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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. 2 Kings vi.
THE FAMINE OF SAMARIA RELIEVED.
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, Ŏ 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 im
potence 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 of a fierce countenance, which shall not regard the person of the old, nor shew favour to the young; and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates. And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters. The tender and delicate woman, her eyes shall be evil towards her young one that cometh out from between her feet, and toward the children which she shall bear; for she shall eat them, for want of all things, secretly in the siege and straitness.
He mourns for the plague: he mourns not for the cause of this plague; his sin, and theirs. I find his sorrow; I find not his repentance. The worst man may grieve for his smart; only the good heart grieves for his offence.
Instead of being penitent, Jehoram is furious, and turns his rage from his sins, against the prophet; God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha, the son of Shaphat, shall stand on him this day. Alas! what hath the righteous done? Perhaps Elisha, that we may imagine some colours of this displeasure, forethreatened this judgment; but they deserved it: perhaps he might have
averted it, by his prayers; their unrepentance disabled him: perhaps he persuaded Jehoram to hold out the siege; though through much hardness: he foresaw the deliverance. In all this, how hath Elisha forfeited his head? All Israel did not afford a head so guiltless, as this that was destined to slaughter. This is the fashion of the world: the lewd blame the innocent; and will revenge their own sins, upon others' uprightness.
In the midst of all this sad estate of Samaria, and these storms of Jehoram, the prophet sits quietly in his own house, amongst his holy consorts; bewailing, no doubt, both the sins and misery of their people; and prophetically conferring of the issue; when, suddenly, God reveals to him the bloody intent and message of Jehoram, and he at once reveals it to his fellows; See ye how this son of a murderer hath sent to take away mine head? Oh the inimitable liberty of a prophet! The same God, that shewed him his danger, suggested his words: he may be bold, where we must be awful.
Still is Naboth's blood laid in Jehoram's dish. The foul fact of Ahab blemisheth his posterity; and now, when the son threats violence to the innocent, murder is objected to him as hereditary.
He, that foresaw his own peril, provides for his safety; Shut the door, and hold him fast at the door. No man is bound, to tender his throat to an unjust stroke.
This bloody commission was prevented, by a prophetical foresight. The same eye, that saw the executioner coming to smite him, saw also the king hasting after him, to stay the blow. The prophet had been no other than guilty of his own blood, if he had not reserved himself awhile, for the rescue of authority.
Oh the inconstancy of carnal hearts! It was not long, since Jehoram could say to Elisha, My father, shall I smite them? now, he is ready to smite him as an enemy, whom he honoured as a father: yet again, his lips had no sooner given sentence of death against the prophet, than his feet stir to recal it.
It should seem that Elisha, upon the challenges and expostulations of Jehoram's messenger, had sent a persuasive message to the king of Israel, yet awhile to wait patiently upon God for his deliverance. The discontented prince flies off in an impotent anger Behold, this evil is of the Lord; what should I wait for the Lord' any longer?
Oh the desperate resolutions of impatient minds! They have stinted God, both for his time and his measure: if he exceed either, they either turn their backs upon him, or fly in his face. The position was true; the inference deadly. All that evil was of the Lord: they deserved it; he sent it: what then? It should have been therefore argued, "He, that sent it, can remove it: I will wait upon his mercy, under whose justice I suffer: impatience and distrust shall but aggravate my judgment: It is the Lord, let him do what he will." But now, to despair because God is just, to defy mercy because it lingers, to reject God for correction, it is a presumptuous madness, an impious pettishness.
Yet, in spite of all these provocations, both of king and people, Elisha hath good news for Jehoram; Thus saith the Lord, To-morrow, about this time, shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria. Miserable Israel now sees an end of this hard trial. One day's patience shall free them, both of siege and famine. God's deliverances may overstay our expectation; not the due period of his own councils. Oh infinite mercy, when man says, No longer, God says, To-morrow! As if he would condescend, where he might judge; and would please them, who deserved nothing but punishment.
The word seemed not more comfortable, than incredible. A lord, on whose hand the king leaned, answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? Prophecies, before they be fulfilled, are riddles no spirit can read them, but that by which they are delivered.
It is a foolish and injurious infidelity, to question a possibility, where we know the message is God's. How easy is it, for that omnipotent hand to effect those things, which surpass all the reach of human conceit! Had God intended a miraculous multiplication, was it not as easy for him, to increase the corn or meal of Samaria, as the widow's oil? Was it not as easy for him to give plenty of victuals without opening the windows of heaven, as to give plenty of water without wind or rain?
The Almighty hates to be distrusted. This peer of Israel shall rue his unbelief; Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof: the sight shall be yielded, for conviction; the fruition shall be denied, for punishment. Well is that man worthy to want the benefit, which he would not believe. Who can pity, to see infidelity excluded from the blessings of earth, from the glory of heaven?
How strange a choice, doth God make, of the intelligencers of so happy a change! Four lepers sit at the entering of the gate. They see nothing but death before them: famine, within the walls; the enemy, without The election is woeful: at last, they resolve upon the lesser evil. "Famine is worse than the Syrian. In the famine, there is certainty of perishing; amongst the Syrians, hazard. Perhaps the enemy may have some pity; hunger hath none: and, were the death equally certain, it were more easy to die by the sword, than by famine."
Upon this deliberation, they come down into the Syrian camp, to find either speed of mercy or dispatch. Their hunger would not give them respite till morning. By twilight, are they fallen upon the uttermost tents. Behold, there was no man. They marvel at the silence and solitude. They look, and listen. The noise of their own feet affrighted them. Their guilty hearts supplied the Syrians; and expected, fearfully those, which were as fearfully fled.
How easily can the Almighty confound the power of the strong, the policy of the wise! God puts a panic terror, into the hearts