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2 Kings 8:1-6
Then spake Elisha unto the woman.
The potent influence of a good man
I. His counsel is valuable, and gratefully acted upon. 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.
II. His beneficent acts are the theme of popular conversation (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.
III. His holy and unselfish life is a testimony for Jehovah in the midst of national apostasy. 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!
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. 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. (G. Barlow.)
Beneficence of the Christian life
The other summer, says Dr. Abbott, while sailing along the shores of the Sound, I landed at a little cove; there was a lighthouse tower and a fog-bell, and the keeper showed us the fog-bell, and how the mechanism made it strike every few minutes in the darkness and in the night when the fog hung over the coast; and I said, “That is the preacher; there he stands, ringing out the message of warning, ringing out the message of instruction, ringing out the message of cheer; it is a great thing to be a preacher.” We went up into the lighthouse tower. Here was a tower that never said anything and never did anything--it just stood still and shone--and I said, “That is the Christian. He may not have any word to utter, he may not be a prophet, he may not be a worker, he may achieve nothing, but he stands still and shines, in the darkness and in the storm, always, and every night.” The fog-bell strikes only on occasion, but all the time and every night the light flashes out from the lighthouse; all the time and every night this light is flashing out from you if you are God’s children.
Permanent effects of godliness
Sir Wilfred Laurier has recently given a very striking testimony to the powerful influence of the Puritan spirit. He was asked why he was absolutely, in the best sense of the word, an Imperialist. Sir Wilfred replied that when he was a boy he was brought up in the home of a God-fearing Scottish farmer, at whose family worship he was present every morning and night. He was struck by the catholicity of spirit of the farmer, but still more by the fact that the farmer took the affairs of his house, his neighbourhood, and all his country in the presence of the Almighty, and sought His blessing upon all. This experience implanted in Sir Wilfred’s heart an abiding conviction that an empire based on such community of spirit was made by God to lead the world. Here is the influence of a humble family worship determining the destinies of an empire. The lowly farmer in Scotland little realised how far-reaching the ministry of his family altar would be. Little did he know that while he was praying and worshipping in apparent obscurity he was moulding the thoughts and feelings of a great statesman, and so shaping the policy of states. What a dignity this gives to the home altar, and what solemnity surrounds the lowly acts of family worship! It can be said of these humble ministries that “their lines are gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” (Hartley Aspen.)
2 Kings 8:4-6
And the King talked with Gehazi.
The special providence of Jehovah illustrated
We approach, in this chapter, the end of Elisha’s wondrous but most useful career. His days are now perceptibly numbered, and one more recorded event, and he passes from the scene of this world. The text presupposes that the reputation of Elisha was established as a great and holy man “Tell me all the great things that Elisha hath done.” The question of the king is introductory to an interesting illustration of the working of Divine providence, in bringing together persons and things in a most unexpected manner, to the furtherance of the ends of justice and the promotion of honesty. We are here also recalled to an old acquaintance, of whom we have heard nothing in the prophet’s history for some years, namely, the pious Shunammite; but, although we find no record of herself and family during this interval, it is clear that her acquaintance with Elisha had been kept up, and that he may have been her counsellor and guide in many a difficult position. A prolonged famine of seven years is approaching. Elisha knows it; for “the Lord had called for it” (2 Kings 8:1). A partial famine for a brief space had already been endured at the hands of man--the Syrian enemy during the siege of Samaria. It does not appear to have worked any good effect in humbling tim nation. As the smaller judgment is unheeded, the Lord will send a greater. And let us not omit to observe how partial this visitation is to be. The good land, the most fruitful of all lands, is to be blasted with its desolating evidence, while, but a few score miles away, in the country of the Philistines, there is plenty. Surely “the Lord doth make a fruitful land barren, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein” (Psalms 107:34); and His providence can as easily give plenty here and want there, as the day succeeds the night and the night the day, even as He teaches by Amos (Amos 4:7). Thus it was here; for Elisha, summoning the Shunammite to his presence, forewarns and advises her concerning the coming straitness, “Arise, and go thou and thine household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn” (verse 1). And we can readily see what an advantage the foreknowledge of Elisha would have secured. It would enable the family to make a suitable disposition of property, while plenty was still in the land, and the coming famine hidden from the people at large; and thus she could take enough with her for their support in the land of the Philistines during that lengthened period. And thus we may again notice how the Lord repaid her faith and affection for His servant (Matthew 10:41). Well, time, that never stands still, pursued its course--and the seven years had passed. What happened during that period we do not learn. How her son had grown to man’s estate, and was now probably her stay and comfort in the land of the stranger; “ It came to pass at the seven years’ end, that the woman returned out of the land of the Philistines: and she went forth to cry unto the king for her house and for her land” (verse 3). And now the remarkable providence of Jehovah meets our eyes. The king, we may charitably hope, had profited by the Divine visitation, and he who cared little for the Lord and his servants during comparative prosperity is anxious to hear about the great prophet in “the day of his distress.” Or, if we would take the more unfavourable view of ibis proceeding, we may suppose that mere curiosity, in an idle moment, prompted the king to request of Gehazi the leper an account of “all the great things Elisha had done.” And was Gehazi, though now a leper in body, a penitent in heart, and clean in soul? Had the fearful correction administered to his sin wrought a salutary end? It is an interesting thought that “the destruction of the flesh may have been the salvation of the spirit” (1 Corinthians 5:5); but it can only be a thought, for the Scripture is silent. How manifest are the leadings of a special providence! that just at the moment when Jehoram is listening attentively to this surprising account from Gehazi’s lips, and is perhaps wanting a confirmation of the wonder in his heart--just at this precise moment, when he was telling the king “how the prophet had restored a dead body to life” (verse 5)--the Shunammite herself enters the Court: “Behold, the woman, whose son be had restored to life, cried to the king for her house and for her land.” There are two inquiries on which a few words may here be said:--
I. Was it a matter of chance? and I reply in the negative--It was not a matter of chance. No converted man would for an instant yield to such an imagination; but there are many nominal Christians who think and speak of such events as if they were but a lucky or unlucky combination of accidents, as the case may touch them. Why was it not a matter of chance? Because to cherish the supposition is to dethrone Jehovah from His supreme seat of absolute control over all things, as well as all creatures, living. If we calmly reflect awhile on the point, such an argument at once places all secondary causes, such as the elements, the seasons, the maladies, and other external movements affecting outwardly the human family, as well as the motives and influences bearing upon the internal economy of man, beyond the inclination of the almighty God over all. It is much the same in probability as if an individual were to argue that the works of a watch would go forward, and the wheels run their regular course, without any mainspring to set them in motion. As opposed to such a view, nothing that happens can possibly be a matter of chance in a believer’s eye. His own experience would contradict the opinion, if he had not the word of Jesus to sustain it (Luke 12:6-7).
II. But was this unexpected meeting an event in any wise improbable and unworthy of credit? A brief examination of the narrative may anticipate such a thought, and prevent its entertainment. There are many here who have experienced, to say the least, occurrences quite as improbable as this. All the circumstances are natural and consistent. What more natural than the Shunammite, finding on her return to her own country that her “house and her land” had been appropriated by another, should at once seek the king’s presence, and “cry unto him” for the restoration of her rights? and what more consistent than the fact of such a presence being sought, and such a petition being offered, at a time when, as we have seen, his majesty was probably holding a Court, and Gehazi was admitted for some like end? The result may be viewed as almost a necessary, consequence. The king, arrested by the singular coincidence, and struck by this unexpected confirmation, is at once predisposed to lend a favourable ear to the Shunammite’s prayer, and so, with the characteristic decision of a despotic judgment, commands officer to see not only “her house and her land” restored, but even “all the fruits of the field since the day that she had left” (verse 6). The decision was in accordance with the instructions given to Israel’s judges: “Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy from out of the hand of the wicked” (Psalms 82:3-4). This happy result is calculated to strengthen the faith of all who can feel, with the apostle, that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness” (1 Corinthians 3:19). One who can grasp this fact in his inmost heart can indeed realise the persuasion of the Psalmist (Psalms 91:1), “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” He feels that whatever seems to make against him is really working for him. Cherish such a trust in the living God. It will sanctify every event of your life; it will moderate its joys; it will mitigate its sorrows; it will quicken activity, while it will temper hastiness; it will arouse indolence, while it will moderate zeal; above all, it will ever impart contentment with results, whatever may be the disappointment by the way. But again: this happy end to the Shunammite will not, I fear, correct the error of those who are sceptical and incredulous of a special providence. The very circumstance of the means by which it was compassed being natural and probable will, strange to say, often have the effect of hardening the mind against better impressions. It is thus that extremes so frequently meet, and exhibit a character of most perplexing inconsistency. The incredulous in what is probable will be the most credulous in what is improbable; and the man who rejects the workings of Divine providence in natural and common events will be the foremost to receive, aye, and to contend for, those workings in unnatural and uncommon events. Thus, a heathen will, as Ezekiel describes, “use divination at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to know which to take; he will make his arrows bright, he will consult his images, he will look in the liver” (Ezekiel 21:21); and thus an ignorant and superstitious but nominal Christian will have recourse to the turning of a pack of cards, or the winding of tea-leaves round a teacup, or the lines in the hand, sagely pronounced upon by a mysterious operator, while they would openly scoff at, or in heart ridicule, the notion of immediate direction being given to man at a throne of grace in answer to effectual, fervent prayer. (G. L. Glyn.)
