Humbled by the Slaves

Humbled by the Slaves

By: Dr. Earl Jude Paul L. Cleope
| Vice President for Academic Affairs

Humbled by the Slaves

#C.O.V.I.D.: Embodying Courage, Obedience, Voice, Integrity and Discipleship” inspired by the story in the 2 Kings 5:1-19a.

[Delivered during the Faculty and Staff Convocation for UCLEM]

Presently, we are so desperate for healing in our land that we need to closely examine our relationships with God and with the people around us. Today, my take on the theme # C.O.V.I.D.: Embodying Courage, Obedience, Voice, Integrity, and Discipleship” is inspired by the story in the 2 Kings 5:1-19 about Naaman. This is a story of a powerful man desperate for healing. He was healed in a rather unusual way that changed his life forever. This message will remind7 you, my brothers and sisters, that God’s ways are not our ways, but following them can change one’s life forever.

2 Kings 5:1-19 is a magnificent piece of historical storytelling. It is rooted in history, but the story does not give any historical dates, and even historical names are sparse. Only Naaman and Elisha and rivers and countries are named. Even the kings of Aram now, Syria and Israel are not identified.

The story has seven different scenes:

  1. 2 Kings 5:1: Introduction of Naaman.

Naaman is introduced as a commander and highly regarded by the king of Aram. Then disaster occurred to him because he had leprosy. So His career ended since no doctors, no gods could heal him, which made him and the king desperate.

  1. 2 Kings 5:2-3: Naaman and the girl from Israel.

Here a captive girl from Israel suggested that he go to Samaria to see a prophet who would heal his leprosy.

  1. 2 Kings 5:4-6: Naaman and the letter of the king of Damascus.

The King of Aram is relieved when he hears the news of the possible healing of Naaman. He sends a letter to the king of Israel, carried by Naaman. But why is he asking the king of Israel to heal Naaman while the girl spoke of the prophet? One might suggest that he needed to ask the king permission for Naaman to visit the prophet; otherwise, he would have had a political problem. Or he acted according to his own religious worldview, seeing the king as the representative of the gods, praying and offering to the gods, and acting on behalf of the gods.

  1. 2 Kings 5:7: Naaman visits the king of Israel.

The visit of Naaman to the king of Israel is a very disappointing one. The king answers with distrust: “See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” He is desperate: “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life?” This exclamation shows that the illness of Naaman is severe. What is not mentioned is the emotional reaction of Naaman. Try to imagine.

  1. 2 Kings 5:8-12: Naaman and the prophet Elisha.

Naaman arrives at Elisha’s house with all his chariots, but he is not received. Only the servant comes out of the house with a commandment and promise. A commander of the king of Aram who has just visited the king of Israel is not invited by the prophet but gets only a word from a messenger. Why?

Is it that the LORD wants to show Naaman that it is not by his wealth, position, or gifts, but only through faithful obedience that He will heal him?

Here the emotional reaction of Naaman is told. He is angry, even worse – he is outraged.

He wanted to see the prophet himself coming out to meet him, to cure him by calling on the name of the Lord his God and by waving his hand over the spot. But instead, he was told to dip in the Jordan River seven times. This outrage is expressed when he says: “Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” Perhaps not better, but the water is at least of the same quality. He feels humiliated and insulted by the prophet and Israel.

He says implicitly: “I would have been better off if I had stayed home.”

  1. 2 Kings 5:13-14: Naaman at the river Jordan, his cleansing of leprosy.

Now the servants come into the picture. They love their master, and they are more practical, So their advice is: “if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed!” But the choice is Naaman’s.There is something else here that is amusing. If  Naaman had tried this at home in the rivers of Damascus first and then come back for a second time to the river Jordan if it didn’t work out, he wouldn’t be cleansed.

  1. 2 Kings 5:15-19: Naaman and the prophet Elisha.

Naaman returns to Elisha, who now personally welcomed him. “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel, so please accept a gift from your servant.”

This is a profession of faith that is very unique. He declares that all the gods of Aram are no gods at all. But he still thinks in terms of “D.O. ut D.E.S.” This is part of his religious worldview  “D.O. ut D.E.S.” (Latin). I give you a present (D.O.), and you (my God) will provide me with your blessing (D.E.S.). This is the reason why he is sending so many precious gifts. Therefore he wants Elisha to accept a gift on behalf of the God of Israel. He is putting himself into the position of a servant by humbling himself. But Elisha refused the gift. He doesn’t say why, only that he serves the LORD. He wants Naaman to discover for himself what he needs to do. The following request is essential. Naaman wants to give his life to the LORD. He asks for some soil to create a piece of Israel at his house, so he can bring his offerings to the God of Israel. He discovers: it is not by “D.O. ut D.E.S.,” but by grace! At the same time, he foresees a significant problem. He knows he has been cleansed and healed, but due to his high position,  his king will take him to the temple of Rimmon to bow down in front of the image of this God. He knows that, while the king is leaning on his arm, he needs to bow down also. How can he reconcile this with his profession of faith in the LORD? Would he resign as a commander, or would he emigrate to Israel? Both are not viable options. What then?

