1. In revising this Lecture for publication I found that some parts of the argument had been more fully set forth in a Sermon preached before the University of Oxford. As the latter has not been published, and the two Lectures treat, in some parts of them, of substantially the same subject, I have thought it best to incorporate in this such portions of my University Lecture as more fully expound the views which I wished to present. At the same time, in now elaborating an argument which had been indicated in a former Lecture, it was impossible to avoid occasional repetition of what had been previously stated.
ON SOME FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES REGARDING
THE STUDY OF PROPHECY AND ITS FULFILMENT,
TOGETHER WITH REMARKS ON CERTAIN SPECIAL PROPHECIES.
He shall grow as a root out of a dry ground. Isaiah 53:2.
I pray thee, of whom speaketh the Prophet this? Acts 8:34.
In the preceding Lecture I have endeavoured to meet an objection which, if established, would have been fatal to our whole reasoning. Having thus, so to speak, cleared the ground before us, we can proceed with our main argument. Nor could we rest it on better foundation than the two Scripture passages just quoted, of which the one points to the grand central Figure in Old Testament prophecy; while the other refers to the question of its counterpart in the Person of Jesus Christ.
It is not difficult to transport ourselves into the scene of the interview between the Ethiopian eunuch and the Evangelist Philip. We have only to follow the most southern of the threeanciently, perhaps, only tworoads, which led from Jerusalem to Gaza. Beyond Eleutheropolis it passed through the ‘desert,’ that is, through a tract, nowand, as there is reason to believe, in New Testament timesuninhabited. Close by the road, in Wady el-Hasy, is a sheet of water, possibly the place of the eunuch’s baptism. It can scarcely surprise us that this stranger, who had just been to Jerusalem to worship, should on this lonely road have busied himself with the Old Testament, nor yet that, in his peculiar circumstances and near the boundary of the Land of Promise, he should in preference have turned to its prophecies, especially to that section in the roll of Isaiah where those boundaries were enlarged till they became wide as the world itself. Nor does it seem strange that, as in thought he climbed the sacred height and stood before the great central Figure of that mysterious Sufferer, he could not recognise His features. To this day has Israel failed to see in that Face marred more than any man’s its Messiah-King, the Crown of its gloryonly seen in it the impress of its own troubled history. And how could this stranger know it, who had but lately stood wondering in that gorgeous Temple, thronged by thousands of worshippers, and looked, as the crowd of white-robed priests ministered at the great altar of burnt-offering, and beyond it, from out the inner Sanctuary, floated the cloud of incense and shone the light of the ever-burning golden candlestick, while the voice of Levite-psalms filled the house with solemn melody. To lift one’s eyes from that scene to the sin-burdened Sufferer, as to the ideal of it allWho, in His stripes, bore the sin of the world, and so was the crowned Servant of Jehovahimplied a contrast which only Divinely-guided history could resolve, and only God-taught faith comprehend.
We do not wonder then at his question: Of whom does the prophet speak? It is the same which in its ultimate idea, as the mystery of suffering, has engaged all thinking. Very really, it is the same which these eighteen centuries and more has divided us; which the Jew has sought to answer as he stood before the prophetic picture of Isaiah, and the Christian as he gazed on the crucified Christ. How perplexing it has proved to the Synagogue appears not only from the widely-divergentrather absolutely contradictoryinterpretations which the most learned of the Rabbis have given to this prophecy, but even from their own admissions after they had attempted to solve its mystery. The philosophic Ibn Ezra speaks of this Parashah as one ‘extremely difficult.’ Isaac b. Elijah Cohen says: ‘I have never in my life seen or heard of the exposition of a clear or fluent commentator, in which my own judgment and that of others who have pondered on the same subject might completely acquiesce.’[For more on the 53rd of Isaiah, please see our online book: An Exposition of Isaiah 53 by David Baron.]
And, to make only one other quotation from Dr. Pusey’s Preface to the Catena of Jewish Interpretations on the 53rd of Isaiah, Ibn Amram says: ‘There is no little difficulty in giving a sense to those most obscure words of Isaiah in the present; they manifestly need a prophetic spirit.’ That, from the Jewish standpoint, such should be the case, every unprejudiced student will readily understand. And we may further remark, that the latest attempt of a certain school of critics to add to the Christian and the Jewish a third interpretation, in some sense more Jewish than that of the Jews, has only resulted in another, and yet more manifest, exegetical impossibility. But amidst these perplexities there seems at least one clear guiding light. The prophecy speaks not only of suffering, but of conquering, and of conquering by suffering. Now suffering is human; conquering is divine: but to conquer by suffering is theanthropic.
