Law and promise-these are the two chief pillars of Old Testament revelation. The one is the royal, the other the prophetic. The connecting link between the two is the temple. The priestly service is at once law and promise.
Thus these two expand to a triunity in the history of salvation, and thereby the entire history of Israel became a leading on to the Messiah, Who, as the threefold anointed, is at once prophet, priest, and king.
Therefore also Israel had three theocratically leading classes:
The princes (elders, judges, and kings) were the political leaders of the nation; the priests and prophets concerned themselves with the inward and eternal. In this connexion the priests were the permanent and, by birth, the appointed guardians of the written deposited Divine revelation (comp. Heb. 7:16), while the prophets were as occasion required the bearers of the progressive divine revelation, appointed not through birth but by personal vocation (I Sam. 1O:12).
Four names are the leading descriptions of the Old Testament prophets. They show us at the same time how the men must be qualified whom God will use as His witnesses.
i. Prophets are "speakers" (Heb. nabi, comp. Arabic nabaa, to speak). They are interpreters (interpres Dei), expounders (hermeneus theou, Philo), tellers forth (Gk. pro-phetes, not in every case speakers in advance: comp. English "forthteller," not always foreteller), " mouth " of God (Jer.15:19). They stand to the Lord in a relation similar to that of Aaron to Moses: " thy brother Aaron shall be thy prophet" (Exod. 7:1,2), and "thou shalt be to him 'God "' (Exod. 4:15,16). The Spirit of the Lord "impelled" the prophets (II Pet. 1:21), laid His words in their mouth (Deut. 18:18; Jer.1:9), spoke through them (II Sam. 23:2). Their tongue is " the pen of a ready writer " (Psa. 45:2), and their messages are the "utterance of God" (I Pet. 4:11). Therefore (according to Dr. Evans) in the Old Testament (this Bible of the Lord Jesus and His apostles) it declares about 3500 times "Thus saith the Lord."
ii. Prophets are seers (Heb. roeh, I Sam. 9:9; I Chron. 9,22; Isa.30:10). They must first have "seen" their message before they can pass it on (I Chron.29:29; Isa. 30:10). Therefore this, even when it is wholly or almost unaccompanied by "visions," is nevertheless quite generally called simply "vision" (Isa. 1:1). The modes of the prophetic view were different.
(I) Perception through the outward sense. The prophet remains "in the body" (comp. II Cor.12:2,3): he is not "in the spirit" (comp. Rev.1:10, lit.). He hears and sees with his bodily senses (Num.12:8).
Moses sees and hears at the flaming bush (Exod. 3);
Samuel hears, but sees nothing (I Sam. 3)
Daniel sees, but hears nothing (Dan. 5:25);
Abraham sees and hears (Gen. 18).
(2) Perception through the inward sense. The prophet is "in the spirit" (Rev. 1:10), the condition of rapture (ecstasy). To outward things his eyes are "closed", inwardly they are open" (Num. 24:3,15). Inwardly he "sees" or "hears." Through inward " sight " he receives the pictorial revelation ("vision") of which nevertheless he often needs an explanation (Amos 7: 7; 8: z; Zech. 1:9; 4:4; Dan. 8:15); through inward " hearing " he attains to the verbal revelation, which more directly imparts to him knowledge.
(3) Perception through mere enhancing of the natural activities of the human mind. Here God intensifies dreams and makes them media of the divine messape (as, for example, with Pharoah, Nebuchadnezzar, Joseph); or He intensifies the activity of the understanding and elevates its speech to inspired height e.g., in the songs of praise of Hannah (I Sam.2), Mary (Luke 1), Zacharias (Luke 1). The one is the connecting link between the natural dream life and the inward pictorial revelation, the other the intermediate stage between the "sermon" and the inward revelation by word.
Thus God has spoken to the prophets by "manifold and various ways," but the basic theme was always the same: the loving holiness of the Lord and its victorious glorification in this world, through judgment and grace, right on unto perfection.
