One of my favorite Bible stories is the unlikely tale of two lives unexpectedly entwined through terrible tragedy and profound desperation. It’s a story of surprising twists and transforming faith, and you’ll find it in 2 Kings, chapter 5. The story opens with Naaman, commander of the Syrian army, and a young Israeli servant.
Naaman, the “mighty man of valor,” had defeated Israel’s army. He was a sworn enemy of the Jewish people. The unnamed servant girl had been kidnapped, possibly by Naaman himself. After being ripped away from her family, her country, her life—she was made to wait on Namaan’s wife. Today we would describe her as a victim of human trafficking.
So when Namaan contracted the dreaded disease leprosy, one might have expected this girl to rejoice. Her captor had received the worst kind of death sentence. Leprosy causes skin lesions and destroys nerves. In later stages lepers lose their fingers and toes, and ultimately, their lives.
See how the servant girl responds to Naaman’s desperate situation? Does she keep silent, inwardly gloating? No, she suggests how he might be healed, based on her faith in the God of Israel—the very God who’d allowed the Syrians to overcome Israel!
How was it that this girl was able to keep her hope and faith after such trauma—even to the point of caring for those responsible for her pain and loss? What keeps hurt from turning to bitterness and anger?
And how was it that Naaman, this mighty man of valor, actually heeded her suggestion? Desperation? Probably. But out of that desperation came something else . . . eventually. That something was, again, humility.
Humility is one of the highest ranking qualities God wants for and from us, and He often works it into our lives through suffering. Not that humility is an automatic or natural result of suffering. Naaman begins by using his favor with the king of Syria to leverage favor with the king of Israel. He brings the Syrian king’s “letter of reference,” along with an enormous amount of wealth, in an attempt to secure his healing.
Naaman doesn’t realize that no amount of money can buy a miracle and no human king can make it happen—but the king of Israel certainly knows it. He believes Naaman is setting him up. Instead of turning to the only One who can help, the king tears his clothes as an act of despair, mourning and anger. If the king tears his clothes, everyone in the kingdom gets worried, which is how the prophet Elisha hears of the situation and sends word to the king to have Naaman come to him. Naaman arrives at Elisha’s door only to be met by a servant who relays the prophet’s instructions: Go dunk yourself in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman becomes enraged. He expected to be healed with the wave of a hand, but the prophet doesn’t even come to the door to greet him. Naaman feels disrespected and humiliated.
It’s been said you can’t humiliate a humble person. Anger and disappointment may result from unmet expectations, but genuine humility helps us have realistic expectations of ourselves and others.
Naaman’s servants respectfully yet boldly speak sense to him, and their wise counsel helps Naaman to humble himself. In an amazing miracle, his skin becomes like that of a young child.
Even more amazing, I think, is how this story parallels the spiritual realm.
Leprosy is a metaphor for all that is wrong in this world and in our lives. What the Bible calls sin is actually a spiritual disease that makes us unaware and insensitive to God and His ways. Washing in the Jordan is also a profound metaphor, with spiritual cleansing in view.
The question is, will we humble ourselves to receive His cleansing, His healing, on His terms? Or will we self-righteously demand what we think God owes us, perhaps even trying to buy His favor with a mountain of money or good deeds?
Naaman may not have been able to humble himself without help, but his healing deepens that humility—which might account for his strange request. He wants to take home two big piles of dirt. What’s up with that? He wanted a foundation to build an altar to the one true God—from the soil of the land where the one true God was indeed honored. In essence he’s saying, “When I go home, I want to worship the real God as best I can.”
Naaman knows that back home he’ll be surrounded by people who don’t honor God at all. He won’t be able to avoid the company of idolaters, but he wants the prophet to know he won’t be worshiping with them. In fact, their idolatry will constantly remind him of what the one true God has done for him. So Naaman basically asks the prophet, is that okay? Will God forgive me for being surrounded by those who don’t honor Him? The man of God then gives him “Shalom.” Wholeness. Go in peace. It’s going to be okay.
Like Naaman, we all need to build a foundation from which to honor the Lord wherever we live and wherever we go. We build that foundation through reading and learning God’s Word, through prayer and worship, through coming to the house of the Lord and being in His presence with others who choose to honor Him. Without that foundation, we will be sorely lacking the ability to honor the Lord and live for Him.
God didn’t save us in order to seal us within a spiritual bubble. Some are living among family or roommates who dishonor God, however unknowingly. Others feel oppressed by the nastiness of office politics, or coarse language and innuendos. But as we honor the Lord in our hearts, He is more than able to bring His transforming power into any situation. He can give us the courage to honor Him and speak of His love to others who don’t yet know that good news. Through faith and humility, our lives can become wonderfully honorable, even heroic.
Maybe you have experienced, or even now are experiencing great pain, be it physical illness or emotional trauma. I have found—and you can too—that God is right there to help you. He can transform even the worst experiences to give your life a deeper sense of purpose and a brighter sense of destiny—even if you may not be able to feel or see it right now.
The Bible doesn’t promise that if only we do this or that, our difficulties will disappear. We still have to deal with hurt and grief and loss this side of heaven. Our circumstances may not change, but we do. We really do change. I want to be the kind of person who has faith to believe His promises, despite the hurt and pain in life. I want God to grant me the humility to seek after Him and receive all I need to genuinely honor Him wherever I go. I hope you do, too.