« PreviousContinue »
mand lawful things, God commands by them; when unlawful, they command against God. Passive obedience we must give ; active, we may not. We follow them as subordinate, not as opposite, to the Highest.
Who cannot but see and pity the straits of honest Naboth ? Ahab requires what God forbids. He must fall out, either with his God or his king. Conscience carries bim against policy; and be resolved not to sin, that he might be gracious. For a world, he may not give his vineyard.
Those, who are themselves godless, think the holy care of others but idly scrupulous. The king of Israel could not choose but see, that only God's prohibition lay in the way of his designs; not the stomach of a froward subject : yet he goes away into his house, heavy and displeased : and casts himself down upon his bed, turns away his face, and refuses his meat. He hath taken a surfeit of Naboth's grapes, which mars his appetite and threats his life.
How ill can great hearts endure to be crossed, though upon the most reasonable and just grounds! Ahab's place called him to the guardianship of God's law; and now, his heart is ready to break, that this parcel of that law may not be broken. No marvel, if he made not dainty to transgress a local statute of God, who did so shamefully violate the eternal law of both tables. .
I know not, whether the spleen or the gall of Ahab be more affected. Whether more of anger or grief, I cannot say; but sick he is, and keeps his bed, and balks his meat, as if he should die of no other death, than the salads that he would have had. Oh, the impotent passion and insatiable desires of covetousness! Ahab is lord and king of all the territories of Israel; Naboth is the owner of one poor vineyard : Ahab cannot enjoy Israel, if Naboth enjoy his vineyard. Besides Samaria, Ahab was the great Lord Paramount of Damascus and all Syria, the victor of him that was attended with two and thirty kings; Naboth was a plain townsman of Jezreel, the good husband of a little vineyard : Whether is the wealthier ? I do not hear Naboth wish for any thing of Ahab's; I hear Ahab wishing, not without indignation of a repulse, for somewhat from Naboth. Riches and poverty are no more in the heart, than in the hand. He is wealthy, that is contented; he is poor, that wanteth more. O rich Naboth, that carest not for all the large possessions of Ahab ; so thou mayest be the Lord of thine own vineyard. O miserable Ahab, that carest not for thine own possessions, whilst thou mayest not be the Lord of Naboth's vineyard !
He, that caused the disease, sends him a physician. Satan knew of old, how to make use of such helpers. Jezebel comes to Ahab's bed-side, and casts cold water in his face, and puts into him spirits of her own extracting: Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? Arise, eat bread, and let thine heart be merry; I will gire thee the vineyard of Naboth. Ahab wanted neither wit nor wickedness; yet is he, in both, a very novice to this Zidonian dame. There needs no other devil, than Jezebel; whether to project evil, or to work it. She chides the pusillanimity of her dejected husband; and persuades him his rule cannot be free, unless it be licentious; that there should be no bounds for sovereignty, but will.
Already hath she contrived to have by fraud and force, what was denied to entreaty. Nothing needs but the name, but the seal of Ahab : let her alone with the rest. How present are the wits of the weaker sex, for the devising of wickedness! She frames a letter, in Ahab's name, to the senators of Jezreel, wherein she requires them to proclaim a fast, to suborn two false witnesses against Naboth, to charge him with blasphemy against God and the king, to stone him to death. A ready payment for a rich vineyard!
Whose indignation riseth not, to hear Jezebel name a fast? The great contemners of the most important laws of God, yet can be content to make use of some divine, both statutes and customs, for their own advantage. She knew the Israelites had so much remainder of grace, as to hold blasphemy worthy of death ; she knew their manner was, to expiate those crying sins, with public humiliation; she knew that two witnesses at least must cast the of. fender: all these she urges to her own purpose. There is no mischief so devilish, as that which is cloked with piety. Simulation of holiness doubleth a villainy. This murder had not been half so foul, if it had not been thus masked, with a religious observation.
Besides devotion, what a fair pretence of legality is here ! Blasphemy against God and his anointed may not pass unrevenged. The offender is convened before the sad and severe bench of magistracy. The justice of Israel allows not to condemn an absent, an unheard malefactor. Witnesses come forth, and agree in the intentation of the crime. The judges rend their garments, and strike their breasts as grieved, not more for the sin, than the punishment. Their very countenance must say,
6 Naboth should not die, if his offence did not force our justice ;” and now, he is no good subject, no true Israelite, that hath not a stone for Naboth.
