« PreviousContinue »
] JEHU AND THE SONS OF AHAB. 19 entertain the hope of a safe and prosperous resistance, but basely return, "We are thy servants, and will do all that thou shalt bid us; we will not make any king; do thou that which is good in thine eyes.
Well may Jehu think, These men, which are thus disloyal to their charge, cannot be faithful to me; it is their fear that draws them to this observation : were they not cowards they would not be traitors to their princes, subjects to me: I may use their hands, but I will not trust them. It is a thankless obedience that is grounded upon fear; there can be no true fidelity without love and reverence. Neither is other betwixt God and us; if out of a dread of hell we be officious, who shall thank us for these respects to ourselves?
As one that had tasted already the sweetness of a resolute expedition, Jehu writes back instantly, “ If ye be mine, and if ye will hearken unto my voice, take ye the heads of the men your master's sons, and come to me to Jezreel to-morrow this time.” Valiant Jehu was so well acquainted with the nature of fear, that he well knew this passion, once grown desperate, would be ready to swallow all conditions ; so far therefore doth his wisdom improve it, as to make these peers his executioners, who presently, upon the receipt of his charge, turn cruel, and by a joint consent fetch off the seventy beads of those princes, whom they undertook to guard, whom they had flattered with the hopes of greater honour.
No doubt, but amongst so many sons of Ahab, some had 50 demeaned themselves, that they had won zealous professions of love from their guardians. Except, perhaps, death stole upon them in sleep, what tears, what entreaties, what conjurations must here needs have been
What have we done, O ye peers of Israel, that might deserve this bloody measure? we are the sons of Ahab, therefore have ye hitherto professed to observe us : what change is this? why should that, which hath hitherto kept you loyal, now make you cruel ? is this the reward of the long peaceable government of our father? are these the trophies of Ahab's victories against Benhadad, Jeboram's against Hazael? If we may not reign, yet at least let us live : or, if we must die, why will your hands be embrued in that blood which
had wort to terin royal and sacred ? why will ye of tutors turn murderers? All pleas are in vain to them that are deafened with
their own fears. Perhaps these expostulations might have fetched some dews of pity from the eyes, and kisses from the lips of these unfaithful tutors, but cannot prevent the stroke of death. These crocodiles weep upon those whom they must kill; and if their own sons had been in the place of Ahab's, doubtless they had been sacrificed to the will of an usurper, to the parent's safety. It is ill relying upon timorous natures ; upon every occasion, those crazy reeds will break, and run into our hands. How worthy were Ahab and Jezebel of such friends! They had been ever false to God, how should men be true to them? They had sold themselves to work wickedness, and now they are requited with a mercenary fidelity : for a few lines have these men sold all the heads of Ahab's posterity. Could ever the policy of Jezebel have reached so far, as to suspect the possibility of the extirpation of so ample an issue, in one night, by the hands of her trustiest subjects ?
Now she, that by her letters sent to the elders of Jezreel, shed the blood of Naboth and his sons, bath the blood of all her sons shed, by a letter sent from Jezreel to the elders of Samaria. At last, God will be sure to come out of the debt of wicked sinners, and will pay them with that coin, which is both most proper, and least looked for.
Early in the morning, in that gate of Jezreel where Abab had passed many an unjust sentence, is presented unto Jehu the fearful pledge of his sovereignty, seventy ghastly heads of the sons of Ahab.
Some carnal eye, that had seen so many young and smooth faces besmeared with blood, would have melted into compassion, bemoaning their harmless age, their untimely end. It is not for the justice of God to stand at the bar of our corrupted judgment. Except we include some grandchildren of Ahab within this number, none of these died before they were seasoned with horrible idolatry; or, if they had, they were in the loins of Ahab when he sold himself to work wickedness ; and now it is just with God to punish Ahab's wickedness in this fruit of his loins. The holy severity of God, in the revenge of sin, sometimes goes so far, that our ignorance is ready to mistake it for cruelty.
The wonder and horror of those two heaps hath easily drawn together the people of Jezreel. Jehu meets them in that seat of public judgment; and, finding much amazedness and passionate confusion in their faces, he clears them, and sends them to the true original of these sudden and astonishing massacres.
However his own conspiracy, and the cowardly treachery of the princes of Israel had been, not without their heinous sin, the visible means of this judgment, yet he directs their eyes to an higher authority, the just decree of the Almighty, manifested by his servant Elijah, who, even by the willing sins of men, can most wisely, most hostilely fetch about his most righteous and blessed purposes.
