And Ahaziah fell down through a lattice.
WORLDLY ROYALTY IN A HUMILIATING CONDITION.
1. A king in mortal suffering.
2. A king in mental distress.
3. A king in superstitious darkness.
II. PERSONAL GODLINESS DIVINELY MAJESTIC. Elijah is an example of personal godliness, though, in a worldly sense, he was very poor, and his costume seemed to be almost the meanest of the mean. But see the majesty of this man in two things.
1. In receiving communications from heaven. "But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite."
2. In reproving the king. Which is the better — a throne or a godly character? Fools only prefer the former.
THAT MEN IN CALAMITY NATURALLY SEEK A REFUGE. Whatever was the character of the accident which befell Ahaziah, it awakened in his mind the greatest concern, so that he was apprehensive of his life, and he wanted to know the issue of his affliction. And, so like Ahaziah, all men seek shelter when the storm gathers around them, that they may be shielded from its violence.
II. THAT THE REFUGES OF THE WICKED ARE OFTEN VAIN. Ahaziah sent his messengers to Baal-zebub, as his only hope in distress, but they were not permitted even to reach the shrine of that deity. So that the god of Ekron was of no help to the King of Israel.
III. THAT CALAMITY OR AFFLICTION ALONE IS NOT SUFFICIENT TO LEAD MEN TO REPENTANCE. Sometimes it is thought that by means of adverse circumstances men can be brought to God; but it was not so in the ease of Ahaziah.
IV. THAT GOD WILL VINDICATE HIS OWN HONOUR AGAINST THE REBELLION OF THE WICKED. Ahaziah, by seeking to consult Baal-zebub, ignored Jehovah, and thus dishonoured Him in the eyes of the people. In whatever way men may refuse to acknowledge God, and rebel against Him, He, in His own time, will bring them to nought, and vindicate His character as a God of honour, majesty, mercy, and love.
Ahaziah, the man of whom this chapter speaks, was the son of Ahab and of Jezebel. He was badly born. Some allowance must be made for this fact in estimating his character. Ahaziah fell through the lattice, and in his helplessness he became religious. Man must have some God. Even atheism is a kind of religion. When a man recoils openly from what may be termed the public faith of his country, he seeks to apologise for his recoil, and to make up for his church absence by creating high obligations of another class: he plays the patriot; he plays the disciplinarian — in some way he will try to make up for, or defend, the recoil of his soul from the old altar of his country. It is in their helplessness that we really know what men are. The cry for friendship is but a subdued cry for God. Sometimes men will invent gods of their own. It is said of Shakespeare that he first exhausted worlds, and then invented new. That was right. It was but of the liberty of a poet so to do. But it is no part of the liberty of the soul. Necessity forbids it, because the true God cannot be exhausted. Who can exhaust nature? Who can exhaust nature's God? Still, the imagination of man is evil continually. He will invent new ways of enjoying himself. He will degrade religion into a mere form of interrogation. This is what Ahaziah did in this instance: "Go, inquire of Baal-zebub" (ver. 2). All that we sometimes want of God is that He should be the great fortune-teller. If He will tell us how this transaction will turn out, how this speculation will fructify, how this illness will terminate, how this revolution will eventuate — that is all we want with Him; a question-answering God; a God that will specially take care of us and nurse us into strength, that we may spend that strength in reviling against His throne. How true it is that Ahaziah represents us all in making his religion into a mere form of question-asking; in other words, into a form of selfishness! Nothing can be so selfish as religion.