The defrauded widow; or, coincidences in file
God is always unwilling to allow us to suffer, and yet if He constantly checked suffering great evil would follow. If Israel had not been visited during the reign of Jehoram with famine, a worse evil would have befallen the nation; it would have sunk into a deeper state of idolatry; a plague of corruption and darkness would have stolen over the people and there would have been a famine of the Word. National calamities fell, but alas! the innocent had to suffer with the guilty. The woman of Shunem had done what she could to honour God and His servants, and yet she was involved in the general distress. One thing.she gained by her piety--a prophet’s warning. He told her to go and sojourn in a strange land. Intense longing at length merges into actual movement. Her face is turned homewards. Her weary steps bring her at length within the walls. None salute her. A kinsman passes, and she hails him, but he, alas! declares that he has not the pleasure of knowing her. To the very door of her own home she comes. In the spot from whence she had often given a welcome to the wayfarer she is questioned by a hireling and coldly met by another kinsman. To whom shall she go for redress? She goes to the gateway, the place of justice, and seeks, after the manner of Boaz, to gather a jury to decide between her and the men who have appropriated her property. All refuse, for one and another had filched from her something. They are afraid they will have to disgorge. They are trembling at her reappearance. Let her go again to Philistia or starve in Shunem. Treatment such as this was, for the poor widow, harder to bear than famine. She could have borne it from strangers, but from relatives it is bitter indeed. To whom can she have recourse? Who will execute judgment for the oppressed? Were Elisha living she knew that he would help. Had he not once offered to speak for her to the king, or the captain of the host (2 Kings 4:13)? “Why should I not go direct to the king?” is her sudden thought. She mentions it to her son. “He will not have time to listen to us, mother; our cause will be such a trifling affair to a great king.” “Ah, my son, you are right. We are doomed to poverty. Once I was an honoured woman in Shunem and could help others, now I can only crave help. Position or possessions are not for us again.” Thus pondering, and perhaps murmuring, she comes into the presence of the king. She trembles, and is ready to turn back. Yet she knows Jehoram by his attire and his staff. He is talking with some aged man, doubtless on weighty matters of state. As she approaches, and glances again at the companion of the king, she fancies she recognises those features. Yes, it is Gehazi, the one who had been attendant on Elisha, the mighty prophet. Jehoram has just asked Gehazi to tell him something concerning the doings of Elisha, the man to whom he owed his success in the beginning of his reign. Through him he repulsed the Syrians. He wishes he had acted subsequently more in harmony with the prophet’s principles. Hence he is wishful to know more of them. “Who is that?” Gehazi gazes with astonishment. Can this be the very woman and son of whom he had been speaking? Yes, but how changed, the woman, and aged. And that young man? ‘Tis the child of prophetic promise and miraculous restoration.
1. We have in this an illustration of certain coincidences that come to us in life, and which have oftimes great effect in determining our future. Some men get into a certain course and then life runs on smoothly to the end, like a locomotive on a level line. Others are swept into a current and are turned hither and thither like the stream or torrent that is checked, narrowed and tossed by, the rocky inequalities over Which it has to flow or over which it has to leap. There are certain points in life where We turn completely for good or evil, for time and for eternity. We may not notice these points. There are moments when life appears to turn as on a pivot.. The slightest action, most trifling event, may suffice to give the turn, the complexion, the change of direction to the life. I remember when in great mental perplexity on one of the most important doctrines of the New Testament, that I casually met, at Naples, Dr. Symington of Scotland, and in an afterdinner conversation, and during a stroll along under the castle of St. Elmo, words and thoughts were uttered that make me to-day a Christian worker instead of a mere agnostic.
2. God’s hand should be traced in the minutiae of life. The mighty God of Israel cared for her--a poor lone, rejected, oppressed widow woman. Her houses and lands were speedily restored. The king acted with alacrity. The unjust were rebuked. The removers of the ancient landmarks were punished. The land filchers were frustrated in their scheme. The woman of Shunem could only exclaim, “Truly there is a God that judgeth.” “He is the father to the fatherless, and a husband to the widow.” And all who are in any trouble, sorrow, perplexity, or who have to suffer through the wrong-doing of others, may always be sure of access to the King of kings, and of the fact that there is an Advocate with the Father. The Bible is full of hints of the special working of God. The silver thread of Providence runs through the whole. Christ taught us that the very hairs of our head are numbered, and that not a sparrow falls to the ground without the Divine notice. Since Christ’s death all history shows that God has been working for the welfare of men and the advancement of His kingdom of goodness in all hearts. Men specially fitted for great works are born at different periods. All things shall converge towards His great end. Everything, even that which seems most adverse,--as with the Shunammite woman seeking her lands--shall coincide to the restoration to Christ of all the kingdoms of the world to Him. His right it is to reign. The usurpers shall not only have to give up their usurpation, but shall have to do homage to Him who hath brought in victory.
3. Now although we believe in the converging of circumstances under the direction of God, and although we urge upon all the need of looking for Divine direction and of following the indications of the providence, we would also utter a warning against always looking for coincidences to guide us in every circumstance. We might err and be only leaning on an arm of flesh. It is always best to do that which the heart suggests when acting under the consciousness of earnest prayer to God. We may not look for signs. We are to act as though all depended on ourselves, but, at the same time, rest in God’s power by simple prayer.
4. Sometimes there is a convergence of misfortunes, a coincidence in sorrow. We have a familiar saying that misfortunes never come singly. There are periods that try faith severely. A man may lose his situation, fail in business, be called upon to pay some guarantee for one he trusted, and have at the same time wife ill, children stricken down with fever. Or he meets with some accident and is prostrate. Wave of trouble succeeds wave, until it seems as though there were no more to come, and he exclaims, “All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.” Well for him if at such times he, like the Shunammite, seeks help from the king, and lays hold of that mercy which is never withdrawn from the most erring, or fails the feeblest. (F. Hastings.)
2 Kings 8:7-15
Elisha came to Damascus.
We have here--
I. A dying king.
1. This dying king was very anxious. “Shall I recover of this disease?” This was the question he wanted Elisha to answer. Not, you may be sure, in the negative. Knowing some of the wonders that Elisha had performed, he in all likelihood imagined he would exert his miraculous power on his behalf, and restore him to life. All men more or less fear death, kings perhaps more than others. If ungodly, they have more to lose and nothing to gain. Observe,
2. His anxiety prompted him to do strange things.
(1) It was strange for him to ask a favour from the man whose death he had ravenously sought. What a change is this! Dying hours reverse our judgments, revolutionise our feelings, bring the lofty down.
(2) It was strange for him to ask a favour of a man whose religion he hated. Ben-hadad was an idolater.
(3) It was strange for him to make costly presents to a poor lonely man. What is the wealth, the grandeur, the crown, the sceptre of the mightiest monarch to him when he feels himself dying? He will barter all away for a few short hours of life. We have here--
II. A Patriotic Prophet. “And Elisha said unto him, Go, say unto him (Ben-hadad), Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die.” “There was no contradiction in this message. The first part was properly the answer, to Ben-hadad’s inquiry. The second part was intended for Hazael, who, like an artful and ambitious courtier, reported only as much of the prophet’s statement as suited his own views.” We have here--
III. A self-ignorant courtier. “And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?” The conduct of this man as here recorded suggests two general remarks.
1. The germs of evil may exist in the mind of a wicked man, of which he is utterly unconscious.
2. By the force of circumstances these germs become developed in all their enormity. (Homilist.)
2 Kings 8:10
Thou mayest certainly recover.
Ignorance of the future
The subject which I propose to discuss is the moral effect of ignorance of the future.
I. The avidity with which men seek to know the future. People are almost always ready to believe that something unusually good is to befall them; that their lot is to be exceptional; that their future is somewhere to be discovered by divination, by the lines on their hands, by the courses of the heavenly bodies. Take your stand by the fortune-teller, to whom has betaken herself a young girl, who, in her ignorance and simplicity, wants to know what human lot is coming to her; whether she is to marry or not; whether her husband is to be rich or poor; what is his complexion, the colour of his hair and eyes, his occupation, and all those minutiae about him with which her teeming fancy busies itself. Recall the little simple devices, such as pulling in pieces a daisy as certain sentences are repeated, to which children and young folks resort; they all arise from a curiosity about the future, and an impression that lodged somewhere in the earth, or air, in daisy or constellation, is the secret that we wish to know. There is no doubt about the influence of good and evil supernatural agencies in our lives; there is no doubt, too, that the events of our lives are closely watched by the inhabitants of two worlds. If good spirits, why not bad? There are two ways in which a man may confront the future; one, looking into God’s face, trusting in God’s promises, asking the support of the Everlasting Arms; and the other, turning to invoke the spirits of darkness; making a league with the devil to get counsel and help from the infernal world. And I look upon all this desire to penetrate the veil of mystery which encompasses the future--except as we walk by faith with the Invisible One, as we believe in God and link our destiny with God by keeping His laws--as immoral and unchristian.
II. Ignorance of the future, if that future is to be disastrous, is always a blessing to us; while, if it is to be advantageous, it is an inspiration. And it is between this possible disaster and advantage that men make all the progress, whether intellectual or spiritual. In all motion which is artificially produced, such as the movement of a carriage or land, or on rails, or the movement of a vessel through the water, there are always two elements; two forces acting and reacting. There is that which propels--the motive power; and that which resists it, and the result is motion. When the driving-wheels of a locomotive do not take hold of the rail--that is, when the rail is covered with frost or ice so that there is no resistance to their revolution--there can be no progress: the great iron sinewed horse is but a plaything, whirling his wheels like a top. These two elements are in the flight of the bird: the stroke of the wing and the resistance of the air. When inventors are making efforts to find some machine which will navigate the air, they seek first lightness. But it is the weight of the bird, as well as the stroke of the wing, that gives it power to make such beautiful evolutions in the air. The air is to the body of the bird what the water is to the hull of the vessel--a medium of resistance. As the wheels of the steamer, as the screw of the propeller, as the oar or the paddle of the rower is resisted by the water, progress is made. It is just so in human life. The patriarch Job says: “What! shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” It is encountering a mixture of good and evil that makes character. It is the contingency of good and evil; the uncertainty whether it shall be one or the other, that is the mainspring of human action. People ask, why did not God make man so that he could not sin? It is like asking why God did not make matter so that an object could move without meeting resistance; why God did not make the bird so that it could fly without breasting the powers of the air. Walking is only falling forward and regaining one’s self. The regaining prevents the accident. The babe begins with the first motion, but is not yet competent to the second. And no man walks with God without finding a leverage for his soul in the evil that is in the world; only he wants none of it in him. In one sense we are forewarned respecting the future. We have general principles given us. These principles are often cast into the form of maxims. For example, we say that “Honesty is the best policy,” with primary reference to business; that let a man make ever so much money by dishonest dealing, he is injuring his business all the time; he is only getting rope to hang himself. The young lad who is studying at school hears this; he does not think it applies to his relations to his teacher and his books, but it does. When, in after life, he confronts business questions or business interests, and finds he cannot solve queries which were solved by his neglected text-books, or his faithful teacher, he discovers it. It is no time to dismount and tighten the saddle-girth when the battle is on us. There is not one of us who would not have been a sadder man in life to know beforehand the calamities that came to him the last twelvemonths. Let him take up his cross daily, it is not to-morrow’s cross that we can take up to-day, even if we would take it up. And what is called borrowing trouble is taking up to-morrow’s cross--always an imaginary one--before to.morrow comes. The Saviour says, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” meaning that if we manage to grapple with the evil of to-day and overcome that, it is all God expects of us; it is victory. And then, on the other hand, the certainty of good fortune is always enervating. God helps the men who help themselves. They fall into the line of His purposes; they see the tide which, taken at its flood, leads on to fortune. Tell a young man that at the age of forty he will be worth a million dollars, and you have done him an injury.