This means Forgiveness. He asks twice for Forgiveness before he finds himself in this challenging position! And so Hear the answer of Elisha: “Go in peace.” This is grace in action. He doesn’t offer practical solutions for the ethical and religious problems Naaman is facing. He offers underserved grace in the name of the LORD.

Why? Because the LORD knows the heart.

The name Elisha ‘God is salvation is accurate.

Now let me focus on the slaves as I reflect on our theme #COVID Embodying Courage, Obedience, Voice, Integrity, and Discipleship”. In Naaman’s desperation and helplessness, who steps in? Who helps him? A slave. And not just any slave, but a female Hebrew slave. The person as far beneath him as you could possibly get.

She tells Naaman he should go see Elisha, this Hebrew prophet who has a reputation for healing people. So he goes, he rolls up in all his glory and power and fame, but what happens? Elisha snubs him! Elisha sends out his own servant to deal with prominent, powerful, and influential Naaman, and the servant just told him, “Oh sure, we can heal that. Just go bathe in the Jordan river 7 times.”

But instead of doing what is asked, Naaman rejects it. He says, ‘No way.’  Not because he doesn’t want to be healed, because he’s insulted. Not only is the help not coming from the actual prophet himself, but it’s way too simple a plan. It’s not grand enough! Bathe in the small, dirty Jordan river some magical number of times?! Umm, no, thank you. Naaman wants a show or at least to be told to go to a big, powerful, and important river. So he leaves. He’d rather keep leprosy.

But again, who steps in? Who helps him? His slaves convince him to go back and accept the help. So Naaman goes to the Jordan river, dunks himself 7 times, and lo and behold, he comes up renewed. He gets his life back! He’s restored! He’s saved from shame and stigma and freed to go back home to experience the very fullness of life. And that’s pretty much where the story ends.

Now one of the questions the story seems to ask us is: “How is Naaman saved?” The obvious answer is ‘God,’ but I think there’s a more profound and better answer for us in here.

Naaman isn’t just saved by God in this story. He’s saved by humility.

We often say humility is to think less of yourself, almost poorly of yourself. Still, genuine humility, the kind of humility Jesus teaches, the kind that Naaman had to learn here, the kind that this story is saying is necessary for experiencing the fullness of life, it’s more of an open willingness than anything else:

Humility is the willingness to not see yourself above anything or anyone. It’s the willingness to be human and has needs. It’s the openness to receive. It’s the openness to be molded into something new.

He has to become willing to accept help from a slave. He has to become ready to believe in a different kind of God. He has to become willing to take that Elisha won’t help him directly. He has to become willing to listen to his own servants. He has become ready to go into the muddy Jordan.

The power of this story isn’t that Naaman gets healed. The emphasis is on HOW he gets healed. He’s healed through humility. He’s healed through finding the will to let himself be human and receive help from the least of those around him.

Let me retrace Commander in Chief Naaman’s humbling downward descent. He receives instructions from a slave girl to forsaken Israel and a lowly prophet who lives in a third-world country. He gives him instructions to go the dirty, murky, and mushy  Jordan River and bathe, not bathe once or twice but seven times. Geographically, the Jordan River, which means “the descender,” flows through a rift valley. Its source is more than a thousand feet above sea level at the Sea of Galilee and its mouth nearly thirteen hundred feet below sea level at the Dead Sea. So to go to the Jordan River was to go down, way down. So it is understandable why Naaman doubted that Elisha’s prescription for healing could really do anything. Naaman did not realize that the power was not in the water but was manifested in the water by doing what God said.

Healing always comes from doing what God says.

Naaman continued to doubt when he entered the Jordan and came up still a leper. God reminded him that when the Lord says seven, six will not do.

God is asking some of us to dip seven times. Humility leads to obedience. The humble person makes no claims on God but knows that God has claims on them. When God asks for seven times, do not try to get by with only five or six. God wants us to go the distance, will we? God is not trying to tie conditions to his healing, but instead, he is testing our obedience.

We must believe that God’s way is better than our own. We may not always understand his way of working, but we will receive his blessings by humbly obeying. We must remember that God’s ways are best; God wants our obedience more than anything else, and God can use anything to accomplish his purposes.

We have to humble ourselves to lowly places and lowly people before we can feel the hand of God lifting us up. Naaman was that low. He finally humbled himself in complete obedience to the loving instructions of God’s messenger.

Naaman went from a sick man to a healed man, an ungodly man to a godly man, a lost man to a saved man, a great man to a gracious man, and from a commander of men to a servant. Here was a man that had felt the touch of God and was changed. Now and forever.

We all desperately need the touch of God. And Yes, we are feeling it right now! Imagine doing O.D.L. without internet connectivity. Imagine the formulation of a vaccine against covid in less than a year after the Pandemic? Let us Pray….

Lord, please humble ourselves before YOU so You can touch us. And Make us obedient to YOUR instructions so that YOU  can heal us! AMEN


REFERENCES were Adapted from the following:
When You Are Desperate For A Healing Touch.