Scripture Characters -
for the Young.
THE HEBREW MAID.
2 KINGS v. 3.
ISRAEL was now in a state of much depression and weakness,
because of the general apostasy of its people from the service and worship of
the true God. And Syria, on its northern borders, was the common instrument of
its humiliation and chastisement.
In one of the frequent forays which marauding companies of Syrians had made into the land for purposes of insult and plunder, they had carried away captive, a little Israelitish maiden, who appears to have belonged to one of the few families that in the midst of wide-spread degeneracy, had remained faithful to the God of their fathers. Perhaps, in the division of the spoils on their return, she had been allotted to Syrian household in which we find her. Or we imagine the beautiful and timid captive exposed in the crowded slave-market of Damascus, and way becoming a domestic attendant upon the of Naaman the Syrian.
This man, distinguished for personal valour and for signal military successes which had made the whole land his debtor, was the commander-in-chief of the armies of Syria, and the confidential adviser of his king, to whom he stood nearest in rank and power. It is natural to picture him as living in a palace, in the midst of one of those orchards of apricots, pomegranates, and other trees which, for three thousand years, have made Damascus the garden of the East. But what embittered all his enjoyments, and withered all the beauty of the paradise by which he was surrounded, was the fact that he was afflicted with the terrible and loathsome disease of leprosy, so that, as good Bishop Hall has quaintly said, ' the basest slave in all Syria would not have changed skins with Naaman, had he gotten his office to boot'
He appears to have been a man of much natural generosity, and to have treated the little captive girl so kindly as to have gradually won her confidence and awakened her sympathy; so that, while she did not forget her own kindred and her father's house, and was no stranger to home-sickness, she gradually became, in some degree, reconciled to her captivity. It was not easy for the natural hope and buoyancy of so young a heart, to continue habitually repressed ; and, like the caged bird, she could sing at times even in her bondage.
We may conceive her to have looked on at first with affectionate but silent interest, to have seen the agents of superstition trying all their charms, and the native physicians exhausting all their skill upon her master, in vain; for still the fatal malady, which her Hebrew education had taught her to regard with peculiar dread and aversion, made steady progress, consuming his strength and 'wasting his beauty like a moth' and threatened soon to turn that splendid mansion into a house of mourning. Waiting from day to day upon her mistress, she read in her countenance the darkening signs of anxiety and sorrow; and unable at length to repress the thoughts which had often risen in her mind, with affectionate artlessness she one day dropped the kind hint: 'Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! He would recover him of his leprosy.'
Here was a gleam of light in the midst of the thickening gloom. Her mistress reports the words of the little maiden to her husband ; and as the dying man hears them, he once more begins to hope for life. Further inquiry increases the hope; and he resolves that he will try this one additional means for recovery.
We know from the later portions of the narrative how it sped with Naaman. Hastening into Samaria with a numerous retinue suited to his rank, with pieces of gold, and talents of silver, and changes of raiment for presents, the snowy peaks of Lebanon soon rose between him and his native Syria. He waited in his chariot at the door of the prophet Elisha. And the result was, that he was not only delivered from his leprosy but from his idolatry, that he obtained in one day both health and salvation, and returned rejoicing to his own land, a worshipper and servant of the only living and true God who made the heavens and the earth.
Now we may look at this story, in its incidents and issues, in two lights,in the illustrations which it gives us of the manner in which God made known His name and vindicated His glory, in those times, among heathen nations; and in the general principles and lessons for all times which it suggests.
I. Viewing it for a little in the former of these aspects, we may take occasion from it to correct the mistaken opinion into which some have fallen respecting the exclusive nature of the ancient Judaism.
One would be led to suppose from the representations which some have given, that the sacred land was surrounded by a wall of brass a hundred feet high, and that the utmost jealousy was shown of any of the rays of that divine light which had been communicated to the chosen people, being permitted to pass beyond it. This is so great an exaggeration of the actual facts, as in effect to amount to a serious error.
The Jewish Church, when it fulfilled its proper mission, was the guardian of Heaven's truth, not its monopolist or its jailer. Its peculiar institutions and observances were framed and appointed, not for the purpose of preventing truth from passing out, but of preventing corruption and error from coming in. At all times winged seeds of truth were finding their way into heathen lands, striking roots downward and bearing fruit upward, as now in the case of this young Hebrew captive in the house of her Syrian lord. In this respect, as well as in the ordinances of nature in which God ' gave to men rain and fruitful seasons,' He never 'left himself in those nations ' without a witness.'
