We don’t know her name, who her parents were, nor in which town she was born. But, still, the Bible tells us that she was a great help to a great man.
I would like to borrow a name for her, just to make her seem more real to us. So, how about Tabitha?
As we go through her thrilling story we will think of five words that all start with the second letter of the alphabet, so that we can pause for a moment every so often to think about this amazing young girl.
I am sure she grew up in a wonderful home, probably in a village right up in the north of the Holy Land, in the district we nowadays call the Golan Heights. I expect she lived in a nice little house built with stones, with just one room. That room would be on two levels – just inside the door at street level was where the cow would sleep in the winter with a couple of goats and some chickens. And on a raised level beyond that she slept in the rainy season by the back wall, and her mother and father slept nearer the edge – each of them on a bedroll that they folded up in the morning and stored away for the day in a cupboard. She fetched water from the village well, washed in the yard and had breakfast on the flat roof. In spring, summer and autumn they would sleep out there under the stars. Most of the year they enjoyed warm sunshine, so Tabitha could play barefoot in the village street or in the fields with the other children.
Those were happy times. Dad worked in the vineyards and fields outside the village with the other men. Tabitha loved evenings best of all when the family sat on the roof to have supper and talked to one another. I am sure her favourite question was: ‘Tell us what it was like when you were young.’ She loved the stories about wicked Queen Jezebel who had come from further north – from the land we now call Lebanon – with all the superstition about the rain god Baal. And most of all she liked to hear her father tell about “our man of God” who had the courage to challenge this cruel queen. ‘And he challenged us as well,’ her mother would add. ‘He challenged us to stay true to the living God who rescued our forefathers under Moses from being slaves in Egypt, and brought them under Joshua’s leadership into this beautiful land in which we now live as free people.’
Tabitha’s parents also spoke often of the new “man of God” who continued the work after the old man went to heaven. No, they had never met him, because he lived in the capital city of the north, Samaria where the king had his palace. This new man of God was called Elisha. Dad liked that name because it had a very special meaning. ‘El means “God”; Eli means “my God”; and the sha part is just wonderful, for it means “safe and sound,” “well” and “free” and all such enjoyable blessings. In fact, it means much the same as Joshua [or as they say in Israel today, Yeshua – it’s their way of saying Jesus] – and his name also means “God makes us safe and sound.” ’
- Elisha, my God makes us safe and sound! Doesn’t that just feel good?
Let’s pause for our first word starting with B. As she heard about Elisha and about his name and about his helpful miracles that showed how God makes his people safe and sound, in her heart of hearts she became a B … ? She trusted her God to keep her well and free. She was:
- a Believer
Well, one day everything changed for Tabitha. Maybe she was up on the flat roof looking after her baby brother after breakfast. In the distance, by the border between Israel and Syria, she noticed a huge cloud of dust that got closer and closer until she heard the earth thud-thud-thud like a booming drum – from the hooves of galloping horses. Then she found that the morning sun dazzled her as its bright rays flashed off the shields and helmets of the Syrian soldiers racing ever closer on their way to raid their villages.
By now, everyone in her village was running for shelter. Some hid behind the orchard walls, others in the winepresses dug out of the ground. Maybe Mum had curled up under the clothes drying on the roof, while Tabitha took the baby indoors and squeezed into the bedroll closet. ‘Sh! My baby, have a little nap there at the back of the top shelf,’ she crooned as she pulled the curtain across the front of the cupboard. ‘Sweet dreams, my precious.’
Now her heart was racing, her mouth was dry, and her legs felt tense like tightly wound springs, as she listened to the clip clop of lots of horses in their street, causing the chickens to flutter and squawk. Then came heavy footsteps up their path and in through their door. Suddenly, swish! The curtain of the closet was flung open and there before her stood a tall handsome soldier, sword in hand, helmet on his head who smiled at her and said quite gently, ‘Aha! little maid, you will come with me as my splendid present from me to my wife!’
She felt too frightened to scream. ‘I mustn’t wake the baby, nor must Mum give herself away – they might just kill them,’ she thought. ‘Elisha – my God will keep me safe and sound.’ Please!’
The big man carried her in his strong arms out to his gorgeous horse, lifted her onto its back, then swung himself up behind her and called out, ‘Round up the cows and goats and let’s go home.’
This believer is now a prisoner of war; she is no longer free; she is B … ?
Tabitha did not take in much of the beautiful scenery along the way because her eyes were full of tears. Just as they left the village she had heard her mother calling, ‘Bring back my Tabitha. Give me back my treasure.’ Now she wondered if she would ever set eyes on her home again, or her parents, her family, her friends?
One evening, they arrived at the dazzling white walls of Damascus, Syria’s capital city. Hundreds of people lined the streets waving large leaves from palm trees and shouting, ‘Bravo! Captain Naaman!’ It slowly began to dawn on her, as they were throwing flowers at the man riding behind her, that he must be the leader of the whole army, important and famous. Why, even the king himself came out to congratulate him for another successful raid on Israel.
That evening they arrived at her new home – not a simple stone cottage on a village street, but a huge mansion at the end of a long driveway set amidst its own orchards and gardens, a mansion with carpets and curtains, tables and chairs, paintings, sofas and cushions, and her very own bed carved from beautiful wood with a soft mattress – a bed that stayed there in her own room all through each day and night.
