Chapter 1. The Apologetic Value Of Prophecy, Of Its Place And Use As An Evidence For The Facts And Doctrines Of Scripture
THERE are three points that ought especially to be borne in mind, when prophecy is considered as an evidence, and brought to bear on the controversy we have to maintain with the assailants of the Bible. The first is, that as it is prophecy in its predictive character alone that is here made account of, this, it should be remembered, was only a branch, and not more than a subsidiary branch, of its revelations. We refer for the proof and grounds of the statement to the first chapter of the former part, and to the farther elucidations given respecting it in chapter third. But assuming the position now as a correct one, it were in itself wrong, and fitted to beget mistaken apprehensions on the subject, to conduct the argument from prophecy, as if the whole value of prophecy depended upon the number and clearness of its announcements of the future. This has been too often done in the past, and material injustice has in consequence been inflicted on the interests of revealed truth.
A second consideration, which was also brought out in the earlier part of our inquiries (chap. iii), has respect to the more immediate design and function of prophecy. Its proper sphere is the church, rather than the world; and the primary end for which its communications were given, was to direct and comfort the children of faith, more especially in their seasons of greater darkness and perplexity. Of necessity, therefore, those who stand altogether without the region of faith, must be in an unfavourable position for appreciating, or even for distinctly understanding a large portion of the prophetical volume. It is only some of the broader features and more salient points of the subject, that can with any advantage be presented to them. We are obliged to act in the matter like persons who stand outside—looking, as from a distance, on the exterior of the sacred building, and pointing to such proportions and adjustments as are too conspicuous to be overlooked, or altogether denied; but are not in a condition to enter in, and take cognisance of the finer, the more profound, and far-reaching harmonies which pervade the internal framework.
There is still another point, which must be taken into account—in itself, when duly considered, a source of great strength, but one that must also be attended with some disadvantage in conducting an argument with adversaries of the faith. In dealing with such persons, it is necessary, for the most part, to single out and press specific points, instead of surveying the matter in its proper compass and completeness. Now, the evidence of prophecy is essentially of a connected and cumulative nature. It does not consist so much in the verifications given to a few remarkable predictions, as in the establishment of an entire series, closely related to each other, and forming a united and comprehensive whole. This is peculiarly the case in respect to the prophecies, which relate to the person and kingdom of Messiah, which more than any others form a prolonged and connected series. Hence, to use the words of Bishop Hurd, “though the evidence be but small from the completion of any one prophecy, taken separately, the amount of the whole evidence, resulting from a great number of prophecies, all relative to the same design, may be considerable: like many scattered rays, which, though each be weak in itself, yet concentred into one point, shall form a strong light, and strike the sense very powerfully.” (“Sermons on Prophecy,” p. 86.)
Any one may see, on a moment’s reflection, how great a difference this serial and connected character of Old Testament prophecy forms, in an argumentative respect, between it and the isolated, occasionally happy prognostications of uninspired men. The difference is such, as to secure for the argument founded on the fulfilment of Scriptural prophecy a conclusive force, if it is fully entered into and fairly dealt with; while, if looked at only in broken fragments, the distance cannot possibly appear so great as it would otherwise do between them and some of the more fortunate specimens of human augury. Even, however, with this disadvantage, the prophecies of Scripture will be found to have characteristics belonging to them, which such specimens fail to exhibit. The two most noted examples of the class, that used to be brought, and in the present day are still brought, into competition with the predictions of the Bible, are taken from ancient Roman authors. One is the saying of a Roman augur, Vettius Valens, reported by Varro, in his eighteenth Book of Antiquities: If it was true, as historians related (si ita esset, ut traderent historici), that twelve vultures had appeared to Romulus at the founding of the city of Rome, then, since the Roman people had survived for 120 years, they would prolong their existence to 1200 years. And the other occurs in Seneca’s Medea, where it is said, a time should come, when the ocean would relax the cords by which the world was then bound, and new regions of the earth come to be explored; when Thule (Shetland) would cease to be the remotest boundary of the known world. 
 --------- Venient annis
Saecula sens, quibus oceanus
Vincula rerum laxet, et ingens
Pateat tellus, Tiphysque novos
Detegat orbes; nec sit terris
Now, in regard to both of these vaunted prophecies, there is no need with Hurd to press on the other side the serial and compact nature of the prophecies of Scripture. By doing so, indeed, we might place those of Scripture at a much greater and more conspicuous elevation above them. But, in truth, they cannot stand a comparison even with some of the earlier and less specific announcements of Scriptural prophecy. Bishop Horsley has tested that of Seneca with the prophecy of Noah, in respect to the relative fortunes of his posterity, and shown the immeasurable superiority of the patriarch’s insight into the future above that displayed by the Roman sage. General and comprehensive as Noah’s prediction is, it still comprises particulars which were capable of meeting as well with a marked contradiction, as with a distinct verification in the course of Providence, since it so expressly, and in perfect accordance with the results of history, ascribes to Shem’s line the superiority in respect to the knowledge and worship of Jehovah; to Japhet’s, the superiority in respect to extensive propagation and active energy; and to Ham’s, the bad pre-eminence of degradation and servitude. It is easy to conceive how, in many respects, the course of events might have travestied this prospective distribution, instead of presenting, as it has done, a remarkable confirmation of it. But, in regard to Seneca’s augury, which has, no doubt, received a sort of fulfilment, it really predicts nothing but what might with confidence have been anticipated from the history of the past. There had already, within the period to which authentic tradition reached back, been a great enlargement of men’s geographical knowledge; many discoveries had been made of new territories both by sea and land; and as it was certain that a vast extent of ocean still remained to be explored, nothing was more likely to occur to an imaginative mind than that in process of time further additions would yet be made to the ascertained boundaries of the habitable globe. But, beside this natural inference, all is vague and general. “Neither the parts of the world are specified from which expeditions of discovery should be fitted out, nor the quarters in which they should most succeed; or, if any intimation upon the latter article be couched in the mention of Shetland, as an island that should cease to be extreme, it is erroneous, as it points precisely to that quarter of the globe where discovery has ever been at a stand—where the ocean, to this hour, opposes his eternal barrier of impervious unnavigable ice.” (Horsley’s Works, I., p. 256.)
