Leading from the Margins: The Little Maid in Syria
This article explores the role and impact of the embodied Marginal Leader as seen in the unnamed “little maid” in 2 Kings 5. The anonymity of the little maid does not negate the significant contribution she makes to the physical and spiritual healing of her captor. The influence the little maid exemplifies is consistent with the character of Yahweh who uses unlikely people to accomplish great things. The actions of the little maid who is described as a marginal leader reveal notable lessons that leaders should remember to be successful in various ministry and organizational contexts.
The heroes of Scripture often come from unexpected places. Few narratives embody this reality better than the narrative of the Little Maid in 2 Kings 5. Traditional assumption reflects Great Man leadership theory, assuming that leadership is designated to those with power, prototypicality/”insider” social status based on desirable traits (Spector, 2016), and often gender (Ferguson, 2018). Yet at critical moments in history, God chooses people on the fringe of society, with no power of their own, to shape the course of history. In the 2 Kings 5 narrative, the foreign war hero, Naaman, a renowned Great Man, is influenced by the Little Maid, who is marginalized and naturally powerless on three levels: (a) as a female, (b) as a foreigner, and (c) as a prisoner of war. This study of the Little Maid narrative demonstrates the impact of marginal leadership (Rast, Hogg, & de Moura, 2013), and how God chooses what may be assumed to be “weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Cor. 1:27, KJV).
Gender roles and perceptions of leadership are often intertwined (Ferguson, 2018). Women who are in positions that are often associated with male gender roles expose the stereotypes and unconscious bias that can exist within an organization (Eagly, 2007; Ferguson, 2018; Putnam & Campbell, 2010). The position or job title a leader holds influences the ethical climate of an organization and how employees respond to those in authority (Randall, 2012). Campbell, Shollen, Egan, and Neilson (2019) suggests that the capacity for leadership is often equated to the social standing of the one under consideration. When a leader exhibits an attractive communicative style, support is garnered because followers believe they can identify with the prospective leader (Hogg, 2018). Consequently, the perception of leadership can include some, while excluding others based on gender, power, and social status (Hogg, 2001).
II. Marginal Leadership
Research on leadership styles (McCleskey, 2014; Nanjundeswaraswamy & Swamy, 2014), leader characteristics (Lisak & Erez, 2015; Shamir & Howell, 1999), and the impact of leadership (Givens, 2008; Stewart, 2008) are plentiful. Often equated to a title or position, leadership should often include influence particularly among those who are not in a position of authority. Kruse (2013) defines leadership as “a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal” (p. 3). When examining leadership, Robert Greenleaf’s servant leadership is often regulated to those who adhere to the Christian faith (Locke, 2019). While numerous studies have examined leadership from the perspective of the one in authority, emphasis on those from minority demographic groups, particularly women leaders is a growing area of research.
The power of marginal leadership in the Old Testament is most frequently demonstrated in women, who – despite their immersion in a strongly patriarchal society – still influenced political decisions, economic stability, and spiritual revitalization. Joseph became a prominent leader despite being sold into slavery and falsely incriminated (Gen. 39:1-6). Similarly, while in Babylonian captivity, Daniel, a eunuch, ascended to a position of power despite being a foreigner from Israel (Dan. 1). The midwives Shiphrah and Puah protected the Hebrew male infants from the assassination attempt of the king of Egypt (Ex. 1:15-17). Their stance would ultimately protect Moses who would lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. Deborah provided the emotional support Barak needed to go into battle (Judg. 4:6-9). Esther risked her life to protect the Jews by appearing before the king unannounced (Est. 4:16).
In the New Testament, women were active in ministry. According to Clifford (2018), “In the time between Jesus’ death and resurrection, women, not men, exercised leadership” (p. 36). Mary Magdalene and other women were the first to announce the resurrection of Christ (Mark 16:1-8). Lydia opened her home to Paul and Silas during their missionary journey (Acts 16:14-15). Phoebe, Priscilla, Aquila, Mary, and other anonymous women were recognized for supporting the Apostle Paul (Rom. 16:1-4, 6; Phil. 4:3). The Ethiopian eunuch was sent as the first Christian missionary into the royal courts of Ethiopia in Acts 8. He, too, was ostracized due to his status as a eunuch which was despised and viewed as inferior outside of the royal court (Dube, 2013). The socio-cultural tension that the interaction between the eunuch – an outsider – and Luke – an insider – reveals the significance that geography, ethnicity, gender, and class have on propagating the gospel (Huizing, 2016; Spencer, 1992; Wilson, 2014). Also, Paul told Timothy not to allow anyone to look down on him because he was young, but rather to set an example to the believers in speech, life, love, faith, and purity – exerting influential leadership despite not fitting the stereotype of a learned rabbi (2 Tim. 4:12), and even the Apostle Paul himself said he came to the Corinthians in weakness and trembling, yet revealing what the eloquent and powerful did not understand (1 Cor. 2:1- 8). Although leadership is often limited to external or cultural “predictors” such as power, social status, or gender, the little maid in Syria reveals that visibility does not determine importance. The purpose of this article is to explore leadership from the perspective of the little maid and the implications her actions have for leaders who endeavor to integrate the Christian scriptures in various ministry and organizational contexts.
