Tuesday, May 30th, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Simeon's Horae Homileticae Horae Homileticae
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Kings 2". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ shh/ 2-kings-2.html. 1832.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Kings 2". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://studylight.org/
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ELIJAH’S TRANSLATION TO HEAVEN
2 Kings 2:9-12. And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so. And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.
RELIGION, however despised by men, has invariably been honoured by God. He has said, “Them that honour me, I will honour:” and he has fulfilled his word to all his servants in all ages. The tokens of his love and the communications of his grace have in different measures been vouchsafed unto them; and for the most part some visible manifestations of his favour have been given them, in proportion as they have visibly displayed their regard for him. On some occasions the honour conferred upon his servants has been exceeding great. Noah, Abraham, and many others, have been so distinguished by him, as to be set, as it were, above all the rest of the human race that existed in their day: and in two instances, the one before the deluge, and the other since, he has condescended to exempt from death frail mortals like ourselves; and to exalt them in their embodied state to the celestial Paradise. Of Enoch we have spoken in another place: we are now to speak of the other instance, the Prophet Elijah—
We propose to consider,
The translation of Elijah—
In order to get a just view of this subject, we must notice,
How he was occupied—
[This eminent servant of Jehovah was indefatigable in his Master’s work: nor, when informed of God’s gracious purpose respecting him, did he relax it, but rather abounded in it more and more.
He laboured for the public good. There were schools of the prophets, which he had established for the preservation of true religion (amidst the general defection to idolatry) in the land of Israel. These he visited at Gilgal, at Beth-el, and at Jericho, to strengthen and encourage all the students previous to his final departure from them — — — How blessed, how suitable an employment! Thus did Paul go about “confirming the churches,” and exert himself with all fidelity for the good of the Ephesian church, when he knew that they were about to “see his face no more [Note: Acts 20:17-38.].” Thus did Peter also, when he knew that his departure was at hand [Note: 2 Peter 1:12-15.]: and thus did our blessed Lord himself just previous to his crucifixion. What encouraging discourses were those which he delivered to his disciples [Note: John 14:0; John 15:0; John 16:0.]: and how wonderfully sublime his parting prayer [Note: John 17:0.]! Thus too should every servant of God exert himself as long as his Divine Master shall see fit to continue him on earth. To train up others for the same glorious service is the most acceptable office he can perform for God, and the most profitable work he can execute for man.
Nor was the prophet inattentive to the welfare of his private friends. “What shall I do for thee before I go?” was the question which he put to his servant Elisha. He knew that after his departure he could benefit his friends no longer; and therefore he would improve the present moment to the utmost of his power. How worthy of his high character was such conduct as this! How carefully should every minister, yea and every private Christian, put to himself this question, ‘What more can I do, for my country? for my friends? for my very enemies? What can I do as a parent, for my children? as a master, for my family? as a friend, for my most endeared companions? as a minister, for the people committed to my charge? Is there no one who particularly needs from me a word of reproof, of consolation, of encouragement?’
The Lord grant that at whatever hour we shall be called hence, we may be found thus labouring in the way most suited to our respective spheres, and our several capacities!]
How he was removed—
[“A fiery chariot and horses of fire,” that is, angels under that appearance, were sent to convey him to heaven, without his ever tasting the bitterness of death. What a blessed change did he then experience! — — — But such is indeed the change which every saint experiences at his departure hence. The body, it is true, must die, and be consigned to the grave; but the soul shall be carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom: and the body itself, after returning to its native dust, shall at the last day be re-united to the soul, and enjoy all that Elijah now enjoys, in the presence of its God — — — This was by the exaltation of Elijah assured to men: for the honour conferred on him was not that he alone should have a glorified body, but that he should possess it now, whilst others must wait for it till the resurrection of the just.]
We cannot wonder that the removal of such a man should call forth,
The lamentation of Elisha—
So deep and unfeigned was his grief, that he rent his clothes as the accustomed expression of it. He lamented the departure of Elijah,
As a private loss—
[“My father, my father!” cried this afflicted saint. He regarded the departed prophet with all the reverence and affection due to a beloved parent. Indeed the prophet was his spiritual father; for it was by him that Elisha was first called to the service of his God: and to such there is an affection due, as much as to a natural parent: for to our natural parent we owe the existence of our bodies only; but to our spiritual parent, the salvation of our souls [Note: Philem. ver. 19]. And how great is the loss of one who has opened our eyes to eternal things, and by his watchful care and salutary advice has led us forward toward the possession of everlasting bliss!
