Chapter 6. The Inter-Connected And Progressive Character Of Prophecy
VERY considerable misapprehensions have arisen, and both partial and mistaken views have been propounded respecting particular prophecies, by considering them singly and apart, without regard to the place they hold in the general scheme of prophetical development. Their relation to such a scheme was not a matter of accident, but one of wise and orderly adjustment—not, indeed, on the part of the prophets, who uttered the predictions, but of the inspiring Spirit from whom the communications really proceeded. The prophets themselves spake as they were moved, and as the circumstances of the time required; but both in the personal qualifications of the prophets, and in the particular messages they were commissioned to deliver, a regard was had to the prophecies which had been previously uttered, to the more or less complete fulfilment they had received, and the farther progress that remained to be made. The testimony of prophecy, therefore, like the testimony of history, is a chain composed of many links, each running into others before and after it, and by the introduction of some fresh particulars, or some different aspect of the truth, contributing at once to the elucidation of the past, and to a more explicit representation of the future.
This unity of plan and mutual inter-connection of parts, with progressive action on the whole, is precisely what was to have been expected in prophecy, on the supposition of its being the product of one and the same Spirit, operating in connection with a gradual and growing development of the divine purpose in respect to the world’s redemption. In such a case, it is but natural to infer, from what appears in the divine works generally, that as the end must have been contemplated from the beginning, so the whole burden of prophecy would be comprised even in its earlier utterances, but only that it might be afterwards expanded into such variety of parts, as was required by the manifold and ever-changing phases of the world’s history, and the onward progress of the scheme of God. So it was in reality, as the following brief, but comprehensive, sketch, very strikingly unfolds:—“At first, the word of God is as a seed, it may be of the oak, or of any other plant, in which the whole majestic form and various parts of the future lie undisclosed, ready to reveal themselves when the times and the seasons and other conditions which God has appointed to determine its being, shall have taken their course. And there is no break, nor leap, nor start in its course, which proceeds by a slow, and sweet, and beautiful progression, to perfect that purpose or word of God, which said at the beginning, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit-tree yielding fruit, after its kind, whose seed is in itself.’ So the first great promise made in Eden, contains the whole of the revelation and prophecy of God, in an embryo state: first, the enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, which has produced all the persecutions endured by the church from the world, since the time of righteous Abel, until this hour, and which she shall endure till the resurrection. The second part of it, ‘Thou shalt bruise his heel,’ has been likewise developing itself during the whole of the same long period, in which the heel, or lowest part of the church’s body, that is, our carnal, natural life, has been vexed and crucified by him during life, and lies bruised unto dust in the grave; but, at the resurrection, the church shall bruise his head, casting him out of his usurped domination, and reigning over him for ever and ever. Therefore it is written, both of Christ and of His church, that they shall rule the nations with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel, and have all their enemies under their footstool. We have not room to trace the progress of this seed sown in paradise, as it is developed in the progress of revelation, and shoots its roots into the soil of the fallen world, and spreads its branches into the atmosphere of time, until it shall possess the whole earth; yet in order to show how true the principle is, let us trace it out a little. We have the promise to Abraham still made of a seed, and now all nations are to inherit the blessing, in whose right their father Abraham is infeoffed in a country by the divine word. In the mouth of David, the promise is still of a seed to come, which has now attained the high stature of a triumphant and universal king of Judah by pre-eminence, of all the earth by equal privilege; in this same character of a king, the child is made known to the immediate precursors of His birth, Zacharias, Elizabeth, Mary, John; in