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ELISHA IN DAMASCUS
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 8:1. Then spoke Elisha—The pluperfect tense: Now Elisha had spoken. This section dates prior to chapters 5 and 6, but is given here as an introduction to the narrative which follows.
2 Kings 8:4. And the king talked—Was (that moment) talking. Note the coincidence. While talking; at that very moment “beheld the woman!” (2 Kings 8:5). God times incidents with precision; “things work together”, interweave (Romans 8:28).
2 Kings 8:6. King appointed a certain officer—סָרִיס. Its primary meaning is a eunuch; its secondary, a court minister. All the fruits of the field since, &c.—The word תְּבוּאָה is better rendered “fruits” or produce, than rent; yet it has also the meaning, gain, profits (Proverbs 3:14).
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 8:1-6
THE POTENT INFLUENCE OF A GOOD MAN
I. His counsel is valuable, and gratefully acted upon. The Shunammite had good reason to respect the word of Elisha. She had evidence of the sympathy and power of the prophet in the restoration of her dead son. When, therefore, he warned her of the coming famine, and advised emigration, she and her son promptly obeyed. The result showed the wisdom of the advice, and justified their confidence in the prophet; they were preserved during the years of famine, and received again the property they had relinquished. Here we see how the kindness shown by the Shunammite receives still further reward. There is nothing so fruitful in blessing as kindness. In the great dilemmas of life we seek counsel, not from the frivolous and wicked, but from the wise and good. A good man has the destiny of many lives in his hands; a word from him has great weight. With what profound reverence and loving obedience should we accept the words of Him who bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought! who maketh the devices of the people of none effect, and whose counsel standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations (Psalms 33:10-11).
II. His beneficent acts are the theme of popular conversation. “The king talked with Gehazi, saying, Tell me, I pray thee, all the great things that Elisha hath done” (2 Kings 8:4). A good action cannot be hid. Sooner or later it will emerge from the obscurity in which it was first done, and become the talk of a nation, until it reaches even royal ears. All good actions do not attain such distinguished popularity. There were many good things that Elisha said and did of which history takes no notice. A good act may be remembered and applauded for generations, while the name of the actor is unknown. Who can tell how much bloodshed was spared, in the already too bloody battle of the military at Nanci, during the French revolution of 1790, by the bold, heroic woman who screamed to the wild, unmanageable mutincers not to fire the second cannon, and who made her screams effectual by flinging a pail of water on the dangerous engine. Her name is unknown, but history immortalises the deed. The more a good man is known and appreciated, the greater interest is taken in all the details of his life. Indeed, there is danger in magnifying the most ordinary sayings and doings into undue significance and importance. The nation that can sing of the exploits of its heroes “in the brave days of old” should also be forward in extolling the noble efforts of good men in modern times. If the age of chivalry is past, the spirit of chivalry lives and burns in the breasts of not a few in our day.
III. His holy and unselfish life is a testimony for Jehovah in the midst of national apostasy. The life of Elisha, if less bold, fierce, and meteorlike in its manifestations than that of Elijah, was more profoundly impressive in its influence for good. The idolatrous Jehoram was smitten with admiration for the gentle-mannered prophet, and must be convinced of the superiority of Elisha’s God. But the better feelings of the king were transient; he was too closely wedded to his idolatry to thoroughly break away from it, and, with constant calls and warnings to return to his allegiance to Jehovah, he drifted towards the doom in which all his house was to be involved. As every star in the firmament declares the glory of God, as every flower of earth reveals some feature of the Divine beauty, so every holy life testifies of the character of God. Human goodness is but a reflection of the Divine. In the darkest night of national apostasy, Israel was favoured with an Elisha, whose divinely-illumined life threw a bright stream of light across the gloom. How deplorable the condition of that nation from which all moral worth is excluded! The modern doctrine of Nihilism aims at this. A zealous propagandist of this rank materialism lately defined their teaching thus:—“Take heaven and earth, state and church, kings and God, and spit upon them; that’s our doctrine!” This is plain enough. And what would they substitute for God, the soul, and moral law? A wild, conscienceless demagogy, without belief or scruple, giving the rein to brute humanity, keeping open house for every appetite and lust. Such would be the condition of the nation bereft of living witnesses for God and truth.
IV. His reputation is the means of promoting the ends of justice (2 Kings 8:5-6). There was surely a Divine providence at work that brought the suppliant Shunammite into the presence of the king at the very moment when Gehazi was rehearsing the great works of Elisha. During her absence of seven years her estate was occupied by others, and ordinarily it would be a most difficult proceeding to dislodge the occupants. She wisely went direct to the highest authority, and while the influence of Elisha’s reputation was fresh upon the mind of the king, for his sake the prayer of the Shunammite was immediately granted. Justice triumphed; her land and all its produce for the seven years were restored to her. It requires power to enforce the claims of justice, and the highest kind of power is goodness. The arrangements of justice are more likely to be permanent when brought about by the influence of righteous principles, than when compelled by physical force. The presence of a holy character in society is a powerful check upon injustice and wrong.
1. Goodness is not inherited, but divinely bestowed.
2. A good man is not always himself conscious of the value and extent of his influence.
3. It is an unspeakable blessing to a nation to possess men of eminent goodness.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 8:1-3. Famine, pest, war, and all other forms of calamity, form an army which is subject to the command of God; which comes and goes at His command; which is ready to attack, or ready to retire, as He may order; and which can assail no one without command. They are sometimes commissioned to punish and to be the agents of the Divine justice, sometimes to arouse and to bring back the intoxicated to sobriety, sometimes to embitter the world to sinners and push them to the throne of grace, and sometimes to try the saints and light the purifying fires about them. So no man has to do simply with the sufferings which fall upon him, but, before all, with Him who inflicted them—Krummacher.
