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2 Kings 8:1-29
THE SEQUEL OF THE STORY OF THE SHUNAMMITE. THE KILLING OF BENHADAD BY HAZAEL; AND THE WICKED REIGNS OF JEHORAM AND AHAZIAH IN JUDAH.
2 Kings 8:1-15
Elisha is still the protagonistes of the historical drama. The writer brings together in the present section two more occasions of a public character in which he was concerned, and in which kings also bore a part. One of the occasions is domestic, and shows the interest which Jehoram took in the miracles of the prophet, and in those who were the objects of them (2 Kings 8:1-6). The other belongs to Syrian, rather than to Israelite, history, and proves that the influence of Elisha was not confined to Palestine (2 Kings 8:7-15).
2 Kings 8:1-6
The sequel of the story of the Shunammite.
2 Kings 8:1
Then spake Elisha unto the woman, whose son he had restored to life. There is no "then" in the original, of which the simplest rendering would be, "And Elisha spake unto the woman," etc. The true sense is, perhaps, best brought out by the Revised Version, which gives the following: Now Elisha had spoken unto the woman, etc. The reference is to a time long anterior to the siege of Samaria. Saying, Arise, and go thou and thine household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn: for the Lord hath called for a famine. A famine is mentioned in 2 Kings 4:38, which must belong to the reign of Jehoram, and which is probably identified with that here spoken of. Elisha, on its approach, recommended the Shunammite, though she was a woman of substance (2 Kings 4:8), to quit her home and remove to some other residence, where she mighty, escape the pressure of the calamity He left it to her to choose the place of her temporary abode. The phrase, "God hath called for a famine," means no more and no less than "God has determined that there shall be a famine." With God to speak the word is to bring about the event. And it shall also come upon the land seven years. Seven years was the actual duration of the great famine, which Joseph foretold in Egypt (Genesis 41:27), and was the ideally perfect period for a severe famine (2 Chronicles 24:13). Many of the best meteorologists are inclined to regard the term of "seven years" as a cyclic period in connection with weather changes.
2 Kings 8:2
And the woman arose, and did after the saying of the man of God. It is a satisfaction to find that there was yet faith in Israel. There were still those to whom the prophet was the mouthpiece of God, who waited on his words, and accepted them as Divine commands whereto they were ready to render immediate and entire obedience. It is conjectured by some that the woman had become a widow, and fallen into comparative poverty; but the narrative gives no indication of this. Even opulent persons have to migrate in times of severe dearth. And she went with her household, and sojourned in the land of the philistines. Philistia was a great grain country (Judges 15:5), and, though not altogether exempt from famine, was less exposed to it than either Judaea or Samaria. The soil was exceedingly fertile, and the vapors from the Mediterranean descended upon it in clews and showers, when their beneficial influence was not felt further inland. The Shunammite may have had other reasons for fixing her residence in the Philistine country; but probably she was chiefly determined in her choice by its proximity and its productiveness. Seven years. As long, i.e; as the famine lasted (see the last clause of 2 Kings 8:1).
2 Kings 8:3
And it earns to pass at the seven years' end, that the woman returned out of the land of the Philistines. She stayed no longer than she could help. Her own land, where she could have the ministrations of a "man of God" (2 Kings 4:23), was dear to her; and no sooner had the famine abated than she returned to it. And she went forth to cry unto the king for her house and for her land. During her prolonged absence, some grasping neighbor had seized on the unoccupied house and the uncultivated estate adjoining it, and now refused to restore them to the rightful owner. Widows were especially liable to such treatment on the part of greedy oppressors, since they were, comparatively speaking, weak and defenseless (see Isaiah 10:2; Matthew 23:14). Under such circumstances the injured party would naturally, in an Oriental country, make appeal to the king.
2 Kings 8:4
And the king talked with Gehazi; rather, now the king was talking with Gehazi, as in the Revised Version. The king, i.e; happened to be talking with Gehazi at the moment when the woman came into his presence and "cried" to him. It has been reasonably concluded from this, that chronological order is not observed in the portion of the narrative which treats of Elisha and his doings, since a king of Israel would scarcely be in familiar conversation with a leper (Keil). It may be added that Gehazi can scarcely have continued to be the servant of Elisha, as he evidently now was, after his leprosy. He must have dwelt "without the gate." The servant of the man of God. That a king should converse with a servant is, no doubt, somewhat unusual; but, as Bahr notes, there is nothing in the circumstance that need astonish us. It is natural enough that, having been himself a witness of so many of the prophet's marvelous acts done in public, Jehoram should become curious concerning those other marvelous acts which he had performed in private, among his personal friends and associates, with respect to which many turnouts must have got abroad; and should wish to obtain an account of them from a source on which he could rely. If he had this desire, he could scarcely apply to the prophet himself, with whom he was at no time on familiar terms, and who would shrink from enlarging on his own miraculous powers. "To whom, then, could he apply with more propriety for this information than to the prophet's familiar servant"—an eye-witness of most of them, and one who would have no reason for reticence? Oriental ideas would not be shocked by the king's sending for any subject from whom he desired information, and questioning him. Saying, Tell me, I pray thee, all the great things that Elisha hath done. Miracles are often called "great things" (גְדֹלוֹת) in the Old Testament, but generally in connection with God as the doer of them (see Job 5:9; Job 9:10; Job 37:5; Psalms 71:19; Psalms 106:21, etc.).
2 Kings 8:5
And it came to pass, as he was telling the king how he—i.e. Elisha—had restored a dead Body to life. This was undoubtedly the greatest of all Elisha's miracles, and Gehazi naturally enlarged upon it. As an eye-witness (2 Kings 4:29-36), he could give all the details. That, behold, the woman, whose son he had restored to life, cried to the king for her house and for her land. The coincidence can scarcely have been accidental. Divine providence so ordered matters that, just when the king's interest in the woman was most warm, she should appear before him to urge her claim. At another time, Jehoram would, it is probable, have been but slightly moved by her complaint. Under the peculiar circumstances, he was deeply moved, and at once granted the woman the redress for which she asked. And Gehazi said, Wry lord, O king, this is the woman, and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life. The Shunammite was accompanied by her son, now a boy of at least tea or eleven years old—the actual object of Elisha's miracle. The king's interest in the woman would be still more roused by this circumstance.
2 Kings 8:6
And when the king asked the woman, she told him; rather, and the king made inquiry of the woman, and she answered him. The extent of the inquiries is not indicated. They may have included questions concerning the miracle, as well as questions concerning the woman's claim to the land and house, and the evidence which she could produce of proprietorship. So the king appointed unto her a certain officer—literally, a certain eunuch, or chamberlain—an officer of the court, who was in his confidence, and would give effect to his directions saying, Restore all that was hers, and all the fruits of the field since the day that she left the land, even until now. The order was, that not only was the Shunammite to receive back her house and estate, but that she was also to have "the mesne profits" i.e. the full value of all that the land had produced beyond the expense of cultivation during the seven yearn of her absence. English law lays down the same rule in cases of unlawful possession for which there is no valid excuse.
2 Kings 8:7-15
Elisha's visit to Damascus, and its consequences. It has been usual to connect this visit of Elisha's to Damascus with the commission given to Elijah many years previously, to anoint Hazael to be king over Syria (1 Kings 19:16). But it is certainly worthy of remark that neither is Elijah authorized to devolve his corn-mission on another, nor is he said to have done so, nor is there any statement in the present narrative or elsewhere that Elisha anointed Hazael. It is therefore quite possible that Elisha's journey was wholly unconnected with the command given to Elijah. It may, as Ewald imagines, have been the consequence of disorders and dangers in Samaria, growing out of the divergence of views between Jehoram and the queen-mother Jezebel, who still retained considerable influence over the government; and Elisha may have taken his journey, not so much for the sake of a visit, as of a prolonged sojourn. That he attracted the attention both of Benhadad and of his successor Hazael is not surprising.
2 Kings 8:7
And Elisha came to Damascus. It was a bold step, whatever the circumstances that led to it. Not very long previously the Syrian king had made extraordinary efforts to capture Elisha, intending either to kin him or to keep him confined as a prisoner (2 Kings 6:18-19). Elisha had subsequently helped to baffle his plans of conquest, and might be thought to have caused the disgraceful retreat of the Syrian army from the walls of Samaria, which he had certainly prophesied (2 Kings 7:1). But Elisha was not afraid. He was probably commissioned to take his journey, whether its purpose was the anointing of Hazael or no. And Benhadad the King of Syria was sick. Ewald supposes that this "sickness" was the result of the disgrace and discredit into which he had fallen since his ignominious retreat, without assignable reason, from before the walls of Samaria; but Ben-hadad must have been of an age When the infirmities of nature press in upon a man, and when illness has to be expected. He was a contemporary of Ahab (1 Kings 20:1), who had now been dead ten or twelve years. And it was told him, saying, The man of God is come hither. Elisha seems to have attempted no concealment of his presence. No sooner was he arrived than his coming was reported to Benhadad. The Syrians had by this time learnt to give him the name by which he was commonly known (2 Kings 4:7, 2 Kings 4:21, 2Ki 4:40; 2 Kings 5:20; 2Ki 6:6, 2 Kings 6:10; 2 Kings 7:2, 2 Kings 7:18) in Israel.
2 Kings 8:8
And the king said unto Hazael. It is implied that Hazael was in attendance on Benhadad in his sick-room, either permanently as a chamberlain, or occasionally as a minister. According to Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 9.4. § 6), he was "the most faithful of the king's domestics" (ὁ πιστότατος τῶν οἱκετῶν). We cannot presume from 2 Kings 8:12 that he had as yet distinguished himself as a warrior. Take a present in thine hand, and go, meet the man of God. It was usual, both among the heathen and among the Israelites, for those who consulted a prophet to bring him a present (see 1 Samuel 9:7; 1 Kings 14:3). Hence, mainly, the great wealth of the Delphic and other oracles. Naaman (2 Kings 5:5) had brought with him a rich present when he went to consult Elisha in Samaria. And inquire of the Lord by him, saying, Shall I recover of this disease! The miracles of Elisha had had at any rate this effect—they had convinced the Syrians that Jehovah was a great and powerful God, and made them regard Elisha himself as a true prophet. Their faith in their own superstitions must have been at least partially shaken by these convictions. It was by these and similar weakenings of established errors that the world was gradually educated, and the way prepared for the introduction of Christianity. There was very early among the Syrians a flourishing Christian Church.
2 Kings 8:9
So Hazael went to meet him—i.e. Elisha—and took a present with him; literally, in his hand; but we must not pros this expression "In his hand" means "under his control." The present was far too large to be carried by an individual. It consisted even of every good thing of Damascus; i.e. of gold and silver and costly raiment, of the luscious wine of Helbon, which was the drink of the Persian kings (Strab; 15.3. § 22), of the soft white wool of the Antilibanus (Ezekiel 27:18), of damask coverings of couches (Amos 3:12), perhaps of Damascus blades, and of various manufactured articles, the products of Tyro, Egypt, Nineveh, and Babylon, which her extensive land trade was always bringing to the Syrian capital. Forty camels' burden. Not as much as forty camels could carry, but a gift of such a size that it was actually placed on the backs of forty camels, which paraded the town, and conveyed in a long procession to the prophet's house the king's magnificent offering. Orientals are guilty of extreme ostentation with respect to the presents that they make. As Chardin says, "Fifty persons often carry what a single one could have very well borne". The practice is illustrated by the bas-reliefs of Nineveh and Persepolis, which furnish proofs of its antiquity. One present-bearer carries a few pomegranates; another, a bunch of grapes; a third, a string of locusts; a fourth, two small ointment-pots; a fifth, a branch of an olive tree, and the like (Layard, 'Monuments of Nineveh,' second series, Psalms 8:9, etc.). It is not unlikely that a single camel could have carried the whole. And earns and stood before him, and said, Thy son Benhadad King of Syria hath sent me to thee, saying—Benhadad seeks to propitiate Elisha by calling himself his son, thus indicating the respect he feels for him—Shall I recover of this disease? Nothing was more common in the ancient world than the consultation of an oracle or a prophet in cases of disease or other bodily affliction. Two questions were commonly asked, "Shall I recover?" and "How may I recover?" So Pheron of Egypt is said to have consulted an oracle with respect to his blindness (Herod; 2.111), and Battus of Cyrene to have done the same with respect to his stammering (ibid; 4.155). It was seldom that a clear and direct answer was given.
