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of the proud Syrians. He makes them hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host. They say one to other, Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us they arise therefore in a confused rout; and, leaving all their substance behind them, flee for their lives. Not long before, Elisha's servant saw chariots and horses, but heard none: now, these Syrians hear chariots and horses, but see none: that sight comforted his heart; this sound dismayed theirs. The Israelites heard no noise, within the walls; the lepers heard no noise, without the gates; only the Syrians heard this noise, in their camp. What a scorn doth God put upon these presumptuous Aramites! He will not vouchsafe to use any substantial stratagem against them. Nothing but an empty sound shall scatter them; and send them home empty of substance, laden with shame, half dead with fear. The very horses, that might have hastened their flight, are left tied in their tents. Their very garments are a burden. All is left behind, save their very bodies; and those, breathless for speed.
Doubtless, these Syrians knew well, to what miserable exigencies the enclosed Israelites were brought by their siege; and now made full account to sack and ransack their Samaria: already had they divided and swallowed the prey, when suddenly God puts them into a ridiculous confusion, and sends them to seek safety in their heels: no booty is now in price with them, but their life; and happy is he, that can run fastest. Thus, the Almighty laughs at the designs of insolent men; and shuts up their counsels in shame.
The fear of the four lepers begins now to give way to security. They fill their bellies, and hide their treasures, and pass from one tent to another, in a fastidious choice of the best commodities: they, who ere while would have held it happiness enough to have been blessed with a crust, now wantonly rove for dainties, and from necessity leap into excess.
How far self-love carries us in all our actions, even to the neglect of the public! Not till their own bellies and hands and eyes were filled, did these lepers think of imparting this news to Israel at last, when themselves are glutted, they begin to remember the hunger of their brethren; and now they find room for remorse; We do not well; this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace. Nature teaches us, that it is an injury, to engross blessings; and so to mind the private, as if we had no relation to a community. We are worthy to be shut out of the city gates for lepers, if the respects to the public good do not oversway us in all our desires, in all our demeanour; and well may we, with these covetous lepers, fear a mischief upon ourselves, if we shall wilfully conceal blessings from others.
The conscience of this wrong and danger sends back the lepers into the city. They call to the porters, and soon transmit the news to the king's household. The king of Israel complains not,
to have his sleep broken, with such intelligence: he ariseth in the night; and, not contemning good news, though brought by lepers, consults with his servants of the business.
We cannot be too jealous, of the intentions of an enemy. Jehoram wisely suspects this flight of the Syrians, to be but simulatory and politic; only to draw Israel out of their city, for the spoil of both. There may be more peril, in the back of an enemy, than in his face: the cruelest slaughters have been in retiring; easily therefore is the king persuaded to adventure some few forlorn scouts, for further assurance. The word of Elisha is out of his head, out of his heart; else there had been no place for this doubt. Timorous hearts never think themselves sure. Those, that have no faith, had need of much sense.
Those few horses that remain are sent forth for discovery. They find nothing but monuments of frightfulness, pledges of security. Now Israel dares issue forth to the prey. There, as if the Syrians had come thither to enrich them, they find granaries, wardrobes, treasures, and whatever may serve either for use or ostentation. Every Israelite goes away filled, laden, wearied with the wealthy spoil.
As scarcity breeds dearth, so plenty cheapness. To-day, a measure of fine flower is lower rated; than yesterday, of dung.
The distrustful peer of Israel sees this abundance, according to the word of the prophet, but enjoys it not. He sees this plenty can come in at the gate, though the windows of heaven be not open.. The gate is his charge: the affamished Israelites press in upon him, and bear him down in the throng. Extreme hunger hath no respect to greatness. Not their rudeness, but his own unbelief, hath trampled him under feet. He, that abased the power of God by his distrust, is abased worthily to the heels of the multitude. Faith exalts a man above his sphere; infidelity depresses him into the dust, into hell. He, that believes not, is condemned already.
2 Kings vii.
TO THE HIGH AND MIGHTY MONARCH,
BY THE GRACE OF GOD KING OF GREAT BRITAIN, FRANCE, AND IRELAND, DEFENDER OF THE FAITH; &c.
MY DREAD SOVEREIGN LORD AND MASTER.
MAY IT PLEASE YOUR MAJESTY :
Now at last, thanks be to my good God, I have finished
the long task of my Meditations, upon the historical part of the Old Testament; a work, that I foresaw must be the issue, both of time and thoughts. It presumed to entitle itself at first, to your gracious name, in succession to your immortal brother's, and now, it brings to your royal hands a due account of a happy dispatch.
Besides mine own public engagement, the encouragements of many worthy divines, both at home and abroad, drew me on, in this pleasing though busy labour; and made me believe the service would not be of more pain, than use.