Of special significance here is the "law of prophetic perspective. ' For the heavenly world there is no limitation of time. "Before the eyes of the Eternal everything is present." By his exit from the sphere of the temporal into the sphere of the divine the prophet steps at the same time into the sphere of the super-temporal, and as the "speaker" of the Eternal he stands now royally above all conceptions of time. Thus he can indeed see the future as future (e.g. Isa. 9: 7), but, in the same sentence, at the same time, also as present (ver. 6, lit.), yea, even as past (ver. 6 and especially Isa. 5 3). " Prophecy often sets near together events remote from each other in time, and, while holding fast to the historical anchorage of the events, it frequently flies over the whole intervening period between the present and the future, though the gap may perhaps last more than thousands of years."
Thus arises prophetic "perspective." It is at once the perfection and imperfection of the prophet. Events of the near and distant future are brought close together like the peaks of the mountains for the wanderer in high lands. The return of Judah from Babylon and the gathering of Israel in the End time (Isa. 49: 8-12; 43: 5-7; 27:12,13), the coming of Christ in lowliness and His appearing in glory (Isa. 61: 1-3), are viewed together in one picture, for the former is the type of the other, and the second is the fulfilment of the first.
An especially significant example of this is Isaiah's prophecy of the coming jubilee year (Isa. 6I: I-3), at the public reading of which, in the synagogue at Nazareth, the Lord broke off in the middle of a sentence, because in that same sentence the prophecy, without interval, had passed over from the first to the second coming of Messiah, and on that occasion the Lord wished to speak only of His first coming (Luke 4: 18,19). Another example is Mal.3:1-4.
That in such places at least 2,000 years lay between is nowhere intimated; indeed as the prophets " searched diligently concerning the times and points of time," their lack of understanding was made intelligible to them, even by a special "revelation" to the effect that they did not need to know this, because in their service they were acting "not for themselves" but for the generations of a coming age (I Pet. 1:10-12).
So the prophets see the " peaks "-often three or four behind one another; they also perceive clearly that "valleys" lie between; but how " wide" these are and what each in detail hides in itself, they do not know. They understand that the "sufferings" of Messiah must precede His "glories" (I Pet.1:11; Luke 24:25,26), and that therefore an interval divides the one from the other; and therefore also they prophesy in this same sequence 1; but how long this interval lasts, whether quite short or long, and what it more exactly signifies (the building of the church), this remains to them a "secret" (Eph. 3:2-1O; Col. 1:26; Rom. 16:25; Matt. 13:17)
1Sufferings: Psa. 2:1-3, Psa 8:4,5a, Psa. 22:1-21, Isa. 52:13-53:9 Glory: Psa 2:4-12, Psa 8:6,7; Heb. 2:5-9, Psa. 22:22-32, Isa.53:10-12.
They prophesy of the End time, of the kingdom of Messiah, of the new heaven and the new earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22), but that the Messianic kingdom consists of two sections, a thousand years on the old earth (Rev.20:2, 4-7) and eternally on the new earth (Rev.21:1;22:5), and that world judgment, even world destruction and glorification, lie between (Rev. 20:9-15), this they do not see. Therefore they paint the new earth with the colours of the kingdom of glory of the old (Isa. 65:17-25; especially ver. 20 "death"), and the picture of the millennial kingdom melts into one with the picture of the consummation.
Thus then the Lord Jesus said to His disciples: "of a truth, I say unto you, many prophets and righteous men have desired to see what you see, and have not seen, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard. But blessed are your eyes, that they see, and your ears, that they hear" (Matt.13:17,16).
iii. Prophets are " watchmen " (Heb. zophim). " I will enter upon my watch, and set myself on the watch tower, and will watch carefully so as to see what He will say to me" (Hab.2:1; Isa. 21:8).
From the lofty look-out they have an eye for the present: 'Watchmen have I set over you, and warned you: heed the sound of the trumpet" (Jer. 6:17). As men of history they speak in historically conditioned form to men of that history. As members of their present age they address themselves to their contemporaries, starting with their then situation. Therefore are they at the same time the warners of the people, the exhorters of the nation (Isa. 3:17), the "supervising officials" of the ruling kings, the " conscience " of the community, and as such its guardians and "shepherds" (Zech. 1O:2,3;11:3,16,17; Ezek.34:2).
