« PreviousContinue »
phemer or a traitor, yet these men were no better than murderers. What difference is there, betwixt the stroke of magistracy and of manslaughter, but due conviction?
Wickedness never spake out of a throne, and complained of the defect of instruments. Naboth was, it seems, strictly conscionable; his fellow citizens, loose and lawless. They are glad to have gotten such an opportunity of his dispatch. No clause of Ahab's letter is not observed. A fast is warned; the city is. assembled; Naboth is convented, accused, confronted, sentenced, stoned his vineyard is escheated to the crown; Ahab takes speedy and quiet possession.
How still doth God sit in heaven, and look upon the complots of treachery and villainies, as if they did not concern him! The. success so answers their desires, as if both heaven and earth were their friends. It is the plague, which seems the felicity, of sinners, to speed well in their lewd enterprises. No reckoning is brought in the midst of the meal: the end pays for all.
While Ahab is rejoicing in his new garden-plot, and promising himself contentment in this commodious enlargement, in comes Elijah; sent from God, with an errand of vengeance. Methinks, I see how the king's countenance changed; with what aghast eyes, and pale cheeks, he looked upon that unwelcome. prophet. Little pleasure took he in his prospect, while it was clogged with such a guest; yet his tongue begins first, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?
Great is the power of conscience. Upon the last meeting, for ought we know, Ahab and Elijah parted friends: the prophet had lackeyed his coach, and took a peaceable leave at the town's end now Ahab's heart told him, neither needed any other messenger, that God and his prophet were fallen out with him. His continuing idolatry, now seconded with blood, bids him look for nothing but frowns from heaven. A guilty heart can never be at peace. Had not Ahab known how ill he had deserved of God, he had never saluted his prophet by the name of an enemy. He had never been troubled to be found by Elijah, if his own breast had not found him out for an enemy to God.
Much good may thy vineyard do thee, O thou king of Israel.. Many fair flowers and savoury herbs may thy new garden yield thee. Please thyself with thy Jezebel, in the triumph over the carcase of a scrupulous subject. Let me rather die with Naboth, than rejoice with thee! His turn is over; thine, is to come. The stones, that overwhelmed innocent Naboth, were nothing to those that smite thee: Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? Thus saith the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.
What meanest thou, O Elijah, to charge this murder upon Ahab? He kept his chamber; Jezebel wrote; the elders condemned; the people stoned; yet thou sayest, Hast thou killed?
Well did Ahab know, that Jezebel could not give this vineyard, with dry hands; yet was he content, to wink at what she should do. He but sits still, while Jezebel works; only, his signet is suffered to walk, for the sealing of this unknown purchase. Those, that are trusted with authority, may offend no less in connivancy or neglect, than others in act, in participation. Not only command, consent, countenance, but very permission feoffs public persons in those sins, which they might and will not prevent.
God loves to punish by retaliation. Naboth and Ahab shall both bleed: Naboth, by the stones of the Jezreelites; Ahab, by the shafts of the Aramites: the dogs shall taste of the blood of both. What Ahab hath done in cruelty, he shall suffer in justice. The case and the end make the difference; happy on Naboth's side, on Ahab's woeful: Naboth bleeds as a martyr; Ahab, as a murderer. Whatever is Ahab's condition, Naboth changes a vineyard on earth, for a kingdom in heaven. Never any wicked man gained, by the persecution of an innocent: never any innocent man was a loser, by suffering from the wicked.
Neither was this judgment personal, but hereditary: I will take away thy posterity; and will make thine house like the house of Jeroboam. Him, that dieth of Ahab in the city, the dogs shall eat; and him, that dieth in the field, shall the fowls of the air eat. Ahab shall not need to take thought, for the traducing of this ill-gotten inheritance: God hath taken order for his heirs; whom his sin hath made no less the heirs of his curse, than of his body. Their father's cruelty to Naboth hath made them, together with their mother Jezebel, dog's-meat. The revenge of God doth, at last, make amends for the delay. Whether now is Naboth's vineyard paid for? The man, that had sold himself to work wickedness, yet rues the bargain.
