The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the LORD, To morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.2 Kings 7
1. Then [And] Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the Lord; Thus saith the Lord, To-morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour [Genesis 18:6] be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley [Judges 7:13] for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.
2. Then a lord [adjutant or aide-de-camp (comp. 2Samuel 23:8; 1Kings 9:22; 1Chronicles 11:11)] on whose hand [comp. chap. Judges 5:18] the king leaned [was leaning], answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? And he said, Behold [thou art about (destined) to see], thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.
3. ¶ And there were four leprous men [literally, and four men were lepers] at the entering in of the gate [and so outside of the city (comp. Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:2-3)]: and they said one to another, Why sit we [Why are we abiding] here until we die?
4. If we say, We will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there: and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall unto [i.e., desert, go over to] the host of the Syrians; if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die.
5. And they arose up in the twilight [at nightfall, see Judges 5:9, Judges 5:12)], to go unto the camp of the Syrians: and when they were come to the uttermost part [outskirts or verge] of the camp of Syria, behold, there was no man there.
6. For [Now] the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host: and they said one to another, Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites [comp. 1Kings 9:20, 1Kings 10:29], and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.
7. Wherefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents, and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was, and fled for their life [1Kings 19:3].
8. And when these lepers came to the uttermost part of the camp, they went into one tent, and did eat, and drink, and carried thence silver, and gold, and raiment, and went and hid it; and came again, and entered into another tent, and carried thence also, and went and hid it.
9. Then they said one to another, We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace: if we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us [Heb., we shall find punishment]: now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king's household.
10. So they came and called unto the porter of the city: and they told them saying, We came to the camp of the Syrians, and, behold there was no man there, neither voice of man, but [the] horses tied, and [the] asses tied [i.e., tethered and feeding], and the tents as they were.
11. And he called the porters; and they told it to the king's house within.
12. ¶ And the king arose in the night, and said unto his servants, I will now shew you what the Syrians have done to us. They know that we be hungry; therefore are they gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the field, saying, When they come out of the city, we shall catch them alive, and get into the city.
13. And one of his servants answered and said, Let some take, I pray thee, five [an indefinite small number (comp. Leviticus 26:8; Isaiah 30:17)] of the horses that remain, which are left in the city (behold, they are as all the multitude of Israel that are left in it: behold, I say, they are even as all the multitude of the Israelites that are consumed:), and let us send and see.
14. They took therefore two chariot [chariots of] horses; and the king sent after the host of the Syrians, saying, Go and see.
15. And they went after them unto [in the direction of the] Jordan: and, lo, all the way was full of garments and vessels, which the Syrians had cast away in their haste. [Comp. 1Samuel 13:6; Psalm 48:6, Psalm 104:7.] And the messengers returned, and told the king.
16. And the people went out, and spoiled the tents [camp] of the Syrians. So [And it came to pass] a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord.
17. ¶ And [Now] the king [had] appointed the lord [the adjutant] on whose hand he leaned to have the charge of the gate: and the people trode upon him [trampled him down] in the gate, and he died, as the man of God had said [spake], who spake when the king came down to him.
18. And it came to pass as the man of God had spoken to the king, saying, Two measures of barley for a shekel, and a measure of fine flour for a shekel, shall be tomorrow about this time in the gate of Samaria:
19. And that lord [the adjutant] answered the man of God, and said, Now [And], behold, if the Lord should make windows in heaven, might such a thing be [literally, might it happen according to this word]? And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.