It might have seemed indeed, that, as Elisha expected to receive the benefit he had asked, he needed not to have laid so much to heart the loss he had sustained: but no considerations of personal benefit ought to divest us of the finer feelings of our nature. The benefit, it is true, was exceeding great: he had asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit; that is, (regarding Elijah as his father,) he desired to have the portion of his eldest son, which was double that of the younger children [Note: Deu 21:17 with Numbers 11:17; Numbers 11:25. As for his asking for twice as much as Elijah himself possessed, and actually doing by virtue of it twice as much good as Elijah did, it is all fanciful and absurd.]: but still he had been ungrateful in the extreme, if he had not bewailed the loss of so faithful a master, and so dear a friend.] .
As a public loss—
[Horses and chariots composed the chief strength of armies in that day: hence Elisha, judging that now the best friend and most efficient protector of his country was gone, exclaims, “The chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!” And true indeed it is, that the faithful servants of God do deserve the character here given them. Look at Moses, and see how often he preserved the whole nation of Israel from ruin. Had there been ten pious men found in Sodom, all the cities of the plain should have been spared for their sake. Little do the world imagine how much they are indebted to the very men whom they revile and persecute: but God has declared that even one single individual who humbly intercedes for his country, may be the means of preserving it from utter destruction [Note: Jeremiah 5:1; Ezekiel 22:30.]. Well then may such persons be honoured while they live, and deeply deplored when removed to a better world.]
Those who are more advanced in life—
[The time is shortly coming when you must be taken into the presence of your God. Should you not then inquire, Whether “the good work be yet begun in you; or, if begun, whether it be proceeding towards its perfect accomplishment?” Should you not ask, What is there more that I can do for God, my neighbour, or myself? O “work while it is day, because the night cometh wherein no man can work.” “There is no work nor device nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave whither ye go;” and therefore “whatever your hand findeth to do, ye should do it with all your might.”
To ministers who are drawing near the close of their labours, this subject applies itself with peculiar force. If you see young Elishas coming forward to enter into your labours, be thankful for it; and labour, whilst yet an opportunity is afforded you, to raise up a succession of faithful ministers, who shall continue after your decease to advance the Redeemer’s interests in the world.]
To those who are entering into life—
[Learn of Elisha to appreciate rightly the privileges you enjoy. The world will often endeavour to draw you from Christ and his faithful servants; and will say, “Tarry here, I pray thee:” but let your answer always be, ‘As the Lord liveth, I will not leave either my God himself, or the ministry of his word:’ in all places, and under all circumstances, I will “cleave unto my Lord with full purpose of heart.” “If you have the light, then believe in the light, and walk in it, that ye may be the children of the light.” Above all, take care that your eye be single, and that spiritual blessings have their due preponderance in your hearts. If God should say to you, as in truth he does, What shall I do for thee [Note: John 14:13-14.]? then let your soul be ever ready to reply, “Grant that a double portion of thy Spirit be given to me.” Yes; let spiritual blessings be the one object of your desires; and “covet earnestly the best gifts.”]
2 Kings 2:14. Where is the Lord God of Elijah?
WHEN bereft of those whom we love, and with whose continuance in the world our welfare was intimately connected, we are ready to think that our all is gone. We forget that, while Jehovah liveth, he can repair our breaches, and make up to us all our losses. When Elijah was taken up into heaven, Elisha cried, “My father, my father! the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!” He supposed that Israel’s defence was utterly departed from them. But he soon found, that God had mercy in store for Israel; and that the spirit of the departed prophet now rested upon him. Recovering therefore from his desponding fears, he took up the mantle which had fallen from Elijah, and, in full expectation of seeing the waters of Jordan separated by means of it, as they had just before been, he smote them with it, and said, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”
From these words we shall take occasion to shew,
By what means God shewed himself to be the God of Elijah—
The whole history of Elijah might be adduced to illustrate this point: but, to avoid needless prolixity, we observe, that God shewed himself to be his God,
By the communications of his grace—
[Elijah was eminently endued with grace: he was pious in the midst of a general affection; he was courageous under the most cruel persecution. The whole nation of Israel were become idolaters: but he dared to stem the torrent of iniquity, and to confess Jehovah as his God. There were indeed seven thousand persons who had not conformed to the worship of Baal; but as they were totally unknown to him, the effect, as far as it related to him, was the same as if there had not been one; because he derived no comfort from their countenance or example. But he was not contented to do what was right himself, without bearing his testimony against what was wrong. He therefore reproved with boldness and severity the king himself: and though on one occasion his courage seemed to fail him [Note: 1 Kings 19:3.], yet on the whole he was an undaunted champion for his God, and an invincible sufferer for the truth’s sake.