the same character to Simeon, though now His sufferings and the calling of the Gentiles be hinted as first to happen, which He labours all His life long to make intelligible to Nicodemus, to His apostles, and all His disciples. In no other character does Peter declare Him, after the day of Pentecost, and James in the council of Jerusalem, and the two shining ones on Mount Olivet, and Paul and all the apostles, than as THE KING, who ascended on high without seeing corruption, waiting and expecting, till the Father shall accomplish the times and the seasons, and bring in the days of refreshing spoken of by all the prophets, the restitution of all things waited for by the whole creation of God. In no other way does John see Him in the Apocalypse, than as a child, the seed of a woman, caught up to God, and His throne, and there abiding until, after certain sore warfares and persecutions of His church, He comes again with many crowns upon His head, and followed by all the armies of heaven, in order to break the confederacy of Satan’s powers, to bind the old serpent himself, and cast him into the bottomless pit, with all the nations that forget God. There is such a soft, sweet, and silent development of this one seed sown in paradise, and which in its growth doth change the earth into paradise again, reproducing that kind of blessedness which the world was then deprived of, that this alone has ever to thoughtful men marked revelation as a divine work, comprehending the restitution, regeneration, and complete blessedness of man and his habitation. Like the stately branching oak, which begins in an acorn, and of which the end and purpose is, to generate an acorn, while, during the progress of its stately growth, it covers every beast of the earth with its kindly shade, and nestles every bird of heaven in its ample branches; so this promise was sown in the soil of a perfect and perfectly blessed state, while man still dwelt in paradise, and its end is to produce perfectly blessed men, dwelling in paradise again; while, during all the ages of its growth, it should bless the immortal spirits of men with salvation, and its leaves be for the healing of the nations.” (Irving’s Preface to Ben-Ezra, p. lxxi., etc.)
In this outline, which we present, chiefly because of the happy manner in which it connects together the beginning and the end, and exhibits the analogy that subsists between God’s method of working in nature and in grace, only some of the more obvious links are noticed. When the matter is looked at more closely, far more is discovered of the progressive unfolding of the first promise, and the inter-connection between it and subsequent prophecies, and of these again with each other. Before we reach the time of Abraham, reference is made to it in the benediction of Noah upon Shem, which defines to some extent the line through which the blessing was to come upon the world—it was to be directly in connection with Shem, and mediately, through a participation with that line, upon the other branches of the human family. Then the revelation to Abraham may be said to combine together the word of Noah and the original promise; it makes promise of a seed of blessing, which was to spread and prosper and have the ascendency in the world, and defines still more exactly the line by which it should proceed; singling out the family of Abraham, setting it in the highest place, and linking indissolubly with it the better destinies of the world. Along with the promise of the land of Canaan for a possession to his seed, or, as it was afterwards defined, to a select portion of his seed, after the flesh, the word given to Abraham was, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great, and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee, and in thee all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
This great promise to Abraham was in one sense only a limitation of the original promise; it merely chalked out a particular channel, through which divine grace should flow in raising up a spiritual seed, to resist and baffle and drive out the tempter; yet in the actual form which it gave to the expected good, more especially in the relations it established with a view to the accomplishment of what was promised, it became a germinant word for all future prophecy before the coming of Christ. From henceforth prophecy takes what may be .called the Abrahamic type. Connecting, as this fundamental promise did, the particular with the general—the hope of the world with a chosen family and a local territory, the same particularism ever after adheres to prophecy; it moves continually within the relations, which date their commencement from