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is now glad to beg for his own life at the door of a despised enemy. No courage is so haughty, which the God of hosts cannot easily bring under; what are men or devils in those Almighty hands?
The greater the dejection was, the stronger was the motive of commiseration ; that halter pleaded for life, and that plea, but for a life, stirred the bowels for favour. How readily did Ahab see, in Benhadad's sudden misery, the image of the instability of all human things, and relents at the view of so deep and passionate a submission! Had not Benhadad said, “Thy servant," Ahab had never said, “My brother:" seldom ever was there loss in humility. How much less can we fear disparagement in the annihilating of ourselves before that infinite Majesty! The drowning man snatches at every twig; it is no marvel if the messengers of Benhadad caught hastily at that last of grace, and hold it fast, “Thy brother Benhadad.” Favours are wont to draw on each other; kindnesses breed on themselves; neither need we any other persuasion to beneficence than from our own acts. Ahab calls for the king of Syria, sets him in his own chariot, treats with him of an easy yet firm league, gives him both his life and his kingdom. Neither is the crown of Syria sooner lost than recovered ; only he that came a free prince, returns tributary ; only his train is clipped too short for his wings; a hundred and twenty-seven thousand Syrians are abated of his guard homeward. Blasphemy hath escaped too well. Ahab hath at once peace with Benhadad, war with God; God proclaims it by his herald, one of the sons of the prophets ; not yet in his own form, but disguised, both in fashion and complaint: it was a strange suit of a prophet, “Smite me, I pray
thee:” many a prophet was smitten, and would not ; never any but this wished to smitten. The rest of his fellows were glad to say,
“ Save me;" this only says, “Smite me. His honest neighbour, out of love and reverence, forbears to strike: there are too many, thinks he, that smite the prophets, though I refrain. What wrong hast thou done that I should repay with blows ? Hadst thou sued for a favour, I could not have denied thee; now thou suest for thine hurt, the denial is a favour. Thus he thought, but charity cannot excuse disobedience. Had the man of God called for blows upon his own head, the refusal had been just and thankworthy ; but now that he says, “ In the word of the Lord smite me," this kindness is deadly: "Because thou hast not obeyed the voice of the Lord, behold as soon as thou art departed from me, a lion shall slay thee.” It is not for us to examine the charges of the Almighty ; be they never so harsh or improbable, if they be once known for his, there is no way but obedience or death. Not to smite a prophet when God commands, is no less sin than to smite a prophet when God forbids. It is the divine precept or prohibition that either makes or aggravates an evil : and if the Israelite be thus revenged that smote not a prophet, what shall become of Ahab that smote not Benhadad ? Every man is not thus indulgent; an easy request will gain blows to a prophet from the next hand, yea, and a wound in smiting. I know not whether it were a harder task for the prophet to require a wound than for a well-meaning Israelite to give it ; both must be done: the prophet hath what he would, what he must will, a sight of his own blood; and now disguised herewith, and with ashes upon his face, he way-lays the king of Israel, and sadly complains of himself in a real parable, for dismissing a Syrian prisoner delivered to his hands, upon no less charge than his life; and soon receives sentence of death from his own mouth ; well was that wound bestowed that struck Ahab's soul through the flesh of the prophet: the disguise is removed, the king sees not a soldier, but a seer; and now finds that he hath unawares passed sentence upon himself. There needs no other doom than from the lips of the offender :
Thus saith the Lord, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand, a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people.” Had not Ahab known the will of God concerning Benhadad, that had been mercy to an enemy, which was now cruelty to himself, to Israel. His ears had heard of the blasphemies of that wicked tongue. His eyes had seen God go before him, in the example of that revenge. No prince can strike so deep into his state, as in not striking: in private favour, there may be public unmercifulness.
AHAB AND NABOTH.