As for the spirit of prophecy which he had, or his power to work miracles, these were no proofs that God was his God; for then God must have been the God of Balaam, who was a prophet; and of Judas, who wrought miracles. But the graces which he exercised and maintained in the midst of a wicked generation, incontestably shewed, that he was elevated in God’s esteem far above the generality of mankind.]
By the interpositions of his providence—
[Such was his interest with God, that by his prayers he shut up the heavens for three years and an half, and then opened them again by the same means [Note: James 5:17-18.]. When he lifted up his voice to God, instantly came fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice [Note: 1 Kings 18:37-38.]; yea, to consume also, and that repeatedly, the enemies who were sent to apprehend him [Note: 2 Kings 1:10-12.]. While all the surrounding nations, together with Israel, groaned under the calamitous effects of a drought, he was miraculously sustained with bread and meat, twice a day for a long time together, by ravens at the side of the brook Cherith [Note: 1 Kings 17:3-6.]. When that brook failed, he was supported by a poor widow, whose barrel of meal never decreased, nor did her cruse of oil fail, till a return of rain brought plenty to the famished land [Note: 1 Kings 17:9-16.]. On another occasion (when perhaps he could least of all expect such an interposition) an angel was sent to feed him [Note: 1 Kings 19:4-8.]; and on taking a second meal of the food provided, he was enabled to go in the strength of it for forty days. Waving all mention of visions imparted to him [Note: 1 Kings 19:11-12.], or miracles wrought by him [Note: 1Ki 17:19-23 and 2 Kings 2:8.], let us pass on to the period of his departure from the world. Then we see not only the sting of death taken away, but the law relating to the dissolution of our bodies cancelled; and the man of God taken in body and soul into heaven without ever tasting of death [Note: 2 Kings 2:11.]; the only person thus honoured in the new world, as Enoch had been in the old world. Can we doubt but that the person for whom God so interposed both in life and in death, was a distinguished favourite of Heaven?]
Yet were not these favours from God so peculiar, but,
That believers at this time may expect similar tokens of his regard—
We readily grant, that no one at this day is warranted to expect a miracle; but yet every believer,
Shall have God for his God—
[God has been the God of his people in every age. He is called “The Lord God of Shem [Note: Genesis 9:26.]:” and it is needless to say how often he is spoken of as “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” That this honour was not confined to a few eminent saints, is manifest; for he is called by no name more frequently than “The God of Israel.” Indeed he has expressly covenanted that he “will be the God of his believing people [Note: Jeremiah 31:33.],” or, as that term is varied and explained in the Epistle to the Hebrews [Note: Hebrews 8:10. See also 1 Chronicles 17:24.], He “will be a God unto them,” and do every thing that an Almighty Being can do for their benefit. As “he was not ashamed to be called the God of his people” of old [Note: Hebrews 11:16.], so neither will he be ashamed to be called our God.]
Shall have all the proofs of it that can conduce to his welfare—
[Think of any thing that a believer can need, for body or for soul, for time or for eternity; and we do not hesitate to affirm, that God has made it the subject of a special promise, and that it is the believer’s privilege to expect it at his hands. Do we need temporal blessings? God has said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all other things shall be added unto you [Note: Matthew 6:33.].” Are our privations accompanied also with great dangers? “Our place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks; bread shall be given us, and our water shall be sure [Note: Compare Isa 33:16 with 2Ki 1:10-12 and 1 Kings 17:3-6.].” Do we desire that our petitions may be heard? We are reminded that “Elijah was a man of like passions with us;” and are taught to conclude from the answer given to his prayers, that “the prayer of every righteous man availeth much [Note: James 5:16-18.].” Do we need to be strengthened for our manifold trials and conflicts? “His grace shall be sufficient for us [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.];” and “as our day is, so shall also our strength be [Note: Deuteronomy 33:25.].” True, we shall not be exempt from death, or carried in a fiery chariot up to heaven: but the sting of death shall be taken away; and we shall be “carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom [Note: Luke 16:22.].” In a word, if only we seek God as our God in Christ, “he will give us grace and glory, and withhold no good thing from us” either in time or eternity [Note: Psalms 84:11.].
