Page images

did the king of Israel rend his garments and show his sackcloth ; well might he see his people branded with that ancient curse, which God had denounced against the rebellious: “The Lord shall bring a nation against thee of a fierce countenance, which shall not regard the person of the old, nor show favour to the young ; and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates; and thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons, and of thy daughters. The tender and delicate woman, her eyes shall be evil towards her young one that cometh out from between her feet, and toward the children which she shall bear, for she shall eat them for want of all things, secretly in the siege and straitness.” He mourns for the plague, he mourns not for the cause of this plague, his sin, and theirs : I find his sorrow, I find not his repentance. The worst man may grieve for his smart, only the good heart grieves for his offence. Instead of being penitent, Jehoram is furious, and turns his rage from his sins, against the prophet: “God do so to me, and more also, if the head of Elisha, the son of Shaphat, shall stand on him this day.” Alas! what hath the righteous done? Perhaps Elisha, that we may imagine some colours of this displeasure, fore-threatened this judgment, but they deserved it; perhaps he might have averted it by his prayers ; their unrepentance disabled him. Perhaps he persuaded Jehoram to hold out the siege, though through much hardness he foresaw the deliverance. In all this, how hath Elisha forfeited his head ? All Israel did not afford a head so guiltless as this that was destined to slaughter. This is the fashion of the world ; the lewd blame the innocent, and will revenge their own sins upon others' uprightness.

In the midst of all this sad estate of Samaria, and these storms of Jehoram, the prophet sits quietly in his own house, amongst his holy consorts, bewailing, no doubt, both the sins and misery of their people, and prophetically conferring of the issue; when sud

[ocr errors]

denly God reveals to him the bloody intent and message of Jehoram, and he at once reveals it to his fellows: “See ye how this son of a murderer hath sent to take away mine head?" Oh the inimitable liberty of a prophet! The same God that showed him his danger, suggested his words; he may be bold, where we must be awful. Still is Naboth's blood laid in Jehoram's dish ; the foul fact of Ahab blemisheth his posterity; and now, when the son threats violence to the innocent, murder is objected to him as hereditary. He that foresaw his own peril

, provides for his safety, “Shut the door, and hold ħim fast at the door. No man is bound to tender his throat to an unjust stroke; this bloody commission was prevented by a prophetical foresight. . The same eye that saw the executioner coming to smite him, saw also the king hasting after him to stay the blow; the prophet had been no other than guilty of his own blood, if he had not reserved himself a while, for the rescue of authority. Oh the inconstancy of carnal hearts! It was not long since Jehoram could say to Elisha, “My father, shall I smite them ?" now he is ready to smite him as an enemy, whom he honoured as a father; yet again his lips had no sooner given sentence of death against the prophet than his feet stir to recall it. It should seem that Elisha, upon the challenges and expostulations of Jehoram's messenger, had sent a persuasive message to the king of Israel, yet awhile to wait patiently upon God for his deliverance; the discontented prince flies off in an impotent anger, “Behold this evil is of the Lord, what should I wait for the Lord any longer ?" Oh the desperate resolutions of impatient minds! They have stinted God both for his time and his measure; if he exceed either, they either turn their backs upon him or fly in his face. The position was true, the inference deadly. All that evil was of the Lord ; they deserved it, he sent it. What then? It should have been therefore argued, He that sent it, can remove


it: I will wait upon his mercy, under whose justice I suffer. Impatience and distrust shall but aggravate my judgment; “It is the Lord, let him do what he will." But now, to despair because God is just, to defy mercy because it lingers, to reject God for correction, it is a presumptuous madness, an impious pettishness.

Yet in spite of all these provocations, both of king and people, Elisha hath good news for Jehoram ; “Thus saith the Lord, To-morrow, about this time, shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria :” miserable Israel now sees end of this hard trial ; one day's patience shall free them both of siege and famine. God's deliverances may overstay our expectation, not the due period of his own counsels. Oh infinite mercy! when man says, "No longer,” God says, “To-morrow;" as if he would condescend where he might judge, and would please them who deserved nothing but punishment. The word seemed not more comfortable than incredible: “A lord, on whose hand the king leaned, answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be ?" Prophecies, before they be fulfilled, are riddles ; no spirit can aread them, but that by which they are delivered. It is a foolish and injurious infidelity to question a possibility, where we know the message is God's: how easy is it for that omnipotent hand to effect those things, which surpasses all the reach of human conceit! Had God intended a miraculous multiplication, was it not as easy for him to increase the corn or meal of Samaria, as the widow's oil ? was it not as easy for him to give plenty of victuals, without opening the windows of heaven, as to give plenty of water, without wind or rain ? The Almighty hates to be distrusted. This peer of Israel shall rue his unbelief; “Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof;” the sight shall be yielded for conviction, the fruition shall be denied for punishment. Well is that man worthy to want the benefit which he would not believe : who can pity to see infidelity excluded from the blessings of earth, from the glory of heaven?

How strange a choice doth God make of the intelligencers of so happy a change! Four lepers sit at the entering of the gate ; they see nothing but death before them, famine within the walls, the enemy without. The election is woful; at last they resolve upon the lesser evil ; famine is worse than the Syrian: in the famine there is certainty of perishing; amongst the Syrians hazard : perhaps the enemy may have some pity, hunger hath none; and, were the death equally certain, it were more easy to die by the sword, than by famine. Upon this deliberation they come down into the Syrian camp, to find either speed of mercy or dispatch. Their hunger would not give them respite till morning ; by twilight are they fallen upon the uttermost tents ; “Behold, there was no man:” they marvel at the silence and solitude, they look and listen, the noise of their own feet affrighted them: their guilty hearts supplied the Syrians, and expected, fearfully, those which were as fearfully fled. How easily can the Almighty confound the power of the strong, the policy of the wise! God puts a panic terror into the hearts of the proud Syrians; he makes them hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host; they say one to another, “Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us!” They arise therefore in a confused rout, and leaving all their substance behind them, flee for their lives. Not long before, Elisha's servant saw chariots and horses, but heard none: now these Syrians hear chariots and horses, but see none : that sight comforted his heart, this sound dismayed theirs. The Israelites heard no noise within the walls; the lepers heard no noise without the gates; only the Syrians heard this noise in their camp. What a scorn doth God put upon these presumptuous Aramites; he will not vouchsafe to use any substantial stratagem against them; nothing but an empty sound shall scatter them, and send them home empty of substance, laden with shame, half dead with feat; the very horses, that might have hastened their flight, are left tied in their tents; their very garments are a burthen; all is left behind, save their very bodies, and those breathless for speed.

Doubtless these Syrians knew well to what miserable exigents the enclosed Israelites were brought by their siege; and now made full account to sack and ransack their Samaria : already had they divided and swallowed the prey; when suddenly God puts them into a ridiculous confusion, and sends them to seek safety in their heels: no booty is now in price with them but their life, and happy is he that can run fastest.

Thus the Almighty laughs at the designs of insolent men, and shuts up their counsels in shame.

The fear of the four lepers began now to give way to security ; they fill their bellies, and hide their treasures, and pass from one tent to another, in a fastidious choice of the best commodities; they, who erewhile would have held it happiness enough to have been blessed with a crust, now wantonly rove for dainties, and from necessity leap into excess.

How far self-love carries us in all our actions, even to the neglect of the public! Not till their own bellies, and hands, and eyes were filled, did these lepers think of imparting this news to Israel. At last, when themselves are glutted, they begin to remember the hunger of their brethren, and now they find room for remorse ; “We do not well; this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace. Nature teaches us, that it is an injury to engross blessings, and so to mind the private, as if we had

« PreviousContinue »