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CHAPTER XXVIII.

DOOM OF THE HOUSE OF NEBAT.

1 Kings xiv. 1-20.493493   "'Whom the gods love die young' was said of yore" (Byron). It was said by Menander: "Ὃν γὰρ θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν ἀποθνήσκει νεὸς"; and by Plautus: "Quem dii diligunt, adolescens moritur" (Bacch., iv. 7, 18). A similar thought is found in Plutarch, in St. Chrysostom, and many others.

"Whom the gods love die young."

"Τὸ παιδίον ἀπέθανεν; ἀπεδόθη."—Epictet.

The other story about Jeroboam is full of pathos; and though here, too, there are obvious signs that, in its present form, it could hardly have come from a contemporary source, it doubtless records an historic tradition. It is missing in the Septuagint, though in some copies the blank is supplied from Aquila's version.

Jeroboam was living with his queen at Tirzah when, as a judgment on him for his neglect of the Divine warning, his eldest and much loved son, Abijah, fell sick. Torn with anxiety the king asked his wife to disguise herself that she might not be recognised on her journey, and to go to Shiloh, where Ahijah the prophet lived,494494   Ahijah had not followed the example of the Levites and pious persons who, the chronicler says, went in numbers to the Southern Kingdom. to inquire about the dear youth's fate. "Take with you," he said, "as a present to the303 prophet ten loaves, and some little cakes for the prophet's children,495495   Nikuddim (only elsewhere in Josh. ix. 5-12); LXX., κολλυρίδες; Vulg., crustula; A.V., "cracknels." They were some sort of cakes. Presents to prophets were customary (see 1 Sam. ix. 7, 8; 1 Kings xiii. 7; 2 Kings v. 5, viii. 8, 9). and a cruse of honey."

Jeroboam remembered that Ahijah's former prophecy had been fulfilled, and believed that he would again be able to reveal the future, and say whether the heir to the throne would recover. The queen obeyed; and if she were indeed the Egyptian princess Ano, it must have been for her a strange experience. Through the winding valley, she reached the home of the aged prophet unrecognised. But he had received a Divine intimation of her errand; and though his eyes were now blind with the gutta serena,496496   Heb., "His eyes stood" (comp. 1 Sam. iv. 15). It seems to imply amaurosis. he at once addressed her by name when he heard the sound of her approaching footsteps. The message which he was bidden to pronounce was utterly terrible; it was unrelieved by a single gleam of mitigation or a single expression of pity. It reproached and denounced Jeroboam for faithless ingratitude in that he had cast God behind his back;497497   This tremendous expression only occurs elsewhere in Ezek. xxiii. 35; but comp. Psalm l. 17; Neh. ix. 26. it threatened hopeless and shameful extermination to all his house.498498   The coarse expression of 1 Kings xiv. 10 (1 Sam. xxv. 22; 2 Kings ix. 8) means "every male." The phrase "him that is shut up and him that is left in Israel" (Deut. xxxii. 36) is obscure and alliterative. It has been variously explained to mean, (1) "bond and free," (2) "imprisoned or released," (3) "kept in by legal impurity or at large" (Jer. xxxvi. 5), (4) "under or over age," (5) "married or unmarried." (Reuss renders the paronomasia, "qu'il soit caché ou lâché en Israel.") LXX. ἐχόμενον καὶ ἐγκαταλελειμμένον; Vulg. clausum et novissimum. His dynasty should be swept away like dung. The corpses of his children should be left unburied and be devoured by vultures304 and wild dogs.499499   In ancient days this was regarded as the most terrible of calamities. "Ἀλλ' ἄρα τόνγε κύνες τε καὶ οἰωνοὶ κατέδαψαν Κείμενον ἐν πεδίῳ ἑκὰς ἄστεος, οὐδέ κέ τίς μιν Κλαῦσεν Ἀχαιΐάδων· μάλα γὰρ μέγα μήσατο ἔργον." Hom., Od., iii. 258.
    Comp. Deut. xxviii. 26; 1 Sam. xvii. 44, 45. And after in Jeremiah (vii. 33, viii. 2, ix. 22, etc.) and Ezekiel (xxix. 5, xxxix. 17, etc.).
The moment the feet of the queen reached her house the youth should die, and this bereavement, heavy as it was, should be the sole act of mercy in the tragedy, for it should take away Abijah from the dreadful days to come, because in him alone of the House of Jeroboam had God seen something good. The avenger should be a new king, and all this should come to pass "even now."500500   1 Kings xiv. 14: "That day: but what? even now."

This speech of the prophet is given in a rhythmical form, and has probably been mingled with later touches. It falls into two strophes (7-11, 12-16) of 3 + 2 and 2 + 3 verses.501501   It is almost identical with the message of doom pronounced on other kings, like Baasha (1 Kings xvi. 3-5) and Ahab (1 Kings xxi. 19-23). The expressions "thou hast done above all that were before thee, for thou hast gone and made thee other gods" (verse 9) hardly suits the case of Jeroboam; and the omission by the LXX. of the prophecy of Israel's ultimate captivity, together with the treatment of the prophecy by Josephus, throw some doubt on verses 9, 15, and 16.502502   Ewald pronounces them to be clearly an addition of the Deuteronomist. They seem to charge Jeroboam with sanctioning Asherim, or wooden images of the Nature-goddess Asherah, of which we read305 in the history of Judah, but which are never mentioned in the acts of Jeroboam, and do not accord with his avowed policy. These may possibly be due to the forms which the tradition assumed in later days.