What then had Elijah more than this, or what can we desire more?]
Having proved our point, we come to recommend the confident expectation expressed in the text—
[Believer, art thou just called forth, like Elisha, to face a frowning world? Fear not: take up Elijah’s mantle, and smite the waters that obstruct thy path, and expect Elijah’s God to open thy way before thee. Think “not any thing too hard for God.” Remember that he is thy God, as well as Elijah’s: and as “his ear is not heavy, that he cannot hear; so neither is his hand shortened, that he cannot save [Note: Isaiah 59:1.].” See what confident expectation was manifested by God’s Church of old: “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old! Art thou not it which hath dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over [Note: Isaiah 51:9-10.]?” Thus must you call upon your God. You cannot ask too largely, nor expect too much at his hands. If difficulties are to be surmounted, or wants to be supplied, or lusts to be subdued, go forth and say, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”
Even to unbelievers methinks this subject is not without its appropriate use: for, who was Elijah more than others? Was not he once “a child of wrath even as others?” and may not those who are now children of wrath, become even as he? Yes, there is a cloud of witnesses to prove, that, though Elijah is gone, Elijah’s God remaineth, and that he is the same gracious, merciful, loving, and almighty Friend as ever. O seek him then as your reconciled God in Christ; and you shall soon be able to say, “He is my God, and I will praise him; my father’s God, and I will exalt him [Note: Exodus 15:2.].”]
ELISHA HEALING THE SPRING WITH A CRUSE OF SALT
2 Kings 2:19-22. The men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren. And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake.
THE miracles recorded in the Old Testament are replete with most important instruction. Many of them are typical; such as, the deliverance of the first-born through the blood of the paschal lamb; the passage of Israel through the Red Sea; the guidance of them by the pillar and the cloud; their supplies of manna from the clouds, and of water from the rock; their healing by the brasen serpent; and many others. Some, which were not strictly types, were of an emblematical nature, and well calculated to convey instruction beyond the mere exhibition of power or grace contained in them. Amongst these may be ranked the miracle which is recorded in my text. It cannot properly be considered as a type; yet, I think, it may well afford occasion for the following observations. I would observe then,
That there is no evil so great, but God is both able and willing to remove it—
The evil experienced at Jericho was great—
[I do not conceive that the water had originally been bad, or the ground barren: but that God had sent a curse both upon the one and the other, on account of the wickedness of those who had rebuilt the city, in direct opposition to his recorded will. Joshua having destroyed the city, had declared that the man who should presume to rebuild it should lay the foundation in the death of his first-born, and put up the gates with the loss of his youngest son. And till the days of Ahab, no one had dared to contravene the will of God respecting it. But at last Hiel, the Bethelite, presumed to restore the city: and on him had been executed the very curse denounced by Joshua [Note: Compare Jos 6:26 with 1 Kings 16:34.]. At that time I suppose that the water and the ground were cursed by God, agreeably to what he had threatened by Moses [Note: Deuteronomy 28:2-4; Deuteronomy 28:11; Deuteronomy 28:15-18.]: so that in that instance was fulfilled what David has spoken, “He turneth a fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein [Note: Psalms 107:34.].” And certainly the beauty of the situation could but ill repay the loss sustained by the infliction of this curse. But, as the miracle shews us, God was both able and willing to remove the evil, when he was applied unto in the exercise of faith.]
But have not we far greater evils to be removed?
[Behold what has been inflicted on mankind on account of sin. How dead are the souls of men, which, at their first creation, were as living springs of all that was good! Behold, too, how barren are their lives in respect of all the fruits of righteousness, which originally, when in Paradise, were produced by them! True, indeed, there is somewhat of man’s primeval beauty still adhering to him: and if we had respect only to his faculties, as compared with all other parts of the terrestrial creation, we should say of him, “Behold how beautiful he is, as my lord seeth!” But, “his heart, alas! from whence are the issues of life,” is become “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked [Note: Jeremiah 17:9.];” yea, “it is full of evil [Note: Ecclesiastes 9:3.],” and “out of it proceed all manner of abominations [Note: Mar 7:21-23].” As to any thing truly spiritual, it is a perfect desert; so barren, that not one “just work, or one good counsel, or one holy desire,” is produced by it. And to what a vast extent are these evils felt! Not only those who are in immediate contact with us, but the whole world, feel the bitter consequences of the change that has taken place in us, and of the curse that has been inflicted on us: and, if a remedy be not applied, the sad effects will be continued to all eternity.