The numerous colonies of Jews too, migrating to the various Gentile cities and erecting synagogues there, ages before the advent of Christ, became, on a grander scale and in a more systematic and imposing manner, witnesses for God and pioneers of the gospel of the kingdom. The gate of the ancient Church, covered over with its mystic scrolls and pictorial emblems, stood open day and night, to every Gentile who was willing to enter it as a proselyte. And the court of the Gentiles in the Jewish temple was the perpetual and designed recognition of this truth, which Jesus, by driving out from it the money-changers and the sellers of doves who crowded and polluted it, anew restored and proclaimed.
And there is more in regard to the manner of God's manifesting His name and declaring His supremacy and glory before the heathen, of which these incidents afford impressive illustration. It is to be remembered that, when the Jews revolted into idolatry and its accompanying vices, they ceased to fulfil their high and peculiar mission as the chosen people, and to be witnesses for God before the other kingdoms of the earth. And more than this, when they were allowed to fall into subjection to the heathen, and to be grievously oppressed and punished by them,- which was the case as often as they apostatized,- their heathen oppressors were only too ready to conclude, not only that they had subdued the Israelites, but I that their gods had prevailed against the God in whom the Israelites trusted. But no one can have read with proper reflection the inspired history of the Jewish people, without observing the many occasions in which, when this was their condition, God interposed in a remarkable manner to assert and vindicate His sovereignty, and to cast shame upon all those vanities and dumb idols in which the heathen put their trust, compelling the very idolaters to confess, like the Baal worshippers of Elijah's times at the sublime trial on Mount Carmel, 'Jehovah, He is the God,- Jehovah, He is the God.'
I consider the series of incidents, in which this little Israelitish maiden unconsciously bore so important a part, as belonging to the class of facts to which I have now referred; and I do not think that the transaction is regarded in its true significance, or in some of the principal designs for which it has been placed on permanent record in the sacred volume, until this is clearly observed by us. God was now vindicating His supremacy and awful majesty and power in the sight of the heathen nations, and especially of the proud Syrian people, when the degenerate Israelites had become unfaithful to their high commission. And when we consider that Naaman was the great military chief and defender of Syria, his power casting its shadow upon the throne of Ben-hadad himself, that all the resources of his false gods had been impotent for his cure, and that any deliverance of which he might become the subject would awaken the wonder and the joy of all Syria, it is easy to see how admirably and singularly fitted his cure by the prophet of God in Samaria, to whom this little Hebrew captive now sent him, was, in all its circumstances, to vindicate the divine glory and supremacy.
II. We have placed these remarks in the foreground, because we consider them necessary to the proper understanding of this passage of inspired biography. But there are general principles and lessons for all time suggested by it which we now proceed to indicate, and which may render the words of the Hebrew maiden, which were as life from the dead to Naaman, profitable for us also.
I. We scarcely know of any fact recorded in Scripture that more beautifully illustrates the value and influence of early religious instruction.
In those good words spoken in season, and with such artless simplicity, by the young Israelite, she was giving forth the impressions and the lessons of her childhood for the benefit of her Syrian lord. She remembered well a venerable man, clothed in a prophet's mantle, who held communications with the true God and delivered His awful messages to men. She knew that, in the name and by the power of that God in whom he trusted, he had wrought many miracles of benevolent power, and that in one memorable instance he had even raised the dead. And although her master was not an Israelite, yet, such was her confidence in the power and compassion of the God of her fathers, that she could not doubt, if he sought His healing mercy by the hands of His prophet, that he would not be allowed to seek it in vain. All the blighting influences of the surrounding heathenism had not been able to destroy these hallowed memories, or to wither these holy faiths in her young heart We hear the well-trained Israelite in every word that she utters: ' Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria, for he would recover him of his leprosy.'
We are not expressly told whose hands had sown those precious seeds of early instruction in the heart of this little captive girl. But most probably it was those of her own parents, who had many a time been praying, since she was torn from them, that, if she still lived, she might not forget, in that land of idolaters, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And now that she is in the midst of heathen people, and there is no parent's hand to fan the spark of her early piety, those lessons of her childhood begin to drop with fruits of inestimable price.
It has sometimes happened that religious instructions, which appeared to leave no marked impression at the moment, have begun to germinate in future years and in foreign lands. The gathered fuel upon the altar has been suddenly wrapt in a living flame by fire from heaven. It is a fine thought of the poet-philosopher Richter, that the first colours that are painted on the mind are usually immortal. The first mountain that we have seen, the first strain of music that we have heard, the first look that we have had of the solemn sea, are never forgotten.