In the book of 2 Kings, a notable change in leadership occurs. Elijah has demonstrated that he was a true prophet (Deut. 18:15-22) whose function was to point people to Yahweh. Throughout the Old Testament, prophets communicated messages of varying degrees from deliverance to destruction. The prophetess Miriam led the Israelites in celebration after crossing the Red Sea (Ex. 15:20-21). The prophetess Huldah shared dual messages concerning the reading of the Law (2 Kings 22:12-20). The prophet Gad instructed David to retreat to the land of Judah to escape Saul (1 Sam. 22:5). The prophet Nathan confronted David for having Uriah killed (2 Sam. 12:1- 7). The prophet Jeremiah exposed the false prophet Hananiah for speaking lies (Jer. 28:15-17). Thus, when prophets shared the word of the LORD, they were often met with apprehension.
As Elijah approaches the end of his ministry, he is miraculously transported to heaven (2 Kings 2:11). His prophetic mantle is then transferred to Elisha, his mentee (Zucker, 2013). As Elijah ministered to women during his ministry (1 Kings 17:9; 1 Kings 19), the same occurred with Elisha. To help a certain woman eradicate her debt, Elisha instructed her to sell some oil (2 Kings 4:1). Next, Elisha raises the son of a Shunammite woman from the dead (2 Kings 4:8). Finally, Elisha advises Naaman that he can be healed by washing in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:2). As Elisha continues the ministry of his predecessor, the spiritual condition of the nation is another challenge (Carroll, 1969; Zucker, 2013).
The prevalence of idolatry was a continuous challenge as the Israelites intermingled with and conquered surrounding nations. The perpetual cycle of worshipping idols and then returning to Yahweh was a detriment to their spiritual health. The consequences were many causing sickness, war, infertility, and famine. Yet, despite the sins of the nation, the mercy of Yahweh abounded. But You, O Lord, are a
God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth (Ps. 86:15, NKJV). Through many spiritual leaders – prophets, judges, prophetess, and other anonymous individuals – the sovereignty and grace of Yahweh were shown to Israel. It is at this point in the narrative that Elisha becomes a central figure in the text (Nantenaina, Raveloharimisy, & McWilliams, 2015; Satterthwaite, 1998).
The intersection of spiritual and political leaders was common. Kings would often consult prophets for advice (1 Kings 22:6-8; Effa, 2007). Bremmer (1993) observed that there was a connection between prophets and political power in Israel. As the political structure changed to kingship, the prevalence of the prophetic voice diminished. During this time a divided leadership structure emerged. Various kings embraced religious practices, which often violated the commands of Yahweh. The Southern kingdom of Judah was led by Jehoshaphat. Jehoram was the king of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel whose evil practices are noted in 2 Kings 3:2-3. At the apex of the 2 Kings account, an alliance among three kings emerges in retaliation against Mesha, the king of Moab. The Moabites are defeated and each king returns to his homeland. After this battle, Naaman, a significant figure in Syria is introduced.
Naaman the Leper
“Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honorable, because by him the LORD had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper.” (v.1, KJV) The text reveals five traits about Naaman: (1) army captain, (2) great man, (3) honorable, (4) mighty man of valor, and (5) leper (Kim, 2005). First, as the army captain, Naaman led the Syrian army in battle against their enemies. Second, a great man speaks to his character. Naaman had demonstrated his loyalty to the Syrian king. Third, Naaman was honored because of the military success Syria experienced under his leadership. Although Naaman was the army captain, Yahweh was the source of their victories (2 Kings 5:1; Ps. 20:7; 115:1). Fourth, as a mighty man of valor, Naaman exhibited strength and military prowess. Lastly, Naaman has fame, but he was a leper. According to Mosaic Law, leprosy was a contagious skin disease that required a period of isolation (Lev. 13; Hulse, 1975; Smith, 1994). Whereas, Naaman was able to fulfill his duties with the Syrian army because there are different kinds of leprosy (Davies, 1890). Since Naaman was not Jewish, he did not live by the requirements of the Mosaic law. His disease did not prevent him from interacting within the Syrian community or fulfilling his official duties (Smith, 1994). The irony that a man who is a great military strategist is powerless to eradicate his disease ignites the curiosity of the reader and turns the attention to the nameless individuals in the narrative (Brueggemann, 2007; Kim, 2005; Smith, 1994).