But amidst all our diversity there is, we are thankful to know, substantial agreement on one and, as it might seem, the most important point. There is no fundamental divergence between Jew and Christian as regards the translation of this chapter. In this it differs from certain other passages designated as Messianic, such as Genesis 49:10, Psalm 2:12, or the proper meaning of the word almah in Isaiah 7:14which are respectively rendered in the Authorised Version by, ‘Until Shiloh come’; ‘Kiss the Son lest he be angry’; and ‘Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.’ We would go a step further. Even as regards the so-called Messianic prophecies generally, there is, with few exceptions, a similar general agreement as to the translation of the words; or at least generally little that is fundamental is involved in the divergences. In other words, if it were only a question of the meaning of the original, we might hope soon to be at one. More especially is this the case as regards the climax of all Messianic predictions, the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. In the words of Dr. Pusey: ‘Next to nothing turns upon renderings of the Hebrew. The objections raised by Jewish controversiahsts…in only four, or at most five words, turn on the language.’ And the matter seems, at first sight, the more perplexing that there is substantial agreement, not only as regards the wording, but also the main contents of this prophecy. All admit that the subject of this prophecy is portrayed as lowly in His beginnings; suffering sorrow, contempt, and death; that He would be accounted a transgressor, yet that His sufferings were vicarious, those of the just for the unjust, and this by God’s appointment; that in meek silence and willing submissiveness He would accept His doom; that His soul was an offering for sin which God accepted; that He made many righteous; that He intercedes for trangressors; that He is highly exalted in proportion to His humiliation; and that kings would submit to Him, and His reign abide. To quote once more the language of Dr. Pusey: ‘The question is not, “What is the picture?” in this all are agreed; but, “Whose image or likeness does it bear?”' To put it otherwise: the question is not as to the meaning of the passages, but as to their application. ‘Of whom speaketh the prophet this?’of himself?of his contemporaries, or some part of them?or of some other One, who sums up in Himself the leading features of all, and yet passes beyond them, just as all fruit in the reality of its fulfilment passes beyond its visible germ-promise, unfolding all its indicated possibilities.
How then are we to account for the differences existing between us? The truth is, we start, indeed, from the same premisses, but into widely different directions. We all start not without preconceived opinions, as some would call themor guiding principles, as I would designate them. The Jew starts with his preconceived opinions as to what must or must not be in accordance with his general views of the teaching of the Old Testament. The Christian starts with the historical facts concerning Christ and Christianity in his mind. To the one this, to the other that, is the guiding principle in the application of what both have agreed to be the meaning of the words and the contents of a prophecy. And it cannot well be otherwise. The honest inquirer can only seek to know which of the two directions is the right one. This question, indeed, is of widest application. It covers the entire range of prophecy, and is decisive in the controversy between the Synagogue and the Church, on which, we would here remind ourselves, depend far graver issues than merely intellectual victory. But in answering this question as to the guiding principle in the interpretation of prophecy, it is evident that we must get behind individual propheciesconsider them not merely as isolated, but as a whole, trying to ascertain whether or not the Old Testament, as a whole, is prophetic of the Messiah, and whether or not the historical Christ and Christianity present the real fulfilment of that prophecy.
It is not, I hope, too fine a distinction to make between prophecy as referring to Christ, and prophecy as fulfilled in Christ. The two mark different standpoints in our view of prophecy, the one being the prospective or speculative, the other the retrospective or historic view of it. But it seems to me that Christian divines have not only quitted their high vantage-ground of historical fact, but acted contrary, alike to sound reasoning and the example of the New Testament, in disputing whether or not certain individual prophecies referred to Christ, instead of first presenting their actual historical fulfilment in Him. Had they begun with this, they would have exhibited the fundamental principle which underlies all prophecy, and shown the true sense in which these predictions must refer to Christ.
It is altogether a narrow principle which has been applied to the study of prophecy, and which too often results in disputes about words instead of presenting the grand and indubitable facts of fulfilment. There are persons who argue very strangely in regard to this matter. It is sometimes supposed that those who uttered a prophecy, perhaps even those who heard it, must have understood its full meaning, its complete Messianic bearing, or at least have had full conception of the personal Messiah as now in the light of fulfilment we know Him.2
And when it is shown that this could not have been the case, it is forthwith rashly concluded that the Messianic application for which we contend is erroneous. But it is a kind of Jewish literalism which lies at the basis of this erroneous view of prophecy, a narrow and utterly unspiritual view of it, a mechanical view also, which treats fulfilment in its relation to prophecy as if it were a clock made to strike the precise quarters of the hour. But it is not so. The fulfilment is always both wider and more spiritual than the prediction. It contains it and much more, and it can only be properly understood when viewed in its relation to prophecy as a whole. For it is evident that, if we were to maintain that those who uttered or who heard these predictions had possessed the same knowledge of them as we in the light of their fulfilment, these things would follow: First. Prophecy would have superseded historical development, which is the rational order, and God’s order. Secondly. In place of this order we would introduce a mechanical and external view of God’s revelation, similar to that which in theology has led to the fatal notion of a mechanical inspiration, and which in natural science (viewed from the theological standpoint) scouts the idea of development, and regards all as absolutely finished from the beginningviews which have been the bane of much that otherwise would have been sound in Natural Theology and Apologetics, and which have proved destructive to the old supernaturalism, involving in its fall much that was true, and which has now to be digged out of the ruins and built up anew. Thirdly. It would eliminate from God’s revelation the moral and spiritual elementthat of teaching on His part, and of faith and advancement on ours. Fourthly. It would make successive prophecies needless, since all has been already from the first clearly and fully understood. Lastly. Such a view seems in direct contradiction to the principle expressly laid down in 1 Peter 1:10, 11, as applicable to prophecy.
