Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. A COMMAND OBEYED. Elisha's command seemed a hard one. This woman of Shunem was to arise with her household, and leave her home and farm for seven years. He told her, indeed, that there was to be a famine in the land. But she might have wanted more proof. She might have said, "Well, I shall wait till I see some signs of the famine. It is a great hardship to have to get up in this way and leave my home, without any immediate reason. What if Elisha's fears should turn out to be untrue? May not the famine be as bad anywhere else?" So men often reason when God gives them some command or points out to them the way of salvation. Lot lingered, when urged to depart out of Sodom, though the very angels of God had come to warn him of his doom. So men linger still, when urged to flee from the wrath to come. They linger, though every day is bringing them nearer to eternity. They linger, though they know not the day nor the hour when the Son of man may come. Whether it be the path of salvation or the path of Christian service which God calls us to tread, let us not linger, let us not hesitate to obey, but, like this woman of Shunem, let us do at once what God commands.
II. LOSS INCURRED. This woman actually did suffer by her prompt obedience. She escaped the famine, indeed, but she lost her land. On this subject Dr. Thomson says, in 'The Land and the Book,' "It is still common for even petty sheikhs to confiscate the property of any person who is exiled for a time, or who moves away temporarily from his district. Especially is this true of widows and orphans, and the Shunammite was now a widow. And small is the chance to such of having their property restored, unless they can secure the mediation of some one more influential than themselves. The conversation between the king and Gehazi about his master is also in perfect keeping with the habits of Eastern princes; and the appearance of the widow and her son so opportunely would have precisely the same effect now that it had then. Not only the land, but all the fruits of it would be restored. There is an air of genuine verisimilitude in such simple narratives which it is quite impossible for persons not intimately familiar with Oriental manners to appreciate, but which stamps the incidents with undoubted certainty." We may incur loss from a worldly point of view by obeying a command of God. But which do we prefer - worldly gain or a conscience at peace with God? Which less is greater - the loss of a few pounds, or the loss of our heavenly Father's smile? Even if we do lose by it - it is best to do the will of God, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
III. QUESTIONS ASKED. We are not told what led to this remarkable conversation which Jehoram had with Gehazi. Perhaps the time of famine had humbled him. Perhaps he was becoming penitent for his threat of taking Elisha's life. Perhaps it was mere idle curiosity. But at any rate, here is the King of Israel inquiring of Gehazi, "Tell me, I pray thee, all the great things that Elisha hath done." Gehazi, at this time, loved to think and speak of Elisha. He had been a good master to him. His deeds were worth recording. And so Gehazi proceeds to tell the story of Elisha's mighty deeds.
1. We ought to be ready to answer questions about our Master. They may proceed from curiosity, from wrong motives, Never mind. Our answer, given in a Christian spirit, may be the means of disarming ridicule. It may be an opportunity for us to tell the old, old story of the cross.
2. We ought not to be ashamed of our Master. He is "the chiefest among ten thousand... and altogether lovely." His Name is above every name. The Name, the life, the works, the words, of Jesus ought to be a favorite theme with us.
IV. RESTITUTION MADE. When God's time comes, how very easily he can fulfill his purposes! Gehazi had just reached that part of his story where Elisha restored the Shunammite's son to life, when, to his astonishment and delight, the Shunammite herself appeared on the scene. She came with her petition to the king that he would cause her house and land to be restored. Gehazi, not, perhaps, very regardful of courtesy or etiquette, calls out in the fullness of his joy, "My lord, O king, this is the woman, and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life." The king, whose feelings had already been touched by the pathetic narrative of the little lad carried home from the harvest-field to die, touched also by the entreaty of the woman for the restoration of her lost property, and perhaps recognizing the hand of Providence in the remarkable events of that day, gives orders that not only her land, but the fruits of it from the day she left, should be restored to her. That was wholesale restoration and restitution. Who shall say it was unjust? What a disgorging there would be, if all who have taken money or land from others by unlawful means, all who have extorted unjust rents, were compelled to restore their ill-gotten gains! The Shunammite had not suffered, after all, by her obedience. "No one hath forsaken houses, or lands, or father, or mother, or friends... but he shall receive an hundredfold more in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting." - C.H.I.
