G OD WORKS through the powerless.
The little slave girl is the heroine. She speaks up and is listened to. Naaman takes her idea to the king, who writes a letter of introduction to a another king, then Nathan travels to find the prophet she mentions.
Naaman’s powerless servant is the other hero who speaks up to convince his master that he ought to try following the prophet’s instructions.
All the “powerful” people in the story are powerless without the advice of these unnamed slaves. These unnamed (unknown but not silent) slaves that bring the sole voice of theological reason.
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THE STORY BEGINS with Naaman, a commander of the army of the king of Aram (you know it better as modern-day Syria). He brought about victory for the nation and king. But his life is not perfect. Naaman suffers from a deadly disease.
So, what we have is a person of influence and power who is helpless to help himself.
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THE PERSON who knows the information vital to his healing is this young Israelite slave girl. She was kidnapped in a military raid against Israel and was sold/given to Naaman to be his wife’s servant. We know only two things about her: she is a young girl and she is enslaved.
If you tried to imagine a person on the lowest rung of the social ladder in the ancient Near East, you couldn’t get much lower than this. She is a girl. She is a foreigner. She is young. She is a slave. She holds no power or prestige.
Nevertheless, this unnamed girl holds the key to Naaman’s healing. The girl shares her faith with Naaman’s wife about how a prophet in Israel can heal Naaman. Naaman, grasping at straws, decides to go to Israel to find this prophet.
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THERE’S HUMOR in what follows. Power and prestige play out as Naaman goes first to the king of Aram. The king of Aram sends Naaman to the king of Israel. (Where else would a prophet with healing power be?)
Naaman brings gifts of power — an entourage, a letter of introduction, and gifts of silver, gold, and precious garments. (Considering that one garment cost many hours of labor — shearing wool or harvesting flax, spinning, dying, weaving, and sewing — clothes were a valued commodity in the ancient Near East.)
These gifts put the Israelite king in a bind. He cannot refuse the gifts because of diplomatic etiquette. But by accepting the gift yet not curing the leprosy, he will violate the required social responsibility. He senses an impending confrontation between the two nations. The limits of earthly power are revealed. Naaman’s wealth and influence cannot buy life. The king’s letter of recommendation cannot buy life.
Only God can grant life in the face of death, health in the face of incurable illness.
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ELISHA SENDS WORD to the king for Naaman to visit him. Again, the expectations of the rich and powerful are upended. The prophet is not part of the royal court. Naaman, the mighty man of Aram, rides up to Elisha’s humble home with chariots and horses (both instruments of war).
Naaman brings with him the gifts of power and wealth — all the gold, silver and garments.
Elisha is not interested in power and wealth. He isn’t interested in pleasing either king. Or chumming up to a powerful military hero. Elisha cares for none of this. Elisha sends out a messenger instead.
Naaman’s privilege shows. His sense of status and protocol is offended. He thought the prophet would grovel over him, say what a pleasure it is to meet and have the opportunity to heal such a powerful man. But he doesn’t.
Naaman turns away in a rage. It is Naaman’s slave who makes Naaman see through his foolish privilege. “Father, if he had asked you to do something difficult, you would jump right on it. Why do you balk at such an easy assignment?” You must give Naaman credit. Naaman listens to his slave girl. He takes the advice of his servant. He eventually heeds the instructions of the prophet. In doing so, Naaman is healed.
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THROUGHOUT SCRIPTURE, God works in unexpected ways, through unexpected people, to bring life where hope has been lost. So many times in Scripture, God works through the lowly, the last, and the least to bring about healing and salvation. This is contrary to the ways and the expectations of the world.
Naaman, the great and powerful, is helped by a slave girl, a servant and a prophet in a backwater country. He washes in a muddy regional river and he is healed. God turns worldly expectations and worldly systems upside down. Such is the biblical witness about true power.
You see, the real power does not lie in royal courts, military prowess, political influence, or great wealth.
Real power lies with the God whom Elisha serves. Naaman finally recognizes that truth at the end of the story and humbly acknowledges this God as the only true God:
“Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”