20. And so it fell out unto him: for the people trode upon him in the gate and he died.
The Famine In Samaria
To understand the greatness of the miracle which is here recorded we must make ourselves familiar with the awful circumstances in which Samaria was placed during what is termed in the twenty-fifth verse of the sixth chapter, "a great famine." Benhadad had come up against Samaria with all his host, and Samaria presently was the scene of the most lamentable destitution. The ass was accounted unclean in the ritual, and would not therefore be eaten except as a last resort. Nor does the humiliation end there, for, according to the best authorities, the head of the ass would be its worst and cheapest part. The fourth part of a cab of dove's dung reminds us that, according to the rabbinical writers, the cab was the smallest of all the dry measures in use amongst the Jews. According to Josephus, the cab was about equal to two quarts, and therefore the fourth part of it would be about a pint. The circumstances were more lamentable still. Two women said to one another that they would on successive days each boil a son, that the child might be eaten to stay the pangs of hunger. This tragedy, and all the experience which belongs to it, was not overlooked in the earlier books of Scripture, and it is looked back upon from some of the later books. In Leviticus 26:29 : "Ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat." In Deuteronomy 28:53, Deuteronomy 28:56-57 we read: "And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters, which the Lord thy God hath given thee, in the siege, and in the straitness, wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee:... The tender and delicate woman among you, which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground for delicateness and tenderness, her eye shall be evil toward the husband of her bosom, and toward her son, and toward her daughter, and toward her young one that cometh out from between her feet, and toward her children which she shall bear: for she shall eat them for want of all things secretly in the siege and straitness, wherewith thine enemy shall distress thee in thy gates." Then proceeding to the Book of Lamentations (Lamentations 4:10) we read, "The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children: they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people." In Ezekiel the picture is, if possible, still blacker: "The fathers shall eat the sons in the midst of thee, and the sons shall eat their fathers" (Ezekiel 5:10). Keeping all these circumstances steadfastly in view, we may see to what an extremity the power of the prophet was brought. Would it be possible even for heaven itself to intervene in conditions so tremendous and humanly unmanageable? Was it possible for one cloud to be added to the infinite darkness which settled over the doomed city?
Here we see the true value of bread. We are so familiar with the food which is necessary to sustain our daily life that we simply expect it morning by morning, and because of our familiarity with it we cease to account it at its proper value. As we have already seen, God has only to withdraw some most common mercies in order to visit us with the most painful judgments. He need not strike a stroke, nor utter one word of anger; he has simply to stay his hand,—that is, to forbear from opening it,—and all living things will perish out of his sight. Whilst it would be legitimate to found upon this circumstance an exhortation to thrift and economy, and the desirableness of forming just estimates of the blessings which make up our daily experience, we may leave this aspect of the question to call attention to the possibility of our undervaluing those spiritual and intellectual benefactions by which our best life is sustained. It is nothing to the people of Christian countries to have Bibles, teachers, Sabbaths, churches, and what is termed the machinery of ecclesiastical being; but let these be withdrawn, then we shall know in their absence what estimate to put upon them. Let it be impossible for sorrow to find its way to a single psalm; let affliction be left destitute in the hour of its keenest agony, not having one word of biblical direction or sympathy; let the Sabbath day be divested of its sacred traditions and become one of the common days of the week, so that men shall not know it from any other day because of the labour and toil with which it is charged; and as the result of this deprivation many men would doubtless come to form another estimate of the value of religious privileges than that which they have already formed. It is a sad reflection that men can become so familiar with the light as hardly to set any value upon it. How few care to observe the rising of the sun, or the going down of the same! Why? because these are daily occurrences. If these phenomena transpired but once a year the populations of the earth would be all alive with expectation; but, because they occur so regularly, what man cares for them more than they are cared for by the beasts of the field? We need preachers and teachers who will constantly call our attention to what are known as the common-places of life. All this craving for new sensations, high intellectual excitements, and fascinations and entrancements of every kind, is to be deprecated; there is no abiding life in them; when we come to know the reality of things we shall be less displeased with men who insist upon the necessity of bread and water and the common and familiar blessings of life. Jesus Christ set less store by his miracles than any man who observed them. He knew that miracles could not constitute a great and lasting life; they had their uses, illustrative and instructive, but the thing toward which they pointed, the simple duty, the eternal law, the sequential blessing arising out of the course of obedience,—this was the thing on which Jesus himself set the greatest value. So it ought to be when we read the Bible. As children, we are fascinated by its stories, by its wonderful colouring, its continual action, its astounding tragedies; as we advance in life we change our point of observation and our standard of values, and at the end we ask for the profound doctrine, the calm benediction, the tranquillising thought, the holy encouragement towards trust in God and higher uses of life's fleeting privileges.