2 Kings 8:1. Lessons taught by famine. I. That God has entire control over the productive powers of nature.
2. That God may permit famine as a judgment on account of national sins.
3. That a time of famine should induce national humiliation and repentance.
4. That the extremity of human suffering is the opportunity for magnifying the Divine power and goodness.
—It is a long famine that shall afflict Israel. He upon whom the spirit of Elijah was doubled, doubled the punishment 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 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. How often, how earnestly, are we called to repentance, and stir not! The messengers of God 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.—Bp. Hall.
2 Kings 8:2. No nation was more opposite to Israel than the Philistine, none more worthily odious; yet there does the Shunammite seek and find shelter. Even the shade of these trees that are unwholesome may keep us from a storm. Everywhere will God find room for His own. The fields of the 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. No pestilence is so contagious as that which hath taken the purest air.
2 Kings 8:3. 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 often does it fall out that the worst enemies of a man are those of his own house! 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 justice in Israel. We may not judge of religion by particular action; the very Philistine may be merciful when an Israelite is unjust; the person may be faulty when the profession is holy.—Bp. Hall.
2 Kings 8:4-6. What is here told us by king Jehoram presents him to us from his better side. His desire to learn all of Elisha’s acts, still more the way in which he was ready to help the distressed Shunammite to the recovery of her property, testify to a receptivity for elevated impressions and to a disposition to yield to them. By the fact that he recognised all that was extraordinary in the person of the prophet, and yet that he did not desist from his false line of conduct, he showed that, in the main point, the relation of himself and of his people to Jehovah, nothing good could any longer be expected of him. His better feelings were transitory and ineffectual. He continued to be a reed swayed hither and thither by the wind, easily moved, but undecided and unreliable, so that, finally, when all the warnings and exhortations of the prophet had produced no effect, he fell under the just and inevitable judgment of God.—Lange.
2 Kings 8:5. How happily does God contrive all events for the good of His own! This suppliant shall fall upon that instant for her suit when the king shall be talking with Gehazi, when Gehazi shall be talking of her to the king: the words of Gehazi, the thoughts of the king, the desires of the Shunammite. shall be all drawn together by the wise providence of God into the centre of one moment, that his oppressed servant might receive a speedy justice. Oh, the infinite wisdom, power, mercy of our God, that insensibly orders all our ways, as to His own holy purposes, so to our best advantage!—Bp. Hall.
2 Kings 8:6. The word of God often extorts from an unconverted man a good and noble action, which, however, if it only proceeds from a sudden emotion, and stands alone, resembles a flower which blooms in the morning and in the evening fades and dies True servants of God, like Elisha, are often fountains of great blessing, without their own immediate participation or knowledge.
—The widow may thank Elisha for this. His miracle wrought still, and puts this new life in her dead estate: his absence did that for the preservation of life which his presence did for restoring it from death. She who was so ready to expostulate with the man of God upon the loss of her son might, perhaps, have been as ready to impute the loss of her estate to his advice. Now that for his sake she is enriched with her own, how does she bless God for so happy a guest! When we have forgotten our own good turns, God remembers and crowns them. Let us do good to all while we have time, but especially to the household of faith.
—The true spirit of obedience. I. Seen in a ready belief in the Divine word. II. Seen in the willingness to abandon home and property at the Divine call. III. Puts the soul and all earthly things under the Divine care. IV. Has restored more than was abandoned.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 8:7. And Elisha came to Damascus—Elijah, his master, had been divinely commissioned to this (1 Kings 19:15), and now Elisha. “by the instigation of the Spirit” (Thenius), sets out to the task he inherited to perform. Benhadad, king of Syria, was sick—He. hearing of Elish is arrival, sent to enquire if he should recover; his messenger bearing propitiatory gifts for the prophet.
2 Kings 8:9. Took a present with him, even of, &c.—lit., present in his hand, and of every good thing of Damascus. Forty camels’ burden—A camel’s burden is some six hundred pounds; but it was customary to give only a small burden to each, in order that the presentation, being borne by many, might have a more imposing effect, and express greater respect.
2 Kings 8:10. Go, say onto him, thou mayst certainly recover—A sentence which, like Delphic oracles, has two possible meanings, each the contradiction of the other. The words are, אֱמר לֹא חָיה תִחְיֶה. The second word, written לֹא, is in sound the same as לוֹ. The keri retains the form given in our text, לֹא, to him, “Say to him, thou wilt live.” The kethibh adopts the form לוֹ, not—“Say, thou wilt not live.” The sentence spoken would convey either meaning, and each form has equal authority. Doubtless the eager king would seize the hopeful meaning of the words, while Hazael would reserve in his own thoughts the doom which the words held. It should, however, be noted that Hazael reports the prophet’s words without uttering either the לֹא or לוֹ.
2 Kings 8:11. He settled his countenance steadfastly—Elisha’s fixed gaze, followed by his weeping, must have convinced Hazael that his guilty purpose to usurp the throne of Benhadad was known to him.
2 Kings 8:13. But what, is thy servant a dog, &c.—But surely dogs are less capable of guilty craft and horrid atrocities than base men are! The more brutal Hazael should not have maligned the nobler brute, by suggesting that any creature except man was capable of such villany. כֶּלֶב, dog, is an Eastern term for a servile and despicable man (see 1 Samuel 17:43, &c.)
2 Kings 8:15. Spread it over his face—The bed coverlet, a quilt of thick cotton or wool. This, steeped in water, would effectually suffocate. It is, however, suggested that in warm countries guaze nets wetted, to keep off flies and gnats, or in cases of fever, are spread over a sleeper’s face. Bet it is superfluous to evade Hazael’s murderous design, for a wetted guaze would not prevent respiration. The coverlet is properly described as “a thick cloth,” מַכְבֵּר (comp. Judges 4:18), a mantle, and it killed the king—which Hazael desired.