III. Ignorance of the future is a protection against temptation to employ indirect and sinful methods of securing what we have been assured will take place. Take this case of Hazael to illustrate the temptation that comes to a man who knows that he is to occupy a high position. You would say he would argue in this manner: Well, if I am to be King of Syria, let the God, whose prophet predicts it, make me king; I will not lift a finger; least of all will I try to find a short cut to the throne. This was the way Macbeth deliberated:--
“If chance will make me king,
why chance may crown me,
Without my stir.”
A man’s aspirations and capacities are often prophecies of what God means to do by him. If he should say to himself, “I deserve such and such position, and it matters not how I get it”; if then he should address himself to the work of supplanting such another occupant of the place, or aspirant for it, he may secure the position indeed, but he has introduced into his cup of life that which will embitter it for ever. There is no moral greatness in having place. Place without fitness for it; place with the recollection of dishonour or misdirection in seeking it, is really a disgrace to a man. Hazael became King of Syria as Macbeth became King of Scotland, by attempting to accomplish by crime what was already written down in the future. But what was Hazael as King of Syria, what was Macbeth as King of Scotland, with the predecessor of each assassinated to make open the path to the throne? The very night of Duncan’s death, while he still lay there, the murder undiscovered, and there came some one knocking at the castle gate, Macbeth says:--
“Wake Duncan with thy knocking;
I would thou could’st!”
For example: there is an achievement, a possession that I wish, I think I deserve it, have fitness for it, could honour my Maker if I were gratified in my desire, could benefit my fellow-men. Now comes the test of my character. If I am willing to fulfil the conditions of merit, to serve God where He has placed me, up to my best ability; to wait His time for recognition and promotion; if promotion should come, then it has sought me; I have entered into no unholy alliances, I have not broken the golden rule. I have coveted no man’s silver, gold, or place. If, on the other hand, I say to myself, God intended this for me, and I mean to have it, and I begin to clamber over the heads of people, as men sometimes try to get out of a crowd, I carry with me the sense of my own unworthiness.
IV. Ignorance of the future on our part does not interfere with God’s certainty respecting it. It should bring us to confide in that certainty. Only certainty somewhere can bring us security. It is usual to put this in the other way, as though God’s certainty respecting a future event might possibly prevent the exercise of our freedom when putting out our force to compass or defeat it. But in man’s sphere, man is just as free as God is in His sphere. And without some certainty, what is the use of freedom? Hazael is to be King of Syria. This should content him, But being an unscrupulous man, and the King of Syria being sick, and in that particular to him, his confidential servant, an easy victim, as Duncan came conveniently--the devil’s opportunity--to the castle of Macbeth, Hazael spreads a wet cloth over the king’s face, smothers him, and he dies, and the vacant throne is ready for himself. The certainty that he was to be King of Syria did not affect his conduct. Mark that. His knowledge of the certainty did. It tempted him to compass, by foul means, that which, if he had waited, would have happened so, as we express it. God is no less in the future events of this nation than he was in the future events of the Syrian kingdom, or the kingdom of Israel; Hazael was no more certain, historically certain, certain in the mind of God to succeed Ben-hadad than some man is to succeed the present President. But the certainty of God is on another plane from the contingency that is in the affairs of men. The storm of rain and sleet which encases the woods as with armour of silver, which makes every branch like a spear which the winds poise and tilt as though for some encounter in knight-errantry, was predicted by the weather bureau twenty-four hours before it came; was fore-known and fore-recorded and published to the nation. But the certainty did not affect the action of the atmosphere combinations needful to produce the storm. The atmospheric forces north, south, east, west, were held in hand or let loose according as was needful to the result. Up in His own sphere God presides, insuring human freedom, touching the springs of action, carrying out His own plans, making all things work together for the good of His children and for His own glory. Our ignorance of the future does not disturb His affairs. God makes the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He restrains. He lets wicked men go just as far as they need to prove their freedom, and then He stops them and takes the advantage, not of what they thought to do, but of what they did. This is the most wonderful kind of alchemy. (J. E. Rankin, D. D.)
2 Kings 8:13
Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?
No doubt the Syrian was perfectly sincere in this question. He had seen the tears which roiled down the aged prophet’s wrinkled face as he thought of the woes which, by the strong right hand of the rough soldier, would come to his beloved people. He had heard the startling announcement that he should go forth on a mission of destruction, swift, terrible, and unsparing, and his mind could not admit the idea that his heart could become thus ruthless, or his arm thus potent. He was but a captain of the Syrian host, living only on the favour of his master, and he could not understand how he could have the power to effect such wondrous deeds. He was not yet dead to the common feelings of humanity, and could not think that thus wantonly, thus brutally, thus recklessly, he could plant his iron heel on all most sacred and tender in human life. Yet he went away from the prophet straightway to enter on his career of ambition and blood. The next day saw him standing as an assassin by the bedside of the master who had loaded him with favours,--the next he was sitting as a proud usurper on the throne--and, step by step, he rushed on in that downward course of crime that had been sketched out for him, verifying every word that the man of God had uttered, and filling up the measure of those iniquities which drew down the stroke of judgment. Thus miserably was Hazael self-deceived. Probably he had never spent a solitary hour in studying his heart, and thus ignorant of himself, he cherished a confidence in himself and his own virtue, the utter folly of which was soon manifest. Was his case an exceptional one? Nothing is more common than such mistakes of men as to their own character, their special dangers, their power of resistance to evil. Men who have wonderful acquirements and extensive knowledge, who can discuss the problems of philosophy, and are familiar with all the discoveries of science, nay, who are great students of human character, and the influences by which it is formed; men who, in fact, pride themselves upon their acquaintance with human nature, display the most wretched ignorance, and fall into the most miserable errors in relation to themselves. There are none of us, perhaps, wholly exempt from the evil, though in the case of some it is more fully developed; but wherever it is, it must be a source of weakness to the soul. To believe we are strong where we are lamentably feeble,--to knew nothing as to the sin which easily besets us, and to be unprepared to resist its attacks,--to cherish assurance of easy victory when we are laying ourselves open to certain defeat, is surely no slight injury to the soul. It exposes to dangers against which we ought ever to be on the watch. Of this self-deception, its causes and results, it is our purpose to speak here, hoping to draw from the case of Hazael lessons of solemn and impressive warning.
I. Let us mark its causes. Men do not care to know themselves, and therefore do not study their own hearts. They want know every thing and every one but themselves. They would fain tear away the veil of mystery, and learn the wonders of the spiritual, traverse the Universe, measure the Infinite, and understand the Eternal. But they care not for knowing that which concerns them most--the true character of their own souls. Self-examination is a duty which we are always able to put off. The results of negligence’ are not at once apparent to ourselves, while others are scarcely able to detect them at all, and thus it is too often postponed to what we deem the more urgent pressure of other calls. It shares the common fate of work that may be done at any time--no time is fixed for it at all. So long as all goes prosperously without, as there is no violent shock to disturb the too complacent estimate we are apt to form of ourselves and our own performances, or so long as we are occupied in the active duties of the world or the Church, there is but little opportunity, and less disposition for us to turn the thoughts in upon ourselves with the view of ascertaining the true state of our own hearts. Very often does affliction thus become a blessing to our souls. It compels retirement,--it affords leisure for thought, Pit shuts out from us a thousand influences that bewilder and mislead,--it disposes to careful searching of heart. Just in the same proportion are times of unbroken prosperity dangerous, from their inevitable tendency to hurry the spirit on in a whirl of perpetual excitement and pleasure,--to intoxicate it with high thoughts of its own capacities and achievements,--to induce a sense of security at the very hour that the danger may be most imminent, and the necessity for stern, manly resistance greatest. But we must not forget that with all our efforts to know ourselves,--however sincerely they may be commenced, and however diligently prosecuted--there are influences which will deceive and baffle our most careful scrutiny. We can scarcely conceal from ourselves the fact that circumstances often reveal to a man himself, and to others what he really is, and that in a good as well as bad sense. There are powers which sometimes lie undeveloped in the mind just because there have not been opportunities for their display, until some sudden circumstance arise to call them forth, and the man rises to the grandeur of the occasion. So, even in our own experience, we have often seen hours of affliction call forth heroic qualities of heart, which in brighter and happier days lay inactive. There are often depths of depravity in human hearts unsuspected and unrevealed till some temptation, perhaps more subtle or more powerful than ordinary, or coming possibly at a time of special weakness, serves to disclose the sad secret. The enemy has planned an assault with consummate craft, he comes in some unguarded hour, and then there start up, wormed into sudden life, passions that had lain utterly dormant, and men are drawn into sins from the very mention of which at other moments they would have recoiled with horror. Hazael might have passed through life with the reputation of a bravo captain, a loyal subject, a faithful friend; others would never have dreamed of the fierce passions that were surging within his breast, and seeking some outlet, had not temptation assailed him, and revealed the cruelty, the ambition, the lust which converted him into a traitor, a murderer, a monster. So may it be with us. These hearts are both deceitful and desperately wicked, and their deceit is shown chiefly in hiding their wickedness. Ever are they blinding us to the existence of the evils we have most to dread, and persuading us that we possess some good which has no reality but in the fancies of our own deluded pride and self-confidence. They are like treacherous pools grown over with rich verdure, that conceals the dark deep waters of death that lie below. Experience is truly the sternest of teachers; there are no lessons so valuable as his; none, perhaps, that are so likely to be remembered. Yet here he is continually found powerless. Our hearts find a thousand excuses. Pride induces forgetfulness, and so we fall into the same error, to expiate it by the same penalty. It seems to require a thousand warnings to make us feel what Solomon teaches, himself having learned it only by a discipline the most humbling, “He that trusteth his own heart is a fool.” There is, too, a blinding influence in self-love, which aids the deception of which we speak. The standards by which, for the most part, we judge ourselves are very different from those which we apply to other men. To all this Satan ministers by the craft with which he ever seeks to work out his purposes. He is like a skilful general who does not at once unmask his batteries and attack the fortress in its strongest points, but, on the contrary, makes gradual approaches, accustoms his troops to victory, and depresses his foes by slight advantages gained at weak places in the lines of defence, meanwhile husbanding his resources and concealing his preparation, until the time comes to spring the mine and lay low the citadel. Rarely is it his policy to seduce at once to some heinous transgression.
