Humility At The Jordan

Humility At The Jordan


In II Kings 5:9-14, Naaman, a friend of the king of Syria, arrives in Israel seeking a cure for his leprosy.  His journey brings him to the home of a prophet of the Lord named Elisha, who tells Naaman that he must wash seven times in the Jordan River to be cured.  Through their dialogue with one another, not only does it become apparent that Naaman’s pride is perhaps his most destructive disease, but also we all learn lessons of how to humble ourselves in the sight of God.

1.  We must surrender our expectations of what we think must happen.

When told that he must go to the Jordan and wash seven times, Naaman replies in anger, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper” (II Kings 5:11).  And how many of us, in our lives, have an expectation of how we think things should go?

It is interesting that Jesus later uses this story in His own teaching.  Jesus had done many mighty works in Capernaum, and now, back in his hometown of Nazareth, the people there are demanding to see some miracles.  Jesus tells them: “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha and none of them were cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27).  Through these words, Jesus reminds us of the sovereign choice of God.  He makes the decisions, and I do not.  He is in control, and I am not.

In our original story, Naaman is asking, “Why this?!?”, while Jesus is telling us that all of Israel is asking, “Why Naaman?!?”  I think one of the points is that everybody has a “why?” for God.  We all have some gripe or complaint or disagreement about why it has gone the way it has gone.  So, in frustration and anger, we can head back to Syria, holding onto these gripes with God and the leprosy that goes with it, or we can trust Him at the Jordan, for sometimes seven times longer than seems reasonable, and in the end He will make us whole.

2.  We must surrender our presumptions about what is better.

Naaman argues, “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?” (II Kings 5:12a).

We, as readers of the story and knowing more of the whole picture by the grace of God, realize why Naaman’s plan was not better.  Had he washed in those beautiful waters in Damascus, he may have credited them for their healing powers.  He may have given glory to any number of Syrian gods.  But, by washing in the Jordan, which Robinson describes as “turbid, often sluggish, sometimes ‘clay-colored’”, it would be clear that it wasn’t the water of Israel at all, but rather, as Naaman later realizes, “It was the God of Israel.”

So, what is your “Abana and Pharpar”?  What are your presumptions about what is “better” than what God has told you to do?  Are you willing to trust that maybe there is a reason that God has chosen “the Jordan” for you – something that seems not so fun or beautiful?  Just as Mr. Miyagi from “The Karate Kid” had karate-minded reasons for having Daniel complete tiring chores like “sanding the floor” and “painting the fence,” could it be that God is actually teaching you in ways that you cannot see or understand right now?

3.  I must surrender my position – that I can do some great thing to make things better.

A majority of English translations communicate a question which the servants of Naaman ask their disgruntled master: “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?” (II Kings 5:13).  One can only wonder, “What  ‘great things’ would Naaman have done to be made well?”

When it comes to the wretched disease that is our own sinful condition, I think that many of us feel the same way.  We want to do “some great thing or things.”  “Tell me what I need to do to make things right,” we say.  Paul will later call this “justification by works.”  Naaman dipping himself in the Jordan seven times was no great thing.  It was no “work.”  No one walks away from this story saying, “Boy, let me tell you, that Naaman sure did earn that healing he got through all of his hard work.”  We all know that the real work was done not by Naaman, and not by the water, but by God.

I believe this story has so many parallels to baptism today.  Every person – male or female, poor or rich – must humble himself or herself in its waters.  We might have better ideas of what “spiritual healing” should look like – something like a priest waving his hand over us, or the sinner’s prayer, or asking Jesus into our hearts.  However, in the end, baptism is not “some great thing” that we do.  It is not a work about which we can boast.  Instead it is all about surrender to, humility to, and faith in the crucified and resurrected Savior who did the great work that we cannot.

한국어 읽기