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 8:7-15
THE LUST OF AMBITION
I. That the lust of ambition makes man keenly alive to every opportunity of accomplishing its aims. Benhadad, the king of Syria, was sick. The dream of Hazael, cherished, perhaps, for years, was coming nearer to its realization. Death may come any hour; then the sceptre, the crown, boundless pomp and power are his. With what sinister eagerness would he watch every changing phase of the sick king’s affliction! with what facility would his busy brain lay down the plans of future enterprises! A crown has a dangerous fascination for some minds. Gibbon describes, in his vivid and stately style, the heroic manner in which Septimus Severus became emperor of Rome, an ambition he had cherished for years. He waited his opportunity, his keen glance took in the bearing of every revolutionary change in the imperial city, and when the crowning disgrace was reached of offering the empire by auction to the highest bidder, he saw the time for action was come. Though opposed by two formidable rivals, his promptness and vigour conquered all difficulties. He ascended the imperial throne, which he found, as others have done before and since, was more difficult to sustain than to acquire. The ambitious man lives an anxious, restless life: he is ready to seize on every favouring circumstance.
II. That the lust of ambition may be cherished under the guise of devotion to its victim. Hazael readily complies with the wish of the sick monarch, and, with all the oriental display of profuse generosity, and the oriental mingling of pomp and humility, he enquires of the man of God as to the recovery of his master. It would seem as though none was more concerned than he, and yet the while plotting the most effectual way of removing the only obstacle to his aspiring designs. An unholy ambition generates falseness and unreality: the man’s outer life gives the lie to his true character. The great dramatist has depicted this in the double-faced, hesitating conduct of the great regicide—Macbeth—
To beguile the time,
Look like the time: bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under it.
Away, and mock the time with fairest show:
Fake face must hide what the false heart doth know.
III. That the lust of ambition blinds man as to the atrocities it may urge him to commit. When Elisha, looking with prophetic insight in the mirror of the future, detailed to this man the horrible crimes he foresaw he would commit, Hazael stood aghast at the bare possibility of sinking down into such a monster of iniquity; and yet, doubtless, all these cruelties were perpetrated in the wars which this usurper carried on in Israel. Hazael reigned more than forty years, and during that time greatly harassed and oppressed the Israelites (see 2 Kings 8:28-29; 2 Kings 10:32-33; 2 Kings 12:17-18; 2 Kings 13:3-7; 2 Kings 13:22; 2 Chronicles 24:23-24). A man who is under the spell of an unholy ambition is hurried on to sins and excesses of which he little dreamed, and from which in earlier days his better nature stoutly recoiled. He is spurred on by the—
Vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself.
IV. That the lust of ambition is unscrupulous as to the methods by which it attains its ends.
1. It will employ falsehood (2 Kings 8:14). Hazael assures the king that Elisha prophesied his recovery—the exact opposite of what the prophet had said. He purposely deceived Benhadad, intending to put him off his guard. But he who meditated a darker crime, and in whose heart Elisha’s words had roused a boundless ambition, was not too good to lie. Truth or falsehood is of small concern to one who grasps at power. The ambition must be sated, though truth is trampled on at every advancing step.
2. It shrinks not from murder (2 Kings 8:15). The man who shrank with indignant horror at the simple enumeration of the outrages he might commit, heartlessly smothered his royal master on the following day—a method of assassination that would leave no marks of violence on the dead body, and give colour to the suspicion of suicide rather than murder. There was but one obstacle now between Hazael and his long-coveted prize—a royal life—and that is sacrificed without compunction. O, infatuate, short-sighted mortal! The sceptre rashly seized with the red hand of the murderer will change into a cross of trial, the crown into one of thorns, the throne into a bed of torture!
1. Ambition dissociated from sound moral principle is full of peril.
2. There is no act of wickedness of which unholy ambition is incapable.
3. The most commendable ambition is to get and do the most good.
THE INFLUENCE OF CIRCUMSTANCFS UPON HUMAN CHARACTER (2 Kings 8:13)
Hazael came to the prophet to inquire whether his master would recover from his sickness. The answer is ambiguous. So far as the disease itself was concerned, he might recover. Yet his days were numbered; and the purpose to kill him was already being formed in the heart of his hitherto faithful servant. The prophet saw before him not only the king’s enemy, but also the man who would one day inflict dire evils upon Israel. The thought of the horrors about to come to his people made the man of God weep. Hazael asks the cause of his sorrow. Elisha tells him frankly, and in the plainest terms, what was in the not very distant future. Hazael starts back with horror, when he sees in this prophetic mirror the image of his own baseness. “Is thy servant a dog?” The prophet seems to evade the question; and yet, in his reply, we have the full and complete explanation, if not to Hazael, at least to us, of all that occurred. “The Lord hath showed me that thou shalt be king over Syria.” Is this man, then, a base and guilty hypocrite? Is he a man who hides under the cloak of pretended affection for his master, and reverence for humanity, his fiendish designs? How are we to account for the fact that he actually did all that Elisha foretold, if he was not a hypocrite? If we take humanity as it is, not as it has been described in poetry, and sometimes in what was intended to be prose, we shall have no difficulty in accepting both statements—that of Elisha regarding the atrocities of Hazael, and that of Hazael regarding his horror and amazement at the very mention of the crimes. Hazael simply failed to take into account the influence of circumstances upon human character.