II. The result. It is here in the case of Hazael, and it has been seen in multitudes besides. Men, unconscious of their own feebleness, blind to the dangers which surround them, assured of their own security, and infatuated by that wretched self-love which makes them believe that they cannot sink to the same depths of sin as others, go on until they are betrayed into some act of wickedness which covers them with shame. It was thus with Peter. Little could he calculate the results of that self-dependence which he was nurturing within his breast; he could never lose his love or forfeit his loyalty to the Master to whom his heart was so strongly attached. The Lord warned him in common with others. Or take the case of Lot: a young man, full of life, energy, and spirit, he was about to part from his honoured uncle, having chosen the fair city of Sodom for his residence. True, the people were very wicked, but the land was very rich. True, he must dwell in the midst of much that would vex his righteous soul. But what of that? there was money to be made--his herds would increase--he would be a great man, and that with him, as with too many still, was the grand, the deciding point--he need not be partaker in the sins of those among whom he dwelt; he worshipped God, and could worship Him in Sodom even as elsewhere. Is it not ever so? Tell that fierce, passionate, wayward youth, who will grow up to be the murderer: “Those unguarded lusts, to which thou art giving the reins, will drive thee to foulest crime, and involve thee in most terrible destruction--thou art sowing the wind, but shalt reap the whirlwind--thy heart will become the abode of every vile principle--thy life one dark catalogue of sins against God and man--thy death will be one of ignominy and shame.” Would not his answer be: “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?” Or he who is now railing against the truth of God, as if it were a lie. There was an hour when he dared not have spoken thus. Had you stood by him when first he listened to the demon voice that whispered in his ear the suggestions of doubt, or when he lisped forth in stammering accents his own first defiance of the Gospel; when first he joined in the laugh against the truth, fancying himself clever, and bold, and brave, because he had ventured to shock what he called the prejudices of some earnest servant of God, by holding up to contempt what he deemed most sacred--had you as an anxious friend given him then the faithful warning, “Beware; thou art taking the first step on a downward path; thou shalt go on and on to a contempt of all religion; thou shalt become a poor miserable sceptic, having no faith in thine own wretched creed, yet labouring to draw others to an acceptance of it”--he would have laughed you to scorn. “What! am I not to think for myself? must I walk in the old ruts, and receive the old dogmas, and utter the old shibboleth? because I am not a slave of prejudice am I become an infidel?” “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?” There is here to-day a young man just losing the early fervour of his profession--that first love which seemed once to be so intense that nothing would ever check or damp it. He is growing more careless; some wound to his self-love, or some idle fancy, has driven him from a post of Christian labour; he is just beginning to cast off restraints by which he has hitherto been held. Had you the gift of inspiration could you hold him up before himself as he will be by and by, a cold, heartless, profitless professor, whose religion is to him little more than a burden, content with a formal attendance on a Sabbath morning at the house of God--would he not start back with horror from the vision, and exclaim, “Oh no! I cannot come to that state of wretched lukewarmness; I do not choose to be bound as others are; I like to take my own course, but I would not sink to such a level as that.” There is a man wholly wrapt up in the world. He never thinks, talks, works for anything else. He might as well, nay, far better, have no soul--he treats it with such utter indifference. Was he always thus? Ah, no! There was a time when he trembled--kindled with emotion--felt that one day or other he would be a Christian. He fancied he could pause at his own pleasure; he never thought it was possible for him to sink into the selfish unfeeling worldling that he now is. If this be the true account of human nature, if such be the weakness of our own heart, how manifest the folly and guilt of that pharisaic spirit in which so many indulge--justifying themselves and condemning their brethren. Then how does the whole show us the need of that great provision which God has made! Such being our hearts, thus wayward, thus deceitful, thus ignorant, what need for that Holy Ghost who alone can give wisdom, strength, holiness! (J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
Hazael: evil detected
The first mention of Hazael is in the First Book of Kings (1 Kings 19:15), where we are told that Elijah after his return from Horeb anointed him to be a king. The next time he is spoken of it is as a Prime Minister to the King of Syria, and a messenger sent to the prophet. Strangely enough, Ben-hadad sends to make inquiry of one who is a servant of the God repudiated by his own nation. The king wishes to know whether he will recover from his illness. He sends a present by the hand of Hazael. Some selfish design was detected therein by the prophet. The prophet, in reply to the inquiry, says that Ben-hadad may, in the ordinary course of things, recover, but he soon sees that a fatal end is at hand; he suspects a sinister design in the messenger. Shuddering awe steals over the prophet. Tears begin to flow down the cheeks, but no word comes from the lips. A vision is before Elisha’s eyes. Hazael waits. At length he asks, “Why weepeth my lord?” Then the prophet foretells what Hazael himself will do, desolating lands and destroying the defenceless. Hazael exclaims, “Am I a dog, that I should do this great thing?”--meaning either that he was not so low down as to do such evil, or that he, a mere dog, could not accomplish so much. This in harmony with the revised rendering, The probable intention was to repudiate the opinion formed of him by the prophet as being evil and unworthy. He half suspected the tears had reference to the evil he would do, and yet he seems not to have acknowledged to himself how powerful were the germs of evil in him for working wrong to others, and especially how treacherous were his secret plottings against the king.
1. The wicked propensities in our hearts are oft hidden from us. We are ignorant of the capabilities for evil and for good that lie in us. Hazael knew not his own heart. He would not have acknowledged that he was so ambitious, unscrupulous, or murderous. We have all a realm of mystery within. There are many offshoots in the dark passages of the heart. Few dare to lift the thick veil that hangs over some of them. We have secret rooms, only revealed by the moving of sliding panels. The panels are sometimes not easily distinguishable. We are deceived in ourselves. We are not born utterly depraved, but our natures, like a silent machine, turn out incessantly sins of various shades and degrees of enormity. One piece of ploughed ground in winter appears as brown and free from weeds as another, but let the rains descend and the spring sunshine rest upon it, then up will come the weeds choking the young crop of grain. So with hearts. One man may be like another for a time, but soon circumstances will show what evil is hidden in the soul of one and goodness developed in the other. Both may be ignorant of what can be developed. Irwine the common-sense vicar said to his former pupil Donnithorne: “A man can never do anything at variance with his own nature. He carries within him the germs of his most exceptional action; and if we wise people make eminent fools of ourselves on any particular occasion, we must endure the legitimate conclusion that we carry a few grains of folly to our ounce of wisdom.”
2. If certain evils existent in germs in our souls were revealed, we should possibly deny their presence. We are like Hazael, unwilling to have a poor or bad opinion of ourselves. We see our portrait reflected in the camera, but we go away and “straightway” forget what manner of men we are. That amiable-looking boy at school would repudiate the possibility of his ever breaking a mother’s heart by his wildness and gambling. That proud bridegroom would repudiate the possibility of his ever speaking harshly or treating brutally that trusting, orange-blossom-crowned girl whose rounded arm rests on his, and whose full eyes reflect his love. The “I will cherish” becomes at times the “I have crushed.” That cultured man, noble in mien and lofty in position, would repudiate the suggestion that his little weakness would one day bring him down to the level of the poor fellow, who with tattered garb and blotched face hangs round the corner public waiting to earn a copper by holding a horse. Circumstances are so powerful in developing changes of mind we little conceived. The evil course we enter upon is like getting on a trolly on the inclined plane; if we once lose power over it, we go rushing down to destruction at a rate constantly accelerated.
3. All the hidden sin of the soul can be revealed by God. Elisha was enabled to reveal Hazael to himself. God gave him the power. God’s knowledge of us is not the result of observation and judgment, as man gains knowledge of his fellow, but is absolute knowledge. Christ when on earth needed not that any should testify of men, for He “knew what was in man.” Without attempting to prove to men that they were sinners, He held up the torch of truth before the conscience, and made men convict themselves; as when Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”; or when the young ruler went away sadly because he had great possessions; or when accusers of a weak woman sunk away from Him who said, “He that is without sin let him cast the first stone at her.” As a skilful musician can place his fingers on the keys and bring out sweetest music or reveal the defects of the instrument, so Christ touched the human soul and revealed its hidden truth or sounded its discordant notes. He shows us that to be sinful is bad enough, but that to be hardened and unabashed therein is frightful.
4. When the sinful state is revealed, alas! warning is not always taken. Hazael should have taken the words of the prophet as an intimation that he was to be merciful to others and to himself. But, however he may shake and shudder at the image of himself presented, he turns not away from the evil. The “means to do ill deed made ill deeds done.” Every man has need to be watchful. The cable is not stronger than the weakest link, nor the character than the hidden meanness. The secret sin does not grow in a day, though it may germinate in a moment. A Scotch preacher beautifully illustrated this by referring to the tiny seed dropped by the passing bird into a crevice of a rock, and which, sprouting, grew, and in process of years by its mighty roots moved the massive rock until it toppled over into the loch. So we must beware of the trifling thought of sin. We must search by the power of God’s Spirit. Let us be sincere in the searching, and firm in the eviction of the hidden evil. Is it evil temper, cheating, backbiting, murdering character, sly tippling or open drunkenness, harshness and cruelty? Away wit]i it, in God’s strength! (F. Hastings.)
“Is thy servant a dog?”
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 way 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 no 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? The answer we give to these questions will determine for us the use to be made of this portion of sacred history. I am willing to take the man’s own estimate of himself as being, on the whole, the best and the truest. I believe for the moment he was really appalled at the description of his future life; and that when he uttered this exclamation, he was unable to realise it possible that he should ever be guilty of the deeds named by the prophet. How, then, you may say, are we to account for the fact that he actually did all that Elisha foretold, if he was not a hypocrite? There are some who think the subsequent murder an accident, so far as Hazael was concerned. I fear this theory is destitute of proof. At all events, we have the record of his dealings with Israel fully corroborating the statements of the prophet.
I. Hazael failed to take into account the influence of circumstances upon human character. 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.
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. Hazael’s language must not be regarded as hypocritical, but as the language of one who had not sounded the depths of his own character, and who knew nothing of the changes the altered circumstances would bring to him.
III. 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 that they are more protected by circumstances! Let conscience utter its voice! Not always because you were holier or truer to God than your brother; but because you were never exposed to his temptations, because in the providence of God you have been more protected from yourself or others. 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 temptations 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. I have spoken much of the power of circumstances. Let no 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. (J. Fordyce.)
