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in there are no accessories, such as this of treason. Abiathar may thank his burden that he lives : had he not borne the ark of the Lord before David, he had not now carried his head upon his shoulders ; had he not been afflicted with David, he had perished with Adonijah: now though he were, in his own merit, a man of death, yet he shall survive his part
“Get thee to Anathoth, unto thine own fields.” The priesthood of Abiathar, as it aggravated his crime, so it shall preserve his life. Such honour have good princes given to the ministers of the sanctuary, that their very coat hath been defence enough against the sword of justice, how much more should it be of proof against the contempt of base persons !
Besides this function, respect is had to his sufferings: the father and brethren of Abiathar were slain for David's sake, therefore for David's sake Abiathar, though worthy of death, shall live: he had been now a dead man, if he had not been formerly afflicted. Thus doth our good God deal with us; by the rod he prevents the sword, and therefore will not condemn us for our sins, because we have suffered. If Abiathar do not forfeit his life, yet his office he shall; he must change Jerusalem for Anathoth, and the priesthood for a retired privacy. It was fourscore years ago since the sentence of judgment was denounced against the house of Eli ; now doth it come to execution. This just quarrel against Abiathar, the last of that line, shall make good the threatened judgment. The wickedness of Eli's house was neither purged by sacrifice, nor obliterated by time. If God pay slowly, yet he pays sure. Delay of most certain punishment is neither any hindrance to his justice, nor any comfort to our miseries.
THE EXECUTION OF JOAB AND SHIMEI.
ABIATHAR shall live, though he serve not. It is in the power of princes to remit, at least, those punishments which attend the breach of human laws; good reason they should have power to dispense with the wrongs done to their own persons. The news of Adonijah's death and Abiathar's removal cannot but affright Joab, who now runs to Gibeon, and takes sanctuary in the tabernacle of God; all his hope of defence is in the horns of the altar. Fond Joab, hadst thou formerly sought for counsel from the tabernacle, thou hadst not now needed to seek it for refuge: if thy devotions had not been wanting to that altar, thou hadst not needed it for a shelter. It is the fashion of our foolish presumption to look for protection where we have not cared to yield obedience.
Even a Joab clings fast to God's altar in his extremity, which in his prosperity he regarded not. The worst men would be glad to make use of God's ordinances for their advantage. Necessity will drive the most profane and lawless man to God: but what do these bloody hands touching the holy altar of God? Miserable Joab, what help canst thou expect from that sacred pile ? Those horns, that were sprinkled with the blood of beasts, abhor to be touched by the blood of men ; that altar was for the expiation of sin by blood, not for the protection of the sin of blood.
If Adonijah fled thither and escaped, it is murder that pursues thee more than conspiracy God hath no sanctuary for a wilful homicide.
Yea, such respect doth Benaiah give to that holy place, that his sword is unwilling to touch him that touches the altar. Those horns shall put off death for the time, and give protraction of the execution, though not preservation of life. How sweet is life, even to those who have been prodigal of the blood of others, that Joab shifts thus to hold it but some few hours ! Benaiah returns with Joab's answer, instead of his head ; "Nay, but I will die here," as not daring to unsheath his sword against a man sheltered in God's tabernacle, without a new commission. Young Solomon is so well acquainted with the law of God in such a case, that he sticks not at the sentence; he knew that God had enacted, “ If a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour to slay him with guile, thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.” He knew Joab's murders had not been more presumptuous than guileful, and therefore he sends Benaiah to take away the offender, both from God and men, from the altar and the world.
No subject had merited more than Joab. When proclamation was made in Israel, that whoever should smite the Jebusites first, he should be the chief and captain; Joab the man: when David built some part of Jerusalem, Joab built the rest ; so as Jerusalem owes itself to Joab, both for recovery and reparation. No man held so close to David; no man was more intent to the weal of Israel ; none so successful in victories; yet now is he called to reckon for his old sins, and must repay blood to Amasa and Abner. It is not in the power of all our deserts to buy off one sin, either with God or man: where life is so deeply forfeited, it admits of no redemption.
The honest simplicity of those times knew not of any infamy in the execution of justice. Benaiah, who was the great marshal under Solomon, thinks not his fingers defiled with that fatal stroke. It is a foolish niceness to put more shame in the doing of justice, than in the violating of it.
In one act Solomon hath approved himself both a good magistrate and a good son, fulfilling at once the will of a father and the charge of God; concluding upon this just execution, that, “upon David, and
upon his seed, and upon his house, and upon his throne, there shall be peace for ever from the Lord;" and inferring that without this there could have been no peace.
Blood is a restless suitor, and will not leave clamouring for judgment, till the mouth be stopped with revenge. In this case favour to the offender is cruelty to the favourer.
Now hath Joab paid all his arrearages by the sword of Benaiah ; there is no suit against his corpse; that hath the honour of a burial fit for a peer of Israel, for the near cousin to the king. Death puts an end to all quarrels : Solomon strikes off the score when God is satisfied ; the revenge that survives death, and will not be shut up in the coffin, is barbarous, and unbeseeming true Israelites.
Only Shimei remains upon the file ; his course is next, yet so, as that it shall be in his own liberty to hasten his end. Upon David's remission, Shimei dwells securely in Bahurim, a town of the tribe of Benjamin ; doubtless, when he saw so round justice done upon Adonijah and Joab, his guilty heart could not think Solomon's message portended aught but his execution: and now he cannot but be well pleased with so easy conditions of dwelling at Jerusalem, and not passing over the brook Kidron; what more delightful place could he choose to live in than that city, which was the glory of the whole earth? What more pleasing bounds could he wish than the sweet banks of Kidron? Jerusalem could be no prison to him, while it was a paradise to his betters; and if he had a desire to take fresh air, he had the space of six furlongs to walk from the city to the brook; he could not complain to be so delectably confined; and besides, thrice every year, he might be sure to see all his friends without stirring his foot.
Wise Solomon, while he cared to seem not too severe an exacter of that which his father had remitted, prudently lays insensible twigs for so foul an offender; besides the old grudge, no doubt Solomon saw cause to suspect the fidelity of Shimei, as a man who was ever known to be hollow to the house of David ; the obscurity of a country life would easily afford him more safe opportunities of secret mischief; many eyes shall watch him in the city, he cannot look out unseen, he cannot whisper unheard ; upon no other terms shall he enjoy his life, which the least straying shall forfeit.
Shimei feels no pain in this restraint ; how many nobles of Israel do that for pleasure which he doth upon command! Three years hath he lived within compass, limited both by Solomon's charge and his own oath ; it was still in his power, notwithstanding David's caveat, to have laid down his hoary head in the grave, without blood; the just God infatuates those whom he means to plague. Two of Shimei's servants are fled to Gath; and now he saddles his ass, and is gone to fetch them back; either he thinks this word of Solomon is forgotten, or, in the multitude of greater affairs, not heeded, or this so small an occurrence will not come to his ears. Covetousness and presumption of impunity are the destruction of many a soul; Shimei seeks his servants, and loses himself
. How many are they who cry out of this folly, and yet imitate it ; these earthly things either are our servants, or should be ; how commonly do we see men run out of the bounds set by God's law, to hunt after them, till their souls incur a fearful judgment !
Princes have thousands of eyes and ears; if Shimei will for more secrecy saddle his own ass, and take, as is like, the benefit of night for his passage, his journey cannot be hid from Solomon. How wary had those men need to be that are obnoxious! Without delay is Shimei complained of, convented, charged with violation both of the oath of God, and the injunction of Solomon ; and that all these might appear to be but an occasion of that punishment, whose cause was