But as "watchmen" they look out into the future also and see judgment (Isa.21:5-12) and consummation: "Hark! thy watchmen let their voices ring out and exult all together! For eye to eye they see, full of joy, how the Lord returns to Zion" (Isa.52:8; 62:6,7). Taken together they are the counsellors, conscience, eyes, ears, and overseers of the people.
iv. Prophets are "men of God" (I Kings 13:1). They are personalities consecrated to God, " holy men " (II Pet.1:21; Matt. 13:17). Unsanctified prophets (such as Balaam, Num. 22-24; and Saul, I Sam. 19, 23; comp. Caiaphas, John 11:51, and Phil.1:15,18) are exceptions and are never God's permanent servants. For God desires the heart, not only the mouth, the worker, not only his work. "In those who draw near to me I will be sanctified, and before the whole people I will be glorified" (Lev.1O:3; Isa. 52:11),
But as "men of God" they are also individuals; for God will not set aside human nature but He transfigures it. He wishes not its elimination but its use in His service, not slaves but friends (John 15:15; Amos 3:7), not media but just "men."
So we have the picture-language of the countryside from the shepherd Amos (Amos 7: 14; 2:13; 3:4-6); the national prophecies from the Minister of State, Daniel (chs. 2; 4; 7; 8;11); the summons to build the temple from the priest Zechariah; the description of the future priestly service, likewise through a priest, the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:3, comp. chs. 40-48). And as rewards the individual temperaments and characters, we have the thundering language of the choleric Amos and Isaiah, the plaintive and mourning style of the melancholic Hosea and Jeremiah, the psalm-like poetry of the poetical Habbakuk (ch. 3). Sometimes even the personal names of the prophets are like a superscription and motto for their message: Isaiah, the "evangelist" of the Old Covenant, means "Jehovah gives salvation;" Ezekiel, the Moses of the restoration, " God strengthens; " and Daniel, the prophet of world history and world judgment, " God is judge."
Also their divine message is often conditioned by contemporaneous affairs. Old Testament prophecy is no mere aerial line which does not touch the ground. Much rather, at many points, there is allusion to events and persons of the then present or the near future. From a definite situation the prophets speak to men in a definite situation. They often draw from their surroundings the shapes and colours for the presentation of their message. Everything is historically conditioned and yet at the same time interpenetrated with eternity. All is at once human and divine, temporal and super-temporal.
They speak of the Assyrian distress and at the same time of the great Immanuel (Isa. 7-12; Matt.1:23); they speak of the exodus from Egypt and the mourning at Ramah on the carrying away to Babylon; and at the same time they prophesy of the history of the Messiah's childhood (Hos. 11:1; comp. Matt. 2: 15; Jer. 31:15; comp. Matt. 2:17,18). They speak of the return from Babylon and simultaneously promise the gathering of Israel at the still future inauguration of the kingdom of peace (Isa.11: 11-16). They speak of the coming kingdom of God of the End time and simultaneously depict the glory of the new earth and of the final perfecting of all things (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; 54:11,12; comp. Rev. 21:1,18-21).
Thus they prophesy prophecies in advance. In words they promise prophecies in the form of deeds. They foretell events which again will be in themselves prophecies, and which, when they have been fulfilled, as shadow-pictures and pledges of redemption, must then themselves be fully fulfilled. This all appertains to the historical anchorage of their eternal message.
In the divine inspiration the sacred writer is less like a pipe or channel, with the inflowing current flowing out again without having taken up any of the particular qualities of its channel, but he is like a wind instrument which, each according to its kind-flute, horn, or trumpet-imparts its own definite peculiar tone to the same melodies of the same player; or he is like a pen, which to the writing of the very same writer and the very same text, by reason of its own thickness or hneness often gives a very different appearance. So each prophet "bears the stamp of his time as a man, just as he bears the stamp of his God as a prophet.... Each, according to his kind, is a 'mouth' of the Lord; but the tones which come from these throats are now higher (as Isa. 40-65), now deeper (as Isa.13-23). The tone and strength of the voice differ with the individual; but the choir forms a wonderful harmony, for the Composer is but One."
