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he should be coupled with a Mephibosheth in a partnership of estates! O that David had changed the word a little!
A division was due here indeed; but of Ziba's ears from his head, or his head from his shoulders, for going about so maliciously to divide David from the son of Jonathan: an eye for an eye was God's rule. If that had been true, which Ziba suggested against Mephibosheth, he had been worthy to lose his head with his lands; being false, it had been but reason Ziba should have changed heads with Mephibosheth. Had not holy David himself been so stung with the venomous tongues, that he cries out, in the bitterness of his soul, “ What reward shall be given thee, O thou false tongue ? even sharp arrows with hot burning coals.” He that was so sensible of himself in Doeg's wrong, doth he feel so little of Mephibosheth in Ziba's? Are these the arrows of David's quiver? Are these his hot burning coals? “ Thou and Ziba divide." He that had said, Their tongue is a sharp sword; now,
that the sword of just revenge is in his hand, is this the blow he gives?“ Divide the possession.” I know not whether excess or want of mercy may prove most dangerous in the great; the one discourages good intentions with fear; the other may encourage wicked practices through presumption; those that are in eminent place must learn the mid-way betwixt both; so pardoning faults, that they may not provoke them : so punishing them, that they may not dishearten virtuous and well-meant actions; they must learn to sing that absolute ditty, whereof David had here forgotten one part, of mercy and judgment.
HANUN AND DAVID'S AMBASSADORS.
It is not the meaning of religion to make men uncivil. If the king of Ammon were heathenish, yet his kindness may be acknowledged, may be returned by the king of Israel. I say not, but that perhaps David might maintain too strait a league with that forbidden nation. A little friendship is enough to an idolater; but even the
savage cannibals ceive an answer of outward courtesy. If a very dog fawn upon us, we stroke him on the head, and clap him on the side ; much less is the common band of humanity untied by grace. Disparity, in spiritual professions, is no warrant for ingratitude. He therefore, whose good nature proclaimed to show mercy to any branch of Saul's house for Jonathan's sake, will now also show kindness to Hanun, for the sake of Nahash his father.
It was the same Nahash that offered the cruel condition to the men of Jabesh-Gilead, of thrusting out their right eyes for the admission into his covenant. He that was thus bloody in his designs against Israel, yet was kind to David; perhaps for no cause so much as Saul's opposition; and yet even this favour is held worthy both of memory and retribution. Where we have the acts of courtesy, it is not necessary we should enter into a strict examination of the grounds of it; while the benefit is ours, let the intention be their own. Whatever the hearts of men are, we must look at their hands, and repay, not what they meant, but what they did.
Nahash is dead, David sends ambassadors to condole his loss, and to comfort his son Hanun. No Ammonite but is sadly affected with the death
of a father, though it gain him a kingdom. Even Esau could say, "The days of mourning for my father will come;" no earthly advantage can fill up the gap of nature. Those children are worse than Ammonites, that can think either gain or liberty worthy to countervail a parent's loss.
Carnal men are wont to measure another's foot by their own last; their own falsehood makes them unjustly suspicious of others. The princes of Ammon, because they are guilty to their own hollowness and doubleness of heart, are ready so to judge of David and his messengers; “ Thinkest thou that David doth honour thy father, that he hath sent comforters unto thee? Hath not David rather sent his own servants to thee to search the city, and to spy it out, to overthrow it?" It is hard for a wicked heart to think well of any other; because it can think none better than itself, and knows itself evil. The freer a man is from vice himself, the more charitable he uses to be unto others.
Whatsoever David' was, particularly in his own person, it was ground enough of prejudice, that he
an Israelite. It was an hereditary and deep settled hatred that the Ammonites had conceived against their brethren of Israel; neither can they forget that shameful and fearful foil which they received from the rescuers of Jabesh-Gilead; and now still do they stomach at the name of Israel. Malice, once conceived in worldly hearts, is not easily extinguished, but, upon all occasions, is ready to break forth into a flame of revengeful actions.
Nothing can be more dangerous, than for young princes to meet with ill counsel in the entrance of their government; for both then are they most prone to take it, and most difficultly recovered from it: if we be set out of our way in the beginning of our journey, we wander all the day. How happy is that state, where both the counsellors are faithful to give only good advice, and the king wise to discern
good advice from evil. The young king of Ammon is easily drawn to believe his peers, and to mistrust the messengers; and having now, in his conceit, turned them into spies, entertains them with a scornful disgrace; he shaves off one half of their beards, and cuts off one half of their garments, exposing them to the derision of all the beholders. The Israelites were forbidden either a shaven beard, or a short garment; in despite, perhaps, of their law, these ambassadors are sent away with both ; certainly in a despite of their master, and a scorn of their persons.
King David is not a little sensible of the abuse of his messengers, and of himself in them; first therefore he desires to hide their shame, then to revenge it. Man hath but a double ornament of body, the one of nature, the other of art; the natural ornament is the hair, the artificial is apparel ; David's messengers are deformed in both: the one is easily supplied by a new suit, the other can only be supplied out of the wardrobe of time; “ Tarry at Jericho till your beards be grown.” How easily had this deformity been removed, if, as Hanun had shaven one side of their faces, so they had shaven the other! What had this been but to resemble their younger age, or that other sex, in neither of which do we use to place any imagination of unbeseeming? Neither did there want some of their neighbour nations, whose faces age itself had not wont to cover with this shade of hair. But so respective is good David, and his wise senators, of their country's forms, that they shall, by appointment, rather tarry abroad, till time have wrought their conformity, than vary from the received fashions of their own people. Alas, into what a licentious variety of strange disguises are we fallen ! The glory of attire is sought in novelty, in misshapenness, in monstrousness; there is much latitude, much liberty in the use of these indifferent
things; but, because we are free, we may not run wild, and never think we have scope enough, unless we out-run modesty.
It is lawful for public persons to feel their own indignities, and to endeavour their revenge. Now, David sends all the host of the mighty men to punish Ammon for so foul an abuse. Those, that received the messengers of his love with scorn and insolency, shall now be severely saluted with the messengers of his wrath. It is just both with God and men, that they, who know not how to take favours aright, should smart with judgments. Kindness repulsed breaks forth into indignation ; how much more, when it is repaid with an injurious affront!
David cannot but feel his own cheeks shaven, and his own coat cut in his ambassadors; they did but carry his person to Hanun; neither can he therefore but appropriate to himself the kindness or injury offered unto them. He that did so take to heart the cutting off but the lap of king Saul's garment, when it was laid aside from him, how must he needs be affected with this disdainful halving of his hair and robes in the person of his deputies! The name of ambassadors hath been ever sacred, and, by the universal law of nations, hath carried in it sufficient protection from all public wrongs ; neither hath it been violated without a revenge. O God, what shall we say to those notorious contempts, which are daily cast upon thy spiritual messengers ! Is it possible thou shouldst not feel them, thou shouldst not avenge them? We are made a gazing stock to the world, to angels and to men; we' are despised and trodden down in the dust! “Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed ?”
How obstinate are wicked men in their perverse resolutions! These foolish Ammonites had rather hire Syrians to maintain a war against Israel in so