2 Kings 8:13
And Hazael said, But what, is your servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered…
The cure of Naaman the Syrian was long remembered in Damascus. It is not surprising, therefore, that Ben-hadad the king, although an idolater — finding himself in the grasp of a disease that threatened his life — should have been anxious to consult the prophet Elisha. The answer of the prophet was ambiguous. So far as the disease itself was concerned, the king might recover; but the purpose to kill him was already in the heart of his very commissioner. The man of God bursts into a flood of tears. The fairest lands and cities of Israel, Hazael would utterly destroy. The hope of Israel — her young men — would be ruthlessly slain. And there were other nameless and almost incredible barbarities. The courtier is rooted to the earth with horror. He repudiates the image of the prophetic mirror. At the thought of such crimes, he recoils from his own future self. "Is thy servant a dog?" he exclaims in indignation, "to commit such a mass of iniquities?" Elisha makes no reply, save this; he would be soon king of Syria, and then he left Hazael to infer the rest.
1. Let me remark, to a heart not wholly corrupted, such self-repudiation as this of Hazael is natural. Are we to look on this Syrian prince, as he stands in the presence of Elisha, merely as a hypocrite? I think not. I believe his recoil from his future guilt, as here narrated, was perfectly genuine. I believe that when he uttered the words, "Is thy servant a dog?" he was quite unable to realise that he could ever be the author of the crimes predicted. The story, therefore, is true to nature. Suppose Cain had been told he would one day lift his club against his brother and fell him to the ground, would he not have said, and said with quite as much passionate feeling as Hazael, "Is thy servant a dog?" Can we doubt that David would have uttered the same language, had any one predicted his conduct in the matter of Uriah? I believe the time was when Judas even would have started back, in deprecating protest and shuddering terror, asking in relation to the awful crime he afterwards committed, "Is thy servant a dog?" This is only the voice of human nature, not yet hardened in iniquity. When no passion blinds him and no interest warps the feelings of his heart, the most ignorant and untutored man will often revolt from sin and crime.
2. Although to a heart not wholly corrupted, such self-repudiation as this of Hazael is natural, man's ignorance of his own character is such that he may one day be guilty of the very sins which for the present he believes to be impossible. Elisha was right; Hazael was wrong. He did not know his own heart. "Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee." We know who said that. Christ knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. "Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice." Let us pause here and gather up a few solemn lessons for ourselves.
(1) First of all, let us beware of what is evil in its first beginnings. That solid, fossilised rock is only the result of successive accretions of loose sand; and a character like Hazael's is only the result of the action and power of principles of evil permitted to grow up and develop in the soul, without hindrance or check. Life nowhere grows by freaks. That infant needs pure air and nourishing food. Even so with every malign influence and wicked way; feed them, and they will grow.
(2) Once again. Let us beware of what is evil in its propelling rower. Hazael went quickly to ruin. It is the story of many a prodigal. I am willing, however, to admit that a change of circumstances and condition may, in a very real sense, have an important power over human character and life. I do not believe that man is the creature of circumstances, that it is circumstances that make men, and that the only difference between the noblest saint and the basest criminal is a difference simply in the structure of the brain, and the nature of their position in life. At the same time, circumstances have often a real influence on human character. Had Hazael never been flattered by Ben-hadad — for in the opinion of many he supplanted Naaman — had he never been brought within the circle of a court, the unsanctified ambition might never have possessed him to seize a crown; and had he not seized the crown — holding the royal stirrup, so to speak, the very moment he was grasping the royal sceptre — he would never have been the man of blood he afterwards became. Our experience of life must be narrow indeed, if we cannot recall kindred illustrations. Take Robert Burns:
Oh! had he stayed by bonnie Doon,
And learned to curb his passions wild,
We had not mourned his early fate,
Nor pity wept o'er Nature's child.Southey, speaking of the first Napoleon, has this remark: "He had given indications of his military talents at Toulon; he had also shown a little of a remorseless nature at Paris in his earlier years; but the extent either of his ability or his wickedness was at this time known to none, and perhaps not even suspected by himself." New circumstances bring new temptations. That lad, brought up in the quiet of the country, enters on a city life. In a few years the old habits, in fact the very old ways of thinking and looking at things, are all changed. Be gentle in your judgments upon others; be severe, most severe, in your judgments upon yourself.
(H. T. Howat.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.