the call of the Father of the faithful. The relations are variously modified; new elements are ever and anon intermingled with them to make out the progressive exhibition of the future; but only as gradual developments of what already existed, additional branches springing out of the old stock, and clustering around it, not the production of a stock altogether new. Thus, the prophetic disclosures successively made to Isaac and Jacob are little more than renewals of the original promise to Abraham, with certain indications regarding the mode in which it was to proceed to its accomplishment. Even the remarkable prophecy of Jacob, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh (the peaceful one) come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the peoples be,” is merely a step forward in the same line; it simply associates the divine purpose, as disclosed to Abraham, primarily with the tribal ascendency of Judah, and ultimately with a distinguished individual of that tribe, in whom the fulness of power and blessing was to reach its culminating point, and diffuse itself throughout the nations of the earth. Balaam ere long catches up the strain of the dying patriarch, and, along with other expansions of the Abrahamic promise, proclaims the rise of the bright day-star, of which Jacob spoke—the glorious and mighty Lord, who should rule with resistless might, but rule only to subdue the evil and establish the good. The current grows in volume as it proceeds. The house of David comes into view as the election within the election, the seed out of all the tribes of Israel and the families of Judah, which, by virtue of its peculiar relationship to God, was to attain to the ascendency in the affairs of men, and carry the blessings of salvation and peace to the remotest habitations. Here, again, a fresh start is taken by the prophetic word, another stage is reached; and the settlement of the power and the glory for ever in connection with the house of David, as disclosed in the fundamental prophecy of Nathan (2 Samuel 7), appears at once as a certain consummation of the earlier predictions given to Abraham and his posterity, and the seed-corn of other predictions that point to a still brighter and greater future. Hence these other predictions have respect alike to the more general and the more special relations indicated in what had been spoken and done; they point back sometimes to the less definite covenant of blessing made with Abraham, sometimes to the more personal and specific form it assumed in connection with the house and lineage of David; and not unfrequently the language carries a distinct reference to both together. The Messianic psalms, and the later Messianic prophecies generally, are constructed mainly on the basis of Nathan’s prophecy and the relations it introduced respecting the kingdom, yet not so as to loose sight of the earlier promise, and the fulfilment it was to receive by the others coming into play. Thus, in the seventy-second Psalm, which is throughout a prophecy of Him, who was to be emphatically the King, and of the character of His kingdom, it is said at Psa_72:17, with evident reference to the Abrahamic promise, “And they shall bless themselves in Him, all nations shall call Him blessed;” and, again, in Psa_22:27, “All the ends of the world shall remember, and turn unto the Lord; and all the families of the Gentiles shall worship before Him.” It is as much as to say, then shall the blessing of Abraham have come upon the Gentiles. In Jer_33:22, the promise of a continued and flourishing condition to the house and kingdom of David is thrown—doubtless for the purpose of marking more distinctly the connection between the two—into the peculiar form of the Abrahamic promise, “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured, so will I multiply the seed of David my servant”—although the covenant with David had respect, not so properly to a numerous offspring, as to a perpetual and glorious succession in the kingdom. And in Zec_14:16-19, which obviously has respect to the closing issues of Messiah’s kingdom on earth, the word of promise to Abraham as to those being blessed who blessed him, and cursed who cursed him, and all the families of the earth being at last blessed in him, is taken up and applied in Zechariah’s peculiar manner; the nations, as in the old promise, have the designation of “all the families of the earth,” and they are represented as going to be blessed or cursed, according as they did or did not go to worship before the Lord with His covenant people. (See this subject of the developments of the earlier prophecies ably handled in Hengstenberg’s “Christology,” vol. i., second edition.)