2 Kings 8:10
And Elisha said unto him; Go, say unto him; Thou mayest certainly recover. The existing Masoretic text (צָיִה תִצְיָה אֱמָר־לא) is untranslatable, since emar-lo cannot mean, "say not," on account of the order of the words; and lo cannot he joined with khayiah thikhyah, first on account of the makkeph whick attaches it to emar, and secondly because the emphatic infinitive is in itself affirmative, and does not admit of a negative prefix. The emendation in the Hebrew margin (לוֹ for לא), accepted by all the versions, and by almost all commentators, is thus certain. Our translators are therefore, so far, in the right; but they were not entitled to tone down the strong affirmative, khayih thikhyah, "living thou shalt live," or "thou shalt surely live," into the weak potential, "thou mayest certainly recover." What Elisha says to Hazael is, "Go, say unto him, Thou shalt surely live;" i.e. "Go, say unto him, what thou hast already made up thy mind to say, what a courtier is sure to say, Thou shalt recover." Howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die. If Hazael had reported the whole answer to Benhadad, he would have told no lie, and thus Elisha is not responsible for his lie.
2 Kings 8:11
And he settled his countenance steadfastly—literally, and he settled his countenance and set it; i.e. Elisha fixed on Hazael a long and meaning look—until he—i.e. Hazael—was ashamed; i.e. until Hazael felt embarrassed, and his eyes fell It may be gathered that the ambitious courtier had already formed a murderous design against his master, and understood by the peculiar gaze which the prophet fixed upon him that his design was penetrated. And the man of God wept. There flashed on the prophet's mind all the long series of calamities which Israel would suffer at the hands of Syria during Hazael's reign, and he could not but weep at the thought of them (see the next verse).
2 Kings 8:12
And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? While inwardly contemplating an act of audacious wickedness in defiance of the prophet's implied rebuke, Hazael preserves towards him outwardly an attitude of extreme deference and respect. "My lord" was the phrase with which slaves addressed their masters, and subjects their monarchs (see 2 Kings 5:3; 2 Kings 6:12, etc.). 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. The prophet does not intend to tax Hazael with any special cruelty, tie only means to say, "Thou wilt wage long and bloody wars with Israel, in which will occur all those customary horrors that make war so terrible—the burning of cities, the slaughter of the flower of the youth, the violent death of children, and even the massacre of women in a state of pregnancy. These horrors belonged, more or less, to all Oriental wars, and are touched on in Psalms 137:9; 2 Kings 15:16; Isaiah 13:16, Isaiah 13:18; Hosea 10:14; Nahum 3:10; Amos 1:13, etc. The wars of Hazael with the Israelites are mentioned in 2 Kings 10:32, 2 Kings 10:33; 2 Kings 13:3-7; and Amos 1:3, Amos 1:4.
2 Kings 8:13
And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? This rendering is generally allowed to Be incorrect. The true sense, which is well represented in the Septuagint (Τίς ἐστιν ὁ δοῦλός σου ὁ κύων ὁ τεθνηκὼς οτι ποιήσει τὸ ῥῆμα τοῦτο;), is—"But what is thy servant, this dog, that he should do so great a thing?" Hazael does not accuse Elisha of making him out a dog in the future, but calls himself a dog in the present. "Dog" is a word of extreme contempt—"the most contemptuous epithet of abuse" (Winer), as appears, among other places, from 1 Samuel 24:14 and 2 Samuel 16:9. Hazael means to say—How is it possible that he, occupying, as he does, so poor and humble a position as that of a mere courtier or domestic (οἰκετής, Josephus), should ever wage war with Israel, and do the "great things" which Elisha has predicted of him? And Elisha answered, The Lord hath showed me that thou shalt be king over Syria. Elisha explains how it would be possible. Hazael would not continue in his poor and humble condition. Jehovah has revealed it to him that the mere courtier will shortly mount the Syrian throne.
2 Kings 8:14
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 shouldest surely recover. This, as already observed, was giving half Elisha's answer, and suppressing the other half. The suppressio veri is a suggestio falsi; and the suppression was Hazael's act, not Elisha's. Had Hazael repeated the whole of Elisha's answer, "Say unto him, Thou shalt surely recover; howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die;"—Benhadad might have been puzzled, but he would not have been deceived.
2 Kings 8:15
And it came to pass on the morrow, that he took a thick cloth. Macber is a cloth of a coarse texture—a mat, or piece of carpeting. It has here the article prefixed to it (ham-macber), which implies that there was but one in the sick-room. We may conjecture that it was a mat used as a sort of pillow, and interposed between the head-rest (so common in Egypt and Assyria) and the head (compare the c'bir of 1 Samuel 19:13). And dipped it in water. The water would fill up the interstices through which air might otherwise have been drawn, and hasten the suffocation. A death of the same kind is recorded in the Persian history entitled 'Kholasat el Akhbar,' which contains the following passage: "The malik ordered that they should place a carpet on Abdallah's mouth, so that his life was cut off." And spread it on his face, so that he died. It has been supposed by some commentators, as Luther, Schultz, Geddes, Boothroyd, that Benhadad put the wet macber on his own face for refreshment, and accidentally suffocated himself; but this is very unlikely, and it is certainly not the natural sense of the words. As "Hazael" is the subject of "departed" and "came" and "answered" in 2 Kings 8:14, so it is the natural subject of "took" and "dipped" and "spread" in 2 Kings 8:15. 2 Kings 8:11 also would be unintelligible if Hazael entertained no murderous intentions. Why Ewald introduces a "bath-servant," unmentioned in the text, to murder Benhadad for no assignable reason, it is difficult to conjecture. And Hazael reigned in his stead. The direct succession of Hazael to Benhadad is confirmed by the inscription on the Black Obelisk, where he appears as King of Damascus (line 97) a few years only after Benhadad (Bin-idri) had been mentioned as king.
2 Kings 8:16-24
THE WICKED REIGN OF JEHORAM IN JUDAH. At this point the writer, who has been concerned with the history of the kingdom of Israel hitherto in the present book, takes up the story of the kingdom of Judah from 1 Kings 22:50, and proceeds to give a very brief account of the reign of Jehoshaphat's eldest son, Jehoram, or (by contraction) Joram. His narrative has to be supplemented from 2 Chronicles 21:1-20; which contains many facts not mentioned by the writer of Kings.
2 Kings 8:16
And in the fifth year of Joram the son of Ahab King of Israel, Jehoshaphat being then King of Judah; literally, and of Jehoshaphat King of Judah. The words are wanting in three Hebrew manuscripts, in some editions of the Septuagint, in the Peshito Syriac, in the Parisian Heptaplar Syriac, in the Arabic Version, and in many copies of the Vulgate. They cannot possibly have the sense assigned to them in our version, and are most probably a gloss which has crept into the text from the margin. Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat King of Judah began to reign. Jehoram's reign was sometimes counted from the seventeenth year of his father, when he was given the royal title, sometimes from his father's twenty-third year, when he was associated, and sometimes from his father's death in his twenty-fifth year, when he became sole king (see the comment on 2 Kings 1:17 and 2 Kings 3:1).
2 Kings 8:17
Thirty and two years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. The eight years seem to be counted from his association in the kingdom by his father in his twenty-third year. He reigned as sole king only six years.
2 Kings 8:18
And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as did the house of Ahab; i.e. he introduced into Judah the Baal and Astarte worship, which Ahab had introduced into Israel from Phoenicia. The "house of Ahab" maintained and spread the Baal-worship, wherever it had influence. Ahaziah, the son of Ahab, championed it in Israel (1 Kings 22:53); Jehoram, his brother, allowed its continuance (2 Kings 10:18-28); Jehoram of Judah was induced by his wife, Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab, to countenance it in Judaea; Athaliah, when she usurped the throne upon the death of her son Ahaziah, made it the state religion in that country. "Evil communications corrupt good manners." The alliance of the two separated kingdoms, concluded between Jehoshaphat and Ahab (1 Kings 22:2-4), had no tangible result beyond the introduction into Judah of the licentious and debasing superstition which had previously overspread the sister country. For the daughter of Ahab was his wife. In 2 Kings 8:26 Athaliah, the wife of Jehoram, is called "the daughter of Omri;" but by "daughter" in that place must be meant "descendant" or "granddaughter." Athaliah has been well called "a second Jezebel." And he did evil in the sight of the Lord. The wicked actions of Jehoram are recorded at some length in Chronicles (2 Chronicles 21:2-4,2 Chronicles 21:11-13). Shortly after his accession he put to death his six brothers—Azariah, Jehiel, Zechariah, Ahaziah (?), Michael, and Shephatiah—in order to "strengthen himself." At the same time, he caused many of the "princes of Israel" to be executed. Soon afterwards he "made high places in the mountains of Judah, and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit fornication" (i.e. to become idolaters), "and compelled Judah thereto." That the idolatry, which he introduced, was the Baal-worship is clear, both from the present passage and from 2 Chronicles 21:13.
2 Kings 8:19
Yet the Lord would not destroy Judah for David his servant's sake. The natural punishment of apostasy was rejection by God, and on rejection would, as a matter of course, follow destruction and ruin. God had declared by Moses, "If thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and statutes, which I command thee this day; all these curses shall come upon thee The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me. The Lord shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he have consumed thee from off the land, whither thou goest to possess it. The Lord shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee till thou perish. And thy heaven which is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is underneath thee shall be iron …. The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten of thine enemies; thou shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them: and thou shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth …. Thou shall become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations whither the Lord shall lead thee" (Deuteronomy 28:15-37). The apostasy of Jeheram, and of the nation under him, was calculated to bring about the immediate fulfillment of all these threats, and would have done so but for a restraining cause. God had made promises to David, and to his seed after him (2 Samuel 7:13-16; Psalms 89:29-37, etc.), which would be unfulfilled if Judah's candlestick were at once removed. He had declared, "If thy children forsake my Law, and walk not in my statutes … I will visit their offences with the rod, and their sin with scourges. Nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take away, nor suffer my truth to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips; I have sworn once by my holiness that I will not fail David." If he had now swept away the Jewish kingdom, he would have dealt more hardly with these who clave to David than with those that broke off from him. He would not have shown the "faithfulness" or the "mercy" which he had promised, tie would have forgotten "the loving-kindnesses which he aware unto David in his truth" (Psalms 89:49). Therefore he would not—he could not—as yet "destroy Judah," with which, in point of fact, he bore for above three centuries longer, until at last the cup of their iniquities was full, and "there was no remedy." As he promised him to give him always a light, and to his children. There is no "and" in the original. Translate—As he promised him to give him always a light in respect of his children, and compare, for the promise of "a light" (1Ki 11:36; 1 Kings 15:4; and Psalms 132:17).
