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necessary utensils for his entertainment. The
prophet doth not affect delicacy; she takes care to provide for his convenience. Those that are truly pious and devout, think their houses and their hands cannot be too open to the messengers of God, and are most glad to exchange their earthly commodities for the others' spiritual. Superfluity should not fall within the care of a prophet, necessity must; he that could provide oil for the widow, could have provided all needful helps for himself. What room had there been for the charity and beneficence of others, if the prophet should have always maintained himself out of power!
The holy man is so far sociable as not to neglect the friendly offer of so kind a benefactor: gladly doth he take up his new lodging, and, as well pleased with so quiet a repose and careful attendance, he sends his servant Ĝehazi with the message of his thanks, with a treaty of retribution ; “Behold, thou hast been careful for us, with all this care ; what is to be done for thee ? wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host ?" An ingenuous disposition cannot receive favours without thoughts of return. A wise debtor is desirous to retribute in such kind as may be most acceptable to his obligers. Without this discretion, we may offer such requitals as may seem goodly to us, to our friends worthless : every one can choose best for himself. Elisha therefore, who had never been wanting in spiritual duties to so hospitable a friend, gives the Shunammite the election of her suit, for temporal recompense also; no man can be a loser by his favour to a prophet. It is a good hearing that an Elisha is in such grace at the court; that he can promise himself access to the king in a friend's suit: it was not ever thus ; the time was when his master heard, “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" Now the late miracle which Elisha wrought in gratifying the three kings with water and victory, hath endeared him to the king of Israel: and now, who but Elisha ? Even that rough mantle finds respect amongst those silks and tissues. As bad as Jehoram was, yet he honoured the man of God. He that could not prevail with an idolatrous king in a spiritual reformation, yet can carry a civil suit. Neither doth the prophet, in a sullen discontentment, fly off from the court, because he found his labours unprofitable, but still holds good terms with that prince whom he cannot reclaim, and will make use, notwithstanding, of his countenance, in matters whether of courtesy or justice. We may not cast off our due respects even to faulty authority, but must still submit and persist, where we are repelled. Not to his own advancement doth Elisha desire to improve the king's favour, but to the behoof, to the relief of others. If the Shunammite have business at court, she shall need no other solicitor. There cannot be a better office, nor more beseeming a prophet, than to speak in the cause of the dumb; to befriend the oppressed, to win greatness unto the protection of innocence.
The good matron needs no shelter of the great: "I dwell among mine own people ;" as if she said, The courtesy is not small in itself, but not useful to me: I live here quietly, in a contented obscurity, out of the reach either of the glories or cares of a court; free from wrongs, free from envies. Not so high as to provoke an evil eye, not so low as to be trodden on: I have neither fears nor ambitions, my neighbours are my friends, my friends are my protectors, and if I should be so unhappy as to be the subject of main injuries, would not stick to be mine advocates : this favour is for those that either affect greatness, or groan under oppression; I do neither, for “I live among mine own people. O Shunammite, thou shalt not escape envy! who can hear of thine happy condition, and not say, Why am I not thus? If the world afford any perfect contentment, it is in a middle estate, equally distant from penury, from excess; it is in a calm freedom, a secure tranquillity, a sweet fruition of ourselves, of ours. But what hold is there of these earthly things ? how long is the Shunammite thus blessed with peace? Stay but a while, you shall see her come on her knees to the king of Israel, pitifully complaining that she was stripped of house and land; and now Gehazi is fain to do that good office for her, which was not accepted from his master. Those that stand fastest upon earth, have but slippery footing ; no man can say that he shall not need friends.
