CHAPTER IX

THE PROPHETIC MESSAGE

The Spirit of Christ is the source of knowledge and of strength in all prophecy (I Pet. 1:11; II Pet. 1:21).Christ is not only Content and Goal of all prophecy, but also its origin and inherent energy. In the prophets Christ as "Logos" ( = word, John 1:1,14) spoke concerning Himself. The Logos speaks of the person and work of the Messiah. The prophets spoke and acted "in the name of the coming Christ" (Luther).

In three chief spheres prophecy completes in detail the discharge of its calling.

i. Illumination of the past, especially as historical writing:

ii. Judgment of the present, especially as admonition and call to repentance

iii. Foretelling of the future, especially as warning and comfort, namely:

(1) judgment upon Israel;

(2) judgment upon the nations of the world;

(3) the conversion of Israel;

(4) the conversion of the nations of the world;

(5) The Messiah and His kingdom.

I. ILLUMINATION OF THE PAST

As "speakers" and "mouth" of God, plainly the prophets are not only foretellers of the future but at the same time are declarers of the Divine judgment upon past and present. Therefore the writing of history in the light of God is one of their essential and chief duties. Thus Samuel, Nathan, and Gad each wrote a chronicle of the life of David (I Chron. 29: 29). Ahijah of Shiloh and Iddo the seer continued the account (II Chron. 9:29g). Shemaiah was chronicler in the time of Rehoboam (II Chron. 12:15) and Jehu in that of Jehoshaphet (II Chron. 20:34). So in the Hebrew Bible the historical books do not stand as a group by themselves but rightly among the "prophets."

But the Israelitic writing of history is of a special mode. It is less theoretical presentaiion of history than practical instruction in history. The pictures of the past shall be mirrors for the present. "The word of that time speaks today." The prophetical writers are free from all nationalistic colouring of history. Even in the case of the greatest national heroes failings and sins are mentioned unsparingly. (Thus Luther said that a true historian must be an excellent man, with the heart of a lion to write the truth unflinchingly). They present neither ecstatic legends of saints nor worship of deified heroes. For them even the hero is only a tool in the hands of God (e.g. Cyrus, Isa. 45:1), and the "saviours" and deliverers of the nation are "raised up" of the Lord (Judges 3: 9; II Kings 13:5; Neh. 9:27, lit.). They are candid enough to mention what is good in the lives of the evil (e.g. Ahab's repentance, I Kings 21:27-29), and honest enough not to keep silent on the evil in the lives of the pood (e.g. Abraham's half-lie, Moses' impatience, David's adultery, Solomon's idolatry, Elijah's despondency).

So should posterity learn from the history of its forefathers, and the narrative of yesterday shall be an appeal to the present day (e.g. II Kings 17:7-23). In the Bible history is a living history, not merely a happening which "lies" enclosed in the past, but a Divine action that continually "comes" to us in the present; and the prophetic narrative is "less an account than an address, not an it but a thou, not a once upon a time but a now." It is an operative word, which requires not only to be known but to be acknowledged. Only 'where this comes to pass, there God's word comes to pass, there true history comes to pass.'

II. JUDGMENT OF THE PRESENT

Far from being a product of the Jewish mind, the Old Testament fights against the Jewish way of life! The prophets unsparingly scourge the sins of the people (Isa. 58:1), such as avarice, rapacity (Isa. 5: 8; Amos 6: 4-6; Mic. 2: 2), over-reaching, usury (Ezek.22:12,13), exploiting the poor (Isa.1:17; Mic. 3:2,3; Amos 2:7; 4:1; 5:11; 8:4-6), oppressing widows and orphans (Isa.1O:2; Jer. 5:28), bribery in lawsuits (Isa.1:23; 59:4), business deceit with false weights (Mic. 6:11; Ezek. 45:1O-12), haughtiness and pride of fashion (Isa. 2:12-17; 3:16-24), idolatry and foreign customs (Ezek. 8; Hos. 7:11; 5:13; 11:2; Isa.2: 6), sanctimoniousness (Isa. 58: 2-5; Jer. 7: 4; Hos. 7: 14; Mic. 3:11), self-righteousness (Mal. 1:6;2:17; 3:13), dead formality (Isa. 1:11-17; Mal. 1:1O; Amos 5:21-23; Hos. 6: 6).

