Page images

tory indignation of the people, than proceeding out of any generosity of his spirit: neither doth he say, "I will not," but, I may not.

The proud Syrian, who would have taken it in foul scorn to be denied, though he had sent for all the heads of Israel, snuffs up the wind, like the wild ass in the wilderness, and brags, and threats and swears: The gods do so to me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me. Not the men, not the goods only of Samaria shall be carried away captive, but the very earth whereon it stands; and this, with how much ease! No soldier shall need to be charged with more than a handful, to make a valley, where the mother city of Israel once stood.

O vain boaster! In whom I know not whether pride or folly be more eminent. Victory is to be achieved; not to be sworn. Future events are no matter of an oath. Thy gods (if they had been) might have been called as witnesses of thy intentions; not of that success, whereof thou wouldest be the author without them. Thy gods can do nothing to thee; nothing for thee: nothing for themselves. All thine Aramites shall not carry away one corn of sand out of Israel, except it be upon the soles of their feet, in their shameful flight: it is well, if they can carry back those skins that they brought thither. Let not him, that girdeth on his harness, boast himself, as he that putteth it off. There is no cause to fear that man, that trusts in himself. Man may cast the dice of war, but the disposition of them is of the Lord.

Ahab was lewd, but Benhadad was insolent; if therefore Ahab shall be scourged with the rod of Benhadad's fear, Benhadad shall be smitten with the sword of Ahab's revenge. Of all things, God will not endure a presumptuous and self-confident


After Elijah's flight and complaint, yet a prophet is addressed to Ahab Thus saith the Lord, Hast thou seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will deliver it into thine hand this day, and thou shalt know that I am the Lord. Who can wonder enough at this unweariable mercy of God? After the fire and rain fetched miraculously from Heaven, Ahab had promised much, performed nothing; yet again will God bless and solicit him with victory. One of those prophets, whom he persecuted to death, shall comfort his dejection, with the news of deliverance and triumph.

Had this great work been wrought without premonition, either chance, or Baal, or the golden calves, had carried away the thanks; beforehand therefore, shall Ahab know, both the author and the means of his victory; God for the author, the two hundred thirty two young men of the princes for the means.

What are these for the vanguard, and seven thousand Israelites for the main battle, against the troops of three and thirty

kings, and as many centuries of Syrians as Israel had single soldiers? An equality of number had taken away the wonder of the event; but now, the God of Hosts will be confessed in this issue, not the valour of men. How indifferent it is with thee, O Lord, to save by many, or by few; to destroy many or few! A world is no more to thee, than a man. How easy is it for thee, to enable us to be more than conquerors, over principalities and powers; to subdue spiritual wickednesses to flesh and blood! Through thee, we can do great things; yea, we can do all things, through thee that strengthenest us. Let not us want faith, we are sure there can be no want in thy power or mercy.

There was nothing in Benhadad's pavilions, but drink, and surfeit, and jollity; as if wine should make way for blood. Security is the certain usher of destruction. We never have so much cause to fear, as when we fear nothing.

This handful of Israel dares look out, upon the prophet's assurance, to the vast host of Benhadad.

It is enough for that proud pagan, to sit still and command amongst his cups. To defile their fingers with the blood of so few, seemed no mastery: that act would be inglorious, on the part of the victors. More easily might they bring in three heads of dead enemies, than one alive: imperiously enough, therefore, doth this boaster, out of his chair of state and ease, command: Whether they be come out for peace, take them alive; or whether they be come out for war, take them alive. There needs no more, but, Take them: this field is won with a word. Oh the vain and ignorant presumptions of wretched men, that will be reckoning without, against, their Maker!

Every Israelite kills his man. The Syrians flee; and cannot run away from death. Benhadad and his kings are more beholding to their horses, than to their gods or themselves, for life and safety; else they had been either taken or slain by those whom they commanded to be taken.

