Why The Waters Of Jordan?
( Originally Published 1921 )
HEALING OF NAAMAN THE LEPER
She was a lonely little girl as she stood in the garden in Damascus. Fruits and flowers were all about her in abundance, the house was beautiful, the people kind, but her young face was sad. The juicy apricot in her hand was untasted as she threw it from her toward some little birds hungrily eying the heavily loaded fruit trees. Two great tears ran down her cheeks, and then a burst of sobs told all who heard that her heart was aching with homesickness. A woman came toward her and gently patted her on the shoulder, saying, "Esther, why do you always come to the south side of the garden when it makes you so sad?"
"Over there in the south is my home," replied the child. " There are my mother and father, my brothers and sisters."
Poor child ! She was a little captive maid stolen from her home in Israel by a band of Syrians and brought by them to wait upon the wife of Naaman, the great captain of Syria's army. Both her master and mistress were kind. In their home Esther had more comforts than she had ever enjoyed in Israel, but it was not home, and that makes the greatest difference to all of us.
Her mistress also had been sad that day because not all the wealth and honor Naaman had received from the Syrian king, not all the victories he had won, had been able to make either him or his wife happy.
"How can people who have everything be miserable?" you ask.
Easily. Persons who have the most are often unable to use what they have. A touring car without gasoline would n't give you any pleasure. Just owning it and seeing it stand in a garage would at last grow tiresome, would it not?
So it was with Naaman. All he had could not give him pleasure. He was envied by no one, his wealth and honor no one coveted because he suffered with a loathsome disease, leprosy. Why, the poorest beggar in the streets would not have changed places with him !
The little girl in the garden saw the grief in the face of her mistress and knew the reason, for she again turned her face southward, but this time with a smile, saying, "Would that my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria ! then would he recover him of his leprosy."
A wise and loving wish, little maid. You desire the good of those who hold you captive, and because of it God will bless both them and you.
As soon as Naaman heard that he could be healed he made ready at once to start on a journey to the land of Israel. The king of Syria was as anxious as Naaman's family that he . should be healed, for Naaman had been faithful to every trust and served his king and countrywell—so well that he had been called the deliverer of Syria. No one in Syria knew any-thing about prophets, but it was a superstition among many of the people that to touch the garment of a king frequently healed the sick. So the king of Syria wrote a letter to the king of Israel asking him to heal Naaman of his leprosy. Then he loaded the camels and burden-bearers, chariots and horsemen, with costly gifts for Israel's king. Silver and gold and ten changes of raiment they were to carry with them to the king who was supposed to be able to cure leprosy. We may know how anxiously the king of Syria desired Naaman's health because the gold and silver he sent into Israel with Naarnan would be over thirty thousand of our dollars.
Some of you girls and boys are laughing, and I know why. You are thinking of the time Saul and his servant wanted a favor of Samuel and thought a quarter of a silver shekel was quite enough to pay for it. Only eighteen cents, you are thinking, was all that Saul valued a prophet of his country. And here are these Syrian strangers wanting a favor, not for themselves, but for a loved commander of their army, freely offering a great gift for it.
Soon Naaman and his company arrived at the court of the king of Israel and delivered to him the letter from the king of Syria. Was the king of Israel's heart glad that this great man had come to his kingdom for healing? Not at all. Instead, he was badly frightened. He had forgotten all about Elisha, or perhaps he had never heard of him. Odd, you say, that the king should not know of so wonderful a prophet. Perhaps it was because he was king that he did not know. Kings are so interested in wars and conquests that they do not think of such simple things as mercy and healing.
When the king of Israel read the letter, he cried, "Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy?" Not a member of his court could answer him as they all stood dismayed before their visitors. They cast frightened glances at one another, and the king in his grief rent his garments, declaring that this letter from the king of Syria was only meant to provoke a quarrel with him. There they stood, Naaman bitterly disappointed to think he had been so foolish as to listen to the tales of a little homesick maid, and the king of Israel ignorant that any healing power was in his kingdom. But when we most need help it always comes, and so it did then, for a message came to the king from Elisha, saying, "Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel."