It fares still worse with the other prediction, the ancient oracle of Vettius. His prognostication from the number and appearance of the vultures, did not even profess to have more than a possibility for its foundation: “If it was so,” he said, “as historians related.” But every one knows now that, like other things respecting Romulus and Remus, the story about the vultures is not so properly the account which historians related as the legends which poets sung; it was altogether of a fabulous character, and the prediction hazarded on it could be nothing more than a fortunate guess. It appears, indeed, in the form of a calculation. If the Roman people have survived 120 years—that Isaiah , 12 times 10—then they shall do so ten times that again,—1200 years. But why this longer period? They certainly did survive so long; but we can see no probable grounds for the anticipation, none for that precise period any more than others that might be named.
We have, as we shall presently see, greatly more specific predictions in Scripture, than either of those heathen oracles—predictions which are not based upon any conjectural hypothesis, and far too discriminating to have been framed merely by shrewd inference and deduction from the history of the past. But were they less so than they really are, when taken individually, it is not to be forgotten that their immense number and connected order—as related to a great scheme, and pointing to a definite end—forms their peculiar distinction, and renders the argument deducible from them one of an exceedingly varied and cumulative nature. If it might be excepted against certain portions of the chain, that they did not afford conclusive evidence of supernatural foresight and Divine interposition, the whole surely cannot be so accounted for. And, besides, even when taken in its full compass and connection, prophecy, it must be remembered, with its manifold accomplishments, is still but one branch of the Christian evidence. So far from having the whole weight to bear alone, there are several others equally important to be coupled with it—the miracles of the gospel, the originality of Christ’s character and scheme, the sincere and self-sacrificing spirit of His apostles, the sublime morality of their teaching, with its profound adaptation to the wants and emotions of man’s moral nature, and the blessed results it has accomplished in the world. All must be taken together; they are so many distinct but converging lines; and it is the combined force and operation of the whole, not the strength merely of a particular part, which must decide the claim of Scripture to be received as the authoritative revelation of God to men.
We must, however, quit these general considerations, and by a selection of particular examples show how the argument from prophecy may be most advantageously conducted. Dealing with the subject as it may be best fitted to tell upon the understanding and convictions of those who are enveloped in doubt or unbelief, our position should be chosen at a point where the ground is comparatively clear as to the main question, and no preliminary difficulties can be raised, or brooding suspicions entertained, regarding the possible occurrence of the events that fulfilled, before the utterance of the prophecies that foretold them. The interval between the prophecy and its fulfilment should be such as to leave no proper room to doubt that the one had been spoken and recorded before the other had come into operation. On this account many of the most explicit prophecies, whose deliverance and fulfilment are recorded in the same book, should be passed over in the first instance; as in the case of such, the adversary is ready with the reply, that he doubts the formal existence of the predictions till after the events themselves had taken place. We may, therefore, fix upon the period about or immediately subsequent to the Babylonish captivity, when most of the prophetical writings were certainly in existence; but as some, not even avowed adversaries, are still disposed to except portions of Daniel, and to regard them as the productions of a still later period, however groundless the suspicion is, the consideration of such portions had better be postponed till others are disposed of.
Section I. Prophecies on the States and Kingdoms Which Came Into Contact with Israel
OPENING Old Testament Scripture, then, as it unquestionably stood at the period referred to, we would ask the person, on whom we seek to make some impression by the argument from prophecy, to note what is written there of the surrounding states and kingdoms, that either then stood, or had lately been standing, in an attitude of rivalry and opposition to the covenant-people. However it may have happened, the fact is palpable and notorious, that feelings of enmity existed, and proceedings of hostility had been carried on betwixt Israel and those heathen neighbours, not, however, without alternations of close intimacy and fraternal alliances, though on God’s part expressly forbidden. Nor is the fact less palpable and notorious, that in the prophetic word a doom was pronounced against one and all of those surrounding states; and that although they respectively occupied very different positions in rank and power, and also inhabited very different territories. There were the smaller tribes of the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the Philistines; the bitterly inimical, and, even after the Babylonian era, still powerful Edomites; the enterprising and nourishing community of Tyre, who had the maritime commerce of the world at their command, and whose ships frequented every harbor of the ancient world; Egypt with her hereditary renown, her natural and acquired resources, and still almost unsullied glory; and towering proudly above all, Babylon with her enormous walls and lofty battlements, her advantageous situation and treasures past reckoning, the seat, when the prophecies respecting her were uttered, of a mighty empire, and though subject to the Medo-Persian sway at the time when the Jewish exiles returned to Judea, yet wanting little in appearance of her former magnificence, and not unlikely to assert again her independence, or become under her new masters the centre of as extensive and powerful a dominion as she had ever wielded. Such were the states and kingdoms that surrounded the covenant-people, and against one and all of which, because of their ambitious rivalry or ungodly and spiteful opposition toward the kingdom which God had set up for the homage and blessing of the nations, prophecy uttered a doom of judgment. So far the doom was uniform—that all, as powers possessing or aspiring to dominion in the earth, should be brought down, and be made monuments of ruin. But, at the same time, there was considerable variety in the language employed; the predictions are by no means indiscriminate denunciations of coming evil; the form and extent of the evil announced varies, and with the evil there sometimes also intermingles the prospect of spiritual good. Thus, in the twenty-third chapter of Isaiah, after the most express intimation of the coming downfal of Tyre, it is added at Isa_23:18, that she should again recover from that first overthrow, and that “her merchandise and her hire should be holiness to the Lord;” and in Isa_19:18-25, of the same prophet, a participation in spiritual blessings is distinctly promised in respect to Egypt and Assyria: the Lord was to smite and again to heal; Egypt and Assyria were to derive benefit from Israel; so that it might even come to be said, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.” Yet with all this diversity, both as regards the measure of calamity in the threatened doom, and the prospect of spiritual good occasionally intermingling with the announcement of natural evil, it is declared with one voice by the ancient prophets respecting all those states and kingdoms, that their power and political existence should be utterly destroyed—they should, in that respect, become a desolation; but with a marked exception in the case of Egypt, which was merely to sink into irrecoverable meanness and degradation (Eze_29:15, etc.)