2 Kings 8:20
In his days Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah. Edom had been conquered by Joab in the time of David, and had been treated with great severity, all the males, or at any rate all those of full age, having been put to death (1 Kings 11:15, 1 Kings 11:16). On the death of David, Edom seems to have revolted under a prince named Hadad, and to have re-established its independence. It had been again sub-jeered by the time of Jehoshaphat, who appointed a governor over it (1 Kings 22:47), and treated it as a portion of his own territories (2 Kings 3:8). Now the yoke was finally thrown off, as had been prophesied (Genesis 27:40). Edom became once more a separate kingdom, and was especially hostile to Judah. In the reign of Ahaz the Edomites "smote Judah" and carried away many captives (2 Chronicles 28:17). When the Chaldaeans attacked and besieged Jerusalem, they cried, "Down with it, down with it, even to the ground!" (Psalms 137:7). They looked on with joy at the capture of the holy city (Obadiah 1:12), and "stood in the crossway, to cut off such as escaped" (Obadiah 1:14). After the return from the Captivity, they were still Judah's enemies, and am especially denounced as such by the Prophet Malachi (Malachi 1:3-5). In the Maccabee wars, we find them always on the Syrian side (1 Mac. 4:29, 61; 5:3; 6:31; 2 Macc. 10:15, etc.), doing their best to rivet the hateful yoke of the heathen on their suffering brethren. As Idumaeans, the Herodian family must have been specially hateful to the Jews. And made a king over themselves. The king mentioned in 2 Kings 3:9, 2 Kings 3:26 was probably a mere vassal king under Jehoshaphat.
2 Kings 8:21
So Joram went over to Zair. Naturally, Joram did not allow Edom to become independent without an attempt to reduce it. He invaded the country in full force, taking up a position at a place called Zair, which is not otherwise known. Zair (צָעִיר) can scarcely be Zoar (צוֹעַר), which, wherever it was, was certainly not in Edom; and it is hardly likely to be a corruption of "Seir" (צָעִיר), since the utterly unknown צעיר would scarcely be put by a copyist in the place of the well-known שׂעיר. Moreover, if Mount Seir were intended, it would probably have had the prefix הַר, as in 1 Chronicles 4:42; 2 Chronicles 20:10, 2Ch 20:22, 2 Chronicles 20:23; Ezekiel 35:2, Ezekiel 35:3, Ezekiel 35:7, Ezekiel 35:15. "Seir" alone is poetical rather than historical, especially in the language of the later books of the Old Testament. And all the chariots with him; or, all his chariots (Revised Version). The article has the force of the possessive pronoun. And he rose by night, and smote the Edomites which compassed him about. Josephus understands the writer to mean that Joram made his invasion by night, and smote the Edomites on all sides ('Ant. Jud.,' 9.5. § 1); but it seems better to suppose, with most modern commentators, that the meaning is the following: Soon after Joram invaded the country, he found himself surrounded and blocked in by the Edomite troops, and could only save himself by a night attack, which was so far successful that he broke through the enemy's lines and escaped; his army, however, was so alarmed at the danger it had run, that it at once dispersed and returned home. And the captains of the chariots; i.e. the captains of the Edomite chariots. They too were "smitten," having probably taken the chief part in trying to prevent the escape. And the people fled into their tents; i.e. dispersed to their homes. Compare the cry of Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:16), "To your tents, O Israel!"
2 Kings 8:22
Yet Edom revolted; rather, and Edom revolted; or, so Edom revolted. Joram's attempt having failed, the independence of the country was established. From under the hand of Judah unto this day. The successes of Amaziah and Azariah against Edom (2 Kings 14:7, 2 Kings 14:22) did not amount to reconquests. Edom continued a separate country, not subject to Judaea, and frequently at war with it, until the time of John Hyrcanus, by whom it was subjugated. "Unto this day" means, at the most, until the time when the Books of Kings took their present shape, which was before the return from the Captivity. Then Libnah revolted at the same time. Libnah was situated on the borders of Philistia, in the Shefelah, or low country, but towards its eastern edge. Its exact position is uncertain; but it is now generally thought to be identical with the modern Tel-es-Safi, between Gath and Ekron, about long. 34° 50' E; Int. 31° 38' N. It had been an independent city, with a king of its own, in the early Canaanite time (Joshua 10:30; Joshua 12:15), but had been assigned to Judah (Joshua 15:42), and had hitherto remained, so far as appears, contented with its position. Its people can scarcely have had any sympathy with the Edomites, and its revolt at this time can have had no close connection with the Edomite rebellion. Libnah's sympathies would be with Philistia, and the occasion of the revolt may have been the invasion of Judaea by the Philistines in the reign of Jehoram, of which the author of Chronicles speaks (2 Chronicles 21:16), and in which Jehoram's sons were carried off.
2 Kings 8:23
And the rest of the sets of Joram, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? Some of these acts are recorded in our present Second Book of Chronicles; e.g. his execution of his brothers and of many nobles (2 Chronicles 21:4); his erection of high places (2 Chronicles 21:11); his persecution of the followers of Jehovah (2 Chronicles 21:11); his reception of a writing from Elisha, which, however, had no effect upon his conduct (2 Chronicles 21:12-15); his war with the Philistines (2 Chronicles 21:16) and with the Arabs (2 Chronicles 21:16); his loss of all his sons but one during his lifetime; his long illness, and his painful death (2 Chronicles 21:18, 2 Chronicles 21:19). But the 'Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah' was a work on a larger scale than the extant Book of Chronicles, and probably went into much greater detail.
2 Kings 8:24
And Joram slept with his fathers. Joram died after an illness, that lasted two years, of an incurable disease of his bowels. "No burning" was made for him, and there was no regret at his death. And was buried with his fathers in the city of David; i.e. in the portion of Jerusalem which David built; but, according to Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 9.5. § 3) and the author of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 21:20), not in the sepulchers of the kings. And Ahaziah his son reigned in his stead. Ahaziah is called "Jehoahaz" in 2 Chronicles 21:17, by an inversion of the two elements of his name, and "Azariah" in 2 Chronicles 22:6, apparently by a slip of the pen.
2 Kings 8:25-29
THE WICKED REIGN OF AHAZIAH IN JUDAH. The writer continues the history of Judah through another reign—a very short one-almost to its close. He describes the wickedness of Ahaziah, for the most part, in general terms, attributes it to his connection with the "house of Ahab," and notes his alliance with Joram of Israel against the Syrians, and his visit to his brother monarch at Samaria, which led on to his death.
2 Kings 8:25
In the twelfth year of Joram the son of Ahab King of Israel. In 2 Kings 9:29 the year of Ahaziah's accession is said to have been Joram's eleventh year. It is conjectured that he began to reign as viceroy to his father during his severe illness in Joram's eleventh year, and became sole king at his father's death in the year following. Did Ahaziah the son of Jehoram King of Judah begin to reign; i.e. begin to be full king.
2 Kings 8:26
Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign. The writer of Chronicles says, "two and forty" (2 Chronicles 22:2), which is absolutely impossible, since his father was but forty when he died. Even "two and twenty" is a more advanced age than we should have expected, since Ahaziah was the youngest of Jehoram's sons (2 Chronicles 21:17); he must therefore have been born in his father's nineteenth year. Yet he had several elder brothers (2 Chronicles 21:17; 2 Chronicles 22:1)! To explain this, we have to remember
(1) the early age at which marriage is contracted in the East (twelve years); and
(2) the fact that each prince had, besides his wife, several concubines. That Joram had several appears from 2 Chronicles 21:17. And he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother's Ares was Athaliah, the daughter of Omri King of Israel. There is something very remarkable in the dignity and precedence attached to Omri. He was, no doubt, regarded of a sort of second founder of the kingdom of Israel, having been the first monarch to establish anything like a stable dynasty. His "statutes" were looked upon as the fundamental laws of the kingdom, and were "kept" down to the time of its destruction (Micah 6:16). Foreigners knew Samaria as Beth. Khumri, or "the house of Omri." He is the only Israelite king mentioned by name on the Moabite Stone (line 5), and the earliest mentioned in the inscriptions of Assyria. Even Jehu, who put an end to his dynasty, was regarded by the Assyrians as his descendant, and known under the designation of" Yahua, the son of Khnmri" (Black Obelisk, epig. 2.). Athallah, the daughter of Ahab, is called "the daughter of Omri," not only in the present passage, but also in 2 Chronicles 22:2.
2 Kings 8:27
And he walked in the way of the house of Ahab. Compare what is said of Ahaziah of Israel in 1 Kings 22:52, 1 Kings 22:53, and of Jehoram of Judah in the present chapter (1 Kings 22:18). What is specially intended is that Ahaziah kept up the Baal-worship introduced by his father into Judah. And did evil in the sight of the Lord, as did the house of Ahab: for he was the son-in-law of the house of Ahab; literally, for he was related by marriage to the house of Ahab. צתן is any relation by marriage, not "son-in-law" in particular (see Exodus 3:1, and the comment on the place).
2 Kings 8:28
And he went with Joram the son of Ahab to the war against Hazael King of Syria in Ramoth-Gilead. Some translate, and Joram himself went; but this is a very rare use of אָת, and one which would be unnatural in this place—for why "Joram himself," when "Joram" alone would have been quite sufficient?—and still more unnatural in 2 Chronicles 22:5, where the same phrase occurs. It is best, therefore, to follow our translators, who are in accord both with the Septuagint and with the Vulgate. Ahaziah followed the example of his grandfather Jehoshaphat, who had accompanied Ahab to Ramoth-Gilead (1 Kings 22:29), to fight against the Syrians in the time of Benhadad. That the city was still disputed shows the importance which it possessed in the eyes of both parties. And the Syrians wounded Joram. It appears that Hazael, soon after his accession, with the ardor of a young prince anxious to distinguish himself, made an expedition against Ramoth-Gilead, which had been recovered by the Israelites between the death of Ahab and the time of which the historian is now treating. Joram went to the relief of the town with a large force, and, being received within the walls, maintained a gallant defense (2 Kings 9:14), in the course of which he was wounded severely, though not fatally. Thereupon he and his brother king quitted the town and returned to their respective capitals, leaving a strong garrison in Ramoth-Gilead under Jehu and some other captains. Joram needed rest and careful nursing on account of his wounds, and Ahaziah would naturally withdraw with him; since he could not serve under a mere general.
2 Kings 8:29
And King Joram went back to be healed in Jezreel. Jezreel was more accessible from Ramoth-Gilead than Samaria. It lay in the plain, and could be reached without traveling over any rough or mountainous country. It was also the usual place to which the court retired for rest and refreshment-the Versailles or Windsor of Samaria, as it has been called. Of the wounds which the Syrians had given him at Ramah, when he fought against Hazael wing of Syria. "Ramah" is another name for "Ramoth-Gilead" or "Ramoth in Gilead," which is the full name of the place. The word means "high," "elevated," and is cognate to Aram. And Ahaziah the son of Jehoram King of Judah went down to see Joram the son of Ahab in Jezreel. Ahaziah would probably take the route by way of Jericho, the Jordan valley, and the Wata el Jalud, and would consequently begin his journey by the rapid descent from Jerusalem to Jericho. Because he was sick; i.e. unwell, wounded.
2 Kings 8:1-6
All things work together for good to them that love God.
The piety of the Shunammite had been sufficiently shown in the previous record left us of her (2 Kings 4:8-37). The sequel of her story indicates how, in a wonderful way, events and circumstances seemingly fortuitous and unconnected work together for the advantage and happiness of one who lives virtuously, and seeks in all things to serve God and advance the cause of religion. "The series of incidents," it has been well said, "forms a marvelous web of Divine dispensations" (Bahr).
I. THE FAME. This lies at the root of the whole. If God had not ordained a famine upon the land—"called for it," and brought it about—none of the other incidents would have been possible. The woman would not have lost her property, would have had no occasion to "cry" to the king, and would have come into no personal contact either with him or with Gehazi.
