A servant girl advises Namaan that there is a prophet in Israel who can cure him of his leprosy but when the message finally reaches the king of Israel it is not clear who should cure Namaan.

2 Kings 5:2 KJV

Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

But when the king of Syria relays the message to the king of Israel its as if the king of Israel is the one who should heal Namaan

2 Kings 5:4 NIV

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents[b] of silver, six thousand shekels[c] of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

Who misunderstood the servant girl's message?

1 Answer 1



David Graeber was a renowned anthropologist with a deep understanding of middle eastern history, as well as other regions. His book 'On Kings' (written together with Marshall Sahlins) explores the habits and norms of how kings operated and understood themselves across history.

Graeber's other famous work, Debt: The First 5000 Years also explores this topic in less detail.


There is no misunderstanding here, the king of Syria is behaving exactly as we would expect any king to behave - historically, kings only engaged with important people, such as other kings. It would be extremely unusual for a king to seek out a peasant directly - especially a foreigner in another kingdom. Kings speak to kings, because they are kings.

Graeber captures this well in Debt, p83, during analysis of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant:

Kings, like gods, can't really enter into relations of exchange with their subjects, since no parity is possible.

Seeking out and engaging with a subject directly would imply that the king is treating the subject as an equal - diminishing the status of the king, and elevating the status of that subject.

Additionally, it would be both improper and insulting to seek out a subject of another king. For most nations, the king of a region was understood to be the 'lord' or 'master' over their people. The people were vassals, beholden to the whims of their lords and leaders. And so it would be seen as wrong (indeed, even an act of desperation) to approach the subject of another king as if they were your own.

The king of Syria was an extremely important person - a greater king than the king of Judah - and so would not send a request to this lesser king's own subject. He had heard the solution to his problem was in Judah, and so he contacted the king of Judah - the most important person in the region.


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