Such examples show very distinctly the consecutive, as well as progressive nature of prophecy—how tenaciously it adheres to the old channels, maintains the original impress, and proceeds by way of development under relations already settled and known, rather than by the introduction of others essentially different and new. They show, that as regards the great stream of prophecy, the past never properly dies; it is perpetually resumed and carried forward in the future. Earlier developments become only the historical basis, out of which spring the announcement of more matured and diversified results. It is thus that the historical goes along with the prophetical, the one ever furnishing, by its fresh evolutions, the occasion and ground-work on which the other proceeds to unfold some further aspect of the scheme of God. And instructive, as well as interesting, is it to mark how the history was moulded, sometimes even into peculiar and unexpected shapes, to open the way and provide the materials for the progressive informations of prophecy. The circumstances of David’s time were remarkable illustrations of this, which were all divinely ordered, so as to make the beginning prophetic of the end. Even the changes to the worse, that afterwards arose—the falling down, as it is called, of the tabernacle of David, or the decaying of his once stately tree, till it had become like a scathed and branchless stump—though singularly trying to faith in the meantime, was improved by the Spirit of prophecy to the end of bringing out more distinctly and graphically, than might otherwise have been possible, the deep humiliation and adverse circumstances amid which the kingdom was ultimately to rise from the dust and advance toward its perfected condition. But, perhaps, the most striking example to be found of this moulding of the historical relations and occurrences, to admit of prophecy, without essentially altering the form of its representations, progressively adapting these to the approaching future, is furnished by the changes—in themselves changes to the worse, that entered after the return from Babylon. Various points might be mentioned in this connection, but one very particularly indicates the foreseeing eye and presiding agency of God. An anomalous and, as regards the history of the period, an almost inexplicable state of things then began. While the work of God generally was revived among the covenant people, and the house of David did not want a worthy representative in the person of Zerubbabel, yet that house itself did not revive in the same proportion as the rest; it even fell, after a little, into complete abeyance; and, notwithstanding that the hopes of the people were all suspended on the appearance of a glorious personage of the seed-royal, it was not the royal but the priestly line that rose to the place of power and authority in Judah. This was, no doubt, partly ordained to the end, that when the promised child appeared, the hand of God might be more evidently seen in His rise to the possession of the kingdom. But it was partly also, and, indeed, more immediately appointed for another purpose—for the purpose of directing the thoughts and expectations of the church to the priestly element in Messiah’s character, which in the prophecies founded on the relations of David’s time, had been somewhat obscured by the kingly. The reverse now takes place; the kingly falls into the background, and the priestly rises in its stead. Hence, in the prophecies of this period, those of Zechariah, Haggai, and Malachi, a quite peculiar place is given to the priesthood; and though Zerubbabel is once and again mentioned as the representative of the royal house, yet it is Joshua, the high-priest, who is formally exalted to the head of the covenant people, and is even taken as a type to foreshadow the future Joshua or Saviour-king. In the third chapter of Zechariah, after being set up as a type of the people, first clothed in filthy garments, then in others fair and comely—a sign of forgiveness and acceptance—a charge is addressed to Joshua, to walk in the ways of God, coupled with the assurance, that if he did thus walk, it would be given him to “judge the house of the Lord and keep His courts”—in other words, to have regal as well as priestly power. And then, after declaring Joshua and his fellows, in this, to be men of wonders or signs, the prophet goes on to read the import of the transaction, by making promise of the Branch, the Lord’s anointed already promised under that name, by whom the iniquity of the people was really to be purged away, and who, as the true Shiloh, would give them to sit in peace, every man under his vine and under his fig-tree. In like manner, in the sixth chapter, Joshua is expressly set forth, with crowns upon his head, as the representative of “the Man whose name is the BRANCH,” of whom it is said, “He shall build the temple of the Lord,” build it, namely, in the true and proper sense, as contradistinguished from that inferior and shadowy sense, in which Joshua and his companions were then doing it. “And,” it is added, “He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” In Malachi also, it is the state and calling of the priesthood that are peculiarly dwelt upon, and the most explicit prophecy that is given of the coming Messiah, represents Him as going to establish the covenant which the sons of Levi were violating, and accomplish a work of thorough purification upon the members of the covenant.