IV. The Anonymous Women of 2 Kings 5
The 2 Kings 5 narrative often focuses on the primary male characters – Naaman, Elisha, and Gehazi. However, the role of the female characters is diminished (Kim, 2005). After the short biographical sketch of Naaman is provided, the little maid is
identified only by gender, status, and native country. According to Dewey (1997), “female characters can sometimes be seen in biblical stories, they can seldom be heard” (p. 55). The voice of the little maid is heard when she shares that Elisha could heal Naaman of his leprosy. The anonymity of the maid and mistress reveals how the identity of women was viewed in Hebrew culture. The identity of male figures in the biblical narrative is consistent with biblical patriarchy. Men had a primary voice while women were secondary. The anonymity of women is consistent with the use of archetypes in narratives (Bronner, 1994; Hendel, 2008). Additionally, Callender (2014) highlights myth as a literary strategy to understand biblical texts. People whose position, gender, or social status were seemingly insignificant became the vessels for deliverance. While the 2 Kings 5 narrative begins with Naaman as the archetypal hero, it is the anonymous individuals in the text, specifically the little maid that becomes the heroine. Lockyer (1998) observes that the anonymity of the women portrays the irony that someone in a subordinate position can become central to the story. When a person is anonymous, Simon (1990) suggests that they are characterizations of the major characters in the narrative. Consequently, the anonymity of the little maid and the mistress can make the “nameless” a stronger symbol for people who relate to their plight (Kensy, 2002).
The Little Maid
“And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman’s wife.” (v. 2, KJV) The little maid is a young, female slave from Israel. Israel has experienced the miracles of Yahweh manifested through the lives of the patriarchal leaders – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The miracles performed were documented and transmitted orally from one generation to another (Deut. 6:4-9). Yet, the fear and uncertainty that being in exile created could quickly overshadow the miracles. The little maid faces a three-fold challenge: (1) she is a female, (2) she is a foreigner, and (3) she is a slave. Despite her femaleness, she is contending with the emotional trauma of not being able to see her family with no recourse that she will ever see them again. While she is a gift to Naaman’s wife, she is experiencing the grief of being separated from everything familiar. She also grapples with the tension of determining how to adhere to her Jewish faith in a foreign land. Additionally, the startling reality that she has no rights, no family, highlights her sense of powerlessness. Henry (1896) suggests the significance of this reality when he states, “The unhappy dispersing of the people of God has sometimes proved the happy occasion of the diffusion of the knowledge of God” (p. 583). While the duration of her time in captivity is not disclosed, her assignment is to serve Naaman’s wife.
“And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.” (v. 3, KJV) The response of the little maid is counter to what one would expect. She is a prisoner of war, yet she exhibits a depth of compassion for the well-being of her captor by sharing the solution to his problem. Brueggeman (2007) posits that the little maid was not mean-spirited but cared deeply for Naaman and his wife. She seized the opportunity to meet a need by instilling hope and using her voice to ignite the possibility of a new narrative in Naaman’s story (Brueggeman, 2007). Menn (2008) observes that the little maid used the opportunity to focus on healing and restoration instead of the destruction caused by the Syrian military. Lockyer (1998) and Shields (1993) observe the irony of anonymity because minor characters often model characteristics the major characters should possess. The nameless men and women in the bible can reach a wider audience because people can identify with their stories (Wells, 2012). The name of the little maid was not the focus of the narrative but the eternal significance of nameless individuals. Who you are is not important, but who you serve is what matters. Summarily, Brueggemann (2001) and Smith (1994) agree that the little maid was instrumental in helping Naaman meet Elisha.