The 5th of February 1685 witnessed a sad scene in the palace of Whitehall. The second Charles lay in the last agony, while, amid the courtly circle around his bed, stood Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Ken, the Bishop of Bath and Wells. "The king is really and truly a Catholic," whispers the Duchess of Portsmouth to the French ambassador; "and yet his bed-chamber is full of Protestant clergymen." The fact had been long suspected, and gave additional earnestness to the holy men who desired to prepare the dying monarch for his inevitable and solemn change. "It is time to speak out, sir," exclaims Sancroft; "for you are about to appear before a Judge who is no respecter of persons." "Will you not die in the communion of the Church of England?" anxiously asks Ken; the king gives no response. "Will you receive the sacrament?" continues the bishop.; the king replies, "There is no hurry, and I am too weak." "Do you wish pardon of sin?" rejoins the favourite prelate, whose hymns are still sung in our Christian churches; the dying man carelessly adds, "It can do me no hurt" — on which, says Macaulay, "the bishop put forth all his eloquence, till his pathetic exhortation awed and melted the bystanders to such a degree, that some among them believed him to be filled with the same spirit which in the old time, had, by the mouths of Nathan and Elias, called sinful princes to repentance." To complete the parallel we propose, we must notice another incident in this dying scene. "If it costs me my life," exclaims the Duke of York, afterwards James II., "I will fetch a priest." With some difficulty he is found, He is smuggled into the royal presence, and the chamber of death. "He is welcome," says Charles. The monarch who refused to listen to Sancroft and Ken, had an open ear for Father Huddleston. The monarch who was unwilling to die in the Church of England, is perfectly willing to die in the Church of Rome, For three-quarters of an hour he "confesses," adores the "crucifix," receives the mysterious virtues of "extreme unction," and at length, with an apology to his attendants that he has been "a most unconscionable time dying," he breathes his last, an apostate from the faith inseparable from England's throne, and for his abandonment of which his own successor died an exile on the charity of a foreign land. Let Ahaziah take the place of Charles II.; let his idolatry be represented in the Popery of the British monarch; let the application to the god of Ekron be symbolised in the welcome given to the Romish monk; and, last of all, let Elijah by the bedside of the King of Israel, dealing faithfully with the soul departing there, be the type of good Sancroft and Ken by that other couch, using all their entreaties to make the sufferer think of his approaching end — and the parallel is well-nigh complete. The mention of Ekron and Baal-zebub introduces the subject of the heathen oracles, which played such an important part in all the nations of antiquity. Even among the Jews, it is believed by many, a true oracle existed — namely, the Urim and Thummim ("lights and perfections," as the words denote), on the high priest's breastplate; and that, when the Divine response was to be given, it was manifested either in an audible voice from the twelve precious stones, or in their appearance changing in keeping with the answer — brighter for an affirmative, and duller for a negative reply. What are usually known, however, as the heathen oracula were very different. They were also very numerous: the small province of Boeotia, in Greece, having twenty-five, and the Peloponnesus as many; but the most celebrated were Delphi, Dodona, and Jupiter Ammon in the deserts of Lybia. We get a glimpse of one of the oracular priestesses in the life of Paul, where the reference, we think, abundantly proves that the heathen oracles were under Satanic control. Such being admitted, we need not add they were only a system of imposture and falsehood, a "lying in wait to deceive," "cunningly devised fables," as Peter expresses it, where the allusion is unmistakable. There was more than mere fury about the Pythia; and it may be that the commonplace expression about there being "method in madness" has been literally borrowed from her. Never did ambiguity find itself of such use as on the consecrated tripod, or beneath the decayed oak-tree. Croesus., King of Lydia, asks what will be the issue of a war with Persia, and he receives as reply, "If you war with them, you will destroy a great kingdom." Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, desires to know what will be the result, if he assists the Tarentines against the Romans, and the response may either mean that he is to conquer the Romans, or that the Romans are to conquer him. In both instances, Croesus and Pyrrhus were defeated and ruined, but of course the oracle was right, and its credit maintained. Many lessons might be drawn from that darkened chamber, where lies the son of Ahab, arrayed in the last robe he will ever need. We mention only one — the folly of men when they forsake the ways of God to pay homage to idols of any kind, or in hopeless attempt to unveil the future. As to the former all the Ekrons of earth — whether pride of reason, or personal merit, or the general mercy of God — are only vanity and a snare; there is but one Rock of hope, security, and strength, "and that Rock is Christ." As to the latter — the attempt to unveil the future, we know what Saul made of it in his visit to Endor, and we have seen what Ahaziah made of it in his proposed message to Ekron. "Just men made perfect" have other occupation than to be the tools of the clairvoyant; and lost spirits, we may be sure, are in no mood for such work. Away with your mediums, their bandaged eyes and pencilled messages, hands waving in the air, and all the dark arts of this latest charlatanry, the most wretched and profane of all modern shams. "God is His own interpreter"; and neither to shrines at Ekron nor Boston, neither to Baal-zebub nor Daniel Home, will He give the power of unlocking the destinies of men.
