« PreviousContinue »
some hard measure, from those exasperated citizens? There lay his way. He follows God, without fear of men; as well knowing, that either they durst not or they could not act violence. They knew there were bears in the wood and fires in heaven; and, if their malice would have ventured above their courage, they could have no more power over Elisha in the streets, than those hungry beasts had in the way. Whither dare not a prophet go, when God calls him?
Having visited the schools of the prophets, Elisha retires to mount Carmel; and, after some holy solitariness, returns to the city of Samaria. He can never be a profitable seer, that is either always or never alone. Carmel shall fit him for Samaria; contemplation, for action. That mother city of Israel must needs afford him most work.
Yet is the throne of Ahaziaḥ succeeded by a brother less ill, than himself; than the parents of both. Ahab's impiety hath not a perfect heir of Jehoram. That son of his hates his Baal, though he keeps his calves. Even into the most wicked families, it pleaseth God to cast his most powerful restraints, that all are not equally vicious. It is no news, to see lewd men make scruple of some sins. The world were not to live in, if all sins were affected by all. It is no thank to Ahab and Jezebel, that their son is no Baalite. As no good is traduced from parents, so not all evil. There is an Almighty hand, that stops the foul current of nature at his pleasure. No idolater can say, that his child shall not be a convert.
The affinity betwixt the houses of Israel and Judah, holds good in succession. Jehoram inherits the friendship, the aid of Jehoshaphat; whose counsel, as is most likely, had cured
him of that Baalism.
It was a good war, whereto he solicits the good king of Judah. The king of Moab, who had been an ancient tributary from the days of David, falls now from his homage; and refuses to pay his hundred thousand lambs, a hundred thousand rams with fleeces, to the king of Israel. The backs of Israel can ill miss the wool of Moab: they will put on iron, to recover their cloth.
Jehoshaphat had been once well chid, well frighted, for joining with Ahab against Aram; yet doth he not stick, now again to come into the field, with Jehoram against Moab. The cause is more favourable, less dangerous: Baal is cast down the images of the false gods are gone, though the false images of the true God stand still beside, this rebellious Moab had joined with the Syrians formerly against Judah, so as Jehoshaphat is interested in the revenge.
After resolution of the end, wisely do these kings deliberate of the way. It is agreed to pass through Edom. That kingdom was annexed to the crown of Judah: well might Jeho
shaphat make bold with his own. It was, it seems, a march far about in the measure of the way, but nearest to their purpose the assault would be thus more easy, if the passage were more tedious.
The three kings of Israel, Judah, Edom, together with their armies, are upon foot. They are no sooner come into the parching wilds of Edom, than they are ready to die for thirst. If the channels were far off, yet the waters were further: the scorching beams of the sun have dried them up, and have left those rivers more fit for walk than entertainment. What are the greatest monarchs of the world, if they want but water to their mouths? What can their crowns, and plumes, and rich arms avail them, when they are abridged but of that, which is the drink of beasts?
With dry tongues and lips do they now confer of their common misery. Jehoram deplores the calamity, into which they were fallen; but Jehoshaphat asks for a prophet. Every man can bewail a misery every man cannot find the way out of it. Still yet I hear good Jehoshaphat speak too late. He should have inquired for a prophet, ere he had gone forth; so had he avoided these straits. Not to consult at all with God, is Jehoram's sin; to consult late, is Jehoshaphat's: the former is atheistic carelessness; the latter, forgetful oversight. The best man may slacken good duties; the worst contemns them.
Not without some specialty from God, doth Elisha follow the camp; else, that had been no element for a prophet. Little did the good king of Judah think, that God was so near him. Purposely was this holy seer sent, for the succour of Jehoshaphat and his faithful followers, when they were so far from dreaming of their delivery, that they knew not of a danger. It would be wide with the best men, if the eye of Divine Providence were not open upon them, when the eye of their care is shut towards it.
How well did Elisha in the wars! The strongest squadron of Israel was within that breast. All their armour of proof had not so much safety and protection, as his mantle.
Though the king of Israel would take no notice of the prophet, yet one of his courtiers did; Here is Elisha, the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah. This follower of Jehoram knows Elisha by his own name, by his father's, by his master's. The court of Israel was profane and idolatrous enough, yet even there God's prophet had both knowledge and honour. His very service to Elijah was enough to win him reverence. It is better to be an attendant of some man, than to be attended by many. That he had poured water on Elijah's hands was insinuation enough, that he could pour out water for those three kings.
The three kings walk down, by the motion of Jehoshaphat,
to the man of God. It was news, to see three kings going down to the servant of him, who ran before the chariot of Ahab. Religion and necessity have both of them much power of humiliation; I know not whether more. Either zeal or need will make a prophet honoured.
How sharply dares the man of God to chide his sovereign, the king of Israel! The liberty of the prophets was no less singular than their calling. He, that would borrow their tongue, must show their commission. As God reproved kings for their sakes, so did not they stick to reprove kings for his sake. Thus much freedom they must leave to their successors, that we may not spare the vices of them, whose persons we must spare.
Justly is Jehoram turned off, to the prophets of his father, and the prophets of his mother. It is but right and equal, that those, which we have made the comfort and stay of our peace, should be the refuge of our extremity. If our prosperity have made the world our God, how worthily shall our death-bed be choked with this exprobration!
Neither would the case bear an apology, nor the time an expostulation. Jehoram cannot excuse; he can complain. He finds that now three kings, three kingdoms, are at the mercy of one prophet: it was time for him to speak fair: nothing sounds from him, but lamentations and entreaties; Nay, for the Lord hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab.