Ply then your blessed work, ye who are parents. You now paint in undying colours. Your work shall have eternal issues. From a child let your little ones 'know the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make them wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.'
' The clay is moist and soft; now, now, make haste, And form the pitcher, for the wheel runs fast.'
2. And surely the words before us, with their consequences, were meant to tell us of the power for good that is possessed by persons even in the most unfavourable stations in life.
Had we been asked to represent beforehand the case of an individual who should be almost powerless for good - a withered leaf made to be the sport of winds - a passive waif floating down the stream of events, but utterly unable to control them - a human being not even entrusted with one solitary talent with which she might trade for God - we should probably have described circumstances not greatly dissimilar to those in which this young Hebrew maiden was situated. Was she not young and friendless - a stranger in a foreign land, a poor captive in the mansion of a rich Syrian lord? And yet even she was able to drop a word, which changed the whole current of her master's life, took the gall and poison out of his earthly cup, and, there is good cause to think, brought him to the blessed knowledge of the true God. She had a little light, and she made it shine, and lo, it gave light unto all who were in the house!
Who can tell the history of a sentence, or even a word! It may awaken echoes that shall reverberate and multiply and deepen through all time. How far-reaching were the consequences of this one sentence so sincerely and lovingly spoken! Her 'wholesome tongue became a tree of life,' and it was shown that 'life and death were in the power of it.' What human being may presume that he is independent of his neighbour, or knows from what hand help in his time of need may come to him? 'The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee; or the hand to the foot, I have no need of thee.' There is as much of true philosophy as of beauty in those words of the poet, when he says that even
'The daisy, by the shadow that it casts,
Protects the lingering dew-drop from the sun.'
What the greater number of us want is, not so much talent and opportunity, as an honest and earnest desire and aim to do good. Occasions are presenting themselves to the most obscure among us a hundred times every day. Men of science tell us that there is no waste of power in nature, but even the gossamer-web of the insect, and the falling leaves of autumn, and the snow-flakes of winter, have their appointed uses in the great laboratory of the earth. But just as little is it true in the moral world that any human being is condemned to uselessness. You do not even need to step out of your own sphere, or to join a benevolent society, in order to benefit your fellow-men. The story of the poor widow in the island of Rona, who was accustomed on stormy nights to place a lighted candle in her window at the entrance to the dangerous harbour, in order to guide homewards the fishermen who were out toiling in the tempest, shows us that those who seem the most unfavourably situated, may yet do some service for others, if they have but the heart for it; while the example of this Hebrew captive, out of whose mouth God now perfected strength, may shut the lips of apologists for indolence to the end of the world. Nay, it often happens that one good act has hidden in its bosom the germ of others, and multiplies and enlarges itself many times in blessing.
'A grain of corn, an infant's hand
May plant upon an inch of land,
Whence twenty stalks may spring, and yield
Enough to stock a little field.
The harvest of that field might then
Be multiplied to ten times ten ;
Which sown thrice more, would furnish bread
Wherewith an army might be fed.'
3. We may also see in the language and conduct of this young Israelite, a noble example of fidelity to the honour of her religion.
Many in her own land had been recreant to their faith, and had gone aside to the worship of strange gods. But here, in this land of strangers, among the worshippers of Rimmon and the oppressors of her race, she lifts her little hand in solitary and fearless protest for the living God and the true worship. For there is every reason to think, that she had silently waited until her distressed master had tried and exhausted all the resources of Syrian skill, and all the blind appliances of Syrian superstition, before she gave utterance to her devout and kindly wish. And therefore, in the circumstances, her words were equivalent to saying, ' The gods of Syria can do nothing to heal my leprous master; they are dumb idols all, having eyes but seeing not, and ears but hearing not; and they that make them are like unto them ; so are all they that put their trust in them. But my God and the God of my fathers, through the instrumentality of His prophet, both can and will. Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.'
What faith and courage were in this language! In this little captive maiden there were the germs of which God makes His martyrs.