The awful prophecy was fulfilled. As the hapless mother set foot on the threshold of her palace at beautiful Tirzah the young prince died, and she heard the wail of the mourners for him.503503   LXX., εἰς γῆν Σαριρά. The additions to the LXX. have the touching incident, "Καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὴν Σαριρὰ καὶ τὸ παιδάειον ἀπέθανεν, καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἡ κραυγὴ εἰς ἀπαντήν." He alone was buried in the grave of his fathers, and Israel mourned for him. He was evidently a prince of much hope and promise, and the deaths of such princes have always peculiarly affected the sympathy of nations. We know in Roman history the sigh which arose at the early death of Marcellus:—

"Ostendent terris hunc tantum fata neque ultra

Esse sinent. Nimium vobis, Romana propago,

Visa potens, superi, propria hæc si dona fuissent,

Heu miserande puer, si qua fata aspera rumpas

Tu Marcellus eris."504504   Verg., Æn., vi. 870.

We know the remark of Tacitus as he contemplates the deaths of Germanicus, Caius, and Drusus, Piso Licinianus, Britannicus, and Titus, "breves atque infaustos Populi Romani amores." We know how, when Prince William was drowned in the White Ship, Henry of England never smiled again; and how the nation mourned the deaths of Prince Alfonso, of the Black Prince, of Prince Arthur, of Prince Henry, of the Princess Charlotte, of the Duke of Clarence and Avondale. But these untimely deaths of youths in their early bloom, before their day,

"Impositique rogis juvenes ante ora parentum,"

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are not half so deplorable as the case of those who have grown up like Nero to blight every hope which has been formed of them. When Louis le Bien-Aimé lay ill of the fever at Metz which seemed likely to be fatal, all France wept and prayed for him. He recovered, and grew up to be that portent of selfish boredom and callous sensuality, Louis XV. It was better that Abijah should die than that he should live to be overwhelmed in the shameful ruin which soon overtook his house. It was better far that he should die than that he should grow up to frustrate the promise of his youth. He was beckoned by the hand of God "because in him was found some good thing towards the Lord God of Israel." We are not told wherein the goodness consisted, but Rabbinic tradition guessed that in opposition to his father he discountenanced the calf-worship and encouraged and helped the people to continue their visits to Jerusalem. Such a king might indeed have recovered the whole kingdom, and have dispossessed David's degenerate line. But it was not to be. The fiat against Israel had gone forth, though a long space was to intervene before it was fulfilled. And God's fiats are irrevocable, because with Him there is no changeableness neither shadow of turning.

"The moving finger writes, and, having writ,

Moves on; nor all thy piety nor wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,

Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it."

But the passage about Abijah has a unique preciousness, because it stands alone in Scripture as an expression of the truth that early death is no sign at all of the Divine anger, and that the length or brevity of life are matters of little significance to God, seeing307 that, at the best, the longest life is but as one tick of the clock in the eternal silence. The promise to filial obedience, "that thy days may be long," in the Fifth Commandment is primarily national; and although undoubtedly "length of days" then, as now, was regarded as a blessing,505505   See Job xii. 12; Psalm xxi. 4; Prov. iii. 2-16. yet the blessing is purely relative, and wholly incommensurate with others which affect the character and the life to come. This passage may be the consolation of many thousands of hearts that ache for some dear lost child. "Is it well with the child?" "It is well!" The story of Cleobis and Biton shows how fully the wisest of the ancients had recognised the truth that early death may be a boon of God to save His children from being snared in the evil days. "Honourable age," says the Book of Wisdom, "is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is measured by number of years. But wisdom is the grey hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age. He pleased God, and was beloved of Him: so that living among sinners he was translated. Yea, speedily was he taken away, lest that wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul.... He, being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time: for his soul pleased the Lord: therefore He hastens to take him away from among the wicked."506506   Wisdom iv. 8-14. It is the truth so beautifully expressed by Seneca: "Vita non quam diu sed quam bene acta refert"; by St. Ambrose: "Perfecta est ætas, ubi perfecta est virtus"; by Shakspeare:—

"The good die early,

And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust

Burn to the socket;"

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and by Ben Jonson:—

"It is not growing like a tree

In bulk, doth make man better be:

Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,

To fall, a log at last, dry, bald, and sere:

A lily of a day

Is fairer far in May,

Although it fall and die that night—

It was the plant and flower of Light.

In small proportions we just beauties see,

And in short measures life may perfect be."

It is recorded also on the tomb of a gallant youth, in Westminster Abbey, "Francis Holles, who died at eighteen years of age after noble deeds":—

"Man's life is measured by the work, not days;

Not aged sloth, but active youth, hath praise."


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