British journalist William Ewer (1885-1977) once wrote a silly, but profound little poem using only eight words:
A lady once expressed a similar thought in a Bible study I was leading when she said, “Everything in the Old Testament centers so much on Israel that it looks to me like if you weren’t an Israelite, you weren’t important.” It is true that the story and the actions of God do seem to focus only on the Jews and their quest for the promised land of Israel. But it is not true to say that no one else matters. The descendants of Abraham were certainly chosen by God, but there was always two sides to that ‘choseness.’ The Jews were chosen for special blessings; that fact cannot be missed by even a casual reading of the Bible. But they were also chosen for a certain responsibility: to be a blessing to all others. This is what God intended from the very beginning.
The very beginning of this choseness comes not long after the beginning of the Bible itself. In Genesis 12 God called Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, saying to him (verses 2-3):
I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
God choose Israel not to the exclusion of all the other people of the world, but as a way to reach out to all other nations and races.
However, things did not always go according to the plan. From the very beginning, even after being freed from slavery by the miracles of God, the people were ungrateful, quick to complain, and lacking in faith. Far from being a blessing to all the peoples of the earth, the Jews seem determined to bring God’s curses down upon themselves; and on more than one occasion God does bring his wrath down upon them. But God continued to work out his plans through these difficult people, people that in many ways resemble all people of every time and place.
As we become more familiar with the story, we begin to see ourselves in it quite clearly. These stories were not just recorded to tell us about an ancient people, but are there to tell us about ourselves. We also have been blessed in so many ways, we also (now as the church), are intended to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth, but we also usually do more complaining about our problems than giving thanks for our blessings. Churches often get so bogged down in their own problems that it is difficult for them to be much of a blessing to anyone. If you read the story of the Bible from beginning to end, you will get to the story of Jesus, and find that in him, all the peoples of all nations and races have certainly been blessed. The message that started with one man and then one family and then one nation, has indeed become a world-wide faith, spread to the far corners of the earth by the followers of Jesus.
For whatever reason, that did not yet happen on an international scale in Old Testament times, but that is not to say it never happened. There are many stories of other people, not Jews, who saw the activity of God on behalf of his people, and came to faith in Jehovah, the God who created the whole universe.
II Kings 5 tells just such a story. It begins with a foreigner, a non-Jew, even an enemy of Israel (verse one): “Naaman was the commander of the army of the King of Aram.” Aram was Israel’s enemy. This same verse says that the Lord had given victory to Aram through this general Naaman– victory over Israel. God often punished Israel by giving victory to their enemies. God had given this enemy general victory over his own people, even though this general did not yet know, or acknowledge this God.
But Naaman had a problem. He had leprosy, a dreadful disease for which there was no cure. His days of soldiering would be limited. In fact, it is surprising he was not already exiled to a leper colony. That is what they did in those days at the first sign of the disease, so much did people fear its spreading, even though it was rarely contagious. But Naaman was a great and valuable general, so he was not (yet) cast aside.
Naaman had slaves. Many people did in those days. When you went to war you killed people and you took slaves. One of his slaves was a young Jewish girl who had been taken captive. It didn’t benefit her very much to be one of the chosen people. Being chosen did not mean being exempt from hardship and tragedy. It might even mean being subjected to special suffering to fulfill a special purpose, as seems to be the case here. If it wasn’t for this young Jewish slave girl, we would not know this story. There wouldn’t even be a story.
The little slave girl felt sorry for her owner, if you can imagine that. We can probably guess that she is a slave because of Naaman’s army– that her village was destroyed and that her parents were killed or perhaps also taken into slavery– all because of Naaman. But she has pity on her owner, and offers an idea of where he might get some help.
“Blessed to be a blessing,” God said in Genesis 12 when he chose Abraham for the promise. This slave girl is bringing a blessing to her enemy. This is the kind of thing God had in mind. The New Testament, not yet written at the time of this story, tells us to “Love our enemies and do good to those that harm us.” That is what this girl is doing. She said to her mistress, who passed the word on to her husband Naaman, that there was a prophet of God in Israel who could cure leprosy.
Naaman told this to his king, who sent a letter and some money to the king of Israel, saying “Cure Naaman of leprosy.” Apparently the king of Aram did not know the difference between a king and a prophet, and the king of Israel, who was not able to cure leprosy, got worried. He thought the other king’s plan was to pick a fight so that Naaman could defeat his army again, and take back some more of his citizens to be slaves.
Elisha, the prophet that the young slave girl was referring to, got wind of this all and told the king to send Naaman over to his house. The relieved king did so happily. Naaman arrived, and after Elisha put him through a bit of rigamarole to humble him, Elisha healed him. And then the healthy Naaman said, “Now I know that there is no god in all the world except this God.” That was what God had in mind way back in Genesis 12, that all people could know Him. (continued…)
Isaiah 12:4 — In that day you will say: “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Isaiah 55:5 — Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.
O Lord, who has warned us that you will require much from those to whom much is given: Grant that we, who have inherited great spiritual blessings, may strive together more abundantly, by our prayers, our labors, and our gifts, to extend to those who do not yet know what we so richly enjoy; to the fulfillment of your holy will and the salvation of all humankind; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
–Author unknown, fifth century