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tempt the holily resolute: they can trample upon dangers or honours, with a careless foot; and, whether they be smiled or frowned on by the great, dare not either alter or conceal their errand.
The question is moved to Micaiah. He, at first, so yields, that he contradicts; yields in words, contradicts in pronunciation. The syllables are for them, the sound against them. Ironies deny strongest, in affirming. And now, being pressed home, he tells them, that God had showed him those sheep of Israel should ere long, by this means, want their shepherd. The very resemblance, to a good prince, had been affecting. The sheep is a helpless creature; not able, either to guard or guide itself. All the safety, all the direction of it, is from the keeper; without whom, every cur chases and worries it, every track seduceth it. Such shall Israel soon be, if Ahab be ruled by his prophets.
The king of Israel doth not believe, but quarrel: not at himself, who had deserved evil, but at the prophet, who foresignified it; and is more careful, that the king of Judah should mark how true he had foretold concerning the prophet, than how the prophet had foretold concerning him.
Bold Micaiah, as no whit discouraged with the unjust checks of greatness, doubles his prediction; and by a second vision, particulariseth the means of this dangerous error. While the two kings sat majestically in their thrones, he tells them of a more glorious throne than theirs, whereon he saw the God of kings sitting. While they were compassed with some hundreds of prophets and thousands of subjects and soldiers, he tells them of all the host of heaven, attending that other throne. While they were deliberating of a war, he tells them of a God of heaven, justly decreeing the judgment of a deadly deception to Ahab.
The decree of the Highest is not more plainly revealed, than expressed parabolically. The wise and holy God is represented, after the manner of men, consulting of that ruin, which he intended to the wicked king of Israel. That uncreated and infinite wisdom needs not the advice of any finite and created powers, to direct him; needs not the assent and aid of any spirit, for his execution; much less, of an evil one: yet here an evil spirit is brought in, by way of vision mixed with parable, proffering the service of his lie, accepted, employed, suc
These figures are not void of truth. The action and event are reduced to a decree: the decree is shadowed out, by the resemblance of human proceedings. All evil motions and counsels are originally from that malignant spirit. That evil spirit could have no power over men, but by the permission, by the decree, of the Almighty. That Almighty, as he is no author
of sin, so he ordinates all evil to good. It is good, that is just: it is good, that one sin should be punished by another. Satan is herein no other, than the executioner of that God, who is as far from infusing evil, as from not revenging it. Now Ahab sees the ground, of that applaused consent of his rabble of prophets. One evil spirit hath no less deceived them, than they their master. He is one; therefore he agrees with himself: he is evil; therefore both he and they agree in deceit.
Oh the noble and undaunted spirit of Micaiah! Neither the thrones of the kings, nor the number of the prophets, could abate one word of his true, though displeasing, message. The king of Israel shall hear, that he is misled by liars; they, by a
Surely, Jehoshaphat cannot but wonder at so unequal a contention, to see one silly prophet affronting four hundred; with whom, lest confidence should carry it, behold Zedekiah more bold, more zealous. If Micaiah have given him, with his fellows, the lie, he gives Micaiah the fist.
Before these two great guardians of peace and justice, swaggering Zedekiah smites Micaiah on the face; and, with the blow, expostulates: Which way went the Spirit of the Lord from me, to speak unto thee? For a prophet to smite a prophet, in the face of two kings, was intolerably insolent. The act was much unbeseeming the person; more, the presence. Prophets may reprove; they may not strike. It was enough for Ahab to punish with the hand. No weapon was for Zedekiah, but his tongue. Neither could this rude presumption have been well taken, if malice had not made magistracy insensible of this usurpation. Ahab was well content, to see that hated mouth beaten by any hand. It is no new condition of God's faithful messengers, to smart for saying truth. Falsehood doth not more bewray itself, in any thing than in blows. Truth suffers, while error persecutes. None are more ready to boast of the Spirit of God, than those that have the least: as in vessels, the full are silent.