In the twenty-eighth verse we see how a greater law may include and override a lesser law. The words are: "This woman said unto me, Give thy son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow." This was a violation of everything that we know under the name of natural law. Every instinct recoiled, every affection of the heart shrank back in dismay and horror. Affection, trust, love, sympathy, care,—these words would seem to mark the course of natural law as between parent and child: but here we have a condition of life in which this law is overridden by a greater law—namely, the law of self-preservation. We are to infer that the children were infants of the youngest years. "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget." In this case, however, there was no mere forgetfulness, certainly there was no want of maternal feeling: the women were under the pressure of the tyranny of hunger, and it was not as if their abstinence from the act of sacrifice would have saved the young ones alive, for death was staring the whole city in the face, and young and old must go down under its ghastly progress. There have been heroic instances in which the law of self-preservation has given way before the law of natural love. The superiority of the one law over the other is often determined by circumstances. Where the children must of necessity have died, and where there was nothing but death before the parents, it would seem as if the law of self-preservation overcame the law of natural affection in one instance at least. This system of the relative value of laws is one deserving of close study, because it affects all human life—social, political, and spiritual. The instance with which we are most familiar is that of the law astronomical as related to the law geographical and agricultural. The earth itself is full of laws, it is a network of operations constituting themselves into a continual demonstration of high forces and subtle ministries of every kind; yet the great astronomical law takes up the whole earth in its course and causes it to revolve, and to keep in its place, and to receive blessings from other stars, and not one single law that is in operation in the earth itself touches for a moment in any arrestive or destructive sense the great astronomical government. The law of righteousness overrides in many instances the laws of prudence. The law which may be described by the term "an eternal life" sets aside all the considerations of the lower laws of social usage and social obedience. It is right that men should obey the magistrate and the judge, and should generally accept the law of the land, but circumstances may arise in which men will be compelled to say, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to obey men rather than God, judge ye." When we, therefore, speak about law we must be careful to take it in its largest acceptation and relationships, and not to bind it down to one local or partial standard. It is perfectly right to obey the king, and yet in a larger sense it may be perfectly right to disobey him. Things must be kept in their proper spheres, and estimated according to the law of special consequences and responsibilities. In this way the Christian apostles were always guided in their self-sacrificing and dangerous course. The servant was to obey his master, but it was to be "in the Lord;" the child was to obey the parent, but it was with the same condition; and so throughout the whole system of Christian discipline there would seem to be a series of graded laws, one rising above another until the sovereign law of all was reached, and the voice of God expressed through an enlightened conscience was to direct the life mind in all the intricate and contending claims of social and political requirements.
From this incident we see the utter worthlessness of money under special circumstances. As the king of Israel was passing by on the wall of Samaria, "there cried a woman unto him, saying, Help, my lord, O king. And he said, If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress?" (2Kings 6:26-27). The king meant that both the barnfloor and the winepress were empty, and that therefore it was impossible for him, even though king of Israel, to help the woman in the bitterness of her hunger. The king of Israel might have money enough, jewels and precious stones of every kind in abundance: the palace was still standing, the crown still remained, furniture of the most sumptuous kind made the palace rich, but what of all this when there was no bread? This brings us back to what we may call again the law of commonplace. Money in itself is of no value. The whole value of money is in what it can buy, and all that can be bought is utterly useless if bread be not at the very foundation of the purchase. Let us consider this well, for it has an important bearing upon our spiritual life. There are men who have not failed to tell us that without health all other possessions are but so many burdens. Why do they stop at health? Health is impossible without bread. Jesus Christ, therefore, described himself as the bread of life and the water of life: he took his stand upon that which is initial and essential. Civilisation creates its luxuries and refinements and decorations of every sort, and seeks to tempt the appetite by many a condiment or stimulant, but under all lies the sweet and healthful word—"bread." Hence the beauty of the image that Jesus Christ is the bread of life; he is not a mere luxury: he is not something that the rich alone can purchase; his ministry belongs to the very essence of life, and is a ministry without which life is impossible. Of what avail is it that a man shall have a million of gold in his possession, if there is no corn to buy, if there is no water to be purchased? The bread and water are the things which the world cannot do without. The world can well dispense with every luxury of food and wine, but the great world itself with all its wealth would perish in a month but for the presence of bread and water. A consideration of this kind leads us to estimate anew, as we have already said, the value of things that are apparently simple and with which we have become so familiar as almost to be unaware of their presence. Think of a king placed in an utter extremity simply for want of bread! think of a whole city dying in the midst of gold and silver because there is nothing to be eaten! Is all this possible with regard to the body, and is there no analogy between such circumstances and the possible destitution of the soul? Is it to be thought credible that some things are absolutely essential to the maintenance of the body, and that the soul is absolutely independent of all elements and substances? Holy Scripture maintains a totally different attitude; its declaration is that only by the word of the Lord can the soul be sustained and can life enjoy all that is meant by upward and continual progress. Not by dogmas of a learned kind, not by impenetrable metaphysics, not by intellectual luxuries, not by subtle poetisings and transcendentalisms, but by the simple living word of the Lord Jesus Christ is the soul sustained and kept in soundness of health. When we set up a similar contention on behalf of bread and water men instantly concede that the argument is cogent, but when the argument is transferred to spiritual life and all its necessities there may be some reluctance in accepting the conclusion that only by the word of the Lord can the soul be maintained. It is possible for a similar picture to that which is in the text to be drawn respecting the relations and conditions of the soul. Imagine a soul placed in the midst of a large and invaluable library: let it be the Alexandrian or the Bodleian: let it be filled with works of science, philosophy, history; let it represent the very highest intellectual efforts ever made by the mind of man; yet if there be not found in that library that which is of the nature of a divine revelation—something which immediately and vitally connects the soul with the living God—the soul cannot live even in the centre of such surroundings, but will gradually droop, and decay, and finally die. Men shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Let us be careful, then, whilst we are crying out for the highest thinking, applauding the sublimest endeavours of the human mind, that we estimate at their right value those truths, doctrines, and facts which, according to their own quality, partake of the nature of bread and water.