2. Thus G. Baur in his very thoughtful Geschichte d. Messianischen Weissagungena book which contains the substance of much that a very large proportion of a certain class of critics have since had to sayonly in more moderate language than theirs.
On the other hand, the principle that prophecy can only be fully understood from the standpoint of fulfilment, seems not only in accordance with all that one would expectsince otherwise prophecy would have been simply foretold history, without present application and teachingbut it must be evident that, if such had been the object in view, it would have been more natural, and, as it would seem, have secured the purpose more fully, to have told it out plainly, without the use of figure or metaphor, in language that could not have been misunderstood or misinterpreted. And so it almost seems as if some persons would fain have it, and that not only in regard to prophecy, but they complain that the New Testament should have told them everything plainly, giving every particular, even to the minutest direction as to the modes of our organisation, the order of our services, and the details of our Church life. But it is not so, and it never can be so, if, as we believe, our religion is of God. What in these demands is true has been granted, though not in the way in which it was expected. The history of the Church has taught us much of that which the New Testament contains, and the enlightened Christian consciousness has learned, as through bilingual inscriptions, to read the characters and the language in which much of the past was written. History has unfolded much that the New Testament had infolded, and under the ever-present guidance of the Holy Spirit we have learned to understand it. Nor does the objection hold good, that in such case they of old must in measure have been ignorant of the truth. In their measure they were not ignorant of it, but their measure is not ours. We believe in development and progress, rightly understood. Divine truth and revelation are, indeed, always the same: one, full, and final; and nothing can be added thereto. But with the development of our wants and with our progress its meaning unfolds, and it receives ever new applications. We understand things more fullyif you like, differentlyfrom our fathers, not because they are different, but because we are different, because questions have arisen to us which had not come to them, because mental and moral wants press upon us which had not presented themselves to them. And what is this but to assert the constant teaching of God? We bring not a new truth, but unfold the old; and from its adaptation, ever fresh and new to all times, to all men, to all wants, we gather fresh and living evidence of its Divine origin.
It is in this manner that prophecy in its application to Christ should be studied: first, the living Person, then His portraiture; first, the fulfilment, then the prophetic reference; first, the historical, then the exegetical argument. These remarks are not intended to deprecate the application of individual prophecies to Christ; only to correct a one-sided and mechanical literalism that exhausts itself in fruitless verbal controversies in which it is not unfrequently worsted, and to give to our views the right and, as we believe, the spiritual direction. For, even an exegetical victory would not decide that inward direction of heart and life which makes the Christian. We fully and gladly add that even in strict exegesis many special predictions can be only Messianically interpreted. But we believe still more that the Old Testament as a whole is Messianic, and full of Christ; and we wish this to be first properly apprehended, that so from this point of view the Messianic prophecies may be studied in detail. Then only shall we understand their real purport and meaning, and perceive, without word-cavilling, that they must refer to the Messiah.
And in this, as in all other things, we take our best guidance from the New Testament. When we ask ourselves whence those quiet God-fearing personsa Simeon, Anna, Zacharias, Elisabeth, a Joseph, and, with reverence be it added, the Virgin-Mothertook their direction before the manifestation of Christ; and, during its course, His disciples and followers, we unhesitatingly answer, from the Old Testament. But from the Old Testament as a whole; not, in the first place, from individual predictions, since in the nature of things these could only be fulfilled in the gradual development of His history. Nay, even when a prediction was actually fulfilled, as that of Zechariah in Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, the reference to it is followed by this significant explanation of St. John (12:16): ‘These things understood not His disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things unto Him.’ And this also explains how that which to our minds constitutes the central point in all Messianic predictionsthe sufferings of the Christso far from being prominent in the minds of His disciples, was ever that which they could not understand. It was only after His Resurrection, on that blessed evening-walk to Emmaus, that He could say to those two simple-hearted disciples, who were so sad at the things which had come to pass: ‘Oh fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.’ And it was again after that that He more fully taught His Apostles: ‘These are the words which I have spoken unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms concerning Me. Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.’ They could not recognise any one single feature, however salient, till the whole Figure stood before them bathed in the heavenly light. Then could each one of them be recognised as it had been portrayed by the prophets. They learned fulfilled prophecies in the light of fulfilled prophecy. And so shall we also best learn it.