Now, looking at these prophetic utterances in this general light, and with respect to the more obvious results contemplated in them, as the import of the prophecies is plain, so the fulfilment of them is certain. There can scarcely be said to be any room for doubt either way. Nor was there any thing in the political aspect of the times, or in the natural position of affairs, which could in each case have warranted the prognostication of such striking results. It might, possibly, have been conjectured without any superhuman insight that the lesser states, such as the Philistines, the Moabites, the Ammonites, should in process of time be extinguished by the great empires which were then contending for the mastery of the world, or become merged into the wandering tribes of the desert. But what natural sagacity could have foreseen, that the Edomites, who continued comparatively strong and vigorous beyond the period that the prophecies respecting them were written, and who retained possession of their territory when Judea was laid waste, should yet become more desolate than their Jewish rivals, nay, should entirely cease to have a political existence, and should do so from their being swallowed up by the revived might and energy of Israel? This is the singular turn of affairs that was predicted as to the relative position of the two peoples: “Upon Mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the Lord hath spoken it” (Oba_1:17-18; Eze_25:14). The meaning plainly is, that the Edomites should cease to be a separate kingdom; their name and memorial as such should perish; and as this was to come upon them specially on account of their vengeful hatred toward the children of Israel, so, to mark more distinctly the divine retribution, the Lord was to “lay his vengeance upon Edom by the hand of his people Israel;” other instrument of judgment might be employed, but this was to be the one that should actually effect the work of their national destruction. And so it was—though not till about a century and a-half before the Christian era. Instruments of desolation had begun to work at a much earlier period; for even Malachi could speak of their having been impoverished, and greatly decayed, though still existing as a separate people (Mal_1:3-4); but in the time of the Maccabees, John Hyrcanus so completely subdued them, that he gave them the alternative of entirely abandoning their country (which then lay immediately to the south of Palestine, and even included part of ancient Judea), or submitting to the rite of circumcision, and conforming to the laws of Moses. They embraced the latter alternative, and so, as Josephus says, “They were henceforth no other than Jews.” (Antiq. 13:9. 1. Such also is the testimony of the grammarian Ammonius, as quoted by Prideaux, An. 129, “The Idumeans were not Jews from the beginning, but Phoenicians and Syrians; but being afterwards subdued by the Jews and compelled to be circumcised, and unite into one nation, and be subject to the same laws, they were called Jews.” To the like effect also Dio. lib. xxxvi., “That country is also called Judea, and the people Jews; and this name is given also to as many others as embrace their religion, though of other nations.”) Their national distinction was gone; their political existence, and their heritage had alike perished; and in such a manner as to render but the more conspicuous the nobler rank and destiny of Israel. Was there not here the manifest signature of the eye and the finger of Omniscience?
The case of Babylon is, if possible, a still more striking evidence. What merely human foresight could have descried the utter ruin and prostration of such a city? At the time the prophecies were written, she was in the noontide of her glory; and her natural situation was such as might seem to betoken a perpetual continuance of prosperity. Even in the time of Herodotus, who visited the city and neighbourhood some generations after the prophecies were delivered, a full century after the first conquest of it by the Persians, there was everything, to human appearance, that was calculated to secure for it a continued prosperity and greatness. The city was still the most populous and magnificent of the world, and might be said to have changed its masters rather than its condition; for the Persian monarchs were wont to spend several months of the year in it. And the region in which it was situated, the province of Babylonia, was so exceedingly rich and fertile, that it supported the king of Persia, his army, and his whole establishment for four months of the year; in other words, it contributed one-third of the entire revenue of the kingdom. Yet the Spirit of prophecy, which guided the sacred penman, perceived in the first blow that was struck by the victorious Persians, the infliction of a mortal wound; they declared it to be the commencement of a complete and total ruin. Centuries elapsed in the process, but the destined consummation travelled on. Against all present appearances, in spite of every natural advantage, and notwithstanding repeated efforts on a gigantic scale to turn back the tide of evil, the work of deterioration still proceeded. The civilization, commerce, wealth and dominion of the world took another direction, and Babylon continued to sink till nothing remained of all her glory but emptiness and desolation. Does not this, again, we ask, bespeak the eye and finger of Omniscience?
