THE SEQUEL OF THE STORY OF THE SHUNAMMITE . THE KILLING OF BENHADAD BY HAZAEL ; AND THE WICKED REIGNS OF JEHORAM AND AHAZIAH IN JUDAH .
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 ).
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.
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 .
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.
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.
"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 .
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.
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.
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.