I. THE REWARD OF KINDNESS. "Then spake Elisha unto the woman, whose son he had restored to life, saying, Arise, and go thou and thine household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn: for the Lord hath called for a famine; and it shall also come upon the land seven years. And the woman arose, and did after the saying of the man of God: and she went with her household, and sojourned in the laud of the Philistines seven years," Through Elisha this Shunammite woman obtained three great favors:
(1) the restoration of her son (2 Kings 4.);
(2) direction for herself and family to leave their old home during the seven years' famine; and then, when she returned from the laud of the Philistines, where she had sojourned seven years;
(3) the restoration of her old home, which had either fallen into the hands of covetous persons, or been confiscated to the crown (ver. 6). These are confessedly signal favors; but why were they rendered? Undoubtedly on account of the kindness which this woman had manifested to Elisha, as recorded in the fourth chapter (vers. 8-10). She had shown him great hospitality, built a chamber for him in her own house, furnished it, and boarded and lodged him for a considerable time. Here, then, is the reward of kindness. Observe:
1. Kindness should always awaken gratitude. The very constitution of the human soul and the moral laws of God as revealed in Christ show this. Yet, alas! so far away has the human soul gone from its pristine state that real gratitude for favors is somewhat rare. So much so, indeed, that it often turns out that the person on whom you bestow the greatest favors turns out to be your opponent and foe. Seneca has truly said that "were ingratitude actionable, there would not be in the whole world courts enough to try the causes in." So common is it that it is almost a maxim that, if you would alienate a man from you, you should bestow on him favors. Shakespeare has compared it to the cuckoo -
"The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long 2. Gratitude will always requite favors. The man who receives favors without some practical acknowledgment is an ingrate. "A man," says L'Estrange, "may as well refuse to deliver up a sum of money that is left him in trust, without a suits as not to return a good office without asking." "He that has nature in him must be grateful; II. THE IGNORANCE OF ROYALTY. When the Shunammite woman had returned from the land of the Philistines, she made application to the king for the restoration "of her house and for her land," whereupon "the king talked with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, Tell me, I pray thee, all the great things that Elisha hath done." Now, mark the ignorance of this King of Israel. He was so ignorant of Elisha - the man who had been working such wonders in his country, delivering such sublime truths, and rendering such high service to the state, that he here inquires of the prophet's servant concerning him. "It was to his shame," says Matthew Henry, "that he needed now to be informed of Elisha's works, when he might have acquainted himself with them as they were being done by Elisha himself." Shame! that kings should be ignorant of the morally best and greatest men in their kingdom! Yet they have always been so, especially if the men, as in Elisha's case, lived in poverty. They know all about the moral pigmies that live in splendid palaces, bear high-sounding titles, are lords of castles, and owners of broad acres. Such, they not only know, but will honor with their visits, consort with them, shoot with them, etc. But to go into the obscure home of a truly great man who blesses the country with his soul-quickening thoughts, and holds fellowship with Heaven, they would no more think of doing, than of traveling to the moon. Will it be always thus? Heaven forbid! III. THE INFLUENCE OF GODLINESS. When the king heard from Gehazi what Elisha had done, "his majesty" (as we say) granted the woman her request. "And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed unto her a certain officer, saying, Restore all that was hers, and all the fruits of the field since the day that she left the land, even until now." It was the involuntary influence of Elisha that disposed the monarch to do all this. Who shall tell the good that even the involuntary influence of a godly man communicates to his age? The voluntary influence of a man's life - that is, the influence he exerts by intention and conscious efforts - is truly insignificant compared with that stream of unconscious influence that goes forth from him, not only at all times through his life, but even after he has quitted this mundane sphere. "Though dead, he yet speaketh." "As a little silvery ripple," says Elihu Burritt, "set in motion by the falling pebble, expands from its inch of radius to the whole compass of the pool, so there is not a child - not an infant Moses - placed however softly in his bulrush ark upon the sea of time, whose existence does not stir a ripple gyrating outwards and on, until it shall have moved across and spanned the whole ocean of God's eternity, stirring even the river of life and the fountain at which his angels drink." - D.T.
2. Gratitude will always requite favors. The man who receives favors without some practical acknowledgment is an ingrate. "A man," says L'Estrange, "may as well refuse to deliver up a sum of money that is left him in trust, without a suits as not to return a good office without asking."
"He that has nature in him must be grateful;
II. THE IGNORANCE OF ROYALTY. When the Shunammite woman had returned from the land of the Philistines, she made application to the king for the restoration "of her house and for her land," whereupon "the king talked with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, Tell me, I pray thee, all the great things that Elisha hath done." Now, mark the ignorance of this King of Israel. He was so ignorant of Elisha - the man who had been working such wonders in his country, delivering such sublime truths, and rendering such high service to the state, that he here inquires of the prophet's servant concerning him. "It was to his shame," says Matthew Henry, "that he needed now to be informed of Elisha's works, when he might have acquainted himself with them as they were being done by Elisha himself." Shame! that kings should be ignorant of the morally best and greatest men in their kingdom! Yet they have always been so, especially if the men, as in Elisha's case, lived in poverty. They know all about the moral pigmies that live in splendid palaces, bear high-sounding titles, are lords of castles, and owners of broad acres. Such, they not only know, but will honor with their visits, consort with them, shoot with them, etc. But to go into the obscure home of a truly great man who blesses the country with his soul-quickening thoughts, and holds fellowship with Heaven, they would no more think of doing, than of traveling to the moon. Will it be always thus? Heaven forbid!
III. THE INFLUENCE OF GODLINESS. When the king heard from Gehazi what Elisha had done, "his majesty" (as we say) granted the woman her request. "And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed unto her a certain officer, saying, Restore all that was hers, and all the fruits of the field since the day that she left the land, even until now." It was the involuntary influence of Elisha that disposed the monarch to do all this. Who shall tell the good that even the involuntary influence of a godly man communicates to his age? The voluntary influence of a man's life - that is, the influence he exerts by intention and conscious efforts - is truly insignificant compared with that stream of unconscious influence that goes forth from him, not only at all times through his life, but even after he has quitted this mundane sphere. "Though dead, he yet speaketh." "As a little silvery ripple," says Elihu Burritt, "set in motion by the falling pebble, expands from its inch of radius to the whole compass of the pool, so there is not a child - not an infant Moses - placed however softly in his bulrush ark upon the sea of time, whose existence does not stir a ripple gyrating outwards and on, until it shall have moved across and spanned the whole ocean of God's eternity, stirring even the river of life and the fountain at which his angels drink." - D.T.
2 Kings 4. It furnishes another instance of how God cares for and rewards his people.
I. ELISHA'S WARNING. In chronological order this narrative seems to precede the cure of Naaman, while Gehazi was still the servant of the prophet. A famine of long duration was about to descend on the land, and Elisha gave timely warning to the Shunammite to take refuge somewhere else.