II. THE PROPHET'S WARNING. The prophet, when so terrible a calamity as a seven years' famine impended over the land, might well have given all his thoughts to the general sufferings of the people, and have forgotten individuals. But God's providence determines otherwise. Elisha bethinks himself of the Shunammite, albeit she is but a unit in the vast mass of suffering humanity, and warns her of the coming evil, bidding her quit the land and sojourn elsewhere. This advice, which she follows, is the second link in the chain.
III. THE COINCIDENCE OF THE KING'S DESIRE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ELISHA WITH THE RETURN OF THE WOMAN TO HER OWN LAND. It was, humanly speaking, a pure accident that the curiosity of the king with respect to Elisha happened to be aroused just as the famine was over, and the woman, having returned from Philistia into the land of Israel, found her estate occupied by another. It was another accident that she bethought herself of appealing to the king, instead of having recourse to any other remedy.
IV. THE COINCIDENCE OF GEHAZI BEING SPEAKING OF HER CASE EXACTLY AS SHE MADE HER APPEARANCE. Gehazi had scores of miracles to relate, and might have been discoursing of any one of them; but events were so ordered that it was of her child's resurrection that he was telling the king, and not of any other miracle, when she came into the royal presence. This coincidence it was which so interested the king in her, that he at once gave the order for restoring her estate to her.
We may learn from the entire narrative,
(1) that our lives are divinely ordered;
(2) that nothing happens to us by mere chance;
(3) that events which seem to us, at the time when they happen, of the least possible importance, may be necessary links in the chain which Divine providence is forging for the ordering of our lives, and for the working out through them of the Divine purposes.
2 Kings 8:7-9
The power of calamity to bend the spirit of the proud.
Benhadad had hitherto been an enemy of Jehovah and his prophets. He had sought Elisha's life (2 Kings 6:13-20), and, when baffled in his design to seize his person, had made a bold attempt to crush and destroy the whole Israelite nation. But now God had laid his hand upon him; he was prostrated on a sick-bed; and lo! all was altered. The mighty monarch, so lately glorying in his strength, and, in his own opinion, infinitely above any soi-disant prophet, is brought down so low that, on hearing of Elisha's having come voluntarily to his capital, instead of seizing him, he sends him a humble embassy. Hazael, a high officer of the court, is bidden to "take a present in his hand, and go meet the man of God, and inquire of Jehovah by him—Will the king recover from his disease?" The present is a rich one, made by Oriental ostentation to appear even grander than it is in reality. Forty camels bear their burden to the prophet's door, and bring him "every good thing of Damascus," without let or stint. The great king calls himself Elisha's son—"Thy son Benhadad has sent me to thee" (2 Kings 8:9). Never was there a more complete reversal of human conditions. The hunted enemy is now felt to be the best friend; is courted, flattered, propitiated both by act and word. The proud king grovels in the dust, is content to be the prophet's son and servant, does him obeisance morally, and hangs upon his words as those of one with whom are the issues of life and death! And so it is with the proud and mighty generally.
(1) A Pharaoh despises Jehovah, and asks, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go" (Exodus 5:2); but in a little time the same Pharaoh has to rise up in the dead of the night, and to call for Jehovah's servants, Moses and Aaron, and to entreat them to go forth from among his people, both they and the children of Israel, and go, serve Jehovah, as they had said; also to take their flocks and their herds, as they had said, and to be gone; and to "bless him also" (Exodus 12:31, Exodus 12:32).
(2) An Ahab lets loose the dogs of persecution against the people of God, destroys the prophets of Jehovah, and sells himself to work evil in the sight of the Lord; but, when boldly rebuked and threatened with calamity, all his pride forsakes him, and he rends his clothes, and puts sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasts, and lies in sackcloth, and goes softly (1 Kings 21:27).
(3) A Manasseh turns from God to worship Baal, and does after all the abominations of the heathen, and builds again the high places, and rears up altars for Baal, and uses witchcraft, and sets up a carved image in the house of God, and sheds innocent blood very much till he fills Jerusalem from one end to another (2 Kings 21:16), and does worse than the heathen whom the Lord destroyed before the children of Israel, even causing Isaiah (according to the tradition) to be sawn asunder; but calamity smites him, the captains of the host of the King of Assyria take him, and put hooks in his mouth, and chains upon his limbs, and carry him captive to Babylon to the King of Assyria—then all his pride falls away from him like a cast-off garment, and in his affliction he beseeches the Lord his God, and humbles himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prays to him, and makes supplication, and is forgiven, and thenceforth serves Jehovah (2 Chronicles 33:11-16). The pastor who has under his charge proud, tyrannical, oppressive persons, who scorn rebuke, and think to ride roughshod over their fellow-men, may wait with a good hope for the hour of sickness or calamity, which sooner or later, unless in the case of sudden death, comes to all. He will find the Benhadad of the sick-room a very different person from the Benhadad of the camp, or of the court, or of the mart, and one much more open to admonition. Hardness, stubbornness, self-reliance, can scarcely survive, when the weakness of decay and the helplessness of acute sickness have supervened. He need not despair, however cruel, oppressive, and injurious to others the man's earlier life may have been. If a Benhadad could humble himself, if an Ahab could repent and "go softly," if a Manasseh could turn to God and obtain pardon, there must be a possibility of repentance even for the most hardened sinners.
2 Kings 8:10-15
Hazael and Elisha.
The contrast is striking between the two characters here brought for the first and last time into contact. In Hazael we have—
I. THE CRAFTY SCHEMER, cunning and treacherous, who sees in his master's calamity his own opportunity; who feels no gratitude for past favors, no pity for present weakness and suffering, no compunction at playing a double part; who has no horror of crime, no dread of the enduring infamy which attaches to the assassin and the traitor. Hazael is wise in a certain sense—he is clever, audacious, skilful in devising means to ends, secret, determined, unscrupulous. He contrives a mode of death which will leave no trace of violence, and may appear accidental, if suspicion arises that it has not happened in the ordinary course of nature.
II. THE MAN OF BLOOD. Hazael is altogether cruel and unsparing. He reaches the throne through blood. As king, he deluges Israel in blood, "cutting the nation short, and smiting them in all their coasts" (2 Kings 10:32); "destroying them, and making them like the dust by threshing" (2 Kings 13:7). We must view him as a born soldier, never so happy as when engaged in a campaign, now resisting the attacks of Assyria on his northern border, now attacking the Philistines (2 Kings 12:17), almost constantly warring with his immediate neighbors the kings of Israel, once even threatening Judah, and "setting his face to go up to Jerusalem" (2 Kings 12:17) in the hope of taking it.
III. THE SUCCESSFUL WARRIOR. Hazael succeeded in repulsing the Assyrians, and maintaining his independence, notwithstanding all their efforts to conquer him. He reduced Israel to a species of semi-subjection (2 Kings 13:7). He compelled even Judaea to purchase peace at his hands (2 Kings 12:18). He was, on the whole, the most warlike of all the early kings of Syria; and, though he suffered one great defeat at the hands of the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser II; yet he issued from the struggle unsubdued, and left his dominions intact to his son and successor, Benhadad III.
In Elisha, on the other hand, we have—
I. THE WISE, CLEAR-SIGHTED, SINGLE-MINDED, HONEST ADVISER. Elisha has no cunning, no art, no special cleverness. But he can read character; he can see through Hazael's designs. Whether king, or noble, or common person applies to him for advice, he uses the same simplicity, counsels each as seems to him for the best, and seeks to gain nothing for himself by the advice which he gives them. His plainness offends Naaman (2 Kings 5:12); his firmness enrages Jehoram (2 Kings 6:31); his penetration disconcerts Hazael (2 Kings 8:11); but he cares nothing how men may receive his words. It is a Divine message that he delivers, and deliver the message he must and will, in simple plain language, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear.
II. THE MAN OF PEACE. Elisha's character is eminently peaceful and conciliatory. He weeps at the thought of those horrors which war causes almost of necessity (2 Kings 8:11). Once only do his counsels lead on to an engagement (2 Kings 3:16-24); mostly he contrives that perils shall be averted without the shedding of blood (2 Kings 6:18-22; 2 Kings 7:6-15). He will not allow the prisoners that he has made to be put to death, or in any way ill treated (2 Kings 6:22, 2 Kings 6:23). He seeks to check Hazael's murderous propensities by a look which he cannot misunderstand (2 Kings 8:11).
III. THE PROPHET AND TEACHER. The office of the prophet was to rebuke sin, as Elisha did (2 Kings 3:13, 2 Kings 3:14), to sustain faith, to train up fresh prophets, to teach the faithful (2 Kings 4:23), to announce God's will to king and people, and to execute commissions with which God specially entrusted him. Elisha never failed in the performance of any of these duties. Cast upon a dark time, when a debasing superstition, imported from a foreign country, had full possession of the court and had laid a strong hold upon the country, he faithfully upheld Jehovah and Jehovah's laws before backsliding kings and "a disobedient and gainsaying people." To Elisha principally it was owing that true religion still maintained itself in the land against the persecutions of Jezebel and her sons, and that, when the dynasty of Omri came to an end, there was still a faithful remnant left, which had not bowed the knee to Baal, but had clung to Jehovah under all manner of difficulties. If Elisha left no great prophet to succeed him, it was probably because great men are not made to order, and God's providence did not see fit to continue the succession of first-rate prophetical teachers, which had been raised up to meet the extreme danger of the introduction and maintenance of a false state religion by apostate kings. When two such characters are brought into contact, the natural result is mutual repulsion. Hazael is ashamed that Elisha should read him so well; and Elisha weeps when he thinks of the woes that Hazael will inflict upon Israel Outward respect is maintained; But the two must have felt, when they parted, that they were adversaries for life, bent on opposite courses, with opposed principles, aims, motives; not only the servants of different gods, but antagonistic in their whole conception of life and its objects, sure to clash if ever they should meet again, and, even if they should not meet, sure to be ever working for different ends, and engaged in thwarting one the other.
2 Kings 8:16-27
The power of bad women for evil.