But what a loud rebuke does her behaviour pronounce upon those who, while in public profession they have named the name of Christ, are slow to confess Him before His enemies, to defend His institutions, His doctrines, and His laws! They delight in circles from which all reference to the Lord that bought them is formally excluded, or where the mention of His name would be a jarring note. The world speaks loudly in their presence of its idols ; but they are content to be silent about their divine Saviour. The reason of their guilty cowardice is to be found in the want of qualities which this young Israelite possessed. There was consistency between her life and her religious profession, and this gave her holy boldness. And then her religious convictions were firm and deep, and it is the full vessel that overflows. It was a little truth that she knew, but she believed it with all her heart; and there is more of moral influence from a little portion of truth strongly believed and held as with a life-grasp, than from a larger measure of truth that is regarded only with a kind of half faith. Persons like this Hebrew maiden rise above fear; they must speak ' out of the abundance of their heart,' and tell those who need to be told it, that 'there is balm in Gilead, and a Physician there.'
4. We may also notice in this young Israelite, an example of some of the essential qualities of a good servant.
She did not allow herself to pine away in sullen discontent, as her captivity might perhaps have seemed to some to justify. She did not fall into the selfish mistake of imagining that her own interests and those of her master were different and even opposite. Nor did she measure out her service according to the hireling principle of so much wages on the one hand, and so much work on the other. But the true-hearted maiden took a sincere interest in the well-being of the family in which her lot was cast, identified herself with it, lovingly sought its good; and we hear this feeling now breathing itself out, in the time of family distress, in this affectionate wish' Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria, for he would recover him of his leprosy.'
In every properly regulated household, the interest will be reciprocal. There will be a sympathetic chord passing from the humblest to the highest, and from the highest to the humblest: the master will conscientiously care for the good of those who are placed for the time under his domestic rule; and the Christian servant, who carries her principles consistently into this relation, will make the prosperity of the family in which she lives her own,- thinking for it, praying for it, weeping when it weeps, and rejoicing when it rejoices.
How finely did the conduct of the good Eliezer of Damascus, Abraham's servant, exemplify the same spirit, when he was sent forth on the peculiarly delicate and important mission of obtaining a wife for his master's son! With what anxiety did he guard at every point his master's honour! With what thoughtful plan did he always seek to do the best thing in the best way, and at the best time ! How devoutly did he watch and mark the leadings at once of conscience and of Providence! How thoroughly did he put his mind and heart into every step and stage of the enterprise! And with what honest and sincerely religious joy did he delight and give thanks to God, when success at length crowned his undertaking, and he bore the beautiful and modest bride home to Isaac!
I am well aware, how much the existence of this happy state of things in a household depends upon right principles, and proper treatment, on the part of the master or mistress to the servant; and that many a servant has at length become a hireling through being treated as a hireling, and, in consequence of being always regarded with suspicion, has come to deserve to be suspected. But where you persevere in 'showing all good fidelity' you will generally succeed at last in winning both confidence and esteem ; and, moreover, the undutifulness of others, while it makes our discharge of duty more difficult, does not excuse us from it. The Christian servant in an ungodly household should remember, that there especially she is the representative of her religion, and should aim to show, like this Hebrew maiden in the house of Naaman, and like Onesimus in the house of Philemon, that her religion has ' made her profitable.' There is a Master in heaven 'by whom actions are weighed ;' and love to Him makes the wheels of obedience move easily and sweetly, and invests obedience itself with a new quality and a new preciousness.
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine :
Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws,
Makes that and th' action fine.
This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold :
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for lesse be told.'
5. I must not bring to a close my remarks on the story of this Hebrew maiden, without noticing the singularly impressive illustration which it affords of the wondrous operation of divine providence in educing good from seeming, and even from real, evil. How strangely had God linked the destinies of these two human beings together,- the Israelitish slave and the Syrian chief! To her young heart it must have appeared a sad calamity, to be torn in her childhood from her beloved Hebrew home on the banks of the Jordan, and to become a domestic slave in a heathen's family. But God had brought her hither for great ends, even that she might lead her master as a trophy to His feet, and make all Syria resound with the confession, that ' there was no God like unto the God of Jeshurun.'
And then, what did Naaman's leprosy appear to him and to all that looked on him, but the dark shadow cast upon his otherwise prosperous life, the drop of bitter which turned everything to. wormwood, the skeleton in the house ever pointing with its bony finger to an opening grave ? While, all along, this terrible providence had been bearing in its bosom, his greatest mercy, and was to prove a primary link in that golden chain of events, by which he was to be translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God.
We are poor judges of what is to be the issue of events, and often tremble and even murmur when we should adore. The dark-winged messenger came from heaven with healing in its wings. When the Lord is coming to bless us, and to hold closer communion,with us, He often comes still, walking on the stormy wave, and, looking at Him through the mist and gloom, we mistake the kind Saviour for an angry spectre.
Go To Chapter Two
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