NABOTH had a fair vineyard; it had been better for him to have had none; his vineyard yielded him the bitter grapes of death. Many a one hath been sold to death by his lands and goods; wealth hath been a snare, as to the soul so to the life: why do we call those goods which are many times the bane of the owner? Naboth's vineyard lay near to the court of Jezebel ; it had been better for him it had been planted in the wilderness. Doubtless this vicinity made it more commodious to the possessor, but more envious and unsafe. It was now the perpetual object of an evil eye, and stirred those desires which could neither be well denied, nor satisfied : eminency is still joined with peril, obscurity with peace. There can be no worse annoyance to an inheritance, than the greatness of an evil neighbourhood. Naboth's vines stood too near the smoke of Jezebel's chimneys, too much within the prospect of Ahab's window. Now lately had the king of Israel been twice victorious over the Syrians; no sooner is he returned home than he is overcome with evil desires ; the foil he gave was not worse than that he took. There is
more true glory in the conquest of our lusts, than in all bloody trophies. In vain shall Ahab boast of subduing a foreign enemy, while he is subdued by a domestic enemy within his own breast: opportunity and convenience are guilty of many a theft. Had not this ground lain so fair, Ahab had not been tempted ; his eye lets in this evil guest into the soul which now dares come forth at the mouth : me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near to my house, and I will give thee a better vineyard for it; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money. Yet had Ahab so much civility and justice, that he would not wring Naboth's patrimony out of his hands by force, but requires it upon a fair composition, whether of price, or of exchange. His government was vicious, not tyrannical: propriety of goods was inviolably maintained by him; no less was Naboth allowed to claim a right in his vineyard, than Ahab in his palace. This we owe to lawful sovereignty to call aught our own; and well worthy is this privilege to be repaid with all humble and loyal respects. The motion of Ahab, had it been to any other than an Israelite, had been as just, equal, reasonable, as the repulse had been rude, churlish, inhumane. It is fit that princes should receive due satisfaction in the just demands, not only of their necessities, but convenience and pleasure; well may they challenge this retribution to the benefit of our common peace
and protection. If there be any sweetness in our vineyards, any strength in our fields, we may thank their sceptres ; justly may they expect from us the commodity, the delight of their habitation; and if we gladly yield not their full elbow-room, both of site and provision, we can be no other than ungrateful. Yet dares not Naboth give any other answer to so plausible a motion than, “The Lord forbid it me, that I should give thee the inheritance of my fathers." The honest Israelite saw violence in this ingenuity;
there are no stronger commands than the requests of the great. It is well that Ahab will not wrest away this patrimony, it is not well that he desired it; the land was not so much stood upon as the law. One earth might be as good as another, and money equivalent to either; the Lord hath forbidden to alien their inheritance. Naboth did not fear loss, but sin; what Naboth might not lawfully do, Ahab might not lawfully require: it pleased God to be very punctual and cautelous, both in the distinction and preservation of the entireness of these Jewish inheritances. Nothing but extreme necessity might warrant a sale of land, and that but for a time; if not sooner, yet at the Jubilee, it must revert to the first owner. not without a comfortable signification, that whosoever had once his part in the land of promise could never lose it. Certainly Ahab could not but know this divine restriction, yet doubts not to say, me thy vineyard.” The unconscionable will know no other law, but their profit, their pleasure. A lawless greatness hates all limitations, and abides not to hear men should need any other warrant but will.
Naboth dares not be thus tractable. How gladly would he be quit of his inheritance, if God would acquit him from the sin ! not out of wilfulness, but obedience, doth this faithful Israelite hold off from this demand of his sovereign, not daring to please an earthly king with offending the heavenly. When princes command lawful things, God commands by them; when unlawful, they command against God : passive obedience we must give, active we may not; we follow them as subordinate, not as opposite to the highest.
Who cannot but see and pity the straits of honest Naboth ? Ahab requires what God forbids; he must fall out either with his God, or his king. Conscience carries him against policy, and he resolves not to sin, that he might be gracious: for a world he m
not give his vineyard. Those who are themselves godless, think the holy care of others but idly scrupulous. The