Thus was it wisely ordered by the providence of God, that in the last announcements of prophecy, that aspect of the Messiah’s character and mission should be the most distinctly, as from the turn given to affairs it was also quite naturally, brought out, which was the first to be formally established, and which was to constitute the ground-work of all that should follow. It was nothing absolutely new, however; but only a more palpable and prominent exhibition of what had been frequently indicated in earlier, and was involved even in the earliest, prophetical announcements. And so, when prophecy enters on its proper fulfilment, the whole appear to have simultaneously reached their end; the relations, whether more general or more particular, under which the future had been predicted, are once for all established in the higher sphere of gospel realities, so that the end may be said to embrace the beginning. When Christ enters the world, He is made known as pre-eminently the seed of Abraham, through whom the blessing, so long promised, comes upon the Gentiles; as the son of David, who appears to rectify every evil, and set up the throne of the kingdom in righteousness and truth; as the high-priest, also, who bears away the iniquity of His people, and in his own blood, lays the foundation of His kingdom—receives the crown of glory in the heavenly places, because He has suffered unto death in the earthly. His followers become Abraham’s children, the true Israelites, fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God, a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, ministering before God in light and purity in the midst of surrounding Gentiles (1Pe_2:5, 1Pe_2:12; 3Jn_1:7 John 7); at death going to Abraham’s bosom; at the regeneration sitting down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God; nay, at the restitution of all things, entering paradise as the woman’s victorious seed, and taking their place beside the tree of life, and the river, clear as crystal, that proceeds from the throne of God and the Lamb. In reality, and looking to the order of nature, Christ is the root of all; in Him and from Him the whole proceeds; and so it is declared in Scripture with the greatest plainness and frequency. But out of regard to the historical element, which plays so important a part in the revelations of Scripture, the older relations are still preserved in the word of promise, in order to connect prophecy with its fulfilment, and to render manifest the consecutive as well as progressive character of its revelations.
But it is clear that if this holds in regard to one class of relations, it must equally do so in regard to another. The manner and style of prophecy must be uniform, if it is to be intelligible. The relations we have referred to, as embodied in its representations—progressively embodied, as its views of the future came to be progressively unfolded—are those of a personal and social kind; but, in intimate connection with these, there were also local relations, which stand side by side with the other in the delineations of prophecy. They were not merely poetical beings in connection with whom it revealed the future; they had their place amid the realities of sense and time. Eve was connected with a paradise of life and blessing before her fall, as with a cursed and troubled earth afterwards; and the prophecies respecting her victorious seed point to the uplifting of this curse, and the return to that paradise again. Abraham, with his immediate offspring, Isaac and Jacob, were also connected, by promise, with a specific territory; and the covenant made with Abraham as distinctly and properly includes an inheritance of blessing, as a seed of blessing that should become co-extensive with the families of the earth. In the history and prophecy alike, the two are bound up inseparably together. Circumcision was appointed as the seal of the covenant, without the remotest hint of a division in respect to these objects, so that it can only be characterised as a fiction of modern times to connect it with the one of these more than with the other. We must here also proclaim the word, “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” Certainly the prophets of the Old Testament did not do so. As they employ the personal and social relations of Abraham and his posterity to unfold the character and purposes of the great scheme of God, so with these they ever conjoin the territorial; and Canaan, Jerusalem, Zion, are at every step mixed up with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, and others, in the prospective exhibition of the better things to come. What, under the one class of relations, is represented as the blessing of Abraham diffusing itself to all the families of the earth, appears, under the other, as the King of Zion having the heathen for His heritage, or reigning in peace and righteousness to the ends of the earth; or as Israel being third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth (Isa_19:24); or as people out of Egypt, Babylon, Ethiopia, and other countries, going to be born in Zion, and many representations of a like nature. Nor is it otherwise when we pass to writers of the New Testament. They tell us, indeed, that baptism has taken the place of circumcision, but in its entireness, not in respect merely to a part of its symbolical and sealing import. They speak, with reference to Christians generally, of our fathers having passed under the cloud and through the sea. They designate believers, not only Abraham’s children, but heirs also with him, according to the promise—heirs, namely, of what he himself was heir of. They represent the oath, which ultimately confirmed the covenant with Abraham, as added, that “we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to the hope set before us;” and describe the members of Christ’s church as having now come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.