Modesty sealed up the lips of the good Shunammite; she was ashamed to confess her longing: Gehazi easily guessed that her barrenness could not but be her affliction: she was childless, her husband old; Elisha gratifies her with the news of a son: About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son.” How liberal is God, by his prophet, in giving beyond her requests! not seldom doth his bounty overreach our thoughts, and meet us with those benefits which we thought too good for us to ask. Greatness and inexpectation make the blessing seem incredible ; "Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie to thine handmaid.” We are never sure enough of what we desire ; we are not more hard to believe, than loth to distrust beneficial events: she well knew the prophet's holiness could not stand with wilful falsehood ; perhaps she might think it spoken by way of trial, not of serious affirmation : as unwilling therefore that it should not be, and willing to hear that pleasing word seconded, she says, “Do not lie to thine handmaid." Promises are made good, not by iteration, but by the effect ; the Shunammite conceives, and bears a son at the set season : how glad a mother she was, those know best that have mourned under the discomfort of a sad sterility. The child grows up, and is now able to find out his father in the field, amongst his reapers : his father now grew young again with the pleasure of his sight, and more joyed in this spring of his hopes, than in all the crops of his harvest ; but what stability is there in these earthly delights? The hot beams of the sun beat upon that head which too much care had made tender and delicate; the child complains to his father of his pain; oh that grace could teach us what nature teaches infants, in all our troubles to bemoan ourselves to our heavenly Father! He sends him to his mother ; upon her lap, about noon, the child dies, as if he would return his soul into that bosom from which it was derived to him. The good Shunammite hath lost her son, her faith she had not lost; passion hath not robbed her of her wisdom; as not distracted with an accident so sudden, so sorrowful, she lays her dead child upon the prophet's bed, she locks the door, she hides her grief, lest that consternation might hinder her design ; she hastens to her husband, and, as not daring to be other that officious in so distressful an occasion, acquaints him with her journey, though not with the cause, requires of him both attendance and conveyance; she posts to Mount Carmel; she cannot so soon find out the man of God as he hath found her ; he sees her afar off, and, like a thankful guest, sends his servant hastily to meet her, to inquire of the health of herself, her husband, her child : her errand was not to Gehazi, it was to Elisha: no messenger shall interrupt her, no ear shall receive her complaint but the prophet's: down she falls passionately at his feet, and forgetting the fashion of her bashful strangeness, lays hold of them, whether in a humble veneration of his person, or in a fervent desire of satisfaction. Gehazi, who well knew how uncouth, how unfit this gesture of salutation was for his master, offers to remove her, and admonisheth her of her distance; the merciful prophet easily apprehends that no ordinary occasion could so transport a grave and well-governed matron ; as therefore pitying her unknown passion, he bids, “Let her alone, for her soul is vexed within her, and the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me." If extremity of grief have made her unmannerly, wise and holy Elisha knows how to pardon it; he dares not add sorrow to the afflicted; he can better bear an unseemliness in her greeting than cruelty in her molestation. Great was the familiarity that the prophet had with his God, and as friends are wont mutually to impart their counsels to each other, so had the Lord done to him Elisha was not idle on Mount Carmel ; what was it that he saw not from thence ? Not heaven only, but the world was before him. Yet the Shunammite's loss is concealed from him, neither doth he shame to confess it: ofttimes those that know greater matters may yet be ignorant of the less. It is no disparagement to any finite creature not to know something. By her mouth will God tell the prophet what by vision he had not; “Then she said, Did I desire a son of my Lord ? Did I not say, Do not deceive me ?" Deep sorrow is sparing of words : the expostulation could not be more short, more quick, more pithy: had I begged a son, perhaps my importunity might have been yielded to in anger: too much desire is justly punished with loss. It is no marvel if what we wring from God prosper not: this favour to me was of thine own motion; thy suit, O Elisha, made me a mother; couldst thou intend to torment me with a blessing? How much more easy had the want of a son been than the miscarriage! barrenness, than orbation ! Was there no other end of my having a son, than that I might lose him? Oh! man of God, let me not complain of a cruel kindness; thy prayers gave me a son, let thy prayers restore him ; let not my dutiful respects to thee be repaid with an aggravation of misery ; give not thine handmaid cause to wish that I were but so unhappy as thou foundest me: oh, woful fruitfulness, if I must now say that I had a son!