1. The good are often sharers in the calamities of the wicked. This famine was no doubt sent on Israel as a punishment for sin. God's prophet foretold it, as Elijah had foretold the drought in the days of Ahah (1 Kings 17:1). Famines and similar calamities do not come uncalled for. They are instruments used by God in his moral government (Ezekiel 14:21; Amos 4.). And in the distresses brought upon the world by sin God's people are often sharers. The innocent are involved in the sufferings of the guilty (Ezekiel 21:3, 4). This lady of Shunem, now probably a widow, is compelled, by the approach of famine, to abandon home and lands and rural comfort for a sojourn among idolaters.
2. The good, notwithstanding, are marvelously protected amidst the calamities of the wicked. It was God's mercy to this Shunammite, who in former days had befriended his prophet, which now led to her being warned beforehand. God's rewards for kindness shown to his servants are not soon exhausted. It was sad to be involved in the famine, but it would have been sadder had she not received this warning to withdraw in good time. Thus God, by a special providence, cares for and watches over the interests of his people. He guides their steps, and is a Shield to them from trouble.
3. The good are provided for amidst the calamities of the wicked. The Shunammite was directed to sojourn with her household wherever she could find a refuge. She believed the word of the man of God, obeyed it, and went to sojourn in the land of the Philistines. There she abode for the seven years that the famine lasted, and during that period was sufficiently provided for. It was an act of faith on the part of the Shunammite to take this step, for she had nothing to go upon in regard to this famine but the prophet's bare word. That, however, was held sufficient, and she left all to do as he had bidden her. God's people are always safe in acting on his commands. When Elijah was sent to hide by the brook Cherith, the ravens were "commanded" to feed him; and when he was told to go from there to Zarephath, a widow woman was similarly c, commanded" to sustain him (1 Kings 17:4, 8). As God provided for Jacob and his household in Egypt in a time of famine, so he prepares a provision for all his people who humbly trust him. "They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing" (Psalm 34:10).
II. THE SHUNAMMITE'S RETURN. At length, through the ceasing of the famine, the way was open for the Shunammite to come back. Her return was:
1. After long exile. Seven years had she been absent from the land of Jehovah. During that period she had lived amidst Philistine surroundings. Her spirit must often have been grieved at the idolatrous and heathenish sights she witnessed; for what moral communion could she have with the worshippers of Dagon? Nor could she now, as of old, saddle her ass, and repair to the prophet on sabbaths and new moons for consolation and instruction. Exile of this sort would be painful to her spirit, as it was to that of the psalmist (Psalm 42:4, 6). God in his providence often thus deprives his people for a time of the privilege of ordinances, perhaps through sickness, perhaps through removal to new scenes, perhaps through the interposition of direct obstacles. There was in the Shunammite's case a famine of the Word as well as of bread. These things try faith, and operate to the quickening of spiritual desire.
2. To meet a new trial. The Shunammite came back to her home, to find that, in her long absence, her house and lands had been alienated from her. Probably, as deserted by their owner, they had become the property of the crown (ver. 6). Or some neighboring proprietor may have possessed himself of the abandoned fields. In any case, it was a sore discovery for the Shunammite to make, on her return, that she could no longer obtain her own. The trial of coming back seemed almost greater than that of going away. Might not the same providence that had cared for her in Philistia have watched over her possessions at home? It was God who had called her thence: might he not have secured that, when she returned, she would get her own? The issue of this trial should encourage believers not too readily to distrust the Almighty. It came to be seen that God had been caring for her in her absence - had, so to speak, been putting out her lands at interest for her, so that, when they were restored, she "received her own with usury" (Matthew 25:27).
III. THE SHUNAMMITE'S APPEAL. The most striking part of the story is yet to come. Having no other remedy, the Shunammite appealed to the king, as first magistrate, to restore to her her lands. "She went forth to cry unto the king for her house and for her land." We note concerning her appeal:
1. Its justice. The Shunammite had a good and just cause. Kings and magistrates are set to administer justice. Yet it is possible that, but for the circumstances next narrated, the impoverished lady might have cried long enough before her possessions were restored to her. It is difficult to get the holders of unlawfully acquired property - especially in land - to yield up again their title to it. The cry of the poor does not always penetrate, as it should do, to the ear of justice.
2. Its providential opportuneness. It is God's prerogative to maintain the cause of the oppressed (Psalm 9:4, 9, 10), and he was preparing the way for this cause being heard. The circumstances are remarkable, showing how entirely all events are in the hand of God, how what we call accidental conjunctures are really providences, and how, without overriding human freedom, all things, even the most ordinary, are working together for good to those who love him.
(1) It happened that, just as the Shunammite approached, her son being with her, to present her prayer, the king and Gehazi, Elisha's servant, were talking together of the wonderful works of the prophet. "Tell me, I pray thee," said the king, "all the great things that Elisha hath done." Jehoram, though a wicked man (2 Kings 9:22), had yet, as we have formerly seen, a certain susceptibility to good in him. His was a divided nature. He had a reverence and respect for Elisha; he knew the right; he took pleasure in hearing of Elisha'8 wonderful deeds. Yet he never took God's Law truly into his heart. How many are like him (Ezekiel 33:30-33)!
(2) In particular, Gehazi was relating to the king how Elisha had restored the dead son of the Shunammite to life. How singular, we say, that this should have been the subject of conversation at that very moment! But it was God who ordered that this should come about. We find a very similar instance in the case of King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther. He could not sleep, and ordered the chronicles of his kingdom to be read before him. It was the night when Haman's plot was ripe for the destruction of Mordecai, but the passage read was that which told how Mordecai had made known a conspiracy against the king's life. This saved him, and led to Haman's own destruction (Esther 6.). The wheels within wheels in God's providence are truly marvelous. He lifts up one and casts down another by the simplest possible means.