“And [the mistress] went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel.” (v. 4, KJV) The personal name of Naaman’s wife is not revealed. Her husband had a prominent position in the Syrian army. She has been assigned a servant from the land of Israel. Although no additional details are provided about her, she knows her husband. She knows his private struggles. She is acquainted with his strengths, problems, and weaknesses. Although she was a Gentile, unfamiliar with the Jewish faith, Brueggeman (2007) observes that time created an opportunity for the truth to triumph. In their private quarters, the mistress had Naaman’s undivided attention to express what the little maid shared. The little maid had observed the concern and sorrow that the disease caused the mistress. The desperation and sense of hopelessness the mistress felt made the recommendation of the unnamed slave girl more meaningful. Potential reasons the mistress valued and shared the message of the slave girl include (a) they wanted to handle the issue privately by keeping the diagnosis a secret (Brueggeman, 2007); (b) the fear of losing a prominent, social standing within the Syrian community; (c) the depth of her love for her husband; and (d) a trusting relationship had been established between the two. Since the little maid was already a prisoner of war, she had nothing else to lose. Baeq (2010) observes that the mistress was under divine constraint, unconsciously obeying God to fulfill a specific role in the narrative. However, Sain (2020) posits that when problems arise and there is the possibility of hope, people will go to great lengths to get the people they love the help they need.
The Powerlessness of the Mighty
“And the king of Syria said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel. And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy.” (vv. 5-6, KJV) After the little maid shares a remedy, the King of Syria is involved. Her words are transmitted to the one with political authority and not directly to the prophet. In turn, he writes a letter to the King of Israel accompanied by money and clothing. Naaman thought he could purchase a cure for his disease due to his position and financial standing. Money and prestige are the languages of the powerful (Brueggeman, 2007). However, real power is the ability to humble ourselves and acknowledge our limitations (Bakon, 2001; Satterthwaite, 1998). The actions of Naaman reveal that those in authority only converse with the powerful and not the powerless. Despite the money and gifts, human tactics could not remedy his problem but required divine intervention.
“And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me. And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel” (vv. 7-8, KJV). The rending of the clothes was an expression of mourning and sorrow (Kim, 2005). The king probably thought this was a distraction that would lead to an attack against him and the kingdom due to the ongoing tension with Syria (Cohn, 1983; Kim, 2005; Satterthwaite, 1998). The prophet Elisha gave the King of Israel instructions because the source of his power was from God and not man. The prophet was bold and confident in his God and did not fear the position of the king (Kim, 2005). Prophetic voices are not afraid to speak to political powers (Bremmer, 1993). Elisha’s response to the king was not a statement of pride but a statement of faith about the transformation that Naaman would experience (Cohn, 1983). He knew that after their encounter, Naaman would recognize that power belongs to God, not money, military success, or political power.
When Naaman arrives to meet Elisha the greeting is not as expected (v. 9). His greatness in Syria is not reciprocated before the prophet. Instead, Elisha sends a messenger, a nameless servant to greet and advise Naaman to dip in the Jordan River seven times (v. 10). The significance of this interchange can be attributed to humility and idolatry. First, greatness requires humility and servanthood. As Jesus told the disciples, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt. 23:11, KJV). This may speak to how those viewed as inferior are the most powerful. Worldly power pails in comparison to spiritual power (Bakon, 2001; Satterthwaite, 1998). It could be a lesson in humility that worldly power must recognize the humility required to approach spiritual matters (Zackovitch, 1995). Second, it could be his familiarity with the idol Rimmon and how he perceived spiritual matters. Naaman likely expected a performance consistent with magic and idol worship (Bakon, 2001). In response, Naaman is offended, expresses how he expected to be received, and prepares to leave without being cured (vv. 11-12). Then the nameless servants intervene. “And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” (v. 13, KJV). These nameless individuals reflect the voices of the marginalized. After appealing to his perception of greatness (“great thing”), Naaman follows instructions and is cured of his leprosy (v. 14).
The reoccurrence of anonymous individuals in this narrative (e.g., the little maid, the mistress, Elisha’s messenger, and Naaman’s servants) suggests that nameless people can change the course of history (Wells, 2012). According to Moore (1990), “The words of kings have come to nothing, while words from lowly persons have prevailed” (p. 77). While the social significance of Naaman serves as the genesis of the narrative, truly how powerless the mighty are is revealed by the intervention of nameless individuals in the text. It is not money, position, or status that warrants salvation but humility and faith that God honors (Zackovitch, 1995). This change was sparked by the bold and compassionate expression of the little maid, a prisoner of war in Syria.
