Jonathan Edwards Collection: Edwards, Jonathan - History of Redemption: 06a Period 1 Part 6 Babylonian Captivity to Christ

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Jonathan Edwards Collection: Edwards, Jonathan - History of Redemption: 06a Period 1 Part 6 Babylonian Captivity to Christ



TOPIC: Edwards, Jonathan - History of Redemption (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 06a Period 1 Part 6 Babylonian Captivity to Christ

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History of the Work of Redemption

By

Jonathan Edwards



PERIOD I

FROM THE FALL TO THE INCARNATION



PART VI

FROM THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY TO THE COMING OF CHRIST



I COME now to the last period of the Old Testament, viz. that which begins with the Babylonian captivity, and extends to the coming of Christ, being the greatest part of six hundred years, to show how the work of redemption was carried on through this period.

But before I enter upon particulars, I would observe in three things wherein this period is distinguished from the preceding periods of the times of the Old Testament.

1. Though we have no account of a great part of this period in the scripture history, yet the events of this period are more the subject of scripture prophecy, than any of the preceding periods. There are two ways wherein the Scriptures give account of the events by which the work of redemption is carried on. One is by history, and another is by prophecy. And in one or the other of these ways we have contained in the Scriptures an account how the work of redemption is carried on from the beginning to the end. Although the Scriptures do not contain a proper history of the whole, yet there is contained the whole chain of great events by which this affair has been carried on from the foundation, soon after the fall of man, to the finishing of it at the end of the world, either in history or prophecy. And it is to be observed, that where the Scripture is wanting in one of these ways, it is made up in the other. Where scripture history fails, there prophecy takes place, so that be account is still carried on, and the chain is not broken, until we come to the very last link of it in the consummation of all things.

And accordingly it is observable of this period or space of time that we are upon, that though it is so much less the subject of scripture history, than most of the preceding periods, so that there is above four hundred years of it that the Scriptures give us no history of, yet the events of this period are more the subject of scripture prophecy, than the events of all the preceding periods put together. Most of those remarkable prophecies of the book of Daniel do refer to events that were accomplished in this period. So most of those prophecies in Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, against Babylon, and Tyrus, and against Egypt, and many other nations, were fulfilled in this period.

So that the reason why the Scriptures give us no history of so great a part of this period, is not because the events of this period were not so important, or less worthy to be taken notice of, than the events of the foregoing periods. For I shall hereafter show how great and distinguishably remarkable the events of this period were. But there are several other reasons which may be given of it. One is, that it was the will of God that the spirit of prophecy should cease in this period (for reasons that may be given hereafter) so that there were no prophets to write the history of these times. And therefore God designing this, took care that the great events of this period should not be without mention in his Word, and so ordered it, that the prophecies of Scripture should be more full here, than in the preceding periods. It is observable, that that set of writing prophets that God raised up in Israel, were raised up at the latter end of the foregoing period, and at the beginning of this, which it is likely was partly for that reason, that the time was now approaching, of which the spirit of prophecy having ceased. There was to be no scripture history, and therefore no other scripture account but what was given in prophecy.

And another reason that may he given why there was so great a part of this period left without an historical account in Scripture, is that God in his providence took care, that there should be authentic and full accounts of the events of this period preserved in profane history. It is remarkable, and very worthy to be taken notice of, that with respect to the events of the five preceding periods, of which the Scriptures give the history, profane history gives us no account, or at least of but very few of them. There are many fabulous and uncertain accounts of things that happened before, but the beginning of the times of authentic profane history is judged to be but a little before Nebuchadnezzar’s time, about an hundred years before. The learned men among the Greeks and Romans used to call the ages before that the fabulous age, but the times after that they called the historical age. And from about that time to the coming of Christ, we have undoubted accounts in profane history of the principal events, accounts that wonderfully agree with the many prophecies that we have in Scripture of those times.

Thus did the great God, that disposes all things, order it. He took care to give an historical account of things from the beginning of the world, through all those former ages which profane history does not reach, and ceased not until he came to those later ages in which profane history related things with some certainty. And concerning those times, he gives us abundant account in prophecy, that by comparing profane history with those prophecies, we might see the agreement.

2. This period being the last period of the Old Testament, and the next to the coming of Christ, seems to have been remarkably distinguished from all others in the great revolutions that were among the nations of the earth, to make way for the kingdom of Christ. The time now drawing nigh, wherein Christ, the great King and Savior of the world, was to come, great and mighty were the changes that were brought to pass in order to it. The way had been preparing for the coming of Christ from the fall of man, through all the foregoing periods. But now the time drawing nigh, things began to ripen apace for Christ’s coming, and therefore divine Providence wrought wonderfully now. The greatest revolutions that any history whatsoever gives an account of, that ever had been from the flood, fell out in this period. Almost all the then known world, i.e. all the nations that were round about the land of Canaan, far and near, that were within the reach of their knowledge, were overturned again and again. All lands were in their turns subdued, captivated, and as it were emptied, and turned upside down, and that, most of them repeatedly, in this period, agreeable to that prophecy, Isa. 24:1, “Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty; he maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof.”