Another point relates to the blind vengeance which was taken by the king of Israel. When the king heard the words of the woman "he rent his clothes," and he exclaimed, "God do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day" (2Kings 6:30-31). It would appear that Jehoram had secretly clothed himself with sackcloth, and some have supposed that this action was a superstitious deference to the God of Israel: his hope being that God, seeing him clothed with sackcloth, would turn away his anger. In Jehoram we see how possible it is for a man to be clothed with sackcloth, and yet to be destitute of the spirit of humiliation and contrition. He was dressed as a saint, but in his heart there burned the spirit of selfishness. "Rend your heart and not your garments" is the great and vital cry of Truth. When Jehoram said, "God do so and more also to me," he quoted almost the very words of Jezebel when she sought the life of Elijah. Beheading was not an ordinary Jewish punishment. Commentators tell us that the law did not sanction it, but they add that in Assyria, Babylonia, and generally through the East it was the most common form of capital punishment. It has been thought that Jezebel probably introduced it into Samaria, together with other foreign customs. But why should Elisha be punished on account of the sufferings caused by the siege of Samaria? Simply because of the blindness of human vengeance. How truly blind that vengeance is! Jehoram thought that if he killed the prophet he would destroy the prophecy! How mad is man! Here we find the king of Israel acting the most puerile and ridiculous part. Men are driven under the blindness of their vengeance to do things upon which they do not consult their reason, for Reason would instantly pronounce them to be absurd. There are men in all Christian countries who, when they see afflictions of various kinds, are not indisposed to charge them upon the Christian sanctuary, and who imagine that if all Christian institutions were destroyed all human suffering would be ended. What is the fact of the case? It is that Christian institutions do but represent, they do not create the law of providence and judgment. They recognise the existence of that law; they show how human life is to be related to it; they point out its highest disciplinary uses; they insist that resistance amounts to nothing but disappointment and ruin; and they call for that intelligent, simple, loving obedience, which turns the very sternness of law into its own security, and makes righteousness less a law than a beatitude. We see in this instance how the spirit of Jehoram was not to be trusted, when in this very chapter he addressed Elisha under the words "my father," saying, "My father, shall I smite them—shall I smite them?" (2Kings 6:21). We supposed when Jehoram recognised a father in Elisha, he was about to forsake his idolatrous thought and practice; but now that we see him when he is left to himself he returns to his old nature: truly he was still son of Ahab and Jezebel. The calmness of Elisha under the circumstances was becoming his dignity and his prophetical function. Elisha was sitting in his house; there was no sign of panic or foolish excitement in the prophet. The elders of the city sat with him, having probably addressed him for the purpose of securing his advice or assistance. Many men, as we have often seen, have been driven by imminent peril to acknowledge the power of Jehovah and to beg favour of his prophets. Elisha described Jehoram as the "son of a murderer," namely, of Ahab, the murderer of Naboth and of the prophets of the Lord, for though Jezebel literally and technically slew them, yet Ahab was the king, and was responsible for the deeds of his infatuated and vengeful wife. It is supposed that Elisha said: Lean against the door, a door that opened inwards, and push against this messenger of the king if he tries to enter. The man who was attempting to come into the presence of the prophet was no doubt the executioner sent by Jehoram. When the king rushed into the presence of the prophet he is supposed to have spoken thus: Behold this evil! this siege, with all its horrors, is from Jehovah, from Jehovah whose prophet thou art: why should I wait for Jehovah, temporise with him, keep, as it were, on terms with him by suffering thee to live, any longer? What hast thou to say in arrest of judgment? For the moment it would appear as if Jehoram had the upper hand of the prophet. But to the king's amazement Elisha answered, "Hear ye the word of the Lord; Thus saith the Lord, To-morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria" (2Kings 7:1). [The seventh chapter should be regarded as part of the sixth chapter; chapter six