“Is thy servant a dog?”
In the theory of the people of those times, some of the gods could do some things, and other gods could do some other things. There were special gods, just as there are special physicians--physicians for the eye; physicians for the ear; physicians for nervous diseases; physicians for surgical operations; physicians for every separate department of healing. Though each may do something of everything, yet each has some specialty. And so it was with these gods. There were gods of hills, and gods of valleys, and gods of this nation, and gods of that nation, they thought. According to their notion there was a great variety in the talents and capacities of these gods. Therefore, when any man had any enterprise to accomplish, or any sickness to be cured, he naturally sought the aid of a particular sort of god, as we naturally seek a certain kind of practitioner when we are afflicted with a disease. It is not at all strange, therefore, when Ben-hadad lay sick, and heard that Elisha was there, that he should have said to himself, “I will try his God.” “The king said unto Hazael” (who seems to have been his prime minister in general), “Take a present in thine hand, and go, meet the man of God, and inquire of the Lord, by him, saying, Shall I recover of this disease?” That was Oriental. Gifts were not then considered wrong, and whenever anybody wanted anything it was quite natural that he should take something with him and get it by purchase; but such things in modern times take on a different aspect. This venerable old prophet, well advanced in years, fixed his eyes upon this miscreant with such a piercing glance that the man’s face became confused, and his colour went and came. It was the most penetrating speech possible. “And Hazael said, Why weepeth my Lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strongholds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child. And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?” It does not seem that the fact that he was to be the King of Syria disturbed him. Nor was it this that agitated the prophet. It was the sight of the great cruelty that would follow under his hand when he came to the throne. The prophet saw, rising in vision before him, wasted provinces; he saw blood flowing down like rivers of water; he saw rapine and cruelty most barbarous on every side of him. It was the sight of these terrific national disasters that brought tears to the eyes of the prophet; and it was the horror of such an administration as was pictured to him that seemed to strike Hazael with surprise and revolt. “So he departed from Elisha, and came to his master; who said to him, What said Elisha to thee? And he answered, He told me that thou shouldst surely recover.” Well, it was almost true; but that which is almost true is a lie. He told the king a part of what Elisha had said, but he did not tell him the rest. He did not say, “The prophet declared that thou shalt surely die, although thou mayest recover.” He did not tell him that the prophet said that he might recover--that there was nothing in the way of his recovery so far as his disease was concerned. His declaration was, plainly, “He says that thou shalt recover.” The king was very sick; he was too feeble to help himself; and perhaps when he was in a slumber Hazael said within himself, “I won’t kill him; I will just put a wet cloth over his face.” So he dipped the cloth in water and laid it over the face of the king, who was unable in his extreme weakness to throw it off, and was suffocated. “It is such an easy way,” Hazael might have said, “for him to die! I have not shed his blood, thank God. I did not even choke him. I might have done it; but I did not. I kept my hands off from the Lord’s anointed. I only laid a wet cloth on his face; and if he could not breathe it was not my fault. Every man must look out for himself.” He might have reasoned in this way; but it is not likely that he did, because he probably had not conscience enough to make it necessary. Having in this mild manner disposed of the king, he became the ruler in his place; and as to what his reign was we are not left in doubt. We know that he swept through the land, and carried his armies across Palestine, and clear into the territory of the Philistines. We know that he laid siege to Jerusalem, and was bought off from it by a present of all the golden vessels contained in the temple. We know that, in his despotic career, all his victories were stained with blood. We know that there was no end to the destruction of property which he caused. We know that not one-half of the wickedness which he performed was foretold by the prophet. We know that he destroyed men, women, and children without stint. And though we have not a complete history of the wrongs which he committed, we know that a monster who would do what we are informed that he did do would not leave anything undone, in the way of cruelty, which it was in his power to do. Now, you will take notice that at the time when Hazael came to the prophet, and this vision of his cruelty was made known to him, he must have had a genuine revulsion from it. It is probable that when the prophet told him what he saw it shocked him. I think it quite likely that when the prophet told him that he should reign instead of the king, he said within himself, “Yes, that is what I have been after; that is what I meant to do”; but when the prophet showed him what should be the character of his administration, I have no doubt that he said, believing what he said, “I am not capable of any such thing as that.” He was not yet in power. He was still an under-officer. He had never been tested. He did not know what supremacy would work in him. He had not had the responsibility of a kingdom laid upon his shoulders. He did not know how he would be affected by the indulgence which would come with the control of unbounded wealth. He did not know what would be the growth of pride in him. He did not know what would be his appetite for praise. He did not know how his vanity would be wrought upon. He did not know what fury would be kindled in him by opposition. He did not know what despotic measures he might be compelled by circumstances to adopt. He doubtless felt as we often do in regard to things which we see others do, when it seems to us impossible that we should ever do them although we are made up of the same stuff that they are; and when his future was disclosed to him, when the veil was rent, and he saw himself as he was to be, at the various stages of his subsequent history, he shuddered at the sight of it: and he said, “Do you count me a dog?” and there was no other name so low as that in the Orient. “A dog,” “A dead dog,” “A dog’s head,” these seem to have been the terms that measured the utmost contumely and contempt; and he said, “Am I a dog, that you prophesy these things concerning me?” It was absolutely impossible that he should do them, it seemed to him; and yet he went on and did them. There may be a question as to whether the prophet was right in laying before Hazael a statement of the things which were to be fulfilled, that would be in the nature of yeast, and raise up in him ambitions which could make him faithless to his king; but it does not appear that the plan of destroying the monarch and occupying his throne was then for the first time in Hazael’s mind. The prophet did not bring this plan to pass by tampering with his fidelity in holding out to him the prospect of the sceptre and the crown. The natural tendency of disclosing the prophet’s vision to Hazael, if Hazael had been an honest man, instead of inducing him to such a career as lay before him, would have been to set him to watching himself, that he might prevent the fulfilment of so dishonouring a prophecy. This case is full of material for inspiration. One of the first points that I wish to make in connection with the brief history is, that no one can say beforehand what will be the effect on him of a given situation or a given temptation. A man may be able to say: “I shall not sin by avarice: I may be put in circumstances where I shall break down through self-indulgence; but I shall not break down through avarice. I may be overcome by various appetites; but avarice is not one of them.” A man may know himself to be safe in that particular regard. Many a man can say: “Whatever may overcome me in the way of sinfulness, it is not going to be cruelty.” Many a man is justified in saying: “I know that no circumstances will ever make me brutal, although there may be circumstances that will make me wicked.” But, as a general thing, men know so little about themselves that it would not be safe for any man to say: “I can tell how I should act in any situation where I may be placed; I know that no temptations can get an entrance into my heart; I know how this, that, and the other influence would affect me; I know how I should act if I had power.” As when men look forward into life they are ignorant of what they would do if they were in such and such situations, or if such and such things were given them; so when men look forward into life they can form no just estimate of what they would do in avoiding evil One man says: “Nothing could ever make me a drunkard.” Another man says: “I do not think anything in the world could make me a thief.” Neither of them knows how he might be wrought upon until he has been under temptation and trial. Lord Clive, when he got back to England, and was thinking of his administration in India, and reflecting how, after having conquered the provinces, he went into the treasure-house of the rajahs, and saw gold without measure (there silver was counted as nothing; it was always at a discount), and beheld baskets full of rubies and diamonds, was reported to have said: “My God! I tremble when I think of the temptation that I was under. I wonder that I came out honest.” In looking back upon it, and thinking of it, he felt as though tie would not like to go through the same experience again. He feared that it would not be safe to trust himself the second time under those circumstances. This is the testimony of a full-grown man in regard to an extreme instance of liability to temptation, and you cannot tell, until you have been tried, what you would do in a given situation. Men do not know what effect flattery will have on them. Here is a bank of snow that lies quietly and stubbornly over against the north wind, all through January, all through February, and during the fore part of March; and it says, “Do you suppose I would give way to the mild and weak influence of spring after having resisted the chilling blasts and pinching frosts of winter?” And yet the sun comes smiling, and laughing, and tickling, and flattering, little by little; and the bank changes its mind; and gradually it sinks, and sinks; and by and by it is all gone. A man might just as well undertake to say what he would do if he were overtaken by a plague, as to say what he would do if he were placed under such and such circumstances of life. How can a man standing on the cool mountains of Vermont tell what he would do if he had the yellow fever in New Orleans?:No man can tell, judging from the present, what he will do if he is situated so and so in the untried future. But one thing we know: that in regard to all the more generous sentiments and feelings, pondering upon them, thinking about them, rather tends to enable us to attain them; and that, on the other hand, in regard to all the inflammatory sides of human nature--the appetites and passions--pondering them tends to strengthen them. The mere holding of illicit and unlawful things in a man’s mind is itself a preparation for his bondage to them. It is not safe for a man to carry about mere thoughts of evil. It is not safe for a man to imagine what he would do if he had a chance to steal, and to turn the subject over in his mind. I have no doubt that Hazael thought a good deal about this matter of succession; and I have no doubt the moment there was a chance--especially the moment the prophet told him there was a chance--for him to become king he was prepared to execute the plan which beforehand lie had revolved in his mind and held in suspense there. I have no doubt that he said to himself a good many times, “Why should Ben-hadad be on the throne any more than I? He is no better than I am. He is not so capable as I am. I do not know why a sick king should rule any more than a well general. It would not be a bad thing for me to put him out of the way and take his place. And if I did, what would happen? What would I do with his family? Not that I have any idea of doing any such thing; but in case I should do it what would be the outcome?” And when a man has thought of a thing in that way once, and twice, and many times, pursuing it day and night, then after a time it pursues him, and there is a preparation in him for the execution of such deeds as he has contemplated in case that exigencies arise which afford him the opportunity. And it is not safe for any man to ponder vice, crime, anything that corrupts the fibre, the integrity, the purity of his soul. No man knows what is the fermentation that will go on through his passions, when they are fired in the direction of evil--for there is a fermentation that goes on through the passions. I can describe it by no better name than that. We hear it spoken of in philosophy as a ruling idea--as a monomania. We see manifestations of them in many directions throughout life. Many men come under the influence of this fermentation, and it heats them; they think of it till they get hot under it. Many men in regard to the passions open a lurid imagination, and bring in torrid thoughts, and their soul reeks and ferments. Men are murderers, and adulterers, and thieves, and drunkards, and gluttons in the realm of the imagination. And so it is with men in regard to the warfare of life. They suppose that others are going to break down, but that they themselves are safe; they think that there is no danger so far as they are concerned; and yet a whole magazine which they are carrying about with them, being set on fire, explodes, and pours out upon them elements of destruction. Go to the gaol, and you will find there persons imprisoned for crime who in the beginning did not think that they should ever become culprits, and who, if the idea ever occurred to them, said, “I never shall become one.” It is probable that there is not one in a hundred of those who are in gaol for crime, and whose life is smirched for ever, that, when young, looked forward to any such career as he has gone through. (H. W. Beecher.)
