Gleanings From Elisha
His Life and Miracles
TENTH MIRACLE—A LITTLE JEWISH MAID
In The Preceding Article our attention was confined to the subject of this miracle, namely Naaman, the Syrian, who was stricken with the horrible disease of leprosy—a striking type of the natural man, corrupted by sin, unfit for the presence of a holy God. The most fearful thing of all was that leprosy was incurable by the hand of man. Naaman was quite incapable of ridding himself of his terrible burden. No matter what plan he followed, what attempts he made, no help or relief was to be obtained from self-efforts. (Have you realized the truth of this, in its spiritual application, my reader? There is no deliverance from sin, no salvation for your soul by anything that you can do.) There was no physician in Syria who could effect a cure; no matter what fee Naaman offered, what quack he applied to, none was of any avail. And such is the case of each of us by nature. Our spiritual malady lies deeper than any human hand can reach; our condition is too desperate for any religious practitioner to cure. Man can no more deliver himself, or his fellows, from the guilt and defilement of sin than he can create a world.
Most solemnly was the fact shadowed forth under the system of Judaism. No remedy was provided for this fearful disease under the Mosaic law; no directions were given to Israel’s priesthood to make use of any application, either outward or inward. The leper’s healing was left entirely to God. All the high priest of the Hebrews could do was to examine closely the various symptoms of the complaint, have the leper excluded from his fellows, and leave him to the disposal of the Lord. Whether the sufferer was healed or not, whether he lived or died, was wholly to be decided by the Almighty. So it is in grace. There is no possible salvation for any sinner except at the hands of God. There is no other possible alternative, no other prospect before the sinner than to die a wretched death and enter a hopeless eternity unless distinguishing mercy intervenes, unless a sovereign God is pleased to work a miracle of grace within him. It is entirely a matter of His will and power. Again we ask, do you realize that fact, my reader? God is your Maker, and He is the determiner of your destiny. You are clay in His hands to do with as He pleases.
Second, the Contributor to the Miracle
"And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman’s wife" (2 Kings 5:2). In one of the many periods in which the name of Jehovah was blasphemed among the heathen, through the unfaithfulness of His ancient people, a little Jewish maid was taken captive by the Syrians. In the dividing of the spoils, she fell into the hands of Naaman the commander of the Syrian forces. Observe the series of contrasts between them. He was a Gentile, she a hated Jew. He was a "great man," she but "a little maid." He was "Naaman," she was left unnamed. He was "captain of the host of Syria," while she was captive in the enemy’s territory. But he was a leper; while strange to say, she was made a contributing instrument unto his healing. It has ever been God’s way to make use of the despised and feeble, and often in circumstances which seem strange to human wisdom. Let us take note how this verse teaches us a most important lesson in connection with the mysteries of divine providence.
"And had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid." Visualize the scene. One fair morning the peace of Samaria was rudely broken. The tramp of a hostile army was heard in the land. A cruel foe was at hand. The Syrians had invaded the country, and heaven was silent. No scourge from God smote the enemy; instead, he was permitted to carry away some of the covenant people. Among the captives was "a little maid." Ah, that may mean little to us today, but it meant much to certain people at that day. A home was rendered desolate! Seek to enter into the feelings of her parents as their young daughter was ruthlessly snatched from them. Think of the anguish of her poor mother, wondering what would become of her. Think of her grief-stricken father in his helplessness, unable to rescue her. Endeavor to contemplate what would be the state of mind of the little girl herself as she was carried away by heathen to a strange country. Bring before your mind’s eye the whole painful incident until it lives before you.
Do you not suppose, dear friend, that both the maid and her parents were greatly perplexed? Must they not have been sorely tried by this mysterious providence? Why, oh why? must have been asked by them a hundred times. Why had God allowed the joy of their home to be shattered? If the maiden had reflected at all, must she have thought her lot strange. Why was she, a favored daughter of Abraham, now a servant in Naaman’s household? Why this enforced separation from her parents? Why this cruel captivity? Such questions she might have asked at first, and asked in vain. Ah, does the reader perceive the point we are leading up to? It is this: God had a good reason for this trial. He was shaping things in His own, unfathomable way for the outworking of His good and wise purpose. Nothing happens in this world by mere chance. A predestinating God has planned every detail in our lives. "My times are in thy hand" (Ps. 31:15). He "hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation" (Acts 17:26). What a resting place for our poor hearts does that grand truth supply!
It was God who directed that this little maid of Israel should become a member of Naaman’s household. And why? That she might be a link in the chain which ended not only in the healing of his leprosy, but also most probably in the salvation of his soul. Here then is the important lesson for us to take to heart from this incident. Here is the light which it casts upon the mysterious ways of God in providence: He has a wise and good reason behind each of the perplexing and heart-exercising trials which enter our lives. The particular reason for each trial is frequently concealed from us at the time it comes upon us; if it were not, there would be no room for the exercise of faith and patience in it. But just as surely as God had a good reason for allowing the happiness of this Hebrew household to be darkened, so He has in ordering whatever sorrow has entered your life. It was the sequel which made manifest God’s gracious design; and it is for the sequel you must quietly and trustfully wait. This incident is among the things recorded in the Old Testament "for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope" (Rom. 15:4).