All the evil wrought, all the irreligion, all the licentiousness and depravity, and almost all the misery suffered during the reigns of Ahab, Ahaziah, and Jehoram in Israel, and of Jehoram and Ahaziah in Judah, were caused by the machinations and influence of two wicked women—Jezebel and her daughter Athaliah. Jezebel, a proud imperious woman, born in the purple, a "king's daughter;" and extraordinarily strong-minded and unscrupulous, obtained a complete ascendancy over the weak and unstable Ahab, and must be viewed as the instigator of all his wicked actions. With Ahab's connivance, she "slew the prophets of the Lord," persecuted the faithful, set up the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth in Samaria, introduced into Israel the unchaste rites of the Dea Syra and of Adonis, threatened the life of Elijah and drove him into banishment, contrived the judicial murder of Naboth, and imparted to Ahab's reign that character of licentiousness and bloody cruelty which gives it its sad pre-eminence above all others in the black list of Israel's monarchs. Nor did Jezebel's evil influence stop her. She outlived her husband by some thirteen years, and during that period was the evil genius of her two sons, Ahaziah and Jehoram. Ahaziah she completely perverted (2Ki 22:1-20 :52, 53). Over Jehoram she had less influence; but to her we must ascribe it that during his reign the Baal-worship continued in the capital (2 Kings 10:25-27) and in the country districts (2 Kings 10:21), though he himself took no part in it (2 Kings 3:2). Athaliah, though without the strength of mind and will which characterized her mother, resembled her, as a faint replica resembles a strongly painted portrait. Married to Jehoram of Israel, a weak prince, she had little difficulty in establishing her ascendancy over him, and becoming his chief adviser and counselor (2 Kings 8:18). It was under her direction that Jehoram "made high places in the mountains of Judah, and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit fornication, and compelled Judah thereto" (2 Chronicles 21:11), or, in other words, established the Baal-worship in Judah and Jerusalem, and forced the inhabitants to embrace it. Over Ahaziah, her son, who was but two and twenty at his accession, her influence was naturally greater. He seems to have been a mere puppet in her hands (2 Chronicles 22:3-5). With a boldness worthy of her mother, Athaliah, on the death of her son Ahaziah, murdered all his half-brothers, and seized the sovereign power, which she held for six years—a unique feature in the history of the Jews. The Baal-worship was now made to supersede the worship of Jehovah in the temple on Mount Zion, and Mattan, the chief of Baal, was installed in the place previously occupied by the Aaronic high priest (2 Chronicles 23:17). Jehovah-worship was forbidden, persecuted, and probably ceased, except in secret; and the kingdom of Judah was, so far as appearances went, apostate. Such were the evils wrought by these two ambitious and wicked women. The history of the world, though it can furnish no exact parallels, has many cases more or less similar. Semiramis may be a myth, but Queen Hatasu in Egypt, Queens Atossa and Parysatis in Persia, Olympia in Greece, Messalina and Poppaea Sabina in Rome, Catharine de Medici, and Catherine Empress of Russia, in modern Europe, were women equally imperious, equally determined, and the prolific causes of equal mischief. It would seem that, in the female nature, where the natural impulses are so largely towards good, if these are perverted and Satan allowed the mastery, there is no longer any let or restraint; the passions become ungovernable, the will as iron, the heart hard and unrelenting; evil has unresisted sway, and the result is something even more fearful and terrible than the wickedness of the worst man. Corruptio optimi pessima. Woman's function in the world is to be soft and tender, to smooth down man's roughnesses, to pacify and soothe and mitigate; if she abnegates these functions, and assumes the man's duties of ruling and repressing and bending to her will the stubborn necks of others, she runs counter to her proper nature, and becomes a monstrosity. There is no saying to what lengths of profligacy, cruelty, and other wickedness she may not go. She is worse than a wild beast, and may do infinitely more evil. She may utterly corrupt a society, or she may deluge with blood a continent. She may ruin the country to which she belongs and bring its fairest provinces to desolation. She may stir up hatreds, set class against class, and cause a civil war that shall cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. The only security against all this mischief is for woman not to desert her sphere, but to remain within it, working for God, and doing the good which she was designed to do.
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
2 Kings 8:1-6
The Shunammite's land restored.
The Bible has a good deal to say about the land question. There is one memorable passage in Isaiah (v. 8): "Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth l" There is another memorable passage in the Epistle of St, James: "Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord God of Sabaoth." If such denunciations of oppression and wrong had been remembered, we should have had less of socialistic combinations and less of agrarian crime. In this passage we have—
I. A COMMAND OBEYED. Elisha's command seemed a hard one. This woman of Shunem was to arise with her household, and leave her home and farm for seven years. He told her, indeed, that there was to be a famine in the land. But she might have wanted more proof. She might have said, "Well, I shall wait till I see some signs of the famine. It is a great hardship to have to get up in this way and leave my home, without any immediate reason. What if Elisha's fears should turn out to be untrue? May not the famine be as bad anywhere else?" So men often reason when God gives them some command or points out to them the way of salvation. Lot lingered, when urged to depart out of Sodom, though the very angels of God had come to warn him of his doom. So men linger still, when urged to flee from the wrath to come. They linger, though every day is bringing them nearer to eternity. They linger, though they know not the day nor the hour when the Son of man may come. Whether it be the path of salvation or the path of Christian service which God calls us to tread, let us not linger, let us not hesitate to obey, but, like this woman of Shunem, let us do at once what God commands.
II. LOSS INCURRED. This woman actually did suffer by her prompt obedience. She escaped the famine, indeed, but she lost her land. On this subject Dr. Thomson says, in 'The Land and the Book,' "It is still common for even petty sheikhs to confiscate the property of any person who is exiled for a time, or who moves away temporarily from his district. Especially is this true of widows and orphans, and the Shunammite was now a widow. And small is the chance to such of having their property restored, unless they can secure the mediation of some one more influential than themselves. The conversation between the king and Gehazi about his master is also in perfect keeping with the habits of Eastern princes; and the appearance of the widow and her son so opportunely would have precisely the same effect now that it had then. Not only the land, but all the fruits of it would be restored. There is an air of genuine verisimilitude in such simple narratives which it is quite impossible for persons not intimately familiar with Oriental manners to appreciate, but which stamps the incidents with undoubted certainty." We may incur loss from a worldly point of view by obeying a command of God. But which do we prefer—worldly gain or a conscience at peace with God? Which less is greater—the loss of a few pounds, or the loss of our heavenly Father's smile? Even if we do lose by it—it is best to do the will of God, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
III. QUESTIONS ASKED. We are not told what led to this remarkable conversation which Jehoram had with Gehazi. Perhaps the time of famine had humbled him. Perhaps he was becoming penitent for his threat of taking Elisha's life. Perhaps it was mere idle curiosity. But at any rate, here is the King of Israel inquiring of Gehazi, "Tell me, I pray thee, all the great things that Elisha hath done." Gehazi, at this time, loved to think and speak of Elisha. He had been a good master to him. His deeds were worth recording. And so Gehazi proceeds to tell the story of Elisha's mighty deeds.
1. We ought to be ready to answer questions about our Master. They may proceed from curiosity, from wrong motives, Never mind. Our answer, given in a Christian spirit, may be the means of disarming ridicule. It may be an opportunity for us to tell the old, old story of the cross.
2. We ought not to be ashamed of our Master. He is "the chiefest among ten thousand … and altogether lovely." His Name is above every name. The Name, the life, the works, the words, of Jesus ought to be a favorite theme with us.
IV. RESTITUTION MADE. When God's time comes, how very easily he can fulfill his purposes! Gehazi had just reached that part of his story where Elisha restored the Shunammite's son to life, when, to his astonishment and delight, the Shunammite herself appeared on the scene. She came with her petition to the king that he would cause her house and land to be restored. Gehazi, not, perhaps, very regardful of courtesy or etiquette, calls out in the fullness of his joy, "My lord, O king, this is the woman, and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life." The king, whose feelings had already been touched by the pathetic narrative of the little lad carried home from the harvest-field to die, touched also by the entreaty of the woman for the restoration of her lost property, and perhaps recognizing the hand of Providence in the remarkable events of that day, gives orders that not only her land, but the fruits of it from the day she left, should be restored to her. That was wholesale restoration and restitution. Who shall say it was unjust? What a disgorging there would be, if all who have taken money or land from others by unlawful means, all who have extorted unjust rents, were compelled to restore their ill-gotten gains! The Shunammite had not suffered, after all, by her obedience. "No one hath forsaken houses, or lands, or father, or mother, or friends … but he shall receive an hundredfold more in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting."—C.H.I.
2 Kings 8:7-15
Elisha, Hazael, and Benhadad.
The present interview between Elisha and Hazael arose out of Benhadad's illness. Benhadad heard that Elisha had come to Damascus, and he sent Hazael to inquire of the Lord by him if he would recover of his disease. It is wonderful how ready men are to forsake God when they are well, and, to seek his help when they are in sickness or trouble. When he was well, the King of Syria" bowed himself in the house of Rimmon," but now, in his time of weakness and anxiety about his life, he sends to inquire of the God of Israel. Elisha's answer to Benhadad's question was evidently an enigma. "Go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die." Elisha looked steadfastly into Hazael's face. Did Hazael understand the enigma or not? Why, then, are such signs of confusion in his face? Why does his eye fail to meet the prophet's gaze? Why does his cheek grow pale? Why that uneasy twitching of the mouth? Yes. Elisha's suspicions—and perhaps also the hints which God had given him—are confirmed. It was true that Benhadad might recover. His illness was not mortal. And yet his death was certain, and Hazael's conscience told him that he was already a murderer in his heart. As Elisha thinks of all the trouble and suffering that shall come upon Israel through Hazael's instrumentality, he can no longer restrain his feelings, lie bursts into tears. When Hazael asks him why he weeps, it is then that the prophet tells him all the cruelties which he will perpetrate upon God's people. This tale of horrors called forth the question from Hazael, "What is thy servant, this dog, that he should do this great thing?" It was only then that Elisha showed him that he knew that murder was already in his mind. He quietly says, "Behold, the Lord hath showed me that thou shalt be king over Syria." Hazael then went back to Benhadad, and gave him an answer very different from that which Elisha had really given to him. Instead of giving him the whole message, he gives him merely a part, tells him that he shall recover, omits that it has been revealed to the prophet that he shall surely die. The morrow came; and on the morrow Hazael was a murderer. Despite all his protestations of weakness and inability to do "great things," he—the king's trusted servant—betrays his master's confidence and takes away his life. Taking a thick cloth and dipping it in water, he spread it upon the king's face, either when he was asleep, or under pretext of cooling and refreshing him, so that the breathing was stopped and the king died. Terrible succession of falsehood, treachery, and murder. We learn from this incident—
I. THE POSSIBILITIES OF EVIL IN THE HUMAN HEART. Many persons deny the depravity of human nature. They deny the story of the Fall. They object to such ideas, and regard them as theological dogmas, and the mere creations of narrow, hard, illiberal minds. But these truths of the fall of man and the depravity of human nature are something more than theological dogmas. They are facts of experience—painful, indeed, and humiliating to human pride, but facts nevertheless. And here it may be stated that to believe in the fall of man and the depravity of human nature is quite consistent with the deepest human sympathy and love. To believe in the possibilities of evil that there are in the human heart is quite consistent with believing in its great possibilities of good. The Bible, which teaches man's fall, teaches also that man was made in the image of God, and that it is possible yet for that lost and faded image to be restored. The Bible, which tells man that he is a sinner, helpless, condemned, perishing, tells him also that, in the infinite mercy of that God against whom he has sinned, a way of salvation has been provided; that the Savior is the Son of God himself; that we may have "redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins;" and that "whosoever believeth on him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." It is for our own good that we should know what possibilities of evil there are in the unregenerate heart. What use is it to say, "Peace! Peace!" when there is no peace? What avails it for the watchman to cry," Ali's well!" if the enemy are not only at the gates, but actually within the city? He who would help men to do the right and overcome the wrong must faithfully point out to them the possibilities of evil that are within their own heart. Who that knows human nature, that knows the facts of history, can doubt that such possibilities exist? Look at Hazael, hitherto the faithful, trusted servant, stooping over the bedside of his master, and calmly and deliberately taking away his life. He had the ambition to be King of Syria, and he wades to the throne through his master's blood. Who that knows what crimes men will commit when under the influence of covetousness, intemperance, hatred, or some other passion—men who otherwise would have shrunk from the very mention of such acts—can doubt the possibilities of evil within the human heart? There are possibilities of evil even in good men. The old nature is not taken away. "When I would do good," said St. Paul, "evil is present with me, so that how to perform that which is good I find not." "For I see a law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin." What, then, is the difference between a Christian and an unregenerate man? There are possibilities of evil in them both, but the Christian strives against the evil, whereas the unregenerate man yields to sin and loves it. The Christian may fall, but if so, he is filled with penitence. The Christian will have his faults, but, if so, he acknowledges them and seeks help to forsake them. "Faults!" says Thomas Carlyle, in his lectures on 'Hero-Worship,' "the greatest of faults is to be conscious of none." Yes; there are possibilities of evil, there are actualities of evil, in the best of men. Christ might still say to an assembly of even his own disciples, "Let him that is without sin cast the first stone at a fallen sister or an erring brother."
