Chapter 15: Child Characters in Biblical Narratives: The Young David (1 Samuel 16-17) and the Little Israelite Servant Girl (2 Kings 5:1-19)
Ester M. Menn
Ester Menn helps us see that the scriptures are full of young characters from babies to adolescents. Some play major roles, some are unnamed and overshadowed by named adult characters. She says that though there are many examples of children in the scriptures, "they are rarely the focus of biblical interpretation." [TCITB p. 324] She says minor characters are most often overlooked but even young characters who play major roles "are rarely examined in depth." They are highlighted more in children's Bibles than by Biblical scholars. She notes that even in the story of David, stories from his childhood are often seen only as "a prelude to the 'real' story of his actions as an adult king." [TCITB p. 324]
She is only examining two of these characters: David, and the servant girl of Naaman's wife. One is a major character and plays a major role through much of scripture. One is a minor character. Barely mentioned, she remains unnamed. The author commends these young people reminding us that , "both stories depict young people finding solutions to problems, intervening when adults are threatened and ineffectual, offering theological insights into God's ways, and acting within the context of international conflict and tensions between cultures and national identities. " She reminds us that these characters are only two of many. [TCITB p. 325]
Closely focusing on the roles of children in scripture, she defines children as "those who haven't yet attained full adult status." She is looking at familiar stories through a different lens, "recognizing the amazing range and depth of young characters and their essential contributions." She recognizes that "their agency, insight, and presence determine the course and outcome of many stories, whether they dominate the front stage of the narrative . . . appear briefly" or remain behind the scenes. She recognizes these child characters as the ones who often articulate the central theme of the story "[providing] a theological witness otherwise absent in the story." She speaks of their active roles as leaders and witnesses "perhaps not in spite of their youth but because of it " sharing valuable observations and comments. [TCITC p 325]
Ms. Menn describes David's influence not only in his own family but in national conflict. She describes his gifts and talents reminding us that he is developing his gifts even while watching his father's sheep alone. She draws our attention to the fact that there are a number of introductory stories about David referring to his childhood. She says, "Childhood seems to be an indispensable stage of life for pivotal characters in religious history." [TCITB p. 327]
She notes that David's absence through most of the story of his annointing as king - the youngest, the least of 8 sons - is not unusual. No one in the story notes his absence yet God does. He is God's choice. [TCITB p. 328] She reminds us that it is David's heart and God's annointing - not his appearance or experience that God sees. [TCITC p. 329]
In the course of her discussion she refers to other Biblical child characters. Speaking of David and Goliath she says, though the story is familiar "[Usually] . . . the narrative is stripped of its historical context, its territorial dimensions, and its gory details in order to render it suitable for the Sunday school curriculum." She makes some rather profound observations about the violence that followed. [TCITC p 331] She notes that in the beginning of the story, before the battle, David has tremendous responsibility doing work generally assigned to children [TCITB p 333] yet, over the course of the story David's role shifts from that of a child representing his father among adults to that of an adolescent representing God between nations. [TCITB p. 334] She draws attention to the many factors that emphasize David's immaturity [TCITB p 335] but also the benefits of his youthful strength, agility, and his childlike ingenuity finding a few suitable stones, the only ammunition he needs, in a creek bed. She makes some wonderful fresh observations from this oft-read story even noting qualities that would later bode badly for David. [TCITB p 339]
She examines David the Shepherd, further exploring her comment, "Shepherding is a metaphor for royalty in the Bible" [TCITB p 339] She talks about David the Musician. [TCITB p. 340-341] She notes various skills and sides of David, according to the scriptures, that were clearly being formed in him even as a youth - skills, experience, and character but adds ". . . childhood involves much more than preparation for adult occupations. The activities and accomplishments of a young person can be taken as an achievement and an end in themselves." The scriptures show us the accomplishments of a child being formed and later an adult living out that which was formed in him as a child. [TCITB p. 342]
The second character Ms. Menn explores in depth is the little Israelite girl servant of Namaan's wife. It's interesting that this child knew about the prophet in Samaria. It's interesting that she was brave enough to suggest him to her master and mistress. How would a child know this? What kind of courage or relationship did she have with her owners that gave her the freedom to make suggestion about something so serious? What kind of caring? Ms Menn tells us that she appears only once and speaks only one line. She is referenced in only three verses. "Her small role matches her insignificance as a spoil of war and a house servant for the wife of the commander who defeated her people." Menn tells us her nation couldn't protect her from the enemy, she is vulnerable, yet her "words challenge the pretensions of the mighty and offer hope for healing and life." She says this is another story that God tells us contrasting that which seems big with that which seems small. She explores this contrast, delightfully highlighting the amazing influence of this female child. [TCITB p. 343] This section nicely reminds us of God's being very present caring for a "vulnerable and marginalized" child in a strange place in a time of national upheaval and war.
The author observes that the little girl's words came in the form of a wish. "If only. . ." The author paints a very clear picture of a confident little girl with great understanding and a big heart being cared for by the enemies of her people but secure enough to offer a healing solution to a grown up affliction. The author sees her so steeped in the life-giving understandings of her people that she seems to suggest this prophet of her people to her suffering master without considering any consequences except that her master be healed. [TCITB p. 344]
Ms Menn continues to capture this child's heart - a heart that crosses international borders and recognizes power. [TCITB p 344-5] She looks at how the adults acted on a little girl's suggestion and how this child-like wish for only good had international adult complications. She contrasts the power of human rulers and the power of God. [TCITB p. 345-6] She contrasts large and small, governing authorities and prophetic powers, significant fanfare and mundane. Referring to Naaman being told to dip in the Jordan seven times, the author notes that this too is "in keeping with the theme of the power of small things, exemplified also in the power of the 'little girl to recognize the healing gift of the prophet in Samaria" which might not be a big deal if the grown-ups were doing the same. Funny to think about that as simple, concrete faith- the little girl believed God. God did something very physical and very real. The author's observations are worth reading. Among them, she says, "The mighty Naaman becomes a worshiper of Israel's God through his experience of the power of small things." Speaking of small and mundane, she has a whole section about dirt. [TCITB p. 346-347]
Funny to think of faith and healing as a spoil of war because a little girl blessed the enemy of her people. [TCITB p. 348]
After sharing her observations about David and Naaman's servant girl she looks at common threads saying, "These are especially worth noting since many other stories that feature child characters in the scriptures pick up some of the same themes and develop them in distinctive ways. " [TCITB p. 349] Ms Menn shares insights and expressions of faith that perhaps we should watch for in our own children. She recognizes the vulnerability of children who find themselves involved in social and international situations. She mentions many other child characters in the scriptures. I never thought about Jacob as a runaway teen. There are many many child and youth characters to explore in the scriptures - faith-filled characters that we can learn from. She concludes citing Zechariah 4:6 - one of my favorites! [TCITB p. 350-2]
Three chapters left.