How relieved the king must have been as he watched Naaman with his servants, his horses, and chariots turn away and go toward Elisha's house. Naaman was a great man. He had won high military honors, and everywhere he went he was received with much ceremony. I have no doubt that people shouting and cheering lined every street through which he passed,. while martial music sounded before and after his chariots and horsemen on the march. Yet when he came to Elisha's house all was quiet. There was no one waiting to welcome him. Only a messenger standing in the doorway met the famous warrior. He was astonished. What could this young and simple fellow do for him? His journey to Israel, his royal gifts that he had brought with him, were evidently nothing to the prophet nor to his messenger. Why, he was being received with no more honor than would have been given the little maid had she stood before Elisha's door! Perhaps Elisha was not a respecter of persons. He may have thought that a sick person, big or little, great or simple, only wanted to be healed, and that was the one thing to do for them. What was the glory of a great name if one was suffering? Fame didn't seem to heal one. So Elisha sent by his messenger a simple message to Naaman. It was that he should go to the Jordan and bathe seven times in the river.
Why the waters of Jordan—that muddy, rushing stream? Are not the rivers of my country much better and clearer? thought Naaman. And so he said to his men, "Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?"
Imagine your feelings if you were told to swim in a muddy stream so shallow in parts that you could wade in it—and that, too, when nearer to your home was a deep pool of crystal water. The Jordan was not important, but the rivers of Damascus were, and moreover were beautiful and full of refreshingly clear water. If it was water he needed, surely, thought Naaman, that of the rivers of Damascus would be far better.
So Naaman "turned and went away in a rage." His time had been wasted; his journey had been in vain. He might better have stayed at home and not listened to the foolish prattle of his captive maid. These must have been his thoughts as with angry eyes and frowning face he began the journey back to Syria. But his officers loved him. He had dealt kindly with them, and their hearts ached with his over his disappointment. So some of them came to him and said, " My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how. much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?"
That was it exactly. He was angry, as we all are, over what we think is too small a thing for people of our importance to do. To be told to bathe 'was shocking to a man familiar as he was with the baths and water supply of his home city. But Naaman wanted to be healed. The foul leprosy was eating into his flesh, and unless it was speedily cured he soon would be an object of disgust even to those who loved him best. Elisha's advice was at least worth a trial, so, wise man that he was, he laid aside his pride and listened to the words of his servants.
By the side of the Jordan the little band halted—all eager to see fulfilled the prophet's promise: "Thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean." Seven times did he go down under the waters, his attendants breathlessly watching as he arose each time to the surface. One—two—three—four-five—six, they counted, until, as Naaman paused for the seventh plunge, they seemed almost to touch him in their eagerness. He disappeared, then rose and stepped out upon the banks, his face radiant with thanksgiving, for there stood before his soldiers their commander sound and whole. Not a blemish was upon his flesh; the leprosy was healed.
How fast he must have traveled home and told the good news to his wife, and to his king who had so kindly sent him to Israel ! You may be thinking so, and it is what many people would have done. But not so Naaman and his followers. He had received a blessing and was thankful. The king of Israel had forgotten the prophet in his midst, but not so this stranger. Naaman felt that he would not dare face his wife or his king, or even look into the honest eyes of the little maid, unless he had first thanked Elisha and acknowledged Elisha's God, Jehovah. When he again stood before Elisha's door, the prophet himself came out to meet him. All his vain pride Naaman had forgotten. No longer did he think of himself as a great leader, but only as a humble seeker after knowledge. He wished to know more about the Power that had healed him. So in thankfulness he said to Elisha, " Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto Jehovah."