should have ended with verse twenty-three, then the seventh chapter would have commenced with what is now verse twenty-four of chapter six.] This is Elisha's reply to the king's challenge in verse thirty-three of chapter six. The king said, Why should I wait any longer for the Lord? and the answer was that tomorrow by the same time in the day the famine would cease and food would be even cheaper than usual. A measure of fine flour was probably equal to about a peck and a half, English measure, and this was to be sold for something like two shillings and eightpence halfpenny of our money, and about three pecks of barley was to be sold for the same amount. The gates of Eastern towns were the favourite places for the despatch of various kinds of business. Elisha prophesied that the corn market at the gate of Samaria would present a busy scene on the following day. This was the view which the prophet took of the circumstances, and it is made the more remarkable by the contrast which is set up by the speech of the lord or captain on whose hand the king leaned. The captain said, "Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be?" The word "windows" might be rendered "sluices." The meaning of the speech is that if Jehovah were to open sluices in heaven, and to pour down corn as he poured down rain in the time of the deluge, even then it would be impossible that there could be such an abundance as the prophet had predicted. This was the view of the unspiritual mind. To him that believeth all things are possible. There must be a point at which it is made evident even to the senses that what is impossible with men is possible with God. God indeed often waits until we have come to the point we mark "impossible," and at that point he takes up our case, and shows the riches of his power as well as the tenderness of his grace. Deliverance is always near when human help has been reduced to its extremity. There is a proverb to the effect that it is always darkest before the dawn. What if it be God's delight to train us in this way to faith and patience and hope? What if he stand by, saying, They still think they have resources in their own hands: let the very last drop out of their possession, and when they lift up empty hands to heaven and cry, saying, Our resources are utterly exhausted, then I will open the windows of heaven, and save them in the bitterness of their despair. It would sometimes seem as if God would have no connection with us in the way of co-operation and help so long as we supposed we could do anything for ourselves. Whilst this has its bodily and limited meanings, it has its spiritual and boundless signification in relation to the salvation of the soul. Throughout the New Testament we are taught that so long as a man supposes he can do anything for his own redemption, he is not permitted to see the cross of Christ in its true significance and power; when man renounces himself, saying with a broken heart that he can no longer do anything towards his own redemption: when he cries in orphan-like helplessness for the pity and mercy of God, then great revelations of love are made to him, and the true meaning of the cross is disclosed to his self-distrustful heart.
The circumstances of life are often rendered the more critical and trying because of the lessons with which history furnishes us to the effect that deliverance is always really near. God is never absent from his universe. Wherever God is, he is known as the hearer and the answerer of prayer, the Father of his children, and the Ruler of all forces. At the same time as a mere matter of fact he does allow his children to be stripped, smitten, impoverished, overthrown, and we are entitled to infer that all this disastrous visitation is absolutely necessary for the thorough expurgation, training, and final purifying of the spirit of man. It is by a study of such depleting, and as they appear to us ruinous circumstances, that we come to see really what was meant by human apostasy. We do not know how far man has gone from God until we measure the line of his return from his father. The outgoing seemed to be but a step, but the coming back to God's sanctuary and smile would seem to require the days of a lifetime, and to be only fully completed when man draws his last breath on earth. It seemed but a little thing that man should disobey once, and that for what may be termed a first offence he should be expelled from all the security and joy of paradise. But what if the supposed smallness of the offence be attributable to our narrowness of judgment, and what if the real offence is to be measured by the infinite difficulty which is found by every soul in returning to the forgiveness and peace of God?
