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king of Israel could not choose but see, that only God's prohibition lay in the way of his designs, not the stomach of a froward subject; yet he goes away into his house heavy and displeased, and casts himself down upon his bed, turns away his face, and refuses his meat; he hath taken a surfeit of Naboth's grapes, which mars his appetite, and threats his life. How ill can great hearts endure to be crossed, though upon the most reasonable and just grounds! Ahab's place called him to the guardianship of God's law; and now his heart is ready to break, that this parcel of that law may not be broken. No marvel if he made not dainty to transgress a local statute of God, who did so shamefully violate the eternal law of both tables.
I know not whether the spleen or the gall of Ahab be more affected; whether more of anger or grief, I cannot say; but sick he is, and keeps his bed, and baulks his meat, as if he should die of no other death, than the salads that he would have had. Oh the impotent passion, and insatiable desires of covetousness! Ahab is lord and king of all the territories of Israel, Naboth is the owner of one poor vineyard.; Ahab cannot enjoy Israel, if Naboth enjoy his vineyard. Besides Samaria, Ahab was the great lord paramount of Damascus and all Syria, the victor of him that was attended with two-and-thirty kings. Naboth was a plain townsman of Jezreel, the good husband of a little vineyard. Whether is the wealthier? I do not hear Naboth wish for any thing of Ahab's; I hear Ahab wishing, not without indignation of a repulse, for somewhat from Naboth. Riches and poverty are no more in the heart than in the hand: he is wealthy that is contented; he is poor that wanteth more. Oh rich Naboth, that carest not for all the large possessions of Ahab, so thou mayest be the lord of thine own vineyard! Oh miserable Ahab, that carest not for thine own possessions, while thou mayest not be the lord of Naboth's vineyard !
He that caused the disease, sends him a physician.
Satan knew of old how to make use of such helpers. Jezebel comes to Ahab's bed-side, and casts cold water in his face, and puts into him spirits of her own extracting: “Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? Arise, eat bread, and let thine heart be merry, I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth.” Ahab wanted neither wit nor wickedness; yet is he in both a very novice to this Sidonian dame. There needs no other devil than Jezebel, whether to project evil or to work it. She chides the pusillanimity of her dejected husband, and persuades him his rule cannot be free, unless it be licentious; that there should be no bounds for sovereignty, but will. Already hath she contrived to have, by fraud and force, what was denied to entreaty. Nothing needs but the name, but the seal of Ahab; let her alone with the rest. How present are the wits of the weaker sex for the devising of wickedness ! she frames a letter in Ahab's name to the senators of Jezreel, wherein she requires them to proclaim a fast, to suborn two false witnesses against Naboth, to charge him with blasphemy against God and the king, to stone him to death; a ready payment for a rich vineyard. Whose indignation riseth not, to hear Jezebel name a fast? The great contemners of the most important laws of God, yet can be content to make use of some divine, both statutes and customs, for their own advantage. She knew the Israelites had so much remainder of grace, as to hold blasphemy worthy of death: she knew their manner was to expiate those crying sins with public humiliation ; she knew that two witnesses at least must cast the offen
all these she urges to her own purpose. There is no mischief so devilish, as that which is cloaked with piety. Simulation of holiness doubleth a villany. This murder had not been half so foul, if it had not been thus masked with a religious observation. Besides devotion, what a fair pretence of legality is here! blasphemy against God and his anointed may not pass unrevenged. The offender is convented be
fore the sad and severe bench of magistracy; the justice of Israel allows not to condemn an absent and unheard malefactor. Witnesses come forth, and agree in the intentation of the crime; the judges rend their garments, and strike their breasts as grieved, not more for the sin than the punishment; their very countenance must say Naboth should not die, if his offence did not force our justice ; and now, he is no good subject, no true Israelite, that hath not a stone for Naboth.
Jezebel knew well to whom she wrote. Had not those letters fallen upon the times of a woful degeneration of Israel, they had received no less strong denials from the elders, than Ahab had from Naboth. “God forbid, that the senate of Jezreel should forge a perjury, belie truth, condemn innocency, brook corruption.' Command just things, we are ready to die in the zeal of our obedience, we dare not imbrue our hands in the blood of an innocent.
