2 Kings 8:13
And Hazael said, But what, is your servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered…
No doubt the Syrian was perfectly sincere in this question. He had seen the tears which roiled down the aged prophet's wrinkled face as he thought of the woes which, by the strong right hand of the rough soldier, would come to his beloved people. He had heard the startling announcement that he should go forth on a mission of destruction, swift, terrible, and unsparing, and his mind could not admit the idea that his heart could become thus ruthless, or his arm thus potent. He was but a captain of the Syrian host, living only on the favour of his master, and he could not understand how he could have the power to effect such wondrous deeds. He was not yet dead to the common feelings of humanity, and could not think that thus wantonly, thus brutally, thus recklessly, he could plant his iron heel on all most sacred and tender in human life. Yet he went away from the prophet straightway to enter on his career of ambition and blood. The next day saw him standing as an assassin by the bedside of the master who had loaded him with favours, — the next he was sitting as a proud usurper on the throne — and, step by step, he rushed on in that downward course of crime that had been sketched out for him, verifying every word that the man of God had uttered, and filling up the measure of those iniquities which drew down the stroke of judgment. Thus miserably was Hazael self-deceived. Probably he had never spent a solitary hour in studying his heart, and thus ignorant of himself, he cherished a confidence in himself and his own virtue, the utter folly of which was soon manifest. Was his case an exceptional one? Nothing is more common than such mistakes of men as to their own character, their special dangers, their power of resistance to evil. Men who have wonderful acquirements and extensive knowledge, who can discuss the problems of philosophy, and are familiar with all the discoveries of science, nay, who are great students of human character, and the influences by which it is formed; men who, in fact, pride themselves upon their acquaintance with human nature, display the most wretched ignorance, and fall into the most miserable errors in relation to themselves. There are none of us, perhaps, wholly exempt from the evil, though in the case of some it is more fully developed; but wherever it is, it must be a source of weakness to the soul. To believe we are strong where we are lamentably feeble, — to knew nothing as to the sin which easily besets us, and to be unprepared to resist its attacks, — to cherish assurance of easy victory when we are laying ourselves open to certain defeat, is surely no slight injury to the soul. It exposes to dangers against which we ought ever to be on the watch. Of this self-deception, its causes and results, it is our purpose to speak here, hoping to draw from the case of Hazael lessons of solemn and impressive warning.
I. LET US MARK ITS CAUSES. Men do not care to know themselves, and therefore do not study their own hearts. They want know every thing and every one but themselves. They would fain tear away the veil of mystery, and learn the wonders of the spiritual, traverse the Universe, measure the Infinite, and understand the Eternal. But they care not for knowing that which concerns them most — the true character of their own souls. Self-examination is a duty which we are always able to put off. The results of negligence' are not at once apparent to ourselves, while others are scarcely able to detect them at all, and thus it is too often postponed to what we deem the more urgent pressure of other calls. It shares the common fate of work that may be done at any time — no time is fixed for it at all. So long as all goes prosperously without, as there is no violent shock to disturb the too complacent estimate we are apt to form of ourselves and our own performances, or so long as we are occupied in the active duties of the world or the Church, there is but little opportunity, and less disposition for us to turn the thoughts in upon ourselves with the view of ascertaining the true state of our own hearts. Very often does affliction thus become a blessing to our souls. It compels retirement, — it affords leisure for thought, Pit shuts out from us a thousand influences that bewilder and mislead, — it disposes to careful searching of heart. Just in the same proportion are times of unbroken prosperity dangerous, from their inevitable tendency to hurry the spirit on in a whirl of perpetual excitement and pleasure, — to intoxicate it with high thoughts of its own capacities and achievements, — to induce a sense of security at the very hour that the danger may be most imminent, and the necessity for stern, manly resistance greatest. But we must not forget that with all our efforts to know ourselves, — however sincerely they may be commenced, and however diligently prosecuted — there are influences which will deceive and baffle our most careful scrutiny. We can scarcely conceal from ourselves the fact that circumstances often reveal to a man himself, and to others what he really is, and that in a good as well as bad sense. There are powers which sometimes lie undeveloped in the mind just because there have not been opportunities for their display, until some sudden circumstance arise to call them forth, and the man rises to the grandeur of the occasion. So, even in our own experience, we have often seen hours of affliction call forth heroic qualities of heart, which in brighter and happier days lay inactive. There are often depths of depravity in human hearts unsuspected and unrevealed till some temptation, perhaps more subtle or more powerful than ordinary, or coming possibly at a time of special weakness, serves to disclose the sad secret. The enemy has planned an assault with consummate craft, he comes in some unguarded hour, and then there start up, wormed into sudden life, passions that had lain utterly dormant, and men are drawn into sins from the very mention of which at other moments they would have recoiled with horror. Hazael might have passed through life with the reputation of a bravo captain, a loyal subject, a faithful friend; others would never have dreamed of the fierce passions that were surging within his breast, and seeking some outlet, had not temptation assailed him, and revealed the cruelty, the ambition, the lust which converted him into a traitor, a murderer, a monster. So may it be with us. These hearts are both deceitful and desperately wicked, and their deceit is shown chiefly in hiding their wickedness. Ever are they blinding us to the existence of the evils we have most to dread, and persuading us that we possess some good which has no reality but in the fancies of our own deluded pride and self-confidence. They are like treacherous pools grown over with rich verdure, that conceals the dark deep waters of death that lie below. Experience is truly the sternest of teachers; there are no lessons so valuable as his; none, perhaps, that are so likely to be remembered. Yet here he is continually found powerless. Our hearts find a thousand excuses. Pride induces forgetfulness, and so we fall into the same error, to expiate it by the same penalty. It seems to require a thousand warnings to make us feel what Solomon teaches, himself having learned it only by a discipline the most humbling, "He that trusteth his own heart is a fool." There is, too, a blinding influence in self-love, which aids the deception of which we speak. The standards by which, for the most part, we judge ourselves are very different from those which we apply to other men. To all this Satan ministers by the craft with which he ever seeks to work out his purposes. He is like a skilful general who does not at once unmask his batteries and attack the fortress in its strongest points, but, on the contrary, makes gradual approaches, accustoms his troops to victory, and depresses his foes by slight advantages gained at weak places in the lines of defence, meanwhile husbanding his resources and concealing his preparation, until the time comes to spring the mine and lay low the citadel. Rarely is it his policy to seduce at once to some heinous transgression.