The foresight displayed is scarcely less remarkable when we look to what was written of a nearer neighbour of Israel, the commercial and enterprising community of Tyre. That this wonderful state, the growth of centuries—grown till she had become sole mistress of the seas—should be destined to fall, should become a spoil to the nations, should even sink so low that her harbours would be forsaken, and she should become a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea (Ezekiel 26),—this, especially when contrasted with the glorious things that were spoken of the little kingdom of Judah, by her side, was anything but what might on natural grounds have been expected. Her insular situation, itself a citadel of strength—her want of local territory, and comparatively small resident population, fitted, one might have thought, to exempt her from the cupidity and violence of ambitious conquerors—her peaceful and busy commerce, together with her numerous and flourishing colonies, each serving to unite her as by a bond of concord with the nations of the earth—all seemed to bespeak for her a prolonged existence, and, at least, to form a protection against the worst calamities. Yet here, also, the word of God stands fast. The thirst for conquest, first in Nebuchadnezzar, afterwards in Alexander the Great, could not brook the thought of such a state continuing independent, and holding treasures over which they had no control. The blow was once and again struck with fatal success; and though centuries had to roll on before the judgment of Heaven ran its course, it did not fail to proceed. The commerce of the world found for itself other channels, and Tyre at length ceased, ceased for ever, to hold a place among the communities of the earth.
But why should the same not have been predicted of Egypt? Why only a perpetual depression in the one case, and a total subversion in the other? Egypt was not, according to the delineations of prophecy, to become so thoroughly extinct in its national power and resources as Tyre or Babylon. It was not to be made perpetual desolations, but to be brought down from its supremacy, to lose its ancient prestige, to be humbled, and made to serve, and rendered base among the nations—which, indeed, as compared with what Egypt from of old had claimed to be, and still in a great degree was when the prophets wrote, indicated an entire revolution and change in the relative position of the earthly kingdoms. We need scarcely say that this also has happened. The land of the Pharaohs has never lost its fertility; its natural capacities, to this day, are great, though but imperfectly developed; yet from the period of the Persian conquest, it has never regained its independence as a nation. Degradation and servility have been stamped upon its condition for more than twenty centuries; and, beyond all doubt, its ancient assumption of the highest place of honour, and pretentious rivalry with the kingdom of God, have irrecoverably gone.
Whichever way we look, therefore, among those ancient states and kingdoms that lay around the covenant-people, we see that the things written concerning them, in the prophecies of the Old Testament, hold good, alike in what was common to all the communities spoken of, and what was peculiar to some. And we should conceive it impossible for any one really open to conviction, carefully comparing this class of prophecies with their fulfilment, without having the impression forced on him that the prophets, in what they thus wrote, were supernaturally led by the Spirit of God. But there are persons, it is well to remember, who are not properly open to conviction, and who have preconceived notions, which tend effectually to prevent a fair and candid examination of the subject. In this position certainly are those who, on general grounds, deny the reality of all supernatural interference with the affairs of men; everything of this sort is against their “theory of providence,” which makes account only of physical agencies and mechanical laws; and, therefore, prophecy, as implying a supernatural insight into the future, is concluded to be an impossibility. Persons of this philosophical creed, however, usually couple with their denial of the prophetical element, in the Scriptural sense, a kind of assertion of it in the natural. “Every department,” they tell us, “of human knowledge and enterprise, has had its seers and prophets. What, in the first sense, was the Novum Orgauum of Bacon but a prophecy the most distinct, and which has been partially fulfilled in the present condition of science, and will, no doubt, be still further verified in its future fortunes? The deep political insight of Bonaparte enabled him to prophesy at St Helena the destruction of the old Bourbon dynasty, the succession of the Orleans branch, and the final establishment of a republic, events which have literally been accomplished before our eyes. (This was written in 1849, when there was, during a brief interval, a republic in France; but, alas! for its final establishment. Louis Napoleon soon dashed that chimera to the ground, and furnished a sad commentary on the deep insight displayed in his uncle’s prophecy.) Entirely original minds are so rare in the world, occurring only here and there in the lapse of centuries, that the frivolous and unthinking portion of mankind is apt to regard all true insight into nature as a miraculous gift. Each succeeding age has beheld the fulfilment of the prophecies of Bacon, ‘Man gradually establishing his reign in the interpretation of nature.’” And then we have the case of Columbus, “the Genoese sailor, whose soul was burdened with a material vision,” which spurred him on by its internal promptings, till, in the face of gigantic difficulties, he fulfilled both it and the still older prophecy of Seneca; and not only Columbus, but Wickliffe also, and Luther, and Knox, were all, it turns out, seers, who, “in prophetic vision, saw the great futurity of Protestantism that was to shake the foundations of human faith throughout the civilised world.” (Foxton’s “Popular Christianity,” p. 117, sq.)
Such is Mr Foxton’s view of the matter. Sagacity, shrewdness, philosophic culture, genius—these, one and all, though in different degrees, enable their possessors to rise higher and see farther than other men; and, in so far as they do so, the result is a prophecy! That is—for the explanation amounts to no more—a degree of discernment is obtained, to which the same general name is applied as that by which we designate the prophetic announcements of Scripture. For anything beyond this we deny the relevancy of the explanation. It does not touch the real points at issue, and as little accounts for the utterance of those definite and discriminating predictions regarding the countries around Judea, as it does for the creation of the world. Persons who can see no essential difference between the two cases must be held either as taking a merely superficial view of the subject, or as incapable, from their mental state, of reasoning soundly upon it. But, assuredly, they will need to produce other reasons than those contained in the vague and general assertions of Mr Foxton, before they shall be able to convince plain and unsophisticated minds that Hebrew prophets, living at such a time, and with so little to aid them of a scientific nature, could have succeeded otherwise than through supernatural guidance to give forth predictions relating to events so unlikely at the period, so far distant in time, and of so diversified a character.
