The Ancient City: Chapter 13

2 Kings 5:14  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 6
How puzzling and bewildering it is when people have the same name! It is not only puzzling when the names are exactly the same, but it is also confusing when they are very similar. For instance, how often do we make mistakes in recalling the history of Jehoiakin and Jehoiachin or of Elijah and Elisha! The very same difficulty applies to the names of places. Some of these are so much alike that it is difficult to distinguish clearly between them when we read of them in history.
Take, for example, two countries often mentioned in the Bible, two countries that are constantly cropping up as we read the history of the Jews - Syria and Assyria. How many Bible readers confound the two and even think of them as being names for the same place. And yet, as a matter of fact, they were utterly distinct countries, having different capitals, being ruled over by different kings, and lying no less than 450 miles apart from each other.
Syria lay due north of Palestine, among the mountains of Lebanon; its capital was Damascus. Assyria lay far away to the east; its capital was first Nineveh on the Tigris River and afterward Babylon on the Euphrates River.
The ancient city of Damascus, the capital of Syria, was one of the loveliest spots in the world when Elijah and Elisha were living. At the gate of this old city, which dates back to the days of Abraham and which was at least eleven hundred years old even in Elisha’s time, we see a band of horsemen, riding on richly decorated horses, well armed and thoroughly equipped for fighting.
Where are they going? They are setting forth to make a raid into the land of Israel. The Syrians and the Israelites are sworn enemies. There was constant war, ceaseless strife and incessant trouble between the two nations. These Syrian horsemen would ride swiftly over the border, burst suddenly upon some quiet Israelite village, and bring destruction wherever they went. Then they would swiftly return into their own country, bearing with them whatever spoil they had been able to lay hands on.
Among the hills in the kingdom of Israel lies a little peaceful village. How quiet are the country sounds that rise from it as we look down upon it! The lowing of cattle, the songs of the birds and the voices of children at play are the only sounds that fall upon our ear.
Over the hilltop comes a gleam of weapons, a cloud of dust and the glitter of helmets. It is the band of Syrian horsemen. They break in upon the peaceful scene and spoil it all. They trample underfoot the fields and neat gardens; they cut down and carry off the crops; they kill the chickens and the goats; they drive before them the cows and the sheep; they go into the houses and turn out the chests and shelves. The poor frightened people cower before them.
But now comes the worst part of all. As they prepare to leave, their leader spies a young girl. He bids his men to seize her, and they carry her off. She will become a slave girl for his wife. They put her on a mule and carry her swiftly off, away from her father and mother and home, away from everything she knows and from everyone she loves. Poor, friendless, desolate child!
She has a long ride in the hot sun before the ancient city, Damascus, comes in sight. What a lovely place it is: a pearl among emeralds, as it has been well described - white houses, towers and walls, surrounded by lovely green gardens! Oh, what gardens those are! The Israelite girl has seen none like them in her own country. The air is scented with the roses that abound in them; the fruit of countless trees overhangs the wayside. But surely the poor child can hardly look at any of these beauties, so sore and desolate is her heart.
At last they reach the old gateway of the city, and now she notices the respect shown by everyone to her master, the leader of the band of soldiers. He is evidently a great man in Damascus. Crowds come out to welcome him. The king himself praises him for his bravery, and the people bow in respect as he rides through the streets.
The child is at her journey’s end at last. They stop before a grand house. She has never seen such a mansion before. There is a large courtyard, filled with pots in which grow lemons, oranges, all manner of lovely plants and a cool, refreshing fountain in the center. Everything that money can buy, everything that the skill of those days can make - everything is there in abundance.
And her mistress, before whom she is brought, is a grander lady than any she has seen before. She is dressed in all the splendor of the East - the brightest silks, the most costly jewels and the most expensive adornments.
Picture, if you can, the captive child’s life when she first arrives in that strange place. She cannot understand a word that is said. Crowds of servants with strange faces and strange voices pass in all directions. There is nothing familiar in her surroundings. Worst of all, there is no one who worships her God, Jehovah, the God of Israel.
The people in that great house and in that ancient city are heathen. Rimmon is the god who is worshipped in Damascus. A large temple, built in his honor, stands in the principal street, and there, from time to time, she sees her master go in company with the king to bow down before the idol.
Here, then, is this Israelite girl, the only worshipper of God in that great city. Will she be faithful? Will she, child as she is, forget the past and fall into the heathen ways of those around her? She has no one to help her, no one to give her even a word of encouragement or a reminder. Will the child forget all her parents have taught her and learn to follow the heathen customs and practices of her new home?