Coming to the sixth verse of the seventh chapter, we may see the divine use of delusions. God was now about to work out the deliverance of Samaria. Instead of striking the Syrian camp with a sword, or thundering upon it from the clouds, he "made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host: and they said one to another, Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians to come upon us." God had sent them strong delusions that they should believe a lie. We are reminded of the words in Job—"A dreadful sound is in his ears: in prosperity the destroyer shall come upon him" (2Kings 15:21). It was only a "noise" which the Syrian hosts heard. To what great uses can God turn little things! The spirit of fear is always accessible to the spirit of judgment. God is continually operating upon the spirit of fear with a view to showing man how frail he is and how dependent he is upon the sovereign power. Even anxiety may have its spiritual uses in the training of the soul. We fear tomorrow; we fear the effect of the coming sentence; we fear the result of certain conflicts which are impending; we fear the severity of men whose goodwill it is important to secure: thus the spirit of fear is continually at work within us; when that spirit leads us to larger and completer prayer it is serving a high purpose, but when it drives us in the direction of distrust and atheism it is perverted, and men must accept the responsibility of its corruption. In itself it was meant to serve a high spiritual end, but as abused by man it is made to destroy the integrity and peace of the soul. What a pitiable picture is seen by those who occupy the spiritual stand-point when all the host of Syria is driven away before this immeasurable noise! "Wherefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents, and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was, and fled for their life" (2Kings 7:7). Yet it was only a noise! We have called the noise immeasurable, and that is the very point of its energy. If the Syrians had known how the noise was made, or had known that it was only a noise, not a man would have stirred from the camp; but a noise is intangible, ubiquitous in some instances, wholly immeasurable; it may be the approach of an army, it may be the beginning of a judgment, it may indicate that the clouds of heaven are coming down in judgment. No man can tell what the noise means, and simply because it is an unknown quantity it is a quantity that is feared most. "The wicked flee when no man pursueth"—"Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will make thee a terror to thyself, and to all thy friends"—"Terrors shall make him afraid on every side, and shall drive him to his feet." Let any man look back upon his life, and see in how many instances he has been moved by fear, how he has been driven before the spirit of apprehension, and been pursued by the spectre of anxiety; and how, when he has had full time to consider the matter, he has discovered that he had been mistaking shadows for substances,—and spiritual voices for determined physical opposition. A wonderful life is this of ours,—so sensitive, so easily moved, so proud of its intellectual energy, and yet so humiliated by its intellectual blindness! "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God;" but those who have looked at life in its length and breadth, and have seen it in its ever-changing colour, and have heard it in its ever-varying tone, know that it does not begin and end in itself, but is like a little earth over which there rises an infinite and ruling firmament.
The case of the lepers shows us what use God often makes of what are termed the accidents of life. Four leprous men were at the entering in of the gate, and they reasoned with one another, "Why sit we here until we die?" They then put the alternative before their minds, and they determined to go into the camp of the Syrians: "and when they were come to the uttermost part of the camp of Syria, behold, there was no man there." Then arose the incident which led to the deliverance of Samaria and the realisation of the prophet's word. There are no accidents in life. The little things of life are the hinges upon which great doors swing: the very hairs of your head are all numbered. We wonder why we walked down this side of the street, and not the other; why we went upon a certain day to a certain place: and behold all these apparently petty circumstances are worked up into the great ministry and issue of life. There are no trifles in the divine economy: not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father. Let us rest in this great and solemn doctrine, and not be driven about by every wind, not having standing-ground, or root, or place of growth in all the earth. The Lord besets us behind and before, and lays his hand upon us; the God of heaven knows our downsitting and our uprising, our going out and our coming in, and there is not a word upon our tongue, there is not a thought in our heart, but the Lord knoweth it altogether. This is the distinct teaching of Jesus Christ, and this is the blessed message of his comforting gospel. We have before us two policies: we can either suppose that life is the sport of every wind, a chapter of unconnected accidents, a number of unrelated and incomplete incidents; or, on the other hand, we can look upon life as a plan, an economy, with a divine and beneficent purpose underlying the whole of it; and under this latter conception we shall be led to prayer, to religious trust, and to religious expectation; we shall expect to meet the Lord at every turn in life, and expectation will often become its own fulfilment. Where two or three are gathered together in Christ's name, there is Christ himself: and where the thoughts of man within him concur in expecting the living God, God himself will draw near, and satisfy the expectation of the trustful and the holy.