Two things here strike the observant reader of the New Testament: first, the sparseness of prophetic quotations in the Gospels; and, secondly, their peculiarity. So far as I remember, only the one prophecy concerning His birth at Bethlehem was ever adduced to guide men to the Christ. And this prediction, itself a locus classicus universally accepted, was logically necessary. But even so, it had nothing special to direct to Jesus as the Christ. In all His teaching, except when in the Synagogue of Nazareth, He pointed to His message of the kingdom as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, He did not base His Messianic claims on any special prophecies. He ever based them on what He was, on what He said, on what He did; on the message of love from the Father which stood incarnate before them in His Person, on the opening of the kingdom of heaven to all believers, on the forgiveness, the peace, and the healing to body and soul, which He brought. That was the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy; this the kingdom for which all had been preparing, and which all had announced. And because He was the fulfilment of all, therefore was He the Messiah promised: the desire of all nations, towards which their conscious and unconscious longings had tended, and the glory of His people Israel, the crowning glory of all their spiritual teaching. Because He was the fulfilment of the Old Testament ideal, the deeper reality of its history and institutions, therefore did all the prophecies refer to Him. And when that stood fully out, then could His Apostles (as in their preaching in the Book of Acts) point to the prophecies as referring to Him. This is the unfolding in the New, of what was infolded in the Old Testament.
Secondly, the observant reader of the New Testament will be struck by the peculiarity of the Old Testament quotations in the Gospels. As regards their form they are mostly neither exactly from the original Hebrew nor from the Septuagint. This in accordance with universal custom. For popular use the Scriptures were no longer quoted in the Hebrew, which was not spoken, nor from the LXX, which was under Rabbinic ban, but targumed, rendered into the vernacular; the principle being very strongly expressed that, in so doing, it was not the letter, but the meaning of the passage which was to be given.3
But as regards the substance of these quotations, we feel as if mostly those passages had been adduced which we would least have expected to be quoted. The reason of this lies in the well-known fundamental principle of the Synagogue, that ‘all the prophets only prophesied of the Messiah’nay, that all events in the history of Israel and all their institutions were prophetic, and pointed forward to a fuller realisation in the Messiah. To whatever extravagance of detail this may have been carried, I have no hesitation in saying that the underlying principle is not only tenable, but both sound and true.
3. Niddah 49a.
This may be the proper place for some remarks on Prophecy in general, in the Biblical sense of the term, and on the Prophets in the Old Testament application of the designation.
1. Prophecy, in generalperhaps I should have said Prophetismmay, in the Biblical sense of the term, be defined as the reflection upon earth of the Divine ideal in its relation to the course of human affairs. According as the one or the other of these is the primary element, it refers to the future, or else to the present or the past. In the one case it is mainly predictive, in the other mainly parenetic. This from our human standpoint, where we view things as future, present, or pastnot from that of Divine reality where all is present.
In this general statement regarding prophecy, nothing has been said as to the medium through which this reflection of the Divine Light is to be made upon earthwhether institutions, events, or personsand in the latter case, both through those who are in harmony, and those who are out of harmony with the Divine: true or false prophets. In point of fact, prophecy, or the reflection of the Divine upon earth, may be, and really was, through each and all of these media. And the more fully we consider it, the more appropriate and even necessary will it appear to us that such should have been the case. For so will historywhich is not a fortuitous succession of events, but their orderly evolution from certain well-defined causes towards a Divinely willed endmost properly attain its destined goal.
It may seem a bold statement, and yet, to me at least, it seems logically clear, that our view of prophecy implies only one premise which is indeed a postulate. It is that of the Living and the True God. But this is precisely what the Old Testament teaches us concerning Jehovah. By the Living and the True God, I mean, not an abstraction, but a Person, a Moral Being; the Creator and Owner of all; the Centre of all, with Whom all is in living connection; or, in the words of St. Paul’s quotation, He ‘in Whom we live and move and have our being.’ I am aware that if the view of prophecy here indicated can be historically established, it would, on the other hand, lead by induction to historic evidence of such a God. But I leave this for the present aside, and put my argument, or rather my mode of viewing it, on this wise. The presence of a Living and True God in living connection with His creatures, seems to imply, as a necessary corollary, a Divine ideal in reference to the course of human events. From this again it would seem to follow, that there is at least strong presumption in favour of a Revelation, which is the communication to men of the Divine ideal. And Revelation and miracles are only different aspects of such Divine communication. But there can at least be no question that, if there be a Divine ideal with reference to the course of human events, that ideal must in the end, and as the goal of history, become the real; and, according to Holy Scripture, which in this respect also answers to our former definition of Revelation, this is and will be the Kingdom of God, when the Divine ideal in reference to man shall have become the real. And so it is that all Scripture is prophetic; that all prophecy has its ultimate fulfilment in the Kingdom of God; and that all prophecy points to it, or is Messianic in its character.