Others of the same school with the writer just referred to, meet the argument drawn from such predictions by denying that they contained any definite and unambiguous announcement of coming events, or, that in so far as they did so, the predictions were as often falsified as confirmed by the event—therefore, only at best shrewd anticipations, or lucky hits. Such is the view more particularly dwelt on by Theodore Parker. The greater part of the prophecies were, according to his opinion, quite vague and indefinite. Some, however, were more precise; and of these he thinks there may have been some, though he does not condescend to specify any, which might be regarded, like some of the oracles delivered from the tripod of Delphi, “extraordinarily felicitous;” but he is quite sure there were others which proved false. (“Discourse of Religion,” p. 207.) In the instances he alleges in proof of this statement, he shows no small degree of effrontery. The first is that of the seventy years’ captivity predicted by Jeremiah, which he summarily pronounces to have failed, because the captivity was accomplished at three successive stages, and from neither of them does the period of the return make so much as seventy years. It would appear, therefore, that Theodore Parker is wiser than Daniel. He discovers a falsehood where Daniel perceived a truth; or, as it will, perhaps, be more correct to put it, he is more hasty and superficial in his judgment, for Daniel, by careful search, found out the number of years which the prophecy required to run its course, while Mr Parker snatches at some shallow chronology—for which not so much as a single authority is given—and by the aid of it leaps to his desired conclusion. It has been conclusively settled, by the most rigid examination, that the period of seventy years’ desolation and captivity dates from the first deportation of the captive Jews (among whom were Daniel and his companions), about the year 608 or 609 before Christ; and the return took place about 536, making a period of full seventy years.
A second alleged failure is found, with the same easy and flippant superficiality, in Ezekiel’s prophecies regarding Tyre—in one of which, Eze_26:7, sq., he predicts the capture of the city by Nebuchadnezzar, while in another, Eze_29:17, sq., he represents Nebuchadnezzar as having served a great service against Tyre, but without getting any wages for it; on which account Egypt was to be given him for a prey. After the example of several German rationalists, Parker understands this latter prediction, as implying that Nebuchadnezzar had been obliged to raise the siege of Tyre, without being able to take the city; so that the second prophecy is held to be an undoubted evidence of the first having failed, or, rather of both being, what he calls, poetical odes, never intended to be token literally. I have investigated this point, at some length, elsewhere; (Sec “Com. on Ezekiel” in loco.) and shall only state here, that the view is altogether groundless; that the second prophecy, which speaks of the want of recompense to the king of Babylon, by no means necessarily implies the defeat of his attempt to take the city, but only the comparative smallness of the treasure found in it; that there is, however, the strongest historical evidence, altogether independent of Scripture, of Tyre having, at this very time, sunk to a position of inferiority, from which she never recovered, and which can only be explained on the ground of her subjugation by Nebuchadnezzar. It is not, therefore, Ezekiel who is self-contradictory; but simply modern rationalists, who in their anxiety and haste to find blemishes in Scripture, have misinterpreted Ezekiel, and imperfectly studied history.
These are the only specific cases, relating to Old Testament times, which are adduced by the writer above named, to disparage the authority, and disprove the properly predictive character of Scriptural prophecy. They are really nothing to the purpose, and can only be characterized as arbitrary interpretations, built on false assumptions. (Since our first edition was published, the prediction of Amos respecting the house of David, in the time of Jeroboam 2 (ch. 7), has been appealed to by Professor Jowett (“Essays and Reviews,” p. 343), and is apparently also by Stanley viewed as a prophetic failure (Smith’s Diet., Art. ‘Jeroboam II.’). Hitzig had taken the same view before them. But there is no proper ground for it. The prophecy of Amos was uttered against the house of Jeroboam, which he declared should be slain by the sword; this Amaziah, the priest at Bethel, construed into an assertion that Jeroboam himself should die by the sword—perverting the words, much as the false witnesses at Jerusalem perverted those of Stephen (Act_6:13-14). The prophecy, therefore, was not falsified by the circumstance that Jeroboam died in peace; for his house was soon cut off.) On the other side, the argument founded on the remarkable fulfilments of prophecy, respecting the states and kingdoms around Judea, is never fairly looked at; nor is the slightest attempt made by him or Foxton, to show, how either shrewdness or sagacity, philosophy or genius, might have enabled the Hebrew prophets to see so far into the natural tendencies of things, as to be able, of themselves, to light upon such wonderful prognostications of the future. Having, therefore, no other rational explanation of the matter offered, and being able to conceive of none that appears deserving of being entertained, we must rest in the conclusion, that they were veritable prophecies, not coming by the will of Man, but spoken by those who were supernaturally enlightened and moved by the Holy Ghost. It is, however, a conclusion, which we could arrive at and rest in, only on such principles of interpretation as we previously laid down respecting the style and diction of prophecy; and if, with the extreme literalists, we were to insist on prophecy being understood and read like history, we should feel constrained to say, that the predictions we have been considering had been very imperfectly fulfilled.