The history of prophecy covers seven periods:
1. Its earliest beginnings: Adam to Moses.
2. Moses to Samuel.
3. Samuel to the prophets who wrote (Acts 3: 24); schools of prophets.
4. The prophets who wrote: Joel to Malachi (about 800-400 B.C.).
5. The silence of God: Malachi to the New Testament.
6. The prophetic ministry of Christ (Heb.1:1,2).
7. Prophesying in the church (I Cor.12:10;14; Eph. 4:11).
Then comes the great time of fulfilment in the Messianic kingdom and consequently the ceasing of all special prophesying: Heb. 8:11; comp. Zech. 13:3-6; I Cor. 13:9,10.
NOTE. We should distinguish between " verbal " prophesying, i.e. prophesying in wordy (e.g. Micah 5:2; Isa. 9:1,2) and "typical" prophesying. A typical prophecy foretells (by words) a type (a fore-picture). It has a double fulfilment: as a verbal prophecy it is fulfilled by the appearance of the type; as a typical prophecy it is only completely fulfilled when this type also is " fulfilled," that is, in the Messianic development of salvation (e.g. Hos.11:1, with Matt. 2:15).
In this sense prophecy concerning the Israelitish kingdom is frequently at the same time a prediction relating to the period of the church. Only this fact puts into our hand the key as to why the New Testament applies spiritually to the present church age certain Old Testament prophecies which, in the meaning of the Old Testament prophets, unquestionably refer to Israel and the future End times (e.g. Rom. 15:12 with Isa. 11:10; I Pet. 2:10; Rom. 9: 25, 26 with Hos. 1:1O; Acts 2:16-21 with Joel 2: 28-32; I Pet. 2: 9 with Exod. 19: 6), of course without intending to deny their future literal application (Rom.11:29). From God's side these prophecies meant more than the Old Testament prophets were themselves aware (I Pet.1:11,12).
Mere spiritualizing is therefore indeed false, for it takes away from Israel its God-given promises; but mere explanation as having only literal future significance is likewise one-sided, for it does not do justice to the manner of the New Testament citations. "Spiritualizing" is to a great extent the method of the New Testament. This one should do and not leave the other undone.
Further, Old Testament prophecy, when it speaks of the coming, visible, glorious kingdom of God on the old earth, is very often a typical prophecy of the final consummation on the new earth. If this were not so we should be confronted by the utterly incomprehensible fact that the entire Old Testament promise of the kingdom refers only to a very short period of one thousand years, and says nothing at all of the actual final goal of the history of salvation.2 No! it is at the same time "typical" prophesying of eternity, and allowing for all literal and direct references to its environment and to the coming millennial kingdom, this must be said: Its real, essential kernel is not the earthly kingdom of God on the old earth (this first portion of the coming kingdom of God) but the eternal kingdom (to which the former will have been only introduction and approach), this second and properly chief portion of the coming kingdom of God, the nations on the new earth and the new Jerusalem there. See Isa. 65:17-25; 66:22.
2But note the frequent use by the prophets of "for ever" in reference to the future of Israel e.g. Isa.9:7; 51:6,8; 60:21; Jer. 7:7;25:5; Ezk.37:24,25; 43:7; Joel 3:20; Mic.4:6,7. And Isa. 65:17,18. [Trans.]
Thus, then, Old Testament prophecy has a fourfold interpretation in the history of salvation:
1. As contemporaneous history: with reference to the Old Testament circumstances of the prophets themselves;
2. Spiritually and typically: with reference to the church
3. Literally as regards the End days: with reference to Israel and the nations of the world in the coming kingdom of God on the old earth;
4. In the light of eternity: with reference to the new heaven and the new earth.
On the way to the consummation each stage in turn serves only as a porch. The Old Testament is the vestibule to the church age; the church age is the vestibule to the visible earthly kinadom of God. But even that visible earthly kingdom of God is not the final goal, but likewise only a vestibule. Only in eternity, in the new heaven and on the new earth, is the royal palace of perfection opened.
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