« PreviousContinue »
them; and, if they will needs be wanting to God, yet Elisha will not be wanting to them ; their impiety shall not make him undutiful.
There cannot be a juster cause of displeasure, than the disclosing of those secret councils, which are laid up in our ear, in our breast. The king of Syria, not without reason, stomachs this supposed treachery. What prince can bear, that an adverse power should have a party, a pensionary in his own court!
How famous was Elisha, even in foreign regions! Besides Naaman, others of the Syrian nobility take notice of the miraculous faculties of this prophet of Israel. He is accused for this secret intelligence. No words can escape him, though spoken in the bed-chamber. O Syrian, whosoever thou wert, thou saidst not enough. If thy master do but whisper in thine ear, if he smother his words within his own lips, if he do but speak within his own bosom, Elisha knows it from an infallible information. What counsel is it, O God, that can be hid from thee? What counsel is it, that thou wilt hide from thy seer? Even this very word, that accuseth the prophet, is known to the accused. He hears this tale, while it is in telling. He hears the plot for his apprehension.
How ill do the projects of wicked men hang together! They, that confess Elisha knows their secretest words, do yet confer to take him! There are spies upon him, whose espials have moved their anger and admiration.
He is descried to be in Dothan, a small town of Manasseh. A whole army is sent thither, to surprise him. The opportunity of the night is chosen for the exploit. There shall be no want, either in the number, or valour, or secrecy of these conspired troops : and now, when they have fully girt in the village with a strong and exquisite siege, they make themselves sure of Elisha; and please themselves to think, how they have encaged the miserable prophet, how they should take him at unawares in his bed in the midst of a secure dream, how they should carry him fettered to their king, what thanks they should have for so welcome a prisoner.
The successor of Gehazi riseth early in the morning, and sees all the city encompassed with a fearful host of foot, horse, chariots. His eyes could meet with nothing, but woods of pikes, and walls of harness, and lustre of metals; and now he runs in, affrighted, to his master: Alas, my master / what shall we do?' He had day enough to see they were enemies that environed them, to see himself helpless and desperate ; and hath only so much life left in him, as to lament himself to the partner of his misery. He cannot flee from his new master, if he would ; he runs to him with a woeful clamour, Alas, my master ! what shall we do?
Oh the undaunted courage of faith! Elisha sees all this ; and sits in his chamber so secure, as if these had only been the guard of Israel, for his safe protection.
It is a hard precept, that he gives his servant ; Fear not. As well might he have bid him, not to see when he saw, as not to fear when he saw so dreadful a spectacle. The operations of the senses are no less certain, than those of the affections, where the objects are no less proper. But the task is easy, if the next
find belief; For there are more with us than with them. Multitude and other outward probabilities, do both lead the confidence of natural hearts, and fix it. It is for none but a David to say, I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. Flesh and blood riseth and falleth, according to the proportion of the strength, or weakness of apparent means.
Elisha's man looked about him ; yet his master prays, Lord, open his eyes that they may see.
Naturally we see not, while we Every thing is so seen, as it is : bodily eyes discern bodily objects; only spiritual can see the things of God. Some men want both eyes and light : Elisha's servant had eyes, wanted illumination. No sooner were his eyes open, than he saw the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire, round about Elisha. They were there before ; neither doth Elisha pray, that those troops may be gathered, but that they may be seen ; not till now were they descried. Invisible armies guard the servants of God, while they seem most forsaken of earthly aid, most exposed to certain dangers. If the eyes of our faith be as open as those of our sense, to see angels as well as Syrians, we cannot be appalled with the most unequal terms of hostility. Those blessed spirits are ready, either to rescue our bodies, or to carry up our souls to blessedness; whither ever shall be enjoined by their Maker: there is just comfort in both; in either.
Both those chariots that came to fetch Elijah, and those that came to defend Elisha, were fiery. God is not less lovely to his own, in the midst of his judgments, than he is terrible to his enemies, in the demonstration of his mercies.
Thus guarded, it is no marvel, if Elisha dare walk forth into the midst of the Syrians. Not one of those heavenly presidiaries struck a stroke for the prophet; neither doth he require their blows, only he turns his prayer to his God, and says, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness. With no other than deadly intentions, did these Aramites come down to Elisha ; yet doth not he say,
“Smite them with the sword,” but Smite them with blindness. All the evil he wisheth to them is, their repentance. There was no way to see their error, but by blindness. He, that prayed for the opening of his servant's eyes, to see his safeguard, prays for the blinding of his enemies, that they might not see to do hurt. As the
eyes of Elisha's servant were so shut, that they saw
not the angels, when they saw the Syrians; so the eyes of the Syrians shall be likewise shut, that when they see the man, they shall not see the prophet. To all other objects, their eyes are clear: only to Elisha, they shall be blind; blind, not through darkness, but through misknowledge. They shall see and mistake both the person and place. He, that made the senses, can either hold or delude them, at pleasure. How easily can he offer to the sight other representations, than those which arise from the visible matter, and make the heart to believe them!
Justly now might Elisha say, “ This is not the way, neither is this the city, wherein Elisha shall be descried." He was in Dothan; but not as Elisha. He shall not be found, but in Samaria ; neither can they have any guide to him, but himself.
No sooner are they come into the streets of Samaria, than their eyes have leave to know both the place and the prophet. The first sight they have of themselves is in the trap of Israel, in the jaws of death. Those stately palaces, which they now wonder at unwillingly, carry no resemblance to them, but of their graves. Every Israelite seems an executioner; every house, a jail; every beam, a gibbet. And now, they look upon Elisha transformed from their guide, to their common murderer, with horror and paleness. It is most just with God, to entangle the plotters of wickedness in their own snare.