Innocent Micaiah neither defends nor complains. It would have well beseemed the religious king of Judah, to have spoken in the cause of the dumb; to have checked insolent Zedekiah : he is content to give way to this tide of peremptory and general opposition
The helpless prophet stands alone, yet lays about him with his tongue; Behold, thou shalt see in that day, when thou shalt go into an inner chamber and hide thyself. Now, the proud Baalite shewed himself too much: ere long, he shall be glad to lurk unseen his horns of iron cannot bear off his danger. The son of Ahab cannot choose but, in the zeal of revenging his father's deadly seducement, call for that false head of Zedekiah: in vain shall that impostor seek to hide himself from justice: but, in the
mean while, he goes away with honour; Micaiah, with censure: Take Micaiah, and carry him back to Amon the governor of the city, and to Joash the king's son; and say, Thus saith the king, Put this fellow in prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I come in peace. A hard doom of truth! The gaol for his lodging, coarse bread and water for his food, shall but reserve Micaiah for a further revenge. The return of Ahab shall be the bane of the prophet.
Was not this he, that advised Benhadad, not to boast in the putting on his armour, as in the ungirding it; and doth he now promise himself peace and victory, before he buckle it on? No warning will dissuade the wilful.
So assured doth Ahab make himself of success, that he threats, ere he what he will do when he returns in peace. go, How justly doth God deride the misreckonings of proud and foolish men! If Ahab had no other sins, his very confidence shall defeat him.
Yet the prophet cannot be overcome in his resolution: he knows his grounds cannot deceive him, and dare therefore cast the credit of his function upon this issue; If thou return at all in peace, the Lord hath not spoken by me: and he said, Hearken, O people, every one of you. Let him never be called a prophet, that dare not trust his God. This was no adventure, therefore, of reputation or life. Since he knew whom he believed, the event was no less sure, than if it had been past. He is no God, that is not constant to himself. Hath he spoken, and shall he not perform? What hold have we for our souls, but his eternal word? The being of God is not more sure, than his promises, than his sentences of judgment. Well may we appeal the testimony of the world, in both if there be not plagues for the wicked, if there be not rewards for the righteous, God hath not spoken by us.
Not Ahab only, but good Jehoshaphat, is carried with the multitude. Their forces are joined against Ramoth.
The king of Israel doth not so trust his prophets, that he dares trust himself in his own clothes. Thus shall he elude Micaiah's threat. I wis, the judgment of God, the Syrian shafts, cannot find him out, in this unsuspected disguise! How fondly do vain men imagine to shift off the just revenges of the Almighty!
The king of Syria gives charge to his captains, to fight against none, but the king of Israel. Thus doth the unthankful infidel repay the mercy of his late victor. Ill was the snake saved, that requites the favour of his life with a sting. Thus still, the greatest are the fairest mark to envious eyes. By how much more eminent any man is in the Israel of God, so many more, and more dangerous enemies must he expect. Both earth and hell conspire, in their opposition to the worthiest. Those,
who are advanced above others, have so much more need of the guard, both of their own vigilancy and others' prayers.
Jehoshaphat had like to have paid dear for his love. He is pursued for him, in whose amity he offended. His cries deliver him: his cries, not to his pursuers, but to his God; whose mercy takes not advantage of our infirmity, but rescues us from those evils, which we wilfully provoke. It is Ahab, against whom, not the Syrians only, but God himself intends this quarrel. The enemy is taken off from Jehoshaphat.
O the just and mighty hand of that Divine Providence, which directeth all our actions to his own ends; which takes order, where every shaft shall light; and guides the arrow of the strong archer, into the joints of Ahab's harness! It was shot at a venture; falls by a destiny; and there falls, where it may carry death to a hidden debtor. In all actions, both voluntary and casual, thy will, O God, shall be done by us, with whatever intentions. Little did the Syrian know whom he had stricken; no more than the arrow, wherewith he struck. An invisible hand disposed of both, to the punishment of Ahab, to the vindication of Micaiah. How worthily, O God, art thou to be adored, in thy justice and wisdom to be feared, in thy judgments!
