A little girl in Syria

by Phil Johnson

This is a chapter in Phil’s upcoming book, Funny Stuff in the Bible, to be published later this year. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. www.wipfandstock.com

A girl is the star of this story, a story that children like. It has some funny stuff in it. It is in the Bible library in 2 Kins 5.

“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram [Syria], was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’ So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, ‘Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.’”

Amazing! How come Naaman’s wife and his King tell Naaman to go to Samaria based on the recommendation of a foreign child? Someone must be pulling people’s legs. Truth is we know who—the story teller. This is one of the stories about the legendary Elisha. A group called the “sons of (or the company of) the prophets” are the storytellers. They show up in their own stories and, when they do, they seem to be a fairly merry, independent lot. I don’t know how many they were, probably 20 to 30. One thing is sure, they were good storytellers.

What should we name our girl? How about Violet? Violet was very loyal and cares about her mistress and master even though she has been taken from her own family by a raid on her village by Naaman. In spite of the violence preceding our introduction to Violet, the story is very sweet. The Naamans were kind and liked their little Samaritan girl.

I wonder how Violet convinces Mrs.Naaman and how Mrs. Naaman gets her husband to tell the King and why the King immediately tells Naaman to go. Isn’t it kind of funny that all these big people are doing big things because of what a little girl from another country says?

Let’s imagine how things went, stuff the story doesn’t tell us. I think Violet is about eight, maybe ten. One day Violet is washing dishes and she says to Mrs. Naaman: “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Mrs. Naaman looks at Violet. “What do you mean, Honey?” She loves Violet. She has been in their house for several years and has never told a lie or been foolish or made up things. Maybe Violet says something like: “The prophet Elisha lives in Samaria where I am from. He has power from God to do good things. I know God loves you and General Naaman. Please tell General Naaman to go see him.”

Do you think Mrs. Naaman was nervous when she told her husband what Violet said? Maybe she tested the waters a bit first. Something like this.

“Darling, Violet said the oddest thing today.”

“What?” Naaman isn’t feeling too good because of the leprosy.

“She said there is a prophet in Samaria who can heal people and she says he can heal your leprosy.”

“Violet is a wonderful little girl. I love her like a daughter, but I can’t believe that. I’ve been to many of our good people and nothing has come of it.”

“Still, why not check it out. What have you got to lose?”

“I can’t go to Israel without the King’s approval. If I mention it, he’ll laugh at me and get a new General.”

“No he won’t! He trusts you completely and he needs you. He wants you to get well as much as anybody. I’m going to have a little talk with my friend the Queen. She’ll support the idea.”

We don’t know if that happens. But something like that happens. We do know this, right off the King wrote a letter to the king of Israel. The next part of the story is pretty funny.

“[Naaman] went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which ead, ‘When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.’”

Are you kidding!?

“When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.’”

Now what? How about this tearing his clothes business? I’d like to see that, wouldn’t you? The King of Israel thinks the King of Aram is just looking for an excuse to invade again. The King of Israel has no plan. He does not know what to do except tear his clothes. He stalls for time.

Well, the Prophet Elisha, who was the main Prophet at the time, sends a message to the King as we shall see.

“But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.’”

“Why have you torn your clothes?” What sense does it make to tear your clothes? What good will that do? Silly King. Elisha doesn’t say that in the story but I think it is in his message. (Elisha is the same person who got very mad a long time ago when “...some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’” – 2 Kings 2:23). I don’t know why people make fun of us baldheaded guys. On with the story.

“So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a rage.”

The storyteller is not making this easy. Elisha will not “cow tow” to this hot shot who needs a little humility. Fortunately, Naaman has humble, sensible servants. When he calms down a bit, he has the good sense and enough humility to listen to them.

“But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’ So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.”

Hurrah!

Naaman is grateful. My Dad was a preacher and he loved this story. When he preached the story he acted out Naaman going down into the water of the Jordan River once, twice—nothing happens, three times, four, five—nothing, six—nothing, seven—clean!

Epilogue:

When Naaman arrived at their home, Mrs Naaman hugged him like she never hugged him before. He hugged her back and he hugged little Violet until it hurt. Then they all sat down for food and drink and he told them the whole story. He didn’t leave anything out. They laughed and cried and were very, very happy.

Phil Johnson is Editor Emeritus of Pietisten.

See all articles by Phil Johnson