Now groups of Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman's wife as a maid. One day the girl said to her mistress, "I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy!" 2 Kings 5:2-3
The God of heaven has high purposes of love and mercy in store for this idolatrous leper!
How is he to be reached? By what means, and through what instrumentality, is he to be brought up out of the horrible pit and the miry clay, and have a new song put into his lips? We are irresistibly led to recall the case of another "great and honorable man"—"as touching the righteousness of the law blameless"—who was arrested many ages afterwards, within sight of the same Syrian palace and capital; when a glorious light from the midday skies struck him blinded and speechless to the ground, and unfolded to his inner gaze the adorable Lord, whom he was persecuting. Will the God of Israel employ a similar miraculous agency and intervention now? Will He make bare His holy arm in the sight of heathen Damascus—congregate the prophets of Rimmon by the banks of Abana and Pharpar, as He did those of Baal, not many years before, on the heights of Carmel—and demonstrate, by the instantaneous cure of their hero, that "Jehovah alone is the Lord"?
Varied are the arrows in His quiver. He can, if He will, adopt great means to effect small purposes; and He can use the weakest and feeblest instrumentality to secure great purposes. He commits, in the present case, the treasure to a tiny earthen vessel, that the excellency and the power may appear to be altogether of Himself.
Among the 'trophies' of conquest in the halls of this warrior, there is a living one. During the last campaign, the victorious troops of Benhadad, when ravaging the towns and villages of Israel, had taken, as part of their booty, a little girl, who had become a maid in Naaman's household. Like another northern chieftain of more ancient date (Judges 5:30), the commander-in-chief of the armies of Damascus may have claimed as his prescriptive right, possession of the young Hebrew captive; and, either from sympathy to her fate, the attractiveness of her disposition, or the grace and loveliness of her person, (possibly all combined), he gave her over to his wife, to become one of her slaves or female attendants.
Perhaps, however, it is not needful for us to infer, from the narrative, any such regular incursion and plunder of the Syrian soldiers, to account for her presence in the home of Naaman. She may more probably have been the victim of lawless private adventurers—seized by one of those marauding bands (here spoken of as "groups of Aramean raiders"), who kept the mountain borderland of Israel in a state of chronic terror. In those crude and savage times, more especially were the passes of Lebanon infested with plunderers, who waylaid caravans to and from Damascus, or made a sudden midnight attack on the defenseless villages of the Hebrews, carrying off their children, and selling them as slaves in the markets of Syria.
The brevity and simplicity of the Scripture account, leaves untold and unrecorded those circumstantials, which, in other narratives, would have given pathos and romance, to the story of this raid and captivity of the young girl. We are left to surmise all the young creature must have felt on that wild night of terror, when, wrenched by these pitiless mercenaries from the arms of those she loved, she was hurried in cruel indignity across the rough gorges of Hermon, ignorant alike of her own destiny and of the fate of the cherished ones she left behind—the bitter memory cleaving to her sensitive spirit of their ineffectual tears and stifled, unavailing prayers—the cry, it may be, of parental anguish ascending unheeded amid the flashing of swords and the bursting of smoke and flame—involving hamlet, vineyard, and oliveyard in mournful desolation and ruin. Then, perhaps, the sad sequel of being conveyed for sale to the slavemarket of the capital, where the most recent travelers to Damascus tell us there is conducted, at this hour, the same despicable trade.
Be all this, however, as it may; whether as part of the spoil of a victorious army, or a private purchase from a slave-dealer, this we know, that the God who had directed the steps of that captive maid to an alien land, had a high purpose to subserve in appointing as her destiny the dwelling of the Syrian warrior.
As has already been incidentally observed, we think it may be inferred from the whole story, that she had become affectionately attached to Naaman, and was sincerely touched by his misfortunes. Moreover, she had carried with her to the place of captivity many sacred and devoted memories of the land of her birth. She had probably been the inhabitant of a pious Hebrew home, where the name of her father's God was adored, and His prophets were reverenced. She had witnessed her new master's sufferings. She may have listened to his many mournful soliloquies, as with hurried step he paced his solitary chamber by day, or made its walls resound with his moans by night. If she had been the 'down-trodden flower' which most of the heathen slaves at that age of the world were, she must have muffled her own feelings of tender pity, and allowed her tears to flow in silence; dreading him, moreover (from her hereditary impressions), as bearing in his person the outer and visible symbol of a divine judgment. But it betokens the kindly and friendly atmosphere in which she moved, when we see this little captive hastening unabashed to her mistress, and with all the fullness of a sympathizing heart, and the tear of kindly devotion trembling in her eye, exclaiming, "I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy!"