And can these evils be removed? Yes, and shall be, if only we apply to God in prayer and faith.]
But in this miracle we further see,
That there are no means so weak, but God can render them effectual to the desired end—
How utterly inadequate were the means by which this miracle was wrought!
[There was no power in salt to render the water sweet, or the ground fertile: or, if there had been any suitableness in the means to the end, what could a single cruse of salt have effected, in a spring of water, and in all the adjacent land? and why must it be brought in a new cruse, rather than in one which had been used? It is plain that these means were no more than the erecting of a brasen serpent to heal the wounded Israelites, or than our Lord’s making clay of spittle to restore to sight a man that had been born blind [Note: John 9:6.].]
Nor are the means which we use for the conversion of the world at all more adequate to the end proposed—
[How is it that we attempt to operate on men, so as to sanctify their hearts and lives? It is by the simple preaching of the Gospel to them; or, as the Apostle expresses it, “by the foolishness of preaching [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:21.].” How little this can effect, may be seen in the ministry of the Prophets, and Apostles, and even of our blessed Lord himself. To few, comparatively, was the word accompanied with any saving power.
“Neither Paul was any thing, nor Apollos any thing:” whatever was done through their instrumentality could, if God had so pleased, been as easily effected without them, as with them. So at this day, what is any minister, but “a voice crying in the wilderness?” Yet, when God is pleased to make the word effectual, the dead are quickened, and the bond-slaves of Satan are sanctified unto the Lord. Behold, on the day of Pentecost, what a change was wrought by one single discourse, delivered by a poor illiterate fisherman! Methinks, as to any intrinsic power to produce the miracle which was wrought that day, the cruse of salt was on a par with the sermon of the Apostle. And it is no little encouragement to us to know, that no weakness of ours will be any bar to the efficacy of our ministrations, if only God be pleased to work by us: for he “has committed his treasure to earthen vessels, on purpose that the excellency of the power may be seen to be of God, and not of us [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:7.].”]
It is certain, too,
That there is no benefit so great, but God will confer it through the ministry of his faithful servants—
What a rich benefit was that conferred by the hands of Elisha!
[We, who are accustomed to drink of wholesome springs, and to eat in rich abundance the fruits of the land, have very little conception how great a benefit God at this time bestowed on Jericho. There was from that time no more death in the water, or barrenness in the land. Even after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, the spring continued both abundant and salubrious, as the Jewish historian informs us; yea, and to this very hour it so remains, as modern travellers have attested.]
But what was that benefit, in comparison of the blessings conferred on us by the Gospel?
[The blessings of salvation itself are imparted to us by the preaching, the simple preaching, of Christ crucified. Who can estimate this benefit? Think of a new heart being given to us, and a new spirit renewed within us. Think of the whole life and conversation as so changed, that in the place of the brier grows up the fir-tree, and instead of the thorn grows up the myrtle-tree, and all the fruits of righteousness abound to the praise and glory of God. Yet shall this be wrought through the ministry of the word, in every place, and in every heart, where the Gospel is faithfully administered, and humbly received. Yes, it is not to one town or country that this mercy shall be vouchsafed, but to every country under heaven, where the Gospel comes: nor shall the benefits be continued only through the contracted span of this life, but through the endless ages of eternity. Not that it is to be expected to any great extent, except through the intervention of his ministers: for he delights to honour his own ordinances, and his own servants, whom he has sent to minister his blessings to mankind. He might have healed the springs of Jericho, without either the use of salt, or the agency of Elisha: and so he may impart salvation to men without the ministry of a preached Gospel: but it is only in the use of his appointed means that we are authorized to expect his proffered blessings. Nevertheless, if we use the appointed means in faith, we may expect, from the abundance of his mercy, every benefit which our souls can desire.]
Address those who feel their need of God’s merciful intervention—
[The men of Jericho had neglected to avail themselves of the presence of Elijah, who was now for ever withdrawn from them: and it was only through the unforeseen circumstance of Elisha waiting for the return of the men who had been sent to search for Elijah, that he was detained there a few days. Now, therefore, they seize the opportunity afforded them, and beseech his intercession with the Deity in their behalf: and thus they obtain the benefit which they so greatly needed.