This might be next-door-to-heaven but still she cried herself to sleep that night. ‘I want my Mummy!’ Then she remembered to say thank you to God that she was still alive and well, and comfortable
What should our third word be? She was full of courage, she was very B … ?
Were you ever taken away from home? Maybe to hospital? Or to stay with people you didn’t really know when Mum was in hospital? Or felt sick and had nightmares at a school camp? Then you have some idea how Tabitha felt.
She would often think, ‘Mum’s not here, Dad’s not here. My cousins, my baby brother, my friends are far, far away. [There were no trains or buses, no taxis or planes; not even any maps to help her get to them!] But my God is here to keep me safe and sound.’
Did she ever wish: ‘I hope the cruel Assyrian soldiers come from Nineveh and burn them alive in their beds?’ I don’t know if she did have angry thought like that at first.
Her days were spent dusting, bringing drinks and arranging bouquets of flowers in costly vases for m’lady. At first Madame Naaman held lots of parties to show off her flowing gowns and fragrant scents and fabulous hairstyles. But recently she seemed lonely and was often sobbing quietly. And Tabitha had not seen Captain Naaman around; but he had not gone off to war because the regular soldiers could be seen around the city. The rumour went round among the servants that he lived by himself in the summer-house on the far side of the vast gardens beyond the orchard. They took him his meals there and left them outside the door.
One day, when Tabitha entered m’lady’s room and found her weeping into her fine silk handkerchief, she bravely asked her, ‘Can I help in any way, Ma’am?’
‘It’s the master,’ she sighed, ‘he looks so badly disfigured with leprosy. His skin is so rough that he doesn’t show his face in public, not even to me in private. What can any of us do? There is no known cure.’
Perhaps Tabitha was tempted with the thought, ‘Serves him right for taking me away from my Mum and Dad. And I hope he dies . . . in agony!’ But no, as always, she remembered: my God makes us safe and sound. ‘Sorry, God! Perhaps you brought me here to help this man at this dreadful time. I’ll tell his wife about your servant Elisha.’ [Yeshua, Jesus, in our case, of course.] So she did. She let her light shine into the gloomy darkness of that home of those poor rich people! She was very B … ?
In next to no time Captain Naaman was off in his chariot with several outriders on horseback vanishing like a furious dust storm over the hills to Samaria, with a letter of introduction from His Majesty to the king of Israel.
Madame Naaman, Tabitha and all the household servants waited anxiously for many days. Having no phones, no postmen, no T V and no internet, they had absolutely no news!
Then one day they heard the scrunch-scrunch of chariot wheels on the long driveway. It’s him! He was smiling and waving excitedly. ‘Whoa!’ he told his horses as he jumped down to hug his wife and then sweep Tabitha off her feet and swing her round and round like a carousel. ‘Yee – hah!’ he bellowed as he eventually lowered her to the ground again. ‘Yes! Yes! Yes! He did it. Your God made me safe and sound again. Look here! Stroke my face, it’s a smooth as a baby’s bottom! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!’
Instead of cursing him she had been a real B … to him?
- a Blessing
‘So, how did it all happen, Captain Naaman?’ they all wanted to know, of course.
‘Well, when the king of Israel read the letter he was most upset. “Cure this man of his leprosy?” he groaned. “No one has ever cured that disease, so why pick on me? I am not God, am I? Does your king want to start another war with us, or what?” He started to rip his royal robes to shreds with trembling hands.
‘Just then, the man of God sent for me. But when I knocked on his door he didn’t even come out to meet me. Me! Mighty Captain Naaman! He sent a servant to tell me to go and get baptised in the river Jordan.’
‘That’s the river my people crossed with Joshua [Yeshua] when they first entered the Holy Land,’ gasped Tabitha.
‘Aye, I know,’ murmured Naaman, ‘but all I could think at the time was: No way! It’s a dirty old river. If I need a bath I’ll go back home to my country to some clean smooth waters in one of our own rivers. I was furious! After all, we had won the war, not your lot!
‘I was charging back home – still sick. When we stopped for lunch, one of these soldiers had a quiet word in my ear: “Why not give it a try, Captain, for Tabitha’s sake?’” “Yes,” I thought, “for humble young Tabitha’s sake I shall become a simple believer, too.”
‘So, off we drove to the river. In the bushes by the river’s bank I took off all my armour, all my costly clothes, all my medals and just took my ugly body right into the River Jordan. I held my breath and ducked under its dirty waters, jumped up and looked at my skin. “Still ugly,” I thought, “ but let’s try again; … and again.” But after four or five times I felt such a fool, because nothing had changed. That Elisha really meant for me to drown my pride, did he not!
‘At last, splash No 7, and Elisha’s God made me fit and well!
‘Well, off we went back to Samaria to say thank you to the man of God. This time he did meet me, but he wouldn’t let me pay. So, instead, I have brought some of your soil, Tabitha. I’d like to be buried in part of the Holy Land one day.
‘And I’ll never worship our god Rimmon again, not even when I have to hold His Majesty’s sword of state when he goes to pray in Rimmon’s temple. In my heart of heart I shall still be saying thank you to Elisha’s God, … your God, … from now on my God.’
- My God made me well. Thank you, Yeshua! Hallelujah, Jesus!
Hugh Thompson (21 October 2003)