I. There is a doctrine of circumstances utterly at variance, not only with the teachings of Scripture, but also with the experience and deepest convictions of mankind—a doctrine which asserts, or appears to assert, that circumstances make men, and that the only difference between the noblest saint and the basest criminal is a difference simply in the structure of the brain, and the character of the surroundings. Some men teach this, but no man believes it, or acts upon it, either in his feelings respecting his own deeds, or his judgments of the moral character of the actions of his friend. But we must, while rejecting a doctrine so monstrous, yet remember that, in a very real sense, circumstances have a power over character and life. Hazael’s error is one of the commonest among ourselves. How many promises are made in early life that cannot afterwards be kept without doing moral wrong to ourselves and others! When the public mind is filled with horrors of some tragedy, or when men see one who has been universally trusted and respected, convicted of some base crime, the tendency is to deny to the criminal the common feelings of humanity, and to attribute to a momentary impulse of an insane mind, what has been the outcome of long-formed habits of thought and settled purposes. Life grows not by sudden freaks of this sort; but, like the plant or tree, derives its nourishment from its surroundings, and, year by year, though it may be imperceptible, assimilates these to itself. In order to form its present and its future, God ever requires its past, which men may forget or ignore. We may here learn a lesson from, and see some analogy in, the teachings of geology regarding the formation of the solid earth on which we tread. Go to the rock, and learn from its formation that once it was loose sand-dust, blown about by every wind! Behold in that rock, now fossilised, the print of the tiny foot, the ripple mark left by the wave on the falling leaf, even the march of the rain-drop as it fell there ages before. Now all is solid, it is true; but once it was far otherwise. So do we find character and life daily forming itself, and being formed, by the slow action of outward circumstances. They are to the mind as food is to the physical frame. The babe grows under the influence of nourishing food, pure air, and healthy exercise. So does our mental and moral nature grow up to a large extent by means of what is supplied in the surroundings.
II. Circumstances bring men into new temptations never felt before. Hazael king of Syria, or even with the throne within his reach, would be a very different person from Hazael the honoured servant of his master. The very thought passing through his mind, the very possibility of attaining such a position, would give a shock to the moral nature of a man who had been wont to regulate his life by expediency. Circumstances not only suggest new temptations, but also give an intensity to those already felt. As we pass from youth to manhood and womanhood, we enter into a new world, peopled with inhabitants whom we may have seen before, but only as trees walking, not in distinct and definite outline. Now they become actual powers in life. They speak to us in a language we can understand, and inspire us with new ideas. So when we enter into new relationships in life we extend the area of our pleasures, it may be, but we also make new desires and wants possible, and expose our moral nature to new dangers. It is a mere commonplace to say that city life, to those who have been brought up in the quiet of the country, will awaken new cravings. A few years amid these surroundings will be sufficient to change the old ways of thought and habits of life. It is not so much that the promises before made, and the views of life entertained, betokened any unreality or hypocrisy, but that they were the outcome of ignorance and inexperience of life. From this point of view, and in their bearing on this subject, nothing can be more instructive than the examples recorded for our guidance in the Holy Scriptures, “profitable indeed for correction and discipline in righteousness.” Had Cain been told that one day he would lift up his hand against Abel his brother, he would, and not without feeling, have said, “Am I a dog?” Joseph’s brethren could hardly have sold their brother into slavery had they not first fitted themselves for this by envy, malice, and hatred. Nor did Potiphar’s wife persecute Joseph altogether from pure hatred, but because her conduct made this necessary, in order that she might appear righteous in the eyes of his master. Suppose we apply the same principles to the crimes associated with Christ’s death. Pilate was not a dog, yet he did “great things.” He simply gave way to popular clamour, in order to gain popular favour (a vice by no means confined to Roman governers), and out of this weakness, or time-serving policy, came all his guilt and crime. If we judge the traitor Judas by the same standard, we shall, perhaps, stand more in awe of that which leads men to awful crimes. His terrible end shows that he did not realise where his avarice and his greed were leading him. Step by step, instead of resisting the tempter, he yielded to circumstances, and at last found himself completely under the powers of darkness. “And it was night,” says the Evangelist.
III. If we could, in one sentence, point the moral lesson of the history of crime in all ages, and in all countries, it would be this for us all: “Is thy servant a dog?” No, thy servant is no dog. He is a man—has in him two natures struggling for the mastery. He is not without his good impulses. Perhaps he often resolves to give himself up to their sway, but he yields too readily to the passions that war against the soul; he gives way to the circumstances that surround him, and that appeal to him. Visit our great convict prisons. Who are their immates? No doubt many of the so-called criminal classes are men and women who come from the lowest ranks of the community. Yes, but they are not all such; yea, these very names may blind us to the origin, progress, and end of wicked deeds. The “criminal classes” are what they are because of the power or circumstances over human nature; because “man is also flesh,” and when once he gives way to the baser passions, tends ever to sink lower and lower in the scale of being, to hand down his very vices to his children. But you will find many in these crowds to whom all life’s pleasures are now denied, who have belonged to the higher classes of society. They yielded to the lie, they gave way to passion, they yielded themselves up to the pleasures of sin. Now they stand aghast at the position in which they have placed themselves, and the depth to which they have fallen. Had you told them of this terrible fall years before, they would have been amazed and incredulous. “Therefore, let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.”
IV. My text seems to suggest that much of what passes for virtue amongst us may simply be vice not manifested by circumstances. How much do women who are sometimes boastful owe to the fact that the world is harder in its judgments on their sins, than in the case of the other sex! How much to the fact they are more protected by circumstances! The rich man knows nothing of the temptations of the man hard pressed by circumstances, and hence his hard and unjust censures. The poor man, protected by his very poverty, knows not the temptation of those nursed in the lap of wealth; hence, when he hears of the sins of the other, he flatters himself on his superiority. He owes it not to his moral heroism, but to his surroundings. We have spoken much of the power of circumstances. Let not man think he is the creature of his surroundings. By God’s grace he may rise above them, and triumph over them, making his very passions minister to his success, and making his enemies his benefactors. There is for man, frail, weak, temptable as he is, and surrounded by everything that can minister to his weakness, one, and only one safe path. It is the way of holiness. It is the path of humility and obedience to the Divine word. These examples are given us as beacon lights to warn of danger, and to point to the one and only way of safety. He only is perfectly safe who commits his way to the Lord, who yields himself to the guidance of the word, who is conscious of weakness, and who, ceasing from man, looks above him to the strong Son of God, who can succour him when tempted. He only is safe who has been delivered from himself, and who is being “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”—C. W. P.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 8:7-15. Hazael discovered.