Let us take Edom as an example. In some of our popular works on prophecy, which proceed on the Literalist principle, the prophecies concerning Edom are viewed as bearing respect merely to the land of Edom, as if it was the territory alone, and not rather the people who occupied it, which the prophecies respected, and then with this application given to them, they are applied in the most prosaic manner to the country, as it exists in the present day. A double error; for as the moral element in prophecy was always the main one, it is, in the first instance, the people that should be regarded as pointed at in the predictions, and the land only, in so far as its state might be a representation or an emblem of the condition of the people. It seems, therefore, somewhat beside the purpose, to look to the Arabia Petraea of the present time, as of itself fulfilling what was spoken respecting Edom. For that region, it is known, had ceased to be the proper territory of the Edomites, two or three centuries before the Christian era. At the time of the Babylonish captivity, the Edomites began to move more upwards, spreading over the old country of the Moabites, and encroaching on the southern borders of the land of Judah; while, from the opposite quarter, the Nabatheans, a different race, pressed in from the south upon Mount Seir, and became masters of the greater part of the old Edomite territory, including Petra, its rocky capital. The Grecian architecture which adorned Petra, sometime before, and for a considerable period after, the Christian era, and the ruins of which have been so often described, must have been the workmanship of the Nabatheans, not of the Edomites; for the latter had been supplanted by the Nabatheans, before the Grecian influence and taste had diffused itself in the East. Its subsequent desolations had, therefore, no direct relation to the Edom of Scripture; and if these desolations, which reach to the present day, are at all taken into account, it should only be as affording a collateral proof of the judgment that was to befall the children of Esau, and of their having signally failed to establish their ascendency in the earth. But it is the desolations of an earlier period, and, above all, the utter extinction of Edom as a people, and that by the hand of Jacob, in which, as before remarked, the more direct and proper fulfilment of the predictions is to be sought. This, however, is but one error, and it is another, certainly not inferior, to seek, in the present state of Arabia Petrsea, for an exact and literal correspondence with the fervid, and in many respects figurative representations of prophecy respecting the doom of Edom. Such passages as those of Isa_34:10, where it is said, “From generation to generation it shall lie waste, none shall pass through it for ever and ever,” and of Eze_35:7, “I will make mount Seir most desolate, and cut off from it him that passeth out, and him that returneth,”—such passages as these are quoted, and after appeals to the note of Volney, “This country has not been visited by any traveller,” and the difficulties experienced by Burckhardt, by Irby and Mangles, and other travellers, in getting access to the region, the conclusion is drawn as certain, that “the prophecy must be literally understood and applied.” Sometimes even the rage for literalism is carried to the ridiculous extent of palpably violating the very rule it seeks to establish; as when in proof of minute prophetical fulfilment, the cases of Seetzen and Burckhardt are exhibited, as of men who “passed through the land,” indeed, but did not live “to return.” Strange verifications, surely, of a prediction, which foretold the cutting off of him that returned! Is the cutting off, which prevents men from returning, the literal accomplishment of a word, which speaks of cutting off such as did return? It were certainly a new species of literalism. And here lies the folly of dealing thus with such prophecies: they fall to pieces in our hands. Persons have, of late years, often passed and repassed through the Idumean territory, and scarcely a year elapses without its being visited by travellers, and fresh accounts coming forth of what they witnessed. Even particular localities, such as the ascent of Mount Hor, which the cupidity of the Arabs rendered difficult or impracticable to earlier travellers, are now found perfectly accessible. Dean Stanley and his party, in 1852-53, appear to have met with no serious impediment in their course; (See his “Sinai and Palestine,” pp. 88-92.) and the facilities are constantly on the increase. But in truth, there has never been a total cessation of persons going and returning; for the region has always been, to some extent, inhabited, and if not by European travellers, yet by Arab wanderers, it has, in every age, had its passing sojourners. The expression of the prophet Ezekiel was never meant to exclude this; it is merely a proverbial phrase for general desolation, and as such is used by another prophet, of the territory of the Israelites themselves (Isa_60:15). It intimated, that instead of being a powerful, flourishing, and prosperous community, with persons on all sides flocking to it, and returning from it, Edom was to be stricken with poverty and ruin: Edom, however, not simply, nor chiefly as a land, but as a people. This was what the prophecy foretold, and it has been amply verified—verified not the less that the “wadys are full of trees, and shrubs, and flowers, and the eastern and higher parts are extensively cultivated, and yield good crops.” (Robinson’s “Biblical Researches,” vol. ii., p. 552.) Still, the Edom of prophecy—Edom considered as the enemy of God, and the rival of Israel—has perished for ever; all, in that respect, is an untrodden wilderness, a hopeless ruin; and there, the veracity of God’s word finds its justification.
It is scarcely possible, one would imagine, for any person to read, with an unbiassed mind, the prophecies we have been more particularly considering, without perceiving that the poetical element enters largely into their composition, and that Edom often appears in them as the representative and head of a class. In the latter stages of the history of Israel, the Edomites surpassed all their enemies in keenness and intensity of malice; and hence they naturally came to be viewed by the Spirit of prophecy as the personification of that godless malignity and pride, which would be satisfied with nothing short of the utter extermination of the cause of God—the heads and representatives of the whole army of the aliens, whose doom was to carry along with it the downfal and destruction of everything that opposed and exalted itself against the knowledge of God. This is manifestly the aspect presented of the matter in Oba_1:15 of the prophecy of Obadiah; the fate of all the heathen is bound up with that of Edom; “For the day of the Lord is near upon all the heathen; as thou (viz., Edom) hast done, it shall be done unto thee, thy reward shall return upon thine own head”—that is, in Edom, the quintessence of heathenism, all heathendom was to receive, as it were, its death-blow. And at still greater length, and amid images of terrific grandeur, the same view is unfolded by Isaiah, in Isaiah 34; where all the nations of the earth are summoned together, because, it is said, “the Lord’s indignation was upon them all;” while still, the fury to be poured out was to discharge its violence, and in a manner rest, upon the land of Idumea. It is clear that the passage is throughout an ideal representation—clear from the very conjunction of all the heathen with Edom, and also from the peculiar boldness of the images employed—such as the dissolving of the host of heaven, the sword of the Lord bathing itself in heaven, the mountains melting with blood, the turning of the streams into pitch, and the dust into brimstone—which, like the ascriptions of corporeal organs and human passions to God, seem purposely intended to guard us against understanding the words in the grossly literal sense. (It is strange that the literalists do not perceive this; and that, while chiefly pressing the apologetic side of prophecy, they should not see how, by singling; out some points as having been literally fulfilled, while others are left of which this cannot be alleged, they are surrendering the cause into the enemy’s hands. It is but scraps of fulfilment which can thus be furnished out from the present state of Idumea; and an unbeliever may justly ask, when presented with them, where are the rest? There are ruined cities, it is true, and thorns and brambles, and wild creatures of the desert, where palaces once stood; but where is the carnage of all nations that was to precede these? where the burning pitch and brimstone? where the mountains melting with blood? and where, above all, the people themselves, who formed the very heart and centre of Isaiah’s prophecy? We cannot speak of God’s word being verified by halves; and of prophecies so interpreted, the adversary might justly say, they are made up of fortunate guesses alternating with palpable failures.) The ideal character of the representation still farther appears from the relation which Edom is represented as holding toward Israel, and which was such that the execution of judgment upon the one, was to be the era of deliverance, joy and blessing to the other—the era when the controversy of Zion should be settled, and everlasting prosperity be ushered in. So that the personification here employed respecting Edom is entirely of a piece with that which identifies Jacob or Abraham with the whole family of God, and connects the names of those patriarchs even with the final issues of the divine kingdom. (Gen_22:18; Mat_8:11; Luk_16:22, etc.)