This emptying, and turning upside down, began with God’s visible church, in their captivity by the king of Babylon. And then the cup from them went round to all other nations, agreeable to what God revealed to the Prophet Jeremiah, Jer. 25:15-27. Here special respect seems to be had to the great revolutions that there were on the face of the earth in the times of the Babylonian empire. But after that there were three general overturnings of the world before Christ came, in the succession of the three great monarchies of the world that were after the Babylonian empire. The king of Babylon is represented in Scripture as overturning the world. But after that, the Babylonian empire was overthrown by Cyrus, who founded the Persian empire in the room of it, which was of much greater extent than the Babylonian empire in its greatest glory. Thus the world was overturned the second time. And then, after that, the Persian empire was overthrown by Alexander, and the Grecian empire was set up upon the ruins of it, which was still of much greater extent than the Persian empire. And thus there was a general overturning of the world a third time. And then, after that, the Grecian empire was overthrown by the Romans, and the Roman empire was established, which vastly exceeded all the foregoing empires in power and extent of dominion. And so the world was overturned the fourth time.

These several monarchies, and the great revolutions of the world under them, are abundantly spoken of in the prophecies of Daniel. They are represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s image of gold, silver, brass, and iron, and Daniel’s interpretation of it in the Dan 2, and then in Daniel’s vision of the four beasts, and the angel’s interpretation of it in Dan. 7. And the succession of the Persian and Grecian monarchies is more particularly represented in Dan. 8, in Daniel’s vision of the ram and the he-goat, and again in Dan. 11.

And besides these four general overturnings of the world, the world was kept in a constant tumult between whiles. And indeed the world was as it were in a continual convulsion through this whole period until Christ came. Before this period, the face of the earth was comparatively in quietness. Though there were many great wars among the nations, yet we read of no such mighty and universal convulsions and overturnings as there were in this period. The nations of the world, most of them, had long remained on their lees as it were, without being emptied from vessel to vessel, as is said of Moab, Jer. 48:11. Now these great overturnings were because the time of the great Messiah drew nigh. That they were to prepare the way for Christ’s coming, is evident by Scripture, particularly by Eze. 21:27, “I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is, and I will give it him.” The prophet, by repeating the word overturn three times, has respect to three overturnings, as in the Revelation, 8:13, the repetition of the word “woe” three times, signifies three distinct woes, as appears by what follows, Rev. 9:12, “One woe is past,” and Rev. 11:14, “The second woe is past, and behold the third woe cometh quickly.”

It must be noted, that the Prophet Ezekiel prophesied in the time of the Babylonian captivity. And therefore there were three great and general overturnings of the world to come after this prophecy, before Christ came. The first by the Persians, the second by the Grecians, the third by the Romans. And then after that, Christ, whose right it was to take the diadem, and reign, should come. Here these great overturnings are evidently spoken of as preparatory to the coming and kingdom of Christ. But to understand the words aright, we must note the particular expression, “I will overturn, overturn, overturn it,” i.e. the diadem and crown of Israel, or the supreme temporal dominion over God’s visible people. This God said should be no more, i.e. the crown should be taken off, and the diadem removed, as it is said in the foregoing verse (Eze. 21:26). The supreme power over Israel should be no more in the royal line of David, to which it properly belonged, but should be removed away, and given to others, and overturned from one to another. First the supreme power over Israel should be in the hands of the Persians, and then it should be overturned again. And then it should be in the hands of the Grecians. And then it should be overturned again, and come into the hands of the Romans, and should be no more in the line of David, until that very person should come, that was the son of David, whose proper right it was, and then God would give it to him.

That those great shakings and revolutions of the nations of the world, were all to prepare the way for Christ’s coming, and setting up his kingdom in the world, is further manifest by Hag. 2:6, 7. “For thus saith the Lord of hosts, Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land: and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.” And again, Hag. 2:21, 22, and 23. It is evident by this, that these great revolutions and shakings of the nations, whereby the thrones of kingdoms and armies were overthrown, and everyone came down by the sword of his brother, were to prepare the way or the coming of him who is the desire of all nations.

The great changes and troubles that have sometimes been in the visible church of Christ are, in Rev. 12:2, compared to the church’s being in travail to bring forth Christ. So these great troubles and mighty revolutions that were in the world before Christ was born, were, as it were, the world’s being in travail to bring forth the Son of God. The apostle, in Rom. 8:22, represents the whole creation as groaning and travailing in pain together until now, to bring forth the liberty and manifestation of the children of God. So the world as it were travailed in pain, and was in continual convulsions, for several hundred years together, to bring forth the first born child, and the only begotten Son of God. And those mighty revolutions were as so many pangs and throes in order to it. The world being so long a time kept in a state of war and bloodshed, prepared the way for the coming of the Prince of Peace, as it showed the great need the world stood in of such a prince, to deliver the world from its miseries.

It pleased God to order it in his providence, that earthly power and dominion should be raised to its greatest height, and appear in its utmost glory, in those four great monarchies that succeeded one another, and that everyone should be greater and more glorious than the preceding, before he set up the kingdom of his Son. By this it appeared how much more glorious his spiritual kingdom was than the most glorious temporal kingdom. The strength and glory of Satan’s kingdom in these four mighty monarchies, appeared in its greatest height. For those monarchies were the monarchies of the heathen world, and so the strength of them was the strength of Satan’s kingdom. God suffered Satan’s kingdom to rise to so great a height of power and magnificence before his Son came to overthrow it, to prepare the way for the more glorious triumph of his Son. Goliath must have on all his splendid armor when the stripling David comes against him with a sling and a stone, for the greater glory of David’s victory. God suffered one of those great monarchies to subdue another, and erect itself on the other’s ruins, appearing still in greater strength, and the last to be the strongest and mightiest of all, that so Christ, in overthrowing that, might as it were overthrow them all at once, as the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, is represented as destroying the whole image, the gold, the silver, the brass, the iron and the clay, so that all became as the chaff of the summer threshing floor.