The prophecy of Elisha was fulfilled: "A measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord" (2Kings 7:16); and the man on whom the king leaned was appointed to have charge of the gate, and the people trode upon him, and he died, as the man of God said, who spake when the king came down to him (2Kings 7:16-17). In this comparatively trifling event we see the end of the whole economy of nature as we know it. Tragical facts have overpowered us, have indeed almost blinded us as to the possibility of spiritual presences being in the universe, and we have said deliverance is impossible, and out of all this chaos God himself could scarcely bring order. Looking upon the nations of the earth with their moral darkness, their barbarities, idolatries, cruelties, superstitions; observing how men hate one another, and delight in the shedding of blood; studying the whole map and plan of wickedness all but infinite, we have again and again said, though the Lord should open the windows of heaven—though the Lord should come in all his great might, yet surely this chaos could not be brought into order and peace even by the voice of Omnipotence. Looking upon the cross of Jesus Christ as the medium of the salvation of the world, we have not wondered that men should account it foolishness. There seems to be no proportion between the cause and the effect, the means and the end. To the last, men passing by the cross shall wag their heads, and say to him who expires upon it, If thou be the king or Saviour of the world, save thyself, and come down. We are quite aware that the scoffer has an ample ground for mockery, if attention be limited by visible boundaries. It is not surprising that gibers should taunt believers, and that the prophets of Baal should turn round upon the Elijahs of the world, and in their turn enjoy the use of ironical appeal, saying, Cry aloud to your Christ, for he is king of the Jews; cry mightily to his God in heaven, for he has espoused him as his father; pray on still,—perhaps if you are not answered in the morning, you may be answered at night; cry lustily with growing energy to the supposed God of the heavens, and let him come out in reply if he can! We must submit to the taunt for the present. In our impatience we desire a manifest and decisive answer, yet all things proceed calmly as they were from the beginning. But our faith has been sustained by a doctrine corresponding to the prophecy,—namely, the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness: for a thousand years are in his sight as one day, and one day as a thousand years. We are the victims of miscalculated time. We do not know the meaning of today or tomorrow:—my soul, wait thou upon God; yea, wait patiently for him, and comfort thyself with the truth that things are not what they seem: that immediately after human extremity there arises a light in heaven, and that in the mid-day of despair angels are sent with special messages from God. The promise to which God is committed is a promise that the whole earth shall see his glory, that all men shall be called to a feast of fat things and of wine on the lees well refined; and though lords and captains and mighty men are declaring the impossibility of such a festival, yet it may be that even tomorrow about this time the world shall find itself sitting at the table of the Lord, eating and drinking abundantly at the Lord's invitation. The Lord will suddenly come to his temple: a nation shall be born in a day. In this faith we live—in this great trust we toil.
Almighty God, the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. If we feared thee more we should know more of the mysteries of thy wisdom and of thy love. The revelation is with God, but the sight is not with us: we have not the prepared heart, the obedient will, the pureness of spirit needful to receive all the light we might enjoy. Our sins have kept good things from us; our iniquities have been as a cloud darkening the sun, so that we who might have sat in the rays of the morning and enjoyed the immediate presence of God are often left in dreariness and loneliness, not knowing the right hand from the left, persecuted by our own perplexities, vexed and exasperated by all the occurrences of time. We might have sat with Christ upon his throne, judging tribes and nations; we might have had eyes that wander through eternity: but our sins have befooled us, and impoverished us, and left us on the earth when we might have been enjoying our citizenship in heaven. Oh, this weary sin, this constant visitor of darkness, this misleader of the soul! It promises liberty, and yet leads us into bondage; it says the morning draweth nigh even at the time when the darkness is deepening; it holds out its prize, and whispers its flatteries, and flaunts before us its coloured seductions, and we yield and go astray, and play the fool, and lose our souls. Yet we have heard of thy goodness to sinful men; this word has been sounded in our ears: Herein is love: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. We are amazed. Our hearts are first struck with unbelief. May that unbelief not deepen into disbelief, but rise gradually like a dawning day into the zenith of perfect and triumphant faith. Marvellous are thy works, passing all knowledge; far away they stretch in their meaning and blessing, baffling imagination. Thou art able to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. Thou knowest what we need—pardon, release from the grasp of the enemy, liberty such as is enjoyed by the sons of God; we need to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may withstand the enemy when he is strong, and forbid the seducer when his appeal is most eloquent. The Lord help us in these things. Spare us yet a while that we may recover our spirits which have been led captive by the devil at his will, and may we at last, after a long calm eventide, mingle with those who are above, pure with thy purity, and strong because of thine eternity. Amen.