It is the habit of some people only to seek spiritual support in times of trouble and difficulty. When the clouds have passed they think no more of the truths that comforted them in sorrow. Dr. Moule, the Bishop of Durham, in his recently published book, From Sunday to Sunday
, relates the following incident: "A friend told me the tale a few years ago as we paced together the deck of a steamship on the Mediterranean, and talked of the things unseen. The chaplain of a prison, intimate with the narrator, had to deal with a man condemned to death. He found the man anxious, as well he might be; nay, he seemed more than anxious — convicted, spiritually alarmed. The chaplain's instructions all bore upon the power of the Redeemer to save to the uttermost; and it seemed as if the message were received and the man were a believer. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the chaplain had come to think that there was ground for appeal from the death-sentence. He placed the matter before the proper authorities, and with success. On his next visit, very cautiously and by way of mere suggestions and surmises, he led the apparently resigned criminal towards the possibility of a commutation. What would he say, how would his repentance stand, if his life were granted him? The answer soon came. Instantly the prisoner divined the position; asked a few decisive questions, then threw his Bible across the cell, and, civilly thanking the chaplain for his attentions, told him that he had no further need of him nor of his book." The Bible, like prayer, was never meant exclusively for the hours of darkness. It has a message for every time and every occasion of life.
When I was at school in France, an English boy who was sleeping in the next bed to mine in a large dormitory said, "There will be thunder and lightning to-night!" When I asked, "How do you know?" he replied, "Because So-and-so," referring to a French boy who seldom prayed, "is saying his prayers." He meant that this boy only said his prayers when he was frightened, or by fits and starts. Ah! that is what we are all liable to do, and that is the very danger I want to guard you against. Beware that you do not pray by fits and starts.
Then the king sent unto him a captain of fifty.
Outlines of Sermons by a London Minister.
I. THE STEPS WHICH LED UP TO THIS MIRACLE.
1. Seeking help where it was not to be found, in direct violation of the law of God. If a member of a family were to break his arm, and instead of applying to the family surgeon who had in the past given full proof of his skill, were to seek the advice of a quack, he would be sinning against himself, and insulting the man who was able and willing to cure him. This was the conduct of Ahaziah towards the God of his nation.
2. A Divine rebuke (ver. 3). God does not leave transgressors to pursue their way without remonstrance.
3. A message to take Elijah prisoner.
II. THE MIRACLE ITSELF.
1. The fire, if not miraculous in itself, was miraculous in its manner of executing the will of God. It came from heaven at the call of Elijah.
2. It was in keeping with the recent proof of Elijah's Divine commission given on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:38).
3. The miracle was arrested, and the prophet was arrested by a force not sent by the king (vers. 13-15).LESSONS.
1. Help must be sought where God has appointed that it shall be found (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
2. The responsibility of the individual man.
3. When God has spoken He cannot change His word unless the sinner changes his way.
4. The only strength that can conquer heaven is the strength of supplication.
MAN RUINED THROUGH THE CONDUCT OF OTHERS. This awful judgment came upon them not merely on their own account, but as messengers of the king. Throughout the human race there are found millions groaning under the trials and sufferings brought on them by the conduct of others.
II. MAN EMPLOYED AS THE EXECUTOR OF DIVINE JUSTICE. God's plan in this world is to punish as well as to save man by man.
III. MAN STEPPING INTO THE PLACE OF THE DEAD. The King Ahaziah dies, Jehoram steps into his place. "One generation cometh, and another passeth away." Places, positions, and the various offices of life are no sooner vacated by death than they are stepped into by others.