1. Unconscious wickedness Hazael had a heart that was capable of planning and executing great wickedness, yet knew it not. Would not believe it when told. If we could have the wickedness of our hearts disclosed to us, how appalled we should be. We judge ourselves by the past. That is bad enough But we think we shall and can do nothing worse than that. We forget that the things of the past furnish only a hint of the direction of the future, and may be excelled in the future. More evil in each of us, even the best, than we suppose. We should fear ourselves, distrust ourselves, and only trust God. What might we do under severe temptation. No safeguard against sin but in the help of God.
2. Anxious enquiry. Benhadad a wicked and idolatrous king. Very ill and full of anxious concern. Has no one to enquire of but the prophet Elisha, whose God he denied. In life many deride those ministers of religion whom they send for in sickness, and disobey that God whose pardon they need in sickness as the only source of comfort. If we love and serve God, we shall not be anxious to know whether we shall live or die.
3. The prediction accomplished. Elisha looked in Hazael’s face and read his character and history there. Wept at that sad sight. Hazael was indignant, yet did the crime predicted of him. Had he thoroughly believed it to be possible, and been right-hearted, how he would have prayed. Let us believe the possibility of future sin, and pray earnestly for delivering grace. If we stand, let us take heed est we fall. Many strong men have fallen; let us not be too self-reliant. Huzael might recall the prophet’s words when too late. So may we. Let us seek Divine grace betimes. LEARN:—
1. To trust in the Lord at all times.
2. To put no confidence in the flesh.
3. Not to judge of the future by our present feelings.
4. Seek Divine forgiveness of the past, and Divine guidance for the future.—Class and Desk.
2 Kings 8:7-10. The power of a holy character.
1. Is recognised everywhere, even by the enemies of God: “The man of God is come hither” (2 Kings 8:7).
2. Inspires the hope of succour in affliction: “Enquire of the Lord by him, saying, Shall I recover of this disease?” (2 Kings 8:8).
3. Commands the deference of the rich and powerful (2 Kings 8:9).
4. Gives the deepest significance to words spoken at a critical moment (2 Kings 8:10).
—The subduing power of suffering.
1. Bears down, the strongest and proudest warrior
2. Convinces the idolater of the helplessness and vanity of his own deities.
3. Renders the sufferer ready and eager to receive help from any quarter. Benhadad humbly seeks assistance from the man whose life he had threatened (2 Kings 6:13). In the days of his health and prosperity he had not heeded the lesson of Naaman’s cure, but in the hour of sickness he consults the same wonderful physician.
2 Kings 8:7-8. Benhadad upon the sick bed.
1. The rebellious, haughty and mighty king, the arch-enemy of Israel, who had never troubled himself about the living God, lies in wretchedness; he has lost courage, and now he seeks the prophet, whom he once wished to capture, just as a servant seeks his master. The Lord can with his hammer, which breaketh in pieces even the flinty rock, also make tender the hearts of men. Those who are the most self-willed in prosperity are often the most despairing in misfortune. Not until the end approaches do they seek God; but He cannot help in death those who have never thought of Him.
2. He does not send to ask the prophet, What shall I, a poor sinner, do that I may find grace and be saved? but only whether he shall recover his health. The children of this world are only anxious for bodily welfare; about eternal welfare they are indifferent. It should be our first care in severe illness to set our house in order and to surrender ourselves to the will of God. The time and the hour of death are concealed from men, and it is vain to enquire about them.
2 Kings 8:7. The man of God is come! That was the cry in the heathen city of Damascus, and the news penetrated even to the king, who rejoiced to hear it. This did not occur to Elisha in any city of Israel. Blessed is the city and the country where there is rejoicing that a Man of God is come!—Lange.
—Whether for the idolatries, or for the famine of Israel, the prophet is gone into Syria, no doubt Naaman welcomed him thither, and now would force upon him thanks for his cure, which the man of God would not receive at home. How famous is he now grown who was taken from the team! His name is not confined to his own nation; foreign countries take notice of it, and kings are glad to listen to him, and woo him with presents. The king of Syria, whose counsels he had detected, rejoiced to hear of his presence; and now, as having forgotten, he had sent a whole host to beseige the prophet in Dothan, sends an honourable messenger to him, laden with the burden of forty camels.—Bp. Hall.
2 Kings 8:9. What will not princes part with for their life and health? “Wherefore should I die, being so rich?” said Cardinal Beauford, Chancellor of England in the reign of Henry VI. “If the whole realm would save my life, I am able either by policy to get it, or by riches to buy it. Fie! will not death be hired? Will money do nothing?”
2 Kings 8:11-13. The possibilities of human character detected and exposed. I. That some men are especially gifted in reading the tendencies of human character. Elisha had supernatural discernment. He saw in the eyes of Hazael, as in a mirror, the reflection of his true character, and had the courage to tell him of it. Much of the real man is imaged in the face, though it is possible to cherish the foulest villany under a misleading exterior. II. That the vision of prospective wickedness fill a tender heart with profound grief. Elisha beheld, as in a panorama, the enormities Hazael would perpetrate, and the prophet wept not only because of the obduracy and cruelty of character he foresaw in Hazael, but also because of the sufferings he saw coming on his own nation on account of their sins. How much grief is spared to some parents that they cannot see the crimes their children afterwards commit! They have grief enough when they dis over the undoubted facts, without the torture of anticipation. III. That man indignantly spurns the imputation of great crimes of which he is unconscious. “What is thy servant—a dog—that he should do this great thing?” The career of Hazael illustrates a humiliating truth, that, though unconscious of it, there is in human nature the possibility of the greatest crimes.