II. THE DANGER OF IGNORING THESE POSSIBILITIES. Hazael did not become a murderer all at once. The old Latin saying is, Nemo repente fit turpissimus—"No one becomes suddenly very wicked." It is true. Perhaps a few years before this if any one had told Hazael that he would be a murderer, he would have been highly indignant. Even now he asks, "What is thy servant, this dog, that he should do this great thing?" It is uncertain whether this exclamation of Hazael refers only to Elisha's prophecy about the cruelties he would perpetrate on Israel, or whether it refers also to the suggestion of Elisha that he was to be the murderer of Benhadad. If it refers to the murder of the king, then the exclamation would express surprise at the idea of his venturing to lift his hand against his master. If it only refers to the subsequent cruelties which he was to commit, it shows in any case that Hazael did not know of what he was capable. Shakespeare's representation of Brutus when meditating the murder of Julius Caesar, to which he had been incited by other conspirators, throws light upon Hazael's feelings. "Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar I have not slept. Between the acting of a dreadful thing and the first motion, all the interim is Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream: The genius and the mortal instruments Are then in council; and the state of a man, Like to a little kingdom, suffers then The nature of an insurrection." It is, indeed, a dangerous thing to tamper with temptation. There is that affinity between the evil which is in our own heart and the temptations which are without, that there is between the gunpowder and the spark. It is wisdom to keep the sparks away. It is wisdom to keep away from the temptation. "Vice is a monster of so hideous mien, As, to be hated, needs but to be seen; Yet, seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace." It is "fools" who make a mock at sin. It is a foolish thing to make light of the guilt of sin in God's sight. It is a foolish thing to make light of the power of sin in our own hearts. "Lead us not into temptation."
III. THERE IS ONLY ONE SAFEGUARD AGAINST THESE EVIL TENDENCIES IN OUR OWN HEARTS: THAT SAFEGUARD IS THE GRACE OF GOD. Of the power of that grace Hazael knew nothing. Temptation upon temptation came crowding into his mind. The first was the great ambition to be king. He has yielded to that long since. It has taken complete possession of his mind. Then there came the temptation to carry a false message to his master, who had reposed such confidence in him. He yielded to that. Then there came the temptation to take away his master's life. It was a strong one, no doubt. There was but that weak, helpless king, upon a bed of sickness, between him and the throne. One little act, which no one would suspect, and the object of his ambition would be attained. But if he had resisted the other temptations, this one might never have assailed him at all, or, if it had, he would easily have resisted it. The reason of his fall was the want of a ancient force within. We need something more than human to conquer the Satanic power of sin.
"What but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?"
Hazael had no restraining power to check his own evil tendencies, no resisting power to stop the temptation at the door, ere it entered and took possession of his heart. He seems to have had a feeling of shame, as when he became confused before Elisha's steady glance. But shame, by itself, with no other superior influence to sustain it, is easily vanquished. Lust, covetousness, ambition, intemperance,—every one of these is able to put shame to flight. The immoral man—he has long since trampled on shame. The miser, the covetous man—he will stop at nothing that will increase his possessions. The ambitious man—he will not allow shame to hinder him in the desire for power and place. The drunkard—shame has long since ceased in his besotted mind; no blush is seen upon his bloated face. No; if we are to resist evil, if we are to conquer sin, it must be in some power stronger than poor human nature can supply. Hazael did not know that power. He trusted in his own sense of shame, in his own sense of what was right, and that failed him. He who had said, "What is thy servant, this dog, that he should do this great thing?" on the morrow took his master's life. Contrast Hazael's exclamation with Joseph's when he was tempted: "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Ah! there was something there to which Hazael was a stranger. There was the personal presence of a personal God; there was the fear of offending that holy God; there was the fear of grieving that loving heavenly Father who had watched over Joseph when his brethren had forsaken him, and who had provided for all his wants. Hazael's feeling is more like that of Peter, "Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I"—the expression of wounded pride, of boastful serf-security. Yet Peter fell into the very sin of which he had expressed such horror only a few hours before. It is not such self-confidence, but a humble feeling of our own weakness and an attitude of entire dependence upon God, that will really Keep the door barred against temptation.
One or two practical applications.
1. Be on your guard against the beginnings of evil. If you yield to one temptation, no matter how small and insignificant it may be, others are sure to follow in its wake.
2. Be charitable toward the faults and failings of others. When we know what possibilities of evil there are in our own hearts, how can we have the presumption to sit in judgment upon others? If others have fallen and we are secure, perhaps it was because we were not exposed to the same temptations. We are to consider ourselves, lest we also be tempted.
3. If you have not yet experienced the forgiveness that is in Christ Jesus and the power of Divine grace, seek them now! Let it be your earnest prayer, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." If you would be safe. from the possibilities of evil that are in your own heart, and from the temptations of a godless world, then your prayer should be now and always, "Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I."—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 8:1-6
Topics for reflection.
"Then spake Elisha unto the woman, whose son he had restored to life," etc. In these verses we have an illustration of the reward of kindness, the ignorance of royalty, and the influence of godliness.
I. THE REWARD OF KINDNESS. "Then spake Elisha unto the woman, whose son he had restored to life, saying, Arise, and go thou and thine household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn: for the Lord hath called for a famine; and it shall also come upon the land seven years. And the woman arose, and did after the saying of the man of God: and she went with her household, and sojourned in the laud of the Philistines seven years," Through Elisha this Shunammite woman obtained three great favors:
(1) the restoration of her son (2 Kings 4:1-44.);
(2) direction for herself and family to leave their old home during the seven years' famine; and then, when she returned from the laud of the Philistines, where she had sojourned seven years;
(3) the restoration of her old home, which had either fallen into the hands of covetous persons, or been confiscated to the crown (2 Kings 8:6). These are confessedly signal favors; but why were they rendered? Undoubtedly on account of the kindness which this woman had manifested to Elisha, as recorded in the fourth chapter (2 Kings 8:8-10). She had shown him great hospitality, built a chamber for him in her own house, furnished it, and boarded and lodged him for a considerable time. Here, then, is the reward of kindness. Observe:
1. Kindness should always awaken gratitude. The very constitution of the human soul and the moral laws of God as revealed in Christ show this. Yet, alas! so far away has the human soul gone from its pristine state that real gratitude for favors is somewhat rare. So much so, indeed, that it often turns out that the person on whom you bestow the greatest favors turns out to be your opponent and foe. Seneca has truly said that "were ingratitude actionable, there would not be in the whole world courts enough to try the causes in." So common is it that it is almost a maxim that, if you would alienate a man from you, you should bestow on him favors. Shakespeare has compared it to the cuckoo—
"The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long
That it had its head bit off by its young."
2. Gratitude will always requite favors. The man who receives favors without some practical acknowledgment is an ingrate. "A man," says L'Estrange, "may as well refuse to deliver up a sum of money that is left him in trust, without a suits as not to return a good office without asking."
"He that has nature in him must be grateful;
'Tis the Creator's primary great law,
That links the chain of beings to each other,
Joining the greater to the lesser nature,
Trying the weak and strong, the poor and powerful,
Subduing men to brutes, and even brutes to men."
II. THE IGNORANCE OF ROYALTY. When the Shunammite woman had returned from the land of the Philistines, she made application to the king for the restoration "of her house and for her land," whereupon "the king talked with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, Tell me, I pray thee, all the great things that Elisha hath done." Now, mark the ignorance of this King of Israel. He was so ignorant of Elisha—the man who had been working such wonders in his country, delivering such sublime truths, and rendering such high service to the state, that he here inquires of the prophet's servant concerning him. "It was to his shame," says Matthew Henry, "that he needed now to be informed of Elisha's works, when he might have acquainted himself with them as they were being done by Elisha himself." Shame! that kings should be ignorant of the morally best and greatest men in their kingdom! Yet they have always been so, especially if the men, as in Elisha's case, lived in poverty. They know all about the moral pigmies that live in splendid palaces, bear high-sounding titles, are lords of castles, and owners of broad acres. Such, they not only know, but will honor with their visits, consort with them, shoot with them, etc. But to go into the obscure home of a truly great man who blesses the country with his soul-quickening thoughts, and holds fellowship with Heaven, they would no more think of doing, than of traveling to the moon. Will it be always thus? Heaven forbid!
III. THE INFLUENCE OF GODLINESS. When the king heard from Gehazi what Elisha had done, "his majesty" (as we say) granted the woman her request. "And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed unto her a certain officer, saying, Restore all that was hers, and all the fruits of the field since the day that she left the land, even until now." It was the involuntary influence of Elisha that disposed the monarch to do all this. Who shall tell the good that even the involuntary influence of a godly man communicates to his age? The voluntary influence of a man's life—that is, the influence he exerts by intention and conscious efforts—is truly insignificant compared with that stream of unconscious influence that goes forth from him, not only at all times through his life, but even after he has quitted this mundane sphere. "Though dead, he yet speaketh." "As a little silvery ripple," says Elihu Burritt, "set in motion by the falling pebble, expands from its inch of radius to the whole compass of the pool, so there is not a child—not an infant Moses—placed however softly in his bulrush ark upon the sea of time, whose existence does not stir a ripple gyrating outwards and on, until it shall have moved across and spanned the whole ocean of God's eternity, stirring even the river of life and the fountain at which his angels drink."—D.T.
2 Kings 8:7-16
"And Elisha came to Damascus," etc. We have here—
I. A DYING KING. "Benhadad the King of Syria was sick." Benhadad, for his age and country, was a great king, rich and mighty, but now he is on his dying-bed. Kings die as well as others. Observe:
1. This dying king was very anxious. What was he anxious about? Not about any great spiritual interest concerning himself or others, but concerning his own physical condition. "Shall I recover of this disease?" This was the question he wanted Elisha to answer. Not, you may be sure, in the negative. Knowing some of the wonders that Elisha had performed, he in all likelihood imagined he would exert his miraculous power on his behalf, and restore him to life. All men more or less fear death, kings perhaps more than others. If ungodly, they have more to lose and nothing to gain.
2. His anxiety prompted him to do strange things.
(1) It was strange for him to ask a favor from the man whom he had so long regarded as his enemy. We read (2 Kings 6:14, 2 Kings 6:15) that this Benhadad had sent to Dothan "horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about," in order to capture this lonely prophet. What a change is this! Dying hours reverse our judgments, revolutionize our feelings, bring the lofty down.
(2) It was strange for him to ask a favor of a man whose religion he hated. Benhadad was an idolater; Elisha was a monotheist, a worshipper of the one true God. Now, in dying, all the king's idolatrous thoughts have taken wing, and the one God appears as the great reality, and to the servant of that one God he sends, urging a favor.
(3) It was strange for him to make costly presents to a poor lonely man. "The king said unto Hazael, 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? So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, even of every good thing of Damascus, forty camels' burden, and came and stood before him," etc. What is the wealth, the grandeur, the crown, the scepter, of the mightiest monarch to him when he feels himself dying? He will barter all away for a few short hours of life.
II. A PATRIOTIC PROPHET. "The man of God wept." Elisha, forecasting the king's death, and knowing the wickedness of this Hazael who was to succeed to the throne, smitten with patriotic tenderness, looked so "steadfastly' into the eye of Hazael that he blushed with shame, and the prophet broke into tears: "The man of God wept." But why did he weep? "Why weepeth my lord?" said Hazael. "And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strongholds wilt thou set on fire," etc. This was the overwhelming misery that the prophet foresaw would befall Israel, when this wretched courtier, his interrogator, would take the throne. As Christ foresaw the coming doom of Jerusalem, and wept over it, so Elisha saw the horrors approaching Israel, and broke into tears. The loving sympathies of a godly man are not confined to men or places, but spread over the ages, and flow down to bless posterity.—D.T.
2 Kings 8:17-24
Lessons from the life of Jehoram.