They describe the people as "apostate" (Jer. 3: 8,11), its incense as "abomination" (Isa.1:13), its sacrifice as "murder" (Isa. 66: 3), its meal-offerings as "swine's blood" (Isa. 66: 3). They describe its heart as "stony" (Ezek. 36: 26), its hands as " full of blood " (Isa. 1:15), its tongue as full of " adders' poison" (Psa. 140:3).

Jerusalem is a "harlot" (Isa.1:21; Ezek. 16:23; Hos.1-3); the nation is "Gomorrah" (Isa. 1:1O; Ezek. 16: 46); its leaders are "seducers" (Isa. 9: 16). Its princes are "rebels and com panions of thieves" (Isa.1:23), murderers (Isa. 1:21; Ezek. 22:6), and "princes of Sodom" (Isa. 1:1O).

"The best among them is as a thornbush and the most righteous worse than a thorn hedge" says Micah (7: 4; comp. Exod. 3: 2), and Isaiah proclaims to the Jewish people of his time:

"Woe to the sinful race, the guilt-laden people, the brood of evil-doers, the degenerate children" (Isa. 1:4). And finally, after centuries of patience, Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, says concerning Jerusalem: "This city hath been to me a provocation of mine anger and of my wrath from the day that they built it unto this day" (]er. 32: 31).

Thus do the prophets stand as "iron pillars," as "brazen walls" (Jer.1:18), as men with foreheads of "diamond, harder than flint" (Ezek. 3: 8, 9). They sew no soft pillows (Ezek. 13:18); they whitewash no broken walls (Ezek. 13:10). They do not cry: "Peace, peace, when yet there is no peace" (Jer. 6: 14; Ezek. 13:1O).

And yet they had a burning love for their people and were in truth the best of patriots (comp. Rom. 9:1-3). But just on this account they are not silent as to its sins, even when it tore their own hearts (Jer. 4: 19). Plainly they were no Iying prophets and did not prophesy "for money" (Mic. 3: 11; Dan. 5: I7; Ezek. 13:19). An inward pressure lay on them; they were "persuaded" of the Lord (Jer. 20: 7). Their service was not a profession but a call, not rendered of their own will but under "necessity," laid upon them from above. They did not have the message but the message had theml "Woe is unto me if I preach not" (I Cor. 9: 16).

They were not national prophets but prophets of the Divine kingdom, not prophets of the masses, but solitary mountain peaks of the Spirit. And although in reality they were true real patriots, yet the masses reckoned them as foreigners, not national, not Jewish enough, as pessimists and obscurantists (I Kings I8: I7), as foes to the fatherland (I Kings 21: 20) and traitors (Jer. 37: I 3, I4).

They were hated and despised (II Chron. 36: 16), imprisoned (Jer. 38: 28), thrown into the lion's den (Daniel). They were stoned, sawn asunder, or otherwise killed. They wandered in deserts and ravines and in the caves of the earth, and yet they were men that the earth was not worthy to bear (Heb. II: 3 7, 3 8).

Such are the prophets of Israel. It is only precipitate error which, in rejecting what is bad in Jews, is able also to repudiate the work of the prophets, the Old Testament. Not the Old Testament, but the Talmud is the product of the Jewish spiritl The Old Testament is the product of the Holy Spirit! (I Pet. 1:11; II Pet. 1:21; Heb. 3: 7). And between these two there exists a gulf like that between Jesus and the Pharisees. As Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, says to Ezekiel: "Nettles and thorns are with thee, and thou dwellest with scorpions . . . for it is an obstinate house" (Ezek. 2: 6). Not through but in spite of Israel will the Lord one day triumph. The Old Testament is not the book of Jewish national religion in accordance with their national character, but it is the Book of God and of His revelation in the conflict against this religion. Jewish Talmudic-Pharasaic moralizing and the Old Testament are not one and the same. But perhaps God has chosen this people precisely because, against the background of its stiffneckedness and hostility to Him, He could all the more display the solemnity of His crushing judgments and the depth of His forgiving grace. (Acts 7:51; Luke 4: 25-27; Matt. 8:10; 11:21,23;12:42; Rom. 2:24).