Jezebel knew well to whom she wrote. Had not those letters fallen upon the times of a woeful degeneration of Israel, they had received no less strong denials from the elders, than Ahab had from Naboth; “God forbid, that the senate of Jezreel should forge a perjury, belie truth, condemn innocency, brook corruption. Command just things, we are ready to die in the zeal of our obedience: we dare not embrue our hands, in the blood of an innocent.” But she knew whom she had engaged; whom she had marred, by making conscious.
It were strange, if they, who can countenance evil with greatness, should want factors for the unjustest designs. Miserable is that people, whose rulers, instead of punishing, plot, and encourage wickedness. When a distillation of evils falls from the head upon the lungs of any state, there must needs follow a deadly consumption.
Yet, perhaps, there wanted not some colour of pretence, for this proceeding. They could not but hear, that some words had passed betwixt the king and Naboth. Haply it was suggested, that Naboth had secretly overlashed into saucy and contemptuous terms to his sovereign ; such as neither might be well borne, nor yet, by reason of their privacy, legally convinced. The bench of Jezreel should but supply a form, to the just matter and desert of condemnation. What was it for them, to give their hand to this obscure midwifery of justice? It is enough, that their king is an accuser and witness of that wrong, which only their sentence can formally revenge.
All this cannot wash their hands, from the guilt of blood. If justice be blind, in respect of partiality, she may not be blind, in respect of the grounds of execution.' Had Naboth been a blasphemer or a traitor, yet these men were no better than murderers, What difference is there, betwixt the stroke of magistracy and of manslaughter, but due conviction?
Wickedness never spake out of a throne, and complained of the defect of instruments. Naboth was, it seems, strictly conscionable ; his fellow citizens, loose and lawless. They are glad to have gotten such an opportunity of his dispatch. No clause of Ahab's letter is not observed. A fast is warned; the city is assembled ; Naboth is convented, accused, confronted, sentenced, stoned: his vineyard is escheated to the crown; Abab takes speedy and quiet possession.
How still doth God sit in heaven, and look upon the complots of treachery and villainies, as if they did not concern him! The success so answers their desires, as if both heaven and earth were their friends. It is the plague, which seems the felicity, of sinners, to speed well in their lewd enterprises. No reckoning is brought in the midst of the meal: the end pays for all.
While Ahab is rejoicing in his new garden-plot, and promising himself contentment in this commodious enlargement, in comes Elijah ; sent from God, with an errand of vengeance. Methinks, I see how the king's countenance changed; with what aghast eyes and pale cheeks, he looked upon that unwelcome prophet. Little pleasure took he in his prospect, while it was clogged with such a guest; yet his tongue begins first, Hast thou found me, 0 mine enemy?
Great is the power of conscience. Upon the last meeting, for ought we know, Ahab and Elijah parted friends: the prophet had lackeyed his coach, and took a peaceable leave at this town's end: now Ahab's heart told him, neither needed any other messenger, that God and his prophet were fallen out with him. His continuing idolatry, now seconded with blood, bids him look for nothing but frowns from heaven. A guilty heart can never be at peace. Had not Ahab known how ill he had deserved of God, he had never saluted his prophet by the name of an enemy. He bad never been troubled to be found by Elijah, if his own breast had not found him out for an enemy to God.
Much good may thy vineyard do thee, () thou king of Israel. Many fair flowers and savoury herbs may thy new garden yield thee. Please thyself with thy Jezebel, in the triumph over the carcase of a scrupulous subject. Let me rather die with Naboth,
that Jezebethou sayest, te; the elders upon
than rejoice with thee! His turn is over ; thine, is to come. The stones, that overwhelmed innocent Naboth, were nothing to those that smite thee; Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? Thus saith the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.
What meanest thou, () Elijah, to charge this murder upon Ahab? He kept his chamber; Jezebel wrote ; the elders condemned; the people stoned : yet thou sayest, Hast thou killed ? Well did Ahab know, that Jezebel could not give this vineyard, with dry hands; yet was he content, to wink at what she should do. He but sits still, while Jezebel works; only, his signet is suffered to walk, for the sealing of this unknown purchase. Those, that are trusted with authority, may offend no less in connivancy or neglect, than others in act, in participation. Not only command, consent, countenance, but very permission feoffs public persons in those sins, which they might and will not prevent.
