We continue to beam the searchlight on the ‘not too popular’ characters in Scripture whom we have named ‘Silent Generals’. Their examples were recorded for our instruction. We pray the Spirit to bring us some valuable lessons as we look at more examples in this fourth instalment.
- THE YOUNG GIRL FROM ISRAEL: THE LORD’S WITNESS IN A FOREIGN LAND
“Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.
“Now bands from Aram had gone out and taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’” – 2 Ki. 5:1-3
Scripture doesn’t even bother to tell us her name. She wasn’t only a girl; she was also young. A raiding party from Aram had taken her captive into a foreign land where she became a slave. Her mistress’ husband, Naaman, had leprosy and needed a cure. This young girl had the courage to speak to her mistress about a man of God back in her home country: “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” The faith, the audacity, the temerity even, to, as a slave, talk to an army General about your God! For her to be able to speak to her mistress and convince her means she was a faithful servant. If she wasn’t believable in small matters, no one would trust her when she said something so profound. She wasn’t grumbling about how unfortunate she was to have become a slave, even though she believed in a powerful God. She still propagated Him.
On the strength of her recommendation, Naaman secured approval from his boss, the king of Aram, to go see Elisha. What a risk! What if what the young girl said turned out to be false? And Naaman’s pride almost ruined it. When the letter from the king of Aram got to the king of Israel, he displayed his lack of faith. He tore his clothes and protested against what he thought was a provocation to war. He lived in Israel but didn’t have faith in the Lord or His prophet, something a slave girl in a foreign land had. Being in church and holding a high position is not tantamount to faith. Our business is not with Naaman so we can skip his drama. But at the end, this was his confession after he got healed: “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel”; “… your servant will never again make burnt offerings to any other god but the LORD (2 Ki. 5:15, 17).
This young, slave girl was believable. An army chief and the king of a whole nation placed their faith in her word and acted on it. She had more faith than the king of Israel. We don’t even know her name, yet Naaman came to know God because of her. Her age, location and condition didn’t alter her faith.
What about you? What ‘foreign’ land are you in? Are you still holding on to your faith? Has the difficult situation you live in extinguished your fire or it is still burning and shining? Do you have credibility with those you work with or serve? Do you do good works that they can see and give glory to your Father who is in heaven? Can your word be believed, acted upon and God proven to be true? Your name mustn’t be known for you to do exploit for God. And a challenge to parents: what kind of faith must have been instilled into this young girl that was unshakeable in spite of her predicament.
- EBED-MELECH: A LONE VOICE FOR JUSTICE
“So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.
But Ebed-Melech, a Cushite, an official in the royal palace, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. While the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate, Ebed-Melech went out of the palace and said to him, ‘My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into a cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city.’”
“Then the king commanded Ebed-Melech the Cushite, ‘Take thirty men from here with you and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.’” – Jeremiah 38:6-10
Jeremiah was a prophet with a message no one wanted to hear: “This city will be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon, who will capture it” (Jer. 38:3). This put him at crosshairs with the princes of Judah. They told the king, “This man should be put to death… This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin” (Jer. 38:4). The coward that the king was, even though he knew Jeremiah was speaking the truth he replied: “He is in your hands, the king can do nothing to oppose you” (Jer. 38:5). What king does that? The princes, armed with the king’s permission, put Jeremiah into a cistern. That they lowered him down by ropes shows that the dungeon was a deep one; that it was muddy and he sank into it tells how dirty it was.
The scripture then introduces a different man: “But Ebed-Melech, a Cushite, an official in the royal palace…” The word “But” tells us he was different. That he was a Cushite (an African) tells us he was a foreigner in the land of Judah. He was a foreigner to the commonwealth of Israel yet he had more humanity than the native Israelites. Didn’t Jesus also find more faith among the Gentiles during his time on earth? What would make a foreigner to be appointed an official at the royal palace? He proved his credentials. This man had the courage to go to the king and ask him to release Jeremiah the prophet. He did not mince words: “These men have acted wickedly in all they have done against Jeremiah the prophet.” The same princes that the king didn’t have the courage to oppose, this foreigner had the temerity to call out. God, in whose hands the hearts of kings is, caused King Zedekiah to listen to Ebed-Melech and grant his request to have Jeremiah released. Notice how he went about rescuing the prophet: “He took some old rags and worn-out clothes from there and let them down with ropes to Jeremiah in the cistern” (Jer. 38:11). The rags were to keep the prophet’s arms from hurting while he was being drawn up, out of the cistern. If he had thrown them to the prophet, they could have landed in the mud and become soiled.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Not when Ebed-Melech was around. Even as foreigner in an exalted position he didn’t join the multitude to do wrong. He had the audacity to defy the wicked princes. He stood as a lone voice that God could use to save his servant. He went about this task with tender-heartedness.