(3) As Gehazi was speaking, the Shunammite and her son stood before them, and cried to the king. No doubt in great surprise, Gehazi said, "My lord, O king, this is the woman, and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life." The ear of the king was now effectually gained.
3. Its success. The woman, being asked to state her plea, did so, and her request was at once granted. Not only were her house and land restored to her, but recompense was made for all the fruits of the field since the day she had left it. Thus she received back in abundance all she possessed. She not only got justice, but generosity. How good it is to be a friend of God! "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). With him for our Advocate, what need we fear? Having given this woman the greater gift, in reward for her kindness to his prophet, he does not withhold from her any lesser gift. So may the believer reason, if God "spared not his own Son," etc. (Romans 8:32). - J.O.
might recover. His illness was not mortal. And yet his death was certain, and Hazael's conscience told him that he was already a murderer in his heart. As Elisha thinks of all the trouble and suffering that shall come upon Israel through Hazael's instrumentality, he can no longer restrain his feelings, lie bursts into tears. When Hazael asks him why he weeps, it is then that the prophet tells him all the cruelties which he will perpetrate upon God's people. This tale of horrors called forth the question from Hazael, "What is thy servant, this dog, that he should do this great thing?" It was only then that Elisha showed him that he knew that murder was already in his mind. He quietly says, "Behold, the Lord hath showed me that thou shalt be king over Syria." Hazael then went back to Benhadad, and gave him an answer very different from that which Elisha had really given to him. Instead of giving him the whole message, he gives him merely a part, tells him that he shall recover, omits that it has been revealed to the prophet that he shall surely die. The morrow came; and on the morrow Hazael was a murderer. Despite all his protestations of weakness and inability to do "great things," he - the king's trusted servant - betrays his master's confidence and takes away his life. Taking a thick cloth and dipping it in water, he spread it upon the king's face, either when he was asleep, or under pretext of cooling and refreshing him, so that the breathing was stopped and the king died. Terrible succession of falsehood, treachery, and murder. We learn from this incident -
I. THE POSSIBILITIES OF EVIL IN THE HUMAN HEART. Many persons deny the depravity of human nature. They deny the story of the Fall. They object to such ideas, and regard them as theological dogmas, and the mere creations of narrow, hard, illiberal minds. But these truths of the fall of man and the depravity of human nature are something more than theological dogmas. They are facts of experience - painful, indeed, and humiliating to human pride, but facts nevertheless. And here it may be stated that to believe in the fall of man and the depravity of human nature is quite consistent with the deepest human sympathy and love. To believe in the possibilities of evil that there are in the human heart is quite consistent with believing in its great possibilities of good. The Bible, which teaches man's fall, teaches also that man was made in the image of God, and that it is possible yet for that lost and faded image to be restored. The Bible, which tells man that he is a sinner, helpless, condemned, perishing, tells him also that, in the infinite mercy of that God against whom he has sinned, a way of salvation has been provided; that the Savior is the Son of God himself; that we may have "redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins;" and that "whosoever believeth on him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." It is for our own good that we should know what possibilities of evil there are in the unregenerate heart. What use is it to say, "Peace! Peace!" when there is no peace? What avails it for the watchman to cry," Ali's well!" if the enemy are not only at the gates, but actually within the city? He who would help men to do the right and overcome the wrong must faithfully point out to them the possibilities of evil that are within their own heart. Who that knows human nature, that knows the facts of history, can doubt that such possibilities exist? Look at Hazael, hitherto the faithful, trusted servant, stooping over the bedside of his master, and calmly and deliberately taking away his life. He had the ambition to be King of Syria, and he wades to the throne through his master's blood. Who that knows what crimes men will commit when under the influence of covetousness, intemperance, hatred, or some other passion - men who otherwise would have shrunk from the very mention of such acts - can doubt the possibilities of evil within the human heart? There are possibilities of evil even in good men. The old nature is not taken away. "When I would do good," said St. Paul, "evil is present with me, so that how to perform that which is good I find not." "For I see a law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin." What, then, is the difference between a Christian and an unregenerate man? There are possibilities of evil in them both, but the Christian strives against the evil, whereas the unregenerate man yields to sin and loves it. The Christian may fall, but if so, he is filled with penitence. The Christian will have his faults, but, if so, he acknowledges them and seeks help to forsake them. "Faults!" says Thomas Carlyle, in his lectures on 'Hero-Worship,' "the greatest of faults is to be conscious of none." Yes; there are possibilities of evil, there are actualities of evil, in the best of men. Christ might still say to an assembly of even his own disciples, "Let him that is without sin cast the first stone at a fallen sister or an erring brother."
