« PreviousContinue »
disobedient, and to give his voice to the certainty of that future judgment which his late guest had threatened to Israel. Sometimes it pleaseth the wisdom of God, to express and justify himself, even by the tongues of faulty instruments. Withal, he hath so much faith and courage, as to fetch that carcase from the lion ; so much pity and compassion, as to weep for the man of God, to inter him in his own sepulchre ; so much love, as to wish himself joined in death to that body, which he had hastened unto death. It is hard to find a man absolutely wicked. Some grace ill bewray itself, in the most forsaken breasts.
It is a cruel courtesy, to kill a man, and then to help him to his grave; to betray a man with our breath, and then to bedew him with our tears. The prophet had needed no such friend, if he had not met with such an enemy. The mercies of the wicked are cruel.
CONTEMPLATION IV.-JEROBOAM'S WIFE.
1 KINGS XIV.
It is no measuring of God's favour, by the line of outward welfare. Jeroboam, the idolatrous usurper of Israel, prospers better, than the true heirs of David. He lives to see three successions in the throne of Judah. Thus the ivy lives, when the oak is dead.
Yet could not that misgotten crown of his keep his head always from aching : he hath his crosses too. God whips sometimes more than his own : his enemies smart from him, as well as his children ; his children in love, his enemies in judgment. Not simply the rod argues love, but the temper of the hand that wields it, and the back that feels it.
First, Jeroboam's hand was stricken ; now, his son. Abijah the eldest, the best son of Jeroboam, is smitten with sickness. As children are but the pieces of their parents in another skin, so parents are no less stricken in their children, than in their natural limbs. Jeroboam doth not more feel his arm, than his son. Not wicked men only, but beasts may have natural affections
It is no thank to any creature, to love his own. Nature wrought in Jeroboam, not grace. He is enough troubled, with his son's disease; no whit bettered. I would have heard him say; “God follows me with his afflictions. It is for mine impiety. What other measure can I expect from his justice? While mine idols stand, how can I look that my house should prosper? I will turn from my wickedness; O God, turn thou from thy wrath."
These thoughts were too good for that obdured heart.
son is sick, he is sorrowful ; but as an amazed man seeks to go forth at the wrong door, his distraction sends him to a false help. He thinks not of God; he thinks of his prophet: he thinks of the prophet, that had foretold him he should be a king; he thinks not of the God of that prophet, who made him a king. It is the property of a carnal heart, to confine both his obligations and his hopes to the means, neglecting the Author of good. Vain is the respect that is given to the servant, wherethe Master is contemned.
Extremity draws Jeroboam's thoughts to the prophet; whom else he had not cared to remember. The king of Israel had divines enough of his own; else he must needs have thought them miserable gods, that were not worth a prophet : and besides, there was an old prophet (if he yet survived) dwelling within the smoke of his palace, whose visions had been too well approved : why should Jeroboam send so far to an Abijah? Certainly, his heart despised those base priests of his high places; neither could he trust, either to the gods or the clergy of his own making. His conscience rests upon the fidelity of that man, whose doctrine he had forsaken. How did this idolater strive against his own heart, while he inwardly despised those, whom he professed to honour : and inwardly honoured them, whom he professed to despise! Wicked breasts are false to themselves; neither trusting to their own choice, nor making choice of that which they may dare to trust. They will set a good face upon their secretly unpleasing sins ; and would rather be self-condemned, than wise and penitent.
As for that old seer, it is like Jeroboam knew his skill but doubted of his sincerity. That man was too much his neighbour to be good. Abijah's truth had been tried in a case of his own : he, whose word was found just in the prediction of his kingdom, was well worthy of credit in the news of his son. Experience is a great encouragement of our trust. It is a good matter to be faithful: this loadstone of our fidelity shall draw to us even hearts of iron, and hold them to our reliance; as contrarily, deceit doth both argue and make a bankrupt. Who can trust, where he is disappointed? O God, so oft, so ever, have we found thee true in all thy promises, in all thy performances, that if we do not seek thee, if we do not trust thee in the sequel, we are worthy of our loss, worthy of thy desertions.