2 Kings 8:11-12. He who has a good conscience is never disturbed or embarrassed if anyone looks him directly in the eye; but a bad conscience cannot endure an open, firm look, and trembles with terror at every rustling leaf. Elisha weeps. These were not tears of sentiment, but of the deepest pain, worthy of a man of God, who knows of no greater evil than the apostacy of his people from the living God, the determined contempt for the Divine Word, and the rejection of the Divine Grace. Where are the men who nowadays weep such tears? They were also tears of the most faithful love, which is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, vaunteth not itself, and is not puffed up. So our Lord wept once over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), and Paul over Israel (Romans 9:1-3).—Lange.
2 Kings 8:11. Heart reading. We believe the man lives not, and never did live, who could stand such inspection without quailing before it. Is there one who can affirm that he could stand with unblanched cheek before the man whom he believed to be viewing his naked soul, divested of all the purple and fine linen which cover its littleness—its foulness—its deformities—its soreness from the outer world? Is there one who could endure, without confusion of face—without a quivering frame—the keen dissection of his character, his conduct, his spirit, by even the most friendly hand in the world? Would he be content that any human eye should trace the tortuous meanderings of feeling in regard to any one matter in which he has ever been engaged—the unholy thought—the ungenerous imputation—the low suspicion—the doubt—the dislike—the covetousness—the hate—the contention—the lust of the flesh—the lust of the eye—the pride of life—that more or less enter into, and defile with, the prints of villanous hoofs the fairest garden of life? In this we show how much more fear we have of man than of God. To us it is of infinitely less concernment, both for this world and the world to come, what man thinks of us, than what God thinks—what man knows than what God knows. Yet, while we shrink with such instinctive dread from the too near survey of fellow-sinners, we manage to get on very quietly, with small trouble of mind, in the perfect knowledge that One who cannot be mistaken has a sleepless eye fixed with unceasing vigilance upon our hearts. This keen susceptibility to the inspection and good opinion of man, and this comparative indifference to the constant survey of God, is a familiar thing, and strikes us little because it is familiar; but it is nevertheless one of the strangest anomalies of our nature, and is beheld with astonishment and grief by the angels of God. In their view it is an inversion of the whole order of life and being. To them God is all—His inspection is all; and that different state of things which gives more practical importance to the survey of a sinful fellow-creature like ourselves, must present a greater mystery than any of those deep problems in material or spiritual nature which men have vainly laboured for a thousand years to solve. To us it is plainer. Evil is, alas! more intelligible to man than to angels; and the good and the true is more intelligible to them than to us. It is sin which has cast a veil between our souls and God—a veil transparent to Him, but opaque to us. He sees us as clearly in our deformity as He did in our beauty; but we have ceased to see Him as He is. We do not realise the unseen. We live by sight, and not by faith. How different would be our conversation and our walk if we lived and moved in the ever-present consciousness that the Unseen Eye was upon us, and that the opinion of us hereafter to be pronounced in the presence of the assembled universe is a matter of inconceivably more importance to us than all that the world can think or say. Let us believe that to walk and act from day to day with this as a vital consciousness about us—without any supreme anxiety but to walk so as to please God—is a most pleasant life—is the very antepast of Heaven. There is no bondage in it. It is perfect freedom; and is happiness as complete as this world allows.—Kitto.
2 Kings 8:13. Wicked men are carried into those heights of impiety which they could not in their good mood have possibly believed. Nature is subject to favourable opinions of herself, and will rather mistrust a prophet of God than her own good disposition. How many, from honest beginnings, have risen to incredible licentiousness, whose lives are now such that it were as hard for a man to believe they had ever been good, as to have pursuaded them once they should prove so desperately ill!—Bp. Hall.
—Subserviency before men is always joined with falseness and hypocrisy. Therefore, trust no one who is more than humble and modest. Hazael called himself a dog, while he plotted in his heart to become king of a great people. It is the way with all hypocrites that they bend and cringe, humble themselves and conceal their tricks, until they perceive their opportunity and have found the key of the situation. There is scarcely anything more discordant and disgusting than the dialect of self-abasement when it bears upon its face the stamp of affectation and falsehood.
2 Kings 8:11; 2 Kings 8:15. The regicide.
1. Does not scruple to tell a lie.
2. Seeks to commit his great crime in such a way as to create least suspicion.
3. Is spuired on by an ungovernable ambition.
4. Nevers reaps the advantage for which he has sacrificed everything.
—It is the curse which rests upon him who has sold himself to sin, that all which ought to awaken his conscience and terrify and shock him out of his security, only makes him more obstinate, and pushes him on to carry out his evil designs.
2 Kings 8:15. Buchanan tells of Natholicus, the thirty-first king of the Scots, that, having usurped the crown, he sent a trusty friend to a famous witch, to know what success he should have in his kingdom, and how long he should live. The witch answered that he should shortly be murdered, not by an enemy, but by his friend. The messenger instantly enquired, by what friend? “By thyself,” said the witch. The messenger at first abhorred the thought of any such villany; but afterwards, conceiving that it was not safe to reveal the witch’s answer, and yet that it could not be concealed, he resolved rather to kill the king to the content of many, than to hazard the loss of his own head. Thereupon, at his return, being in secret with the king to declare to him the witch’s answer, he suddenly slew him.—Trapp.