II. THE DANGER OF IGNORING THESE POSSIBILITIES. Hazael did not become a murderer all at once. The old Latin saying is, Nemo repente fit turpissimus - "No one becomes suddenly very wicked." It is true. Perhaps a few years before this if any one had told Hazael that he would be a murderer, he would have been highly indignant. Even now he asks, "What is thy servant, this dog, that he should do this great thing?" It is uncertain whether this exclamation of Hazael refers only to Elisha's prophecy about the cruelties he would perpetrate on Israel, or whether it refers also to the suggestion of Elisha that he was to be the murderer of Benhadad. If it refers to the murder of the king, then the exclamation would express surprise at the idea of his venturing to lift his hand against his master. If it only refers to the subsequent cruelties which he was to commit, it shows in any case that Hazael did not know of what he was capable. Shakespeare's representation of Brutus when meditating the murder of Julius Caesar, to which he had been incited by other conspirators, throws light upon Hazael's feelings. "Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar I have not slept. Between the acting of a dreadful thing and the first motion, all the interim is Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream: The genius and the mortal instruments Are then in council; and the state of a man, Like to a little kingdom, suffers then The nature of an insurrection." It is, indeed, a dangerous thing to tamper with temptation. There is that affinity between the evil which is in our own heart and the temptations which are without, that there is between the gunpowder and the spark. It is wisdom to keep the sparks away. It is wisdom to keep away from the temptation. "Vice is a monster of so hideous mien, As, to be hated, needs but to be seen; Yet, seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace." It is "fools" who make a mock at sin. It is a foolish thing to make light of the guilt of sin in God's sight. It is a foolish thing to make light of the power of sin in our own hearts. "Lead us not into temptation."
III. THERE IS ONLY ONE SAFEGUARD AGAINST THESE EVIL TENDENCIES IN OUR OWN HEARTS: THAT SAFEGUARD IS THE GRACE OF GOD. Of the power of that grace Hazael knew nothing. Temptation upon temptation came crowding into his mind. The first was the great ambition to be king. He has yielded to that long since. It has taken complete possession of his mind. Then there came the temptation to carry a false message to his master, who had reposed such confidence in him. He yielded to that. Then there came the temptation to take away his master's life. It was a strong one, no doubt. There was but that weak, helpless king, upon a bed of sickness, between him and the throne. One little act, which no one would suspect, and the object of his ambition would be attained. But if he had resisted the other temptations, this one might never have assailed him at all, or, if it had, he would easily have resisted it. The reason of his fall was the want of a ancient force within. We need something more than human to conquer the Satanic power of sin. "What but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?" Hazael had no restraining power to check his own evil tendencies, no resisting power to stop the temptation at the door, ere it entered and took possession of his heart. He seems to have had a feeling of shame, as when he became confused before Elisha's steady glance. But shame, by itself, with no other superior influence to sustain it, is easily vanquished. Lust, covetousness, ambition, intemperance, - every one of these is able to put shame to flight. The immoral man - he has long since trampled on shame. The miser, the covetous man - he will stop at nothing that will increase his possessions. The ambitious man - he will not allow shame to hinder him in the desire for power and place. The drunkard - shame has long since ceased in his besotted mind; no blush is seen upon his bloated face. No; if we are to resist evil, if we are to conquer sin, it must be in some power stronger than poor human nature can supply. Hazael did not know that power. He trusted in his own sense of shame, in his own sense of what was right, and that failed him. He who had said, "What is thy servant, this dog, that he should do this great thing?" on the morrow took his master's life. Contrast Hazael's exclamation with Joseph's when he was tempted: "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Ah! there was something there to which Hazael was a stranger. There was the personal presence of a personal God; there was the fear of offending that holy God; there was the fear of grieving that loving heavenly Father who had watched over Joseph when his brethren had forsaken him, and who had provided for all his wants. Hazael's feeling is more like that of Peter, "Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I" - the expression of wounded pride, of boastful serf-security. Yet Peter fell into the very sin of which he had expressed such horror only a few hours before. It is not such self-confidence, but a humble feeling of our own weakness and an attitude of entire dependence upon God, that will really Keep the door barred against temptation. One or two practical applications.
1. Be on your guard against the beginnings of evil. If you yield to one temptation, no matter how small and insignificant it may be, others are sure to follow in its wake.
2. Be charitable toward the faults and failings of others. When we know what possibilities of evil there are in our own hearts, how can we have the presumption to sit in judgment upon others? If others have fallen and we are secure, perhaps it was because we were not exposed to the same temptations. We are to consider ourselves, lest we also be tempted.
3. If you have not yet experienced the forgiveness that is in Christ Jesus and the power of Divine grace, seek them now! Let it be your earnest prayer, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." If you would be safe. from the possibilities of evil that are in your own heart, and from the temptations of a godless world, then your prayer should be now and always, "Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I." - C.H.I.
I. A DYING KING. "Benhadad the King of Syria was sick." Benhadad, for his age and country, was a great king, rich and mighty, but now he is on his dying-bed. Kings die as well as others. Observe:
1. This dying king was very anxious. What was he anxious about? Not about any great spiritual interest concerning himself or others, but concerning his own physical condition. "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.
2. His anxiety prompted him to do strange things.
(1) It was strange for him to ask a favor from the man whom he had so long regarded as his enemy. We read (2 Kings 6:14, 15) that this Benhadad had sent to Dothan "horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about," in order to capture this lonely prophet. What a change is this! Dying hours reverse our judgments, revolutionize our feelings, bring the lofty down.
(2) It was strange for him to ask a favor of a man whose religion he hated. Benhadad was an idolater; Elisha was a monotheist, a worshipper of the one true God. Now, in dying, all the king's idolatrous thoughts have taken wing, and the one God appears as the great reality, and to the servant of that one God he sends, urging a favor.
(3) It was strange for him to make costly presents to a poor lonely man. "The king said unto Hazael, 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? So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, even of every good thing of Damascus, forty camels' burden, and came and stood before him," etc. What is the wealth, the grandeur, the crown, the scepter, of the mightiest monarch to him when he feels himself dying? He will barter all away for a few short hours of life.