Yet I do not see, that Jeroboam sends to the prophet, for his aid, but for intelligence. Curiosity is guilty of this message, and not devotion. He calls not for the prayers, not for the benediction of that holy man, but for mere information of the event. He well saw what the prayers of a prophet could do. That, which cured his hand, might it not have cured his son?
Yet he, that said to a man of God, Entreat the face of the Lord thy God, that he
may restore my hand, says not now in his message to Abijah, “ Entreat thy God to restore my son.” Sin makes such a
strangeness betwixt God and man, that the guilty heart either thinks not of suing to God, or fears it. What a poor contentment it was to foreknow that evil, which he could not avoid, and whose notice could but hasten his misery! Yet thus fond is our restless curiosity, that it seeks ease, in the drawing on of torment. He is worthy of sorrow, that will not stay till it comes to him, but goes to fetch it.
Whom doth Jeroboam send on this message, but his wife; and how, but disguised? Why her, and why thus ? Neither durst he trust this errand with another, nor with her in her own form. It was a secret, that Jeroboam sends to a prophet of God: none might know it, but his own bosom, and she that lay in it. If this had been noised in Israel, the example had been dangerous. Who would not have said, " The king is glad to leave his counterfeit deities, and seek to the true : why should we adhere to them, whom he forsakes!"
As the message must not be known to the people, so she that bears is must not be known to the prophet : her name, her habit must be changed; she must put off her robes, and put on a russet coat; she must put off the queen, and put on the peasant; instead of her sceptre, she must take up a basket, and go a masked pilgrimage to Shiloh. Oh the fondness of vain men, that think to juggle with the Almighty, and to hide their councils from that all-seeing eye! If this change of habit were necessary at Bethel, yet what needs it at Shiloh? Though she would hide her face from her subjects, yet why should she not pull off her muffler, and show herself to the prophet? Certainly, what policy began, guiltiness must continue. Well might she think, “ There can be no good answer expected by the wife of Jeroboam. My presence will do no less, than solicit a reproof. No prophet can speak well, to the consort of a founder of idolatry. I may perhaps hear good, as another; though, as myself, I can look for nothing, but tidings of evil.” Wicked hearts know they deserve ill at God's hands; and therefore they do all they can, to avoid the eyes of his displeased justice; and if they cannot do it by colours of dissimulation, they will do it by imploration of shelter : they shall say to the rocks, Fall on us, and cover us.
But oh the gross folly, mixed with the craft of wickedness! Could Jeroboam think that the prophet could know the event of his son's disease, and did he think that he could not know the disguise of his wife? The one was present, the other future ; this was but wrapped in a clout, that event was wrapped up in the council of God: yet this politic head presumes, that the greater shall be revealed, where the lesser shall be hid. There was never wicked man, that was not infatuate ; and in nothing more, than in those things wherein he hoped most to transcend the reach of others,
Abijah, shunning the iniquity of the times, was retired to a solitary corner of Shiloh. No place could be too private for an honest prophet, in so extreme depravedness : yet even there, doth the king of Israel take notice of his reclusion; and sends his wife to that poor cell, laden with presents ; presents, that dissembled their bearer. Had she offered jewels or gold, her greatness had been suspected: now she brings loaves, and cracknels, and honey, her hand answers her back. She gives as she seems, not as she is. Something she must give, even when she acts the poorest client.
The prophets of God were not wont to have empty visitations. They, who hated bribes, yet refused not tokens of gratitude. Yea, the God of Heaven, whọ neither needs our goods nor is capable of our gratifications, yet would have no man to come to him giftless. Woe to those sacrilegious hands, that, instead of bringing to the prophets, carry from them!