These mighty empires were suffered thus to overthrow the world, and destroy one another. And though their power was so great, yet they could not uphold themselves, but fell one after another, and came to nothing, even the last of them, that was the strongest, and had swallowed up the earth. It pleased God thus to show in them the instability and vanity of all earthly power and greatness, which served as a foil to set forth the glory of the kingdom of his Son, which never shall be destroyed, as appears by Dan. 2:44, “In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces, and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” So greatly does this kingdom differ from all those kingdoms. They vanish away, and are left to other people, but this shall not be left to other people, but shall stand forever. God suffered the devil to do his utmost, and to establish his interest, by setting up the greatest, strongest, and most glorious kingdoms in the world that he could, before the despised Jesus overthrew him and his empire. Christ came into the world to bring down the high things of Satan’s kingdom, that the hand of the Lord might be on everyone that is proud and lofty, and every high tower, and every lofty mountain, as the prophet Isaiah says, Isa. 2:12, etc. And therefore these things were suffered to rise very high, that Christ might appear so much the more glorious in being above them.

Thus wonderfully did the great and wise Governor of the world prepare the way for the erecting of the glorious kingdom of his beloved Son Jesus.

3. Another thing for which this last period or space of time before Christ was particularly remarkable, was the wonderful preservation of the church through all those overturnings. The preservation of the church was on some accounts more remarkable through this period, than through any of the foregoing. It was very wonderful that the church, which in this period was so weak, and in so low a state, and mostly subject to the dominion of heathen monarchies, should be preserved for five or six hundred years together, while the world was so often overturned, and the earth was rent in pieces, and made so often empty and waste, and the inhabitants of it came down so often everyone by the sword of his brother. I say it was wonderful that the church in its weak and low state, being but a little handful of men, should be preserved in all these great convulsions, especially considering that the land of Judea, the chief place of the church’s residence, lay in the midst of them, as it were in the middle between the contending parties, and was very much the seat of war amongst them, and was often overrun and subdued, and sometimes in the hands of one people, and sometimes another, and very much the object of the envy and hatred of all heathen nations, and often almost ruined by them, often great multitudes of its inhabitants being slain, and the land in a great measure depopulated. And those who had them in their power often intended the utter destruction of the whole nation. Yet they were upheld. They were preserved in their captivity in Babylon, and they were upheld again under all the dangers they passed through, under the kings of Persia. And the much greater dangers they were liable to under the empire of the Greeks. And afterwards when the world was trodden down by the Romans.

And their preservation through this period was also notoriously remarkable, in that we never read of the church’s suffering persecution in any former period In any measure to such a degree as they did in this, under Antiochus Epiphanes, of which more afterwards. This wonderful preservation of the church through all these overturnings of the world, gives light and confirmation to what we read in the beginning of Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, though the waters thereof roar, and be troubled; though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.”

Thus I have taken notice of some general things wherein this last period of the Old Testament times was distinguished. I come now to consider how the work of redemption was carried on in particulars.

 

And,

I. The first thing that here offers is the captivity of the Jews into Babylon. This was a great dispensation of Providence, and such as never was before. The children of Israel in the time of the judges, had often been brought under their enemies. And many particular persons were carried captive at other times. But never had there been any such thing as destroying the whole land, the sanctuary, and the city of Jerusalem, and all the cities and villages of the land, and carrying the whole body of the people out of their own land into a country many hundred miles distant, and leaving the land of Canaan empty of God’s visible people. The ark had once forsaken the tabernacle of Shiloh, and was carried captive into the land of the Philistines. But never had there been any such thing as the burning the sanctuary, and utterly destroying the ark, and carrying away all the sacred vessels and utensils, and breaking up all their stated worship in the land, and the land’s lying waste and empty for so many years together. How lively are those things set forth in the Lamentations of Jeremiah!

The work of redemption was promoted by this remarkable dispensation in these following ways.

1. It finally cured that nation of their itch after idolatry. The Prophet Isaiah, speaking of the setting up of the kingdom of Christ, Isa. 2:18, speaks of the abolishing idolatry as one thing that should be done to this end, “and the idols he shall utterly abolish.” When the time was drawing near, that God would abolish heathen idolatry, through the greater part of the known world, as he did by the preaching of the gospel after Christ came, it pleased him first to abolish heathenism among his own people. And he did it now by their captivity into Babylon, a presage of that abolishing of idols, that God was about to bring to pass by Christ through so great a part of the heathen world.

This nation that was addicted to idolatry before for so many ages, and that nothing would cure them of, not all the reproofs, and warnings, and corrections, that they had, and all the judgments God inflicted on them for it, yet now were finally cured, so that however some might fall into this sin afterwards, as they did about the time of Antiochus’ persecution, yet the nation, as a nation, never showed any hankering after this sin anymore. This was a remarkable and wonderful change in that people, and what directly promoted the work of redemption, as it was a great advancement of the interest of religion.

