Is Thy Servant a Dog?
2 Kings 8:13
And Hazael said, But what, is your servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered…

In the theory of the people of those times, some of the gods could do some things, and other gods could do some other things. There were special gods, just as there are special physicians — physicians for the eye; physicians for the ear; physicians for nervous diseases; physicians for surgical operations; physicians for every separate department of healing. Though each may do something of everything, yet each has some specialty. And so it was with these gods. There were gods of hills, and gods of valleys, and gods of this nation, and gods of that nation, they thought. According to their notion there was a great variety in the talents and capacities of these gods. Therefore, when any man had any enterprise to accomplish, or any sickness to be cured, he naturally sought the aid of a particular sort of god, as we naturally seek a certain kind of practitioner when we are afflicted with a disease. It is not at all strange, therefore, when Ben-hadad lay sick, and heard that Elisha was there, that he should have said to himself, "I will try his God." "The king said unto Hazael" (who seems to have been his prime minister in general), "Take a present in thine hand, and go, meet the man of God, and inquire of the Lord, by him, saying, Shall I recover of this disease?" That was Oriental. Gifts were not then considered wrong, and whenever anybody wanted anything it was quite natural that he should take something with him and get it by purchase; but such things in modern times take on a different aspect. This venerable old prophet, well advanced in years, fixed his eyes upon this miscreant with such a piercing glance that the man's face became confused, and his colour went and came. It was the most penetrating speech possible. "And Hazael said, Why weepeth my Lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strongholds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child. And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?" It does not seem that the fact that he was to be the King of Syria disturbed him. Nor was it this that agitated the prophet. It was the sight of the great cruelty that would follow under his hand when he came to the throne. The prophet saw, rising in vision before him, wasted provinces; he saw blood flowing down like rivers of water; he saw rapine and cruelty most barbarous on every side of him. It was the sight of these terrific national disasters that brought tears to the eyes of the prophet; and it was the horror of such an administration as was pictured to him that seemed to strike Hazael with surprise and revolt. "So he departed from Elisha, and came to his master; who said to him, What said Elisha to thee? And he answered, He told me that thou shouldst surely recover." Well, it was almost true; but that which is almost true is a lie. He told the king a part of what Elisha had said, but he did not tell him the rest. He did not say, "The prophet declared that thou shalt surely die, although thou mayest recover." He did not tell him that the prophet said that he might recover — that there was nothing in the way of his recovery so far as his disease was concerned. His declaration was, plainly, "He says that thou shalt recover." The king was very sick; he was too feeble to help himself; and perhaps when he was in a slumber Hazael said within himself, "I won't kill him; I will just put a wet cloth over his face." So he dipped the cloth in water and laid it over the face of the king, who was unable in his extreme weakness to throw it off, and was suffocated. "It is such an easy way," Hazael might have said, "for him to die! I have not shed his blood, thank God. I did not even choke him. I might have done it; but I did not. I kept my hands off from the Lord's anointed. I only laid a wet cloth on his face; and if he could not breathe it was not my fault. Every man must look out for himself." He might have reasoned in this way; but it is not likely that he did, because he probably had not conscience enough to make it necessary. Having in this mild manner disposed of the king, he became the ruler in his place; and as to what his reign was we are not left in doubt. We know that he swept through the land, and carried his armies across Palestine, and clear into the territory of the Philistines. We know that he laid siege to Jerusalem, and was bought off from it by a present of all the golden vessels contained in the temple. We know that, in his despotic career, all his victories were stained with blood. We know that there was no end to the destruction of property which he caused. We know that not one-half of the wickedness which he performed was foretold by the prophet. We know that he destroyed men, women, and children without stint. And though we have not a complete history of the wrongs which he committed, we know that a monster who would do what we are informed that he did do. would not leave anything undone, in the way of cruelty, which it was in his power to do. Now, you will take notice that at the time when Hazael came to the prophet, and this vision of his cruelty was made known to him, he must have had a genuine revulsion from it. It is probable that when the prophet told him what he saw it shocked him. I think it quite likely that when the prophet told him that he should reign instead of the king, he said within himself, "Yes, that is what I have been after; that is what I meant to do"; but when the prophet showed him what should be the character of his administration, I have no doubt that he said, believing what he said, "I am not capable of any such thing as that." He was not yet in power. He was still an under-officer. He had never been tested. He did not know what supremacy would work in him. He had not had the responsibility of a kingdom laid upon his shoulders. He did not know how he would be affected by the indulgence which would come with the control of unbounded wealth. He did not know what would be the growth of pride in him. He did not know what would be his appetite for praise. He did not know how his vanity would be wrought upon. He did not know what fury would be kindled in him by opposition. He did not know what despotic measures he might be compelled by circumstances to adopt. He doubtless felt as we often do in regard to things which we see others do, when it seems to us impossible that we should ever do them although we are made up of the same stuff that they are; and when his future was disclosed to him, when the veil was rent, and he saw himself as he was to be, at the various stages of his subsequent history, he shuddered at the sight of it: and he said, "Do you count me a dog?" and there was no other name so low as that in the Orient. "A dog," "A dead dog," "A dog's head," these seem to have been the terms that measured the utmost contumely and contempt; and he said, "Am I a dog, that you prophesy these things concerning me?" It was absolutely impossible that he should do them, it seemed to him; and yet he went on and did them. There may be a question as to whether the prophet was right in laying before Hazael a statement of the things which were to be fulfilled, that would be in the nature of yeast, and raise up in him ambitions which could make him faithless to his king; but it does not appear that the plan of destroying the monarch and occupying his throne was then for the first time in Hazael's mind. The prophet did not bring this plan to pass by tampering with his fidelity in holding