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mands the fearful ass, that brought this burden thither, not to stir thence, but to stand ready pressed, to recarry it to the sepulchre: and now, when he hath sufficiently witnessed to all passengers, that this act was not done upon his own hunger, but upon the quarrel of his Maker, he delivers up his charge to that old prophet, who was no less guilty of this blood than himself.
This old seducer had so much truth, as both to give a right commentary upon God's intention in this act, for the terror of the disobedient, and to give his voice to the certainty of that future judgment which his late guest had threatened to Israel: sometimes it pleaseth the wisdom of God to express and justify himself, even by the tongues of faulty instruments. Withal, he hath so much faith and courage, as to fetch that carcass from the lion, so much pity and compassion as to weep for the man of God, to inter him in his own sepulchre, so much love as to wish himself joined in death to that body which he had hastened unto death. It is hard to find a man absolutely wicked: some grace will bewray itself in the most forsaken breasts.
It is a cruel courtesy to kill a man, and then to help him to his grave; to betray a man with our breath, and then to bedew him with our tears; the prophet had needed no such friend, if he had not met with such an enemy: “The mercies of the wicked are cruel.”
JEROBOAM'S WIFE. It is no measuring of God's favour by the line of outward welfare: Jeroboam, the idolatrous usurper of Israel, prospers better than the true heirs of David; he lives to see three successions in the throne of Judah ; thus the ivy lives when the oak is dead. Yet
could not that misgotten crown of his keep his head always from aching; he hath his crosses too. God whips sometimes more than his own; his enemies smart from him, as well as his children; his children in love, his enemies in judgment. Not simply the rod argues love, but the temper of the hand that wields it, and the back that feels it. First, Jeroboam's hand was stricken, now his son ; Abijah the eldest, the best son of Jeroboam, is smitten with sickness. As children are but the pieces of their parents in another skin, so parents are no less stricken in their children, than in their natural limbs ; Jeroboam doth not more feel his arm, than his son: not wicked men only, but beasts may have natural affections. It is no thank to any creature to love his own.
Nature wrought in Jeroboam, not grace; he is enough troubled with his son's disease, no whit bettered. I would have heard him say, God follows me with his afflictions, it is for mine impiety; what other measure can I expect from his justice ? while mine idols stand, how can I look that my house should prospér? I will turn from my wickedness, O God! turn thou from thy wrath. These thoughts were too good for that obdurate heart : his son is sick, he is sorrowful'; but, as an amazed man seeks to go forth at the wrong door, his distraction sends him to a false help: he thinks not of God, he thinks of his prophet; he thinks of the prophet that had foretold him he should be a king, he thinks not of the God of that prophet who made him a king. It is the property of a carnal heart to confine both his obligations and his hopes to the means, neglecting the author of good. Vain is the respect that is given to the servant, where the master is contemned.
Extremity draws Jeroboam's thoughts to the prophet, whom else he had not cared to remember. The king of Israel had divines enough of his own, else he must needs have thought them miserable gods that were not worth a prophet: and besides, there was an old prophet, if he yet survived, dwelling within the smoke of his palace, whose visions had been too well approved : why should Jeroboam send so far to an Ahijah ?
Certainly his heart despised those base priests of his high places, neither could he trust either to the gods or the clergy of his own making : his conscience rests upon the fidelity of that man whose doctrine he had forsaken. How did this idolater strive against his own heart, whilst he inwardly despised those whom he professed to honour; and inwardly honoured them whom he professed to despise! Wicked breasts are false to themselves; neither trusting to their own choicé, nor making choice of that which they may dare to trust. They will set a good face upon their secretly unpleasing sins, and had rather be self-condemned than wise and penitent. As for that old seer, it is like Jeroboam knew his skill, but doubted of his sincerity; that man was too much his neighbour to be good. Ahijah's truth had been tried in a case of his own.