Yes, and we may well thank God that it is so; that the evidence on each side is so clear and decisive; and that on the warrant of inspired prophecy going before, and an infallible interpretation coming after, we can assure ourselves of a personal interest in all that was written in former revelations, without being obliged to grope our way between certain things that are for us, and certain other things with which we have no personal concern. All hangs harmoniously together. The same word that, as addressed to men of former generations, tells us of the way to a sonship condition, lays open, at the same time, the prospect of a sonship inheritance. And speaking, as it does, of things to come, through the existing relations of those by whom it came—their territorial as well as personal and social relations—we may, and indeed ought to see in one and all of them alike, the hidden purpose of God’s grace, in its completeness, struggling into light, and in the present and visible sphere of things giving open pledge and testimony of the glorious heritage of life and blessing, destined for those upon whom the ends of the world have come. (On the ground of these considerations we object to the division of the prophecies of the Old Testament into those of a simply temporal kind, which belonged to Abraham and his family; and those of a spiritual kind, in which the people of God generally have an interest. Sherlock, in his Discourses on Prophecy, exhibits this division. One portion, he says, “relates to the temporal state and condition of the Jews, and was in order to the administration and execution, on God’s part, of the temporal government given to Abraham and his natural descendants. These prophecies, relating to the things of this life, concern us but little; but there are others in which we are highly concerned,” etc. But Davison carries out this division more formally. He regards prophecy as taking, from the call of Abraham, a double course—falling into two distinct lines, “one of them exclusive and particular to his family; the other extending to all the nations of the earth.” He holds the two to “be exceedingly distinct in their extent and in their kind, and their distinction was marked from the beginning” (p. 83). We take this to be a superficial view of the matter. The outward and temporal did not exist by itself or for itself, but for the higher spiritual things connected with it, and as the necessary means for securing their attainment. To separate such things which God has bound so closely together, and draw a broad line of demarcation between them, is false in principle, and sure to lead to erroneous results. If believers in Christ are Abraham’s children, and heirs according to His promise, they are assuredly interested in all that was said or promised to him. And the outward and temporal can never stand alone; rightly considered, it will be seen to have a spiritual element pervading and animating it.)
We have hitherto spoken of the mutual inter-connection and progressive character of the prophetical writings together, the one as the natural result and sequel of the other. There might, however, be a connection without an actual progression. One prophecy might, in regard either to its subject, or to the form of representation it employed, have a respect to, and even be in a sense dependent upon, an earlier prophecy. And, in so far as such may be the case, it must be proper to keep it in view as an important element in the interpretation of prophecy, since a later prophecy of that description, even when it does not add anything material to the earlier, and brings out no new aspect of the future, cannot fail to be of service in confirming or elucidating what has preceded. The reference in Zechariah, already noticed, to the prophecy of Isaiah, respecting the branch that was to spring out of the stem of David, would have been of value (to say nothing of the intimation coupled with it of the priestly character of Him in whom it was to be realised), were it only for the familiarity it bespeaks with the earlier prophecy, and the explanation it puts upon the term branch, as indicative of small beginnings, but such as were to grow to the greatest magnitude.
The passages in which one prophet substantially adopts the representation, or quotes the language of another, are of considerable number and variety. We can only refer to a few of the more obvious examples. Thus, in Isa_2:1-4, we have, with only a few verbal differences, the same prediction respecting the exaltation of the house of the Lord in the latter days, and the general resort of the nations to it, that occurs in Mic_4:1-3; the ideas, the language, the structure of the periods are so nearly alike, that there can be no doubt of the one having given rise to the other; and there are pretty strong grounds for the conclusion, that it appeared first in the prophecies of Micah. The prophecies of Balaam, as they refer more than once to earlier predictions, so are they again among the most frequently referred to and quoted in subsequent prophecies. Micah, for example, distinctly points to them, in Mic_6:5, and calls upon the people to remember them. Habakkuk at Ha 1:3, “Why dost thou show me iniquity, and cause me to behold violence?” and again, at ver. 13, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on evil,” evidently uses language derived from Num_23:21, where Balaam speaks of God as “not beholding iniquity in