A Little Girl and a “Great” Man

A Little Girl and a “Great” Man

Naaman the army commander was a “great man” (אישׁ גדול; ish gadol) in his native Syria, but this “great” man also suffered from a skin disease (2 Kgs 5:1-2). When an Israelite servant girl asserts that Elisha could heal Naaman, the Syrian is appalled that he should need to dip in the meager Jordan River (5:10-12). However, the story’s Hebrew language shows that it is better to be a humble “little girl” than a haughty “great man.”

Whereas Naaman was “great” (גדול; gadol) according to the Syrians, the Bible notes that the Israelite servant girl was “little” (קטן; qatan): “Now, on one of their raids, the Syrians had carried off a little girl (נערה קטנה; narah qatanah) from the land of Israel” (5:2). This little girl says to Naaman’s wife, “Would that my lord [Naaman] were with the prophet [Elisha] who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his skin disease” (5:3). While Naaman is supposedly “great,” it is the Israelite girl who, while “little” in status and stature, has a “great” idea!

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When Elisha tells Naaman to wash himself in the Jordan River in order to be healed, the Gentile general’s response highlights his bloated self-perception and concomitant lack of humility. Namaan responds, “Are not Amana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” (5:12). Naaman finally enters the Jordan so that “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little boy (נער קטן; na’ar qatan)” (5:14). It took the suggestion of a “little girl” (נערה קטנהnarah qatanah) for Naaman to become like a “little boy” (נער קטןna’ar qatan), which shows that it is the humble, not the haughty, who are “great” in the eyes of the Lord.

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