"And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy" (2 Kings 5:3). This is surely most striking and blessed. It would have been natural for this young girl to have yielded to a spirit of enmity against the man who had snatched her away from her own home, to have entertained hatred for him, and to have been maliciously pleased that he was so afflicted in his body. The fall not only alienated man from God but it radically changed his attitude toward his fellowmen, evidenced at a very early date by Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. Human depravity has poisoned every relationship; in their unregenerate state God’s own people are described as "hateful, and hating one another" (Titus 3:3). But instead of cherishing ill feelings against her captor, this little maid was concerned about his condition and solicitous about his welfare. Apparently she had been brought up in the nurture of the Lord, and the seeds planted by godly parents now sprang up and bore fruit in her young life. Beautiful is it to here behold grace triumphing over the flesh.
How this little maid puts us to shame! How sinfully have we conducted ourselves when the providence of God crossed our wills and brought us into situations for which we had no liking! What risings of rebellion within us, what complaining at our circumstances. So far from being a blessing to those with whom we came into contact, we were a stumblingblock to them. Has not both writer and reader much cause to bow his head in shame at the recollection of such grievous failures! Was not this child placed in uncongenial circumstances and a most trying situation? Yet there was neither murmuring against God nor bitterness toward her captor. Instead, she bore faithful testimony to the God of Israel and was moved with compassion toward her leprous master. What a beautiful exemplification of the sufficiency of divine grace! She remembered the Lord in the house of her bondage and spoke of His servant the prophet. How we need to turn this into earnest prayer, that we too may glorify the Lord "in the fires" (Isa. 24:15).
No position would seem more desolate than this defenseless maiden in the house of her proud captors, and no situation could promise fewer openings for usefulness. But though her opportunities were limited, she made the most of them. She despised not the day of small things, but sought to turn it to advantage. She did not conclude it was useless for her to open her mouth, nor argue that an audience of only one person was not worth addressing. No, in a simple but earnest manner, she proclaimed the good news that there was salvation for even the leper, for the very name "Elisha" meant "the salvation of God."
"And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel" (2 Kings 5:4). A very incidental and apparently trivial statement is this, yet being a part of God’s eternal truth it is not to be passed over lightly and hurriedly. We are ever the losers by such irreverent treatment of the Word. There is nothing meaningless in that Holy volume; each single verse in it sparkles with beauty if we view it in the right light and attentively survey it. It is so here.
First, this verse informs us that the little maid’s words to her mistress did not pass unheeded. They might have done so, humanly speaking, for it would be quite natural for those about her—a mere child, a foreigner in their midst—to have paid no attention to her remarks. Even had they done so, surely such a statement as she had made must have sounded like foolish boasting. If the best physicians in Syria were helpless in the presence of leprosy, who would credit that a man of another religion, in despised Samaria, should be able to heal him! But strange as it may seem, her words were heeded.
Second, in this we must see the hand of God. "The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them" (Prov. 20:12)—true alike both physically and spiritually. Yet how little is this realized today, when the self-sufficiency of man is proclaimed on every side and the operations of the Most High are so much ignored. All around us are those who pay no heed to the declarations of Holy Writ and who perceive no beauty in Christ that they should desire Him. Who then has given to thee an ear that responds to the truth and an eye that perceives its divine origin? And every real Christian will answer, The God of all grace. As it was the Lord who opened the heart of Lydia that she "took unto her [Greek] the things which were spoken" (Acts 16:14), so He caused those about her to listen to the words of this little maid. Ah, my reader, make no mistake upon this point: the most faithful sermon from the pulpit falls upon deaf ears unless the Holy Spirit operates; whereas the simplest utterance of a child can become effectual through God.
Third, this made manifest the effect of the maid’s words upon her mistress. She communicated it to another, and this other went in and acquainted the king of the same. Thus 2 Kings 5:4 reveals to us one of the links in the chain that eventually drew Naaman to Elisha and resulted in his healing. It also shows how our words are heard and often reported to others, thereby both warning and encouraging us of the power of the tongue. This will be made fully manifest in the day to come. Nothing which has been done for God’s glory will be lost. When the history of this world is completed, God will make known before an assembled universe what was spoken for Him (Mal. 3:16; Luke 12:3).
Finally, we are shown here how God is pleased to make use of "little" and despised things. A maid in captivity. Who would expect her to do service for the Lord? Who would be inclined to listen to her voice? Her age, her nationality, her position were all against her. Yet because she used her opportunity and bore witness to her mistress, her simple message reached the ears of the king of Syria. The Lord grant us to be faithful wherever He has placed us.