2. It was one thing that prepared the way for Christ’s coming, and setting up the glorious dispensation of the gospel, as it took away many of those things wherein consisted the glory of the Jewish dispensation. In order to introduce the glorious dispensation of the gospel, the external glory of the Jewish church must be diminished, as we observed before. This the Babylonian captivity did many ways, it brought the people very low.

First, it removed the temporal diadem of the house of David away from them, i.e. the supreme and independent government of themselves. It took away the crown and diadem from the nation. The time now approaching when Christ, the great and everlasting King of his church, was to reign. It was time for the typical kings to withdraw. As God said by Ezekiel, chap. 21:26, “He removed the crown and diadem, that it might be no more, until he should come, whose right it was.” The Jews henceforward were always dependent on the governing power of other nations, until Christ came, for near six hundred years, excepting about ninety years, during which space they maintained a sort of independence, by continual wars under the dominion of the Maccabees and their posterity.

Again, by the captivity, the glory and magnificence of the temple was taken away, and the temple that was built afterwards, was nothing in comparison with it. Thus it was meet, that when the time drew nigh that the glorious anti-type of the temple should appear, the typical temple should have its glory withdrawn.

Again, another thing that they lost by the captivity, was the two tables of the testimony delivered to Moses, written with the finger of God, the two tables on which God with his own finger wrote the ten commandments on Mount Sinai. These seem to have been preserved in the ark until the captivity. These were in the ark when Solomon placed the ark in the temple, 1 Kin. 8:9. There was nothing in the ark, save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb. And we have no reason to suppose any other, but that they remained there as long as that temple stood. But the Jews speak of these as finally lost at that time, though the same commandments were preserved in the book of the law. These tables also were withdrawn on the approach of their anti-type.

Again, another thing that was lost that the Jews had before, was the Urim and Thummim. This is evident by Ezra 2:63, “And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, until there should stand up a priest with Urim and Thummim.” And we have no account that this was ever restored, but the ancient writings of the Jews say the contrary. What this Urim and Thummim was, I shall not now inquire, but only observe, that it was something by which the high priest inquired of God, and received immediate answers from him, or by which God gave forth immediate oracles on particular occasions. This was now withdrawn, the time approaching when Christ, the anti-type of the Urim and Thummim, the great word and oracle or God, was to come.

Another thing that the ancient Jews say was wanting in the second temple, was the Shechinah, or cloud of glory over the mercy seat. This was promised to be in the tabernacle, Lev. 16:2, “For I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.” And we read elsewhere of the cloud of glory descending into the tabernacle, Exo. 40:35, and so we do likewise with respect to Solomon’s temple. But we have no account that this cloud of glory was in the second temple. And the ancient accounts of the Jews say, that there was no such thing in the second temple. This was needless in the second temple, considering that God had promised that he would fill this temple with glory another way, viz. by Christ’s coming into it, which was afterwards fulfilled. See Hag. 2:7, “I will shake all nations, and the desire or all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.”

Another thing, that the Jews, in their ancient writings mention as being now withdrawn, was the fire from heaven on the altar. When Moses built the tabernacle and altar in the wilderness, and the first sacrifices were offered on it, fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering, as in Lev. 9:24, and so again, when Solomon built the temple, and offered the first sacrifices, as you may see in 2 Chr. 7:1. And this fire was never to go out, but with the greatest care to be kept alive, as God commanded, Lev. 6:13, “The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar: it shall never go out.” And there is no reason to suppose the fire in Solomon’s time ever went out until the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. But then it was extinguished, and never was restored. We have no account of its being given on the building of the second temple, as we have at the building of the tabernacle and first temple. But the Jews, after their return, were forced to make use of their common fire instead of it, according to the ancient tradition of the Jews. Thus the lights of the Old Testament go out on the approach of the glorious Sun of righteousness

3. The captivity into Babylon was the occasion of another thing which did afterwards much promote the setting up of Christ’s kingdom in the world, and that was the dispersion of the Jews through the greater part of the known world, before the coming of Christ. For the whole nation being carried away far out of their own land, and continuing in a state of captivity for so long a time, they got them possessions, and built them houses, and settled themselves in the land of their captivity, agreeable to the direction that Jeremiah gave them, in the letter he wrote to them in the Jer. 29. And therefore, when Cyrus gave them liberty to return to the land where they had formerly dwelt, many of them never returned. They were not willing to leave their settlements and possessions there, to go into a desolate country, many hundred miles distant, which none but the old men among them had ever seen. And therefore they were but few, but a small number, that returned, as we see in the accounts we have in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Great numbers tarried behind, though they still retained the same religion with those that returned, so far as it could be practiced in a foreign land. Those messengers that we read of in Zec. 7, that came to inquire of the priests and prophets in Jerusalem, Sherezer and Regemmelech, are supposed to be messengers sent from the Jews that remained still in Babylon.