Now, it is obvious that, terrible as this judgment seems to us, it was not contrary to God's will. It is easy to say that the captain was only executing the king's orders, and that the fifty soldiers had no responsibility save that of obeying their leader. But we have still more right to say that He, who would have spared Sodom if ten righteous had been found in it, would not have consumed these two bands of fifty men if any God-fearing men had been amongst them. The king's attempt to seize the prophet was an open defiance of God, and, moderate as the wording of the captain's summons seems, the tone may easily have shown utter contempt both for God and for Elijah. We may well believe, therefore, that Elijah on this occasion, as when he destroyed the priests of Baal, knew that he was fulfilling God's purpose of judgment. But now, thank God, all judgment has been committed to Him who died for sinners and prayed for His murderers. The Cross of Christ has completely changed the attitude of Christian people towards the enemies of God. How dare we treat as reprobate those for whom Christ died! While the day of grace lasts there is hope for the very worst. There is little fear, however, of Elijah's example being followed in the present day. Protestants, at any rate, have given up issuing excommunications and hurling anathemas at the heads of notorious offenders. We are all for toleration now, and any attempt to restrain men's liberty of thought and action is hotly resented. Surely the pendulum has swung too far. We need not in our dread of religious intolerance lull into religious indifference, and regard all errors in faith and practice with complacent apathy. Truth must always be intolerant of error. Nine times nine are eighty-one, and you would not tolerate a teacher who said they were eighty. Truth cannot tolerate error without denying itself. Where personal comfort and safety are concerned society is absolutely intolerant. Few would tolerate having a smallpox patient in their house. Is it reasonable to be so intolerant of infection for the body and so careless as to moral infection for the mind and soul! Shall the authorities step in and strip off the very paper from the walls in their zeal for sanitation? and shall we allow men of known impurity of life and those who scoff at prayer to mix freely with our sons and daughters? The zeal of the Crusader who gloried in slaying the infidel is surely more righteous than the indifference of the modern Laodicean, who has not a single truth that he thinks worth fighting for. We want more hatred of evil in these days. The popular novelist delights in confusing the issues, and making sin seem right and beautiful. There is sacred liberty of thought which is the dearest right of Protestants, but it is not to be made a cloak of maliciousness. We have no right to think wrong thoughts. While all the progress in the world is due to freedom of thought, it is the correctness of the thought, not the freedom of it, which has achieved the good. Loose thinking is as bad as loose living. The man who is filled with the Spirit will witness plainly and fearlessly against both.
See, here, the power of God, revealing His wrath from "heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." In all, and each, of these cases, the authority was that of God, the power was that of God. Let no man, therefore, wrest this Scripture to his own destruction, nor look upon it as furnishing any precedent, or encouragement to persecute, in our own day, the enemies of the Lord.
2. Our duty is to confess Christ before men, and neither by word, nor deed, to compromise any, the minutest parts, of His gracious counsels. We must rebuke the gainsayers, recall the erring, confirm the wavering, and instruct the ignorant; but, in doing this, we must not take a single step in our own strength, or wisdom, we must look ever unto Him, who in this, as in every other case, hath left us "an example that we should follow His steps"; "not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing; but contrariwise blessing, knowing that we are thereunto caned, that we should inherit a blessing."
3. Elijah's history furnishes us with fresh motives to prayer and perseverance. If God hath spoken, here, in the accents of terror, He hath spoken, also, in the accents of compassion; if the destruction of two of Ahaziah's captains, with their companies, points out the danger of persecuting the saints of God, and the speedy death of Ahaziah exposes, no less clearly, the wretched presumption of the rebel creature, when he attempts to set at nought God's counsels; yet, the withholding punishment from the third captain, who fell on his knees before Elijah, and entreated that the life of himself and of his followers might be precious in his sight, proves no less clearly that, in His wrath, the Lord remembers mercy! What greater encourage. ment to well-doing can the faithful servant of God receive, than the protection here vouchsafed to the Tishbite?
4. Assuredly, the records of Elijah's ministry have placed this blessed truth plainly and palpably before us; may they lead us more heartily to obey the will of Him who revealed it! May the lustre which the Gospel pours upon those records, reveal more distinctly the weakness of our own nature, and the glorious hope of redemption, set before us through Christ! May this guide our footsteps in peace along the course of the life that now is!
