By Rev. Kyle Norman, Crosswalk.com
We all long to be healed. Whether the infirmity is a physical ailment or an emotional upset, the desire for healing is universal. For some, healing is searched for through the use of crystals or charms. They align their chakras and balance their chi’s. Others look for special places to journey to – holy places seeped in divine energy. One’s presence in such a place, it is believed, unlocks the flow of divine healing.
Jerusalem’s Pool of Siloam is such a place. In the Gospel of John (9:1-7), we read that Jesus sends a blind man to this pool for healing. Unlike the other healing stories of the gospel, the man is healed as he dips into the water; healing seems to emanate from the pool itself. This makes the healing waters of Siloam a point of interest for the thousands of people on pilgrimage to the holy land each year.
Yet do Christians really believe that the Pool of Siloam is a spring of divine power, a place wherein we can bathe in restorative waters? Can we still go to the pool and expect divine healing? What is the significance of the Pool of Siloam for Christians today?
What Was the Pool of Siloam?
The Pool of Siloam has significance for our Christian lives but not because it is a mystical place of healing. In fact, there is nothing special about the pool itself, which is precisely Jesus’ point when healing the blind man. The Pool of Siloam is mentioned only three times in all of Scripture. It is first mentioned in Nehemiah’s record of Jerusalem’s rebuilding. Nehemiah records that “Shallun, son of Kol-Hozeh . . .repaired the wall of the pool of Siloam, by the King’s Garden, as far as the steps going down from the City of David” (3:15).
This pool was originally constructed during the reign of Hezekiah to protect Jerusalem’s water supply. Hezekiah ordered that a tunnel, known as the “Siloam Tunnel” be constructed to bring water from the Gihon spring into the city. This also served to cut off fresh water from any opposing army. This is recorded in 2 Chronicles 32:2-4.
Importantly, the Pool of Siloam had no association with healing. Even in Jesus’ day, there was a certain practicality to the pool. Some archeologists and scholars suggest that the Pool of Siloam was a place of ceremonial washing. Others, however, argue that it was more akin to a swimming pool. They argue that pools for ceremonial washings, known as mikvah’s, were usually small and shallow, unlike the Pool of Siloam. Yet whether the pool was used for washing or swimming, it clearly had an everyday purpose. The pool was functional more than mystical. It contained ordinary water to be used in an ordinary way.
The ordinary nature of the Pool of Siloam is contrasted with the Pool of Bethesda, mentioned in John 5. It was at this pool that the infirmed would gather in hope of healing. People believed that the stirring of the water in the Pool of Bethesda was caused by an angel descending into the pool itself. Subsequently, the first person descending into the pool would be miraculously healed from all their afflictions. Hence, the Pool of Bethesda was continuously surrounded by those in need of healing. As one crippled man explains to Jesus: “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me” (5:7). The man laments that, for thirty-eight years, he has never been able to experience the healing waters of Bethesda.
Given the miraculous association of the Bethesda Pool, the Pool of Siloam is unabashedly ordinary. Whether it was used for ceremonial washing, for bathing, or for swimming, the waters were not considered divine in any way. It is, therefore, significant that Jesus does not send the blind man to the pool associated with miracles, but to the pool of ordinary water. The man’s healing is to be understood as coming from his interaction with Jesus alone, and not from anything magical found in the water itself.
How the Pool of Siloam Harkens back to Naaman
The healing of the blind man in the Pool of Siloam is reminiscent of another healing story found in Scripture; the healing of Naaman. We read about Naaman in 2 Kings 5. Naaman was the commander of Aram army, and, therefore, an enemy of Israel. To the Israelites of the day, he was understood to be cut off from divine grace, undeserving of God’s healing presence. In fact, his leprosy would have been viewed as divine judgment. Yet, when he is told of that the prophet Elisha would be able to cure his leprosy, Naaman journeys to the prophet hoping to procure his healing. Naaman attempts to purchase his healing with a payment of “ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of clothing” (2 Kings 5:5). Elisha’s message to the commander of Aram, however, is simple and straightforward “Go wash yourself seven times in the Jordon, and your flesh will be restored, and you will be cleansed” (5:10). Nothing Naaman brings will warrant his own healing.
Naaman, however, initially rejects this request out of disdain for the waters of the Jordon. “Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel?” he says (5:12). Naaman cannot believe that such ordinary water could provide divine healing. Again, this is precisely the point. The account of Naaman’s healing testifies to the greatness of God. God’s greatness and mercy extend over all, even to those who one may consider unworthy – such as the commander of a foreign army or a man born blind.
Jesus testifies to this when he says, “there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27). By dipping himself in the waters of the Jordon, Naaman’s healing is attributed, not to the waters themselves, but to the glory of the God of Israel. Naaman returns to the Elisha and says, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” The waters of the Jordon, like the waters of Siloam, fade into the background.
The Blind Man’s Healing at Siloam
The two stories have much in common. Like Naaman, the healing of the blind man begins with a question of his sinfulness. The disciples ask Jesus if the blind man sinned, or if his blindness was result of his parents’ sinfulness (9:1). In the ancient world, physical infirmity, particularly those stemming from birth, was thought to be the result of one’s sinful nature. Bad things happen to bad people, so it was believed. The man’s blindness would have been understood as tantamount to divine punishment. The discussion taken up by the pharisees and teachers of the law following the man’s healing shows the prevalence of this belief. “You were steeped in sin at birth”, they cry (John 9:34). The blind man was simply beyond healing and redemption.
Similarly, the man’s healings cannot be attributed to the pool itself. Just as Naaman could point to the waters of Damascus as “better” than the Jordon, so too could the blind man point to the waters of Bethesda as “better for healing” than the Pool of Siloam. In many ways, descending into the Pool of Siloam to be healed made no earthly sense. Everything about the blind man’s healing in the Pool of Siloam points beyond itself.
Jesus goes out of his way to choose the pool with no healing association, a pool that would be considered ordinary and regular. When Jesus heals the blind man, he does so in a way that showcases his power to heal. Healing cannot be attributed to personal righteousness, a special location, or a mystical water supply. Healing comes from the gracious presence of Jesus.
Understanding Healing Today
The healing at the Pool of Siloam helps us today recognize the true place of healing in our own lives. We need not go to special locations or immerse ourselves in unique waters. Nor do we need to work our way toward some level of religious righteousness. Healing flows out of the loving heart of Jesus. As in the days of Scripture, healing today occurs in different ways. It may work via physical touch, a spoken word, or a dip in a pool. We may extend this to say that healing may occur by medicines, or the activity of doctors, nurses, surgeons, and research workers. Yet just as the words of Jesus lie behind the healing in the Pool of Siloam, Jesus’ presence lies behind all instances of healing.
If you need healing today, use the prayer below to reach out to Jesus. Do so confidently, and hopefully. Take heart. The healer is with you.
A Prayer After Reflecting on the Pool of Siloam
Lord Jesus Christ, I believe that my healing can be found in you.
I trust your Word, and your presence. I come to you in need of healing, particularly in the area of ________.
May your healing power be revealed in my life; not for my comfort, but for your glory.
This I pray in your holy name. Amen.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/ Gobal Moments
Reverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of the Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found here.