The little maid is only referenced once in the 2 Kings 5 narrative. Yet, her influence impacted the remaining content of the chapter and positioned Naaman for healing (Smith, 1994; von Rad, 1977). Although Naaman has the position of leadership, it was the little maid who demonstrated the power of influence. While the role of the little maid would be considered of low status, she exemplifies what Rast, Hogg, and Randsley de Moura (2018) describe as a marginal leader. Marginal leaders are “people who emerge as leaders even though traditionally they are not normally accepted or cast into leadership positions” (p. 9). Individuals from marginalized groups can exert an influence that positively contributes to the success of groups, organizations, and nations (Eagly, 2018). These marginalized, unexpected leaders should cause organizations to assess their perceptions of stereotypical cultural, social, and gender roles. The skepticism that women, culturally or educationally different, or social outsiders who ascend to positions of leadership experience reveal the need for a paradigm shift in how leadership is both defined and characterized. In 1 Cor. 1:26-29, it says,
“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”
Although the little maid would be considered a marginal leader, there are valuable principles that can be extracted from her life that apply to leaders today.
V. Leadership Lessons
The Power of Discipleship
The little maid was from the land of Israel. She became a prisoner of war due to the conflict between Syria and Israel (Berman, 2016). This tension created an opportunity to address the spiritual needs of the Syrian leadership, culture, and community (Berman, 2016; Brueggemann, 2007). She had heard of Yahweh and the prophet Elisha and was convinced that her God was still able to heal, even when she was isolated from her family and homeland. Her youthfulness is evident since the text refers to her as a little maid. As a young, slave girl, she was helpless in like manner to Israel that was subdued by Syria (Menn, 2008). She is an example that many youths face challenges beyond their control. Therefore, biblical instruction must begin in the home. The necessity of parental discipleship can be found in scriptures such as Deut. 6:6-9, Prov. 22:6, and 2 Tim. 3:14-15. Clarke (1837) states, “And see the benefits of religious education! Had not this little maid been brought up in the knowledge of the true God, she had not been the instrument of so great a salvation” (p. 500). Parents do not know how God will use their children for his glory. What the little maid heard left such an impression that she was able to share with others. Brueggemann (2007) suggests that the little maid is an evangelist who helped create a narrative of hope rooted in the one true God within the Syrian community. The same boldness can be seen in the life of Daniel and the three Hebrew boys (Dan. 1). Children are listening. The goodness of God must be shared with them continuously. Consequently, God strategically sends those who are willing into cultural contexts where opportunities for discipleship and evangelism are plentiful (Brueggemann, 2004).
The things the little maid heard would ultimately sustain her while in captivity. The work conditions in Naaman’s home are unknown. Due to her age and being separated from family, it was the strength of Yahweh that helped her. Leaders should remember that even in times of difficulty, God provides strength. According to Prov. 24:10, “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.” With the proper foundation and perspective, adversity can be seen as a gift. Leaders can find solace in the character of God in times of uncertainty. Ps. 138:3 (NKJV) states, “In the day when I cried out, You answered me, And made me bold with strength in my soul.”
Forster and Oostenbrink (2015) believe a dual theology has created tension between the church and the culture leading to an imbalanced view of the kingdom of God. The little maid did not abandon her faith. Although she was taken captive from Israel and forced to serve in Syria, she models how to seize opportunities. Johnson (2003) observes the marketplace as the most influential mission field of the twenty-first century. Similarly, Wright (2007) affirms the marketplace as a divine opportunity for evangelism. It is easy to succumb to the pressure to conform or to remain silent, but leaders embrace challenges as an opportunity for growth. The ability to navigate through climates, even professional workplaces that are counter to the moral convictions of the leader can be difficult. However, Jones (1997) suggests that Christians can remain ethical in a secular, business environment. To this end, training is vital to effectively represent Christ in the marketplace.
A Servant’s Heart
With Christ as the ultimate example (Phil. 2), the most powerful leader in the biblical narrative is exhibited through those who serve. Esther (4) and the Hebrew midwives (Ex. 1:15-22) exemplifies how to serve others. They were committed to their role but did not jeopardize their religious heritage even when the outcome could result in severe punishment. The little maid served Naaman’s wife. She was likely responsible for tending to her needs, preparing meals, and extending hospitality when guests came to their home. Service characterizes the effectiveness of a leader. In Luke 22:27 (NLT), Jesus said, “Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.”
Leaders are willing to take risks. To do so requires courage. The importance of courage is seen in the life of Joshua (1:7, 9). In Ps. 27:14, David states, “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” It was risky for the little maid to offer advice without knowing how Naaman would react. Nevertheless, she was courageous and left the consequences to Yahweh who she had heard of in the land of Israel.