II. A PATRIOTIC PROPHET. "The man of God wept." Elisha, forecasting the king's death, and knowing the wickedness of this Hazael who was to succeed to the throne, smitten with patriotic tenderness, looked so "steadfastly' into the eye of Hazael that he blushed with shame, and the prophet broke into tears: "The man of God wept." But why did he weep? "Why weepeth my lord?" said Hazael. "And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strongholds wilt thou set on fire," etc. This was the overwhelming misery that the prophet foresaw would befall Israel, when this wretched courtier, his interrogator, would take the throne. As Christ foresaw the coming doom of Jerusalem, and wept over it, so Elisha saw the horrors approaching Israel, and broke into tears. The loving sympathies of a godly man are not confined to men or places, but spread over the ages, and flow down to bless posterity. - D.T.
1 Kings 19:15).
I. BENHADAD'S MESSAGE.
1. Its occasion. "Benhadad the King of Syria was sick." Royal rank affords no protection against the invasions of disease. Nor is the thought of death less alarming to the monarch than to the peasant. Benhadad's heart trembled as he reflected on the possible issues of his trouble, and he gladly availed himself of the opportunity of Elisha's presence in Damascus to send a messenger to him. His conduct is in striking contrast with Ahaziah's (2 Kings 1.). That Israelitish king, forsaking the God of Israel, sent to inquire at an idol shrine at Ekron. Benhadad, though a Syrian and a worshipper of Rimmon, turns in his sickness from Rimmon to Jehovah.
2. The messenger. The person sent was Hazael, one of Benhadad's great courtiers. Hazael was a very different kind of a man from Naaman. He was a bold, bad, ambitious intriguer, who was already cherishing deep thoughts of crime against his master. Yet Benhadad seems to have trusted him. How unreliable are the friendships of the wicked! Men flatter with their tongue, but in their hearts are malice, falsehood, and selfish, ambitious designs (Psalm 5:9).
3. The message. Hazael came to Elisha with great pomp. He brought a present borne on forty camels. If lavish wealth could buy a favorable answer from Jehovah, surely now it would be obtained. But God is no respecter of persons; still less does he bestow favor for bribes. We may be sure that, as in a former case (2 Kings 5:16), Elisha touched nothing of all this wealth that was brought to him. Accompanying the present was a message from the king: "Thy son Benhadad hath sent me to thee, saying, Shall I recover from this disease?" For those to whom this world is all, such a question is of very terrible moment, Well may they cling to life who have nothing beyond to hope for.
II. THE INTERVIEW WITH HAZAEL.
1. Elisha's exposure of Hazael's motives. As Hazael stood before Elisha, the prophet's clear vision read to the depths of his soul. Hazael was evidently speculating on the possibilities of his master's death, and had private designs upon the throne. When once the idea of making himself king had occurred to him, he was not the man to let the ambitious project readily drop again. The thought of removing the king by violence had no doubt flashed upon him, but he waited to learn whether the sickness would prove fatal before he framed a settled purpose. Elisha showed by his answer that he read the whole character of the man. "Go, say unto him, Thou shalt certainly recover" - that was the truth as regards the sickness; then he added, "Howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die." Hazael's guilty thoughts would furnish the explanation. We do well to remember that there is nothing we can conceal from the Searcher of hearts. "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:13). Our thoughts, even in their most inchoate condition, are known to him. He understandeth our thoughts "afar off" (Psalm 139:2).
2. Elisha's prophecy of Hazael's barbarities. Did Elisha approve of Hazael's designs, and mean to give them Divine sanction? We are able to answer this by noting his subsequent conduct.
(1) He settled his face steadfastly, and looked with a fixed gaze at Hazael till the latter was ashamed. Then Elisha wept. Elisha stood before Hazael as a kind of outward conscience. He revealed Hazael to himself, but at the same time condemned the thoughts which he saw in his mind. It was a holy, earnest gaze which Elisha turned on Hazael - a look of reproval, of sorrow, of holy pain; and Hazael felt that it was so when he blushed under it.
(2) When Hazael asked concerning his weeping, Elisha became more explicit, and told him of the awful barbarities he would inflict on Israel. The picture was so dreadful that even Hazael, with apparent sincerity, asked, "Who is thy servant, this dog, that he should do this great thing?" Hazael, like many others, was not aware of the possibilities of his own heart, A certain measure of crime he knew himself to be capable of, but he thought that other iniquities were beyond him. Once on the downward grade, how, ever, there is no point at which a sinner can be sure of stopping. One crime leads with a fatal facility to a worse. The heart grows hardened, and things are done which, at an earlier stage, might have been thought impossible. It is told of Robespierre that, in the beginning of his career, he was almost driven distracted by the thought of having sentenced a man to death. The greatest criminals were once innocent children, and at one period of their lives would have shuddered at the deeds they afterwards calmly perpetrated. The only safe course is to resist the beginnings of evil.
3. Elisha's announcement of Hazael's greatness. Elisha's final announcement to Hazael was, "The Lord hath showed me that thou shalt be king over Syria." The prophet announces the fact, which indeed fulfilled a Divine purpose regarding Hazael (1 Kings 19:15), but announces it without approval of the particular means by which that purpose would be realized. Jacob would have received the blessing in God's time and way, though his mother Rebekah had not counseled deceit as a means of obtaining it; and the kingdom would have come to Hazael, also in God's good time and way, though he had kept his hands free from crime.
III. A PALACE MURDER. If Elisha's words did not arrest the guilty purpose which was shaping itself in Hazael's mind, they could only have the contrary effect of inflaming his ambition. Like Macbeth with the witches' salutation ringing in his ears, he felt himself a child of destiny, and took speedy means to fulfill his destiny.