Wide-reaching as these statements are in their sequences, they must appear reasonable, at least to every Theist, and they are in accordance with what Holy Scripture sets forth as its object and contents.
2. From these more abstract considerations we turn, somewhat abruptly, to the concrete manner in which Prophetism is presented in the Old Testament. From one point of view, three classes are there designated as Prophets:Those who were avowedly the prophets of other gods, as of Baal or Ashtaroth; those who, while professedly the prophets of Jehovah (or Jahveh), were not really suchsome conscious, some apparently not conscious of imposture; and, lastly, those who were really ’sent’ by Jehovah. As all these, however widely differing in character, bear the same name of ‘prophets,’ it followsnot, as some would have it, that the Old Testament considers them all as equally prophets (which would be the heathen view of it), but that the title ‘prophet’ must be regarded as simply a generic designation, which implied no judgment either as to the character or the claims of those who bore it. More light comes to us from the root-meaning of the terms by which these 'prophets’ are designated in the Hebrew. To a certain extent they show us what ideas originally attached to the functions of a prophet, although we should always keep in view how easily and quickly a word moves away from its original meaning to its common application. Leaving aside such descriptive appellations as ‘man of God,’ ‘messenger of God,’ or the like, which afford no help towards the definition of the term ‘prophet,’ there are three words by which that office is chiefly described in the Hebrew, Nabhi, Roeh, and Chozeh. The etymology and meaning of the word Nabhi have been in dispute. According to some, it means primarily a spokesman; according to the majority of critics, it is derived from the verb nabha, which means to ‘well forth’ or ‘bubble up.’ Although the latter seems the more correct, yet there is practically little difference between the two interpretations. The idea which we necessarily attach to this ‘bubbling up,’ or ‘welling forth,’ is, that the prophet was so filled with Divine inspiration that it ‘bubbles up’ out of his speech, that he ‘wells it forth’;4
in which sense the New Testament also speaks of believers, in virtue of their reception of the Holy Spirit, as those out of whom ‘flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:38). It will be perceived that this description of the prophet as ‘welling forth’ the Divinetruly or falselyis so general as to be universally applicable; and, indeed, the term seems kindred to those used by other nations of antiquity.
4. The use of the word in 1 Chronicles 25:1-3 deserves special consideration as implying a wider and more general application.
Thus viewed, the Prophet is the medium of supposed or real Divine communicationfrom whatever Deity it beand the ‘weller-forth’ is also ‘the spokesman.’ It is in this sense that, when Moses was sent to bear the Divine communication to Pharaoh, Aaron was promised to him as his Nabhihis weller-forth, spokesman, or medium of communication (Exo 7:1; comp. 4:16). This may also help us to understand the meaning of an institution and of a designation in the Old Testament which is of the deepest interest: that of ‘schools of the prophets’ and ‘the sons of the prophets.’ I would suggest that ‘the sons of the prophets’ stood related to the prophets as the prophets themselves to the Divine.5
They were the medium of prophetic communication, as the prophets were the medium of Divine communication. And the analogy holds true in every particular. As the prophet must absolutely submit himself to God, and be always ready to act only as the medium of Divine communication, so must the ‘son of the prophet’ be ready to carry out the behests of the prophet, and be the medium of his communication, whether by word or deed. As a prophet might be divinely employed temporarily, occasionally, or permanently, so the sons of the prophets by the prophets. God might in a moment raise up and qualify suitable men to be His prophets or means of communication, since only inspiration was required for this. But the prophets could not exercise such influence in regard to their 'sons.’ Accordingly, special institutions, ‘the schools of the prophets,’ were required for their training and preparation. Besides this primary object, these establishments would serve important spiritual and religious purposes in the land, alike as regarded their testimony to Prophetism, their cultivation of the Divine, their moral discipline, readiness of absolute God-consecration and implicit submission to Him, and general religious influence on the people.