For Israel's course is an instructive object lesson, given on the open stage of world history, a warning example for all nations, a mirror for every individual (I Cor. 1O:11). "Let us not be Pharisees! Fornicators and adulterers, cowards and liars, perjurers and murderers have not been found in the Jewish people alone. They have been at all times in all peoples, and it will still be so in the future. But the Old Testament purports to be neither the book of Jewish history only nor a collection of pious and moral narratives, but the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the sins of men-of all men-and to the grace of God which pardons the repentant, believing sinner. For our own salvation and blessing, it desires to tell us how cowards and liars, perjurers and murderers and sinners alike came to a halt at the call of God, and began a new life in the ways of God."

This is also the purport of the "offensive" stories in the Old Testament: and precisely the prophetic recklessness of its narratives displays the incorruptibility and truthfulness of the whole! On this very account the Bible is the book of mankind because it is the picture of mankind; and this picture of mankind, because it describes the reality, is indeed very " offensive " l (Psa. 14:2,3). Therefore, with all the differences and dissimilarities, the superiority and inferiority of the various races, there remains the verdict, not to be quashed by any self-deification; "There is here no difference: they are all alike sinners" (Rom. 3: 22, 23, 9), "Where then remains boasting? It is excluded!" (Rom. 3:27).

As regards vendettas, polygamy, slavery, and especially the harsh warfare of Old Testament history, to which objection is frequently taken, the fact is to be observed that the Old Testament, as an educative stage towards the New, did not reveal the full light of New Testament moral teaching, and therefore, according to the testimony of the Lord Himself, contained concessions "on account of the hardheartedness of men" (Matt.19:8) which Christ with His majestic "But I say unto you" invalidated (Matt. 5:22,28,32,34,39,44).

Further: if the Canaanites were to be exterminated by the Israelites, then, firstly, must it not be overlooked that peoples are organisms, and, throughout generations, they carry on a uniform life corresponding to the soul of their race, and therefore also as a unit are held responsible by God. In the second place it must not be overlooked that, in the case of the Canaanites, the narrative deals here with peoples ripe for judgment who were only destroyed when the measure of their sins was full. Wherefore the four hundred years of respite between the promising of the land to Abraham (Gen. 15:18-21; Gal. 3:17) and its conquest by Moses and Joshua was explained in advance to the patriarch in the words of the Old Testament which say: "For the measure of the sin and guilt of the Amorites is until now not yet full" (Gen. 15:16). "God cannot be gracious to His friends without at the same time being righteous to His foes. Therefore must the fulfilment of His promises often wait." Thus Israel's acquisition of Canaan was conditioned by the judgment on the Canaanites, and the judgment on the Canaanites was conditioned by the Divine righteousness, which first allows sin to ripen fully.

III. FORETELLING OF THE FUTURE

(I)Judgment upon Israel. Without repentance no salvation! Without the individual humbling himself before God there will never be a raising of the nation to abiding welfare and real blessing. "Woe to the sinful race, the guilt-laden people, the brood of evil doers, the degenerate children " (Isa. 1:4). " Blow the signal-horn at Gibeah, the trumpet at Ramah.... The enemy is behind thee, Benjamin " (Hos.5:8). " Israel has rejected the good: let the enemy pursue him!" (Hos. 8:3).