How easy is it for him, that made the heart, to fill it with terror and consternation, even where no fear is! Those whom God hath destined to slaughter, he will smite; neither needs he any other enemy or executioner, than what he finds in their own bosom. We are not the masters of our own courage or fears: both are put into us, by that over-ruling power that created us.

Stay now, Oh stay, thou great king of Syria; and take with thee those forgotten handfuls of the dust of Israel. Thy gods will do so to thee, and more also, if thy followers return without their vowed burden. Learn now of the despised king of Israel, from henceforth not to sound the triumph before the battle; not to boast thyself, in the girding on of thy harness, as in the putting off.

I hear not of either the public thanksgiving, or amendment of Ahab. Neither danger nor victory can change him from himself.

Benhadad and he, though enemies, agree in unrepentance: the one is no more moved with mercy, than the other with judgment.

Neither is God any changeling in his proceedings towards both. His judgment shall still follow the Syrian; his mercy, Israel: mercy both in forewarning amd redelivering Ahab ; judgment, in overthrowing Benhadad.

The prophet of God comes again, and both foretells the intended rencounter of the Syrian, and advises the care and preparation of Israel: Go, strengthen thyself and mark, and see what thou doest; for, at the return of the year, the king of Syria will come up against thee. God purposeth the deliverance of Israel; yet may not they neglect their fortifications. The merciful intentions of God towards them may not make them careless. The industry and courage of the Israelites fall within the decree of their victory. Security is the bane of good success.

It is no contemning of a foiled enemy. The shame of a former disgrace and miscarriage whets his valour, and sharpens it to revenge. No power is so dreadful, as that which is re-collected from an overthrow.

The hostility against the Israel of God may sleep, but will hardly die. If the Aramites sit still, it is but till they be fully ready for an assault: time will shew, that their cessation was only for their advantage. Neither is it otherwise with our spiritual adversaries; sometimes their onsets are intermitted: they tempt not always; they always hate us: their forbearance is not out of favour, but attendance of opportunity. Happy are we, if, out of a suspicion of their silence, we can as busily prepare for their resistance, as they do for our impugnation.

As it is a shame to be beaten, so yet the shame is less, by how much the victor is greater. To mitigate the grief and indignation of Benhadad's foil, his parasites ascribe it to gods, not to men; a human power could no more have vanquished him, than a divine power could by him be resisted: Their gods are gods of

the hills.

Ignorant Syrians, that name gods, and confine them; varying their deities, according to situations! They saw that Samaria, whence they were repelled, stood upon the hill of Shemer: they saw the temple of Jerusalem stood upon mount Sion: they knew it usual with the Israelites, to sacrifice in their high places; and perhaps they had heard of Elijah's altar upon mount Carmel: and now they sottishly measure the effects of the power, by the place of the worship; as if He, that was omnipotent on the hill, were impotent in the valley.

What doltish conceits, doth blind paganism frame to itself, of a godhead! As they have many gods, so finite. Every region, every hill, every dale, every stream hath its several gods; and each so knows his own bounds, that he dares not offer to encroach upon the other; or, if he do, buys it with loss. Who

would think, that so gross blockishness should find harbour in a reasonable soul? A man doth not alter with his station. He, that wrestled strongly upon the hill, loseth not his force in the plain all places find him alike active, alike valorous; yet these barbarous Aramites shame not, to imagine that of God, which they would blush to affirm of their own champions. Superstition infatuates the heart, out of measure; neither is there any fancy so absurd or monstrous, which credulous infidelity is not ready to entertain with applause.

In how high scorn, doth God take it, to be thus basely undervalued by rude heathen! This very mis-opinion concerning the God of Israel, shall cost the Syrians a shameful and perfect destruction. They may call a council of war, and lay their heads together, and change their kings into captains and their hills into valleys, but they shall find more graves in the plains, than in the mountains. This very misprision of God shall make Ahab, though he were more lewd, victorious. A hundred thousand Syrians shall fall in one day, by those few hands of Israel; and a dead wall in Aphek, to whose shelter they fled, shall revenge God, upon the rest that remained. The stones in the wall shall rather turn executioners, than a blasphemous Aramite shall escape unrevenged. So much doth the jealous God hate to be robbed of his glory, even by ignorant pagans, whose tongues might seem no slander!

