« PreviousContinue »
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
JAMES, LORD HAY, BARON OF SALEY (OR SAWLEY], VISCOUNT DONCASTER, EARL OF CARLISLE,
ONE OF THE LORDS OF HIS MAJESTY'S MOST HONOURABLE
Right Honourable,– I cannot but thus gratulate to you your happy return from your many and noble employments which have made you some years a stranger at home, and so renowned abroad, that all the better parts of Europe know and honour your name no less than if you had been born theirs ; neither is any of them so savage as not to say, when they hear mention of your worth, that Virtue is a thousand escutcheons.
If now your short breathing-time may allow your lordship the freedom of quiet and holy thoughts, cast your eyes upon Israel and Judah; upon the kings and prophets of both, in such beneficial variety, as profane history shall promise in vain. Your lordship shall see Rehoboam following Solomon in nothing but his seat and his fall; as much more wilful than his father, as less wise; all head, no heart; losing those ten tribes with a churlish breath, whom he would, and might not, recover with blood : Jeroboam as crafty as wicked ; plotting a revolt, creating a religion to his state, marriog Israelites to make subjects, branded in his name, smitten in his hand, in his loins. You shall see a faithful messenger of God, after miraculous proof of his courage, fidelity, power, good-nature, paying dear for a little circumstance of credulous disobedience; the lion is sent to call for his blood, as the price of his forbidden harbour. You shall see the blind prophet descrying the disguise of a queen, the judgment of the king, the removal of a prince too good for Jeroboam's heir. You shall see the right stock of royal succession flourishing in Asa, while that true heir of David, though not without some blemishes of infirmity, inherits a perfect heart; purges his kingdom of sodomy, of idolatry; not balking sin even where he honoured nature. You shall see the wonder of prophets, Elijah, opening and shutting heaven as his private chest ; catered for by the ravens, nor less miraculously catering for the Sareptan; contesting with Ahab; confronting the Baalites ; speaking both fire and water from heaven in one evening; meekly lacqueying his sovereign; weakly flying from Jezebel; fed
A [See Dedication prefixed to Book IV.]
supernaturally by angels; hid in the rock of Horeb; confirmed by those dreadful apparitions that had confounded some other; casting his mantle upon his homely successor, and, by the touch of that garment, turning him from a ploughman to a prophet. But what do I withhold your lordship in the bare heads of this ensuing discourse? In all these your piercing eyes shall easily see beyond mine, and make my thoughts but a station for a further discovery. Your lordship’s observation hath studied men more than books ; here it shall study God more than men : that of books hath made you full; that of men, judicious; this of God shall make you holy and happy: hitherto shall ever tend the wishes and endeavours of
Your lordship’s humbly devoted in all faithful observance,
REHOBOAM.—1 Kings xü; 2 Chronicles x. Who would not but have looked that seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines should have furnished Solomon's palace with choice of heirs, and have peopled Israel with royal issue? And now behold Solomon hath by all these but one son, and him by an Ammonitess. Many a poor man hath an house full of children by one wife, while this great king hath but one son by many housefuls of wives. Fertility is not from the means, but from the author. It was for Solomon that David sung of old; Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord; and the fruit of the womb is his reward. How oft doth God deny this heritage of heirs where he gives the largest heritage of lands; and gives most of these living possessions where he gives least of the dead; that his blessings may be acknowledged free unto both, entailed upon neither!
As the greatest persons cannot give themselves children, so the wisest cannot give their children wisdom. Was it not of Rehoboam that Solomon said, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool ? yet he shall rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and showed myself wise under the sun. All Israel found that Solomon's wit was not propagated. Many a fool hath had a wiser son than this wisest father. Amongst many sons, it is no news to find some one defective ; Solomon hath but one son, and he no miracle of wisdom. God gives purposely so eminent an instance, to teach men to look up to heaven both for heirs
Solomon was both the king of Israel and the father of Rehoboam when he was scarce out of his childhood; Rehoboam enters into the kingdom at a ripe age; yet Solomon was the man, and Rehoboam the child. Age is no just measure of wisdom. There are beardless sages, and grayheaded children. Not the ancient are wise, but the wise is ancient.
Israel wanted not for thousands that were wiser than Rehoboam; yet because they knew him to be the son of Solomon, no man makes question of his government. In the case of succession into kingdoms, we may not look into the qualities of the person, but into the right.
So secure is Solomon of the people's fidelity to David's seed, that he follows not his father's example in setting his son by bim in his own throne : here was no danger of a rivalry to enforce it, no eminency in the son to merit it; it sufficeth him to know that no bond can be surer than the natural allegiance of subjects.
I do not find that the following kings stood upon the confirmation of their people; but, as those that knew the way to their throne, ascended their steps without aid. As yet the sovereignty of David's house was green and unsettled; Israel therefore doth not now come to attend Rchoboam, but Rehoboam goes up to meet Israel.