Beloved Brethren, think how many opportunities you have lost of obtaining salvation to your own souls — — — But, blessed be God! the word of the Gospel yet sounds in your ears, and God is at this moment waiting to confer on you all the blessings both of grace and glory. But how long the advantages you now enjoy may be continued to you, or you be continued to possess them, God alone knows. Methinks what our Lord said to his hearers may now be addressed to you; “A little while is the light with you: walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you. While ye have the light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light [Note: John 12:35-36.].” And who can tell what benefits may accrue to distant ages, if you yourselves obtain these blessings to your souls? — — —
To those, especially, who are now before me, I would say, Cry mightily to God that the cruse of salt may be cast into this fountain, from whence so many streams are issuing [Note: The University.]; that being rendered salubrious, they may fertilize this whole land, and be the means of diffusing life and salvation to the remotest corners of the globe.]
ELISHA MOCKED BY THE CHILDREN
2 Kings 2:23-24. And he went up from thence unto Beth-el: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
THOUGH the ministry of the word in its original purpose was intended only for the happiness of man, it but too frequently proves an occasion of his more aggravated misery. That great Prophet, the Lord Jesus Christ, who came to enlighten and save the world, was “set no less for the fall, than for the rising, of many in Israel.” In like manner St. Paul was to some “a savour of life unto life; but to others, a savour of death unto death.” Thus the Prophet Elisha, who, in healing the waters of Jericho, not only conferred upon Israel a great temporal benefit, but shewed what benefit he was sent to confer on their souls also, was speedily constrained to call down judgments upon the people whose welfare he was most anxious to promote.
The destruction of so many children for what appears to have been but a small offence, has afforded to infidels an occasion of triumph. But that this dispensation affords no just ground of complaint either against the God of Israel or his holy prophet, will appear, if we consider,
The sin committed by the children—
In their treatment of the prophet we behold a mixture,
[The name of “bald head” was not, it is true, any bitter invective; but it was intended as a reproach; and the evil of such reproaches consists, not in the term that is used, but in the intent of him that uses it. Opprobrious language used to any one is sinful [Note: Matthew 5:22.]; but as used on this occasion, it was an insult to God himself. The mocking of a poor man on account of his poverty is considered by God as a reproach offered to himself, who has appointed him his lot [Note: Proverbs 17:5.]: much more therefore was this contemptuous treatment of the prophet an insult to that God, who had called him to the prophetic office. This is plainly declared by our blessed Lord [Note: Luke 10:16.]; and it is confirmed by a similar testimony from the Apostle Paul [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:8.].]
[The expression “Go up, go up,” evidently refers to the recent ascension of Elijah in the fiery chariot: and it intimated, that his translation was regarded by them either as a fiction to be disbelieved, or an event to be despised. In either of these views, their guilt was exceeding great: for how could they disbelieve what was immediately attested by that stupendous miracle, the forming a dry passage through Jordan by a stroke of Elijah’s mantle? It is true, that many of the people of Jericho doubted at the time, and desired Elisha to send fifty men to search for his master, lest he should have been cast upon some mountain or valley: but that very doubt, like the unbelief of Thomas, tended only to confirm the fact that had been denied: and consequently the continuance of unbelief became so much the more criminal, in proportion as the evidence had been increased to confirm the fact.
But it is probable that the fact, though believed, was deemed a fit subject for ridicule; ‘Let us see thee, O thou bald head, go up, as thy master did.’ Thus the very abundance of God’s power and grace was turned into an occasion of profane banter. And, strange as it may seem, this is a very common source of ridicule among the ungodly world. Goodness in itself is not made a ground of contempt; but as proceeding from God, as illustrating his perfections, and as conducing to his glory, it is an object of general derision. What terms, for instance, are more frequently used as expressive of contempt than “the elect,” “the saints,” and such like? And why are they so used, but because the sovereignty and the holiness of God are implied in them? Such reproaches then most assuredly strike at God himself, who estimates them by a very different standard from that which we use: we view them as a facetious exposure of folly; but he views them as an impious contempt of the Lord our God.]