When stript of the mere form and drapery in which it is clothed, the prophecy contained in the thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth chapters of Isaiah (for the two evidently form but one piece), is fraught with the following message: The enmity and opposition toward the Lord’s cause and people, which the heathen nations in general, and Edom in particular, had evinced, shall be defeated of its end; not the nation that knows and keeps the truth, but the nations that reject and hate it, shall come to desolation; and as Edom might be fitly taken to represent the one, and Israel the other (precisely as of old in their progenitors, Esau and Jacob, the carnal and the spiritual seed had their representation), so the destroying judgment of heaven, on the one hand, is seen concentrating itself in Edom, while, on the other, its favour and blessing alight upon Zion, and thence diffuse all around the greatest joy and satisfaction. The prophecy, indeed, is a sort of recapitulation, and sums up in one glowing delineation, what had already been presented in several successive chapters. The prophet had gone over, one by one, all the tribes and kingdoms that had acted in a spirit of proud and envious rivalry toward the children of God’s covenant, and in respect to each had declared, that their pride should be humbled, their glory tarnished, the very foundations of their dominion shaken and destroyed, while peace and prosperity should be the portion of Zion. And now gathering the whole into a common focus—bringing the contest to a single point, with the view of giving a. more vivid and impressive exhibition of the issues that were pending, he represents the vials of divine wrath as emptying themselves in a mighty torrent of desolation upon Edom, and securing as its happy result to the seed of blessing, a perpetual freedom from those who afflicted them, so that they should possess undisturbed their heritage of good, and be for ever replenished with favour from on high.
Such appears to be the natural import and bearing of this prophecy; and that Edom is to be understood in this representative manner, and with reference more especially to the hostile attitude it had assumed toward Israel, seems further plain from other prophecies, which speak of a purpose of mercy in reserve for Edom, and for all the heathen, when the old relation should have been exchanged for another and better one. The prophet Amos (Amo_9:11-12), giving promise of a time when David’s tabernacle should be raised up again, and its glory revived, mentions as the result, “that they (viz., those who belong in the proper sense to the house and kingdom of David), may possess the remainder of Edom, and of all the heathen over whom my name is called, saith the Lord of Hosts that doeth this.” This clearly implies, that the Edom of prophecy, which was doomed to utter prostration and eternal ruin, is only the Edom of bitter and unrelenting hostility to the cause and people of God; that in so far as the children of Edoni ceased from this, and entered into a friendly relation to the covenant of God, and submitted to the yoke of universal sovereignty committed to the house of David, instead of breaking it, as of old, from their necks, they should participate in the blessing, and have their interests merged in those of the people on whom God puts His name to do them good. A promise and prospect like this never can be made to harmonise with the result that is obtained from the predicted judgments upon Edom, as read by the strictly literal style of interpretation; for, according to it, there should be no remnant to be possessed, no seed or place of blessing, as connected with Edom, but one appalling scene of sterility, desolation, and cursing. The demands of a prophetic harmony, as well as a due regard to the nature of the prophetic style, require that the revelations of judgment should be understood in the manner we have explained them.