The little maid could have been silent, but she told the mistress how Naaman could receive help for his leprous condition. In turn, she communicated a prophetic vision (Winston and Patterson, 2006) that led to a miracle. Leaders should assess which team member may have the answer to an ongoing challenge. We may be the solution to the problem someone is facing. Many people need to know God and he wants to use us to share Him with the world. We are instruments God wants to use to touch the lives of people who need him the most. We can ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and witty ideas to help remediate challenges that our employers may be facing.
Sometimes we question why God has us where we are. We can be in a place where we are overlooked, discredited, and undervalued. Yet, God is still at work. God sovereignly allowed the little maid to be taken captive. It was in her captivity that Naaman would have an encounter with the power of Yahweh. This encounter results in Naaman declaring, “…Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel…” (2 Kings 5:15). Effa (2007) notes, “a strategically placed witness at a time of deeply felt need may open doors to belief even among people of the most powerful strata of society” (p. 312). Despite where we are, we must be willing to change our perspective to see the good hand of God at work in every season and circumstance in our life (Rom. 8:28).
The impact of the little maid was expansive. By sharing that Elisha could help Naaman, official documentation is sent to the king of Israel. While in captivity, geographical, spiritual, and political barriers are removed. By connecting Naaman with Elisha, his healing would impact not only Naaman, but his wife, servants, army, the king of Syria, and ultimately the nation of Syria (Eagly, 2018; Kim, 2005). The little maid can be accredited with impacting an entire nation with a message of hope about the prophet Elisha and Yahweh (Zucker, 2013). Additionally, the text provides a portrait of the expansiveness of the love of God to reach the lost (Smith, 1994). Despite our accolades, we all have a need that can only be filled by God. If we seek Him, we will find Him and receive all that we need.
It Takes a Team
Leadership does not occur in isolation but requires a team. While the Great Man theory focuses on the individual leader (Spector, 2016), Hambrick (1987) views leadership as a collective effort. The little maid was not the only individual that aided in Naaman’s healing. The little maid planted the seed, Elisha watered, and Yahweh brought the increase. We each have a part to play but we cannot do it alone. The body and family imagery used in scripture are reflective of the importance of community (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:14). We should show appreciation to the members of our team by thanking them for their contributions to our success. Leaders should demonstrate gratitude in verbal and physical acts to express appreciation. This can come in the form of an email or text to say thank you, gift card, or employee appreciation initiatives – the options are unlimited.
This narrative in 2 Kings 5 demonstrates how leadership is not determined by age, status, or gender. Unexpected blessings can come from unlikely people. As God told Samuel, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7, KJV). Who have we overlooked because of their outward appearance – age, gender, status? The Apostle Paul made it clear when we said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28, KJV). In the kingdom of God, the inherent value in everyone means that being a cultural insider (Jew/Greek), social status (slave/free), or even a certain gender (male/female) is not what qualifies us for divine connections, leadership opportunities, and innovative ideas. When leaders take a moment to reflect, countless individuals have been instrumental to their success. The little maid was from Israel and Naaman was Syrian. His nationality was not a barrier to the little maid sharing the answer to his problem or him accepting the solution (Barrick, 2000). God does not discriminate nor should his leaders.
While stereotypes of preferred leadership styles are plentiful, the little maid referenced in 2 Kings 5 is an example of how even the most marginalized of people can be effective leaders in every area of life. Her courage led to the physical and spiritual healing of Naaman whose impressive credentials were tainted by a physical malady. She chose to share information that helped Naaman resolve a problem he could not fix on his own. The impact of this encounter extends beyond gender, nationality, and social status. Scripture affirms that race, social status, and gender does not exclude anyone from the family of God (Gal. 3:28, KJV). Each of these factors exemplifies the little maid whose marginalization and powerlessness were the very things that made her impact so great. Hence, the inclusivity of the gospel requires a theologically sound view of the inherent value of everyone. The willingness of the little maid to share her faith demonstrates that despite being marginalized, anyone can lead. Leaders have a responsibility to help point people to God. In His sovereignty, God strategically positions those who would otherwise be overlooked and discredited to communicate truth to those who need it the most. The little maid is among the countless people – women and men – who are leading from the margins without receiving the proper recognition that they deserve. We cannot forget the marginalized individuals whose gender, social status, and powerlessness have been instrumental in our physical and spiritual well-being.
