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expostulations with his injurious host, who yet dismisses him better provided for the ease of his journey than he found him. Perhaps this officiousness was out of desire to make some amends for this late seducement. It is a poor recompense when he hath betrayed his life, and wronged the soul, to cast some courtesies upon the body.
The old Bethelite, that had taken pains to come and fetch the man of God into sin, will not now go back with him to accompany his departure. Doubtless he was afraid to be inwrapped in the judgment which he saw hanged over that obnoxious head. Thus the mischievous guides of wickedness leave a man, when they have led him to his bane; as familiar devils forsake their witches, when they have brought them once into fetters.
The man of God returns alone, careful, no doubt, and pensive for his offence, when a lion out of the wood meets, assaults, and kills him. O the just and severe judgments of the Almighty, who hath brought this fierce beast out of his wild ranges into the high way, to be the executioner of his offending servant! Doubtless this prophet was a man of great holiness, of singular fidelity, else he durst not have been God's herald to carry a message of defiance to Jeroboam, king of Israel, in the midst of his royal magnificence; yet now, for varying from but a circumstance of God's command, though upon the suggestion of a divine warrant, is given for a prey to the lion. Our interest in God is so far from excusing our sin, that it aggravates it : of all others the sin of a prophet shall not pass unrevenged.
The very wild beasts are led by a providence; their wise and powerful Creator knows how to serve himself of them. The lions guard one prophet, kill another, according to the commission received from their Maker. What sinner can hope to escape unpunished, when every creature of God is ready to be an avenger of evil ? The beasts of the field were
made to serve us, we to serve our Creator. When we forsake our homage to him that made us, it is no marvel if the beasts forget their duty to us, and deal with us not as masters, but as rebels. When a holy man buys so dearly such a slight frailty, of a credulous mistaking, what shall become of our heinous and presumptuous sins ?
I cannot think but this prophet died in the favour of God; though by the teeth of the lion, his life was forfeited for example, his soul was safe ; yea, his very
was left, though torn, yet fair, after those deadly grasps; as if God had said, I will only take thy breath from thee, as the penalty of thy disobedience : a lion shall do that which an apoplexy, or ferer might do. I owe thee no further revenge than may be satisfied with thy blood.
Violent events do not always argue the anger of God; even death itself is to his servants a fatherly castigation.
But, О the unsearchable ways of the Almighty ! the man of God sins, and dies speedily; the lying prophet that seduced him survives; yea, wicked Jeroboam enjoys his idolatry, and treads upon the grave of his reprover. There is neither favour in the delay of stripes, nor displeasure in the haste ; rather whom God loves he chastises, as sharply, so speedily, while the rest prosper to condemnation : even the rod of a loving father may draw blood. How much happier is it for us, that we die now to live for ever, than that we live a while to die ever!
Had this lion set upon the prophet for hunger, why did he not devour as well as kill him ? why did he not rather kill the beast than the man, since we know the nature of the lion such, that he is not wont to assail man, save in the extreme want of other prey? Certainly the same power that employed those fangs restrained them, that the world might see, it was not appetite that provoked the beast to this violence, but the over-ruling command of God.
Even so, O Lord, thy powerful hand is over that roaring lion, that goes about continually seeking whom he may devour ! thine hand withholds him, that though he may shed the blood of thine elect, yet he cannot hurt their souls : and while he doth those things which thou permittest, and orderest to thy just ends, yet he cannot do lesser things which he desireth, and thou permittest not.
The fierce beast stands by the carcass, as to avow his own act, and to tell who sent him, so to preserve that body which he had slain. O wonderful work of God! the executioner is turned guardian ! and, as the officer of the Highest, commands all other creatures to stand aloof from his charge, and commands the fearful ass, that brought this burden thither, not to stir thence, but to stand ready pressed, to re-carry it to the sepulchre: and now, when he hath sufficiently witnessed to all passengers, that this act was not done upon his own hunger, but upon the quarrel of his Maker, he delivers up his charge to that old prophet, who was no less guilty of this blood than himself.
This old seducer had so much truth, as both to give a right commentary upon God's intention in this act, for the terror of the disobedient, and to give his voice to the certainty of that future judgment which his late guest had threatened to Israel: sometimes it pleaseth the wisdom of God to express and justify himself, even by the tongues of faulty instruments. Withal, he hath so much faith and courage, as to fetch that carcass from the lion, so much pity and compassion as to weep for the man of God, to inter him in his own sepulchre, so much love as to wish himself joined in death to that body which he had hastened unto death. It is hard to find a man absolutely wicked: some grace will bewray itself in the most forsaken breasts.
It is a cruel courtesy to kill a man, and then to help him to his grave; to betray a man with our
breath, and then to bedew him with our tears; the prophet had needed no such friend, if he had not met with such an enemy: “ The mercies of the wicked are cruel.”
It is no measuring of God's favour by the line of outward welfare: Jeroboam, the idolatrous usurper of Israel, prospers better than the true heirs of David; he lives to see three successions in the throne of Judah; thus the ivy lives, when the oak is dead. Yet could not that misgotten crown of his keep his head always from aching; he hath his crosses too. God whips sometimes more than his own; his mies smart from him, as well as his children ; his children in love, his enemies in judgment. Not simply the rod argues love, but the temper of the hand that wields it, and the back that feels it. First Jeroboam's hand was stricken, now his son; Abijah the eldest, the best son of Jeroboam, is smitten with sickness. As children are but the pieces of their parents in another skin, so parents are
no less stricken in their children, than in their natural limbs; Jeroboam doth not more feel his arm, than his son : not wicked men only, but beasts may have natural affections. It is no thank to any creature to love his
Nature wrought in Jeroboam, not grace ; he is enough troubled with his son's disease, no whit bettered: I would have heard him say, God follows me with his afflictions, it is for mine impiety; what other measure can I expect from his justice? while mine idols stand, how can I look that my house should prosper? I will turn from my wickedness; O God,
turn thou from thy wrath. These thoughts were too good for that obdurate heart: his son is sick, he is sorrowful; but, as an amazed man seeks to go forth at the wrong door, his distraction sends him to a false help: he thinks not of God, he thinks of his prophet; he thinks of the prophet that had foretold him he should be a king, he thinks not of the God of that prophet who made him a king. It is the property of a carnal heart to confine both his obligations and his hopes to the means, neglecting the author of good. Vain is the respect that is given to the servant, where the master is contemned.
Extremity draws Jeroboam's thoughts to the prophet, whom else he had not cared to remember. The king of Israel had divines enough of his own, else he must needs have thought them miserable gods that were not worth a prophet: and besides, there was an old prophet, if he yet survived, dwelling within the smoke of his palace, whose visions had been too well approved: why should Jeroboam send so far to an Ahijah?
Certainly his heart despised those base priests of his high places, neither could he trust either to the gods, or the clergy of his own making : his conscience rests upon the fidelity of that man whose doctrine he had forsaken. How did this idolater strive against his own heart, whilst he inwardly despised those whom he professed to honour; and inwardly honoured them whom he professed to despise ! Wicked breasts are false to themselves; neither trusting to their own choice, nor making choice of that which they may dare to trust. They will set a good face upon their secretly unpleasing sins, and had rather be self-condemned than wise and penitent. As for that old seer, it is like Jeroboam knew his skill, but doubted of his sincerity; that man was too much his neighbour to be good, Ahijah's truth had been tried in a case of his own. He, whose word was found just in the prediction of his king