The devil’s tinder-box
I. The fact that a man has a natural abhorrence of a certain sin is no guarantee that he will not commit that very sin. Hazael is true to human nature. Sin is insidious, and one sin is evolved out of another sin. Sin sometimes is like a snowball that is rolled down hill where the snow is deep. It grows very fast. Beware of the beginnings of sin, for there is no tropical growth that can develop so rapidly as a sin which springs up in the hot-bed of a heart that is untrue to God.
II. A good disposition and a general desire to do right is no guarantee that one will not end his career in outbreaking sin. Hazael was undoubtedly a suave, pleasant-humoured, amiable man. Ben-hadad had been a great king, and a very good judge of men, and Hazael’s conduct had been such that his master put implicit trust in him. Hazael was politic and amiable and all things to all men, but no one suspected him of definite purpose to do an evil thing, and it is not probable that he had such purposes.
III. Definite principles of righteousness are the only guarantee that one will maintain a good career to the end. Lacking these, Hazael was overthrown. Lacking these, you will be overthrown. You are like a ship that has had an accident at sea and, uncontrolled, has been drifting about at the mercy of wind and wave; but some skilled engineer has gone down among the chaos of broken machinery and mended it, and the captain, with the wheel in his hands again, and with all the force of the great engines in the heart of the vessel answering his command, goes bravely forward in the teeth of the gale. The man or the woman with a genuine desire to be good, but with no definite committal, drifts about at the mercy of circumstances. But on the day when you give your heart to Christ, permit Him to come into your heart and take command, you begin a career that is steadily onward, doing right whatever the circumstances or the conditions that may surround you.
IV. We should beware of the character of our secret meditations. Beware of the things you think about when you are alone, when you are day-dreaming; the things you allow to come back into the mind and sun themselves in the warmth of your imagination and desire. Why should you be so careful as to the character of these things? Now that is a most important question, for I am sure it is a very insidious temptation to people who have many good desires and good impulses, people who would shrink from any open proposition to do evil, to assume that there is no harm in allowing the imagination and musing-room of the soul to harbour unlawful guests. Yet see what it did for Hazael. That prophecy was like a flash of lightning into the devil’s tinder-box that was in Hazael’s mind and heart. If his mind and heart had been pure and good he would never have dreamed of not waiting until God opened the way for him to be king. But his imagination and heart were all primed, and the devilish fuse was laid, and it needed only the lighted match to transform this man Hazael, whom everybody supposed, and who thought himself to be, an amiable good kind of a man, into a liar and a murderer.
V. External circumstances over which we have no control are often a potent factor in our lives. The coming of Elisha to Damascus and his prophecy concerning Ben-hadad and Hazael, were factors which brought Hazael’s career to a focus. Something may happen to-morrow which you know nothing about now, which may cause you to commit a sin which you would not to-night believe to be possible. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
On the character of Hazael
In this passage of history, an object is presented which deserves our serious attention. We behold a man who, in one state of life, could not look upon certain crimes without surprise and horror; who knew so little of himself, as to believe it impossible for him ever to be concerned in committing them; that same man, by a change of condition, transformed in all his sentiments, and, as he rose in greatness, rising also in guilt; till at last he completed that whole character of iniquity which he once detested. Hence the following observations naturally arise.
I. Sentiments of abhorrence at guilt are natural to the human mind. Hazael’s reply to the prophet, shows how strongly he felt them. This is the voice of human nature, while it is not as yet hardened in iniquity. Some vices are indeed more odious to the mind than others. Providence has wisely pointed the sharpest edge of this natural aversion against the crimes which are of most pernicious and destructive nature; such as treachery, oppression, and cruelty. But, in general, the distinction between moral good and evil is so strongly marked, as to stamp almost every vice with the character of turpitude. Present to any man, even the most ignorant and untutored, an obvious instance of injustice, falsehood, or impiety; let him view it in a cool moment, when no passion blinds, and no interest warps him; and you will find that his mind immediately revolts against it, as shameful and base, nay, as deserving punishment. Hence, in reasoning on the characters of others, however men may mistake as to facts, yet they generally praise and blame according to the principles of sound morality. With respect to their own character, a notorious partiality too generally misleads their judgment. But it is remarkable, that no sinner ever avows directly to himself, that he has been guilty of gross and downright iniquity. Such power the undeniable dignity of virtue, and the acknowledged turpitude of vice, possesses over every human heart. These sentiments are the remaining impressions of that law which was originally written on the mind of man.
II. That such is man’s ignorance of his own character, such the frailty of his nature, that he may one day become infamous for those very crimes which at present he holds in detestation. This observation is too well verified by the history of Hazael; and a thousand other instances might be brought to confirm it. Though there is nothing which every person ought to know so thoroughly as his own heart, yet from the conduct of men it appears, that there is nothing with which they are less acquainted. Always more prone to flatter themselves than desirous to discover the truth, they trust to their being possessed of every virtue which has not been put to the trial; and reckon themselves secure against every vice to which they have not hitherto been tempted. As long as their duty hangs in speculation, it appears so plain, and so eligible, that they cannot doubt of performing it. The suspicion never enters their mind, that in the hour of speculation, and in the hour of practice, their sentiments may differ widely. Their present disposition they easily persuade themselves will ever continue the same; and yet that disposition is changing with circumstances every moment. The man who glows with the warm feelings of devotion imagines it impossible for him to lose that sense of the Divine goodness which at present melts his heart. He whom his friend had lately saved from ruin, is confident that, if some trying emergency shall put his gratitude to proof, he will rather die than abandon his benefactor. He who lives happy and contented in frugal industry, wonders how any man can give himself up to dissolute pleasure. Were any of those persons informed by a superior spirit, that the time was shortly to come when the one should prove an example of scandalous impiety, the other of treachery to his friend, and the third of all that extravagant luxury which disgraces a growing fortune; each of them would testify as much surprise and abhorrence as Hazael did, upon hearing the predictions of the Prophet. Sincere they might very possibly be in their expressions of indignation; for hypocrisy is not always to be charged on men whose conduct is inconsistent. Hazael wan in earnest, when he resented with such ardour the imputation of cruelty. In such cases as I have described, what has become, it may be inquired, of those sentiments of abhorrence at guilt, which were once felt so strongly? Are they totally erased? or, if in any degree they remain, how do such persons contrive to satisfy themselves in acting a part which their minds condemn? Here, there is a mystery of iniquity which requires to be unfolded. Latent and secret is the progress of corruption within the soul; and the more latent, the more dangerous is its growth. No man becomes of a sudden completely wicked. Guilt never shows its whole deformity at once; but by gradual acquaintance reconciles us to its appearance, and imperceptibly diffuses its poison through all the powers of the mind’ Every man ham some darling passion, which generally affords the first introduction to vice. One vice brings in another to its aid. By a sort of natural affinity they connect and entwine themselves together; till their roots come to be spread wide and deep over all the soul. When guilt rises to be glaring, conscience endeavours to remonstrate. But conscience is a calm principle. Passion is loud and impetuous; and creates a tumult which drowns the voice of reason. It joins, besides, artifice to violence; and seduces at the same time that it impels. For it employs the understanding to impose upon the conscience. It devises reasons and arguments to justify the corruptions of the heart. The common practice of the world is appealed to. Nice distinctions are made. Men are found to be circumstanced in so peculiar a manner, as to render certain actions excusable, if not blameless, which, in another situation, it is confessed, would have been criminal. By such a process as this, there is reason to believe, that a great part of mankind advance from step to step in sin, partly hurried by passion, and partly blinded by self-deceit, without any just sense of the degree of guilt which they contract. It is proper, however, to observe, that though our native sentiments of abhorrence at guilt may be so born down, or so eluded, as to lose their influence on conduct, yet those sentiments belonging originally to our frame, and being never totally eradicated from the soul, will still retain so much authority, as, if not to reform, at least, on some occasions, to chasten the sinner. It is only during a course of prosperity, that vice is able to carry on its delusions without disturbance. But, amidst the dark and thoughtful situations of life, conscience regains its rights; and pours the whole bitterness of remorse on his heart, who has apostatised from his original principles. We may well believe that, before the end of his days, Hazael’s first impressions would be made to return.
III. That the power which corruption acquires to pervert the original principles of man is frequently owing to a change of their circumstances and condition in the world. How different was Hazael the messenger of Benhadad, from Hazael the king; he who started at the mention of cruelty, from him who waded in blood! Of this sad and surprising revolution, the Prophet emphatically assigns the cause in these few words; The Lord hath showed me that thou shalt be king over Syria. That crown, that fatal crown, which is to be set upon thy head, shall shed a malignant influence over thy nature; and shall produce that change in thy character, which now thou canst not believe. Whose experience of the world is so narrow, as not to furnish him with instances similar to this, in much humbler conditions of life? So great is the influence of a new situation of external fortune; such a different turn it gives to our temper and affections, to our views and desires, that no man can foretell what his character would prove, should Providence either raise or depress his circumstances in a remarkable degree, or throw him into some sphere of action, widely different from that to which he has been accustomed in former life. The seeds of various qualities, good and bad, lie in all our hearts. But until proper occasions ripen and bring them forward, they lie there inactive and dead. They are covered up and concealed within the recesses of our nature; or, if they spring up at all, it is under such an appearance as is frequently mistaken, even by ourselves. This may, in one light, be accounted not so much an alteration of character produced by a change of circumstances, as a discovery brought forth of the real character which formerly lay concealed. Yet, at the same time, it is true that the man himself undergoes a change. For opportunity being given for certain dispositions, which had been dormant, to exert themselves without restraint, they of course gather strength. By means of the ascendancy which they gain, other parts of the temper are borne down; and thus an alteration is made in the whole structure and system of the soul. He is a truly wise and good man, who, through Divine assistance, remains superior to this influence of fortune on his character, who having once imbibed worthy sentiments, and established proper principles of action, continues constant to these, whatever his circumstances be; maintains, throughout all the changes of his life, one uniform and supported tenor of conduct; and what he abhorred as evil and wicked in the beginning of his days, continues to abhor to the end. The instance of Hazael’s degeneracy leads us to reflect, in particular, on the dangers which arise from stations of power and greatness; especially when the elevation of men to these has been rapid and sudden. Few have the strength of mind which is requisite for bearing such a change with temperance and self-command. From the whole view which we have now taken of the subject, we may, in the first place, learn the reasons for which a variety of conditions and ranks was established by Providence among mankind. This life is obviously intended to be a state of probation and trial. No trial of characters is requisite with respect to God, who sees what is in every heart, and perfectly knows what part each man would act, in all the possible situations of fortune. But on account of men themselves, and of the world around them, it was necessary that trial should take place, and a discrimination of characters be made; in order that true virtue might be separated from false appearances of it, and the justice of Heaven be displayed in its final retributions; in order that the failings of men might be so discovered to themselves, as to afford them proper instruction, and promote their amendment; and in order that their characters might be shown to the world in every point of view, which could furnish either examples for imitation or admonitions of danger. In the second place, We learn, from what has been said, the importance of attending, with the utmost care, to the choice which we make of our employment and condition of life. It has been shown, that our external situation frequently operates powerfully on our moral character; and by consequence that it is strictly connected, not only with our temporal welfare, but with our everlasting happiness or misery. He who might have passed unblamed, and upright, through certain walks of life, by unhappily choosing a road where he meets with temptations too strong for his virtue, precipitates himself into shame here, and into endless ruin hereafter. In the third place, We learn from the history which has been illustrated, never to judge of true happiness, merely from the degree of men’s advancement in the world. Always betrayed by appearances, the multitude are caught by nothing so much as by the show and pomp of life. They think every one blest who is raised far above others in rank. (H. Blair, D. D.)
