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so devout, as to inquire of his prophets? Only Jehoshaphat's presence made him thus godly. It is a happy thing, to converse with the virtuous: their counsel and example cannot but leave some tincture behind them, of a good profession, if not of piety. Those, that are truly religious, dare not but take God with them in all their affairs with him they can be as valiant, as timorous without him.
Ahab had clergy enough, such as it was. Four hundred prophets of the groves were reserved, from appearing to Elijah's challenge. These are now consulted by Ahab. They live to betray the life of him, who saved theirs.
These care not so much to inquire, what God would say, as what Ahab would have them say. They saw which way the king's heart was bent; that way they bent their tongues; Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it into the hands of the king. False prophets care only to please. A plausible falsehood passes with them, above a harsh truth. Had they seen Ahab fearful, they had said, "Peace, peace!" now they see him resolute, "War and victory." It is a fearful presage of ruin, when the prophets conspire in assentation.
Their number, consent, confidence, hath easily won credit with Ahab. We do all willingly believe what we wish. Jehoshaphat is not so soon satisfied. These prophets were, it is like, obtruded to him, a stranger, for the true prophets of the true God. The judicious king sees cause to suspect them; and now, perceiving at what altars they served, hates to rest in their testimony; Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might inquire of him? One single prophet speaking from the oracles of God, is more worth, than four hundred Baalites. Truth may not ever be measured by the poll. It is not number, but weight, that must carry it, in a council of prophets. A solid verity in one mouth, is worthy to preponderate light falsehood in a thousand.
Even king Ahab, as bad as he was, kept tale of his prophets; and could give account of one that was missing. There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the Lord; but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.
It is very probable, that Micaiah was that disguised prophet, who brought to Ahab the fearful message of displeasure and death, for dismissing Benhadad; for which he was ever since fast in prison, deep in disgrace.
O corrupt heart, of self-condemned Ahab! If Micaiah spake true to thee, how was it evil? if others said false, how was it good? and if Micaiah spake from the Lord, why dost thou hate him?
This hath wont to be the ancient lot of truth, censure and hatred; censure of the message, hatred of the bearer. To carnal ears the message is evil, if unpleasing; and if plausible, good: if it be sweet, it cannot be poison; if bitter, it cannot be wholesome. The distemper of the receiver is guilty of this misconceit. In itself, every truth, as it is good, so amiable; every falsehood, loathsome as evil. A sick palate cries out of the taste of those li
quors, which are well allowed of the healthful. It is a sign of a good state of the soul, when every vendure can receive his proper judgment.
Wise and good Jehoshaphat dissuades Ahab, from so hard an opinion; and sees cause, so much more to urge the consultation of Micaiah, by how much he finds him more unpleasing. The king of Israel, to satisfy the importunity of so great and dear an ally, sends an officer for Micaiah. He knew well, belike, where to find him; within those four walls, where unjust cruelty had disposed of that innocent seer. Out of the obscurity of the prison, is the poor prophet fetched in the light of so glorious a confession of two kings; who thought this convocation of prophets not unworthy of their greatest representation of state and majesty. There he finds Zedekiah, the leader of that false crew; not speaking only, but acting his prediction. Signs were no less used by the prophets, than words. This arch flatterer hath made him horns of iron: the horn is forcible, the iron irresistible: by an irresistible force, shall Ahab push the Syrians; as if there were more certainty in this man's hands, than in his tongue.
If this son of Chenaanah had not had a forehead of brass for impudency, and a heart of lead for flexibleness to humours and times, he had never devised these horns of iron, wherewith his king was gored unto blood. Howsoever, it is enough for him, that he is believed, that he is seconded. All the great inquest of these prophets gave up their verdict, by this foreman: not one, of four hundred, dissented. Unanimity of opinion in the greatest ecclesiastical assemblies, is not ever an argument of truth: there may be as common and as firm agreement in error.
The messenger that came for Micaiah, like a carnal friend, sets him in a way of favour: tells him what the rest said, how they pleased; how unsafe it would be for him to vary, how beneficial to assent. Those, that adore earthly greatness, think every man should doat upon their idols; and hold no terms too high, for their ambitious purposes.
Faithful Micaiah scorns the motion. He knows the price of the word, and contemns it; As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak. Neither fears nor favours can 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 shewed 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 King of Gods 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, successful.
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 devil.
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, swagger
ing 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 oppo
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 chuse 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 affiction, 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 go, what he will do when he returns in peace. 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 reputa
tion 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.
Oh 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