About the Author
Jeremiah E. Shipp, Ed.D., is a Faculty Development Specialist at Winston-Salem State University. He serves as a Ministry Director at Love and Faith Christian Fellowship in Greensboro, North Carolina. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Leadership at multiple institutions teaching online courses for graduate students. He is an experienced information technology professional with over 16 years of industry experience in quality assurance, systems support, and project management. He is an intellectual influencer who is committed to excellence. His engaging teaching style inspires and challenges faculty to identify effective technological solutions to bridge the gap between pedagogy and practice. For more information, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Baeq, D. S. (2010). Contextualizing religious form and meaning: A missiological interpretation of Naaman’s petitions (2 Kings 5: 15-19). International Journal of Frontier Missiology, 27, 197–207.
Bakon, S. (2001). Elisha the prophet. Jewish Bible Quarterly, 29(4), 242–248.
Barrick, W. D. (2000). Living a new life: Old Testament teaching about conversion. The Master’s Seminary Journal, 11(1), 19–38.
Berman, S. K. (2016). Greatness versus smallness: A postcolonial analysis of the healing of Naaman (2 Kings 5). Old Testament Essays, 29(3), 403–418.
Bremmer, J. N. (1993). Prophets, seers, and politics in Greece, Israel, and early modern Europe. Numen, 40(2), 150–183.
Bronner, L. L. (1994). From Eve to Esther: Rabbinic reconstructions of biblical women.
Westminster John Knox Press.
Brueggemann, W. (2001). A brief moment for a one-person remnant (2 Kings 5:2-3).
Biblical Theology Bulletin, 31(2), 53–59.
Brueggemann, W. (2004). Evangelism and discipleship: The God who calls, the God who sends. Word & World, 24(2), 121–135.
Brueggemann, W. (2007). 2 Kings 5: Two evangelists and a saved subject. Missiology, 35(3), 263–272.
Callender Jr, D. E. (Ed.). (2014). Myth and scripture: Contemporary perspectives on religion, language, and imagination. Society of Biblical Literature.
Campbell, C., Shollen, S. L., Egan, C., & Neilson, B. G. (2019). The capacious model and leader identity: An integrative framework. Journal of Leadership Studies, 13(1), 6–19.
Carroll, R. P. (1969). Elijah-Elisha sagas: Some remarks on prophetic succession in ancient Israel. Vetus Testamentum, 19(4), 400–415.
Clarke, A. (1837). The holy bible, containing the Old and New Testaments (Vol. 2). T. Mason & G. Lane.
Clifford, R. J. (2018). Women in the bible: Leaders at critical moments. America, 13, 34. Cohn, R. L. (1983). Form and perspective in 2 Kings V. Vetus Testamentum, 33(2),
Davies, T. W. (1890). Bible leprosy. The Old and New Testament Student, 11(3), 142– 152.
Dewey, J. (1997). Women in the synoptic gospels: Seen but not heard. Biblical Theology Bulletin, 27, 53–60.
Dube, Z. (2013). The Ethiopian eunuch in transit: A migrant theoretical perspective.
HTS Theological Studies, 69(1), 1–7.
Eagly, A. H. (2007). Female leadership advantage and disadvantage: Resolving the contradictions. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31(1), 1–12.
Eagly, A. H. (2018). Some leaders come from nowhere: Their success is uneven.
Journal of Social Issues, 74(1), 184–196.
Effa, A. L. (2007). Prophet, kings, servants, and lepers: A missiological reading of an ancient drama. Missiology, 35(3), 305–313.
Ferguson, T. W. (2018). Female leadership and role congruity within the clergy: Communal leaders experience no gender differences yet agentic women continue to suffer backlash. Sex Roles, 78(5-6), 409–422.
Forster, D., & Oostenbrink, J. W. (2015). Where is the church on Monday? Awakening the church to the theology and practice of ministry and mission in the marketplace. In die Skriflig, 49(3), 1–8.
Givens, R. J. (2008). Transformational leadership: The impact on organizational and personal outcomes. Emerging Leadership Journeys, 1(1), 4–24.
Hambrick, D. C. (1987). The top management team: Key to strategic success. California Management Review, 30(1), 88–108.
Hendel, R. (2008). The Oxford hebrew bible: Prologue to a new critical edition. Vetus Testamentum, 58(3), 324-351.
Henry, M. (1896). An exposition of the old and new testament (Vol. 2). Fleming H. Revell Co.
Hogg, M. A. (2001). A social identity theory of leadership. Personality & Social Psychology Review (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates), 5(3), 184–200.
Hogg, M. A. (2018). Self-uncertainty, leadership preference, and communication of social identity. Atlantic Journal of Communication, 26(2), 111.
Huizing, R. L. (2016). Identifying leaders: The African eunuch as a model of christian leadership. Neotestamentica, 50(1), 247–267.