"Thirty and two years old was he [Jehoram] when he began to reign," etc. This is a short fragment of a king's history—the history of Jehoram. Brief as it is, it contains many practical truths.
I. THAT PIETY IS NOT NECESSARILY HEREDITARY. Parents, as a rule, transmit their physical and intellectual qualities to their children, but not their moral characters. Jehoram was a bad man and a wicked king, but he was the son of Jehoshaphat, who was a man of distinguished piety, and reigned wisely and beneficently over Israel for twenty-five years. Of him it was said that "the more his riches and honor increased the more his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord" (2 Chronicles 17:5, 2 Chronicles 17:6). He caused the altars and places of idolatry to be destroyed, and the knowledge of the Lord to be diffused throughout the kingdom, and the places of ecclesiastical and judicial authority to be well rifled (2 Chronicles 17:9). But how different was his son! One of the first acts of his government was to put to death his six brothers, and several of the leading men of the empire. It is here said that "he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as din the house of Ahab: He regulated his conduct by the infamous "house of Ahab," and not by the religions house of his father. He was in truth a murderer, an idolater, and a persecutor. But whilst piety is not necessarily hereditary—not necessarily, because children are moral agents—what then? Are parents to do nothing to impart all that is good in their character to their children? Undoubtedly, no! They are commanded to "train up a child in the way it should go" when it is young. And where their power is rightly employed, there is, if not invariable, yet general, success. Where the children of godly parents turn out to be profligate and corrupt, as a rule some defect may be found in the parental conduct. How often eminent ministers of the gospel, and in the main good men, are guilty of neglecting, to a greater or less extent, the parental oversight and religions training of their children. Even in the life of Jehoshaphat we detect at least two parental defects.
1. In permitting his son to form unholy alliances. This good man, Jehoshaphat, formed a league with Ahab against Syria, contrary to the counsel of Micaiah (2 Chronicles 18:1-34.). For this the Prophet Jehu censured him severely. In consequence of this alliance his son married the daughter of this infamous Ahab, and the matrimonial connection with such a woman, idolatrous, corrupt, and the daughter of Jezebel, had, no doubt, a powerful influence in deteriorating his moral character.
2. In granting his son too great an indulgence. He raised him to the throne during his own lifetime. He took him into royal partnership too soon, and thus supplied him with abundant means to foster his vanity and ambition. Ah, me! how many parents ruin their children forever by over indulgence!
II. THAT IMMORAL KINGS ARE NATIONAL CURSES. What evils this man brought upon his country. It is said that "in his days Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah, and made a king over themselves. So Joram went over to Zair, and all the chariots with him: and he rose by night, and smote the Edomites which compassed him about, and the captains of the chariots: and the people fled into their tents," etc. Through him the kingdom of Judah lost Edom, which "revolted" and became the determined enemy of Judah ever afterwards (Psalms 137:7), Libnah, too, "revolted at the same time," This was a city in the south-western part of Judah assigned to the priests, and a city of refuge. But these revolts are but specimens of the tremendous evils that this immoral man Brought upon the kingdom. It has always been so. Wicked kings, in all ages, have been the greatest curses that have afflicted the human race. £ God said to Israel of old, "I gave thee a king in mine anger" (Hosea 13:11). And the gift, on the whole, it must be confessed, has been a curse to mankind; and that because few men who have attained the position have been divinely royal in intellect, in heart, in thoughts, in aims, in sympathies. What does Heaven say of wicked kings? "As a roaring lion, and a raging bear; so is a wicked ruler over the poor people." When will the world have true kings?—such a king as is described in the Book of Proverbs, as one "that sitteth in the throne of judgment," and who "scattereth away all evil with his eyes"? He is one who sees justice done. He does not rule for the interest of a class, but for the good of all. His laws are equitable. Partialities and predilections which govern plebeian souls have no sway over him,
"He's a king,
A true right king, that dare do aught save wrong,
Fears nothing mortal but to be unjust;
Who is not blown up with the flattering puffs
Of spongy sycophants; who stands unmoved,
Despite the jostling of opinion."
III. THAT DEATH IS NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS.
I. Death does not respect a man's position, however high. "And Jehoram slept with his fathers, and was buried." Jehoram was a king, yet death struck him down, and he was buried with his fathers. Palaces are as accessible to death as paupers' huts. Attempted resistance in the former, however skillfully organized, would be as futile as in the latter. Death cares nothing for kings; crowns, diadems, scepters, courtiers, and pompous pageantries are only as dust in his icy glance.
2. Death does not respect a man's character, however vile. Jehoram was a bad man, and utterly unfit to die; but death waits not for moral preparation. When we remember what evils wicked men, especially wicked kings, work in the world, death must be regarded as a beneficent messenger. The psalmist saw mercy in the destruction of despots. He "overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea: for his mercy endureth forever." "To him which smote great kings, and slew famous kings: for his mercy endureth forever" (Psalms 136:1-26.). There is mercy for the race in their destruction. When such demons in human flesh are cut down, the world breathes more freely, a load is rolled from its heart, obstacles are swept from its path of progress. When the Pharaohs are overwhelmed, the human Israel can march on to promised lands.
CONCLUSION. Parents, cultivate personal religion, and endeavor with all earnestness to transmit it to your children. Kings, seek to understand and to embody the ideal of true kingship, be royal in moral character. All, stand in readiness for the approach of death.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 8:1-6
The Shunammite and her lands.
This narrative is the sequel to the history of the Shunammite in 2 Kings 4:1-44. It furnishes another instance of how God cares for and rewards his people.
I. ELISHA'S WARNING. In chronological order this narrative seems to precede the cure of Naaman, while Gehazi was still the servant of the prophet. A famine of long duration was about to descend on the land, and Elisha gave timely warning to the Shunammite to take refuge somewhere else.
1. The good are often sharers in the calamities of the wicked. This famine was no doubt sent on Israel as a punishment for sin. God's prophet foretold it, as Elijah had foretold the drought in the days of Ahah (1 Kings 17:1). Famines and similar calamities do not come uncalled for. They are instruments used by God in his moral government (Ezekiel 14:21; Amos 4:1-13.). And in the distresses brought upon the world by sin God's people are often sharers. The innocent are involved in the sufferings of the guilty (Ezekiel 21:3, Ezekiel 21:4). This lady of Shunem, now probably a widow, is compelled, by the approach of famine, to abandon home and lands and rural comfort for a sojourn among idolaters.
2. The good, notwithstanding, are marvelously protected amidst the calamities of the wicked. It was God's mercy to this Shunammite, who in former days had befriended his prophet, which now led to her being warned beforehand. God's rewards for kindness shown to his servants are not soon exhausted. It was sad to be involved in the famine, but it would have been sadder had she not received this warning to withdraw in good time. Thus God, by a special providence, cares for and watches over the interests of his people. He guides their steps, and is a Shield to them from trouble.
3. The good are provided for amidst the calamities of the wicked. The Shunammite was directed to sojourn with her household wherever she could find a refuge. She believed the word of the man of God, obeyed it, and went to sojourn in the land of the Philistines. There she abode for the seven years that the famine lasted, and during that period was sufficiently provided for. It was an act of faith on the part of the Shunammite to take this step, for she had nothing to go upon in regard to this famine but the prophet's bare word. That, however, was held sufficient, and she left all to do as he had bidden her. God's people are always safe in acting on his commands. When Elijah was sent to hide by the brook Cherith, the ravens were "commanded" to feed him; and when he was told to go from there to Zarephath, a widow woman was similarly c, commanded" to sustain him (1 Kings 17:4, 1 Kings 17:8). As God provided for Jacob and his household in Egypt in a time of famine, so he prepares a provision for all his people who humbly trust him. "They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing" (Psalms 34:10).
II. THE SHUNAMMITE'S RETURN. At length, through the ceasing of the famine, the way was open for the Shunammite to come back. Her return was:
1. After long exile. Seven years had she been absent from the land of Jehovah. During that period she had lived amidst Philistine surroundings. Her spirit must often have been grieved at the idolatrous and heathenish sights she witnessed; for what moral communion could she have with the worshippers of Dagon? Nor could she now, as of old, saddle her ass, and repair to the prophet on sabbaths and new moons for consolation and instruction. Exile of this sort would be painful to her spirit, as it was to that of the psalmist (Psalms 42:4, Psalms 42:6). God in his providence often thus deprives his people for a time of the privilege of ordinances, perhaps through sickness, perhaps through removal to new scenes, perhaps through the interposition of direct obstacles. There was in the Shunammite's case a famine of the Word as well as of bread. These things try faith, and operate to the quickening of spiritual desire.
2. To meet a new trial. The Shunammite came back to her home, to find that, in her long absence, her house and lands had been alienated from her. Probably, as deserted by their owner, they had become the property of the crown (2 Kings 4:6). Or some neighboring proprietor may have possessed himself of the abandoned fields. In any case, it was a sore discovery for the Shunammite to make, on her return, that she could no longer obtain her own. The trial of coming back seemed almost greater than that of going away. Might not the same providence that had cared for her in Philistia have watched over her possessions at home? It was God who had called her thence: might he not have secured that, when she returned, she would get her own? The issue of this trial should encourage believers not too readily to distrust the Almighty. It came to be seen that God had been caring for her in her absence—had, so to speak, been putting out her lands at interest for her, so that, when they were restored, she "received her own with usury" (Matthew 25:27).
III. THE SHUNAMMITE'S APPEAL. The most striking part of the story is yet to come. Having no other remedy, the Shunammite appealed to the king, as first magistrate, to restore to her her lands. "She went forth to cry unto the king for her house and for her land." We note concerning her appeal:
1. Its justice. The Shunammite had a good and just cause. Kings and magistrates are set to administer justice. Yet it is possible that, but for the circumstances next narrated, the impoverished lady might have cried long enough before her possessions were restored to her. It is difficult to get the holders of unlawfully acquired property—especially in land—to yield up again their title to it. The cry of the poor does not always penetrate, as it should do, to the ear of justice.
2. Its providential opportuneness. It is God's prerogative to maintain the cause of the oppressed (Psalms 9:4, Psalms 9:9, Psalms 9:10), and he was preparing the way for this cause being heard. The circumstances are remarkable, showing how entirely all events are in the hand of God, how what we call accidental conjunctures are really providences, and how, without overriding human freedom, all things, even the most ordinary, are working together for good to those who love him.
(1) It happened that, just as the Shunammite approached, her son being with her, to present her prayer, the king and Gehazi, Elisha's servant, were talking together of the wonderful works of the prophet. "Tell me, I pray thee," said the king, "all the great things that Elisha hath done." Jehoram, though a wicked man (2 Kings 9:22), had yet, as we have formerly seen, a certain susceptibility to good in him. His was a divided nature. He had a reverence and respect for Elisha; he knew the right; he took pleasure in hearing of Elisha'8 wonderful deeds. Yet he never took God's Law truly into his heart. How many are like him (Ezekiel 33:30-33)!
(2) In particular, Gehazi was relating to the king how Elisha had restored the dead son of the Shunammite to life. How singular, we say, that this should have been the subject of conversation at that very moment! But it was God who ordered that this should come about. We find a very similar instance in the case of King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther. He could not sleep, and ordered the chronicles of his kingdom to be read before him. It was the night when Haman's plot was ripe for the destruction of Mordecai, but the passage read was that which told how Mordecai had made known a conspiracy against the king's life. This saved him, and led to Haman's own destruction (Esther 6:1-14.). The wheels within wheels in God's providence are truly marvelous. He lifts up one and casts down another by the simplest possible means.
(3) As Gehazi was speaking, the Shunammite and her son stood before them, and cried to the king. No doubt in great surprise, Gehazi said, "My lord, O king, this is the woman, and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life." The ear of the king was now effectually gained.