I do not hear Ahab, as bad as he was, revile or threaten the prophet; but he rends his clothes, and wears and lies in sackcloth, and fasts, and walks softly. Who, that had seen Ahab, would not have deemed him a true penitent? All this was the visor of sorrow, not the face; or if the face, not the heart; or if the sorrow of the heart, yet not the repentance; a sorrow for the judgment, not a repentance for the sin. The very devils howl to be tormented. Grief is not ever a sign of grace. Ahab rends his clothes; he did not rend his heart: he puts on sackcloth, not amendment: he lies in sackcloth, but he lies in his idolatry he walks softly; he walks not sincerely. Worldly sorrow causeth death. Happy is that grief, for which the soul is
Yet what is this I see? This very shadow of repentance carries away mercy. It is no small mercy, to defer an evil. Even Ahab's humiliation shall prorogue the judgment. Such as
the penitence was, such shall be the reward; a temporary reward of a temporary penitence. As Ahab might be thus sorrowful, and never the better; so he may be thus favoured, and never the happier. O God, how graciously art thou ready, to reward a sound and holy repentance, who art thus indulgent to a carnal and servile dejection!
CONTEMPLATION III.-AHAB AND MICAIAH; OR, THE DEATH OF AHAB.
1 KINGS XXII.; 2 CHRONICLES XVIII.
WHO would have looked, to have heard any more of the wars of the Syrians with Israel, after so great a slaughter, after so firm a league; a league, not of peace only, but of brotherhood? The halters, the sackcloth, of Benhadad's followers, were worn out, as of use, so of memory; and now they are changed for iron and steel.
It is but three years, that this peace lasts; and now that war begins, which shall make an end of Ahab. The king of Israel rues his unjust mercy. According to the word of the prophet, that gift of a life was but an exchange. Because Ahab gave Benhadad his life, Benhadad shall take Ahab's. He must forfeit in himself, what he hath given to another. There can be no better fruit, of too much kindness to infidels.
It was one article of the league betwixt Ahab and his brother Benhadad, that there should be a speedy restitution of all the Israelitish cities. The rest are yielded: only Ramoth Gilead is held back, unthankfully, injuriously. He, that begged but his life, receives his kingdom; and now rests not content, with his own bounds. Justly doth Ahab challenge his own: justly doth he move a war, to recover his own from a perfidious tributary. The lawfulness of actions may not be judged by the events, but by the grounds. The wise and holy arbiter of the world knows why, many times, the better cause hath the worse success. Many a just business is crossed, for a punishment to the agent.
Yet Israel and Judah were now pieced in friendship. Jehoshaphat, the good king of Judah, had made affinity with Ahab, the idolatrous king of Israel; and, besides a personal visitation, joins his forces with his new kinsman, against an old confederate. Judah had called in Syria, against Israel; and now Israel calls in Judah, against Syria. Thus rather should it be. It is fit, that the more pure church should join with the more corrupt, against a common paganish enemy.
Jehoshaphat hath matched with Ahab; not with a divorce of his devotion. He will fight, not without God; Inquire, I pray thee, at the word of the Lord, to-day. Had he done thus ooner,
I fear Athaliah had never called him father. This motion was news in Israel: it was wont to be said, "Inquire of Baal." The good king of Judah will bring religion into fashion, in the court of Israel. Ahab had inquired of his counsellors; what needed he be so devout, as to inquire of his prophets? Only Jehoshaphat's presence made him thus godly. It is a happy thing, to converse with the virtuous: their counsel and example cannot but leave some tincture behind them, of a good profession, if not of piety. Those, that are truly religious, dare not but take God. with them in all their affairs: with him they can be as valiant, as timorous without him.
