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no relation to a community. We are worthy to be shut out of the city gates for lepers, if the respects to the public good do not oversway us in all our desires, in all our demeanour; and well may we, with these covetous lepers, fear a mischief upon ourselves, if we shall wilfully conceal blessings from others.
The conscience of this wrong and danger sends back the lepers into the city; they call to the porters, and soon transmit the news to the king's household. The king of Israel complains not to have his sleep broken with such intelligence; he ariseth in the night, and not contemning good news, though brought by lepers, consults with his servants on the business.
We cannot be too jealous of the intentions of an enemy. Jehoram wisely suspects this flight of the Syrians to be but simulatory and politic, only to draw Israel out of their city, for the spoil of both. There may be more peril in the back of an enemy than in his face: the cruellest slaughters have been in retiring. Easily, therefore, is the king persuaded to adventure some few forlorn scouts for further assurance. The word of Elisha is out of his head, out of his heart, else there had been no place for this doubt. Timorous hearts never think themselves sure; those that have no faith, have need of much sense.
Those few horses that remain, are sent forth for discovery ; they find nothing but monuments of frightfulness, pledges of security. Now Israel dares issue forth to the prey; there, as if the Syrians had come hither to enrich them, they find granaries, wardrobes, treasures, and whatever may serve either for use or ostentation. Every Israelite goes away filled, laden, wearied with the wealthy spoil.
As scarcity breeds dearth, so plenty cheapness. To-day a measure of fine flour is lower rated, than yesterday of dung:
The distrustful peer of Israel sees this abundance according to the word of the prophet, but enjoys it not. He sees this plenty can come in at the gate, though the windows of heaven be not open. The gate is his charge; the famished Israelites press in upon him, and bear him down in the throng. Extreme hunger hath no respect to greatness. Not their rudeness, but his own unbelief
, hath trampled him under feet. He that abased the power of God by his distrust, is abased worthily to the heels of the multitude. Faith exalts a man above his sphere; infidelity depresses him into the dust, into hell. “He that believes not is condemned already.”
THE SHUNAMMITE SUING TO JEHORAM, ELISHA
CONFERRING WITH HAZAEL.
How royally hath Elisha paid the Shunammite for his lodging ! to him already she owes the life of her son, both given and restored ; and now again, after so many years as might well have worn out the memory of so small a courtesy, herself, her son, her family owe their lives to so thankful a guest. That table, and bed, and stool, and candlestick was well bestowed. That candlestick repaid her the light of her future life and condition, that table the means of maintenance, that stool a seat of safe abode, that bed a quiet rest from the common calamities of her nation. He is a niggard to himself that scants his beneficence to a prophet, whose very cold water shall not go unrewarded. Elijah preserved the Sareptan from famine, Elisha the Shunammite; he, by provision of oil and meal; this by premonition : "Arise, and go, thou and thine household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn." The Sareptan was poor,
and driven to extremes, therefore the prophet provides for her from hand to mouth. The Shunammite was wealthy, and therefore the prophet sends her to provide for herself. The same goodness that relieves our necessity, leaves our competency to the hand of our own counsel ; in the one he will make use of his own power, in the other of our providence.
The very prophet advises this holy client to leave the bounds of the church, and to seek life, where she should not find religion. Extremity is for the time a just dispensation with some common rules of our outward demeanour and motions, even from better to
All Israel and Judah shall be famished: the body can be preserved no where, but where the soul shall want. Sometimes the conveniences of the soul must yield to bodily necessities. Wantonness and curiosity can find no advantage from that which is done out of the power of need.
It is a long famine that shall afflict Israel. upon whom the spirit of Elijah was doubled, doubled the judgment inflicted by his Master. Three years and a half did Israel gasp under the drought of Elijah; seven years' drought shall it suffer under Elisha. The trials of God are many times not more grievous for their sharpness, than for their continuance.
This scarcity shall not come alone; God shall call for it: whatever be the second cause, he is the First. The executioners of the Almighty (such are his judgments) stand ready waiting upon his just throne; and do no sooner receive the watch-word, than they fly upon the world, and plague it for sin. Only the cry of our sins' moves God to call for vengeance; and, if God once call, it must come. How oft, how earnestly are we called to repentance, and stir not !
The messengers of God's wrath fly forth at the least beck, and fulfil the will of his revenge on those, whose obedience would not fulfil the will of his command.
After so many proofs of fidelity, the Shunammite cannot distrust the prophet; not staying therefore to be
convicted by the event, she removes her family into the land of the Philistines. No nation was more opposite to Israel, none more worthily odious; yet there doth the Shunammite seek and find shelter ; even the shade of those trees that are unwholesome may keep us from a storm. Every where will God find room for his own. The fields of Philistines flourish, while the soil of Israel yields nothing but weeds and barrenness. Not that Israel was more sinful, but that the sin of Israel is more intolerable. The offers of grace are so many aggravations of wickedness. In equal offences, those do justly smart more, who are more obliged. No pestilence is so contagious as that which hath taken the purest air.
These Philistine neighbours would never have endured themselves to be pestered with foreigners, especially Israelites, whom they hated, besides religion, for their usurpation: neither were they, in all likelihood, pressed with multitude. The rest of Israel were led on with hopes, presuming upon the amends of the next harvest, till their want grew desperate and irremediable; only the forewarned Shunammite prevents the mischief; now she finds what it is to have a prophet her friend. Happy are those souls, that upon all occasions consult with God's seers; they shall be freed from the plagues wherein the secure blindness of others is heedlessly overtaken.
Seven years had this Shunammite sojourned in Palestine, now she returns to her own, and is excluded. She, that found harbour among Philistines, finds oppression and violence among Israelites; those of her kindred, taking advantage of her absence, had shared her possessions. How oft doth it fall out, that the worst enemies of a man are those of his own house! All went by contraries with this Shunammite; in the famine she had enough, in the common plenty she was scanted; Philistines were kind unto her, Israelites cruel. Both our fears and our hopes do not seldom disappoint us. It is safe trusting to that stay which can never fail us, who can easily provide us both of friendship in Palestine, and of justice in Israel. We may not judge of the religion by particular actions : a very Philistine may be merciful, when an Israelite is unjust. The person may be faulty, when the profession is holy.
It was not long since the prophet made that friendly offer to the Shunammite, out of the desire of a thankful requital: “What is to be done for thee? wouldst thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host ?" and she answered, “I dwell among my brethren.” Little did she then think of this injurious measure ; else she might have said, I dwell among mine enemies, I dwell among robbers. It is like they were then friendly, who were now cruel and oppressive: there is no trust to be reposed in flesh and blood. How should their favours be constant who are in their nature and disposition variable? It is the surest way to rely on him, who is ever like himself, the measure of whose love is eternity.
Whither should the Shunammite go to complain of her wrong, but to the court? There is no other refuge of the oppressed, but public authority. All justice is derived from sovereignty: kings are not called gods for nothing; they do both sentence and execute for the Almighty.
Doubtless now the poor Shunammite thought of the courteous proffer of Elisha, and, missing a friend at the court, is glad to be the presenter of her own petition.
How happily doth God contrive all events for the good of his! This suppliant shall fall upon that instant for her suit, when the king shall be talking with Gehazi, when Gehazi shall be talking of her to the king: the words of Gehazi, the thoughts of the king, the desires of the Shunammite shall be all drawn together, by the wise providence of God, into the centre of one moment, that his oppressed servant might receive a speedy justice. Oh the infinite wisdom,