For years I have liked 2Kings 5, the story of Naaman the Leper. Recently I saw something I hadn’t noticed before, the role of the slave girl in this story. There are only a few verses in the chapter which mention her. We don’t even get to know her name. In spite of this, as I have reflected on her role in this story, I have come to think that this slave girl may be an important model for powerful Christian ministry.
“Now the Syrians had gone out in bands, and had taken captive a little girl from the land of Israel; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. And she said to her mistress, ‘I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy.'” (2 Kings 5:2-3, NASB)
The phrase “Now the Syrians had gone out in bands,” doesn’t convey what must have happened. This would be a group of young men either like a crime gang or a group of soldiers. Perhaps some of the frightful stories of such bands of armed young men that have been reported from countries in Africa might give a more accurate and vivid picture. We are not told what this experience of being captured entailed for the girl. Perhaps she was traveling on a road and taken. Or perhaps, her family was attacked and she was carried off. She may have seen her parents killed as well as any older brothers. In addition to this shocking trauma, she certainly may have endured physical abuse and quite possibly sexual abuse. It would seem certain that this little girl had a past that would bring nightmares if it was remembered. Most of us alive today have not suffered like this little girl. Yet a number of us might feel as burdened by our past. Some of us are held hostage in our present by what happened to us in the past, what others did to us. Some feel they can’t really be used by God because of something that happened in their past.
The slave girl’s present and future did not provide much hope. The little girl was put into forced servitude. The “good news” for the slave girl was that she was a slave in a wealthy family, and apparently serving a respectable, valiant master. Perhaps the little slave girl could console herself with the knowledge that things could be much worse. But that probably wouldn’t be much comfort for the trauma of her capture and the loss of her freedom. Her future would not offer her hope, she would most likely live out her days a slave. Terrible trauma in her past, servitude in her present and no hope for her future. Now, compare your past, present and future with this little slave girl’s. I have talked to a number of people who will tell me of the circumstance or emotional weight of their past, present or future and how this burden derails their ability to serve God. The implicit or explicit message is that if God will change my past, present and future, then I can be useful to God; but since God hasn’t really done much in my present and doesn’t give me any better hope for my future, I cannot do much for God.
This little slave girl wouldn’t be much good for the programs of our modern churches. And most modern Christian workers would find it difficult to help this girl. If we were there in those days, could we invite her to our home group or our recovery group? Could she go to the seminar or conference? Could she buy the latest book? Things that we think of as ministry could not even get close to this little girl in her circumstance. Yet somehow God did something in her life. Somehow she knew about Elisha and what God had done through him. She knew about the power of God which could heal leprosy. And she knew God could work in a person’s life even in her days. And she knew all this in spite of what happened to her when God didn’t act to save her or her family. Perhaps she had been raised knowing these things. But somehow she came to truly believe them even though her experience didn’t prove them out. She knew and truly came to believe God was real, active and powerful.
If I were that little slave girl, I would probably rejoice at the terrible disease my master had. And even knowing God could heal through his servant Elisha, I would look sympathetic on the outside while vengefully holding this knowledge captive. I think such a response would be common. Jesus teaches us to forgive others (Matthew 6:12,14-15) and to turn the other cheek and love our enemies (Matthew 5:38-48). It seems this girl somehow learned this very lesson. She did not hold bitterness and therefore keep silence. She had a sincere love for her master! I am amazed. At this point, I think this little girl shows herself a worthy example. But there is more, she speaks from what she knows and from the love she has and tells her mistress about the good news that God works through the prophet in Israel. Some Christians feel inadequate and unprepared for ministry or speaking to others. I think this slave girl is a model for our ministry. She simply spoke from what she knew and believed, she simply spoke from a sincere love for the good of her master.
And this is all we know of this little slave girl. Her past hadn’t changed. Her future may not have changed. She simple shared what she believed and hoped for her master. She couldn’t make anything happen. She couldn’t counsel or lead. She simply shared good news. God would have to work to make the connections. God would have to work to bring the healing. And though she could not point to God working in her past, she still knew God could heal Naaman. The story is really neat to think about and try to picture. And it is amazing how close Naaman came to missing out on the hope that had been given by his little slave girl. But in the end, Naaman was healed. And he was grateful and tried to offer Elisha a reward for his healing. But even better than his physical healing, Naaman came to know the real God, the God who is there, the Lord God of Israel. I wonder what happened when he went home. Perhaps the girl without hope gained a new future also.
Originally posted 6/15/10.