God Makes Our Misery the Servant of His Mercy
Naaman was Syria’s foremost general when Elisha served as God’s foremost prophet in Israel. After a Syrian raid on Israel, Naaman brought back his wife a gift: a Hebrew servant girl. When she saw that Naaman suffered from a serious leprous skin disease, the Hebrew servant girl told Naaman about Elisha and the power of Yahweh. As a result, Naaman was healed.
In this story from 2 Kings 5:1–19, God’s miraculous power is clearly seen in Naaman’s healing. But in the background stands the servant girl. And in her we see God’s power to make our misery the servant of his mercy.
“The master’s returned! The master’s returned!” Shamura and her servant girl, Anyroda, were laying out fabric on the table when she heard the servant boy shouting outside. She dropped the fabric and hurried out to greet her husband. Anyroda stayed behind, busying herself with the fabric. But what she was really doing was avoiding her master.
As Shamura stepped outside, Naaman stepped out of his chariot and strode quickly toward her. She could tell he was excited, but trying to hide it. The news must be good, she thought. She walked to meet him, smiling, and he kissed her and embraced her tightly. “You are a sweet sight for longing eyes,” he said.
Shamura stepped back and said, “Well?”
Naaman pulled up the left sleeve of his robe, exposing his upper arm where one of the diseased spots had been. The skin was healthy and soft. “No spots anywhere,” he announced. “I am a leper no more.”
Shamura cupped her mouth and her eyes teared. Then she said softly, “The gods be praised!”
Naaman put his arm around Shamura’s shoulder and they began walking slowly toward the house. “No,” he said softly. “The ‘gods,’ at least as we’ve understood them, had nothing to do with this. Rimmon was powerless to cure my disease. I was healed by Yahweh.”
Shamura could tell by Naaman’s tone that more than just his skin was changed.
“Where is Anyroda?” Naaman asked.
Shamura glanced around but didn’t see her. “She must still be in the house. We were preparing fabric for a new robe when you arrived.”
“I need to speak with her,” said Naaman. He clapped his hands twice, which brought his young servant boy running. “Send for Anyroda. She’s in the house,” Naaman instructed. The boy was off.
A minute later Anyroda stepped out the door apprehensively.
“Anyroda, come! You have nothing to fear. It worked!” Anyroda had never seen Naaman smile like that. She straightened and her eyes widened. She walked over to them.
“I have something to show you,” said Naaman, and he pulled up his sleeve to reveal his healed skin.
“You’re healed?” Anyroda asked breathlessly.
“Yes,” he replied, “completely healed by Yahweh, your God — and now mine. And I would never have been healed or ever known the true God if you hadn’t told me about your prophet. Anyroda, I owe you more than I could ever hope to repay.”
Anyroda’s eyes dropped to the ground. Her master, one of Syria’s greatest men, had barely acknowledged her prior to this trip. The respect she now felt from him was hard to absorb.
“What is your Hebrew name? I’ve never asked,” said Naaman.
“Miriam,” she answered.
“What does it mean?”
“It’s the name of a great prophetess, but in Hebrew it means ‘bitter.’”
“Bitter,” said Naaman, more to himself than to her. “That’s fitting.” He was quiet for a moment, and then said, “May we call you Miriam?”
“I thought of you many times, Miriam, on our journey back, riding through your homeland. I had never noticed how beautiful it was before. I suppose it is more beautiful to me now that I know it is the land of the true God.”
Miriam bowed her head and wiped tears from her eyes.
Naaman held out his hand and said, “Come, Miriam, I have something else to show you.” Miriam dried her hand and took Naaman’s. He led her behind the horses where two mules stood, each carrying two large baskets of dirt.
“These baskets hold earth from Israel, near the great prophet’s house. Never again will I sacrifice to any other god but Yahweh, for now I know that there is no other. And when I offer sacrifice, it will be on the soil Yahweh promised to give to his people, to your people.
“Miriam, I see now that I have been the source of great bitterness for you. I stole you away from your family, from your people, and from Yahweh’s land. All this time I assumed that I had done you a great favor, bringing you to a great kingdom to serve in the house of a great general. I thought I was giving you a life you would never have had otherwise. But I was a fool. I am the one who received the great favor.” Tears filled the strong man’s eyes and he said with difficulty, “Yahweh sent you to point me to him. I would never have known him, had you not come to my house. Because of you, Miriam, Yahweh has given me a life I would never have had otherwise.”
Master and servant wept together.
Naaman’s story is more than a story of God’s sovereign power over disease. It’s more than a story of God’s sovereign grace extended to the nations and to his enemies. It is also a glorious story of God’s sovereign mercy conquering human evil and heartbreak.
The Syrians abducted a Hebrew girl from her family. It was a wicked sin. The girl, her parents, and her siblings experienced a nightmare of misery from which they could never wake. It left them traumatized and scarred. They wept for grief and pleaded with God for mercy.
And God answered. But he did not answer by returning the girl home (unless Naaman later freed her). God answered by using her to give Naaman the mercy of healing and saving faith. God used her to give the Syrian people the mercy of seeing his reality and glory. And God used this displaced servant girl to preserve a testimony of his mercy toward undeserving sinners that has been retold to billions of people for thousands of years.
Behind all the great manifestations of God’s mighty mercy in history are stories of great misery. Do not miss the action in the background. It’s there to fuel your faith. God will overpower every evil you will experience in this life and make you more than a conqueror through Christ who loved you (Romans 8:37).
The evil that causes your greatest misery will one day serve the omnipotent mercy of God, not only for you, but also for more people than you ever imagined.
More on God’s grace in our suffering:
A Song for the Suffering (video with Shane & Shane)
When God Does the Miracle We Didn’t Ask For (article by Vaneetha Rendall Demski)
Preparing to Know Christ Deeply Through Suffering (message by John Piper)
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