Chapter 1 | The Little Servant Girl ©
When the Foundations are Being Destroyed, what can the Righteous Do? (Psalm 11:3)
There is a popular Bible story that teaches a key lesson about the unlikely way an answer to a difficult problem can come. In this story, the problem was Naaman’s—a high ranking commander of the Syrian army. In 2nd Kings 5, Naaman is described as a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the LORD had given great victories to Syria. But Naaman had an issue. He was also a leper. There was no cure for leprosy. And that was a big problem for a man with such a high ranking post.
The Syrians had gone out on one of their usual raids and had brought back with them a captive young girl from the land of Israel. When the story begins, this immigrant—a nameless little girl is now working as a servant of Naaman’s wife. She knew of a solution to Naaman’s leprosy. It would have been easier as a captive slave to mind her own business and just watch the successful general shrivel to a knob. After all, weren’t his people responsible for raiding her family and disbanding her from her own home?
“If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:3) Twenty words from this little girl from Israel were all it took to open up a possibility that did not exist before those words were spoken for our mighty general. An important point in passing—Naaman actually believes her. And though the way he thinks he would reach the goal of getting rid of this leprosy was a little twisted, he does get credit for not blowing her off.
“Thus and thus said the little servant girl from the land of Israel,” Naaman tells his master. Without any hesitation, the king of Syria approves. “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” Supportive yes, but the value of the letter was yet to be determined. “Now be advised, when this letter comes to you, that I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy.”
Not only was the letter addressed to the wrong person (The king of Israel), the person writing it clearly did not know much about Israel’s dealings. You can be sure Naaman held his letter very close. Along with it, he also packed ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. But both he and the king of Syria had missed a small but critical detail. No wonder the king of Israel tore his clothes the minute he was handed the letter. “Am I God that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy?” You see, Israel was deeply familiar with situations that were outside of their control–things that only God could do. They called them miracles. In fact, they were also quite familiar with lepers. To the point where they had a very specific code prescribed in the Law of Moses of how they were to handle those with the disease. Until then, leprosy was not a small problem. It was incurable, but also very highly stigmatized. And those who had it were to cry aloud from a distance so others could avoid any contact with them to avoid spreading it.
And this is where Elisha the man of (God) steps in. When he heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he immediately sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Please let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.”
Naaman was likely confused by the King’s reaction but relieved by Elisha’s confident invitation. Still operating from a paradigm of pomp that comes from living in the world of titles, influence, clout, and power a little too long, Naaman was about to attend a different kind of school. If only he knew what it would take for him to get what he needed, it is doubtful he would have come to Elisha’s house with his chariots. But it takes a deliberate knowing of the heart of the God of Israel to understand why the unimpressed Elisha doesn’t even bother to walk out to speak to Naaman. “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” This was all he got from Gehazi, Elisha’s servant. At this point Naaman is annoyed—heaving in hot boiling offense, he is pretty much ready to get out of there. The content of the message, the context in which it was given and the messenger were all deeply insulting to him. He was furious!
It’s easy to see how a person decorated in badges of honor, and who is saluted, served and submitted to by so many would be insulted by a second-hand message, relayed by a mere assistant who serves some low ranking prophet out in the middle of nowhere. And so the story goes that Naaman almost missed a solution to a situation that meant life or death. Looking from the outside in, the obstacle is fairly obvious. We’re blinded by our own importance. With the God of the Hebrews however, the insignificant is usually where He swaddles discreetly the most important answers to our deepest needs.
In this story, the instructions were too basic to actually impress our general. It was the reason Naaman turned away furious. Here were his thoughts: “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a great rage. Elisha had ruined Naaman’s day. It wasn’t what he wanted to hear and he certainly did not treat him with the type of high regard Naaman felt he deserved. So he turned away to go back home—with his leprosy.
The Bible teaches that in the multitude of wise counselors there is great wisdom. The assumption here is that the counselors do have to be good, otherwise, we would all be riding faster back to our starting place—throbbing with humiliation and rage. The only saving grace for Naaman—he traveled with a wise friend who could see what he couldn’t. Thank goodness the words of Elisha stood in spite Naaman’s attitude—they still carried weight. They were still pregnant with the miracle-working power, of the Most High God. Listen to what Naaman’s servants say to him. “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, “Wash, and be clean’?” With those gentle persuasive words, Naaman went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan River, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child. He was cured of his leprosy!
A story that begun with a few words from a servant girl living in the Syrian shadows burdened to see the need of her master met now ends with a healed Syrian commander who returns to Elisha’s house with the following declaration:
“Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.”
Elisha would not take any of the gifts Naaman offers him, no matter how much Naaman persists. Because as we all know, the gifts of God cannot be purchased by money. And lest Naaman or anyone else watching is confused by the motives, intentions or the ambitions of a true prophet of God, Elisha only gives him one final blessing “Go in peace.”
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Categories: The Discipline of Service