2 Kings 5:18–19 (NIV)

18 But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”

19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said.

Naaman's actions go seriously against the laws given by God. Within the Ten Commandments, for example, idolatry is the most serious sin to commit. And yet, surprisingly, Elisha does not seem concerned, and he tells Naaman to go in peace!

It is the act of idolatry, not the thought of idolatry, that the Bible explicitly condemns. Based on my studies of law, I feel we must not bow down to an idol and then say we did not mean to do so. The mere act of bowing down is sinful. How, then, are Naaman's actions justified in this case?

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    I've voted to close this as primarily opinion based: different Christians are going to have different ways of understanding this verse, and without specifying a tradition (Catholicism, Reformed theology, Methodism, etc.), this feels to me like a "truth question." Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 17:17

2 Answers 2


Let's take a look at exactly what we are taking into consideration here:

all Scriptures are quoted from the King James translation.

Exo 20:3 through 5

Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

This commandment says 'gods before me.' There are two important points here:

  1. the word is gods and the little g indicates a false god.

  2. The second important point is the word before.

Considering these words and their importance how does that compare to what Naaman said, and verse 18 cannot be considered without considering verse 17:

2nd Kings 5:17 And Naaman said, Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules' burden of earth? for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the LORD.

Naaman, wanted to have a place where he could feel like he was worshiping in Israel therefore he wanted some soil from Israel to build a worship place dedicated to the Jehovah, and stated that from then on he would worship him alone

2nd Kings 5:18 In this thing the LORD pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon thy servant in this thing.

Here Naaman is saying that he will only be bowing in the house of Rimmon because his master (who might be infirmed) was leaning on his arm and it was his duty to aid his master in his worship.

It is noteworthy that Naaman brought this up to Elisha, and shows that he wanted to know if God would consider it sinful. And would not God have had Elisha warn Naaman not to if he was asking out of such concern.


In addition to Cecil Beckum's fine answer, I think there was another important reason why Elisha sanctioned Naaman's bowing down with his master in a temple of idols. The reason is that Naaman was a Gentile! The "rules" for Israel did not apply in their entirety to Gentile God-fearers, of whom Naaman was clearly one.

If rather than returning to Syria, Naaman had decided to stay in Israel permanently and align himself with Israel's people, their God and the rules of their God, he would not have been allowed to do in Israel what Elisha sanctioned him to do in Syria. The Law of Moses makes it quite clear that Gentiles who desire to become citizens of Israel must conform to the Law of Moses.

Leviticus has numerous rules governing strangers/foreigners/sojourners who live among the Hebrews, including the following:

  • they must not work on the Sabbath, 16:29

  • they must not eat blood, 17:12

  • they become unclean, until evening, if during the day they eat the meat of an animal that died "of itself" (i.e., it was not killed for food, but it simply died or was killed by another beast), 17:15

  • they must not commit any sins which God considered abominations, 18:26

  • they must not eat a priest's food, which was considered holy and was meant to be eaten only by the priest and his immediate family and any slaves the priest may purchased, 22:10

  • they must not blaspheme the name of the LORD, 24:16

In conclusion, then, given Naaman's sincerity and his continuing to live among the Gentiles, Elisha was authorized by God to grant this concession to Naaman.


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