Does she do so? No; the little maid remains faithful. She dries her eyes and sets to work to do her duty in that state of life unto which it has pleased God to call her. She evidently wins the love of her mistress and the respect of her fellow servants.
Months pass by, and then trouble comes to the great house in Damascus. The master is smitten with the most horrible disease a man can have. It would be hushed up for a time. But at last the terrible news is spread. The master has the dread disease of leprosy. White spots and blotches are appearing on different parts of his body. Everyone knows what will follow: As time goes on, the disease will grow worse and worse until his whole body will become a rotten mass. Even his nearest and dearest friends will not want to get near him.
What a gloom has come over the house. No company is entertained in the beautiful rooms; no visitors are received; all is quiet and silent. The servants step softly, as if there had been a death in the place.
But the little maid’s mind is busy. Before she was taken as a slave, she heard her mother tell of the great Elisha, the prophet of her country, and of all the wonders he has done by the power of God. Did he not divide the Jordan and make a path through its rushing waters? Did he not make the poisonous spring at Jericho wholesome? Did he not raise to life the Shunammite’s dead son? Did he not cause the poisonous soup to become wholesome and make twenty cakes enough for one hundred men? Surely he could do something for the master.
The Syrian doctors can come to see him, they can charge him for their examinations, but they can do nothing for him.
One day the little maid can hold silence no longer. She can talk the Syrian language now, and as she waits on her mistress and sees her tear-stained face, she can no longer hide the earnest longing of her heart. “Oh!” she cries, “how I wish my master could go to see the prophet in Samaria; he could cure him of his leprosy - I know he could.”
Another servant heard the remark made and evidently thought it was worth repeating to his master. He may have been Naaman’s personal attendant who saw his suffering when no other eyes were watching. The servant repeats the words which he has heard the child say. She says - this Israelitish maid - that she knows a man, a prophet in her own country, who by the power of his God can do wonders and would be able, doubtless, to cure even the leprous.
Poor man. He will go anywhere, even to the world’s end, in order to get relief. He must hear more of this and of what the little maid has said about her prophet and her prophet’s God. Her words are a ray of light shining on his dark soul.
Small, insignificant and ignorant though she was, the young girl kindled fresh hope in his heart, and she led his thoughts towards a God of whom he had hitherto known nothing. What a flood of light was presently to burst in on Naaman’s heart through that child’s influence; what a blessing the little captive maid was to be to the whole household!
“Let your light so shine before men,” even as this little captive maid’s shone. Be faithful to your God, wherever you are and in whatever company. She was alone in a heathen land, yet she did not forget the God she served. And never say you are unable to do anything for your Lord. You may only be a small light, yet by God’s grace you may shine light upon this dark world, heavenly sunshine which shall cheer and comfort hearts that are in darkness.
“The whole world lieth in wickedness,” said John the Apostle, and how terribly then it needs those who will let God’s own light shine upon it.
Surely the little maid teaches us one very important lesson in our work for God. If we would be really useful, we must have confidence in God’s power, a firm belief in the One in whom we profess to trust. It has been well said that nothing is so convincing to others as a strong conviction. That child knew God could help; she was strong in her own belief. The servants might smile at the idea, the noblemen of Damascus might ridicule it, the king might pronounce it absurd, but the little maid carried the day. Master, mistress, servants, king and court are convinced at last, and her master actually makes up his mind to go to Samaria.
Let us be firm in our own mind; let us be able to say, “I know whom I have believed,” and we shall find that others will feel the influence of our conviction.
William Hone, the infidel who scorned the Word of God, was converted to God in a very remarkable way. As he was riding in the country one hot summer’s day, he stopped at the gate of a cottage to ask for a drink of water. Under a tree was seated a little girl, reading so intently a book that lay on her knee that at first she did not hear him when he called to her. He asked her to tell him what book she was reading.
“It is the Bible, sir,” said the child.
“The Bible!” he repeated scornfully. “I suppose you are learning your lesson for school?”
“No, sir,” said the little girl, “I have no lesson to learn.”
“Then why,” he asked, “do you leave your play this beautiful day to read the Bible?”
“Because I love it, sir,” said the child simply.
Hone, the infidel, rode on, but he could not forget the words of that little girl. She was the little light which let in a flood of light on his soul. “She says she loves the Bible. There must be something in it which I have never seen in it. I will read it once through carefully that I may find out what that child can find to love in it.” That reading of the Word was blessed by God to Hone’s conversion, and he became a devoted follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let each of us then pray earnestly:
Oh, use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where,
Until Thy blessed face I see,
Thy rest, Thy joy, Thy glory share.