Jacob, nor seeing perverseness in Israel.” Balaam had said (Num_24:17), of the star that was to arise out of Jacob, that “He should smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth;” and Jeremiah (Jer_48:45), says, “a flame shall devour the corner of Moab, and the crown of the head of the children of noise”—partly quoting the former words, and by a slight change (much slighter than the translation might seem to imply), giving the meaning more distinctly of the rest—the children of Sheth in Balaam becoming the children of noise or tumult in Jeremiah. There are many similar examples in Jeremiah, who, more than any of the prophets, adopts the language of his predecessors; thus, in Jer_17:8, his description of the man, whose hope is in the Lord (“He shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green”), is very much an adoption with some amplifications of the Psalmist’s description of the righteous in the first Psalm; and the prophecy in Jer_49:7-32, of Edom, is in many parts the same with what is found in Obadiah, or differs from it only in unimportant particulars. Obadiah had said, “The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me to the ground? Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord.” Jeremiah says, “Thy terribleness hath deceived thee, the pride of thine heart, O thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, that boldest the height of the hill; though thou shouldest make thy nest as high as the eagle, I will bring thee down from thence, saith the Lord.” Several other specimens might be given from the same prophecies. And Obadiah, who here is followed, himself also follows Joel in various expressions; as when he says, “They have cast lots upon Jerusalem” (Oba_1:11), while Joel had said, “They cast lots upon my people” (Joe_3:3): or, “Thy reward shall return upon thine own head” (Oba_1:15), and “Upon Mount Zion shall be deliverance “ (Oba_1:17), where the words are in each case taken from Joel Joe_3:4, Joe_3:7; Joe_2:32. But it is needless to multiply examples farther.
Now, at first thought, such appropriations by one prophet of the words and ideas of another, may seem scarcely to consist with the raised and elevated condition of those who saw the vision of God, and spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. It may seem to throw around such portions of the prophetic word an appearance of art and labour; and exhibit them in a dangerous resemblance to the productions in human literature of those who endeavour to make up for the want of original genius, by availing themselves of the ideas and expressions of more gifted intellects. Such actually has been the interpretation sometimes put upon the matter. And yet, that it is manifestly not the right one, is evident alone from the order, in which the citations and references by one prophet from another appear in the examples we have adduced. If an Isaiah could take from a Micah, a Habakkuk from a Balaam, a Jeremiah from an Obadiah, it is clear, that some other principle must be sought to account for the dependence, than any native inferiority of mental powers, or the decay of prophetic gifts.
In the way of explanation, it must be remembered, that the revelations of the prophets, if not formally given over, like the Psalms of David, to persons charged with the service of God in the sanctuary, were usually made public as soon as they were received, and added to the existing testimony of God. They forthwith became part of the sacred treasury of the church; and formed, not only as to the thoughts expressed in them, a portion of revealed truth, but also, as to the very terms employed, a kind of hallowed tongue, in which to give expression to such thoughts, when they might again present themselves for utterance. May we not appeal in support of this to experience? When one is really, and, in the proper sense, full of the Holy Ghost, do not his thoughts instinctively, as it were, run in scriptural channels, and clothe themselves, when he speaks, in the very language of inspiration? The more powerfully the Spirit works within, originating spiritual thoughts and feelings, the more readily do they always take this scriptural direction; as appears on the day of Pentecost itself, in the address of the apostle Peter, which is full of Old Testament quotations; and shortly after, when escaping from the hand of violence, and filled with the Holy Ghost, the apostles poured forth their hearts to God with one accord, in the very words that had been indited centuries before by the pen of David (Act_4:23-27). In like manner, the apostle Paul, who had the highest gifts of the Spirit, and spoke of the things of God “in the words which were taught by the Holy Ghost,” ever makes the freest use of the earlier Scriptures, and sometimes, as when enjoining the duty of forgiveness, contents himself with reiterating the testimony of former times (Rom_12:19-21). And how often does the apostle Peter, throughout his first epistle, address to the New Testament church, as from himself, passages that were originally addressed by other servants of God to the church of the Old Testament? Yet such passages are as much the communications of the Holy Spirit on their second, as they were on their first appearance; for the purpose of God required, that a fresh utterance should be given to the sentiments they expressed, and the original form of expression was, on many accounts, the best that could be chosen.