"Destruction" (Isa.1:28; Hos. 4: 6), 'trampling down' (Isa. 5: 5), "wasting" (Ezek. 6: 4), "shattering" by the nations (Isa. 30:14; comp. 5:25; Ezek. 23:22,23), desolation through natural catastrophies (Joel 1:2-12; Amos 4:9,10), "casting out" from the face of God (Jer. 6: 30; 7:15; 32:31) - this is the unhappy lot of the apostate Jews. So do the prophets of the Old Testament declare. The proofs could be multiplied a hundredfold. Downfall of the State (Jer. 25; Ezek. 4), disgrace upon the individual (Jer. 29:18), contempt and hatred from the nations (Jer.24:9; 25:18; 26:6), the wrath of God as a flaming fire (Jer. 4:8), His anger as a water flood (Hos. 5:1O), His aspect -a terror (Isa.2:21), Himself-a lion (Hos.5:14)-and all this yet but a prelude to the actual " day of the Lord " (Joel 2). Thus do the prophets prophesy against the Jewish people. "To the law and to the testimony! If they speak not according to this word, there is for them no dawn of morning!" (Isa. 8:20).

(2) Judgment upon the nations of the world. But the nations also stand under wrath. "Violence" (Hab.1:9), love of plunder (Nah. 2:12,13; Hab. 2: 8), bloodshedding (Nah. 3:1), a wild beast nature (Dan. 7:3-7), self-exaltation and deifying of their own strength (Isa. 10:12-15;14:13; Jer. 50: 31,32; Nah. 3:8; Ezek. 27:3;28:2-5;31:1-14; Hab. 1:11; Ezek. 28:9), hatred against Israel, and despising the Lord (Amos 1: 11; Obad. 11; Isa. 1O:5-7;47: 6; Jer. 48:27;50:7; Ezek. 25:3, 6) - all these render the nations ripe for judgment. Their religions are delusions (Isa. 44:9-20; Jer. 50:38), their gods are nu11ities (Psa. 96:5, lit.), all their doing is interpenetrated with sin (Psa. 14:2,3). And yet they daringly affirm that their belief is better than reverencing the Lord (Isa. 36:18-20; 1O:1O; Dan. 5:3,4). So do they revolt and rebel against the Lord of the starry world (Isa. 40:26), and yet themselves-taken all together-are only a "drop in the bucket," a "speck of dust on the balance" (Isa. 40:15).

On this account the sentence of the Lord runs: "I begin to execute the judgment at the city that is called by my name; and shall you receive nothing? No: I call for the sword against all the inhabitants of the earth" (Jer. 25:29). " Woe unto Assyria" (Isa.1O:5), this "fiery dragon" (Isa. 14: 29;27:1). The sword upon Egypt (Ezek. 29: 8), this monster in the Nile (Isa. 27:1; Ezek. 29: 3). The pit and the snare upon Moab (Jer. 48: 43), this vain boaster (Isa.16:6). "Take from my hand this cup full of the wine of wrath and let all the peoples, to whom I send thee, drink from it" (Jer. 25:15,16). Ammon shall become a pasture for camels (Ezek. 25: 5), and Tyre a "bare rock" (Ezek. 26: 4). Elam shall die (Ezek. 32: 23, 24) and Edom be a place as "silent as death" ("Dumah") (Isa. 21:11; 63:1-6). And above all, Babylon, this "hammer of the Lord" (Jer. 51:20-23), shall become for ever "as Sodom and Gomorrah" (Isa. 13:19,20; Jer. 50:40). Thus are the prophets at the same time prophets to the nations, and the Old Testament is a warning signal to the world.

Because of this the greatest prophets have lengthy connected "speeches to the nations:" Isa. 13-23; Jer. 46-51; Ezek. 25-32; Dan. 2; 4; 7; 8; 11; Amos 1; 2.

(3) The Conversion of Israel. "But darkness does not continue to the land that was distressed" (Isa. 9:1). Through judgment shall Zion be redeemed (Isa. 1:27). The "remnant" will "turn around" (Isa. 10:21; Jer. 24: 7; Hos. 3: 5), and, through the appearing of the Messiah, will become a renewed people (Isa.11:1; 4:3; 6:13; Ezek. 37:26-28).

