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What Would Elisha Do? #MennoNerdsOnSyria

September 4, 2013

When news started pouring out and newscasters and the blogosphere started spewing about chemical weapons being used in Syria and what would Obama do now, I was struck by the Old Testament stories I was currently reading on my way once again through the Bible. (I go real slow, I’ve been on this read for about two years.)

In Kings II, chapter 5 we read about Naaman, commander of the Syrian army, highly respected and esteemed by the king of Syria, who came down with leprosy.

Hold it, I thought, is this the one and the same Syria as today. Bingo. In approximately the same position on the biblical maps as on Google Maps.

Actually the books of Kings I and II are filled with stories of wars and attacks and counter attacks involving Syria, and of course the Israel of the time.

Elisha the prophet is consulted (a little girl’s idea) about Naaman’s leprosy and he sort of brushes off the malady with a flippancy undue the dreaded disease, and also ignoring Naaman’s station in life. Elisha sent his trusty servant to deliver the message: “Dude, just go wash in the Jordan River and you’ll be fine.”

If you’re reading this I suspect you well know the rest of the story, that Naaman thinks he’s too good for a dip in the dirty Jordan and why couldn’t Elisha have the decency to come out and pray with him for pity’s sake. In the end, Naaman does what Elisha suggests and he’s nicely healed. Elisha goes on to make axheads float (chap. 6, v. 6-7) predict the end of an economic downturn (chap. 7, v. 1) and foretell catastrophic climate change (a long famine, chap 8  v. 1) among many other supercool deeds and predictions that earn him the rep of a Class A prophet. (The poor widow for whom Elisha arranged a running supply of household oil (first oil well?), the rich woman of Shunem who built the little room on top of her house so he’d always have a bed and breakfast.)

Send that man forward to the 21st century. What would Elisha say to the leaders of Syria and Israel and the U.S.?

I have no idea but I do know he would speak truth and that he had access to one superpower that we too possess: the power to pray and to pray often, even when we cannot imagine a solution. I also know that too often we fall into the same weaknesses of going astray by worshiping other gods.

I was reluctant to write on this feeling inadequate but for someone purporting to find harmony in all of life, I was struck by the ancient stories of Elisha and relating to this context.

Wiser political pundits than I (which I don’t claim to be at all) have pointed out the irony of a Nobel Peace Prize winner so seemingly devoid of ideas that a military attack—when the most recent conflicts haven’t even totally ended—is the best idea we can come up with? Some modern Elisha’s like Sheldon C. Good speak out and have written this, urging longterm solutions and holding our leaders accountable. Mennonite Central Committee suggests contacting legislators with lists here. One Mennonerd blogger has suggested at least praying every noon. I’m signing on.


For more of my checkered family history regarding peace/pacifism across three generations see here.


From → Faith

  1. Maybe add Brian Higgins to the Elishas list.

  2. Thanks, Shirley. I probably ventured into territory of which I know little. Thanks for the link! I was reading something in Christian Century this morning on the civil war in Syria and how unstable the whole region is with refugees flooding Lebanon with all of what that means, because of the civil war, which made me think new/additional thoughts, too.

  3. I too pray for peace and for The Lord to return, even though the later apparently comes in the midst of war.

    Totally agree about the Peace Prize winner thing…sheesh!

  4. Noting your compassion for the Syrians, I thought you might be interested in a neighboring injustice.

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