Too late, doth Ahab now think of the fair warnings of Micaiah, which he unwisely contemned; of the painful flatteries of Zedekiah, which he stubbornly believed. That guilty blood of his runs down out of his wound, into the midst of his chariot, and
pays Naboth his arrearages. O Ahab, what art thou the better
for thine ivory house, while thou hast a black soul? What comfort hast thou now in those flattering prophets, which tickled thine ears and secured thee of victories? What joy is it to thee now, that thou wast great? Who would not rather be Micaiah in the gaol, than Ahab in the chariot? Wicked men have the advantage of the way; godly men, of the end.
The chariot is washed in the pool of Samaria: the dogs come to claim their due; they lick up the blood of the king of Israel. The tongues of those brute creatures shall make good the tongue of God's prophet. Micaiah is justified; Naboth is revenged: the Baalites, confounded; Ahab, judged: Righteous art thou, O God, in all thy ways, and holy in all thy works.
CONTEMPLATION IV.-AHAZIAH SICK, AND
2 KINGS 1.
AHAZIAH succeeded his father Ahab, both in his throne and in his sin. Who could look for better issue of those loins, of those examples?
God follows him with a double judgment; of the revolt of Moab, and of his own sickness. All the reign of Ahab, had Moab been a quiet tributary; and furnished Israel with rich flocks and fleeces: now their subjection dies with that warlike king, and will not be inherited. This rebellion took advantage, as from the weaker spirits, so from the sickly body of Ahaziah; whose disease was not natural, but casual. Walking in his palace of Samaria, some grate in the floor of his chamber breaks under him; and gives way to that fall, whereby he is bruised and languisheth. The same hand, that guided Ahab's shaft, cracks Ahaziah's lattice. How infinite variety of plagues, hath the just God for obstinate sinners! Whether in the field or in the chamber, he knows to find them out. How fearlessly did Ahaziah walk on his wonted pavement! The Lord hath laid a trap for him, whereinto, while he thinks least, he falls irrecoverably. No place is safe for the man, that is at variance with God.
The body of Ahaziah was not more sick, than his soul was graceless. None but chance was his enemy; none but the god of Ekron must be his friend. He looks not up to the omnipotent hand of divine justice for the disease, or of mercy for the remedy: an idol is his refuge; whether for cure, or intelligence.
We hear not till now of Baal-zebub. This new god of flies is, perhaps, of his making, who now is a suitor to his own erection. All these heathen deities were but a devil, with change of appellations: the influence of that evil spirit deluded those miserable clients; else, there was no fly so impotent, as that outside of the god of Ekron. Who would think, that any Israelite could so far doat upon a stock, a fiend?
Time gathered much credit to this idol; insomuch as the Jews afterwards styled Beel-zebub, the prince of all the regions of darkAhaziah is the first that brings his oracle in request, and pays him the tribute of his devotion. He sends messengers, and says, Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover of this disease.
The message was either idle or wicked: idle, if he sent it to a stock; if to a devil, both idle and wicked. What can the most intelligent spirits know of future things, but what they see either in their causes, or in the light of participation? What a madness was it in Ahaziah, to seek to the postern, while the foregate stood open! Could those evil spirits truly foretel events no way pre-existent, yet they might not, without sin, be consulted.. The evil of their nature debars all the benefits of their information. If not as intelligencers, much less may they be sought to, as gods. Who cannot blush, to hear and see, that even the very evangelical Israel should yield pilgrims to the shrines of darkness? How many, after this clear light of the Gospel, in their losses, in their sicknesses, send to these infernal oracles; and damn themselves wilfully, in a vain curiosity!