The prophets paint this coming salvation in overflowing fulness and the most splendid vivid colours. They speak of it in hundreds of places. But always their prophecies of salvation refer to the converted and renewed Israel; to the unconverted, exploiting, supplanting "Jacob," whether still dwelling in the land, or scattered among the nations because of his sins, the Old Testament gives not one single promise of lordship and blessing.

But when the Messiah appears, then will Israel, in Palestine (Jer. 16:1,), experience its great national repentance (Zech. 12:1O-14; Rev. 1:7) and spiritual rebirth-not from its own national energies but from Jesus of Nazareth! And then will come to pass the Jewish miracle, and the people now so unclean and unholy, will be so holy, so clean, so transformed, that all things even the smallest, will be dedicated to the Lord. "At that day will be graven on the bells of the horses 'Holy to the Lord,' and every cooking pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy unto the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 14:20,21). Thus the spiritual and national "resurrection" of Israel from the dead (Ezek.37:1-14) is bound up with its coming holiness, and with the holiness its blessing (Isa. 60:18; 61:1O), and with the blessing the glory of God (lsa. 40:5; 46:13). "The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this" (Isa. 9:7).

(4) The Conversion of the Nations. But the nations also are to be blessed. For God is not the God of the Jews only, but also of the nations (see Rom. 3:29). Israelitish prophecy sees the nations as one family, and all nations partake together of the Messianic salvation. Therefore will the Lord one day "destroy the veil which veils all the peoples, and the covering which covers all nations" Isa. 25:7). Then will the peoples as peoples be converted (Jer. 3:17; Zech. 8: 20-22; Isa. 2:3; Mic. 4:2; Isa. 42:4), and for the first time in history there will be Christian nations and races in the sense of Holy Scripture. The present age (from Pentecost to the return of Christ) has not the christianizing of races as its goal, but the calling out of individuals "out of all peoples," and thereby the formation of the church out of Jews and Gentiles (Acts 15:14).

"On that day there will stand an altar to Jehovah in the midst of the land of Egypt, and near to its border a pillar to Jehovah, and the Egyptians will serve Jehovah in union with the Assynans. And Jehovah of hosts will bless them and say Blessed art thou, Egypt, my people, and thou, Assyria, the work of my hands; and thou, Israel, my inheritance"' (Isa.19:19,23,25).

In fact, Israelitish prophecy here offers its utmost; for it is not incorporation of the converted heathen into Israel, the renewed people of God, which is here the hope, but " a brotherly alliance between Israel and the nations on the basis of the same Divine redemption."

And in Malachi God says: "From the rising of the sun until its going down shall my name be glorious among the Gentiles, and in all places shall incense and a pure offering be offered; for my name shall be glorious among the nations" (Mal.1:11). By this the Old Testament prophet-only with Old Testament colours-foretells the New Testament truth which Jesus spake to the Samaritan woman: that the Father should receive worship, in spirit and truth, not in this or that city, but in all places on earth (John 4:21-24). Thus, therefore, will Israel in its land and the nations in their lands experience a spiritual, divine rebirth (Psa. 87: 4-6), and the Lord will reign as the Divine King over all the earth (Zech.14:9), and righteousness and peace will rule all humanity.

(5) The Messiah and His Kingdom. The conversion of Israel and of the nations will be effected through the appearing of the Messiah. He is the crown and the shining star of all prophecy. " The prophets are the stars and the moon, but Christ is the sun " (Luther). Of Him "testify all the prophets, that through his name all who believe on him shall receive forgiveness of sins" (Acts 10:43). Christ is the theme of the Old Testament. He said so Himself (John 5:39; Luke 24: 25-27, 46). So His greatest apostle testified (I Cor. 15:3,4; Acts 26:22,23). It is only from the King of Scripture that the testimony of His preceding heralds can be understood; it is only from the New Testament that the question as to the Old Testament solves itself.

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