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ELISHA AND JEHU.
LINCOLN'S INN, SEPTUAGESIMA SUNDAY.-FEB. 8, 1852.
2 KINGS, IX. 1–3. And Elisha the prophet called one of the children of the pro
phets, and said unto him, “ Gird up thy loins, and take this box of oil in thine hand, and go to Ramoth-gilead. And when thou comest thither, look out there Jehu, the son of Jehoshaphat, the son of Nimshi, and go in, and make him arise up from among his brethren, and carry him to an inner chamber. Then take the box of oil, and pour it upon his head, and say, ' Thus saith the Lord, I have anointed thee king over Israel.' Then open the door, and flee, and tarry not.”
I NEED scarcely tell you that the phrase " children of the prophets” in this passage, indicates men who were taught by a prophet or prophets, and who might hope in due time to fulfil the office themselves, if they were not already called to it. The notion of a class of men under this kind of education, is very puzzling I apprehend to some modern readers. “Was not the prophet, they ask, emphatically the inspired man? Were not his words false if they did
THE SCHOOLS OF THE PROPHETS. [Serm. not proceed directly from the mouth of the Lord? How could he be trained or disciplined to utter such words ?” The subject is a very important one. The portion of the history at which we are now arrived, forces it upon our notice. Elijah was in a remarkable sense the solitary man. "I alone,” he said, “ am the prophet of the Lord; while the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty. I alone am left and they seek my life.” On the contrary, his successor Elisha is nearly always surrounded by companions, disciples, or servants. Every passage of his history makes us understand how great the influence of the previous teacher had been, how true it was that there were numbers who had not bowed the knee to Baal during his stay upon earth, how soon, according to what seems the general law in such cases, they discovered themselves after he had left it. In the particular instance of which the text speaks, a young man out of the schools, goes by the direct command of Elisha to execute an errand which involved nothing less than the overthrow of a dynasty and a revolution of two kingdoms.
If the main work of the prophet was to declare, that such and such an event would, or would not, come to pass, or if he was a mere Æolian harp from which a chance breeze drew forth certain wild and irregular, however beautiful, notes—the idea of preparation involves an absurdity, or something worse than an absurdity. On that supposition it must mean, if it means any thing, an initiation of the scholar into certain tricks by which his predecessors had been wont to impose upon the vulgar, or the communication to him of certain facts and principles known to them by which he might acquire a reputation for sudden insight and discovery. No doubt such an education as this was
not unknown in the old world, as it is not unknown in the modern. It is the ordinary discipline of adepts and conjurors, of those who practise upon men's fears or upon their curiosity, of those who appeal to their consciences by religious deceptions, or to their sense of mysterious powers in the natural world by philosophical deceptions.
But the Jewish prophet, as we have found him in the Scripture records which we have gone through, was not primarily or characteristically a foreteller. The essence of his office did not lie in what he announced respecting the future, though he might speak of it very decisively and authoritatively. Nor did he seek to draw any special wonder to himself as an improviser, though he might be called upon to speak out at once on great emergencies that which had been put into his heart. But the sole power which the prophet possessed of declaring that which should be, arose from his knowledge of that which had been and which was. He meditated in the law of the Lord, and in that law did he exercise himself day and night. In this exercise he learnt what was in conformity with the law, what was contrary to it. In this exercise he learnt to believe in a divine Teacher and to commune with Him, to believe in Him as a permanent and continual Teacher, as the guide of his own heart, to believe that all other men's hearts were right so long as they were under the same guidance, and wrong when they were breaking loose from it. The fruits of revolt his inward monitor enabled him to foresee and to predict. The prediction might take a general form and point to a distant issue, or a number of issues; it might speak of that which was definite and immediate. There would be the same proof in both cases that the word came from a hidden source and from a moral being; a 142
THEIR KNOWLEDGE OF PASSING EVENTS. [Serm.
proof addressed to the conscience of the hearer, seeing that the prediction would always come forth with some warning respecting his actual conduct, some denunciation of an idolatrous or unrighteous act. Every thing then that was sudden in these utterances, bore witness to previous trains of thought and habits of reflection. So far from wishing to deny the existence of these, as if they interfered with the genuineness of his inspiration, the prophet would be grieved if his hearer did not give him credit for them. If his utterances seemed to be fortuitous, they could not bear the witness which he desired they should bear of a permanent ruler, they could not remind the listener of the deep fountain from which they had proceeded, or encourage him to ask in wonder and awe, whether that fountain was not also in himself.
The knowledge of passing events, too, would be sought for, not declined, by the true prophet. He had no need to bandage his eyes that the spectator might be sure he derived his insight from some other source than actual observation. He might observe, he was bound to observe, whatever came before him in any way, from any quarter. All facts were to him signs of a divine purpose, solemn indications of truths which they could not themselves make known, but which nevertheless lay in the heart of them, and which God could discover to the patient and faithful seeker.
Nor can I suppose that the knowledge which the wise king is said to have possessed of trees and plants, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop upon the wall, so far as the means of obtaining it lay within their reach, would have been scorned or scouted by these men of God. They might not have had much of it; probably much less than the soothsayers and magicians of Egypt or Assyria; less
perhaps of traditional information on such matters than the Phænician priests of Jezebel's court. But what they had they would make use of; looking rather to the secret powers of things than to their outward mechanism; referring the former in all cases to the government of a personal being; believing that in many, perhaps in most, cases they were subject to man as His vicegerent.
Supposing the habitual belief and work of the prophet to have been of this kind, it does not seem very strange that he should have been an educator of others, or that one main object of his education should have been to fit them for the exercise of functions like his own. It would have been the most glaring contradiction to all his professions if he had regarded the prophetical power as something bestowed for his honour, a gift to separate him from the rest of the people. In a prophet of Baal such an opinion would have been most natural; in a prophet of the Lord God of Israel it would have been most detestable. God had given His law to the whole nation. All were under it; therefore all might study it and delight themselves in it. It was a law which imported a government over the inner man, over the conscience and heart and will. The conscience and heart and will of every man might be awakened to know the nature of this government, to receive light from the source of light. And since light is given that it may be communicated, since it shines into a mind that it may shine forth from that mind, there was no reason why any one of the Lord's people should not be prophets. It could not indeed be taken for granted that every one would be so. He who worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will, might determine otherwise; He might have other work for his servant to do different from that of de