« PreviousContinue »
else they durst not have spoken to him by so obnoxious a tongue; Thy father made our yoke grievous; make thou it lighter, and we
will serve thee.
Doubtless the crafty head of Jeroboam was in this suit, which his mouth uttered in the name of Israel. Nothing could have been more subtle: it seemed a promise; it was a threat. That, which seemed a supplication, was a complaint: humility was but a veil of discontentment: one hand held a paper; the other a sword. Had they said, "Free us from tributes," the capitulation had been gross, and strongly savouring of sedition: now they say, Ease us, they profess his power to impose, and their willingness to yield; only craving favour in the weight of the imposition. If Rehoboam yield, he blemishes his father; if he deny, he endangers his kingdom: his wilfulness shall seem worthily to abandon his sceptre, if he stick at so unreasonable a suit. Surely, Israel came with a purpose to cavil. Jeroboam had secretly troubled these waters, that he might fish more gainfully one malcontent is enough to embroil a whole kingdom.
How harshly must it needs sound in the ears of Rehoboam, that the first word he hears from his people, is a querulous challenge of his father's government; Thy father made our yoke grievous!
For ought I see, the suggestion was not more spiteful, than unjust. Where was the weight of this yoke, the toil of the services? Here were none of the turmoils of war: no trainings, marchings, encampings, entrenchings, watchings, minings, sieges, fortifications: none of that tedious world of work, that attends hostility. Solomon had not his name for nought. All was calm during that long reign; and if they had paid dear for their peace, they had no cause to complain of a hard match. The warlike times of Saul and David had exhausted their blood, together with their substance. What ingratitude was this, to cry out of ease! "Yea, but that peace brought forth costly and laborious buildings. God's house and the king's, the walls of Jerusalem, Hazar, Megiddo, and Gezer, the cities of store, the cities of defence, could not rise without many a shoulder.” True; but not of any Israelites. The remainders of Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, were put to all the drudgery of these great works. The tasks of Israel were easy and ingenuous; free from servility, free from painfulness. "But the charge was theirs, whosesoever was the labour. The diet of so endless a retinue, the attendance of his seraglio, the purveyance for his forty thousand stables, the cost of his sacrifices, must needs weigh heavy." Certainly; if it had lain on none but his But wherefore went Solomon's navy every three years to Ophir? To what use served the six hundred threescore and six talents of gold, that came in one year to his exchequer? Wherefore served the large tributes of foreign nations? How did he
make silver to be in Jerusalem as stones, if the exactions were so pressive? The multitude is ever prone to pick quarrels with their governors; and, whom they feared alive, to censure dead. The benefits of so quiet and happy a reign are past over in silence; the grievances are recounted with clamour. Who can hope, that merit or greatness can shield from obloquy, when Solomon is traduced to his own loins?
The proposition of Israel puts Rehoboam to a deliberation; Depart ye for three days; then come again to me. I hear no other word of his, that argued wisdom. Not to give sudden resolutions in cases of importance, was a point that might well beseem the son of Solomon. I wonder that he, who had so much wit as to call for leisure in his answer, should show so little wit, in the improving of that leisure, in the return of that answer.
Who cannot but hope well, to see the grey heads of Solomon's secret council called to Rehoboam's cabinet? As counsellors, as ancient, as Solomon's, they cannot choose but see the best, the safest course, for their new sovereign. They had learned of their old master, that a soft answer appeaseth wrath; wisely therefore do they advise him, If thou wilt be a servant to this people this day, and speak good words to them, they will be thy servants for ever.
It was an easy condition; with one mouthful of a breath, to purchase an everlasting homage; with one gentle motion of his tongue, to bind all people's hearts to his allegiance for ever. Yet, as if the motion had been unfit, a new council table is called. Well might this people say; "What will not Rehoboam grudge us, if he think much to give good words for a kingdom?"
There is not more wisdom, in taking variety of advice, where the matter is doubtful, than folly, when it is plain. The young heads are consulted. This very change argues weakness. Some reason might be pleaded, for passing from the younger counsel to the aged; none, for the contrary. Age brings experience; and, it is a shame, if, with the ancient be not wisdom: youth is commonly rash, heady, insolent, ungoverned, wedded to will, led by humour, a rebel to reason, a subject to passion, fitter to execute than advise. Green wood is ever shrinking and warping; whereas the well-seasoned holds a constant firmness.
Many a life, many a soul, many a flourishing state, hath been ruined by undisciplined monitors. Such were these of Rehoboam; whose great stomach tells them, that this conditionating of subjects was no other than an affront to their new master; and suggests to them, how unfit it is for majesty to brook so saucy a treaty, how requisite and princely to crush this presumption in the egg: as scorning therefore, to be braved by the base vulgar, they put words of greatness and terror in their new prince; My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins.
My father made your yoke heavy; I will add to your yoke. My father hath chastised you with whips; I will chastise you with scorpions. The very words have stings.
Now must Israel needs think, "How cruel will this man's hand be, when he thus draws blood with his tongue! Men are not wont to speak out their worst: who can endure the hopes of him, that promiseth tyranny?" There can be no good use, of an indefinite profession of rigour and severity. Fear is an unsafe guardian of any state; much less, of an unsettled. Which was yet worse; not the sins of Israel were threatened, nor their purses, but their persons; neither had they desired a remission of justice, but of exactions; and now they hear of nothing but burdens, and scourges, and scorpions.