If the peers of Samaria out of a base fear, if Jehu out of an ambition of reigning, shed the foul blood of Ahab's posterity, the sin is their own ; but, in the mean time, the act is no other than what the infinite justice of God would justly work by their misintentions. Let these Israelites but look up
from earth to heaven, these tragical changes cannot trouble them; thither Jehu sends them, wiping off the envy of all this blood, by the warrant of the divine pre-ordination. In obedience whereunto, he sends after these heirs of Ahab all his kinsfolks, favourites, priests, that remained in Jezreel; and now, having cleared these coasts, he hastens to Samaria : whom should he meet with in the way, but the brethren of Ahaziah king of Judah, they are going to visit their cousins the sons of Ahab. This young troop was thinking of nothing but jollity, and courtly entertainment, when they meet with death. So suddenly, so secretly had :Jehu dispatched these bold xecutions, that these princes could imagine no cause of suspicion. How could they think it might be dangerous to be known for the brethren of Ahaziah, or friends to the brehren of Jehoram? The just providence of the Almighty hath brought all this covey under one net. Jehu thinks it not safe o let go so many avengers of Ahaziah's blood, so many corrivals of his sovereignty. The unhappy affinity of Jehoshawhat with Ahab is no less guilty of this slaughter than Jehu's .ibition : this match, by the inoculation of one bud, hath ainted all the sap of the house of Judah. The two and forty irethren of Ahaziah are therefore sent after the seventy sons of Ahab, that they may overtake them in death, whom they came to visit : God will much less brook idolatry from the oins of a Jehoshaphat. Our entireness with wicked men feoffs is both in their sins and judgments.
Doubtless, many Israelites, that were devoted to the family and allies of Ahab, looked (what they durst) awry at this common effusion of royal blood; yet, in the worst of the depravedness of Israel, there were some which both drooped under the deplored idolatry of the times, and congratulated to Jehu this severe vindication of God's inheritance: amongst the rest, Jonadab the son of Rechab was most eminent. That man was by descent derived from Jethro, a Midianite by nation, but incorporated into Israel ; a man whose piety and strict conversation did both teach and shame those twelve tribes to which he was joined. He was the author of an austere rule of civility to his posterity, to whom he debarred the use of wines, cities, possessions. This old and rough friend of Jehu, out of his moving habitations, meets him, and applauds his success. He that allowed not wine to his seed, allows the blood of Ahab's seed poured out by the hand of Jehu: he, that shunned the city, is carried in Jehu's chariot to the palace of Samaria.
How easily might Jehu have been deceived! Many a one professes uprightness, who yet is all guile. Jonadab's carriage hath been such, that his word merits trust. It is a blessing upon the plain-hearted, that they can be believed. Honest Jonadab is admitted to the honour of Jehu's seat, and called, instead of many, to witness the zeal of the new anointed king of Israel.
While Jehu had to do with kings, his cunning and his courage held equal pace together ; but now, that he is to deal with idolatrous priests, bis wile goes alone, and prevails: he calls the people together, and, dissembling his intentions, says,
Ahab served Baal a little, but Jehu shall serve him much ; now therefore call unto me all the prophets of Baal, all his servants, and all his priests, let none be wanting; for I have a great sacrifice to do to Baal : whosoever shall be wanting, he shall not live.”
What a dead paleness was there now in the faces of those few true-hearted Israelites, that looked for an happy restoration of the religion of God! How could they choose but think, Alas! how are we fallen from our hopes ! is this the change we looked for? was it only ambition that hath set this edge upon the sword of Jehu ? It was not the person of Ahab that we dislike, but the sins; if those must still succeed, what have we gained? Woe be to us, if only the author of our misery be changed, not the condition, not the cause of our misery
On the other side, what insultations and triumphs sounded every where of the joyful Baalites! what glorying of the truth of their profession, becayse of the success! what scorns of their dejected opposites ! what exprobations of the disappointed hopes and predictions of their adverse prophets ! what promises of themselves of a perpetuity of Baalism!How did the dispersed priests of Baal now flock together, and applaud each other's happiness, and magnify the devotions of their new sovereign! Never had that idol so glorious a day as this for the pomp of his service ; before, he was adored singly in corners, now solemn sacrifices shall be offered to him by all his clients, in the great temple of the mother city of Israel. I can commend the zeal of Jehu, I cannot commend the fraud of Jehu. We may come to our end, even by crooked ways. He that bade him to smite for him, did not bid him to lie for him. Falsehood, though it be but tentative, is neither needed nor approved by the God of truth. If policy have allowed officious untruths, religion never.
By this device the house of Baal is well furnished, well filled ; not one of his Chemarim either might or would be absent: not one of those whịch were present might be unrobed. False gods have ever affected to initate the true : even Baal hath temples, altars, priests, vestinents : all religions have allotted peculiar habits to their highest devotions.. These vestments, which they miscalled sacred, are brought forth and put on, for the glory of this service.
Jebu and Jonadab are first careful that this separation be exact ; they search and see that no servant of the Lord be crept into that throng. What should a religious Israelite do in the temple of Baal ? were any such there, he had deserved their smart, who would partake with their worship; but if curiosity should have drawn any thither, the mercy of Jebu seeks his rescue. How much more favourable is the God of mercies, in not taking advantage of our infirmities !
Well inight this search have bred suspicion, were it not, that in all those idolatrous sacrifices, the first care was to avoid the profane : even Baal would admit no mixture, how should the true God abide it?
Nothing wanted now, but the sacrifice. No doubt whole herds and flocks were ready for a pretence of some royal hecatombs, whereof some had now already smoked on their altars. O Jebu, what means this dilation ? If thou abhorrest