strangers in a foreign land surrounded by the idols and desires of sinful flesh. Reminders of how God has saved us can be helpful for us as we tell our stories of salvation to others. But what is certain, nothing can bear witness of the power of God quite like our changed lives empowered by Jesus Christ.

May we understand and know that we are living testimonies of the One true God who has saved us in Jesus Christ. May the two mule-loads of dirt that is our lives be reminders to all who see and know us that God is great and worthy of all praise.

Prayer: Merciful God, you alone are great and worthy to be praised. Strengthen us and guide us as we serve you in this world. May our words and deeds declare your majesty and splendor so that all nations and all peoples would know Jesus Christ and his salvation. Amen.

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