Here was a prince and people well met. I do not find them sensible of ought, save their own profit. They do not say, Religion was corrupted, in the shutting up of thy father's days. Idolatry found the free favour of priests, and temples, and sacrifices. Begin thy reign with God; purge the Church; demolish those piles of abomination; abandon those idol-mongers; restore devotion to her purity." They are all for their penny, for their ease; he, on the other side, is all for his will, for an imperious sovereignty; without any regard, either of their reformation or satisfaction. They were worthy of load, that cared for nothing but their backs; and he worthy of such subjects, who professed to effect their misery and torment.
Who would not but have looked any whither for the cause of this evil, rather than to heaven? yet the holy God challenges it to himself; The cause was from the Lord, that he might perform his saying by Abijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam. As sin is a punishment of sin, it is a part of justice. The Holy One of Israel doth not abhor, to use even the grossest sins to his own just purposes while our wills are free to our own choice, his decrees are as necessary as just. Israel had forsaken the Lord, and worshipped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Zidonians, and Chemosh, and Milcom. God owes them and Solomon a whipping: the frowardness of Rehoboam shall pay it them. I see Jeroboam's plot, the people's insolence, the young men's misadvice, the prince's unreasonable austerity, meeting together, through the wise providence of the Almighty, unwittingly to accomplish his most just decree. All these might have done otherwise, for any force that was offered to their will; all would no more do otherwise, than if there had been no predetermination in heaven; that God may be magnified in his wisdom and justice, while man wittingly perisheth in his folly.
That three days' expectation had warmed these smoking Israelites, and made them ready for a combustion. Upon so peremptory a resolution of rigour, the flame bursts out, which all the waters of the well of Bethlehem could never quench. The
furious multitude flies out into a desperate revolt; What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David.
How durst these seditious mouths mention David in defiance? One would have thought, that very name had been able to have tempered their fury, and to have contained them within the limits of obedience. It was the father of Rehoboam and the son of David, that had led Israel into idolatry : Solomon hath drawn contempt upon his father, and upon the son. If Israel have cast off their God, is it marvel that they shake off his anointed? Irreligion is the way to disobedience. There can be no true subjection, but out of conscience. They cannot make conscience of civil duties, who make none of divine.
In vain shall Rehoboam hope to prevail by his officer, when himself is rejected. The persons of princes carry in them characters of majesty: when their presence works not, how should that message? If Adoram solicit the people too late with good words, they answer him with stones. Nothing is more untractable and violent, than an enraged multitude. It was time for Rehoboam to betake himself to his chariot: he saw those stones were thrown at him, in his Adoram: as the messenger suffers for his master, so the master suffers in his messenger. Rehoboam been in Adoram's clothes, this death had been his. Only flight can deliver him, from those that might have been subjects. Jerusalem must be his refuge, against the conspiracy of Shechem.
Blessed be God, for lawful government. Even a mutinous body cannot want a head: if the rebellious Israelites have cast off their true sovereign, they must choose a false. Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, must be the man. He had need be skilful and sit sure, that shall back the horse, which hath cast his rider. Israel could not have any where met with more craft and courage, than they found in this leader.
Rehoboam returns to Jerusalem, lighter by a crown than he went forth.
Judah and Benjamin stick still fast to their loyalty: the example of a general rebellion cannot make them unfaithful to the house of David. God will ever reserve a remnant free from the common contagion. Those tribes, to approve their valour, no less than their fidelity, will fight against their brethren for their prince; and will hazard their lives, to reduce the crown to the son of Solomon. A hundred and fourscore thousand of them are up in arms, ready to force Israel to their denied subjection No noise sounded, on both parts, but military: no man thought of any thing but blood: when, suddenly, God sends his prophet, to forbid the battle. Shemaiah comes with a message of cessation; Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren, the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from
me, saith the Lord. The word of one silly prophet dismisses these mighty armies. He, that would not lay down the threats of his rigour, upon the advice of his ancient counsellors, will lay down his sword, upon the word of a seer. Shall we envy or shame to see how much the prophets of the Old Testament could do; how little, those of the New? If our commission be no less from the same God, the difference of success cannot go away unrevenged.
There was yet some grace in Rehoboam, that he would not spurn against that, which God challenged as his own work. Some godless ruffian would have said; "Whosoever is the author, I will be revenged on the instruments." Rehoboam hath learned this lesson of his grandfather, I held my peace, because thou Lord hast done it. If he might strive with the multitude, he knew it was no striving with his Maker: quietly therefore doth he lay down his arms; not daring, after that prohibition, to seek the recovery of his kingdom by blood.
Where God's purposes are hid from us, we must take the fairest ways of all lawful remedies; but where God hath revealed his determinations, we must sit down in an humble submission: our struggling may aggravate, cannot redress our miseries.
1 KINGS, XII., XII.
As there was no public and universal conflict, betwixt the ten tribes and the two, so no peace. Either king found reason to fortify the borders of his own territories.
Shechem was worthy to be dear to Jeroboam; a city, as of old seasoned with many treasons, so now auspicious to his new usurpation.
The civil defection was soon followed by the spiritual. As there are near respects betwixt God and his anointed, so there is great affinity betwixt treason and idolatry: there is a connexion, betwixt Fear God, and Honour the King; and no less, betwixt the neglects of both. In vain shall a man look for faith in a misreligious heart.
Next to Ahitophel, I do not find, that Israel yielded a craftier head than Jeroboam's: so hath he plotted this conspiracy, that, whatever fall, there is no place for a challenge: not his own intrusion, but Israel's election, hath raised him to their throne. Neither is his cunning less, in holding a stolen sceptre. Thus he thinks in himself; " If Israel have made me their king, it is but a pang of discontentment: these violent thoughts will not last always: sudden fits have commonly sudden recoveries. Their return to their loyalty shall forfeit my head, together with