5. I am here only treating of one aspect of the question; but, as it seems to me, the most important.
But the analogy between prophets and sons of the prophets went even farther than we have indicated. For the moral qualifications for the two offices, however fundamentally differing, were in one respect the same. For both offices the one condition needful was absolute obedience; that is, viewed subjectively, passiveness; viewed objectively, faithfulness. Alike the prophet and the son of the prophet must, in the discharge of his commission, have absolutely no will or mind of his own, that so he may be faithful to Him Whose medium of communication he is. Henceperhaps sometimes purposely, to preach this to an unbelieving generationthe strange symbolisms occasionally connected with the prophetic office, and, on the other hand, the severe and, as it might otherwise seem, excessive punishments with which the smallest deviation from the exact terms of the commission was visited. For, not only each special prophetic mission, but the very meaning and basis of the prophetic office, depended on the exact transmission of the communication.
But we remember that the designation Nabhi is not the only one by which the prophetic functions are described in the Old Testament. Of the two other terms employed, Roeh describes the prophet as a seer, while Chozeh presents him rather as one who gazes. Although etymological distinctions are apt to run into each other, and in the present instance have actually done so, I would venture to suggest that, originally, the Roeh or seer may have been the prophet as seeing that which then existed, although unseen by ordinary men; while the Chozeh or gazer would represent the prophet as, in rapt vision, gazing on the yet future. In any case, the term Nabhi would not only be the more general and generic designation, but indicate a higher standpoint, as implying that the prophet acted as the medium of Divine communication.
Very interesting and instructive is the progression from the one to the other designation as marked in 1 Samuel 9:9. From this it appears that he who in the time of the writer was called Nabhi had previously been designated as Roeh or seer. A rash inference has been drawn from the circumstance that nevertheless the term Nabhi appears in the Pentateuch as applied, not only to Aaron in regard to Moses (Exo 7:1), but to Abraham in regard to God (Gen 20:7), and that, indeed, it repeatedly occurs in the Books of Numbers and Deuteronomy (Num 11:29; 12:6; Deut 13:1,3,5; 18:15,18,20,22; 34:10). But this does not necessarily imply that the Pentateuch was written after the term Nabhi had taken the place of Roeh, for, in point of fact, it never really did take that place; and the writer of 1 Samuel does not assert that the term Nabhi had previously been unknown, but that before the time of Samuel the designation of the prophet in common use had been that of Roeh or seer. This seems to us to mark a lower religious standpoint, when the prophet was chiefly regarded as a seer of what was unseen by others. Thus, it would be in character with the period of spiritual decay from the time of Joshua to that of Samuel. But with the ministry of Samuel there was a return to the original idea of the prophet as the medium of Divine communication, when the functions of Roeh or Chozeh were either subsidiary, or only special aspects of the prophetic office.
2. Leaving aside, for the present, the question of the means indicated in the Old Testament for distinguishing the true prophet of Jehovah from the pretended, or from prophets of Baal, it will be seen that the generic term Nabhi might be equally applied to these three classes. They were all Nebhiim, or organs of communication, of what professed to be the Divine. Further, this definition of the Nabhi will help us to understand the real functions of the prophetic office. We no longer regard the prophet as merely the foreteller of future events, nor yet identify prophecy with prediction. This would introduce a heathen and mantic element, contrary to the whole spirit of the Old Testament, and foreign to it also in this, that it withdraws from its most important institutions the moral and spiritual, which is the primary principle of the Old Testament. Nor do we, on the other hand, so accentuate the recorded facts concerning the work of the prophets as to regard them merely as those who announced to their age the Mind and Will of Jahvehtaught, admonished, warned (the parenetic element). This would lead up to the gradual effacement of the distinctive idea of Prophetism. No, nor yet do we see in it a combination of the two elements, the predictive and the parenetic, but a welding of them into one. The prophet is the medium of Divine communication. When he preaches he does not merely refer to the present; nor yet when he foretells does he refer exclusively to the future. He occupies, with reverence be it said, in a sense, the Divine standpoint, where there is neither past, present, nor future.
And here we must come back upon explanations in a former Lecture. The Prophet, as preacher, views the present in the light of the future; as foreteller, the future in the light of the present. He points out present sin, duty, danger, or need, but all under the strong light of the Divine future. He speaks of the present in the name of God, and by His direct commission; of a present, however, which, in the Divine view, is evolving into a future, as the blossom is opening into the fruit. And when he foretells the future, he sees it in the light of the present; the present lends its colours, scenery, the very historic basis for the picture.
This, as we have seen, will help to explain alike the substance and the form of the prophetic message. To the prophetic vision the present is ever enlarging, widening, extending. These hills are growing, the valley is spreading, the light is gilding the mountain tops. And presently the hills are clothed with green, the valleys peopled with voices; the present is merging into the future, although exhibited in the form of the present. The prophet is speaking of Moab, Ammon, Tyre, Assyria; and these are gradually growing into the shapes of future foes, or future similar relations. And in the midst of such references here and there appears what applies exclusively to that Messianic Kingdom which is the goal and final meaning of all, and of all prophecy. It is an entire misunderstanding to regard such prophecies as not applying to the Messianic future, because they occur in the midst of references to contemporary events. As the rapt prophet gazes upon those hills and valleys around him, they seem to grow into gigantic mountains and wide tracts, watered by many a river and peopled with many and strange forms, while here and there the golden light lies on some special height, whence its rays slope down into valleys and glens; or else, the brightness shines out in contrasted glory against dark forest, or shadowy outline in the background. And the Prophet could not have spoken otherwise than in the forms of the present. For, had he spoken in language, and introduced scenery entirely of the future, not only would his own individuality have been entirely effaced, but he would have been wholly unintelligible to his contemporaries, or, to use the language of St. Paul, he would have been like those who spoke always in an unknown tongue.