Had she seen the illustrious successor of the Tishbite? This we know not. As the prophets of Israel (and none more so than Elisha) were continually on the move, going from city to city, and from hamlet to hamlet, it is possible her youthful imagination was full of remembrances of his venerated form and holy words. At any event, she had heard of what Israel's God had done by his hand; and when she thought of the miracles wrought by his instrumentality, and which had filled Palestine with his fame—dividing the waters of the Jordan with the mantle of Elijah—transforming into sweetness the bitter fountains of Jericho—and above all, restoring to life the Shunamite's son, we need not wonder at her young and ardent faith and love kindling at the thought, "Can He, who has thus stormed death itself, and spoiled the great spoiler of his prey, not cure my master? I shall at least seek to requite his kindness towards an unprotected slave, by making the attempt!"
Her childlike nature has an instinctive assurance, that the God of her fathers is not the exclusive, unloving, isolated Being which then, as now, stern sectaries and narrow bigot Rabbis would make Him—that He had lately revealed Himself to the greatest of all the prophets—not in the tempest, nor earthquake, nor fire, but in the "still small voice" (1 Kings 19:11, 12). Her footsteps, perhaps, may at first have faltered; her young heart may have been full of misgivings. Many in her position would have been repelled with the thought, that to venture on such a suggestion would be unwarranted and rash presumption. "But the thing is from the Lord." She is willing, with a heroine spirit, to brave and dare all—the smiles of the incredulous, the frowns of the disapproving, the scorn of fawning courtiers. No time can be lost—delay may be fatal. The horrible disease is already projecting on the path of Naaman, the shadow of death. So, committing her cause to a Mightier than all the mighty ones of earth, she ventures into the presence of her mistress and makes her unselfish and impassioned plea.
There are many LESSONS to be derived from this simple incident. Let us note—
1. God often works by FEEBLE means.A girl—"a little maid"—a hated Hebrew—a slave. What influence can she have on a man whose name was so lately the pride and terror of all Syria? As well speak of an infant uprooting the monarch oak tree, or turning the course of the roaring mountain-torrent.
Not infrequently, by small, and apparently inadequate instrumentality, does the Divine Being magnify His own greatness and power. Even in the natural world, great results are often accomplished by trifling agencies. It is a little insect that rears in the sea-caves its tier on tier of coral rocks—the wreckers of navies, and the dread of the mariner. The snow-flake, which drops with velvet footfall to the earth, loads the avalanche which bears terror and destruction among Alpine valleys and their smiling hamlets. It is the tiny acorn, of which the child can make a plaything, that is the germ of the giant oak—the former wooden-wall of our island home—the old type and safeguard of a great nation's strength.
So the Almighty, at times, uses the feeblest and unlikeliest means to effect His purposes. He who employed the crowing of a rooster to melt the heart of Peter, and the dumb donkey speaking with man's voice to rebuke the madness of the Prophet, can consecrate the humblest, and even lowest things, to be the ministers of His will and the preachers of His truth. Who need ever despise the day of small things—when we see a young maiden from the valleys of Palestine, preparing, by a few simple words uttered in faith, a pathway for a royal chariot—and better still, leaving to all subsequent ages the legacy of a story of grace, which has interested and moved every heart where the Bible is known and loved?
Yes, it is often not the powerful sermon—not the wasting sickness—not the desolating bereavement. These are often allowed to pass unheeded; their echoes falling fainter and yet fainter on the soul, like the dying reverberations of the retreating thunder. But how often is "a word in season"—a child's look or saying, a simple tract, a passing funeral, a loving memory from the grave, the tender and sincere ways of the departed, the hymn of infancy, the mother's prayer lisped at a time we almost fail to recall—how often are these slender arrows winged with unutterable blessings! These are the "little maids" of Naaman's house—little wedges inserted that rend the rocky heart in pieces—little levers, which, in the hand of God, elevate and regenerate the whole moral being.