Jeroboam was a bad man ; yet, as he had a towardly son, so he had an obedient wife ; else she had not wanted excuses, to turn off both the journey and the disguise. Against the disguise, she had pleaded the unbeseemingness for her person and state; against the journey, the perils of so long and solitary a walk. Perhaps a lion might be in the way; the lion that tore the prophet in pieces : perhaps robbers : or, if not they, perhaps her chastity might be in danger; an unguarded solitariness in the weaker sex, might be a provocation to some forced unclean
She cast off all these shifting projections of fear. According to the will of her husband, she changes her raiment; she sets upon the journey, and overcomes it.
What needed this disguise to an old prophet, whose dim eyes were set with age? All clothes, all faces were alike to a blind
The visions of Abijah were inward; neither was his bodily sight more dusky, than the eyes of his mind were clear and piercing. It was not the common light of men whereby he saw, but divine illumination. Things absent, things future, were no less obvious to those spiritual beams, than present things are to
Ere the quick eyes of that great lady can discern him, he hath espied her; and as soon as he hears the sound of her feet, she hears from him the sound of her name ; Come in, thou wife of Jeroboam.' How God laughs in heaven, at the frivolous fetches of crafty politicians ; and, when they think themselves most sure, shames them with a detection, with a defeat! What an idleness it is, for foolish hypocrites to hope they can dance in a net, unseen of heaven !
Never before was this queen troubled, to hear of herself: now, she is. Her very name strikes her with astonishment, and prepares her for the assured horror of following judgments ; I am sent to thee with heavy tidings : Go, tell Jeroboam, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel.
Could this lady less wonder at the mercy of this style of God, than tremble at the sequel of his justice? Lo, Israel hath forsaken God; yet God still owns Israel : Israel hath gone a whoring; yet God hath not divorced her! O the infinite goodness of our long-suffering God, whom our foulest sins cannot rob of his compassions !
By how much dearer Israel was to God, so much more odious is Jeroboam, that hath marred Israel. Terrible is that vengeance, which God thunders against him by his prophet; whose passionate message upbraids him with his promotions, chargeth him with his sins, and lastly denounceth his judgments. No mouth was fitter, to cast this royalty in the teeth of Jeroboam, than that by which it was first foretold, forepromised. Every circumstance of the advancement aggravates the sin. “ I exalted thee : thou couldest not rise to honour alone. I exalted thee, from among the people: not from the peers : thy rank was but common, before this rise. I exalted thee, from among the people to be a prince : subordinate height was not enough for thee: no seat would serve thee, but a throne. Yea, to be a prince of my people Israel:
: no nation was for thee, but my chosen one ; none, but my royal inheritance. Neither did I raise thee into a vacant throne; a forlorn and forsaken principality might be thankless ; but I rent the kingdom away from another, for thy sake ; yea, from what other, but the grandchild of David Out of his hands did I wrest the sceptre, to give it into thine.” Oh what high favours doth God sometimes cast away, upon unworthy subjects ! How do his abused bounties double both their sin and judgment ! The sins of this prince were no less eminent, than his obligations; therefore his judgments shall be no less eminent, than his sins.
How bitterly doth God express that, which shall be more bitter in the execution ! Behold, I will bring evil ироп
the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam, every male, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone : him that dieth of Jeroboam in the city, shall the dogs eat ; and him that dieth in the field, shall the fowls of the air eat.
Oh heavy load, that this disguised princess must carry to her husband ! But because these evils, though grievous, yet might be remote ; therefore, for a present handsel of vengeance, she is dismissed with the sad tidings of the death of her son ; When thy feet enter into the city, the child shall die. It is heavy news for a mother, that she must lose her son; but worse yet, that she may not see him. In these cases of our final departures, our presence gives some mitigation to our grief. Might she but have closed the eyes, and have received the last breath of her dying son, the loss had been more tolerable. I know not how our personal farewell eases our heart, even while it increases our