Blessings in Worse Waters

The biblical account of Naaman and his encounter with God has always intrigued me.  Everything that we know about this once great and powerful man can be read in 2 Kings chapter five – take a moment to read it!  He was a successful general, he was a wealthy man, he was trusted by his king, he was loved by his servants, and he was feared by his enemies.  But he contracted leprosy and none of the powers of the East could heal him.  One of his wife’s servant girls was a captive Israelite who suggested that he go and see a man of God in Samaria – the prophet Elisha.  And so Naaman’s life takes an unexpected detour and we find him traveling to a neighboring country in search of a miracle.

Everything about Naaman’s encounter with the prophet Elisha seems designed to humble him.  Elisha does not come out to meet him personally, but sends his servant in his place.  While Naaman thought that he would see a solemn invocation, Elisha merely tells Naaman to bathe – seven times no less!  And although the mighty general was privileged to enjoy the beautiful and majestic rivers of Damascus, Elisha specified which river he must bathe in – the Jordan.

In order to understand how insulting this last instruction must have been to Naaman, it is worth noting that the rivers of Damascus, specifically named by Naaman as the Abana and the Pharpar, were considered to be the most beautiful rivers of the world.  These rivers are the modern day Bavada and el-Anwag and were deemed to be a veritable paradise in antiquity.[1]  In the great general of Aram’s thinking, the Jordan was nothing compared to the rivers of his home.  In the words of a Bible scholar speaking over a century ago, he must have wondered why he was “bidden to wash in that wretched, useless, tortuous stream…”[2]

Whether or not the Jordan compares favorably to Naaman’s local rivers in absolute terms is irrelevant to the story.  The fact is that for Naaman, his home rivers were better – but God explicitly required him to submit himself to what he considered an inferior means of blessing.  And Naaman was humiliated and angry.

It is sometimes the case that God calls us in a manner that necessarily pulls us away from our cultural arrogance.  God sometimes meets us in waters of his choosing, not ours.  Sometimes he does not show himself where we think the circumstances and pageantry would best facilitate our blessedness, but instead acts when and where he can best reveal his glory for and through his people.

Do you believe that God can bring his blessings in water that you deem inferior?  The answer to this question must be an unqualified “YES!”  God does not need clear water and a calm current to change a life – yours or your neighbors!  And he does not need the right mix of trees on the shore line or a sandy bottom.  As wonderful as such things may be, they are completely unnecessary.  And to the extent that we feel they are necessary, they may in fact be impediments to God’s work in our lives.  Sometimes, like Naaman, we need humble servants to pull us up short and ask us “If [God] 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’!”  (2 Kings 5:13).

Where is God calling you to meet him in circumstances that are less than your desired best?  Perhaps you will experience his power and grace in the wilderness like Moses, in a cave like Elijah, or, like Mary, beside a manger.

Your Pastor,

Bob Bjerkaas

N.B.  The image is the picture of the Jordan River used by the Encyclopedia Britannica:

[1] Volkmar Fritz, 1 & 2 Kings: A Continental Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 259.

[2] F.W. Farrar, The Second Book of Kings:The Expositor’s Bible (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1903), p. 52.


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