One of my favourite Old Testament* stories is of the Aramean General Naaman. He has some sort of skin disorder, which in those days would make him unclean – and probably not able to make sacrifices to the Gods of Aram.
In his household is a slave, a young girl captured in one of the wars with neighbouring Ephraim (Israel) to the west. The slave girl somehow knows of the prophet Elisha, and tell her master that he can find healing in Israel. So, Naaman gets permission from the king of Aram and heads off to Israel.
He takes a load of gifts with him – not wanting to provoke any untimely trouble with the king of Israel. Once he gets there, he tells the king of Israel the story of how his slave girl has directed him to come to Israel to find healing. (Although we can work out which king of Israel this is, he is not named in this particular story – perhaps as a way of telling us he’s not the key to the action). Anyway, the king has no idea what to do. He is worried because this could just be a way to provoke Israel to another war with Aram.
Just then, Elisha turns up. He has heard what is going on and comes to bring Yahweh into the picture. He tells Naaman to go and wash in the river Jordan. Naaman sees this as an insult – the rivers back home would be much better surely! Then one of his servants speaks up and advises Naaman that he should do what the prohet is telling him. Naaman takes the advice, washes in the Jordan and is healed. That’s the heart of the story – you can read the whole story in 2 Kings chapter 5.
Things I note – It’s the little people who make a difference here. Firstly Naaman’s captured slave girl getting the whole thing going. And second, Naaman’s servant who encourages him to take Elisha’s guidance.
Then – the role of leadership. The king of Israel seems to think he should be able to answer any question, solve any problem. When someone presents him with a problem he can’t solve, he doesn’t know what to do. The thought that someone else might hold the key doesn’t seem to occur to him ! I know from my experience of leading a church that its easy to fall into the trap of thinking you should have all the answers. After all, that’s what people look to leaders for, isn’t it ? And it can be very seductive. To be someone that people look to for solutions makes you feel very important. But as this story shows us, the king of Israel is on the sidelines here. A lesson for leaders – work at giving away your power and spreading it around. Don’t make yourself the centre of everything. And for those of us who think we’re too insignificant to make a difference – this story tells us otherwise.
And here’s a song to go with it ‘Come to Your River’ by Ibeyi
* As I have mentioned elsewhere, The Old Testament isn’t perhaps the best way to describe this collection of books. It’s the Hebrew Scriptures, or perhaps for Christians The First Testament.