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ELISHA AND THE MOCKERS.
(2 KINGS II. 23, 24.) When Elijah was translated to heaven in a “ chariot of fire,” the sons of the prophets eagerly sought him amid mountains and valleys, in the hope that he was not in reality departed. Their search was vain; but they received comfort in the successor whom God appointed. As Elisha smote the waters of Jordan, like his predecessor, and they receded backwards, to open a pathway for his feet, they exclaimed with joy, “ The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha!”
This was not the only transaction which proved the Divine legation of Elisha. A succession of miracles of mercy and judgment followed in its train.
Elisha took up his residence at Jericho. This was a pleasant situation, but the waters were impure, and the country around barren. Availing themselves of the prophet's presence, the inhabitants complained to him that the water was unwholesome. Elisha attended to their complaint, and directed the suppliants to furnish him with some salt in a new cruse. Having brought it, the prophet “went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.” Through this simple act, accompanied by Divine power, the waters of Jericho became permanently wholesome,* an apt emblem of the effect produced by the grace of God operating on the polluted heart of man. When that remedy is applied, a change takes place through all the powers of the soul —a change which results in its purification and salvation.
This miracle of mercy was followed by one of judgment, which is represented in the annexed engraving. Removing from Jericho to Bethel, where the golden calf was worshipped, a company of profane youths came out and poured personal contempt upon Elisha, and derided the translation of Elijah, by bidding him “ Go up,” that is, ascend to heaven after his master. This was grossly impious. It was not only an act of disrespect to the prophet, but a direct insult to the power and majesty of God. Hence they did not act thus with impunity. Moved by the spirit of inspiration, Elisha turned back, and in the name of the Lord pronounced the Divine vengeance upon them, and at his word two she-bears issued from an adjoining wood, and tare forty-two of the revilers.
* This stream, which rises to the west of Rihhah, is thus described by Maundrell: “ Turning down into the plain, we passed by a ruined aqueduct, and a convent, in the same condition, and in about a mile's riding came to the fountain of Elisha. Its waters are, at present, received into a basin about nine or ten paces long, and five or six broad, and from thence, issuing out in good plenty, divide themselves into several small streams, dispersing their refreshment between this and Jericho, and making it exceeding fruitful.”
The object of the annexed engraving is intended rather to exhibit the ministers of vengeance than the actual fulfilment of their mission, which would have involved many painful details. The guilty scornfulness of the mockers, however, and the punishment in store for them, stand prominently before the reader. The engraving also illustrates oriental costume; and another portion takes natural history for its point.
The species of bear mentioned in Scripture, and introduced into the engraving, is the Ursus Syriacus, or Syrian bear, which is, perhaps, a variety of the Ursus Arctos, or brown bear, produced by climate. Hemprich and Ehrenberg have given a description, in the “Symbolæ Physicæ,” of a female of this species, which was killed near Bischerre, in Syria. It was of a uniform fulvous white, sometimes variegated with fulvous; its ears were elongated; its forehead slightly arched; its fur was woolly beneath, with long, straight, or but slightly curled hair externally, and a stiff mane of erected hairs, about four inches long, was between the shoulders. The individual killed was neither young nor old, and it measured about four feet, two inches, from the nose to the tip of the tail. Nothing was found in its stomach; but it is described as frequently preying on animals, though for the most part it feeds on vegetables.
The characteristics of bears are, surliness, rapacity, mischievousness, vengeance, and unconquerable energy. In such a light is the bear mentioned in Scripture to the reader. The sacred writers, indeed, frequently associate the bear with the lion, as being equally dangerous and destructive. Thus Amos, setting before the Israelites the succession of calamities about to befall them, declares that the removal of one would only leave another equally grievous, under this emphatic figure:
ELISHA AND THE MOCKERS.
Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord !
Amos v. 18, 19. Solomon, also, compares a wicked and unprincipled ruler to the lion and the bear :
As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear ;
Prov. xxviii. 15.
The she-bear, which was the instrument in the punishment of the revilers of Elisha, is said by naturalists to be more fierce and terrible than the male, especially when bereaved of her young. In this state, she is adopted by Hushai to represent the rage of David and his valiant men, when chafed by wrong, and contending for honour and existence with Absalom and the rebels who joined his standard. The same figure occurs several times in Scripture, which shows how deeply the minds of the sacred writers were impressed with this feature in the character of the bear. See Hos. xiii. 8; Prov. xvii. 12.
In the event represented in the engraving, all this natural ferocity of the she-bear was called into action by an interposing Providence; and the incident is calculated to impress parents with a sense of the importance of bringing up their children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord,” Ephes. vi. 4. They should teach them to respect the ordinances and ministers of religion. If by their neglect, or encouragement, their offspring learn to mock at sacred things and holy men, to violate the sabbath, and profane the name of the Most High, the day will come when they will be called to an account for their evil doings. To ensure their own happiness and that of their offspring, therefore, let parents diligently practise the counsel of the wise man:
Imagination cannot conceive the horror which filled the hearts of the parents of Bethel, whose children were thus punished, and who had taught them the impiety which called down this dreadful
judgment from an offended God. But what will be the anguish of those parents who witness the condemnation of their offspring, occasioned by their neglect or encouragement, at the day of judgment!
The incident speaks also to the young. It warns them not to mock
any, either for bodily defects, or for serving God in righteousness and true holiness. Let them avoid evil words and reproaches, and pay due respect to sacred things. A scoffing youth frequently grows up into a hardened, hoary-headed sinner.
On the contrary, those who give the morning of their lives to God, flourish like the palm tree and the cedar in Lebanon. As the palm tree brings forth richer clusters of fruit, and the cedar appears more lovely in age, so do Christians who early serve God produce the fruits of righteousness, and increase in the beauty of holiness, as they are repairing to the heavenly world. Besides, early piety has a reward annexed to it even in this world, of which we find many examples in Scripture. Thus it is recorded, to the honour of Josiah, king of Israel, that while he was yet young he began to seek God; and the brief history of that monarch proves that he was hence favoured by the Almighty. The woes, indeed, denounced against his nation for their iniquities were, on account of his piety, postponed till after he was gathered to his grave in peace. Even in our own day, also, examples abound of those who, having served God in their youth with fervent sincerity, have been brought into honour in the world. Forgetting an overruling Providence, this may be often overlooked, but it is nevertheless true. 66 Them that honour me,” says God, “I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed,” 1 Sam. ii. 30. There is, therefore, great encouragement to the young, both as it regards this world and the next, that they should devote their youth to God—that they should comply with this his just demand, as their Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor :
My son, give me thine heart.
Prov. xxiii. 26.