II. THE RESULT. It is here in the case of Hazael, and it has been seen in multitudes besides. Men, unconscious of their own feebleness, blind to the dangers which surround them, assured of their own security, and infatuated by that wretched self-love which makes them believe that they cannot sink to the same depths of sin as others, go on until they are betrayed into some act of wickedness which covers them with shame. It was thus with Peter. Little could he calculate the results of that self-dependence which he was nurturing within his breast; he could never lose his love or forfeit his loyalty to the Master to whom his heart was so strongly attached. The Lord warned him in common with others. Or take the case of Lot: a young man, full of life, energy, and spirit, he was about to part from his honoured uncle, having chosen the fair city of Sodom for his residence. True, the people were very wicked, but the land was very rich. True, he must dwell in the midst of much that would vex his righteous soul. But what of that? there was money to be made — his herds would increase — he would be a great man, and that with him, as with too many still, was the grand, the deciding point — he need not be partaker in the sins of those among whom he dwelt; he worshipped God, and could worship Him in Sodom even as elsewhere. Is it not ever so? Tell that fierce, passionate, wayward youth, who will grow up to be the murderer: "Those unguarded lusts, to which thou art giving the reins, will drive thee to foulest crime, and involve thee in most terrible destruction — thou art sowing the wind, but shalt reap the whirlwind — thy heart will become the abode of every vile principle — thy life one dark catalogue of sins against God and man — thy death will be one of ignominy and shame." Would not his answer be: "Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?" Or he who is now railing against the truth of God, as if it were a lie. There was an hour when he dared not have spoken thus. Had you stood by him when first he listened to the demon voice that whispered in his ear the suggestions of doubt, or when he lisped forth in stammering accents his own first defiance of the Gospel; when first he joined in the laugh against the truth, fancying himself clever, and bold, and brave, because he had ventured to shock what he called the prejudices of some earnest servant of God, by holding up to contempt what he deemed most sacred — had you as an anxious friend given him then the faithful warning, "Beware; thou art taking the first step on a downward path; thou shalt go on and on to a contempt of all religion; thou shalt become a poor miserable sceptic, having no faith in thine own wretched creed, yet labouring to draw others to an acceptance of it" — he would have laughed you to scorn. "What! am I not to think for myself? must I walk in the old ruts, and receive the old dogmas, and utter the old shibboleth? because I am not a slave of prejudice am I become an infidel?" "Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?" There is here to-day a young man just losing the early fervour of his profession — that first love which seemed once to be so intense that nothing would ever check or damp it. He is growing more careless; some wound to his self-love, or some idle fancy, has driven him from a post of Christian labour; he is just beginning to cast off restraints by which he has hitherto been held. Had you the gift of inspiration. could you hold him up before himself as he will be by and by, a cold, heartless, profitless professor, whose religion is to him little more than a burden, content with a formal attendance on a Sabbath morning at the house of God — would he not start back with horror from the vision, and exclaim, "Oh no! I cannot come to that state of wretched lukewarmness; I do not choose to be bound as others are; I like to take my own course, but I would not sink to such a level as that." There is a man wholly wrapt up in the world. He never thinks, talks, works for anything else. He might as well, nay, far better, have no soul — he treats it with such utter indifference. Was he always thus? Ah, no! There was a time when he trembled — kindled with emotion — felt that one day or other he would be a Christian. He fancied he could pause at his own pleasure; he never thought it was possible for him to sink into the selfish unfeeling worldling that he now is. If this be the true account of human nature, if such be the weakness of our own heart, how manifest the folly and guilt of that pharisaic spirit in which so many indulge — justifying themselves and condemning their brethren. Then how does the whole show us the need of that great provision which God has made! Such being our hearts, thus wayward, thus deceitful, thus ignorant, what need for that Holy Ghost who alone can give wisdom, strength, holiness!
(J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
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.