Israeli Prime Minister Gold Meir reportedly once told an aide, “Don’t be so humble; you’re not that great.” Humility is among the virtues that seem difficult to cultivate. This is especially true in a world where we are compelled to exalt ourselves from all sides.
Scripture, on the other hand, consistently upholds the importance of humility in the eyes of God. Biblical humility is not demeaning; it is the means to receive what we need from God. And the story of Naaman, the Syrian, shows us how God humbles us to draw us to Himself.
Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army. As a member of the king’s inner circle, he was wealthy and well-respected. To the casual observer, Naaman was high on the totem pole.
There was just one problem: he was a leper.
Leprosy was—and still is—one of the most feared diseases. All Naaman’s accomplishments could not alter the mere fact that he was a sick and dying man.
The story of Naaman shows us how God humbles us to draw us to Himself
As the story unfolds, we find that Naaman eventually sought out a cure from the prophet Elisha. However, it’s interesting to observe how Naaman leaned on his status and wealth to obtain it. We see that he brought expensive and extravagant gifts, went directly to the king of Israel—who seemed quite terrified of him—and eventually descended on Elisha’s home with an entourage of chariots, horses, and servants (2 Kings 5:5-9). I imagine that must have been an impressive and intimidating sight!
Yet, Elisha is unimpressed. He did not even bother to meet Naaman in person. Instead, the prophet sent a messenger to deliver a terribly mundane command: “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean” (2 Kings 5:10). It was almost as if Elisha was quoting Gold Meir to Naaman—“you’re not that great”.
The end of the story is well-known. Namaan humbled himself, was miraculously healed and chose to follow the God of Israel. But his internal transformation is equally—if not more—amazing. And it could only happen when he truly humbled himself to accept God’s healing.
Humility is sometimes confused with putting oneself down or minimising one’s accomplishments. But that’s not the biblical perspective. Humility is better defined as “seeing ourselves as God sees us”. In the end, despite his standing in the world, Naaman was a leper. He was a sick and dying man, en route to losing everything he had. His only hope was Elisha—and Elisha’s God. And in God’s eyes, that is what mattered. Naaman’s humbling, painful as the circumstances were, was the only way he could receive the healing he desperately needed.
Our attempts to curry God’s favour with our exploits or earn our salvation are as futile as Namaan trying to wow Elisha with chariots and fine clothes. On the contrary, as painful and difficult as it may be to humble ourselves, it is the route to true joy and healing. That’s what the Bible says: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you” (James 4:10). When we realise who we are in God’s eyes, when we see the vanity in parading our supposed “trophies” to lift ourselves up, we—like Naaman—will find the path to true joy.
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