To make ourselves more clear on these points, let us try to transport ourselves into the times and circumstances of the prophets. Assume that the problem were to announce and describe the Messianic Kingdom to the men of that generation, in a manner applicable and intelligible to them, and also progressively applicable to all succeeding generations, up to the fulfilment in the time of Christ, and beyond it, to all ages and to the furthest development of civilisation. The prophet must speak prophetically yet intelligibly to his own contemporaries. But, on the other hand, he must also speak intelligibly, yet prophetically to the men of every future generationeven to us. We can readily understand how in such case many traits and details cannot have been fully understood by the prophets themselves. But we are prepared to affirm that all these conditions are best fulfilled in the prophecies of the Old Testament, and that, if the problem be to announce the Messianic Kingdom in a manner consistent with the dogmatic standpoint then reached, the then cycle of ideas and historical actualities and possibilities, and yet suitable also to all generations, it could not have been better or equally well done in any other manner than that actually before us in the Old Testament. As a matter of fact, the present generation, and, as a matter of history, all past generationsadmittedly the whole Jewish Church and the whole Christian Churchhave read in these prophecies the Messianic future, and yet every successive generation has understood them, more or less clearly, and in a sense newly. If I might venture on an illustration: the reading of prophecy seems like gazing through a telescope, which is successively drawn out in such manner as to adapt the focus to the varying vision.
And yet the telescope is the same to all generations. We do not propose the clumsy device of a twofold application of prophecy, to the present and to the future, but, taking the prophetic standpoint, we regard the present as containing in germ the future, and the future as the child of the present, so that it can be presented in the forms of the present; or, to revert to a statement in a previous Lecture, it is not a progression, nor even a development, but an unfolding of the present. Viewed in relation to the Messianic Kingdom, it is one and the same thing, which to the eye of the prophet now is, and ever shall be. We might almost apply to prophetism this in the Epistle to the Hebrews: ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.’ Canaan is a prophetic land, and Israel a prophetic people, of whom God says to the world: ‘Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm.’ And their whole history is prophetic. It is not merely one or another special prediction that is Messianic: everythingevery event and institutionis prophetic and Messianico- prophetic, and what we one-sidedly call special predictions are only special points on which the golden light rests, and from which it is reflected. And it is in this sense that we understand and adopt the fundamental principle of the Synagogue, repeated in every variety of form, that every event in Israel’s history, and every prophecy pointed forward to the Messiah, and that every trait and fact of the past, whether of history or miracle, would be re-enacted more fully, nay, in complete fulness, in the times of the Messiah.
We repeat, that this fundamental view of the Old Testament prophecy, or rather of the prophetic character of the Old Testament in contradistinction to the theory of merely isolated predictions in single verses or clauses, or even in isolated chapters, must not be misunderstood as if it implied that there are not absolute and definite predictions in the Old Testament. Unquestionably there are such, that had no basis in the then presentas when a sign was to be given, or an immediate judgment or deliverance enounced. But the principles which we have laid down are most wide- eaching in their bearing. They find their application also to what are called the types of the Old Testament, which are predictions by deed, as prophecies are predictions by word, and in the study of which the reference to the future must be learned from their teaching in the then present: their typical from their symbolical meaning. And the same principles also apply to what of prophecy we have in the New Testament. This bears chiefly on these three points: the Second Coming of Christ, the Antichrist, and the visions of the Apocalypse. The subject is so interesting, that without applying in detail the principles laid down in this Lecture, we may be allowed at least to indicate their bearing on each of these three groups of prophecy.
As regards the Second Coming of Christ, it will scarcely be questioned that it was somehow connected with statements, which we now see to have primarily referred to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Equally there can be no doubt, that the men of Christ’s time expected His Advent, and also that every age since has done the same; and, indeed, was intended to do so. The application of our principles seems to introduce harmony into all this. It was the all-engrossing and all-influencing fact, to be viewed through the telescope of prophecy. And the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple was not only a symbol, but in an initial sense the very coming of Christ into His Kingdom. That coming of Christ into His Kingdom, which had been denied in explicit words, and negatived by public deed, when by wicked hands they slew Him, was vindicated, and, so to speak, publicly enacted when the Roman soldier threw the torch into the Temple, and when afterwards Jerusalem was laid level with the dust. As regards the men of that land and generation, it was the public proclamation, the evidence, that the Christ Whom they had rejected had come into His Kingdom. By the lurid light of those flames no other words could be read than those on the Cross: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ I say, then, the burning of Jerusalem was to that generationand whatever kindred events successively came within the focus of the telescopic vision of following generations, were to them, the fulfilment of that prophecy, of which the final completion will be the Personal reappearance of Christ at the end of the Æon.