Those Jews that remained still in that country were soon, by the great changes that happened in the world, dispersed thence into all the adjacent countries. And hence we find, that in Esther’s time, which was after the return from the captivity, the Jews were a people that were dispersed throughout all parts of the vast Persian empire, that extended from India to Ethiopia, as you may see, Est. 3:8, “And Haman said unto King Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad, and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom,” etc. And so they continued dispersed until Christ came, and until the apostles went forth to preach the gospel. But yet these dispersed Jews retained their religion in this dispersion. Their captivity, as I said before, thoroughly cured them of their idolatry. And it was their manner, for as many of them as could from time to time, to go up to the land of Judea to Jerusalem at their great feasts. Hence we read in the Acts 2, that at the time of the great feast of Pentecost, there were Jews abiding at Jerusalem out of every nation under heaven. These were Jews come up from all countries where they were dispersed, to worship at that feast. And hence we find, in the history of the Acts of the Apostles, that wherever the apostles went preaching through the world, they found Jews. They came to such a city, and to such a city, and went into the synagogue of the Jews.

Antiochus the Great, about two hundred years before Christ, on a certain occasion, transplanted two thousand families of Jews from the country about Babylon into Asia the Less. And so they and their posterity, many of them, settled in Pontus, Galatia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, and in Ephesus, and from thence settled in Athens, and Corinth, and Rome. Whence came those synagogues in those places that the Apostle Paul preached in.

Now, this dispersion of the Jews through the world before Christ came, did many ways prepare the way for his coming, and setting up his kingdom in the world.

One was, that this was a means of raising a general expectation of the Messiah through the world about the time that he actually came. For the Jews, wherever they were dispersed, carried the Holy Scriptures with them, and so the prophecies of the Messiah. And being conversant with the nations among whom they lived, they, by that means, became acquainted with these prophecies, and with the expectations of the Jews of their glorious Messiah. And by this means, the birth of such a glorious person in Judea about that time began to be the general expectation of the nations of the world, as appears by the writings of the learned men of the heathen that lived about that time, which are still extant. Particularly, Virgil, the famous poet that lived in Italy a little before Christ was born, has a poem about the expectation of a great prince that was to be born, and the happy times of righteousness and peace that he was to introduce, some of it very much in the language of the prophet Isaiah.

Another way that this dispersed state of the Jews prepared the way for Christ was, that it showed the necessity of abolishing the Jewish dispensation, and introducing a new dispensation of the covenant of grace. It showed the necessity of abolishing the ceremonial law, and the old Jewish worship. For, by this means, the observance of that ceremonial law became impracticable even by the Jews themselves. For the ceremonial law was adapted to the state of a people dwelling together in the same land, where was the city that God had chosen, where was the temple, the only place where they might offer sacrifices, and where it was lawful for their priests and Levites to officiate, where they were to bring their first fruits, and where were their cities of refuge and the like. But the Jews, by this dispersion, lived, many of them, in other lands, more than a thousand miles distant, when Christ came, which made the observance of their laws of sacrifices, and the like, impracticable. And though their forefathers might be to blame in not going up to the land of Judea when they were permitted by Cyrus, yet the case was now, as to many of them at least, become impracticable, which showed the necessity of introducing a new dispensation, that should be fitted, not only to one particular land, but to the general circumstances and use of all nations of the world.

Again, another way that this dispersion of the Jews through the world prepared the way for the setting up of the kingdom of Christ in the world, was that it contributed to the making the facts concerning Jesus Christ publicly known through the world. For, as I observed before, the Jews that lived in other countries, used frequently to go up to Jerusalem at their three great feasts, which were from year to year. And so, by this means, they could not but become acquainted with the news of the wonderful things that Christ did in that land. We find that they were present at, and took great notice of, that great miracle of raising Lazarus, which excited the curiosity of those foreign Jews that came up to the feast of the Passover to see Jesus, as you may see in John 12:19, 20, 21. These Greeks were foreign Jews and proselytes, as is evident by their coming to worship at the feast of the Passover. The Jews that lived abroad among the Greeks, and spoke their language, were called Greeks, or Hellenists, so they are called Grecians, Acts 6:1. These Grecians here spoken of were not Gentile Christians, for this was before the calling of the Gentiles.

By the same means, the Jews that went up from other countries became acquainted with Christ’s crucifixion. Thus the disciples, going to Emmaus, say to Christ, when they did not know him, Luke 24:18, “Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which have come to pass there in these days?” plainly intimating, that the things concerning Jesus were so publicly known to all men, that it was wonderful to find any man unacquainted with them. And so afterwards they became acquainted with the news of his resurrection. And when they went home again into their own countries, they carried the news with them and so made these facts public through the world, as they had made the prophecies of them public before.

After this, those foreign Jews that came to Jerusalem, took great notice of the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, and the wonderful effects of it, and many of them were converted by it, viz. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Egypt, and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and the strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians. And so they did not only carry back the news of the facts of Christianity, but Christianity itself, into their own countries with them, which contributed much to the spreading of it through the world.