He whose word was found just in the prediction of his kingdom, was well worthy of credit in the news of his son. Experience is a great encouragement of our trust. It is a good matter to be faithful; this loadstone of our fidelity shall draw to us even hearts of iron, and hold them to our reliance; as contrarily, deceit doth both argue and make a bankrupt. Who can trust where he is disappointed ? 0 God, so oft, so ever have we found thee true in all thy promises, in all thy performances, that, if we do not seek thee, if we do not trust thee in the sequel, we are worthy of our loss, worthy of thy desertions.
Yet I do not see that Jeroboam sends to the prophet for his aid, but for intelligence. Curiosity is guilty of this message, and not devotion : he calls not for the prayers, nor for the benediction of that holy man, but for mere information of the event. He well saw what the prayers of a prophet could do: that which cured his hand, might it not have cured
his son ? yet he that said to a man of God, “Entreat the face of the Lord thy God, that he may restore my hand,” says not now, in his message to Ahijah, Entreat thy God to restore my son. Sin makes such a strangeness betwixt God and man, that the guilty heart either thinks not of suing to God, or fears it. What a poor contentment it was to foreknow that evil which he could not avoid, and whose notice could but hasten his misery! Yet thus fond is our restless curiosity, that it seeks ease in the drawing on of torment: he is worthy of sorrow that will not stay till it comes to him, but goes to fetch it.
Whom doth Jeroboam send on this message but his wife, and how, but disguised ? why her, and why thus? Neither durst he trust this errand with another, nor with her in her own form : it was a secret that Jeroboam sends to a prophet of God: none might know it but his own bosom, and she that lay in it; if this had been noised in Israel, the example had been dangerous: who would not have said, The king is glad to leave his counterfeit deities, and seek to the true; why should we adhere to them whom he forsakes? As the message must not be known to the people, so she that bears it must not be known to the prophet; her name, her habit must be changed; she must put off her robes, and put on a russet coat; she must put off the queen, and put on the peasant; instead of a sceptre, she must take up a basket, and go a masked pilgrimage to Shiloh. Oh the fondness of vain men, that think to juggle with the Almighty, and to hide their counsels from that all-seeing eye! If this change of habit were necessary at Bethel, yet what needs it at Shiloh ? though she would hide her face from her subjects, yet why should she not pull off her muffler, and show herself to the prophet? Certainly, what policy began, guiltiness must continue. Well might she think, there can be no good answer expected by the wife of Jeroboam: my presence will do no less than solicit a reproof. No prophet can speak well to
the consort of a founder of idolatry ; I may perhaps hear good as another, though, as for myself, I can look for nothing but tidings of evil. Wicked hearts know they deserve ill at God's hands, and therefore they do all they can to avoid the eyes of his displeased justice; and if they cannot do it by colours of dissimulation, they will do it by imploration of shelter ; they shall say
to the rocks, "Fall on us, and cover us." But, oh the gross folly mixed with the craft of wickedness! Could Jeroboam think that the prophet could know the event of his son's disease, and did he think that he could not know the disguise of his wife ? the one was present, the other future; this was but wrapped in a clout, that event was wrapped in the counsel of God; yet this politic head presumes that the greater shall be revealed, where the lesser shall be hid. There was never wicked man that was not infatuate, and in nothing more than in those things wherein he hoped most to transcend the reach of others.
Ahijah shunning the iniquity of the times, was retired to a solitary corner of Shiloh ; no place could be too private for an honest prophet, in so extreme depravedness : yet even there doth the king of Israel take notice of his seclusion, and sends his wife to that poor cell laden with presents that dissembled their bearer. Had she offered jewels or gold, her greatness had been suspected; now she brings loaves, and cracknels, and honey ; her hand answers her back ; she gives as she seems, not as she is. Something she must give, even when she acts the poorest client.
The prophets of God were not wont to have empty visitations: they who hated bribes, yet refused not tokens of gratitude. Yea, the God of heaven, who neither needs our goods, nor is capable of our gratifications, yet would have no man to come to him giftless. Woe to those sacrilegious hands that, instead of bringing to the prophets, carry from them!
Jeroboam was a bad man, yet as he had a towardly