How glad is a mortal enemy, to snatch at all advantages of revenge! Never did the king of Israel see a more pleasing sight, than so many Syrian throats at his mercy; and, as loth to lose so fair a day, as if his fingers itched to be dipped in blood, he says, My father, shall I smite, shall I smite them? The repetition argued desire: the compellation, reverence. Not without allowance of a prophet, would the king of Israel lay his hand upon an enemy, so miraculously trained home.
His heart was still foul with idolatry; yet would he not taint his hand with forbidden blood. Hypocrisy will be still scrupulous in something; and, in some awful restraints, is a perfect counterfeit of conscience.
The charitable prophet soon gives an angry prohibition of slaughter; Thou shalt not smite them: wouldst thou smite those, whom thou hast taken captive with thy sword and with thy bow? As if he said, “These are God's captives, not thine; and if they were thine own, their blood could not be shed without cruelty. Though, in the hot chases of war, executions may be justifiable ; yet in the coolness of deliberation, it can be no other than inhuman, to take those lives which have been yielded to mercy. But here, thy bow and thy sword are guiltless of the success : only a strange providence of the Almighty hath cast them into thy hands, whom neither thy force nor thy fraud could have compassed. If it be victory thou aimest at, overcome them with kindness; Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink."
Oh noble revenge of Elisha, to feast his persecutors! To provide a table for those, who had provided a grave for him ! These Syrians came to Dothan, full of bloody purposes to Elisha : he sends them from Samaria, full of good cheer and jollity. Thus, thus, should a prophet punish his
pursuers. No vengeance but this is heroical, and fit for Christian imitation : If thine enemy hunger, give him bread to eat; if he thirst, give him water to drink : for thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head; and the Lord shall reward thee : be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.
The king of Israel hath done that by his feast, which he could not have done by his sword. The bands of Syria will no more come by way of ambush or incursion, into the bounds of Israel. Never did a charitable act go away, without the retribution of a blessing. In doing some good to our enemies, we do most good to ourselves. God cannot but love in us this imitation of his mercy, who bids his sun shine and his rain fall, where he is most provoked; and that love is never fruitless.
CONTEMPLATION X.-THE FAMINE OF SAMARIA
2 KINGS VII.
Nor many good turns are written in marble. Soon have these Syrians forgotten the merciful beneficence of Israel. After the forbearance of some hostile inroad, all the forces of Syria are mustered against Jehoram. That very Samaria, which had relieved the distressed Aramites, is by the Aramites besieged ; and is famished by those, whom it had fed.
The famine within the walls was more terrible than the sword without. Their worst enemy was shut within ; and could not be dislodged of their own bowels.
Whither hath the idolatry of Israel brought them? Before, they had been scourged with war, with drought, with dearth, as with single cord; they remain incorrigible: and now, God twists two of these bloody lashes together, and galls them even to death.
There need no other executioners, than their own maws. Those things, which in their nature were not edible, at least to an Israelite, were now both dear and dainty.
The ass was, besides the untoothsomeness, an impure creature. That, which the law of ceremonies had made unclean, the law of necessity had made delicate and precious. The bones of so carrion a head could not be picked, for less than four hundred pieces of silver.
Neither was this scarcity of victuals only, but of all other necessaries for human use. That the belly might not complain alone, the whole man was equally pinched.
The king of Israel is neither exempted from the judgment, nor yet yields under it. He walks upon the walls of his Samaria, to oversee the watches set, the engines ready, the guards changed, together with the posture of the enemy; when a woman cries to him out of the city, Help, my lord, Ő king!
Next to God, what refuge have we in all our necessities, but his Anointed ? Earthly sovereignty can aid us, in the case of the injustice of men; but what can it do, against the judgments of God? If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barn-floor, or out of the wine-press ? Even the greatest powers must stoop to afflictions, in themselves; how should they be able to prevent them, in others! To sue for aid, where is an utter impotence of redress, is but to upbraid the weakness, and aggravate the misery of those whom we implore.
Jehoram mistakes the suit. The suppliant calls to him, for a woeful piece of justice. Two mothers have agreed to eat their sons: the one hath yielded hers, to be boiled and eaten; the other, after she hath taken her part of so prodigious a banquet, withdraws her child, and hides him from the knife. Hunger and envy make the plaintiff importunate ; and now she craves the benefit of royal justice. She, that made the first motion, withholds her part of the bargain ; and flies from that promise, whose trust had made this mother childless. Oh the direful effects of famine, that turns off all respects of nature, and gives no place to horror; causing the tender mother to lay her hands, yea, her teeth upon the fruit of her own body; and to receive that into her stomach, which she hath brought forth of her womb !
What should Jehoram do? The match was monstrous. The challenge was just; yet unnatural. This complainant had purchased one half of the living child, by the one half of hers, dead. The mother of the surviving infant is pressed by covenant, by hunger; restrained by nature. To force a mother to deliver up her child to voluntary slaughter, had been cruel; to force a debtor to pay a confessed arrearage, seemed but equal. If the remaining child be not dressed for food, this mother of the devoured child is both robbed and famished ; if he be, innocent blood is shed by authority. It is no marvel, if the question astonished the judge; not so much for the difficulty of the demand, as the horror of the occasion.
To what lamentable distress, did Jehoram find his people driven! Not without cause did the king of Israel rend his garments, and shew his sackcloth. Well might he see his people branded with that ancient curse, which God had denounced against the rebellious ; The Lord shall bring a nation against thee