« PreviousContinue »
the late sins of the inhabitants. “ He turneth the rivers into a wilderness, and water-springs into a dry ground; a fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein.” How oft have we seen the same field both full and famishing! How oft the same waters both safe, and, by some irruption or new tincture, hurtful! Howsoever natural causes may concur, heaven and earth, and air and waters, follow the temper of our souls, of our lives, and are therefore indisposed because we are so. Jericho began now to make itself capable of a better state, since it was now become a receptacle of prophets : Elisha is willing to gratify his hosts ; it is reason that any place should fare the better for the presence of divines. The medicine is more strange than the disease ; “ Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein.” Why a cruse? Why new? Why salt in that new cruse? How should salt make water potable? Or, if there were any such virtue in it, what could a cruseful do to a whole current ? Or if that measure were sufficient, what
of the cruse to the force of the salt? Yet Elisha calls for salt in a new cruse. God, who wrought this by his prophet, is a free agent; as he will not bind his power to means, so will he, by his power, bind unlikely means to perform his will.
Natural properties have no place in miraculous works: no less easy, is it for God to work by contrary than subordinate powers.
The prophet doth not cast the salt into the channel, but into the spring of the waters. If the fountain be redressed, the streams cannot be faulty ; as contrarily, the purity and soundness of the stream avails nothing to the redress of the fountain. Reformation must begin at the well-head of the abuse. The order of being is a good guide to the method of amending. Virtue doth not run backward. Had Elisha cast the salt into the brooks and ditches, the remedy must have striven against the stream to reach up to the
spring; now it is but one labour to cure the fountain. Our heart is a well of bitter and venomous water, our actions are the streams ; in vain shall we cleanse our hands, while our hearts are evil.
The cruse and the salt must be their own; the act must be his, the power God's. “He cast the salt into the spring, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barrenness.” Far was it from Elisha to challenge aught to himself. Before, when he should divide the waters of Jordan, he did not say, Where is the power of Elisha ? but, Where is the Lord God of Elijah ? And now, when he should cure the waters of Jericho, he says not, Thus saith Elisha, but, “ Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters.” How careful is the man of God that no part of God's glory should stick to his own fingers! Jericho shall know to whom they owe the blessing, that they may duly return the thanks. Elisha professes he can do no more of himself than that salt, than that cruse; only God shall work by him, by it; and whatever that Almighty hand undertakes, cannot fail, yea, is already done ; neither doth he say, “I will heal,” but, “I have healed.” Even so, O God, if thou cast into the fountain of our hearts but one cruseful of the salt of thy Spirit, we are whole: no thought can pass between the receipt and the remedy.
As the general visitor of the schools of the prophets, Elisha passeth from Jericho to that other college at Bethel. Bethel was a place of strange composition ; there were at once the golden calf of Jeroboam, and the school of God; true religion and idolatry found a free harbour within those walls. I do not marvel that God's prophets would plant there; there was the most need of their presence, where they found the spring-head of corruption ; physicians are of most use where diseases do abound.
“ As he was going up by the way, there came forth little
children out of the city, and mocked him, and said to him, Go up, thou bald-head; go up, thou baldhead.” Even the very boys of Bethel have learned to scoff at a prophet; the spite of their idolatrous parents is easily propagated; children are such as their institution ; infancy is led altogether by imitation ; it hath neither words nor actions, but infused by others; if it have good or ill language, it is but borrowed, and the shame or thank is due to those that lent it them.