Again, another way that the dispersion of the Jews contributed to the setting up of the gospel kingdom in the world was, that it opened a door for the introduction of the apostles in all places where they came to preach the gospel. For almost in all places where they came to preach the gospel, they found Jews and synagogues of the Jews, where the Holy Scriptures were wont to be read, and the true God worshipped, which was a great advantage to the apostles in their spreading the gospel through the world. For their way was, into whatever city they came, first to go into the synagogue of the Jews (they being people of the same nation), and there to preach the gospel unto them. And hereby their coming, and their new doctrine, was taken notice of by their Gentile neighbors, whose curiosity excited them to hear what they had to say, which became a fair occasion to the apostles to preach the gospel to them. It appears that it was thus, by the account we have of things in the Acts of the Apostles. And these Gentiles having been before, many of them, prepared in some measure, by the knowledge they had of the Jews’ religion, and of their worship of one God, and of their prophecies, and expectation of a Messiah, which knowledge they derived from the Jews, who had long been their neighbors. This opened the door for the gospel to have access to them. And the work of the apostles with them was doubtless much easier than if they never had heard anything before of any expectation of such a person as the apostles preached, or anything about the worship of one only true God.

So many ways did the Babylonian captivity greatly prepare the way for Christ’s coming.

 

II. The next particular that I would take notice of is the addition made to the canon of Scripture in the time of the captivity, in those two remarkable portions of Scripture, the prophecies of Ezekiel and Daniel. Christ appeared to each of these prophets in the form of that nature which he was afterwards to take upon him. The prophet Ezekiel gives an account of his thus appearing to him repeatedly, as Eze. 1:26, “And above the firmament that was over their heads, was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone, and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it,” and so chap. 8:1, 2. So Christ appeared to the prophet Daniel, Dan. 8:15, 16, “There stood before me as the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of Ulai, which called, and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision.” There are several things that make it evident, that this was Christ, that I cannot now stand to mention particularly. So Christ appeared again as a man to this prophet, Dan. 10:5, 6, “Then I lift up mine eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz: his body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in color to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude.” Comparing this vision with that of the Apostle John in Rev. 1, makes it manifest that it was Christ. And the prophet Daniel, in the historical part of his book, gives an account of a very remarkable appearance of Christ in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We have the account of it in the Dan. 3. In Dan. 3:25, Christ is said to be like the Son of God. And it is manifest that he appeared in the form of man, “lo, I see four men loose, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”

Christ did not only here appear in the form of the human nature, but he appeared in a furnace, saving those persons who believed on him from that furnace, by which is represented to us, how Christ, by coming himself into the furnace of God’s wrath, saves those that believe in him from that furnace, so that it has no power on them. And the wrath of God never reaches or touches them, so much as to singe the hair of their head.

These two prophets, in many respects, were more particular concerning the coming of Christ, and his glorious gospel kingdom, than any of the prophets had been before. They both of them mention those three great overturnings of the world that should be before he came. Ezekiel is particular in several places concerning the coming of Christ. The prophet Daniel is more particular in foretelling the time of the coming of Christ than ever any prophet had been before, in the 9th chapter of his prophecy (Dan. 9), who foretold, that it should be seventy weeks, i.e. seventy weeks of years, or seventy times seven years, or four hundred and ninety years, from the decree to rebuild and restore the state of the Jews, until the Messiah should be crucified, which must be reckoned from the commission given to Ezra by Artaxerxes, that we have an account of in Ezra 7, whereby the very particular time of Christ’s crucifixion was pointed out, which never had been before.

The prophet Ezekiel is very particular in the mystical description of the gospel church, in his account of his vision of the temple and city, in the latter part of his prophecy. The Prophet Daniel points out the order of particular events that should come to pass relating to the Christian church after Christ was come, as the rise of Antichrist, and the continuance of his reign, and his fall, and the glory that should follow.

Thus does gospel light still increase, the nearer we come to the time of Christ’s birth.

III. The next particular I would mention is, the destruction of Babylon, and the overthrow of the Chaldean empire by Cyrus. The destruction of Babylon was in that night in which Belshazzar the king, and the city in general, was drowned in a drunken festival, which they kept to their gods, when Daniel was called to read the handwriting on the wall, Dan. 5:30, and it was brought about in such a manner, as wonderfully to show the hand of God, and remarkably to fulfill his word by his prophets, which I cannot now stand particularly to relate. Now that great city, which had long been an enemy to the city of God, his Jerusalem, was destroyed, after it had stood ever since the first building of Babel, which was about seventeen hundred years. If the check that was put to the building this city at its beginning, whereby they were prevented from carrying of it to that extent and magnificence that they intended, I say, if this promoted the work of redemption, as I have before shown it did, much more did this destruction of it.

It was a remarkable instance of God’s vengeance on the enemies of his redeemed church. For God brought this destruction on Babylon for the injuries they did to God’s children, as is often set forth in the prophets. It also promoted the work of redemption, as thereby God’s people, that were held captive by them, were set at liberty to return to their own land to rebuild Jerusalem. And therefore Cyrus, who did it, is called God’s shepherd therein, Isa. 44, latter end, and 45:1. And these are over and above those ways wherein the setting up and overthrowing the four monarchies of the world did promote the work of redemption, which have been before observed.