out to him the prospect of the sceptre and the crown. The natural tendency of disclosing the prophet's vision to Hazael, if Hazael had been an honest man, instead of inducing him to such a career as lay before him, would have been to set him to watching himself, that he might prevent the fulfilment of so dishonouring a prophecy. This case is full of material for inspiration. One of the first points that I wish to make in connection with the brief history is, that no one can say beforehand what will be the effect on him of a given situation or a given temptation. A man may be able to say: "I shall not sin by avarice: I may be put in circumstances where I shall break down through self-indulgence; but I shall not break down through avarice. I may be overcome by various appetites; but avarice is not one of them." A man may know himself to be safe in that particular regard. Many a man can say: "Whatever may overcome me in the way of sinfulness, it is not going to be cruelty." Many a man is justified in saying: "I know that no circumstances will ever make me brutal, although there may be circumstances that will make me wicked." But, as a general thing, men know so little about themselves that it would not be safe for any man to say: "I can tell how I should act in any situation where I may be placed; I know that no temptations can get an entrance into my heart; I know how this, that, and the other influence would affect me; I know how I should act if I had power." As when men look forward into life they are ignorant of what they would do if they were in such and such situations, or if such and such things were given them; so when men look forward into life they can form no just estimate of what they would do in avoiding evil One man says: "Nothing could ever make me a drunkard." Another man says: "I do not think anything in the world could make me a thief." Neither of them knows how he might be wrought upon until he has been under temptation and trial. Lord Clive, when he got back to England, and was thinking of his administration in India, and reflecting how, after having conquered the provinces, he went into the treasure-house of the rajahs, and saw gold without measure (there silver was counted as nothing; it was always at a discount), and beheld baskets full of rubies and diamonds, was reported to have said: "My God! I tremble when I think of the temptation that I was under. I wonder that I came out honest." In looking back upon it, and thinking of it, he felt as though tie would not like to go through the same experience again. He feared that it would not be safe to trust himself the second time under those circumstances. This is the testimony of a full-grown man in regard to an extreme instance of liability to temptation, and you cannot tell, until you have been tried, what you would do in a given situation. Men do not know what effect flattery will have on them. Here is a bank of snow that lies quietly and stubbornly over against the north wind, all through January, all through February, and during the fore part of March; and it says, "Do you suppose I would give way to the mild and weak influence of spring after having resisted the chilling blasts and pinching frosts of winter?" And yet the sun comes smiling, and laughing, and tickling, and flattering, little by little; and the bank changes its mind; and gradually it sinks, and sinks; and by and by it is all gone. A man might just as well undertake to say what he would do if he were overtaken by a plague, as to say what he would do if he were placed under such and such circumstances of life. How can a man standing on the cool mountains of Vermont tell what he would do if he had the yellow fever in New Orleans?:No man can tell, judging from the present, what he will do if he is situated so and so in the untried future. But one thing we know: that in regard to all the more generous sentiments and feelings, pondering upon them, thinking about them, rather tends to enable us to attain them; and that, on the other hand, in regard to all the inflammatory sides of human nature — the appetites and passions — pondering them tends to strengthen them. The mere holding of illicit and unlawful things in a man's mind is itself a preparation for his bondage to them. It is not safe for a man to carry about mere thoughts of evil. It is not safe for a man to imagine what he would do if he had a chance to steal, and to turn the subject over in his mind. I have no doubt that Hazael thought a good deal about this matter of succession; and I have no doubt the moment there was a chance — especially the moment the prophet told him there was a chance — for him to become king he was prepared to execute the plan which beforehand lie had revolved in his mind and held in suspense there. I have no doubt that he said to himself a good many times, "Why should Ben-hadad be on the throne any more than I? He is no better than I am. He is not so capable as I am. I do not know why a sick king should rule any more than a well general. It would not be a bad thing for me to put him out of the way and take his place. And if I did, what would happen? What would I do with his family? Not that I have any idea of doing any such thing; but in case I should do it what would be the outcome?" And when a man has thought of a thing in that way once, and twice, and many times, pursuing it day and night, then after a time it pursues him, and there is a preparation in him for the execution of such deeds as he has contemplated in case that exigencies arise which afford him the opportunity. And it is not safe for any man to ponder vice, crime, anything that corrupts the fibre, the integrity, the purity of his soul. No man knows what is the fermentation that will go on through his passions, when they are fired in the direction of evil — for there is a fermentation that goes on through the passions. I can describe it by no better name than that. We hear it spoken of in philosophy as a ruling idea — as a monomania. We see manifestations of them in many directions throughout life. Many men come under the influence of this fermentation, and it heats them; they think of it till they get hot under it. Many men in regard to the passions open a lurid imagination, and bring in torrid thoughts, and their soul reeks and ferments. Men are murderers, and adulterers, and thieves, and drunkards, and gluttons in the realm of the imagination. And so it is with men in regard to the warfare of life. They suppose that others are going to break down, but that they themselves are safe; they think that there is no danger so far as they are concerned; and yet a whole magazine which they are carrying about with them, being set on fire, explodes, and pours out upon them elements of destruction. Go to the gaol, and you will find there persons imprisoned for crime who in the beginning did not think that they should ever become culprits, and who, if the idea ever occurred to them, said, "I never shall become one." It is probable that there is not one in a hundred of those who are in gaol for crime, and whose life is smirched for ever, that, when young, looked forward to any such career as he has gone through.

(H. W. Beecher.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered, The LORD hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria.

WEB: Hazael said, "But what is your servant, who is but a dog, that he should do this great thing?" Elisha answered, "Yahweh has shown me that you will be king over Syria."

Ignorance of the Future
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