2. Learn, that ALL of us, in our varied spheres, may exert an influence for good.Let none say, "My sphere is worthless, because limited; my influence is unavailing, because restricted and circumscribed. Who would listen to so feeble a voice—who would be swayed by so humble an example as mine?"
Who dare say so—after perusing the story of the Hebrew maid? If ever one seemed to be excluded, by her position, from doing anything influential, it was this helpless slave-girl—this forgotten flower—this 'exotic' in a heathen palace, drooping its dewy leaves in an alien soil. But the law of kindness was in her heart; and out of the abundance of the heart the mouth spoke. Out of the mouth of this babe, God perfected praise because of her enemies, that He might still the enemy and the avenger (Ps. 8:2). Her gentle, unselfish, self-denying conduct is worthy of all note. If she had been like many—like most—plucked crudely away from her paternal hearth and home, and doomed to a life of slavery—she would have resented the injury. If feelings of retaliation had influenced her, she would have watched with malicious pleasure the progress of the disease that was sapping her master's frame. She would have kept secreted, in the depths of her heart, the knowledge of the great Prophet who might in the name of his God bid it forever away. But acting on those 'gospel motives and principles', afterwards revealed, of "love to an enemy"—"overcoming evil with good"—with no resentment in her bosom, but with that bosom bleeding only at the sight and cries of a fellow-sufferer, she rushes to her mistress, and with earnest tones offers her plea—"I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy!"
Perhaps we may be warranted to infer more from the narrative. Who knows, but in that lowly, childlike bosom, the good seed of everlasting life may have early been sown and taken root; that the blessings of her father's God may have lighted up her own soul with peace and joy, and that she may have long been yearning with desire, to impart to her heathen master and mistress those glorious truths regarding Israel's Jehovah, which had made her own country and her own heart what they were? Perhaps, in her solitary hours, the imprisoned bird may have wondered with herself—"How can I sing the Lord's song in this strange land? When shall I have the favorable opportunity of unlocking the long pent-up secret, which, for weary months I have been desirous of telling to this darkened household?"
She may often have gone, as an attendant on her royal mistress, to the house of Rimmon; and gazing there in sadness on the senseless idol, the psalm of her own minstrel-king may have come to mind—"For our God is in the heavens, and He does as He wishes. Their idols are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands. They cannot talk, though they have mouths, or see, though they have eyes! They cannot hear with their ears, or smell with their noses, or feel with their hands, or walk with their feet, or utter sounds with their throats! And those who make them are just like them, as are all who trust in them." Psalm 115:3-8
The opportunity she has long desired seems at last to offer itself. Now is the time for that caged "nightingale" to warble the notes that had long struggled for utterance, and "to sing the songs of Zion in the darkness of Syria." Her prayers are heard. It is said in one of the Psalms, "The Lord gave the word, great was the company of those who published it." But now, when the Lord gave the word, feeble was the voice of her that published it. Yet "as arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, so are children of the youth" (Ps. 127:4). How much was dependent on that proclamation!—how much was bound up in the few words that fell from the mouth of that child!—how many were destined to be affected by them! Syria—her king—her hero-chief—his household—his soldiers—multitudes in Israel—and we in every age.
We know not where her dust was laid at her decease, whether in Naaman's mausoleum at Damascus—resting side by side with the warrior's ashes—or in her own native valley in Palestine—"gathered to her fathers." But this we know, that her epitaph has been in all lands and in all hearts, and that at this hour she "being dead, yet speaks."—That little wave, rising at the gate of Syria, is rippling still!
Would that we might all fully realize the lesson which is here taught us—that there is no such thing as a person without any influence. We must either be like the aromatic plant, distilling fragrance, or like the upas-tree, casting around us the shadow of death. Let us seek to live, that while we live, the world may be the better for us, and when we die, the world may miss us.
Remembering too that it is small things, done from pure beneficent motives, which often stir the main tides of human feeling. It was a little matter for a slave-girl to think kindly and considerately of her master; but unless it had been for that thought and utterance, the vast cavalcade we shall come by and by to notice, with royal implications, closing with a miraculous deed, would have been unknown, and the world would have missed one of the most touching interludes in the inspired drama. God promises to those who are faithful over a few things, that they shall be made rulers over many things. "He accepts according to what a man has, and not according to what he has not."