Benhadad and Hazael-Elisha in tears
The cure of Naaman the Syrian was long remembered in Damascus. It is not surprising, therefore, that Ben-hadad the king, although an idolater--finding himself in the grasp of a disease that threatened his life--should have been anxious to consult the prophet Elisha. The answer of the prophet was ambiguous. So far as the disease itself was concerned, the king might recover; but the purpose to kill him was already in the heart of his very commissioner. The man of God bursts into a flood of tears. The fairest lands and cities of Israel, Hazael would utterly destroy. The hope of Israel--her young men--would be ruthlessly slain. And there were other nameless and almost incredible barbarities. The courtier is rooted to the earth with horror. He repudiates the image of the prophetic mirror. At the thought of such crimes, he recoils from his own future self. “Is thy servant a dog?” he exclaims in indignation, “to commit such a mass of iniquities?” Elisha makes no reply, save this; he would be soon king of Syria, and then he left Hazael to infer the rest.
1. Let me remark, to a heart not wholly corrupted, such self-repudiation as this of Hazael is natural. Are we to look on this Syrian prince, as he stands in the presence of Elisha, merely as a hypocrite? I think not. I believe his recoil from his future guilt, as here narrated, was perfectly genuine. I believe that when he uttered the words, “Is thy servant a dog?” he was quite unable to realise that he could ever be the author of the crimes predicted. The story, therefore, is true to nature. Suppose Cain had been told he would one day lift his club against his brother and fell him to the ground, would he not have said, and said with quite as much passionate feeling as Hazael, “Is thy servant a dog?” Can we doubt that David would have uttered the same language, had any one predicted his conduct in the matter of Uriah? I believe the time was when Judas even would have started back, in deprecating protest and shuddering terror, asking in relation to the awful crime he afterwards committed, “Is thy servant a dog?” This is only the voice of human nature, not yet hardened in iniquity. When no passion blinds him and no interest warps the feelings of his heart, the most ignorant and untutored man will often revolt from sin and crime.
2. Although to a heart not wholly corrupted, such self-repudiation as this of Hazael is natural, man’s ignorance of his own character is such that he may one day be guilty of the very sins which for the present he believes to be impossible. Elisha was right; Hazael was wrong. He did not know his own heart. “Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee.” We know who said that. Christ knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. “Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.” Let us pause here and gather up a few solemn lessons for ourselves.
(1) First of all, let us beware of what is evil in its first beginnings. That solid, fossilised rock is only the result of successive accretions of loose sand; and a character like Hazael’s is only the result of the action and power of principles of evil permitted to grow up and develop in the soul, without hindrance or check. Life nowhere grows by freaks. That infant needs pure air and nourishing food. Even so with every malign influence and wicked way; feed them, and they will grow.
(2) Once again. Let us beware of what is evil in its propelling rower. Hazael went quickly to ruin. It is the story of many a prodigal. I am willing, however, to admit that a change of circumstances and condition may, in a very real sense, have an important power over human character and life. I do not believe that man is the creature of circumstances, that it is circumstances that 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 nature of their position in life. At the same time, circumstances have often a real influence on human character. Had Hazael never been flattered by Ben-hadad--for in the opinion of many he supplanted Naaman--had he never been brought within the circle of a court, the unsanctified ambition might never have possessed him to seize a crown; and had he not seized the crown--holding the royal stirrup, so to speak, the very moment he was grasping the royal sceptre--he would never have been the man of blood he afterwards became. Our experience of life must be narrow indeed, if we cannot recall kindred illustrations. Take Robert Burns:
Oh! had he stayed by bonnie Doon,
And learned to curb his passions wild,
We had not mourned his early fate,
Nor pity wept o’er Nature’s child.
Southey, speaking of the first Napoleon, has this remark: “He had given indications of his military talents at Toulon; he had also shown a little of a remorseless nature at Paris in his earlier years; but the extent either of his ability or his wickedness was at this time known to none, and perhaps not even suspected by himself.” New circumstances bring new temptations. That lad, brought up in the quiet of the country, enters on a city life. In a few years the old habits, in fact the very old ways of thinking and looking at things, are all changed. Be gentle in your judgments upon others; be severe, most severe, in your judgments upon yourself. (H. T. Howat.)
Hazael: a revealer of human nature
I. The sense of virtue in human nature. When the prophet with tears told Hazael the heartless cruelties he would perpetrate--he seemed to have such a sense of virtue within him that he was shocked at the monstrosity, and said, “What! is thy servant a dog?” We need not suppose that he feigned this astonishment, but that it was real, and that it now produced a revulsion at the cruelties he was told he would soon perpetrate. Every man has a sense of right within him; indeed, this sense is an essential element in our constitution, the moral substance of our manhood, the core of our nature, our moral ego; it is what we call conscience.
II. The evil possibilities of human nature. This man, who was shocked at the idea of perpetrating such enormities at first, actually enacted them a few hours afterwards. The elements of the devil are in every man, though he may not know it. The vulture eggs of evil are in all depraved hearts; it only requires a certain heat of the outward atmosphere to hatch’ them into life. The virtue of many men is only vice sleeping. The evil elements of the heart are like gunpowder, passive, until the spark of temptation falls on them. The greatest monsters in human history were at one time considered innocent and kind. “Many a man,” says a modern author, “could he have a glimpse in innocent youth of what he would be twenty or thirty years after, would pray in anguish that he might be taken in youth before coming to that.” What is the moral of this? The necessity of a change of heart.
III. The self-ignorance of human nature. How ignorant of himself and his heart was Hazael when he said, “Is thy servant a dog that he should do this great thing?” Men do not know what they are. Self-ignorance is the most common of all ignorance; the most culpable of all ignorance; the most ruinous of all ignorance.
IV. The resilient velocity of human nature. To-day this man seemed in sympathy with the just and the good, to-morrow his whole nature is aflame with injustice and cruelty; to-day he soars up with the angels, to-morrow he revels with the torturing fiends. Souls can fall from virtue swiftly as the shooting stars. One hour they may blaze in the firmament, the next lie deep in the mud. (Homilist.)
The progressive power of sin
Two meanings are possible to these words. They may indicate a horror of what the prophet had revealed, and a shrinking from such baseness; or, simply a feeling that such bloody deeds are possible only for a king, and that he was no king, but a dog, rather. Both interpretations have this in common, that a look into the future reveals surprising things. No man’s life turns out exactly as he expects, often the reverse. The prophet’s eyes were opened by God to behold the career of Hazael; he saw him murder his king, ascend the throne, and at the head of devastating armies overrun Israel, and give the land up to pillage and blood. Hazael starts back in surprise, if not in horror; he has not the power to do it, if he would; perhaps he means he would not if he could. But it all proved true, nevertheless; and Hazael’s experience is, for Substance, that of men in these days. No sinner knows what he may be left to do. The characters and destinies of men are surprises even to themselves. The least sin, if unchecked by repentance and amendment, will grow into the greatest.
I. See how habits are formed. When one act is followed by another of the same sort, it is as when foot follows foot, and a path is beaten. A single drop, distilling from the mossy hillside, does not make a stream, but let drop follow drop, and the stream will flow, and gather force and volume, till it hollows the valleys, chisels the rocks, and feeds the ocean. So habits, strong as life, come from little acts following one another, drop by drop, “Every one is the son of his own works,” says Cervantes, and Wordsmith, more beautifully still, “The child is the father of the man.”
II. See how one sin begets another. Just as the graces come, not alone--there were three of them, the ancients said, so one virtue leads another by the hand; and music lingers in the echo, which sometimes is softer than the parent voice. So, too, in the inverse kingdom of evil, one wrong necessitates another, to hide it, or accomplish its ends It is a small thing to lie, when one has committed a crime which will not bear the light; and a common thing to add to one crime another greater than itself. “Dead men tell no tales,” and when the telling of tales cannot be prevented otherwise, the silence of the grave is invoked; and the man becomes a murderer, who before was only too cowardly to have a less sin known. Sin is like the letting out of waters, at first a trickling stream a finger might stop, at last a flying flood sweeping man and his works alike into ruin. Sin is a fire; at first a spark a drop might extinguish, at last a conflagration taking cities on its wings, and melting primeval rocks into dust.
III. Consider, also, what complications grow out of the providence of God. If nothing new happened, a man might, in some measure, control his sin; but the new and unexpected is always taking place, and therefore the sinner must do something else, something he did not expect and did not wish to do, but the doing of which is necessitated by what has occurred; anal failure in this is failure in all. Men do not leap at a bound into crime; they are pushed into it by a force from behind. They would often stop if they could--they even mean to--but they are launched into a current, which, without their aid, widens and deepens, and, peradventure, becomes a Niagara. There are two lessons to be learned:
1. Fear to sin. It is the fundamental lesson of life. “Stand in awe and sin not.” Beware of doctrines, the practical effect of which is to make you think less of the evil of sin. Let Sinai and Calvary be your teachers. The laws of God in this world are terribly severe. Expect at least as much in the world to come. The love of God does not prevent an infinite amount of suffering in tiffs life; it is presumption to believe it will in the next. The love of God is no indiscriminate indulgence; it is not less love for the law than for those who fall beneath its infraction. The world of to-day proves it; the world in all ages does.
