Sometimes, I read a familiar Bible passage or story and it comes alive in a new way. This happened recently with the story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5, which I recall from childhood Sunday School as being a simple story of the faith of a servant girl leading to a man being healed of leprosy. As I read it as an adult, however, I can see that it gives us a dramatic account of how our expectations and God’s actions can collide.
Naaman Needs Healing
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, is so important that when his Hebrew servant girl says that a prophet in Israel can heal him, Naaman just strolls into the king’s presence and tells him about it. The king values Naaman so much that he writes a letter to the king of Israel and sends him off.
Naaman does not just grab the next carriage to Israel, though. 2 Kings 5:5 says, “So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing.” Naaman clearly expects some high-level wheeling and dealing. He brings everything he might need to impress a king and a prophet and to buy himself a miracle.
Naturally, the king of Israel is a bit distraught upon reading Naaman’s letter from the king of Syria. This could be a pretext for war—an impossible demand, with the unspoken threat that violence would follow if the king failed to deliver.
The prophet Elisha sends word that he can help. So Naaman and his six thousand gold shekels make their way to Elisha’s house. He expects Elisha to receive him with the proper etiquette that he’s come to expect as a great general and a favorite of his king. Maybe he expects some negotiation of how large of a “donation” he must make for the great prophet to heal him.
Elisha's Humble Instructions
But Elisha doesn’t even bother to greet Naaman in person. He sends a message by a servant and just says for Naaman to go wash in the Jordan. Naaman is almost comically angry. He has come all this way, with all of this hope, and is met with insults. A servant gives him some menial task like dipping himself in Israel’s dirty little river—the rivers in his own city are cleaner and more beautiful! I’m sure Naaman was prepared to perform some heroic task or give Elisha the piles of silver and gold that he’s brought. Something worthy of his high social position. But no. He gets a servant and muddy river water.
It’s easy to poke fun at Naaman here. He’s pretty self-important, more concerned about the perceived threat to his dignity than about being healed. But he’s also very human. He’s seeking help and healing and restoration of his body from a terrible, shameful disease. And he has certain expectations about how that should happen.
How many times do we ask God for something and then tell God exactly how to do it? How many times have we had expectations about how our lives should go, but those expectations are trampled, and we get angry with God?
And yet, Naaman is still healed. Though Naaman found the prophet’s instructions humble and insulting, God restored Naaman through them. He is not healed in front of a cast of thousands in the king’s palace, where he would be the center of attention. No, he goes into the river alone, with none of the trappings of money or power to which he is accustomed. Just Naaman the man, unable to heal himself, learning the limits of his own power and the hidden ways of God’s power.
How God Heals His People
When we turn to God to be healed, renewed, and restored, it may not happen the way we imagine. Healing takes time. It often takes humility and the willingness to do the hidden work that strengthens our bodies, minds, and spirits from the inside. For individuals, the equivalent of dipping into the Jordan might mean things like medical treatment or a change in lifestyle or therapy, in addition to prayer and other spiritual disciplines. In relationships and communities, restoration might require confession, forgiveness, reaching out to someone we disagree with, and showing love and grace. Simple things, but not easy ones. God in His mercy works through humble perseverance.
Naaman had to leave his gold and silver and even his dignity—on the side of the river and venture into the water as just himself, unadorned, just Naaman the person.
We, too, come to God unadorned. In this season of Advent, we remember that Jesus Himself came to us unadorned: “though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6–8).
A Humble Savior's Birth
For many of us, Christmas comes with a lot of trappings—presents, decorations, special food and drink, and social events. All of these ways of celebrating are good and can be quite meaningful. But the central event in Bethlehem had few trappings. Jesus did not bring anything with Him except Himself.
Like Naaman, we leave our money, our power, our position—everything that we use to hide our true selves—to welcome Jesus, who comes to us unadorned. He calls us to leave our expectations behind and step into the water, trusting that He will heal and restore. It may not happen as we expect, but God is always working for our good and His glory, and we can trust Him to make all things new.
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