Wednesday, May 20, 2009

By the Pricking of my Thumbs, Is not Elisha also among the Prophets?

I began to enjoy Shakespeare the summer before my senior year of high school. I knew that I would have to read Macbeth and Hamlet the next year in British Literature, so I thought I would get a head start and read Macbeth, or 'The Scottish Play' if you are superstitious in the theater, during the summer. I also went and saw Macbeth and was well impressed.

Read Act 1, Scenes 1-3 which can be found many places online for free including here, on google books. Note, that from what we can tell, Macbeth had no plans of murder until the witches suggested it. This brings up questions of fate and human depravity. Clearly, Macbeth was capable of treason, but did he only do it because the witches suggested it, or would he have anyway?

Earlier this summer, I was reading 2 Kings, and was struck by a similar scene in 2 Kings 8 and Macbeth. A trusted underling of a king meets someone who predicts that the underling of the king will murder the king and become king himself. Here is the text from 2 Kings.

2 Kings 8:7-15
Hazael Murders Ben-hadad

7 Now Elisha came to Damascus. Ben-hadad the king of Syria was sick. And
when it was told him, "The man of God has come here," 8 the king said to
Hazael, "Take a present with you and go to meet the man of God, and inquire
of the LORD through him, saying, 'Shall I recover from this sickness?'" 9 So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, all kinds of goods of Damascus, forty camel loads. When he came and stood before him, he said, "Your son Ben-hadad king
of Syria has sent me to you, saying, 'Shall I recover from this sickness?'" 10 And Elisha said to him, "Go, say to him, 'You shall certainly recover,' but the LORD has shown me that he shall certainly die." 11 And he fixed his gaze and stared at him, until he was embarrassed. And the man of God wept. 12 And Hazael said, "Why does my lord weep?" He answered, "Because I know the evil that you will do to the people
of Israel. You will set on fire their fortresses, and you will kill their young men with the sword and dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women." 13 And Hazael said, "What is your servant, who is but a dog, that he should do this great thing?" Elisha answered, "The LORD has shown me that you are to be king over Syria." 14 Then he departed from Elisha and came to his master, who said to him,
"What did Elisha say to you?" And he answered, "He told me that you would certainly recover." 15 But the next day he took the bed cloth and dipped it in water and spread it over his face, till he died. And Hazael became king in his place.

In one of Donald Miller's books, a chapter is
subtitled, "Why William Shakespeare Was a Prophet." While I don't know about
that, I do know that reading the KJV version of the Bible in my quiet
time when I took Shakespeare my freshman year of college really

I am not going to argue here that that Shakespeare was a Christian writer as some
have because the similarities here do not point to that. But I just like to think that great books explore some of the same facets of humanity.

I think the most powerful difference between the stories is that Elisha mourns the evil that Hazael will bring about because his reign will bring about the death and torture of innocent people, and the witches celebrate it.

In both stories, we don't know whether the villains would have committed their evil deeds without the prophetic intervention. But in both cases, their is a sovereign author, writing for their own glory. Shakespeare bashed Macbeth and praised Banquo because the ruling monarch in England descended from Banquo. And in the Bible, everything works to God's glory and His own ends.

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