IV. What next followed this was, the return of the Jews to their own land, and rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple. Cyrus, as soon as he had destroyed the Babylonian empire, and had erected the Persian empire on its ruins, made a decree in favor of the Jews, that they might return to their own land, and rebuild their city and temple. This return of the Jews out of the Babylonian captivity is, next to the redemption out of Egypt, the most remarkable of all the Old Testament redemptions, and most insisted on in Scripture, as a type of the great redemption of Jesus Christ. It was under the hand of one of the legal ancestors of Christ, viz. Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, whose Babylonian name was Sheshbazzar. He was the governor of the Jews, and their leader in their first return out of captivity. And together with Joshua the son of Jozedek the high priest, had the chief hand in rebuilding the temple. This redemption was brought about by the hand of Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest, as the redemption out of Egypt was brought about by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

The return out of the captivity was a remarkable dispensation of Providence. It was remarkable, that the heart of a heathen prince, as Cyrus was, should be so inclined to favor such a design as he did, not only in giving the people liberty to return, and rebuild the city and temple, but in giving charge that they should be helped with silver and gold, and with goods, and with beasts, as we read in Ezra 1:4. And afterwards God wonderfully inclined the heart of Darius to further the building of the house of God with his own tribute money, and by commanding their bitter enemies, the Samaritans, who had been striving to hinder them, to help them without fail, by furnishing them with all that they needed in order to it, and to supply them day by day, making a decree, that whosoever failed of it, timber should be pulled down out of his house, and he hanged thereon, and his house made a dunghill, as we have an account in the Ezra 6. And after this God inclined the heart of Artaxerxes, another king of Persia, to promote the work of preserving the state of the Jews, by his ample commission to Ezra, which we have an account of in Ezra 7, helping them abundantly with silver and gold of his own bounty, and offering more, as should be needful, out of the King’s treasure house, and commanding his treasurers beyond the river Euphrates to give more, as should be needed, unto an hundred talents of silver, and an hundred measures of wheat, an hundred baths of wine, and an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much; and giving leave to establish magistrates in the land, and freeing the priests of toll, tribute, and custom, and other things, which render this decree and commission by Artaxerxes the most full and ample in the Jews’ favor of any that, at any time, had been given for the restoring of Jerusalem. And therefore, in Daniel’s prophecy, this is called the decree for restoring and building Jerusalem. And hence the seventy weeks are dated.

And then, after this, another favorable commission was granted by the king of Persia to Nehemiah, which we have an account of in Neh. 2.

It was remarkable, that the hearts of heathen princes should be so inclined. It was the effect of his power, who hath the hearts of kings in his hands, and turneth them whithersoever he will. And it was a remarkable instance of his favor to his people.

Another remarkable circumstance of this restitution of the state of the Jews to their own land was, that it was accomplished against so much opposition of their bitter and indefatigable enemies the Samaritans, who, for a long time together, with all the malice and craft they could exercise, opposed the Jews in this affair, and sought their destruction, one while by Bishlam, Mithridath, Tabeel, Rehum, and Shimshai, as in Ezra 4, and then by Tatnai, Shetharboznai, and their companions, as in Ezra 5, and afterwards by Sanballat and Tobiah, as we read in the book of Nehemiah.

We have showed before how the settlement of the people in this land in Joshua’s time promoted the work of redemption. On the same accounts does their restitution belong to the same work. The resettlement of the Jews in the land of Canaan belongs to this work, as it was a necessary means of preserving the Jewish church and dispensation in being, until Christ should come. If it had not been for this restoration of the Jewish church, and temple, and worship, the people had remained without any temple, and land of their own, that should be as it were their headquarters, a place of worship, habitation, and resort. The whole constitution, which God had done so much to establish, would have been in danger of utterly failing long before that six hundred had been out, which was from about the time of the captivity until Christ. And so all that preparation which God had been making for the coming of Christ, from the time of Abraham, would have been in vain. Now that very temple was built that God would fill with glory by Christ’s coming into it, as the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah told the Jews, to encourage them in building it.

V. The next particular I would observe, is the addition made to the canon of the Scriptures soon after the captivity by the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah, who were prophets sent to encourage the people in their work of rebuilding the city and temple. And the main argument they make use of to that end is the approach or the time of the coming of Christ. Haggai foretold that Christ should be of Zerubbabel’s legal posterity, last chapter last verse (Hag. 2:23). This seems to be the last and most particular revelation of the descent of Christ, until the angel Gabriel was sent to reveal it to his mother Mary.

The next thing I would take notice of, was the pouring out of the Spirit of God that accompanied the ministry of Ezra the priest after the captivity. — That there was such a pouring out of the Spirit of God that accompanied Ezra’s ministry, is manifest by many things in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Presently after Ezra came up from Babylon, with the ample commission which Artaxerxes gave him, whence Daniel’s seventy weeks began, he set himself to reform the vices and corruptions be found among the Jews. And his great success in it we have an account of in Ezra 10. So that there appeared a very general and great mourning of the congregation of Israel for their sins, which was accompanied with a solemn covenant that the people entered into with God. And this was followed with a great and general reformation, as we have there an account. And the people about the same time, with great zeal, and earnestness, and reverence, gathered themselves together to hear the Word of God read by Ezra, and gave diligent attention, while Ezra and the other priests preached to them, by reading and expounding the law, and were greatly affected in the hearing of it. They wept when they heard the words of the law, and set themselves to observe the law, and kept the feast of tabernacles, as the Scripture observes, after such a manner as it had not been kept since the days of Joshua the son of Nun, as we have an account in Neh. 8. And after this, having separated themselves from all strangers, they solemnly observed a fast, by hearing the Word of God, confessing their sins, and renewing their covenant with God, and manifested their sincerity in that transaction, by actually reforming many abuses in religion and morals, as we learn from the 9th and following chapters of Nehemiah (Neh. 9).