Besides, there were ends of a more special kind to be served by the references and quotations from one prophet to another. For, these were like so many sign-marks along the line of ancient prophecy, indicating the relation of one portion to another—formal and specific authentications in the chain of God’s testimony, connecting the earlier with the later, certifying the existence of the earlier, and confirming anew, or incidentally throwing light on its import. “The Old Testament prophets,” says Caspari, form a regular succession; they are members of an unbroken continuous chain; one perpetually reaches forth the hand to another. The later prophets had always either heard or read the prophecies of the earlier, and had these deeply impressed upon their minds. When therefore, the Spirit of God came upon a prophet and irresistibly impelled him to prophesy (Amo_3:8), it naturally happened first, that here and there, sometimes more, sometimes less, he clothed what the Spirit imparted to him, in the words of one or other of the prophets he had heard or read—the words of his prophetical fore-runner thus cleaving to his memory, and forming part of the materials of utterance of which the Spirit availed himself; and second, that the later prophet attached himself to the prophetical views of the earlier, and in the power of the prophetic Spirit, which descended on him from above and wrought in his soul, either confirmed them anew by a fresh promulgation, or expanded and completed them. For the most part, the coincidence in thought and expression is found united in the prophets.” (Der Prophet Obadiah, Ausgelegt Von Carl Paul Caspari, pp. 21, 22.)
Delitzsch, the friend and coadjutor of Caspari, has followed up this line of remark by similar observations in his introduction to the third chapter of the prophet Habakkuk—a chapter which is not less distinguished by the vein of originality that pervades it, than by the free use which is made in it of some of the earlier portions of Scripture, especially of Psalms 77, “With the inspired penman in general,” he says, “and with the prophet in particular, simply from his being a living member of the spiritual body, there was formed an internal storehouse out of the substance of former revelations, which had entered into the very core of his spiritual life, and become amalgamated with it—revelations which sunk so deep into the memory and the heart of every pious Israelite, that he necessarily acted under their influence in the formation of his thoughts, and, when writing also, could not avoid making use of the older expressions, which already bore upon them a divine impress. Besides, the prophet could not otherwise be the organ and bearer of a divine revelation, than by sacrificing everything of a selfish kind, therefore all ambitious strivings after originality, that he might surrender himself to the operation of God; and this operation was partly of a mediate nature, through the work which had already been produced, and partly immediate, yet even then connecting itself closely with the existing word. The conformity of the new, which germinated in the mind of the prophet, with the old, which had been imported into his mind, was necessitated alone by the circumstance, that the revelation, in its organic development, could only present the aspect of something new, in so far as it took up the old, in order to confirm and still further unfold it, without the possibility, in the process of development, which proceeds from God Himself, the Unchangeable, of running into contrariety with what had preceded. This unison is the very seal of a divine revelation, as the work of one and the same Spirit operating in the workshops of many individuals.” (Der Prophet Habakkuk, Ausgelegt von F. Delitzsch, p. 118.)
On the whole, then, this mutual inter-connection and dependence apparent in the prophetical writings was of importance, as an appropriate evidence and seal of the oneness of the pervading Spirit, of the brotherhood of the prophetical order in faith and love, of the advancing, yet ever-renewing light of the prophetical testimony, and, we may add, of the genuineness and authenticity of its several parts. The prophets were not rendered less human in their manner of thought and utterance, that they were supernaturally moved by the Holy Spirit; they thought as men, they spake as men; and the use they thus made successively of each others’ writings, is a mark of verisimilitude on them as writings, a concealed attestation of their having been produced and published at the proper time, and a satisfactory indication as to the place they relatively and respectively occupied in the prophetic chain. It is an element that has most effectually withstood the rationalistic alchemy, and materially contributed to the defence of the integrity of the prophetical writings.