3. Its success. The woman, being asked to state her plea, did so, and her request was at once granted. Not only were her house and land restored to her, but recompense was made for all the fruits of the field since the day she had left it. Thus she received back in abundance all she possessed. She not only got justice, but generosity. How good it is to be a friend of God! "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). With him for our Advocate, what need we fear? Having given this woman the greater gift, in reward for her kindness to his prophet, he does not withhold from her any lesser gift. So may the believer reason, if God "spared not his own Son," etc. (Romans 8:32).—J.O.
2 Kings 8:7-15
Elisha and Hazad.
Elisha had come to Damascus, probably sent thither by God to carry out in spirit the commission given long before to Elijah (1 Kings 19:15).
I. BENHADAD'S MESSAGE.
1. Its occasion. "Benhadad the King of Syria was sick." Royal rank affords no protection against the invasions of disease. Nor is the thought of death less alarming to the monarch than to the peasant. Benhadad's heart trembled as he reflected on the possible issues of his trouble, and he gladly availed himself of the opportunity of Elisha's presence in Damascus to send a messenger to him. His conduct is in striking contrast with Ahaziah's (2 Kings 1:1-18.). That Israelitish king, forsaking the God of Israel, sent to inquire at an idol shrine at Ekron. Benhadad, though a Syrian and a worshipper of Rimmon, turns in his sickness from Rimmon to Jehovah.
2. The messenger. The person sent was Hazael, one of Benhadad's great courtiers. Hazael was a very different kind of a man from Naaman. He was a bold, bad, ambitious intriguer, who was already cherishing deep thoughts of crime against his master. Yet Benhadad seems to have trusted him. How unreliable are the friendships of the wicked! Men flatter with their tongue, but in their hearts are malice, falsehood, and selfish, ambitious designs (Psalms 5:9).
3. The message. Hazael came to Elisha with great pomp. He brought a present borne on forty camels. If lavish wealth could buy a favorable answer from Jehovah, surely now it would be obtained. But God is no respecter of persons; still less does he bestow favor for bribes. We may be sure that, as in a former case (2 Kings 5:16), Elisha touched nothing of all this wealth that was brought to him. Accompanying the present was a message from the king: "Thy son Benhadad hath sent me to thee, saying, Shall I recover from this disease?" For those to whom this world is all, such a question is of very terrible moment, Well may they cling to life who have nothing beyond to hope for.
II. THE INTERVIEW WITH HAZAEL.
1. Elisha's exposure of Hazael's motives. As Hazael stood before Elisha, the prophet's clear vision read to the depths of his soul. Hazael was evidently speculating on the possibilities of his master's death, and had private designs upon the throne. When once the idea of making himself king had occurred to him, he was not the man to let the ambitious project readily drop again. The thought of removing the king by violence had no doubt flashed upon him, but he waited to learn whether the sickness would prove fatal before he framed a settled purpose. Elisha showed by his answer that he read the whole character of the man. "Go, say unto him, Thou shalt certainly recover"—that was the truth as regards the sickness; then he added, "Howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die." Hazael's guilty thoughts would furnish the explanation. We do well to remember that there is nothing we can conceal from the Searcher of hearts. "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:13). Our thoughts, even in their most inchoate condition, are known to him. He understandeth our thoughts "afar off" (Psalms 139:2).
2. Elisha's prophecy of Hazael's barbarities. Did Elisha approve of Hazael's designs, and mean to give them Divine sanction? We are able to answer this by noting his subsequent conduct.
(1) He settled his face steadfastly, and looked with a fixed gaze at Hazael till the latter was ashamed. Then Elisha wept. Elisha stood before Hazael as a kind of outward conscience. He revealed Hazael to himself, but at the same time condemned the thoughts which he saw in his mind. It was a holy, earnest gaze which Elisha turned on Hazael—a look of reproval, of sorrow, of holy pain; and Hazael felt that it was so when he blushed under it.
(2) When Hazael asked concerning his weeping, Elisha became more explicit, and told him of the awful barbarities he would inflict on Israel. The picture was so dreadful that even Hazael, with apparent sincerity, asked, "Who is thy servant, this dog, that he should do this great thing?" Hazael, like many others, was not aware of the possibilities of his own heart, A certain measure of crime he knew himself to be capable of, but he thought that other iniquities were beyond him. Once on the downward grade, how, ever, there is no point at which a sinner can be sure of stopping. One crime leads with a fatal facility to a worse. The heart grows hardened, and things are done which, at an earlier stage, might have been thought impossible. It is told of Robespierre that, in the beginning of his career, he was almost driven distracted by the thought of having sentenced a man to death. The greatest criminals were once innocent children, and at one period of their lives would have shuddered at the deeds they afterwards calmly perpetrated. The only safe course is to resist the beginnings of evil.
3. Elisha's announcement of Hazael's greatness. Elisha's final announcement to Hazael was, "The Lord hath showed me that thou shalt be king over Syria." The prophet announces the fact, which indeed fulfilled a Divine purpose regarding Hazael (1 Kings 19:15), but announces it without approval of the particular means by which that purpose would be realized. Jacob would have received the blessing in God's time and way, though his mother Rebekah had not counseled deceit as a means of obtaining it; and the kingdom would have come to Hazael, also in God's good time and way, though he had kept his hands free from crime.
III. A PALACE MURDER. If Elisha's words did not arrest the guilty purpose which was shaping itself in Hazael's mind, they could only have the contrary effect of inflaming his ambition. Like Macbeth with the witches' salutation ringing in his ears, he felt himself a child of destiny, and took speedy means to fulfill his destiny.
1. He deceived the king. He repeated, in the letter of them, Elisha's words, "Thou shalt surely recover;" but said nothing of the context, which gave the words so terrible a significance. The king was assured that his disease was not mortal, which was true; but he was left in the dark as to the declaration that he should nevertheless surely die.
2. He slew the king. Next day, probably while Benhadad slept, Hazael took a thick quilt, and, dipping it in water, spread it over the king's face, and suffocated him. He thus fulfilled the prediction that he should be King of Syria. He "had his reward." But was it worth the crime? What could compensate for a soul stained with the sin of treachery and murder? Of Banquo it was prophesied that he would be lesser than Macbeth, yet greater; not so happy, yet happier. Would the same not have been true of Hazael had he been content to remain Benhadad's faithful officer, instead of climbing to the throne in this hateful fashion? What, after all, is there so much to envy in the state of kings, that a soul's peace should be bartered to acquire it? Surrounded by false friends; served by courtiers ready at any moment to turn against him if it serves their interests better; envied even by those who flatter him; exposed to the peril of assassination,—the monarch is almost more to be pitied than the humblest of his subjects. Hazael had but exchanged his own pillow for a more thorny one. "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."—J.O.
2 Kings 8:16-29
Two kings of Judah.
(On the chronology, see Exposition.) The reigns of Jehoram and Ahaziah are black spots in the history of Judah.
I. JEHORAM, SON OF JEHOSHAPHAT. We may notice concerning this ruler:
1. He had a pious father. We may quote Thomas Fuller's quaint comments on this part of the Savior's genealogy: "Lord, I find the genealogy of my Savior strangely checkered with four remarkable changes in four immediate generations.
(1) 'Rehoboam begat Abiam;' that is, a bad father begat a bad son.
(2) 'Abiam begat Asa;' that is, a bad father a good son.
(3) 'Asa begat Jehoshaphat;' that is, a good father a good son.
(4) 'Jehoshaphat begat Joram;' that is, a good father a bad son.
I see, Lord, from hence, that my father's piety cannot be entailed; that is bad news for me. But I see also that actual impiety is not always hereditary; that is good news for my son."
2. He made an evil marriage. "The daughter of Ahab"—Athaliah—"was his wife." In sanctioning this union of his son with the house of Ahab Jehoshaphat grievously erred. Jehoshaphat's whole policy of keeping up friendly relations with Ahab was a mistake, destined to bear bitter fruit in his family and his kingdom. No considerations of political expediency should have tempted him to allow a marriage of the heir of his throne with a daughter of the infamous Jezebel. Rulers have even yet Pecuniary, social, or family considerations are allowed to determine a step which ought never to be taken except on grounds of real affection and moral and spiritual affinity. Athaliah's entrance into the royal household of Judah had a disastrous effect on its future. She was a true child of the Israelitlsh Jezebel, and reproduced her character in all its essential features. Bold, bad, energetic, unscrupulous, ambitious, her influence over her husband was wholly for evil. And he seems to have yielded himself entirely up to it.
3. He walked in evil ways. "He walked in the way of the kings of Israel" etc. The connection of this with his marriage is indicated in the words, "For the daughter of Ahab was his wife." To that malign influence is probably to be attributed the great crime with which his reign began—the slaughter of his six brethren, with many of the princes (2 Chronicles 21:2-4). The other evils of his reign are indicated by the Chronicles—tempting and compelling the people to idolatry, etc. (2 Chronicles 21:11, 2 Chronicles 21:13).
4. He was mercifully dealt with for the sake of David. Grieved though God was with his conduct, he would not destroy Judah, having pledged himself to David to perpetuate his line. The descendants of holy men and women do not know how much of God's mercy and forbearance they often owe to, their ancestral connection. God spares them for their fathers' sakes (Romans 11:28).
5. Yet his sins brought heavy disasters on the kingdom. God did not destroy Judah, but he punished it. As the wickedness of the Israelitish kings was punished by the revolt of Moab (2 Kings 1:1), so the sins of Jehoram were visited by a series of calamities which fell upon the nation. The revolt of Edom, of Libnah, invasions of the Philistines, Arabians, etc; broke in upon and desolated the land (2 Chronicles 21:16, 2 Chronicles 21:17). Only when rulers and people were fearing the Lord could it be said, "Also in Judah things went well" (2 Chronicles 12:12). Things cannot go well when men's hearts are bent on wickedness. God is against us, and troubles rise thick on every side. The revolt of Edom is the only calamity referred to in detail in the text. Jehoram seems to have attempted to suppress the rebellion, but, being encompassed by the enemy, had great difficulty in cutting his way through, and escaping. The loss of Edom was a permanent one.
6. He came to a miserable end. He went down to his death visibly under a cloud of Divine wrath, and amidst the contempt, if not the execrations, of his people. God smote him, the Chronicler tells us, with a painful and incurable disease, and he died, despised and unlamented (2 Chronicles 21:18, 2 Chronicles 21:19). He was buried in Jerusalem, but not in the tomb of the kings. Presumptuous transgressors are rightly visited with judgments of exceptional severity (cf. Acts 12:23). It is the memory of the just that is blessed, but the name of the wicked shall rot (Proverbs 10:7).
II. AHAZIAH SON OF JEHOBAM.
1. A short but evil reign. Ahaziah, who reigned but one year, was the youngest son of Jehoram, the elder having been slain in the wars with the Arabians (2 Chronicles 22:1). His reign was evil, like his father's. In this case it is said expressly that Athaliah and others of her kindred were his counselors to do evil (2 Chronicles 22:3, 2 Chronicles 22:4). A mother's influence is even more potent than a father's. But when both parents go partners in open wickedness, it is no wonder if a son follows their example.
2. A fateful visit. Ahaziah and Jehoram of Israel were speedily to meet their end together. The Chronicler says "the destruction of Ahaziah was of God by coming to see Joram" (2 Chronicles 22:7). Jehoram had been wounded in a campaign against Hazael at Ramoth-Gilead, and was now at Jezreel to be healed of his wounds. Thither Ahaziah repaired to visit him, and there both kings were slain by Jehu. The visible providence of God is again seen in this visit. His hook is in the nose of the sinner; he leads him wherever he will (2 Kings 19:28).—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 8". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension