The Unlikely Missionary

Stephen Terry


Commentary for the July 18, 2015 Sabbath School Lesson


“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14, NIV

Women have long played an important role in accomplishing God’s missions here on our Earth. However, they rarely get as much recognition from others as mankind often does not consider their work as important perhaps as God does. The heroine of this week’s Sabbath School lesson does not even get a name in the biblical account, but then neither does her mistress, the wife of the warlord Naaman. Captured by the Arameans from some unnamed village in Israel, this young lady is made a slave in the household of Naaman.[i] She may have been attractive as the best of the captives probably went to the leaders of the army. She may also have been literate and well-spoken as would befit a noble household. In any event, she enjoyed the trust of her mistress and was allowed to speak openly.

Seeing and understanding the difficulties that chronic illness brought to the family, she told her mistress of a possible cure. Perhaps she understood that her own prosperity depended on that of her mistress’s household.[ii] Or perhaps, as a servant of God, her heart was simply that compassionate. In any event, she told her that Israel had a prophet that might heal Naaman, who had been afflicted with leprosy. Trusting her little maid, Naaman’s wife relayed the story to her husband. Incredibly, although this was just a tale shared by a Hebrew captive, Naaman decided to act on what she had told his wife. Perhaps he did so instantly or perhaps it was the result of continual reminders from his wife every time he suffered with his leprosy. We are not told. But he sought an audience with the king and obtained permission to travel to Israel, even carrying a letter from his king to the Israelite king asking that he arrange for Naaman to be healed. Naaman then traveled to Israel with a large retinue[iii] and huge amounts of gold, silver and fine clothing to reward whoever might heal him.

Either the little maid did not know the prophet’s name or the name did not survive the retelling by Naaman’s wife since the Israelite king did not seem to know what they were referring to and thought it a pretense for war. It may come as a surprise in those ancient days before phones, internet and social media, but somehow the story got to Elisha who advised the king to send Naaman to him. What an impact it must have made for the retinue of this important official to pull up to the humble cottage of the prophet. But even though Naaman was a man of importance, Elisha didn’t even deign to go out to meet him. Instead he sent his servant to tell Naaman what to do. That Naaman’s pride was wounded showed that he was well aware of protocol, and expected it to be honored by this prophet. Turning away in anger, he set his heart on returning home.

Perhaps he often would lose his temper. That his servants were skilled at approaching him when he was angry might indicate this. Elisha had instructed him to bathe seven times in the Jordan River, and Naaman’s servants reminded him of what a simple thing this was compared to what he might have been asked to do. Eventually his anger subsided, and he allowed himself to follow Elisha’s instructions and was healed of his leprosy. As a result, he learned that there is a God who rules over the affairs of men and that humility rather than pride is the proper way to approach that God. He took not only a healthy body back to Aram but knowledge of that true God as well.

All of this would not have happened except for the faithful witness of the little Israelite maid. In many ways, she echoed several other great Bible characters even though she remains nameless. Like Joseph, she was carried away to another nation and enslaved.[iv] Also like Joseph, she sought to be a blessing to those who were her masters. Although the Bible does not say, perhaps she was given a position of honor in Naaman’s household for the great service she had performed in directing him to the healing prophet. God rewarded Joseph for his faithful service, so it would be hard to believe that the maid went unrewarded, especially since she served the same God that Naaman had told Elisha would be the only God he would serve heretofore. Possibly Naaman and his household even sought her out to teach them more about this healing God.

That this little Israelitess was so faithful to God that she witnessed to his power reveals that she was also like Moses[v] who was raised by his Hebrew mother until he was weaned and never lost his connection to the Hebrew nation, even though he was raised in Pharaoh’s household and was taught in the schools of the idolatrous Egyptian priests. He, too, left the country of his birth and upbringing, eventually to return at God’s call to lead the Hebrew nation to deliverance from slavery.

She also was like the Samaritan woman, whom Jesus met at Jacob’s well.[vi] She, too, remains nameless, but her story has been told for thousands of years. Having come face to face with the Messiah, her response was to tell others about Him. As a result, her whole village came out to see for themselves that Jesus was indeed the promised One of Israel. She did not hold back when she knew something that could be a blessing to others. The little maid, like the Samaritan woman shared what she knew and blessings resulted.

There was also something of the famous Queen Esther[vii] in the maiden. Esther delivered her people from sentence of death through her faithfulness. Like her, the maid recognized that perhaps she was brought to Naaman’s household for a purpose. Searching for that purpose, she may have felt she found it in the agony of Naaman’s leprosy. As Jesus later pointed out, although there were many lepers in Israel at the time, Naaman, a foreigner, was the only one who sought out Elisha to be healed. This alone highlights the special circumstances that this maid’s witness brought about. Although nameless, she was astride a spiritual and historical nexus that God could bring about because of her faithfulness. Like Mordecai’s words to Esther as quoted at the top of this page, who knows but that the Israelitess’s capture by the Arameans was for the purpose of bringing her to that nexus, “for such a time as this?”

The Samaritan woman brought a village to Christ. Moses returned the entire Hebrew nation to the worship of the true God, even though they had lived with the idolatry of the Egyptians for 400 years. Joseph saved that same Hebrew nation, when they only consisted of his father, mother, eleven siblings and all their servants, from famine in Canaan. His brothers had sold him into slavery in Egypt, and later when he became powerful, they feared retribution, but he reassured them that what they had meant for evil, God had turned to good.[viii] He recognized God’s purpose and witnessed to it.

Maybe one problem with the Bible is that it is limited to what is contained in its pages. God continues to work and has worked through thousands of years in exactly the same way he has in the lives of these heroes of the Bible. Others have been faithful witnesses as well. They may not have made it into the pages of the Bible, but they are heroes and heroines all the same. Like the little maid, their names may have been lost to history, yet they impacted that history profoundly. Because of her witness, the maid’s story was referred to by the Messiah centuries later, and is still read today by those who read the Bible seeking to learn more of the God she told Naaman about. Like Joseph, Moses, and Esther, her story has been immortalized in the Bible that is the foundation for two of the world’s great religions, and all she did was share what she knew.

Each of us stands at the confluence of many different social currents. We, too, have come to know the same God as that little maiden. What we share also influences the lives not only of those around us, but of those who will come after for however many years remain until Jesus returns. Although that return seems very near to us when we see events in the world around us, it may not be. The Apostles thought it would happen in their day. Yet, here we are two thousand years later, still waiting. But this may not be an unhappy thing. Because time has gone on, we are given the opportunity to also share as they did all those centuries ago. Perhaps our story will span the ages as well, if we simply share what we know about God and what He has done for us.

[i] 2 Kings 5

[ii] Jeremiah 29:7

[iii] Although the Bible does not say the size of his party, but since it was an official visit and they were escorting a significant amount of wealth, the escort would need to be adequate for both security and protocol.

[iv] Genesis 37-50

[v] Exodus 1-40

[vi] John 4:1-42

[vii] Esther 1-10

[viii] Genesis 50:20



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