That proud head of Benhadad, that spoke such big words of the dust of Israel, and swore by his gods, that he would kill and conquer, is now glad to hide itself in a blind hole of Aphek; and now, instead of questioning the power of the God of Israel, is glad to hear of the mercy of the kings of Israel: Behold, now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings; let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes on our heads, and go out to the king of Israel: peradventure he will save thy life.

There can be no more powerful attractive of humble submission, than the intimation and conceit of mercy. We do, at once, fear and hate the inexorable. This is it, O Lord, that allures us to thy throne of grace, the knowledge of the grace of that throne. With thee is mercy, and plenteous redemption. Thy hand is open before our mouths; before our hearts. If we did not see thee smile upon suitors, we durst not press to thy footstool. Behold now, we know that the King of Heaven, the God of Israel, is a merciful God let us put sackcloth upon our loins, and strew ashes upon our heads, and go meet the Lord God of Israel, that he may save our souls.

How well doth this habit become insolent and blasphemous Benhadad and his followers, a rope and sackcloth! A rope, for a crown; sackcloth, for a robe.

Neither is there less change in the tongue : Thy servant Ben

hadad saith, I pray thee let me live. Even now the king of Israel said to Benhadad, My lord, O king, I am thine: tell my lord the king, all that thou didst send for to thy servant, I will do. Now Benhadad sends to the king of Israel, Thy servant Benhadad saith, I pray thee, let me live. He, that was erewhile a lord and king, is now a servant; and he, that was a servant to the king of Syria, is now his lord: he, that would blow away all Israel in dust, is now glad to beg for his own life, at the door of a despised enemy. No courage is so haughty, which the God of Hosts cannot easily bring under. What are men or devils, in those Almighty hands?

The greater the dejection was, the stronger was the motive of commiseration. That halter pleaded for life; and that plea but for a life, stirred the bowels for favour. How readily did Ahab see in Benhadad's sudden misery, the image of the instability of all human things! and relents at the view of so deep and passionate a submission.

Had not Benhadad said, Thy servant, Ahab had never said, My brother. Seldom ever was there loss in humility. How much less can we fear disparagement, in the annihilating of ourselves, before that Infinite Majesty!

The drowning man snatches at every twig. It is no marvel, if the messengers of Benhadad caught hastily at that last of grace, and hold it fast: Thy brother Benhadad.

Favours are wont to draw on each other: kindnesses breed on themselves; neither need we any other persuasion to beneficence, than from our own acts. Ahab calls for the king of Syria; sets him in his own chariot; treats with him of an easy, yet firm, league; gives him both his life and his kingdom.

Neither is the crown of Syria sooner lost, than recovered. Only, he, that came a free prince, returns tributary: only, his train is clipped too short for his wings; a hundred and twentyseven thousand Syrians are abated of his guard, homeward.

Blasphemy hath escaped too well. Ahab hath, at once, peace with Benhadad, war with God. God proclaims it by his herald, one of the sons of the prophets; not yet in his own form, but disguised, both in fashion and complaint.

It was a strange suit of a prophet, Smite me, I pray thee. Many a prophet was smitten, and would not; never any but this wished to be smitten. The rest of his fellows were glad to say, Save me; this only says, Smite me.

His honest neighbour, out of love and reverence, forbears to strike. "There are too many," thinks he, "that smite the prophets, though I refrain. What wrong hast thou done, that I should repay with blows? Hadst thou sued for a favour, I could not have denied thee: now thou suest for thy hurt, the denial is a favour." Thus he thought, but charity cannot excuse disobedience. Had the man of God called for blows upon his own

« PreviousContinue »