1. He deceived the king. He repeated, in the letter of them, Elisha's words, "Thou shalt surely recover;" but said nothing of the context, which gave the words so terrible a significance. The king was assured that his disease was not mortal, which was true; but he was left in the dark as to the declaration that he should nevertheless surely die.
2. He slew the king. Next day, probably while Benhadad slept, Hazael took a thick quilt, and, dipping it in water, spread it over the king's face, and suffocated him. He thus fulfilled the prediction that he should be King of Syria. He "had his reward." But was it worth the crime? What could compensate for a soul stained with the sin of treachery and murder? Of Banquo it was prophesied that he would be lesser than Macbeth, yet greater; not so happy, yet happier. Would the same not have been true of Hazael had he been content to remain Benhadad's faithful officer, instead of climbing to the throne in this hateful fashion? What, after all, is there so much to envy in the state of kings, that a soul's peace should be bartered to acquire it? Surrounded by false friends; served by courtiers ready at any moment to turn against him if it serves their interests better; envied even by those who flatter him; exposed to the peril of assassination, - the monarch is almost more to be pitied than the humblest of his subjects. Hazael had but exchanged his own pillow for a more thorny one. "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." - J.O.
I. JEHORAM, SON OF JEHOSHAPHAT. We may notice concerning this ruler:
1. He had a pious father. We may quote Thomas Fuller's quaint comments on this part of the Savior's genealogy: "Lord, I find the genealogy of my Savior strangely checkered with four remarkable changes in four immediate generations.
(1) 'Rehoboam begat Abiam;' that is, a bad father begat a bad son.
(2) 'Abiam begat Asa;' that is, a bad father a good son.
(3) 'Asa begat Jehoshaphat;' that is, a good father a good son.
(4) 'Jehoshaphat begat Joram;' that is, a good father a bad son.
I see, Lord, from hence, that my father's piety cannot be entailed; that is bad news for me. But I see also that actual impiety is not always hereditary; that is good news for my son."
2. He made an evil marriage. "The daughter of Ahab" - Athaliah - "was his wife." In sanctioning this union of his son with the house of Ahab Jehoshaphat grievously erred. Jehoshaphat's whole policy of keeping up friendly relations with Ahab was a mistake, destined to bear bitter fruit in his family and his kingdom. No considerations of political expediency should have tempted him to allow a marriage of the heir of his throne with a daughter of the infamous Jezebel. Rulers have even yet Pecuniary, social, or family considerations are allowed to determine a step which ought never to be taken except on grounds of real affection and moral and spiritual affinity. Athaliah's entrance into the royal household of Judah had a disastrous effect on its future. She was a true child of the Israelitlsh Jezebel, and reproduced her character in all its essential features. Bold, bad, energetic, unscrupulous, ambitious, her influence over her husband was wholly for evil. And he seems to have yielded himself entirely up to it.
3. He walked in evil ways. "He walked in the way of the kings of Israel" etc. The connection of this with his marriage is indicated in the words, "For the daughter of Ahab was his wife." To that malign influence is probably to be attributed the great crime with which his reign began - the slaughter of his six brethren, with many of the princes (2 Chronicles 21:2-4). The other evils of his reign are indicated by the Chronicles - tempting and compelling the people to idolatry, etc. (2 Chronicles 21:11, 13).
4. He was mercifully dealt with for the sake of David. Grieved though God was with his conduct, he would not destroy Judah, having pledged himself to David to perpetuate his line. The descendants of holy men and women do not know how much of God's mercy and forbearance they often owe to, their ancestral connection. God spares them for their fathers' sakes (Romans 11:28).
5. Yet his sins brought heavy disasters on the kingdom. God did not destroy Judah, but he punished it. As the wickedness of the Israelitish kings was punished by the revolt of Moab (2 Kings 1:1), so the sins of Jehoram were visited by a series of calamities which fell upon the nation. The revolt of Edom, of Libnah, invasions of the Philistines, Arabians, etc., broke in upon and desolated the land (2 Chronicles 21:16, 17). Only when rulers and people were fearing the Lord could it be said, "Also in Judah things went well" (2 Chronicles 12:12). Things cannot go well when men's hearts are bent on wickedness. God is against us, and troubles rise thick on every side. The revolt of Edom is the only calamity referred to in detail in the text. Jehoram seems to have attempted to suppress the rebellion, but, being encompassed by the enemy, had great difficulty in cutting his way through, and escaping. The loss of Edom was a permanent one.
6. He came to a miserable end. He went down to his death visibly under a cloud of Divine wrath, and amidst the contempt, if not the execrations, of his people. God smote him, the Chronicler tells us, with a painful and incurable disease, and he died, despised and unlamented (2 Chronicles 21:18, 19). He was buried in Jerusalem, but not in the tomb of the kings. Presumptuous transgressors are rightly visited with judgments of exceptional severity (cf. Acts 12:23). It is the memory of the just that is blessed, but the name of the wicked shall rot (Proverbs 10:7).
II. AHAZIAH SON OF JEHOBAM.
1. A short but evil reign. Ahaziah, who reigned but one year, was the youngest son of Jehoram, the elder having been slain in the wars with the Arabians (2 Chronicles 22:1). His reign was evil, like his father's. In this case it is said expressly that Athaliah and others of her kindred were his counselors to do evil (2 Chronicles 22:3, 4). A mother's influence is even more potent than a father's. But when both parents go partners in open wickedness, it is no wonder if a son follows their example.