2. Another lesson. Behold your eternal future in the moving present. As the oak is in the acorn, and the river in the fountain, so the man is in the child, and so eternity is in time. So eternal destinies are ripening as fruits of time. (W. J. Buddington, D. D.)
The prophet’s tears
What wonder that Elisha wept? Who would not weep if he could see what is coming upon his country? Whose heart would not pour out itself in blood to know what is yet to be done in the land of his birth or the country of his adoption? If the men of long ago could have seen how civilisation would be turned into an engine of oppression, how the whole land would groan under the burden of drunkeries and breweries, and houses of hell of every name; if they could have seen how the truth would be sold in the market-place, and how there would be no further need of martyrdom, surely they would have died the violent death of grief. The heart can only be read in the sanctuary. You cannot read it through journalism, or criticism, or political comment, or combinations of any kind which exclude the Divine element; to know what Hazael will do, let Elisha read him. The journalist never could have read him; he might have called him long-headed, intrepid, sagacious, a statesman; but the prophet said, “Their strongholds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child:” thy course is a course of havoc. It is only in the sanctuary that we know what things really are. When the pulpit becomes a very tower of God, a very fort of heaven, then the preacher will be able to say, as no other man can say, what the heart is, and what the heart will do under circumstances yet to be revealed. But whence has the preacher this power? He has it as a Divine gift. (J. Parker, D. D.)
My subject, as suggested by the words before us, is the common and too often fatal ignorance of men as to the wickedness of their own hearts.
I. Let us expose and expound this ignorance. Our ignorance of the depravity of our own hearts is a startling fact, Hazael did not believe that he was bad enough to do any of the things here anticipated. “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?” He might have been conscious enough that his heart was not So pure but it might consent to do many an evil thing; yet crimes so flagrant as those the prophet had foretold of him, he thought himself quite incapable of committing. Ah, the ignorance of Hazael is ours to a greater or less degree! God only knows the vileness of the human heart. There is a depth beneath, a hidden spring, into which we cannot pry. In that lower depth, there is a still deeper abyss of positive corruption which we need not wish to fathom. God grant that we may know enough of this to humble us, and keep us ever low before Him!
II. But now I turn to the practical use of our subject, looking at it in two ways.
what it forbids and what it suggests. The depravity of our nature forbids, first of all, a venturing or presuming to play and toy with temptation. When a Christian asks, “May I go into such a place?”--should he parley thus with himself? “True, temptation is very strong there, but I shall not yield. It would be dangerous to another man, but it is safe to me. If I were younger, or less prudent and circumspect, I might be in jeopardy; but I have passed the days of youthful passion. I have learned by experience to be more expert; I think, therefore, that I may venture to plunge, and hope to swim where younger men have been carried away by the tide, and less stable ones have been drowned.” All such talking as this cometh of evil, and gendereth evil. Proud flesh vaunteth its purity, and becomes a prey to every vice. Let those who feel themselves to be of a peculiarly sensitive constitution not venture into a place where disease is rife. If I knew my lungs to be weak, and liable to congestion, I should shrink from foul air, and any vicious atmosphere. If you know that your heart has certain proclivities to sin, why go and tempt the devil to take advantage of you? But, again, knowing how vile we are by nature, knowing indeed that we are bad enough for anything, let us take another caution. Boast not, neither in any wise vaunt yourselves. Presume not to say, “I shall never do this; I shall never do that.” Never venture to ask, with Hazael, “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?” My experience has furnished me with many proofs that the braggart in morality is not the man to be bound for. Above all, avoid those men who think themselves immaculate, and never fear a fall If there be a ship on God’s sea the captain of which declares that nothing can ever sink her, stand clear, get into the first leaky boat to escape from her, for she will surely founder. Give a ship the flag of humility, and it is well; but they that spread out the red flag of pride, and boast that they are staunch and trim, and shall never sink, will either strike upon a rock or founder in the open sea.
III. And let this fact, that we do not know our own baseness, teach us not to be harsh, or too severe, with those of God’s people who have inadvertently fallen into sin. Be severe with their sin; never countenance it; let your actions and your conduct prove that you hate the garment spotted with the flesh, that you abhor the transgression, cannot endure it, and must away with it. Yet ever distinguish between the transgressor and the transgression. Think not that his soul is lost because his feet have slipped. Imagine not that, because he has gone astray, he cannot be restored. If there must be a church censure passed upon him, yet take care that thou dost so act that he, in penitence of spirit, may joyously return. Be thou as John was to Peter.
IV. Leaving now this point of caution, let us consider, by way of counsel, what positive suggestions may arise. H we be thus depraved, and know not the full extent of our depravity what then should we do? Surely, we should daily mourn before God because of this great sinfulness. Full of sin we are, so let us constantly renew our grief. We have not repented of sin to the full extent, unless we repent of the disposition to sin as well as the actual commission of sin. We should deplore before God, not only what we have done, but that depravity which made us do it.
V. And when thou hast done, take heed that thou walkest every day very near to God, seeking daily supplies of His grace. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
2 Kings 8:17-24
Jehoram--began to reign.
Lessons from the life of Jehoram
This is a short fragment of a king’s history, the history of Jehoram. Brief as it is, it contains many practical truths.
I. That piety is not necessarily hereditary. Parents, as a rule, transmit their physical and intellectual qualities to their children, but not their moral characters. Jehoram was a bad man and a wicked king, but he was the son of Jehoshaphat, who was a man of distinguished piety, and reigned wisely and beneficently over Israel for twenty-five years. Of him it was said that “the more his riches and honour increased the more his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 17:5-6). But how different was his son! One of the first acts of his government was to put to death his six brothers, and several of the leading men of the empire. But whilst piety is not necessarily hereditary, because children are moral agents: what then? Are parents to do nothing to impart all that is good in their character to their children? Undoubtedly no! They are commanded to “train up a child in the way it should go when it is young.” Where the children of godly parents turn out to be profligate and corrupt, as a rule some defect may be traced to parental conduct. Even in the life of Jehoshaphat, we detect at [east two parental defects.
1. In permitting his son to form unholy alliances.
2. In granting his son too great an indulgence. He raised him to the throne during his own lifetime. He took him into royal partnership too soon, and thus supplied him with abundant means to foster his vanity and ambition.
II. That immoral kings are national curses. What evils this man brought upon his country! Through him the kingdom of Judah lost Edom (which had been its tributary for one hundred and fifty years), which “revolted” and became the determined enemy of Judah ever afterwards (Psalms 137:7). Libnah, too, “revolted at the same time.” This was a city in the south-western part of Judah assigned to the priests, and a city of refuge. It has always been so. Wicked kings, in all ages, have been the greatest curses that have afflicted the race. Another practical truth is--
III. That death is no respecter of persons.
1. Death does not respect a man’s position, however high.
2. Death does not respect a man’s character however vile. Jehoram was a bad man, and utterly unfit to die: but death waits not for moral preparation. (David Thomas, D. D.)
Baneful influence of a wicked wife
Jehoram, the son of good Jehoshaphat, walked in the evil ways of the kings of Israel, and he wrought that which was evil in the sight of the Lord. For--mark the reason given by the inspired historian-jehoram did that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord, for “He had the daughter of Ahab to wife!” What secrets were indicated by that one reason! What a whole volume of tragedy is wrapped up in that brief sentence! The responsibility seems to a large extent transferred from him and placed upon his wife, who was a subtler thinker, a more desperate character, with a larger brain and a firmer will, with more accent and force of personality. “Be not unequally yoked together:” do not look upon marriage lightly; do not suppose that it is a game for the passing day, a flash and gone, a hilarious excitement, a wine-bibbing, a passing round of kind salutations, then dying away like a trembling echo. Beware what connections you form, and do not suppose that the laws of God can be set aside with impunity. Our family life explains our public attitude and influence. What we are at home we are really abroad. Wives, do not destroy your husbands: when they would do good, help them; when they propose to give to the cause of charity, suggest that the donation be doubled, not divided; when they would help in any good and noble work, give them sympathy, and prayer, and blessing. We never knew a man yet of any enduring public power that was not made by his wife, and we never knew a public yet that fully appreciated the value of that ministry. It is secret; it is at home; it does not show, it is not chalked on a black-board, it is not gilded on a high ceiling, it is silent--but vital. We have seen a man go down in his church life, and we have wondered why, and it was his wife, the daughter of Ahab, who was degrading him, narrowing him and dwarfing him in his thinking and sympathy. We have seen a man go up in his public influence, and we have found that it was his wife who was encouraging him, helping him, telling him that he was on the right way, and wishing him good luck in the name of the Lord. See to it that your home is right: have a beautiful home--morally and religiously; a sacred house, a sanctuary where joy is the singing angel, and then, when you come abroad into the market-place, into the pulpit or into parliament, or into trading and commerce, or into any of the social relations of life, you will bring with you all the inspiration that comes from a home that blooms like a garden or glows like a summer sun. (J. Parker, D. D.)
2 Kings 8:25-29
In the twelfth year of Joram.
Kinghood: the conventional and the true
Looking at King Ahaziah, as here sketched, two points strike our attention.
I. A king by physical heredity. This man came from the lineage of kings.
1. This arrangement is not Divine. All that can be said is that God permitted, not ordained their existence.
2. This arrangement is absurd. That a man should become a ruler because of his birth is an outrage on common sense. They only will be future kings who are royal in character, in intelligence, and philanthropy. The greatest man of the community will become its king. What is called loyalty is a debased and selfish flunkeyism, not a devout homage for the good. Are we not commanded to “honour the king”? Yes, but it is implied that he is honour-worthy. Are we to honour such men as Henry VIII., Charles II., and other such monarchical monsters, which, alas! abound in history? No; denounce them, hurl them from their thrones.
II. A monster by moral descent. He was the descendant of one of the most ruthless and most corrupt of that Hebrew people who were fast “filling up the measure of their iniquities.” This man, like the offspring of all wicked parents, would inherit the spirit, imbibe the principles, and imitate the example of his parents. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Kings 8". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27