What about you? Who are you when you are in a ‘foreign’ land, alone, when no one who knows you is watching? When God elevates you, can he still count on you to stand for justice, or will the fleeting pleasures of the ‘palace’ overwhelm you? Can you defy the multitude (who are mostly wrong) and take a stand for what is right? Dear ‘Big Man’, can the milk of human kindness flow from within you? Isaiah 1:17 says: “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
- ANANIAS: THE LORD’S MAN IN THE CITY
“In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered.
“The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’
‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’
“But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’
“Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” – Acts 9:10-19
God had decided that it was time to call Saul to fulfil the purpose for his creation. Up till this time, Paul was a fierce persecutor of the Church. On his latest trip to Damascus to take prisoners of any believers he might find, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in an intensely bright light and he went blind. After asking and knowing that it was the Lord who appeared to him, Saul was told to go into the city where he would be told what to do.
Enter the Damascus-based disciple, Ananias. The Lord called him once and he responded. Contrast that with the boy Samuel who heard his name but didn’t know who called him until Eli told him how to respond. Ananias unmistakably knew the voice of the Lord. “Yes, Lord,” was his response. His response also showed a willingness to obey. The Lord told him where Saul, the renowned terrorist was and asked him to go open his eyes. Ananias protested, citing Paul’s reputation for harming believers. He was correct but not current; correct about Saul’s past but not current about his present. “But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go!’” and he obeyed. Again, contrast that with the Prophet Jonah who even though he knew the Lord, would not go to preach to the sinful nation of Nineveh. In the end, Saul’s sight was restored, he got baptized, ate, regained his strength and from there became all that he became. That’s all we hear of Ananias in scripture except when Paul later recounts his encounter with him in Acts 22.
The way God elects to do his work is at variance with ours. Why didn’t He send one of the apostles in Jerusalem or the evangelist Philip, who could appear there at once? On this occasion, he chose to use Ananias. God was confident that even though this man was a local disciple, he could be counted on to get Saul started in his ministry. God could have waited for one of Paul’s journeys to Jerusalem, where the apostles were, to encounter him, but he knew Ananias would be available in Damascus. When he was called, Ananias answered promptly. He had legitimate reservations about Saul, but he gave them up when God told him to. Remember that God had told him that Saul was praying and saw him (Ananias) come to pray for him. God had not yet spoken to Ananias, but he revealed to Saul that Ananias would come and pray for him. Risky! Imagine if God had made a similar promise to the people of Nineveh and was counting on Jonah. Ananias put aside his fears to be an answer to prayer. When he got there, he called Saul, “Brother”! He accepted him. If he refused, God would have appeared to have made false promises. Paul was told to go into the city where he would be told what to do. That information was given to Ananias but he didn’t make himself a lord because of it. He didn’t become the ‘prophet’ of Saul’s or any other life, collecting ‘prophet’s offering’ as a result. Paul’s ministry was to the Gentiles – you and I – but it needed the cooperation of Ananias to get him going. When the eternal destiny of nations and peoples was at stake, God invited him to play a small part and he obliged and returned into oblivion.
What about you? Are you a disciple, a follower of Jesus? You may be unknown, but can God count on you for anything, anything at all? Can God decide to raise someone for himself and be confident that your location is the best place to do so? “Because she teaches in this school, I will send my ‘Saul’ there so that he can be raised for me.” Can he count on your prompt obedience even if you have reasons not to? Peter said to Jesus, “We’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (Lk. 5:5). Can you lay aside your fears and launch out for the sake of the kingdom? The information you have about someone’s past life, can you put it aside and accept to work with them for the sake of the kingdom? Can you be an ‘Ananias’ for another ‘Saul’ that God has called?