—At heart proud, haughty, and imperious, Hazael affects humility and submissiveness. Towards his master, who had entrusted him with the most important commission, he is false and treacherous. He shrinks from no means to attain his object. He lies and deceives, but, at the same time, he is cunning and crafty, and knows how to conceal his traitorous purposes. When, alarmed and exposed by the words of the prophet, he can no longer keep them secret, he marches on to the crime; although he seeks to execute it in such a way that he may not appear to be guilty. With all this he combines energy, courage, cruelty, and a blind hatred against Israel, as the sequel shows. On account of these qualities he is well fitted to be, in the hand of God, a rod of anger, and a staff of indignation. The Lord makes the vessels of wrath serviceable for the purposes of His government; and here we have again, as often in the history of redemption, an example of wickedness punished by wickedness, and of godless men made, without their will or knowledge, instruments of holiness and justice.—Lange.
—O! Hazael; thou shalt not thus easily stop the mouth of thine own conscience. That shall call thee traitor, even in thy chair of state, and shall check all thy royal triumphs with, “Thou hast founded thy throne in blood!” I am deceived if this wet cloth shall not wipe thy lips in thy jolliest feasts, and make thy best morsels unsavoury. Sovereignty is painful upon the fairest terms; but upon treachery and murder, tormenting. Woeful is the case of that man whose public cares are aggravated with private guiltiness; and happy is he that can enjoy a little with the peace of an honest heart.—Bishop Hall.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 8:16. Joram the son of Ahab—See Notes on chap. 2 Kings 3:1.
2 Kings 8:18. The daughter of Ahab—Attaliah. It was through her influence the king introduced the worship of Baal into Judah (2 Chronicles 21:0 :).
2 Kings 8:19. To give him alway a light, and to his children—i.e., “even in his children,” that his kingdom should be kept from becoming extinct.
2 Kings 8:21. Zair—Vulgate says Seir; other authorities suggest Zoar.The people fled to their tents—i.e., the men of Judah.
2 Kings 8:22. Yet Edom revolted—So Edom revolted, thus fulfilling Genesis 27:40, for though the Edomites were subjugated for a brief period (chap. 2 Kings 14:7; 2 Kings 14:22), they were never again vanquished.—W. H. J.
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 8:16-29
THE WOEFUL DISASTERS OF AN UNHOLY ALLIANCE
In this paragraph we detect traces of the baneful influence of the iniquitous Jezebel. The brief histories of Jehoram and Ahaziah present a terrible example of the way in which one bad woman can radically corrupt entire dynasties and kingdoms, and of the curse that rests upon matrimonial connections which are only formed in order to attain political objects. The kingdom of Judah became tainted with the idolatry that had degraded and enfeebled Israel, and there was danger that the social morality of Jerusalem would sink to the low, black level of Samaria. The dynasty of Omri was the most disastrous in the annals of Israel, and is stained with the darkest crimes. Such a succession of weak and wicked rulers could not continue for ever. The doom of the dynasty is declared. The darkening clouds of vengeance are closing round. The victims and the avenger are being prepared. The hour to strike is at hand. We have here an indication of the woeful disasters that befell Judah because of its unhappy connections with Israel, and how the wrong-doers were ripening for punishment.
I. That an unholy alliance may be unwisely sanctioned by good and holy parents. Jehoshaphat, the father of Jehoram, was one of the noblest kings of Judah. Influenced by genuine piety, he effected important reforms in his kingdom. He abolished idolatry; he raised a formidable army, and strongly fortified the frontiers; he promoted a flourishing commerce; he administered justice with strict impartiality; he maintained and encouraged the worship of Jehovah; he was beloved by his people, and his fame spread in every direction. It was a serious mistake when he first entered into confederacy with the profane court of Israel. His connection with Ahab in war (chap. 3), and with Ahaziah in commerce (2 Chronicles 20:35), both ended disastrously. But the greatest wrong, and what became a fruitful source of evil, was his sanctioning the marriage of his son with a daughter of the house of Ahab. If he was induced to it by the prospect of advantage, he was utterly disappointed. Not only did he suffer himself, but many calamities happened to his descendants in consequence of this affinity. Parents cannot be too careful in advising their children as to matrimonial alliances; and children should respect the counsel and riper judgment of parents on so delicate and important a subject. Mere sentiment and passion should not be allowed to blind the sense of what is just and wise and holy. The best of parents in other respects may be weak in this. And yet, if a mistake is made, it is made for life, and many other lives are involved in the suffering.
II. That an unholy alliance often leads to a career of unexampled wickedness (2 Kings 8:18). Though Jehoram reigned during the life-time of Jehoshaphat, he did not follow the good example of his father, but chose Ahab for his pattern, if he did not exceed him in vileness and cruelty. He murdered his six brothers, as it would appear, for no other reason than to become possessed of the treasures which his father bequeathed to them (2 Chronicles 21:0), not from any jealousy that they would interfere with the succession to the throne. A king who did not shrink from fratricide may be easily conceived capable of any crime. Jehoram grew into a monster of impurity and wickedness, and, after a brief reign of eight years, he died of a horrible desease, unhonoured, and unregretted. It is some consolation to society that the career of its most debauched and brutalised members is brief. Outraged nature retaliates with suffering and premature death. A bad wife may drive her husband to the vilest excesses; there is no escape from her baleful influence but in the grave. How different would have been the history and career of some men if they had married differently!
III. That an unholy alliance corrupts and demoralises the national life. (2 Kings 8:20-22). Edom and Libnah revolted. They despise a king who was both weak and wicked. Jehoram made some attempt to put down the rebellion, and though he was successful in a night engagement against the Edomites, his soldiers gave up the battle and ran away to their homes. Edom, which had been tributary to Judah from the days of David, was thus lost to Jehoram. The national life was demoralised, and the people were heedless as to what became of the national power and prestige. Jehoram had the memorable distinction of being the first to introduce the abominations of Baal worship to Judah, and the result was soon evident in the lowering of the moral tone of the national character. In the rulership of Judah, it was a great drop from Jehoshaphat to Jehoram; but in the moral life of the people it was a greater drop from Jehovah to Baal!