What was it that these ill-taught children upbraided to the prophet, but a slight natural defect, not worthy the name of a blemish, the want of a little hair? at the best a comely excrement, no part of the body. Had there been deformity in that smoothness of the head, which some great wits have honoured with praises, a faultless and remediless eyesore had been no fit matter for a taunt. How small occasions will be taken to disgrace a prophet! if they could have said aught worse, Elisha had not heard of this ; God had crowned that head with honour, which the Bethelitish children loaded with
Who would have thought the rude terms of waggish boys worthy of any thing but neglect? Elisha looks at them with severe brows, and, like the heir of him that called down fire upon the two captains and their fifties, curses them in the name of the Lord ; two she-bears, out of the wood, hasten to be his executioners, and tear two-and-forty of them in pieces. O fearful example of divine justice! This was not the revenge of an angry prophet; it was the punishment of a righteous judge. God and his seer looked through these children at the parents, at all Israel ; he would punish the parents misnurturing their children, to the contemptuous usage of a prophet, with the death of those children which they had mistaught. He would teach Israel what it was to misuse a prophet ; and if he would not endure these contumelies unrevenged in the mouths of children, what vengeance was enough for aged persecutors ?
Doubtless some of the children escaped to tell the news of their fellows: what lamentation do we think there was in the streets of Bethel ! How did the distressed mothers wring their hands for this woful orbation! And now when they came forth to fetch the remnants of their own flesh, what a sad spectacle it was to find the fields strewed with those mangled carcases ! It is an unprofitable sorrow that follows a judgment. Had these parents been as careful to train up their children in good discipline, and to correct their disorders, as they are now passionate in bemoaning their loss, this slaughter had never been. In vain do we look for good of those children, whose education we have neglected. In vain do we grieve for those miscarriages which our care might have prevented.
Elisha knew the success; yet doth he not baulk the city of Bethel. Do we not wonder that the furious impatience of those parents, whom the curse of Elisha robbed of their children, did not break forth to some malicious practice against the prophet? would we not think the prophet might misdoubt some hard measure from those exasperated citizens ? There lay his way; he follows God without fear of men, as well knowing that either they durst not, or they could not act violence. They knew there were bears in the wood, and fires in heaven, and, if their malice would have ventured above their courage, they could have no more power over Elisha in the streets than those hungry beasts had in the way. Whither dare not a prophet go when God calls him ? Having visited the schools of the prophets, Elisha retires to mount Carmel, and, after some holy solitariness, returns to the city of Samaria. He can never be a profitable seer, that is either always or never alone. Carmel shall fit him for Samaria, contemplation for action: that mother city of Israel must needs afford him most work; yet is the throne of Ahaziah succeeded by a brother less ill than himself, than the parents of both. . Ahab's impiety hath not a perfect heir of Jehoram : that son of his hates his Baal, though he keeps his calves. Even into the most wicked families it pleaseth God to cast his powerful restraints, that all are not equally vicious. It is no news to see lewd men make scruple of some sins; the world were not to live in if all sins were affected by all : it is no thank to Ahab and Jezebel that their son is no Baalite. As no good is traduced from parents, so not all evil: there is an almighty hand that stops the foul current of nature, at his pleasure; no idolater can say that his child shall not be a convert.
The affinity betwixt the houses of Israel and Judah holds good in succession : Jehoram inherits the friendship, the aid of Jehoshaphat; whose counsel, as is most likely, had cured him of that Baalism. It was a good war whereto he solicits the good king of Judah. The king of Moab, who had been an ancient tributary from the days of David, falls now from his homage, and refuses to pay his hundred thousand lambs, an hundred thousand rams with fleeces, to the king of Israel; the backs of Israel can ill miss the wool of Moab, they will put on iron to recover their cloth. Jehoshaphat had been once well chid, well frighted for joining with Ahab against Aram ; yet doth he not stick now again to come into the field with Jehoram against Moab: the cause is more favourable, less dangerous. Baal is cast down; the images of the false gods are gone, though the false images of the true God stand still: beside, this rebellious Moab had joined with the Syrians formerly against Judah, so as Jehoshaphat is interested in the revenge.
After resolution of the end, wisely do these kings deliberate of the way. It is agreed to pass through Edom; that kingdom was annexed to the crown of Judah ; well might Jehoshaphat make bold with his
It was, it seems, a march far about in the