God loves to punish by retaliation. Naboth and Ahab shall both bleed : Naboth, by the stones of the Jezreelites; Ahab, by the shafts of the Aramites : the dogs shall taste of the blood of both. What Ahab hath done in cruelty, he shall suffer in justice. The case and the end make the difference; happy on Naboth's side, on Ahab's woeful: Naboth bleeds as a martyr; Ahab, as a murderer. Whatever is Ahab's condition, Naboth changes a vineyard on earth, for a kingdom in heaven. Never any wicked man gained, by the persecution of an innocent : never any innocent man was a loser, by suffering from the wicked.
Neither was this judgment personal, but hereditary: I will take away thy posterity; and will make thine house like the house of Jeroboam. Him, that dieth of Ahab in the city, the dogs shall eat; and him, that dieth in the field, shall the fowls of the air eat. Ahab shall not need to take thought, for the traducing of this illgotten inberitance: God hath taken order for his heirs; whom his sin bath made no less the heirs of his curse, than of his body. Their father's cruelty to Naboth hath made them, together with their mother Jezebel, dogs'-meat. The revenge of God doth, at last, make amends for the delay. Whether now is Naboth's vineyard paid for? The man, that had sold himself to work wickedness, yet rues the bargain.
I do not hear Ahab, as bad as he was, revile or threaten the prophet; but he rends his clothes, and wears and lies in sackcloth, and fasts, and walks softly. Who, that had seen Ahab, would not have deemed him a true penitent? All this was the visor of sorrow, not the face ; or if the face, not the heart; or if the sorrow of the heart, yet not the repentance; a sorrow for the judgment, not a repentance for the sin. The very devils howl to be tormented. Grief is not ever a sign of grace, Ahab rends his clothes; he did not rend his heart : he puts on sackcloth, not amendment: he lies in sackcloth, but he lies in his idolatry: he walks softly; he walks not sincerely. Worldly sorrow causeth death. Happy is that grief, for which the soul is the holier.
Yet what is this I see? This very shadow of repentance carries away mercy. It is no small mercy, to defer an evil. Even Ahab's humiliation shall prorogue the judgment. Such as the penitence was, such shall be the reward ; a temporary reward of a temporary penitence. As Ahab might be thus sorrowful, and never the better; so he may be thus favoured, and never the happier. O God, how graciously art thou ready, to reward a sound and holy repentance, who art thus indulgent to a carnal and servile dejection !
1 Kings rri.
AHAB AND MICAIAH; OR, THE DEATH OF AHAB. Who would have looked, to have heard any more of the wars of the Syrians with Israel, after so great a slaughter, after so firm a league; a league, not of peace only, but of brotherhood? The halters, the sackcloth, of Benhadad's followers, were worn out, as of use, so of memory ; and now they are changed for iron and steel.
It is but three years, that this peace lasts; and now that war begins, which shall make an end of Ahab. The king of Israel rues his unjust mercy. According to the word of the prophet, that gift of a life was but an exchange. Because Ahab gave Benhadad his life, Benhadad shall take Ahab's. He must forfeit in himself, what he hath given to another. There can be no better fruit, of too much kindness to infidels.
It was one article of the league betwixt Ahab and his brother Benhadad, that there should be a speedy restitution of all the Israelitish cities. The rest are yielded : only Ramoth Gilead is held back, unthankfully, injuriously. He, that begged but his life, receives his kingdom ; and now rests not content, with his own bounds. Justly doth Ahab challenge his own: justly doth he move a war, to recover his own from a perfidious tributary. The lawfulness of actions may not be judged by the events, but by the grounds. The wise and holy arbiter of the world knows why, many times the better cause hath the worse success. Many a just business is crossed, for a punishment to the agent.
Yet Israel and Judah were now pieced in friendship. Jehoshaphat, the good king of Judah, had made affinity with Ahab, the idolatrous king of Israel; and, besides a personal visitation, joins his forces with his new kinsman, against an old confederate. Judah had called in Syria, against Israel; and now Israel calls in Judah, against Syria. Thus rather should it be. It is fit, that the more pure church should join with the more corrupt, against a common paganish enemy.
Jehoshaphat hath matched with Abab; not with a divorce of his devotion. 'He will fight, not without God; Inquire, I pray thee, at the word of the Lord, to-day. Had he done thus sooner, I fear Athaliah had never called bim father. This motion was news in Israel : it was wont to be said, “ Inquire of Baal.” The good king of Judah will bring religion into fashion, in the court of Israel. Ahab had inquired of his counsellors; what needed he be