It is observable, that it has been God’s manner in every remarkable new establishment of the state of his visible church, to give a remarkable outpouring of his Spirit. So it was on the first establishment of the church of the Jews at their first coming into Canaan under Joshua, as has been observed, And so it was now in this second settlement of the church in the same land in the time of Ezra. And so it was on the first establishment of the Christian church after Christ’s resurrection, God wisely and graciously laying the foundation of those establishments in a work of his Holy Spirit, for the lasting benefit of the state of his church, thenceforward continued in those establishments. And this pouring out of the Spirit of God, was a final cure of that nation of that particular sin which just before they especially run into, viz. intermarrying with the Gentiles. For however inclined to it they were before, they ever after showed an aversion to it.

 

VII. Ezra added to the canon of the Scriptures. — He wrote the book of Ezra. And he is supposed to have written the two books of Chronicles, at least to have compiled them, if he was not the author of the materials, or all the parts of these writings. That these books were written, or compiled and completed, after the captivity, the things contained in the books themselves make manifest. For the genealogies contained therein, are brought down below the captivity, as 1 Chr. 3:17, etc. We have there an account of the posterity of Jehoiachin for several successive generations. And there is mention in these books of this captivity into Babylon, as of a thing past, and of things that were done on the return of the Jews after the captivity, as you may see in 1 Chr. 9. The chapter is mostly filled up with an account of things that came to pass after the captivity into Babylon, as you may see by comparing it with what is said in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. And that Ezra was the person that compiled these books, is probable by this, because they conclude with words that we know are the words of Ezra’s history. The two last verses are Ezra’s words in the history he gives in the two first verses of the book of Ezra.

VIII. Ezra is supposed to have collected all the books of which the Holy Scriptures did then consist, and disposed them in their proper order. Ezra is often spoken of as a noted and eminent scribe of the law of God, and the canon of Scripture in his time was manifestly under his special care. And the Jews, from the first accounts we have from them, have always held, that the canon of Scripture, so much of it as was then extant, was collected, and orderly disposed and settled by Ezra. And that from him they have delivered it down in the order in which he disposed it, until Christ’s time, when the Christian church received it from them, and have delivered it down to our times. And the truth of this is allowed as undoubted by divines in general.

IX. The work of redemption was carried on and promoted in this period, by greatly multiplying the copies of the law, and appointing the constant public reading of them in all the cities of Israel in their synagogues. It is evident, that before the captivity, there were but few copies of the law. There was the original, laid up beside the ark, and the kings were required to write out a copy of the law for their use, and the law was required to be read to the whole congregation of Israel once every seventh year. And we have no account of any other stated public reading of the law before the captivity but this. And it is manifest by several things that might be mentioned, that copies of the law were exceeding rare before the captivity. But after the captivity, the constant reading of the law was set up in every synagogue throughout the land. First, they began with reading the law, and then they proceeded to establish the constant reading of the other books of the Old Testament. — And lessons were read out of the Old Testament, as made up of both the law and the other parts of the Scripture then extant, in all the synagogues which were set up in every city, and everywhere, wherever the Jews in any considerable number dwelt, as our meeting houses are. Thus we find it was in Christ’s and the apostles’ time, Acts 15:21, “Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.” This custom is universally supposed, both by Jews and Christians, to be begun by Ezra. There were doubtless public assemblies before the captivity into Babylon. They used to assemble at the temple at their great feasts, and were directed, when they were at a loss about anything in the law, to go to the priest for instruction. And they used also to resort to the prophets’ houses. And we read of synagogues in the land before, Psa. 74:8. But it is not supposed that they had copies of the law for constant public reading and expounding through the land before, as afterwards. This was one great means of their being preserved from idolatry.

X. The next thing I would mention, is God’s remarkably preserving the church and nation of the Jews, when they were in imminent danger of being universally destroyed by Haman. We have the story in the book of Esther, with which you are acquainted. The series of provisions was very wonderful in preventing this destruction. Esther was doubtless born for this end to be the instrument of this remarkable preservation.

XI. After this the canon of Scripture was further added to in the books of Nehemiah and Esther, the one by Nehemiah himself, and whether the other was written by Nehemiah or Mordecai, or Malachi, is not of importance for us to know, so long as it is one of those books that were always admitted and received as a part of their canon by the Jews, and was among those books that the Jews called their Scriptures in Christ’s time, and as such was approved by him. For Christ does often in his speeches to the Jews, manifestly approve and confirm those books, which amongst them went by the name of the Scriptures, as might be easily shown, if there were time for it.

XII. After this the canon of the Old Testament was completed and sealed by Malachi. The manner of his concluding his prophecy seems to imply, that they were to expect no more prophecies, and no more written revelations from God, until Christ should come. For in the last chapter he prophesies of Christ’s coming, Mal. 4:2,3, “But unto you that fear my name, shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be as ashes under the soles of your feet, in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.” Then we read in Mal. 4:4, “Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments,” i.e. Remember and improve what you have. Keep close to that written rule you have, as expecting no more additions to it, until the night of the Old Testament is over, and the Sun of Righteousness shall at length arise.