Ahab had clergy enough, such as it was. Four hundred prophets of the groves were reserved, from appearing to Elijah's challenge. These are now consulted by Ahab. They live to betray the life of him, who saved theirs.
These care not so much to inquire, what God would say, as what Ahab would have them say. They saw which way the king's heart was bent; that way they bent their tongues: Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it into the hands of the king. False prophets care only to please. A plausible falsehood passes with them above a harsh truth. Had they seen Ahab fearful, they had said, "Peace, peace!" Now they see him resolute, "War and victory." It is a fearful presage of ruin, when the prophets conspire in assentation.
Their number, consent, confidence, hath easily won credit with Ahab. We do all willingly believe what we wish. Jehoshaphat is not so soon satisfied. These prophets were, it is like, obtruded to him, a stranger, for the true prophets of the true God. The judicious king sees cause to suspect them; and now, perceiving at what altars they served, hates to rest in their testimony; Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might inquire of him? One single prophet speaking from the oracles of God, is more worth, than four hundred Baalites. Truth may not ever be measured by the poll. It is not number, but weight, that must carry it, in a council of prophets. A solid verity in one mouth, is worthy to preponderate light falsehood in a thousand.
Even king Ahab, as bad as he was, kept tale of his prophets; and could give account of one that was missing. There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the Lord; but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.
It is very probable, that Micaiah was that disguised prophet, who brought to Ahab the fearful message of displeasure and death, for dismissing Benhadad; for which he was ever since fast in prison, deep in disgrace.
O corrupt heart of self-condemned Ahab! If Micaiah spake true to thee, how was it evil? If others said false, how was it
good? And if Micaiah spake from the Lord, why dost thou hate him?
This hath wont to be the ancient lot of truth, censure and hatred; censure of the message, hatred of the bearer. To carnal ears the message is evil, if unpleasing; and if plausible, good: if it be sweet, it cannot be poison; if bitter, it cannot be wholesome. The distemper of the receiver is guilty of this misconceit. In itself, every truth, as it is good, so amiable; every falsehood, loathsome as evil. A sick palate cries out of the taste of those liquors, which are well allowed of the healthful, It is a sign of a good state of the soul, when every vendure can receive his proper judgment.
Wise and good Jehoshaphat dissuades Ahab, from so hard an opinion; and sees cause, so much more to urge the consultation of Micaiah, by how much he finds him more unpleasing. The king of Israel, to satisfy the importunity of so great and dear an ally, sends an officer for Micaiah. He knew well, belike, where to find him; within those four walls, where unjust cruelty had disposed of that innocent seer. Out of the obscurity of the prison, is the poor prophet fetched in the light of so glorious a confession of two kings; who thought this convocation of prophets not unworthy of their greatest representation of state and majesty. There he finds Zedekiah, the leader of that false crew; not speaking only, but acting his prediction. Signs were no less used by the prophets, than words. This arch flatterer hath made him horns of iron: the horn is forcible, the iron irresistible by an irresistible force, shall Ahab push the Syrians; as if there were more certainty in this man's hands, than in his tongue.
If this son of Chenaanah had not had a forehead of brass for impudency, and a heart of lead for flexibleness to humours and times, he had never devised these horns of iron, wherewith his king was gored unto blood. Howsoever, it is enough for him, that he is believed, that he is seconded. All the great inquest of these prophets gave up their verdict, by this foreman: not one, of four hundred, dissented. Unanimity of opinion in the greatest ecclesiastical assemblies, is not ever an argument of truth: there may be as common and as firm agreement in
The messenger that came for Micaiah, like a carnal friend, sets him in a way of favour: tells him what the rest said, how they pleased; how unsafe it would be for him to vary, how beneficial to assent. Those that adore earthly greatness, think every man should doat upon their idols; and hold no terms too high, for their ambitious purposes.
Faithful Micaiah scorns the motion. He knows the price of the word, and contemns it; As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak. Neither fears nor favours can