"And the king of Syria said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel" (2 Kings 5:5). Here also we must see the hand of the Lord. Had He not worked upon the king too, the message would have produced no effect on his majesty. Why should that monarch pay any attention to the utterance of a kitchen maid? Ah, my reader, when God has a design of mercy, He works at both ends of the line. He not only gives the message to the messenger, but He opens the heart of its recipient to heed it. He who bade Philip take a journey into the desert, also prepared the Ethiopian eunuch for his approach (Acts 8:26-31). He who overcame Peter’s scruples to go unto the Gentiles, also inclined Cornelius and his household to be "present before God, to hear all things that were commanded him of God (Acts 10:33). "The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will" (Prov. 21:1). Strikingly did that receive illustration here. Yet though God wrought, in the instance now before us, it did not please Him to use the king as an instrument.
Third, the Misapprehension of the Miracle
"Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel" (2 Kings 5:5). As will appear in the sequel, the Lord had a reason for permitting the king to act this way. Poor Naaman was now misdirected by the carnal wisdom of his master. The little maid had said nothing about "the king of Israel," but had specified "the prophet that is in Samaria." It would have been much better for the leper to have heeded more closely her directions; he would have been spared needless trouble. Yet how true to life is the picture here presented. How often is the sinner, who has been awakened to his desperate condition, wrongly counseled and turned aside to cisterns which hold no water! Rarely does a troubled soul find relief at once. More frequently his experience is like that of the old woman in Mark 5:26 who tried "many physicians" in vain before she came to Christ; or like the prodigal son when he "began to be in want" and went and joined himself to a citizen of the far country and got nothing better than "the husks that the swine did eat" (Luke 15:14-18), before he sought his father.
"And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment" (2 Kings 5:5). It has been computed that the value of these things would be at least seventy thousand dollars today. The Hebrew maid has said nothing of the need for silver and gold; but knowing nothing of the grace of God, Naaman was prepared to pay handsomely for his healing. Again we exclaim, how true to life is this picture. How many there are who think the "gift of God" may be purchased (Acts 8:20)—if not literally with money, yet by works of righteousness and religious performances. And even where that delusion has been removed, another equally erroneous often takes its place: the idea that a heavily-burdened conscience, a deep sense of personal unworthiness, accompanied by sighs and tears and groans, is the required qualification for applying to Christ and the ground of peace before God. Fatal mistake. "Without money and without price" (Isa. 55:1) excludes all frames, feelings, and experiences, as truly as it does the paying of a priest.
Fourth, the Foil of the Miracle
"And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy. And it came to pass, when the king of Israel read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me" (2 Kings 5:6-7).
How this made manifest the apostate condition of Israel at that time and shows why God had moved the Syrians to oppress them! There was some excuse for the king of Syria acting as he did, for he was a heathen; but there was none for the king of Israel. Instead of getting down on his knees and spreading this letter before the Lord, as a later king of Israel did (Isa. 37:14), he acted like an infidel; instead of seeing in this appeal an opportunity for Jehovah to display His grace and glory, he thought only of himself.
What a contrast was there here between the witness of the little maid and the conduct of the king of Israel. Yet his meanness served as a foil to set off her noble qualities. She was in lowly and distressing circumstances, whereas he was a monarch upon the throne. Yet she was concerned about the welfare of her master, while he thought only of himself and kingdom. She had implicit confidence in God and spoke of His prophet, whereas neither God nor His servant had any place in the king’s mind. Some may think from a first reading of 2 Kings 5:7 that the king’s language sounds both humble and pious, but a pondering of it indicates it was but the utterance of pride and unbelief. Knowing not the Lord, he saw in this appeal of Benhadad’s nothing but a veiled threat to humiliate him, and he was filled with fear. Had he sought God, his terror would have soon been quieted and a way of relief shown him; but he was a stranger to Him, and evidenced no faith even in the idols he worshiped. Yet this made the more illustrious the marvel of the miracle which followed.
Perhaps the Christian reader is tempted to congratulate himself that there is nothing for him in 2 Kings 5:7. If so, such complacency may be premature. Are you quite sure, friend, that there has been no parallel in your past conduct to that of Israel’s king? Were you never guilty of the thing wherein he failed? When some heavy demand was made upon you, some real test or trial confronted you, did you never respond by saying, I am not sufficient for this; it is quite beyond my feeble powers? Possibly you imagined that was a pious acknowledgment of your weakness, when in reality it was a voicing of your unbelief. True, the Christian is impotent in himself; so, too is the non-Christian. Is then the saint no better off than the ungodly? If the Christian continues impotent, the fault is his. God’s grace is sufficient, and His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Feeble knees and hands bring no glory to God. He has bidden us, "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might" (Eph. 6:10). Then cease imitating this defeatist attitude of Israel’s king, and, "Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 2:1).