3.May we not, akin to this, and arising out of it, be taught another lesson—the value of little kindnesses? It is only the few in the world who are able to afford the large and munificent gift. But all are capable, in some way or other, of making their fellows happier, by gracious words and ways and deeds. That Syrian slave had neither silver nor gold. If she had, they could have been of no avail in smoothing Naaman's anguished brow. She had nothing but a feeling heart—sympathy for a wretched sufferer. One thing only in the world could she do for him—she could tell him of an old prophet in Israel, whose word might, in the name of her God, cure him, when all the skill of Damascus had failed. She lisps, in a few simple words, the kindly thought; and no sooner has she done so, than the servants and chariots are ordered to be in readiness. She has planted the 'seeds of hope' in that 'bosom of despair'.
How many there are, who, so far as the world's wealth is concerned, have little in their power—many who sigh for more than they have, honestly believing that if they had more, they would be more bounteous in their liberality and more munificent in their deeds of kindness than their present limited means will allow! To such be it said—Do not covet the gifts you do not have—but make use of what you do have. If you cannot give your golden tributes of generosity, you can do, what in God's sight is equally acceptable—you can, by tender deeds of lowly love, by unselfish interest in the sufferings and needs and sorrow of others, cast largest portion of all into His treasury. The daily visit to a bereaved neighbor—an unobtrusive call at a poor man's home—kindly advice to the young and inexperienced—the little attention shown to the unbefriended orphan or stranger—the small meal taken to the bedside of the invalid—devotion to the tottering steps of age, or bearing with its infirmities—these are a few of the thousand little kindnesses which in the sight of God and man are of great price!
We might see the replica of this little slave of Naaman's household—speaking gently to the morose and peevish, and returning good for evil. Or, climbing the dark stair where poverty languishes in misery and rags, carrying the feeble pittance which love has spared, or giving to the palsied hand the cup of cold water. Or, the Sabbath-school teacher plying his or her humble labors, where all, perhaps, seems cheerless and unpromising. Or, perhaps the little daughter in a household smoothing the brow furrowed with pain, calming with loving looks and loving ways the fretted bosom, carrying music in her step and sunshine on her face, and causing, by these thousand winning ways, the irritabilities of natural temper to fade and melt at her approach like the mists before the beams of the morning.
You to whom God has given the will and the way of exercising this blessed law of kindness—do not covet greater or costlier possessions. You have the noblest of fortunes. Your wealth is inexhaustible. The wealth of the hand we do not depreciate (the rich may be noble almoners of God's bounties). The wealth of the head we do not depreciate. Intellect—sanctified, exalted intellect, is treasure greater than gold ingots. But the wealth of the heart is the greatest of the three. You may have neither money nor intellectual gifts—but if you have the large soul (loving and beloved) you will be remembered when gold will have perished, and intellectual sky-rockets will have melted into darkness. Having a golden heart, you will be "like Jesus." You will resemble Him who "pleased not Himself"—who "went about continually doing good." It was a saying of one of the world's greatest men, "Caesar and Alexander conquered by weapons—Jesus Christ conquered by love."
And above all, how noble the mission of those, who, by little ways and little agencies, are the means, like the Hebrew maid, of saving a soul from death—leading even one spiritual leper to better than all the waters of Syria! Young man! young woman! let the story of one, in age like yourselves, tell you what may be done by "a word spoken in due season." Shall we give wing to our imagination, and travel down to that Day of God—when small and great shall stand before Him? Yes! Naaman the Syrian warrior is there, waving the palm-branch of better than all earthly triumphs—and as he casts his blood-bought crown at the Redeemer's feet, his eye ranges along the white-robed multitude until it rests on one who is a slave no more. With exulting heart he bears testimony—'That was the angel of mercy whom God sent to my soul—and her message of love was blessed, not only to me, but to many in my land!'
The Almighty Judge puts a star into her crown; and that feeble candle, which of old shed its trembling light in an earthly household, shines henceforth as the brightest of the skies—yes, and having turned many unto righteousness, "as the stars forever and ever!"
