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THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL.
JEHOVAH having thus abandoned the ten tribes of Israel, we might reasonably expect that the social and political result would have been left to the ordinary course of natural events. The new nation had received a divinely chosen king whose religious policy was, necessarily, foreseen by Jehovah ; they were cut off from the head-quarters of their religion, and therefore accepted the golden calves of Dan and Bethel as authentic symbols of the national deity, set up by the Lord's anointed. But respite from prophetic denunciation was of brief duration.
The representatives of Jehovah reappeared in the reign of Jeroboam, and renewed social and political anarchy by dooming dynasty after dynasty to purposeless destruction, at the hands of regicides, incited to assassination by predictions which promised them the throne of their victims.
The ostensible purpose of this reign of terror was to punish idolatry; but no change of dynasty relieved successive monarchs from the necessity of holding their own against Judah through independent forms of worship.
We read of Baasha exterminating the house of Jeroboam ; Zimri slaying the heirs of Baasha, and terminating his own brief reign of seven days by suicide,
to be replaced by Omri, who plunged the nation into civil war to contest the crown with Tibni.1
Omri succeeded in establishing his dynasty, but he wrought evil in the eyes of the Lord, and did worse than all that were before him. He was succeeded by his son Ahab, who married the much-abused Jezebel, a princess of the Zidonians, who introduced the worship of Baal into Samaria. How marvellous that Jehovah should have dismembered the empire and destroyed the family of Jeroboam, with no more satisfactory results than the disestablishment of the Mosaic priesthood in favour of the ministers of an alien god !
The famous prophets, Elijah and Elisha, are central figures in the tragic drama of the kingdom of Israel ; but, although gifted with supernatural control of the elements, and even masters of life and death, their disastrous intervention in Hebrew affairs simply multiplied the blood-stained pages of the national annals.
. If we associate David with modern hypocrisy, Elijah becomes the great prototype of that religious intolerance which inspired mediæval inquisitors, evoked the · massacre of St. Bartholomew, and has universally incited hostile theologians to revile, persecute, torture, and murder each other for the honour and glory of God. The priests or prophets of Baal were Phænicians, attracted to Samaria by the marriage of their countrywoman, and therefore conscientious votaries of the ancestral faith, in which they had been necessarily educated; or Hebrew converts who, with the instincts of courtiers, adopted the fashionable religion, as Pagans became Christians at the bidding of a Constantine, and
11 Kings xv., xvi.
Catholics embraced Protestantism in sympathy with a Henry or an Elizabeth. But Elijah admitted no plea of extenuating circumstances for theological error. All who differed from him in his conceptions of the divine had committed an unpardonable offence, meriting a violent death; he therefore became the public executioner of the prophets of Baal, and, having accomplished this work of blood, fled in terror from the vengeance of the queen, who was thus incited to emulation in the pious duty of slaying the prophets of Israel.
We next find the great Nâbi at Mount Carmel, where, with imagination tinged with blood, he heard “a still small voice, which whispered words involving murder and assassination!— Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when thou comest anoint Hazael to be king of Syria ; and Jehu son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel '—in other words, Go, name the servants of kings as their successors, that they may slay their royal masters.
The first oracle of the still small voice' was obeyed, not by Elijah, but by Elisha. In 2 Kings viii. we read of Benhadad, king of Syria, sending Hazael to Elisha to inquire whether he would recover from the disease which then afflicted him. Elisha told the messenger to inform the king that he might recover, but would surely die. The prophet then burst into tears, which-as he said—flowed for the appalling cruelties which his auditor would inflict on the children of Israel. Hazael naturally expressed profound astonishment at so improbable an event, and was then informed by Elisha that he should be king of Syria by divine decree.
The murder of Benhadad was, therefore, a foregone
conclusion. Hazael hastened to the king, soothed him with hopes of recovery, and, next morning, fulfilled prophecy by usurping the throne of Syria as the treacherous assassin of his royal master. Thus the equivocating oracle of Elisha proved suggestive of murder to the predestined assassin, who was raised to the throne of Syria that he might ruthlessly massacre the helpless women and children of Israel !
The curtain rises on the second tragedy of the 'still small voice,' as Elijah rushes into the highway to arrest the chariot of Ahab and pour forth appalling denunciations dooming the royal family to destruction, with all the ghastly horrors of the unsepulchred dead.
On that ill-omened day, when Ahab cowered beneath the wild fanaticism of the fierce old Nâbi, seated behind him in the chariot were two youthful attendants, one of whom, Jehu, was unconsciously predestined to become the future instrument of divine or prophetic vengeance. Time passed away. Ahab was dead, Joram was king, Jehu, now a powerful captain, sat in the midst of his officers at Ramoth-gilead ; a young prophet from Elisha approached, demanded an audience, anointed Jehu king of Israel, and forthwith fled. The gift of royalty was, however, conditional on the massacre of all the royal family.
Jehu was a zealous executor of prophecy. He slew Joram, and cast his body into the field of Naboth ; he incited their guardians to murder the royal children, and placed their heads at the gates of Jezreel; he had Queen Jezebel thrown from a window, and drove his chariot over her body, which, abandoned in the high1 Kings xxi. 17–24.
2 2 Kings ix. 1-10.
way, was devoured by dogs—and this is called the fulfilment of prophecy! An eminent Nâbi predicts contemporary events, selects a suitable instrument, and
promises him a throne as the reward of actions which, in fulfilling alleged prophecy, consecrate the crimes of fanaticism and ambition in the name of the Deity!
Students of Scripture thoughtlessly condemn unheard the victims of the prophets as meriting their appalling punishments; but their annalists are the partisans of their accusers, judges, and executioners. Modern critics have found that the monsters of history were not always so black as depicted by their political opponents. There are two sides to the story of even a Borgia or Richard III., and, if we could search the private records of the dynasty of Omri, we might find that, although Jezebel imitated Elijah, and anticipated Christianity in piously slaying her theological opponents, she possessed redeeming virtues, as wife, mother, and queen, which might have claimed the simple boon of human sepulture.
The zeal of Jehu exceeded the tribute of blood demanded by the prophets. He slew all the friends, relatives, and priests of Joram ; he arrested and murdered forty-two members of the royal family of Judah, travelling in fancied security to visit the friends in Samaria whose heads were already in heaps at the gates of Jezreel; and, finally, he exterminated all the worshippers of Baal, with the satisfactory result of receiving the following message from Jehovah : · And the Lord said unto Jehu, Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab all that was in mine heart,