We have a clear proof of the malignity of the offence in God’s sight, from,
The judgment inflicted on account of it—
In a two-fold light must that judgment be regarded;
As a punishment to them—
[We must not suppose that the judgment was inflicted by Elisha; or that he was actuated by a vindictive spirit in denouncing it. He was no more able to inflict it, than Moses was to send the ten plagues of Egypt, or than Elijah was to bring fire from heaven to consume the bands who came to apprehend him: nor was he any more under the influence of revenge, than Peter was when he passed sentence of death on Ananias and Sapphira; or than Paul was when he declared that Elymas, the sorcerer, should be struck blind. He was merely an organ whereby the Deity denounced his curse against them: and the she-bears out of the wood, like the whole creation, animate and inanimate, were ready to execute the vengeance of God upon them. As the locusts and frogs came up over Egypt at God’s command, or the lion came forth to slay the disobedient prophet, or “the winds and storms fulfilled his will” in arresting Jonah in his flight; so these bears received their commission from God, and executed his commands.
Now this punishment was strictly just: for, what greater dishonour could be done to the God of heaven and earth than to make the most stupendous efforts of his goodness a subject of reproach? As it respected the parents, they deserved to lose those children which they had trained up in such impious habits; and the children deserved to be cut off from all further enjoyment of the privileges which they so despised. For the transgressions of their parents they might well have suffered, even as the children of Sodom and Gomorrha did: but their own iniquities richly merited the displeasure they experienced [Note: 2 Chronicles 36:16.].]
As a lesson to the world—
[Truly in this dispensation were many valuable lessons contained.
It shewed that smaller acts of persecution, as well as greater, will be noticed by God. It might be thought a light matter to revile a servant of God; but did God account it so in the instance of Ishmael? He “mocked Isaac,” as professing himself to be the child of promise, and the heir of Canaan: and for that sin both he and his mother were cast out from the house of Abraham [Note: Genesis 21:9.]. This conduct of his is by St Paul expressly called persecution, and is set forth as illustrative of the way in which carnal men still persecute the children of God, and of the everlasting exclusion from heaven which they shall suffer for their impiety [Note: Galatians 4:29-30.]. St Jude also, having declared that there will be “mockers” in the Church, tells us what fearful ruin they must expect from the hands of an angry God [Note: Jude, ver. 15, 18.]. To all therefore who are disposed to deride either religion itself or those who profess it, we would say with the prophet, “Be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong [Note: Isaiah 28:22.].”
Another lesson which this judgment teaches us is, that young persons, as well as adults, are objects of just retribution. We readily acknowledge that the criminality of our actions is deep, in proportion as our light is clear, and our judgment matured. But we must not on that account imagine that God will take no notice of the evils committed by young persons: we have here an awful instance to the contrary. We are told in Scripture, that a young person who shall despise his earthly parents, shall be visited with some heavy calamity [Note: Proverbs 30:17.]: and shall God be so careful of the honour of earthly parents, and not be jealous of his own? Shall young people insult him with impunity? O let them not suppose that their youth is any excuse for their misconduct: for, if they are old enough to know what is right, they are old enough to do it: and “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin [Note: James 4:17.].” On the other hand, if they will employ their tongues in praising and magnifying their Redeemer, they shall receive from him a rich recompence of reward [Note: Matthew 21:15-16.].
The last lesson we shall notice as arising from this dispensation is, that parents and children have a fearful responsibility for their conduct towards each other. Doubtless it sometimes happens that the most pious parents have children whom they cannot prevail upon to serve the Lord: and, if they have laboured faithfully for their good, they shall not be held responsible for their faults. But wicked parents can expect nothing but that their children shall tread in their steps: and the truth is, that young children are for the most part only an echo of their parents’ sentiments. What a shocking reflection then will it be to parents, that their children perished through their neglect; or to children, that they persisted in wickedness in opposition to the instructions, example, and entreaties of their parents! Parents, think how you will bear to look upon your children in the future world; and how they will one day execrate your conduct towards them, and call for vengeance on your heads for neglecting to warn them of their evil ways! And, children, think how, if you have disobeyed the voice of your parents, you will execrate your own folly, when you see an impassable gulf between them and you! Reflect a moment on the terror that seized the children the very instant the bears rushed forth upon them; and the distress which came upon their parents when they heard of the calamity that had befallen them. This may serve as an image, though a very faint image, of the terror and distress in which negligent parents and ungodly children will be involved to all eternity. The Lord grant that this may prove a salutary warning to us all!]