They come not to his Jerusalem, but he goes to their Shechem: To Shechem were all Israel come to make him king. If loyalty drew them together, why not rather to Jerusalem ? there the majesty of his father's temple, the magnificence of his palace, the very stones in those walls, besides the strength of his guard, had pleaded strongly for their subjection. Shechem had been many ways fatal, was every way incommodious. It is an infinite help or disadvantage that arises from circumstances. The very place puts Israel in mind of a rebellion. There Abimelech had raised up his treacherous usurpation over and against his brethren : there Gaal against Abimelech: there was Joseph sold by his brethren, as if the very soil had been stained with perfidiousness. The time is no less ill chosen. Rehoboam had ill counsel ere he bewrayed it; for had he speedily called up Israel before Jeroboam could have been sent for out of Egypt, he had found the way clear. A little delay may lose a great deal of opportunity. What shall we say of both, but that misery is led in by infatuation !
Had not Israel been somewhat predisposed to a mutiny, they had never sent into Egypt for such a spokesman as Jeroboam; a fugitive, a traitor to Solomon. Long had that crafty conspirator lurked in a foreign court. The alliances of princes are not ever necessary bonds of friendship. The brother-in-law of Solomon harbours this snake in his bosom, and gives that heat which is repaid with a sting to the posterity of so near an ally.
And now Solomon's death calls him back to his native soil. That Israel would entertain a rebel, it was an ill sign; worse yet, that they would countenance him ; worst of all, that they would employ him. Nothing doth more bewray evil intentions than the choice of vicious agents. Those that mean well will not hazard either the success or credit of their actions upon offensive instruments. None but the sluttish will wipe their faces with foul clothes. Upright hearts would have said, as David did to God, so to his anointed; Do not I hate them that hate thee! Yea, I hate them with a perfect hatred. Jeroboam's head had been a fit present to have been tendered unto their new king, and now, instead thereof, they tender themselves to Jeroboam as the head of their faction.
Had not Rehoboam wanted spirits, he had first, after Solomon's example, done justice to his father's traitor, and then have treated of mercy towards his subjects.
The people soon found the weakness of their new sovereign, else they durst not have spoken to him by so obnoxious a tongue: Thy father made our yoke grievous ; make thou it lighter, and we will serve thee.
Doubtless the crafty head of Jeroboam was in this suit, which his mouth uttered in the name of Israel. Nothing could have been more subtle; it seemed a promise, it was a threat. That which seemed a supplication was a complaint; humility was but a veil of discontentment; one hand held a paper, the other a sword. Had they said, “ Free us from tributes," the capitulation had been gross, and strongly savouring of sedition; now they say, Ease us, they profess his power to impose and their willingness to yield; only craving favour in the weight of the imposition. If Rehoboam yield, he blemishes his father; if he deny, he endangers his kingdom : his wilfulness shall seem worthily to abandon his sceptre, if he stick at so reasonable a suit. Surely Israel came with a purpose to cavil. Jeroboam had secretly troubled these waters that he might fish more gainfully : one malecontent is enough to embroil a whole kingdom.
How harshly must it needs sound in the ears of Rehoboam, that the first word he hears from his people is a querulous challenge of his father's government; Thy father made our yoke grievous !
For aught I see, the suggestion was not more spiteful than unjust. Where was the weight of this yoke, the toil of the services? Here were none of the turmoils of war; no trainings, marchings, encampings, entrenchings, watchings, minings, sieges, fortifications; none of that tedious world of work that attends hostility. Solomon had not his name for nought. All was calm during that long reign; and if they had paid dear for their peace, they had no cause to complain of an hard match. The warlike times of Saul and David had exhausted their blood together with their substance. What ingratitude was this, to cry out of ease! “ Yea, but that peace brought forth costly and laborious buildings. God's house and the king's, the walls of Jerusalem, Hazar, Megiddo, and Gezer, the cities of store, the cities of defence, could not rise without many a shoulder.” True; but not of any Israelites. The remainders of Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, were put to all the drudgery of these great works. The tasks of Israel were easy and ingenuous, free from servility, free from painfulness. “ But the charge was theirs, whosesoever was the labour. The diet of so endless a retinue, the attendance of his seraglio, the purveyance for his forty thousand stables, the cost of his sacrifices, must needs weigh heavy.” Certainly; if it had lain on none but his own. But wherefore went Solomon's navy every three years to Ophir? To what use served the six hundred threescore and six talents of gold that came in one year to his exchequer? Wherefore served the large tributes of foreign nations? How did he make silver to be in Jerusalem as stones, if the exactions were so pressive ? The multitude is ever prone to pick quarrels with their governors; and whom they feared alive, to censure dead. The benefits of so quiet and happy a reign are passed over in silence, the grievances are recounted with clamour. Who can hope that merit or greatness can shield from obloquy when Solomon is traduced to his own loins ?
The proposition of Israel puts Rehoboam to a deliberation ; Depart ye for three days, then come again to me. I hear no other