But what should he do? He served the king of Syria and must always go with him into the temple of Rimmon. Would Jehovah be angry and think he was not faithful? he asked Elisha. And the prophet, the helper of all who came to him, answered no. If in his heart he really acknowledged Jehovah and his laws, going into the temple of Rimmon would not hurt him. Besides, while he served the king his duty was to do what the king required of him. If he could not be obedient to the king, the only thing for him to do was to leave his service.
And that is what I think Naaman did, for soon after we read in the Bible that there was a new captain of the Syrian host. Naaman then must have learned what the greatest of all teachers said many years afterward; "Ye cannot serve two masters."
"What became of those rich gifts Naaman brought with him?" you are asking. He must have carried most of them back with him, for Elisha refused to accept them. He had not done the work; it was God who had healed this believer in Him. Naaman's faith, and not Elisha's power, had worked this miracle.
Let us watch the happy band as they move toward Syria. We are glad with them that all the people in our story have worked together for good, and that into no heart so far has crept an unkind wish or evil purpose. Each person in the story has been wishing to help another and has sought, not his own, but the other's good, and all have received the reward of peace.
But even the brightest day is followed by night. So across the light and love of this Bible tale there falls a shadow so deep that at first I shrink from telling it to you.
Elisha, the prophet who lived to bless, into whose heart came love for others, had a servant whose heart was as black as Elisha's thought was pure.
Why did he have such a servant?" you ask.
I will answer you by asking why did the Christ have a Judas among his disciples?
We do not know why, but we do know that Gehazi, Elisha's servant, thought only of himself. In another's need he saw only a chance to reap some advantage for himself. Into his small, narrow soul had never come a thought higher than that of greed. What could he get for himself? was his way of thinking, never how much could he give?
Gehazi stood watching as Elisha dismissed Naaman after refusing any gift from him. You could see his face lengthen and his eyes narrow with disappointment. How his fingers clutched at the doorpost as he thought of all that gold he was not to handle ! What, all that treasure allowed to leave us? Gehazi thought. Not so; I at least will get some benefit from the Syrian's visit. The prophet had earned the reward, thought Gehazi. Why should it not be shared with a faithful servant? The prophet did not wish to claim a reward which he felt belonged, not to himself, but to Jehovah. He wished also to strengthen Naaman's growing faith in Jehovah and wanted him to look to God only, not to his prophet Elisha. Therefore he refused the gift. Where had Gehazi's eyes and ears been all these years that he had lived with Elisha? Blind and deaf to everything but greed and gold.
He followed after Naaman's chariot and told him a falsehood, saying that Elisha had sent him for money and garments for some poor sons of the prophets who had just arrived at Elisha's house. Generous Naaman gave him even more than he had asked, and sent two of his own servants back with Gehazi in order to carry the load. But Gehazi dared not carry his spoil into the house of Elisha, so he dismissed the men after they had left the treasure at his own house.
"And so he deceived Elisha?" you ask.
Oh, no. It is difficult to deceive anyone whose spirit is sincere and truthful. Gehazi's vision was clouded with selfishness and greed,
while Elisha's was clear and keen, for Elisha's heart spoke nothing to him or to others but the truth.
When Gehazi came at Elisha's summons, he was asked where he had been. "I have been nowhere," was the reply.
"Went not my heart with thee, when the man turned from his chariot to meet thee? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments ?" said Elisha to him. Not even could Gehazi's fertility in falsehood enable him to meet this charge, and so he stood speechless before the prophet. Then Elisha added, "The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever."
You think that is unjust? Before you judge, think for a moment. Remember that those people of long ago often taught by symbolic actions. Elisha did not mean to curse Gehazi. It was the leprous soul eaten by selfishness and greed, the desire to deceive and to defraud, which should forever bear the leprous mark of uncleanness. Leprosy was to those people the scourge of God, and that soul defiled by evil desires was a leprous soul. So upon Gehazi and upon all his kind the curse of God will fall. Gehazi learned then what everyone has learned since, that "it is never safe to do anything against the truth."