4.Let us learn, as a closing lesson, to be slow in interpreting, or rather in misinterpreting, the providence of God. Never was providence darker, apparently, than when that young maid, nestling, as we have pictured her, in some quiet home, or, like a young gazelle, roaming in her innocence the pastoral valleys and mountains of Naphtali—was snatched away by ruffian hands in war or raid—compelled to exchange her freedom for slavery or worse, in a land and city of aliens—her youth and sex, her tenderness and tears pleading in vain with her captors to avert so miserable a fate. Where is the Jehovah of Israel? Can He wink at the barbarous deed? Can He allow villainy and wrong to triumph over goodness, purity, and truth? Why has He left unanswered these prayers of disconsolate Hebrew parents? Why is this Rachel left to weep for her child uncomforted—the cry of one of His own chosen flock over her stolen lamb, unheard by the ear of the Shepherd of Israel?
Yes! picture the feelings of that maiden's mother as she looked down from some crag in Lebanon on the burning cottage, and saw—worse than smoke and flame—her youthful child slung on the saddle-bag of some Syrian horseman—away from her sight forever, to endure a life of drudgery, infamy, shame! How would she pray that the sods of the valley might rather cover that loved one's form; and, beating her bosom in the anguish of despair, exclaim, "Has God forgotten to be gracious, and has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?"
But, fear not, disconsolate one! Dry your tears! The Lord is her keeper—He will give His angels charge concerning her. He has a great end to serve, which only He can discern through that smoking hamlet and those piercing cries. That flower plucked from your bosom is to be planted by the rivers of heathen waters, to bring forth its fruit in due season, and to fill with its fragrance a heathen palace. Yes, this little censer is to scatter its perfumes through all ages. For wheresoever this Bible is read, and this Old Testament gospel preached, that which this Hebrew child has done, will be told as a memorial of her!
So, are we not often led, in premature haste, to harbor guilty surmises as to the rectitude and wisdom and faithfulness of the divine procedure? Confronted with baffling providences, the reason of which puzzles and perplexes our best ingenuity, are we not tempted at times to ask—"Why these unanswered—no, defeated prayers? Why is the urgent plea not only left unheard, but responded to in the very way we most dreaded and deprecated?"
Remember the very case suggested by the story of the captive maid! Many a mother pleads, in earnest faith and importunate supplication, that God may so overrule, so as to prevent her son going to some place or position of peril or temptation. How is her prayer at times answered? Her child is sent to the distant, dreaded 'Damascus', instead of being continued under the happy fostering influences and salutary restraints of home. In silence and solitude, and under the bitter consciousness of frustrated wishes, she is driven to give way to the plaintive soliloquy, "Surely my way is hidden from the Lord, and my cause is disregarded by my God!" Just so, thought and reasoned an illustrious name in the roll of Christian parents—Monica, the devout mother of Augustine. He tells us in his "Confessions" that she had prayed earnestly—pleaded night and day, that the God she served would not permit her son to fulfill his own wish and intention of leaving his home and going to Italy. She too truly feared the vices and contaminations of the Roman capital. Yet her prayers were not heard. To Italy he went, and in Rome he sojourned; and the yearning heart he had left behind, could only picture, in her hours of lonely agony, the moral shipwreck of all that was dearest to her. But the journey and the resort so dreaded, became to Augustine his spiritual birthplace. That city of moral darkness was made to him a Bethel for the visions of God, where he erected his life-altar, and vowed his eternal vow.
God's thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways. "A man devises his own ways; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand." Oh that we could believe that at times the denial of our prayers may be the best—the kindest—the paternal answer to them; that when crossed and thwarted in our aspirations after what we think is for our good, we are tempted to pronounce, with the patriarch, the hasty verdict—"All these things are against me!"—we could trust the All-loving to guide our steps, not according to our finite and fallible wisdom—but according to the counsel of His sovereign yet gracious will. Many of His own children, like that little maid, have had to confront what was bitter and painful—leaving the quiet nooks and valleys, for the storm-clouds of Lebanon and the stern trials of Damascus life. Let them trust their sure, unfaltering Guide, that He will bring light out of darkness; and show that, as in her case, in an apparently adverse destiny, there are undreamed-of blessings in store, either for themselves or for others. Many is the Christian, who, in the calm retrospect of life, can tell, that either light first broke on his own clouded spirit, or messages of mercy and support were borne to others, "as he journeyed towards Damascus!