But she knew whom she had engaged, whom she had marred by making conscious. It were strange if they, who can countenance evil with greatness, should want factors for the unjustest designs. Miserable is that people, whose rulers, instead of punishing, plot and encourage wickedness; when a distillation of evil falls from the head upon the lungs of any state, there must needs follow a deadly consumption.
Yet perhaps there wanted not some colour of pretence for this proceeding; they could not but hear that some words had passed betwixt the king and Naboth ; haply it was suggested that Naboth had secretly over-lashed into saucy and contemptuous terms to his sovereign, such as neither might be well borne, nor yet, by reason of their privacy, legally convinced. The bench of Jezreel should but supply a form to the just matter and desert of condemnation; what was it for them to give their hand to this obscure midwifery of justice? it is enough that their king is an accuser and witness of that
wrong, which only their sentence can formally revenge. All this cannot wash their hands from the guilt of blood; if justice be blind, in respect of partiality, she may not be blind in respect of the grounds of execution. Had Naboth been a blasphemer, or a traitor, yet these men were no better than murderers. What difference is there betwixt the stroke of magistracy, and of man-slaughter, but due conviction?
Wickedness never spake out of a throne, and complained of the defect of instruments. Naboth was, it seems, strictly conscionable, his fellow-citizens loose and lawless; they are glad to have gotten such an opportunity of his dispatch. No clause of Ahab's letter is not observed ; a fast is warned, the city is assembled, Naboth is convented, accused, confronted, sentenced, stoned. His vineyard is escheated to the crown ; Ahab takes speedy and quiet possession. How still doth God sit in heaven, and look upon the complots of treachery and villanies, as if they did not concern him! The success so answers their desires, as if both heaven and earth were their friends. It is the plague which seems the felicity of sinners, to speed well in their lewd enterprises : no reckoning is brought in the midst of the meal, the end pays for all. While Ahab is rejoicing in his new garden-plot, and promising himself contentment in this commodious enlargement, in comes Elijah, sent from God with an errand of vengeance. Methinks I see how the king's countenance changed, with what aghast eyes and pale cheeks he looked upon that unwelcome prophet. Little pleasure took he in his
prospect, while it was clogged with such a guest; yet his tongue begins first, “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy ?" Great is the power of conscience. Upon the last meeting, for aught we know, Ahab and Elijah parted friends. The prophet had lacqueyed his coach, and took a peaceable leave at this town's end ; now Ahab's heart told him (neither needed any other messenger) that God and his prophet were fallen out with him;
his continuing idolatry, now seconded with blood, bids him look for nothing but frowns from heaven. A guilty heart can never be at peace.
Had not Ahab known how ill he had deserved of God, he had never saluted his prophet by the name of an enemy; he had never been troubled to be found by Elijah, if his own breast had not found him out for an enemy to God. Much good may thy vineyard do thee, O thou king of Israel ; many fair flowers and savoury herbs may thy new garden yield thee; please thyself with thy Jezebel in the triumph over the carcass of a scrupulous subject; let me rather die with Naboth, than rejoice with thee: his turn is over, thine is to come. The stones that overwhelmed innocent Naboth were nothing to those that smite thee, “Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? Thus saith the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.” What meanest thou, O Elijah, to charge this murder upon Ahab ? he kept his chamber, Jezebel wrote, the elders condemned, the people stoned; yet thou sayest, “Hast thou killed ?"* Well did Ahab know, that Jezebel could not give this vineyard with dry hands; yet was he content to wink at what she should do: he but sits still while Jezebel works; only his signet is suffered to walk for the sealing of this unknown purchase. Those that are trusted with authority, may offend no less in connivancy or neglect, than others in act, in participation : not only command, consent, countenance, but very permission feoffs public persons in those sins, which they might and will not prevent. God loves to punish by retaliation ; Naboth and Ahab shall both bleed; Naboth by the stones of the Jezreelites, Ahab by the shafts of the Aramites; the dogs shall taste of the blood of both. What Ahab hath done in cruelty, he shall suffer in justice ; the case and the end make the difference happy on Naboth's side, on Ahab's woful. Naboth bleeds as a martyr; Ahab as a murderer. Whatever is Ahab's condition, Naboth changes a vine