IV. That an unholy alliance infects posterity with its evils (2 Kings 8:25-29). The bad influence of Jehoram did not die with him. It survived in Ahaziah, who inherited and practised the worst features of his father’s example. The history, brief as it is, is careful to point out his relationship to the worst dynasty that darkens the history of the Jewish kings, and to show the predominating tendency of his life to be evil. “He did evil in the sight of the Lord, as did the house of Ahab.” Sin hardens the heart and produces obstinacy of disposition. The practice of sin becomes an infatuation, until the sinner becomes incorrigible. So that
“You may as well
Forbid the sea for to obey the moon,
As by oath remove, or counsel shake,
The fabric of his folly.”—Shakspeare.
But the network of retribution is being drawn tighter round its victims. It is not without design that Joram, Ahaziah, and Jezebel are brought together in Jezreel. The avenger is at hand, and the three chief representatives of the house of Ahab must be the first to fall.
V. That the worse sins of an unholy alliance cannot revoke the Divine promise. “Yet the Lord would not destroy Judah for David His servant’s sake, as He promised him to give him alway a light and to his children” (2 Kings 8:19 comp. with 1 Kings 11:36). By the formal adoption of idolatry Judah had revolted from Jehovah and became as bad as Israel, and, but for the Divine promise, the royal family of Judah would have been as thoroughly extirpated as that of Israel. O, the infinite patience of God! The basest ingratitude, the most outrageous sins, cannot invalidate the fidelity of God. David was assured that he should not lack a successor on the throne of Israel, so that his name should be as a light continually kept burning by a constant supply of oil, until the Messiah came, in whose glorious advent the greatest earthly luminary should be quenched. The pledge, though in abeyance for many long, weary years, was fully redeemed. And now, “while wicked men from generation to generation perish in their sins, the son of David, the light of His church, ever liveth to protect; bless, and comfort His people.”
1. Great care should be taken in forming the friendships and alliances of life.
2. Unutterable mischief has resulted from an ill-assorted marriage.
3. No union should be entered into that is not based on the mutual love of God.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 8:16-29. The spirit of the house of Ahab. I. Perversion of all divine and human ordinances. “Wicked and corrupt women set the tone and ruled over their weak husbands. II. Immorality, licentiousness, murder, and tyranny. III. Contempt, on the one hand, for the richness of God’s long-suffering and goodness; and, on the other, for the warnings of God’s judgments and chastisements. What a different spirit animated the household of a Cornelius (Acts 10:2), of a Crispus (Acts 18:8), cf a jailer at Philippi (Acts 16:34).
—The importance of family relationships. I. The great influence which they exert. They necessarily bring about relationship in spirit and feeling. They work gradually, but mightily. One member of the connection draws another with him either to good or to evil. In spite of their pious father and grandfather, Jehoram and Ahaziah were tainted by the apostasy of the house of Ahab. How many are not able to resist the evil influences of these connections, and therefore make shipwreck of their faith, and are either drawn into open sin and godlessness, or are transformed into a superficial, thoughtless, and worldly character. II. The duty which therefore devolves upon us. The calamities which even the pious Jehoshaphat brought upon his house, nay, even upon his country, arose from the fact that he gave the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel to his son, as a wife, and did not bear in mind that relationships which do not rest upon the word and cammandment of God bring discontent and ruin. Therefore beware of entering into relationships which lack the bond of faith and unity of spirit, however grand or advantageous externally they may seem to be. Do not, by such connections, transplant the Ahab and Jezebel spirit into your house, for it eats like a cancer, and corrupts and destroys to the very heart.—Lange.
2 Kings 8:18. An indiscreet marriage. I. May be mistakenly promoted by the best of parents. II. Makes the beginning of married life morally perilous. III. Leads on gradually to the commission of great sins. IV. Involves many in disgrace and suffering.
2 Kings 8:19. Behold the faithfulness of God, who, for the sake of the fidelity of the father, chastises indeed the son, but yet will not utterly destroy him. God will sustain His kingdom to the end of the world, in order that a holy leaven may remain, no matter how many may be found who scoff at His promise to sustain His church.—Cramer.
—The Divine faithfulness.—
1. Is not rendered inefficacious by human sin.
2. Guarantees the fulfilment of every Divine promise.
3. May well inspire the unbeliever with alarm.
4. Provides the light of hope in the darkest period of human history.
2 Kings 8:20-24. A demoralised monarch. 1. Weakens government.
2. Is powerless to suppress rebellion.
3. Loses the respect and attachment of his subjects.
4. Dies without being regretted, and is buried without sorrow.
2 Kings 8:27. The influence of a bad example.
1. Is felt by succeeding generations.
2. Is difficult to counteract when emanating from a near relative.
3. When deliberately followed tends to shorten life, and leads to misery and ruin.
2 Kings 8:28-29. Confederates in a false religion.
1. Are capable of strong personal attachments.
2. Share with one another the risks and fortunes of war.
3. Not devoid of sympathy in affliction.
2 Kings 8:29. As he so gladly joined himself to Ahab’s family, and was so fond of spending his time with them, there it was, by the ordering of Divine providence, that he met his end. Those who, by their hostility to the Lord, belong together, must come together, that they may perish together. Jehoram was so anxious to be healed of the bodily wound which the Syrians had given him, that he left the army, and returned to Jezreel; but the wounds of his soul, which he had inflicted upon himself, caused him no trouble, and did not lead him back, as they should have done, to Him who promised, “I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds” (Jeremiah 30:17). The children of this world visit one another when they are ill. They do it, however, not in order to console the sick one with the word of life, and to advance God’s purpose in afflicting him, but from natural love, from relationship, or other external reasons. Their visits cannot, therefore, be regarded as Christian work.—Calwer Bib.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Kings 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26