Jehoram hath so much grace, as to confess the impotency of those he had trusted, and the power of that God whom he had neglected every sinner cannot see and acknowledge the hand of God in his sufferings. Already hath the distressed prince gained something by his misery: none complains, so much as he; none feels, so much as he: all the rest suffer for him, and therefore he suffers in them all.
The man of God, who well sees the insufficiency of Jehoram's humiliation, lays on yet more load; As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, Surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee.
Behold the double spirit of Elijah. The master was not more bold with the father, than the servant was with the son: Elisha was a subject, and a prophet: he must say that as a prophet, which he might not as a subject; as a prophet he would not have looked at him, whom as a subject he would have bowed to. It is one thing, when God speaks by him; another, when he speaks of himself. That it might well appear his dislike of sin stood with his honour of sovereignty, Jehoshaphat goes away with that respect, which Jehoram missed. No less doth God, and his prophet, regard religious sincerity, than they abhor idolatry and profaneness.
What shall not be done for a Jehoshaphat? For his sake, shall those two other princes and their vast armies live and prevail. Edom and Israel, whether single or conjoined, had perished, by the drought of the desert, by the sword of Moab: one Jehoshaphat gives them both life and victory. It is in the power of one good man, to oblige a world. We receive true, though insensible favours, from the presence of the righteous. Next to being good, it is happy to converse with them that are so if we be not bettered by their example, we are blest by their protection.
Who wonders not, to hear a prophet call for a minstrel, in the midst of that mournful distress of Israel and Judah? Who would not have expected his charge of tears and prayers, rather than of music? How unseasonable are songs to a heavy heart! It was not for their ears, it was for his own bosom, that Elisha called for music; that his spirits, after their zealous agitation, might be sweetly composed, and put into a meet temper for receiving the calm visions of God. Perhaps it was some holy Levite, that followed the camp of Jehoshaphat, whose minstrelsy was required for so sacred a purpose. None but a quiet breast is capable of divine revelations. Nothing is more powerful to settle a troubled heart, than a melodious harmony. The Spirit of Prophecy was not the more invited, the prophet's spirit was the better disposed, by pleasing sounds. The same God, that will reveal his will to the prophet, suggests this demand; Bring me a minstrel. How many say thus, when they would put God from them! Profane mirth, wanton music, debauches the soul; and makes no less room for the unclean spirit, than spiritual melody doth for the divine.
No prophet had ever the Spirit at command. The hand of the minstrel can do nothing, without the hand of the Lord. While the music sounds in the ear, God speaks to the heart of Elisha; Thus saith the Lord, Make this valley full of ditches; ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be full of water, &c.
To see wind and rain in the height of that drought, would have seemed as wonderful, as pleasing; but, to see abundance of water without wind or rain, was yet more miraculous. I know not how the sight of the means abates our admiration of the effect. Where no causes can be found out, we are forced to confess omnipotency. Elijah relieved Israel with water, but it was out of the clouds, and those clouds rose from the sea; but whence Elisha shall fetch it, is not more marvellous than secret.
All that evening, all that night, must the faith of Israel and Judah be exercised with expectation. At the hour of the morning sacrifice, no sooner did the blood of that oblation gush forth, than the streams of waters gushed forth into their new
channels, and filled the country with a refreshing moisture. Elijah fetched down his fire, at the hour of the evening sacrifice; Elisha fetched up his water, at the hour of the morning sacrifice. God gives respect to his own hours, for the encouragement of our observation. If his wisdom hath set us any peculiar times, we cannot keep them without a blessing. The devotions of all true Jews, all the world over, were in that hour combined how seasonably doth the wisdom of God pick out that instant, wherein he might at once answer both Elisha's prophecy, and his people's prayers!
The prophet hath assured the kings, not of water only, but of victory. Moab hears of enemies, and is addressed to war. Their own error shall cut their throats; they rise soon enough to beguile themselves: the beams of the rising sun, glistering upon those vaporous and unexpected waters, carried, in the eyes of some Moabites, a semblance of blood. A few eyes were enough, to fill all ears with a false noise: the deceived sense miscarries the imagination; This is blood; the kings are surely slain, and they have smitten one another; now therefore, Moab, to the spoil. Civil broils give just advantage to a common enemy: therefore must the camps be spoiled, because the kings have smitten each other. Those, that shall be deceived, are given over to credulity. The Moabites do not examine, either the conceit or the report; but fly in, confusedly, upon the camp of Israel; whom they find, too late, to have no enemies but themselves. As if death would not have hastened enough to them, they come to fetch it; they come to challenge it it seizeth upon them unavoidably: they are smitten, their cities razed, their lands marred, their wells stopped, their trees felled; as if God meant to waste them but once.
No onsets are so furious, as the last assaults of the desperate. The king of Moab, now hopeless of recovery, would be glad to shut up with a pleasing revenge. With seven hundred resolute followers, he rushes into the battle, towards the king of Edom; as if he would bid death welcome, might he but carry with him that despited neighbour; and now, mad with the repulse, he returns; and, whether as angry with his destiny, or as barbarously affecting to win his cruel gods with so dear a sacrifice, he offers them, with his own hand, the blood of his eldest son, in the sight of Israel, and sends him up in smoke to those hellish deities. O prodigious act, whether of rage, or of devotion! What a hand hath Satan over his miserable vassals! What marvel is it, to see men sacrifice their souls, in an unfelt oblation, to these plausible tempters, when their own flesh and blood hath not been spared? There is no tyrant to the prince of dark