The Bible does occasionally lift the veil, and shows us how the destructive forces of nature have been the servants of the will of a moral God. It was so when the waters of the Red Sea returned violently on the Egyptian pursuers of Israel. It was so when at the prayer of Elijah the messengers of Ahaziah were struck dead by lightning. It was so when Jonah was fleeing to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord: "The Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken." It was so when there arose a great storm on the Sea of Galilee, that the disciples might learn to trust the power of their sleeping Master. And it was so when St. Paul, bound on his Romeward voyage, was wrecked on the shore of Malta. In all these cases we see "the wind and the storm fulfilling His word"; because the Bible enables us to see exactly how in each case God's word or will was fulfilled. But there is much in modern history, perhaps in our own lives and experience, which seems to us to illustrate the matter scarcely less vividly. Our ancestors saw God's hand in the storm which scattered the great Armada; and a century later the wind which buried the intruding successor of the saintly Ken beneath the chimneys of his own palace at Wells, seemed to pious Churchmen of the day to be not improbably a mark of the Divine displeasure. There are obvious difficulties which our Lord points to in His allusion to the loss of life at the fall of the Tower of Siloam; there are obvious difficulties in pressing such inferences too confidently or too far. But we may see enough, and we may have reason to suspect more that enables us to be certain of this, that nature is in the hand of the Ruler of the moral world, and that we may be sure of a moral purpose, whether we can exactly make it out or not, in the use which He makes of it.
Let my life, and the life of these fifty thy servants be precious in thy sight.
Question naturally arises, Is life precious? How does God value it? And how should His servants regard it?
I. THIS QUESTION SEEMS TO BE ANSWERED IN THE NEGATIVE.
1. By the general tenor of the Old Testament. Sinai thundered and lightened. The sight thereof was terrible. The voice was death. The Flood. Destruction of Sodom. Overthrows in the wilderness. Death of the two captains with their fifties.
2. By God's continued judgments on the impenitent. The Galileans in our Lord's day. "Except ye repent" (Luke 13:1-5). Many instances of this in the New Testament: Ananias and Sapphira; Herod Agrippa, in Acts 12.
II. BUT FOR TWO REASONS THE REPLY IS IN THE AFFIRMATIVE.
1. Because many lives were spared in the Old Testament.(1) Through entreaty, as in the case of this captain. So Abraham entreated for Sodom. Moses and Aaron for the children of Israel (Numbers 14:15-20; Numbers 16:22).(2) Through God's sovereign mercy. People of Nineveh.
2. Because the greatest life of all has been given for all the children of men. Herein the Mosaic law fulfilled, which said, A life for a life. Nothing so highly esteemed of God as "the precious blood of Christ." It was the full price of our salvation, and its efficacy is eternal (Psalm 49:8; Hebrews 9:12). Application.
1. There is no need that you should doubt whether God will receive you. You need not even retreat, "Let my. life be precious in Thy sight." It. is precious. The best proof of this has been given.
2. Do not manifest an un-Christlike spirit. "Vengeance is mine." Our duty is plain, to be like Christ in valuing the lives of our brethren. He came not to destroy life, but to save.
Go down with him, be not afraid.
The age of the Mosaic Law, which shed its empire over the times of Elijah, was preeminently the era in which those awful and splendid attributes of the Divine character — God's holiness, justice, righteousness, and severity against sin — stood out in massive prominence; as some of us, from the ancient capital of Switzerland, have seen the long line of Bernese Alps, rising above the plain in distant and majestic splendour; cold in the grey dawn; or flushed with the light of morn and eve. It was only when those lessons had been completely learnt, that man. kind was able to appreciate the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord. That there was no malice in Elijah is clear from his willingness to go with the third captain, who spoke with reverence and humility. "And the angel of the Lord said, Go down with him; be not afraid of him. And Elijab went down with him unto the king."
I. THE MEEKNESS AND GENTLENESS OF CHRIST. The only fire He sought was the fire of the Holy Ghost. "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what will I if it is already kindled." He strove not to avenge Himself, or vindicate the majesty of His nature. "He endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself."
II. THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF GOD EVER CONDONING DEFIANT AND BLASPHEMOUS SIN. We have fallen on soft and degenerate days when, under false notions of charity and liberality, men are paring down their conceptions of the evil of sin, and of the holy wrath of God, which is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.
III. ELIJAH'S FULL RESTORATION TO THE EXERCISE OF A GLORIOUS FAITH. In a former time the message of Jezebel was enough to make him flee. But in this ease he stood his ground, though an armed band came to capture him.
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