I humbly present it to your Majesty; not fearing to say, that, in regard of the subject, it is not so fit for any eyes as princely: for what doth it else, but comment upon that, which God hath thought good to say of Kings; what they have done, what they should have done; how they sped in good, in evil? Certainly, there can be none such mirror of princes under heaven, as this, which God hath made for the faces of his deputies on earth. Neither can the eyes of sovereign greatness be better taken up, than with this sacred reflection. If my defects have not been notorious, the matter shall enough commend the work; which, together with the unworthy Author, humbly casts itself at the feet of your Majesty, with the best vows of fidelity and observance, from him, that prides himself in nothing more, than in the style of
Your Majesty's most faithfully devoted servant,
THE SHUNAMITE SUING TO JEHORAM; ELISHA CONFERRING WITH HAZAEL.
How royally, hath Elisha paid the Shunamite for his lodging! To him already she owes the life of her son, both given and restored; and now again, after so many years as might well have worn out memory of so small a courtesy, herself, her son, her family owe their lives, to so thankful a guest. That table, and bed, and stool, and candlestick, was well bestowed: that candlestick repaid her the light of her future life and condition; that table, the means of maintenance; that stool, a seat of safe abode; that bed, a quiet rest from the common calamities of her nation. He is a niggard to himself, that scants his beneficence to a prophet; whose very cold water shall not go unrewarded.
Elijah preserved the Sareptan from famine; Elisha, the Shunamite: he, by provision of oil and meal; this, by premonition; Arise, and go, thou and thine household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn. The Sareptan was poor, and driven to extremes; therefore the prophet provides for her, from hand to mouth the Shunamite was wealthy, and therefore the prophet sends her to provide for herself. The same goodness, that relieves our necessity, leaves our competency to the hand of our own counsel in the one, he will make use of his own power; in the other, of our providence.
The very prophet advises this holy client, to leave the bounds of the Church; and to seek life, where she should not find religion. Extremity is, for the time, a just dispensation with some common rules of our outward demeanour and motions, even from better to worse. All Israel and Judah shall be affamished: the body can be preserved no where, but where the soul shall want. Sometimes the conveniences of the soul must yield to bodily necessities. Wantonness and curiosity can find no advantage from that, which is done out of the power of need.
It is a long famine, that shall afflict Israel. He, upon whom the spirit of Elijah was doubled, doubled the judgment inflicted by his master. Three years and a half, did Israel gasp under the drought of Elijah; seven years dearth shall it suffer, under Elisha. The trials of God are, many times, not more grievous for their sharpness, than for their continuance.
This scarcity shall not come alone. God shall call for it: whatever be the second cause, he is the first. The executioners of the
Almighty (such are his judgments) stand ready waiting upon his just throne; and do no sooner receive the watchword, than they fly upon the world, and plague it for sin. Only the cry of our sins moves God, to call for vengeance; and if God once call, it must come. How oft, how earnestly, are we called to repentance, and stir not! The messengers of God's wrath fly forth, at the least beck; and fulfil the will of his revenge upon those, whose obedience would not fulfil the will of his command.
After so many proofs of fidelity, the Shunamite cannot distrust the prophet; not staying therefore to be convicted by the event, she removes her family into the land of the Philistines. No nation' was more opposite to Israel, none more worthily odious; yet there, doth the Shunamite seek and find shelter. Even the shade of those trees that are unwholesome, may keep us from a storm. Every where will God find room for his own."
The fields of Philistines flourish, while the soil of Israel yields nothing but weeds and barrenness: not that Israel was more sinful, but that the sin of Israel was more intolerable. The offers of grace are so many aggravations of wickedness. In equal offences, those do justly smart more, who are more obliged. No pestilence is so contagious, as that which hath taken the purest air.
These Philistine neighbours would never have endured themselves to be pestered with foreigners, especially Israelites; whom they hated, besides religion, for their usurpation. Neither were they, in all likelihood, pressed with multitude. The rest of Israel were led on with hopes; presuming upon the amends of the next harvest, till their want grew desperate and irremediable. Only the forewarned Shunamite prevents the mischief. Now she finds what it is, to have a prophet her friend. Happy are those souls, that, upon all occasions, consult with God's seers: they shall be freed from the plagues, wherein the secure blindness of others is heedlessly overtaken.
Seven years, had this Shunamite sojourned in Palestine: now she returns to her own; and is excluded. She, that found harbour among Philistines, finds oppression and violence among Israelites : those of her kindred, taking advantage of her absence, had shared her possessions. How oft doth it fall out, that the worst enemies of a man are those of his own house!
All went by contraries, with this Shunamite. In the famine, she had enough; in the common plenty, she was scanted: Philistines were kind unto her; Israelites, cruel. Both our fears and our hopes do not seldom disappoint us. It is safe trusting to that stay, which can never fail us; who can easily provide us, both of friendship in Palestine, and of justice in Israel.
We may not judge of the religion by particular actions. A very Philistine may be merciful, when an Israelite is unjust. The person may be faulty, when the professiou is holy.
It was not long, since the prophet made that friendly offer to the Shunamite, out of the desire of a thankful requital; What is to be done for thee? Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the