2. A fateful visit. Ahaziah and Jehoram of Israel were speedily to meet their end together. The Chronicler says "the destruction of Ahaziah was of God by coming to see Joram" (2 Chronicles 22:7). Jehoram had been wounded in a campaign against Hazael at Ramoth-Gilead, and was now at Jezreel to be healed of his wounds. Thither Ahaziah repaired to visit him, and there both kings were slain by Jehu. The visible providence of God is again seen in this visit. His hook is in the nose of the sinner; he leads him wherever he will (2 Kings 19:28). - J.O.
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 honor increased the more his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord" (2 Chronicles 17:5, 6). He caused the altars and places of idolatry to be destroyed, and the knowledge of the Lord to be diffused throughout the kingdom, and the places of ecclesiastical and judicial authority to be well rifled (2 Chronicles 17:9). 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. It is here said that "he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as din the house of Ahab: He regulated his conduct by the infamous "house of Ahab," and not by the religions house of his father. He was in truth a murderer, an idolater, and a persecutor. But whilst piety is not necessarily hereditary - not necessarily, 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. And where their power is rightly employed, there is, if not invariable, yet general, success. Where the children of godly parents turn out to be profligate and corrupt, as a rule some defect may be found in the parental conduct. How often eminent ministers of the gospel, and in the main good men, are guilty of neglecting, to a greater or less extent, the parental oversight and religions training of their children. Even in the life of Jehoshaphat we detect at least two parental defects.
1. In permitting his son to form unholy alliances. This good man, Jehoshaphat, formed a league with Ahab against Syria, contrary to the counsel of Micaiah (2 Chronicles 18.). For this the Prophet Jehu censured him severely. In consequence of this alliance his son married the daughter of this infamous Ahab, and the matrimonial connection with such a woman, idolatrous, corrupt, and the daughter of Jezebel, had, no doubt, a powerful influence in deteriorating his moral character.
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. Ah, me! how many parents ruin their children forever by over indulgence!
II. THAT IMMORAL KINGS ARE NATIONAL CURSES. What evils this man brought upon his country. It is said that "in his days Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah, and made a king over themselves. So Joram went over to Zair, and all the chariots with him: and he rose by night, and smote the Edomites which compassed him about, and the captains of the chariots: and the people fled into their tents," etc. Through him the kingdom of Judah lost Edom, which "revolted" and became the determined enemy of Judah ever afterwards (Psalm 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. But these revolts are but specimens of the tremendous evils that this immoral man Brought upon the kingdom. It has always been so. Wicked kings, in all ages, have been the greatest curses that have afflicted the human race. God said to Israel of old, "I gave thee a king in mine anger" (Hosea 13:11). And the gift, on the whole, it must be confessed, has been a curse to mankind; and that because few men who have attained the position have been divinely royal in intellect, in heart, in thoughts, in aims, in sympathies. What does Heaven say of wicked kings? "As a roaring lion, and a raging bear; so is a wicked ruler over the poor people." When will the world have true kings? - such a king as is described in the Book of Proverbs, as one "that sitteth in the throne of judgment," and who "scattereth away all evil with his eyes"? He is one who sees justice done. He does not rule for the interest of a class, but for the good of all. His laws are equitable. Partialities and predilections which govern plebeian souls have no sway over him,
"He's a king, III. THAT DEATH IS NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS. I. Death does not respect a man's position, however high. "And Jehoram slept with his fathers, and was buried." Jehoram was a king, yet death struck him down, and he was buried with his fathers. Palaces are as accessible to death as paupers' huts. Attempted resistance in the former, however skillfully organized, would be as futile as in the latter. Death cares nothing for kings; crowns, diadems, scepters, courtiers, and pompous pageantries are only as dust in his icy glance. 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. When we remember what evils wicked men, especially wicked kings, work in the world, death must be regarded as a beneficent messenger. The psalmist saw mercy in the destruction of despots. He "overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea: for his mercy endureth forever." "To him which smote great kings, and slew famous kings: for his mercy endureth forever" (Psalm 136.). There is mercy for the race in their destruction. When such demons in human flesh are cut down, the world breathes more freely, a load is rolled from its heart, obstacles are swept from its path of progress. When the Pharaohs are overwhelmed, the human Israel can march on to promised lands. CONCLUSION. Parents, cultivate personal religion, and endeavor with all earnestness to transmit it to your children. Kings, seek to understand and to embody the ideal of true kingship, be royal in moral character. All, stand in readiness for the approach of death. - D.T.
III. THAT DEATH IS NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS.
I. Death does not respect a man's position, however high. "And Jehoram slept with his fathers, and was buried." Jehoram was a king, yet death struck him down, and he was buried with his fathers. Palaces are as accessible to death as paupers' huts. Attempted resistance in the former, however skillfully organized, would be as futile as in the latter. Death cares nothing for kings; crowns, diadems, scepters, courtiers, and pompous pageantries are only as dust in his icy glance.
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. When we remember what evils wicked men, especially wicked kings, work in the world, death must be regarded as a beneficent messenger. The psalmist saw mercy in the destruction of despots. He "overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea: for his mercy endureth forever." "To him which smote great kings, and slew famous kings: for his mercy endureth forever" (Psalm 136.). There is mercy for the race in their destruction. When such demons in human flesh are cut down, the world breathes more freely, a load is rolled from its heart, obstacles are swept from its path of progress. When the Pharaohs are overwhelmed, the human Israel can march on to promised lands.
CONCLUSION. Parents, cultivate personal religion, and endeavor with all earnestness to transmit it to your children. Kings, seek to understand and to embody the ideal of true kingship, be royal in moral character. All, stand in readiness for the approach of death. - D.T.