Hulse, E. V. (1975). The nature of biblical ‘leprosy’ and the use of alternative medical terms in modern translations of the bible, Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 107(2), 87–105.
Johnson, C. N. (2003). Toward a marketplace missiology. Missiology, 31(1), 87–97.
Jones, D. (1997). Christian faith in the marketplace. Business Ethics Quarterly, 7(2), 149–150.
Kensky, T. F. (2002). Reading the women of the bible: A new Interpretation of their stories. Shocken.
Kim, J. K. (2005). Reading and retelling Naaman’s story (2 Kings 5). Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 30(1), 49–61.
Kruse, K. (2013). What is leadership? Forbes Magazine, 3.
Lisak, A., & Erez, M. (2015). Leadership emergence in multicultural teams: The power of global characteristics. Journal of World Business, 50(1), 3–14.
Locke, L. G. (2019). The clay feet of servant leadership. Journal of Biblical Integration in Business, 22(1), 34–42.
Lockyer, H. (1988). All the women of the Bible: The life and times of all the women of the Bible. Zondervan.
McCleskey, J. A. (2014). Situational, transformational, and transactional leadership and leadership development. Journal of Business Studies Quarterly, 5(4), 117.
Meltzer, M. (2012). Epic families: Equipping parents to reclaim their biblical mandate while inspiring children to know and love the God who made them. Doctoral Dissertations and Projects. 584.
Menn, E. (2008). A little child shall lead them: The role of the little Israelite servant girl (2 Kings 5:1-19). Currents in Theology and Mission, 35(5), 340–348.
Moore, R. D. (1990). God saves: Lessons from the Elisha stories. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 95, 77.
Nanjundeswaraswamy, T. S., & Swamy, D. R. (2014). Leadership styles. Advances in management, 7(2), 57.
Nantenaina, L. Z., Raveloharimisy, J., & McWilliams, K. (2015). The Prophet Elisha as an agent of change for community development. The Journal of Applied Christian Leadership, 9(2), 10–19.
Putnam, R. D., & Campbell, D. E. (2010). American grace: How religion divides and unites us. Simon & Schuster.
Randall, D. M. (2012). Leadership and the use of power: Shaping an ethical climate.
The Journal of Applied Christian Leadership, 6(1), 28–35.
Rast, D. Hogg, M. A., & Randsley de Moura, G. (2018). Leadership and tocial Transformation: The role of marginalized individuals and groups. Journal of Social Issues, 74(1), 8–19.
Sain, B. K. (2020). What is this hope?: Insights from christian theology and positive psychology. Journal of Moral Theology, 9(1), 98–118.
Satterthwaite, P. E. (1998). The Elisha narratives and the coherence of 2 Kings 2-8.
Tyndale Bulletin, 49(1), 1–28.
Shamir, B., & Howell, J. M. (1999). Organizational and contextual influences on the emergence and effectiveness of charismatic leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 10(2), 257–283.
Shields, M. E. (1993). Subverting a man of God, elevating a woman: Role and power reversal in 2 Kings 4. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 58, 59–69.
Simon, U. (1990). Minor Characters in Biblical Narrative. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 15(46), 11–19.
Smith, A. W. (1994). Naaman and Elisha: Healing, wholeness, and the task of religious education. Religious Education, 89(2), 205–219.
Spector, B. A. (2016). Carlyle, Freud, and the great man theory more fully considered.
Leadership, 12(2), 250–260.
Spencer, F. S. (1992). The Ethiopian eunuch and his bible: A social-science analysis.
Biblical Theology Bulletin, 22(4), 155–165.
Stewart, A. C. (2008). The workplace of the organized church: Theories of leadership and the Christian leader. Culture and Religion, 9(3), 301–318.
Von Rad, G. (1977). Biblical interpretations in preaching. Abingdon. Wells, C. (2012). Nameless heroes of the bible. AuthorHouse.
Wilson, B. E. (2014). Neither male nor female: The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8.26–40.
New Testament Studies, 60(3), 403–422.
Winston, B. E., & Patterson, K. (2006). An integrative definition of leadership.
International Journal of Leadership Studies, 1(2), 6–66.
Wright, C. (2007). Following Jesus in the globalized marketplace. Evangelical Review of Theology, 31(4), 320.
Zackovitch, Y. (1985). Every high official has a higher one set over him: A literary analysis of 2 Kings 5. Am Oved.
Zucker, D. J. (2013). Elijah and Elisha: Part II. Jewish Bible Quarterly, 41(1), 19–23.