Here, I. We may enquire what brought Elisha to Damascus, the chief city of Syria. Was he sent to any but the lost sheep of the house of Israel? It seems he was. Perhaps he went to pay a visit to Naaman his convert, and to confirm him in his choice of the true religion, which was the more needful now because, it should seem, he was not out of his place (for Hazael is supposed to be captain of that host); either he resigned it or was turned out of it, because he would not bow, or not bow heartily, in the house of Rimmon. Some think he went to Damascus upon account of the famine, or rather he went thither in obedience to the orders God gave Elijah, 1 Kgs. 19:15; “Go to Damascus to anoint Hazael, thou, or thy successor.”
II. We may observe that Ben-hadad, a great king, rich and mighty, lay sick. No honour, wealth, or power, will secure men from the common diseases and disasters of human life; palaces and thrones lie as open to the arrests of sickness and death as the meanest cottage.
III. We may wonder that the king of Syria, in his sickness, should make Elisha his oracle.
1. Notice was soon brought him that the man of God (for by that title he was well known in Syria since he cured Naaman) had come to Damascus, 2 Kgs. 8:7. “Never in better time,” says Ben-hadad. “Go, and enquire of the Lord by him.” In his health he bowed in the house of Rimmon, but now that he is sick he distrusts his idol, and sends to enquire of the God of Israel. Affliction brings those to God who in their prosperity had made light of him; sometimes sickness opens men’s eyes and rectifies their mistakes. This is the more observable, (1.) Because it was not long since a king of Israel had, in his sickness, sent to enquire of the god of Ekron (2 Kgs. 1:2), as if there had been no God in Israel. Note, God sometimes fetches to himself that honour from strangers which is denied him and alienated from him by his own professing people. (2.) Because it was not long since this Ben-hadad had sent a great force to treat Elisha as an enemy (2 Kgs. 6:14), yet now he courts him as a prophet. Note, Among other instances of the change of men’s minds by sickness and affliction, this is one, that it often gives them other thoughts of God’s ministers, and teaches them to value the counsels and prayers of those whom they had hated and despised.
2. To put an honour upon the prophet, (1.) He sends to him, and does not send for him, as if, with the centurion, he thought himself not worthy that the man of God should come under his roof. (2.) He sends to him by Hazael, his prime-minister of state, and not by a common messenger. It is no disparagement to the greatest of men to attend the prophets of the Lord. Hazael must go and meet him at a place where he had appointed a meeting with his friends. (3.) He sends him a noble present, of every good thing of Damascus, as much as loaded forty camels (2 Kgs. 8:9), testifying hereby his affection to the prophet, bidding him welcome to Damascus, and providing for his sustenance while he sojourned there. It is probable that Elisha accepted it (why should he not?), though he refused Naaman’s. (4.) He orders Hazael to call him his son Ben-hadad, conforming to the language of Israel, who called the prophets fathers. (5.) He puts an honour upon him as one acquainted with the secrets of heaven, when he enquires of him, Shall I recover? It is natural to us to desire to know things to come in time, while things to come in eternity are little thought of or enquired after.
IV. What passed between Hazael and Elisha is especially remarkable.
1. Elisha answered his enquiry concerning the king, that he might recover, the disease was not mortal, but that he should die another way (2 Kgs. 8:10), not a natural but a violent death. There are many ways out of the world, and sometimes, while men think to avoid one, they fall by another.
2. He looked Hazael in the face with an unusual concern, till he made Hazael blush and himself weep, 2 Kgs. 8:11. The man of God could outface the man of war. It was not in Hazael’s countenance that Elisha read what he would do, but God did, at this time, reveal it to him, and it fetched tears from his eyes. The more foresight men have the more grief they are liable to.
3. When Hazael asked him why he wept he told him what a great deal of mischief he foresaw he would do to the Israel of God (2 Kgs. 8:12), what desolations he would make of their strong-holds, and barbarous destruction of their men, women, and children. The sins of Israel provoked God to give them up into the hands of their cruel enemies, yet Elisha wept to think that ever Israelites should be thus abused; for, though he foretold, he did not desire the woeful day. See what havock war makes, what havock sin makes, and how the nature of man is changed by the fall, and stripped even of humanity itself.
4. Hazael was greatly surprised at this prediction (2 Kgs. 8:13): What, says he, Isa. thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? This great thing he looks upon to be, (1.) An act of great power, not to be done but by a crowned head. “It must be some mighty potentate that can think to prevail thus against Israel, and therefore not I.” Many are raised to that dominion which they never thought of and it often proves to their own hurt, Eccl. 8:9. (2.) An act of great barbarity, which could not be done but by one lost to all honour and virtue: “Therefore,” says he, “it is what I shall never find in my heart to be guilty of: Isa. thy servant a dog, to rend, and tear, and devour? Unless I were a dog, I could not do it.” See here, [1.] What a bad opinion he had of the sin; he looked upon it to be great wickedness, fitter for a brute, for a beast of prey, to do than a man. Note, It is possible for a wicked man, under the convictions and restraints of natural conscience, to express great abhorrence of a sin, and yet afterwards to be well reconciled to it. [2.] What a good opinion he had of himself, how much better than he deserved; he thought it impossible he should do such barbarous things as the prophet foresaw. Note, We are apt to think ourselves sufficiently armed against those sins which yet we are afterwards overcome by, as Peter, Matt. 26:35.
5. In answer to this Elisha only told him he should be king over Syria; then he would have power to do it, and then he would find in his heart to do it. Honours change men’s tempers and manners, and seldom for the better: “Thou knowest not what thou wilt do when thou comest to be king, but I tell thee this thou wilt do.” Those that are little and low in the world cannot imagine how strong the temptations of power and prosperity are, and, if ever they arrive at them, they will find how deceitful their hearts were and how much worse than they suspected.
V. What mischief Hazael did to his master hereupon. If he took any occasion to do it from what Elisha had said the fault was in him, not in the word. 1. He basely cheated his master, and belied the prophet (2 Kgs. 8:14): He told me thou shouldst certainly recover. This was abominably false; he told him he should die (2 Kgs. 8:10), but he unfairly and unfaithfully concealed that, either because he was loth to put the king out of humour with bad news or because hereby he might the more effectually carry on that bloody design which he conceived when he was told he should be his successor. The devil ruins men by telling them they shall certainly recover and do well, so rocking them asleep in security, than which nothing is more fatal. This was an injury to the king, who lost the benefit of this warning to prepare for death, and an injury to Elisha, who would be counted a false prophet. 2. He barbarously murdered his master, and so made good the prophet’s word, 2 Kgs. 8:15. He dipped a thick cloth in cold water, and spread it upon his face, under pretence of cooling and refreshing him, but so that it stopped his breath, and stifled him presently, he being weak (and not able to help himself) or perhaps asleep: such a bubble is the life of the greatest of men, and so much exposed are princes to violence. Hazael, who was Ben-hadad’s confidant, was his murderer, and some think, was not suspected, nor did the truth ever come out but by the pen of this inspired historian. We found this haughty monarch (1 Kgs. 20:1-43) the terror of the mighty in the land of the living, but he goes down slain to the pit with his iniquity upon his bones, Ezek. 32:27.