Similar inferences come to us when we turn to the prophecies concerning the Antichrist. In that generation the mystery of iniquity was already working. Antichrist had already come, in those Gnostic heresies, defacements and displacements of Divine truth, and in the political antagonism, which almost threatened the extinction of the Church. And in every generation does ‘the mystery of iniquity’ work; and it worketh nownay, as the holy Apostle explains, it shall workin the children of disobedience, and so long and wherever there are such, till that which now letteth is taken away, and the dammed-up waters rush into those ready channels, from which they had so long been held, and so Antichrist be fully revealed. Or, lastly, as regards the prophetic visions of the Apocalypse, it is not difficult to perceive that the forms and imageryso to speak, the groundworkare taken from the then present: either from the Temple and its services, or from current Apocalyptic imagery, or else from the political history of the time, from Nero, and the events then occurring. But because critics recognise, for example, Nero and that period, it would surely be a very rash conclusion that these visions are so jejune as to present merely an Apocalyptic description of that time.
To sum up in practical conclusions what has been stated in this Lecture. It is in the light of the wider view of fulfilled prophecy which, as a whole and in all its parts, refers to the Kingdom of God upon earth, that we must study individual predictions. They pass far beyond anything actual at the time of their utterance to the underlying ideal. They are not exaggerated Orientalisms for simple facts, but there was one grand moving idea set forth with ever unfolding clearness: the hope of a great Fatherhood of God, of a great brotherhood of man, in which the grand connecting link, alike with God and man, should be the One Who embodied all that was ideally possible in man, and Who manifested all that could be manifested of God; Who united the highest point in the human with the utmost condescension of the DivineGod and man; Who brought God’s reconciliation to man, and by it reconciled man to God, combining in Himself these two: the suffering of man and the conquering of God, and organically united them in conquering by suffering; One Who, by so doing, made possible, and introduced the Messianic Kingdom of God, through the willing submission of man. Thus the God-Man fully realised the theanthropic idea of the whole Old Testament.
As each event in His history kindled into light, it shone upon the individual prophecies, and made them bright. And here let us mark the inward connection of these Messianic prophecies. If, putting aside controversial criticism, we range them side by side, and in their order, we perceive that which modern philosophic science seeks, in all its departments: a grand unity. This unity cannot be accounted for on the modern negative theory, which treats the prophecies as disjecta membra, having each sole application to some one historical event of the past. Even as regards the older view of prophetism, which I have disclaimed, Kuenen himself has admitted at least its attractiveness and grandeur. But further, there is not only unity, but manifest progression. The fundamental idea does not change, but it unfolds, and applies itself under ever-changing and enlarging circumstances, developing from particularism into universalism; from the more realistic preparatory presentation to the spiritual which underlay it, and to which it pointed; from Hebrewism to the world-Kingdom of God. And, lastly, this Messianic idea is the moving spring of the Old Testament. It is also its sole raison d’etre, viewed as a revelation. Otherwise the Jewish people and their history could only have an archæological or a political interest for us. Hebrewism, if it had any Divine meaning, was the religion of the future, and Israel embodied for the world the religious idea which, in its universal application, is the Kingdom of God.
Or, else, if we discard this view of prophecy altogether, then must we also surrender the Old Testament itself as of any Divine authority, or as other than a form of ancient religion. For we can never believe that a narrow, national, and exclusive creed and institutions could have been Divine in the strict sense, or intended to be permanent‘for it is not possible that the blood of bulls or of goats should take away sins’ (Heb 10:4). But if you remove the Old Testament, then the New Testament which is built on it must also fall. For not only do Christ and His Apostles avowedly stand upon Old Testament ground, but the Church itself is built ‘upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets’ (Eph 2:20). This issue we can safely leave to the arbitrament of time, or rather, as Christian believers, in the hands of our God. Modifications of form and of presentation may, and will comeother perhaps than we either expect or fear. But we have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb 12:28)the revelation of which, whether as prophecy under the Old, or fulfilment under the New Testament, is, with reverence be it said, worthy of God to have given, worthy of Christ to have manifested, worthy of humanity to be received and submitted to; worthy also, let us add, to be accepted by us in the reverence of a humble, earnest, and personal faith.
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