Portrait of Grace
How God used a little girl’s faith to change a prominent man’s life
She was merely a little Jewish girl. Yet God in His sovereignty positioned her where her faith and grace would touch the highest echelons of military power and the deepest depths of her slavery. She connected two opposing kingdoms and a powerful prophet of the living God, and her wistful cry eventually prompted one of the finest declarations found in the Old Testament of a Gentile’s faith in the Almighty.
Her story begins in 2 Kings 5 with a military commander named Naaman, a great, honorable, and mighty man of valor. Naaman was Syrian and an enemy of Israel, but Scripture credits the God of Israel with granting him great military victories and favor with Syrian King Ben-Hadad. Despite his successes, however, he could not conquer the devastating disease of leprosy. Naaman was a leper.
As commander of the king’s forces, Naaman would dispatch Syria’s armies to raid Israel. It was probably during such a raid that the Jewish girl was found and carried captive to Syria. Her destiny was to live as a slave in Naaman’s house, serving Naaman’s wife.
Though she was in bondage, the child’s heart surged with compassion for Naaman. In a cry of urgency, she told her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet [Elisha] who is in Samaria! For he would cure him of his leprosy” (2 Ki. 5:3). These are her only recorded words. And we’ll never know her name. Yet she sparked a wonderful testimony of the grace, mercy, and sovereignty of God.
The Drama Begins
Her two blurted-out sentences made their way to Naaman, who reported them to Ben-Hadad. Wanting his commander healed, the Syrian king wrote an official letter to King Jehoram of Israel, telling him Naaman was coming to be healed of leprosy.
Naaman arrived in Israel with the letter, accompanied by an impressive entourage of horses; servants; chariots; and costly gifts, including 10 talents of silver, 6,000 shekels of gold, and 10 changes of clothes. The Syrian was ready to purchase his healing.
King Jehoram, however, did not see things as the little maid did. After reading the letter, Jehoram tore his clothes in distress. “Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy?” he asked. “Therefore please consider, and see how he seeks a quarrel with me” (v. 7).
The childlike faith of an insignificant little slave girl had initiated great drama. But it was God who had placed her in Naaman’s home. It was God who knew she could be trusted to confess faith before her captors. And it was God who allowed her to hear of Elisha’s miracles. There had been no healings of leprosy in Israel, though there were many lepers (Lk. 4:27). But the girl may have heard about the dramatic resurrection of a dead child in Shunem. (See page 20.) Perhaps she thought, If Elisha could raise someone from the dead, healing leprosy would be easy.
When word of the situation reached Elisha, he immediately requested Naaman come to him, “and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel” (2 Ki. 5:8).
Naaman no doubt arrived at Elisha’s home envisioning a flamboyant healing ceremony. He stood at Elisha’s threshold, waiting. But instead of the great prophet welcoming him, Elisha sent a messenger who told the commander to wash in the Jordan River seven times and he would be healed.
Naaman was livid. He declared to his servants, “Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” (v. 12).
Seething, he turned away. Naaman held a great title, arrived with a great retinue, and was prepared with big money. His pride could not accept this humiliation. He probably wondered why he ever listened to a slave child. Now he was being told to obey a lackey messenger and heed the advice of more servants? How could filthy, muddy water possibly heal him? The whole situation seemed ludicrous.
His servants, who were clear-thinking, loyal, and kind, addressed him humbly: “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it?” (v. 13).
So, at their urging, the great Syrian commander humbled himself and dipped seven times in the Jordan. The seventh time, a miracle occurred. Naaman was healed. “His flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (v. 14).
Overjoyed, Naaman returned to Elisha and made one of the finest declarations of faith by a Gentile that appears in God’s Word: “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel” (v. 15). He urged Elisha to accept his extravagant gifts, but Elisha refused.
Naaman’s next action was highly unusual. He asked Elisha for two mule-loads of soil. One of Naaman’s responsibilities was to help the aging Ben-Hadad as the king bowed in the idolatrous worship of Rimmon. As a new believer in Jehovah, Naaman sought God’s pardon for this assistance. He promised never to offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any god but Jehovah, and only upon soil from Israel (vv. 17–18). This unusual entreaty proved the sincerity of his heartfelt faith in Israel’s God.
Being Like Jesus
God gives us accounts of how others lived to encourage us. This amazing little girl illustrates the beauty of grace, which is kindness undeserved and unearned. If anyone had a good reason to hate, she did. Naaman’s vicious raid snatched her from her home and from everyone she knew and loved. She may even have witnessed the murder of her parents.
But instead of enjoying revenge by watching Naaman suffer and die in shame, she offered help and kindness by telling his wife about Elisha. She demonstrated mercy, kindness, humility, and forgiveness from a compassionate heart, as described in Colossians 3:12–17. The child modeled Jesus’ teaching about loving our enemies, blessing others, and doing good (Mt. 5:44). She did not return evil for evil.
The disciples asked Jesus, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (18:1). Jesus responded by setting a little child before them: “Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (vv. 3–4).
Jesus compared greatness to childlike humility. How masterfully appropriate the analogy becomes when we see how Naaman humbled himself and obeyed, and then his flesh became like a child’s.
Humility always triumphs over pride. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (Jas. 4:6).
The account of Naaman teaches us that God has His way of doing things, and we cannot oppose Him. Leviticus 17:11 proclaims, “The life of the flesh is in the blood. . . . It is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” Just as Naaman couldn’t buy the cure for his disease, we can’t buy our salvation with good deeds. “It is the gift of God, not of works” (Eph. 2:8–9). God’s way is through the blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18–22).
Naaman demonstrated that righteous living follows salvation. He recognized Jehovah and confessed his faith before Elisha and his servants. Naaman would further testify by offering his personal sacrifices to God on soil from Israel. But he still submitted to his responsibilities.
The little Jewish maid teaches us that two sentences can change a life. Words have power, so we must choose our words carefully. Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”
She also teaches us that children can have valor. Naaman no doubt rose up to call this Jewish child blessed because she was a portrait of God’s grace—a portrait that, through His Word, will endure forever.