Section II. Prophecies Respecting the Jewish People
FROM the prophecies which respected the nations that surrounded Israel, we naturally pass to those which respected Israel itself. What prospects did the prophetic volume, as it certainly existed about the period of Babylon’s beginning to lord it over Israel and the world, hold out in regard to the covenant-people? They were then undoubtedly in a very depressed and perilous condition; and, if judged merely by outward appearances and according to human calculations, they were not more likely to have a prolonged existence than the small states around them—immeasurably less likely to occupy a prominent place in the future history of the world, than Tyre or Egypt, Babylon or Persia. But the word of prophecy did not frame its anticipations by the outward aspect of things; and never did it speak in bolder terms and a more assured tone, of the future greatness and glory of the covenant-people, than when their political position had reached its lowest ebb. While it declared, that the Philistines were to cease from being a people—that the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, the wealth and power of Tyre, of Egypt, of Babylon, of the whole heathen world, were to pass away, it spoke in other language respecting the seed of Israel and the house of David—they were to rise and take root and flourish, when their rivals and oppressors had perished—were even to give laws to the world, and make the whole earth blessed in their blessing. There is scarcely one of the later prophets, by whom this high destiny of Israel is not disclosed, and in the larger prophetical books it occupies a most prominent place. Yet, when we look attentively into them, we find it is no indiscriminate assertion of future eminence and glory, not a resolute vindication of the highest rank for the Israelitish people at large, such as the fond yearnings of patriotism or the promptings of ambition might have put forth; but a variable and chequered prospect, in which the evil was strangely to intermingle with the good, and the greatest indignities and sufferings were somehow to be combined with the highest glory. Micah, prophesying more than a hundred years before the Babylonish captivity, speaks both of extreme desolation and singular blessing being destined for Jerusalem: she was to be ploughed as heaps, yet was to be delivered from her enemies; nay, made the subject of a salvation and a glory which should raise her to the head of the nations, while it should involve herself in trouble and distraction, (Mic_2:10, Mic_3:12, Mic_4:10-13, Micah 7). In the latter half of Isaiah’s prophecies, also, these two themes constantly alternate with each other, in what is said of Israel’s future. In an earlier prophecy—the brief, but pregnant and comprehensive revelation of Isaiah 6—it was distinctly foretold, that, on account of the prevailing hardness and corruption of the people’s hearts, “men should be removed far away, and there should be a great forsaking in the midst of the land;” that even though there should be a remnant, a tenth, that should return, yet this also should be for consumption (or, being eaten); and for the same reason as of old, because sin should again obtain a footing in them; for it is added, that amid all troubles and consumptions, the holy seed should be the substance in them, the one truly conservative element. In like manner, in Daniel’s prophecy regarding the coming of Messiah, toward the close of the seventy weeks, while the greatest results were then to be accomplished—“making reconciliation for iniquity, bringing in everlasting righteousness, sealing up the vision of prophecy, and anointing a holy of holies”—it is still said, that “desolations were appointed,” insomuch that even “the city and the sanctuary were to be destroyed.” So, again in Zechariah, Zec_13:8-9, in immediate connection with the smiting of the shepherd of the sheep, there is predicted the cutting off of two-thirds of the people, and even the remaining third was to be “brought through the fire, and refined as silver is refined.” In Malachi, the last of all the prophets, the aspect that is presented of Israel’s future is in many respects dark and lowering; images of terror and alarm are crowded into it; it speaks of a day that should burn as an oven, consuming the wicked as stubble, of the Lord’s presence being like a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap, of the land being possibly smitten with a curse;—while yet the salvation of the Lord was sure to come, and when it did come, was to bring power to tread down the wicked, in order that the righteous might be exalted to the chief place of honour and blessing.
Now, we have surely some right to demand of one, who if disposed to doubt, is not determined to reject all proof of supernatural insight and direction, whether we have not in these diversified predictions the indication of a knowledge essentially divine? Here, again, it is not some loose and random utterances we have to deal with, such as either the forebodings of a gloomy imagination, or the excitement of a fervid and hopeful enthusiasm might call forth. There is not only foresight, but foresight of a most impartial and discriminating kind, capable alike of descrying the darker and the brighter aspects of the future, dwelling even with painful emphasis upon the coming evil and reiterating it; yet without ever losing sight of the coming good; and even when the clouds of present trouble gathered thickest, only proceeding with a clearer eye and a more assured step to reveal the glorious and blessed future that lay beyond. Most remarkably have both parts of the prospective outline been fulfilled. The subsequent history presents many a dark and troubled page to substantiate the vision of coming evil—corruptions within and calamities without, defections the most heinous, and chastisements the most severe; yet in the midst of all, and in spite of all, there came out a greatness and energy, an effulgence of light and life and glory, which strikingly contrasts with the comparative smallness of Israel’s position, and the external meanness of their circumstances. The mightiest and most imposing of the surrounding kingdoms came to nought; but Israel still existed, and we may say, in the language of another (Dr Arnold), “Still exists unchanged. Still God’s people in every land carry back their sympathies unbroken to the age of the first father of the faithful; the patriarchs and prophets are the spiritual ancestors of the apostles and ourselves; their prayers are ours, their cause was ours; for their God was ours [and the Messiah born of them is our light and salvation]. And if Israel after the flesh were to return to the Lord, what has she lost of her old identity? Place does not make a nation, but the sameness of sympathies. And in this respect there is nothing of Israel in the earliest times which would be dead to Israel now. This can be said of no other nation upon the earth; and thus has Israel endured, because she was, though imperfectly, the representative of the cause of that God who alone endureth for ever.”
It is enough here to look thus to the main features of the prophetic outline—those more prominent aspects of it, which cannot fail to impress themselves on any careful and unprejudiced reader of Old Testament prophecy, in connection with the past of Israelitish history. Its bearing upon the still remaining future is another point, and one that will call for separate and particular investigation. In the meantime, and as regards the plain import of a whole series of prophecies concerning Israel, it seems undeniable that most striking fulfilments have taken place of what no merely human eye could have foreseen, nor the shrewdest intellect anticipated.
Section III. Prophecies Respecting the Messiah
THE portions of the prophetic testimony we have already considered, argue nothing directly for the truth of Christianity. They afford, we think, conclusive proof of the supernatural foresight of the persons who indited them; and so may be regarded as placing the seal of divine attestation on the writings of the Old Testament prophets. Unbelieving Jews, however, hold this in common with ourselves; while they reject Christ and the Scriptures of the New Testament, they appeal to the confirmation, which their own history and that of other nations mentioned in ancient prophecy yields of the divine direction under which their prophets wrote. But the apologetic value of prophecy would be small, if it stopt there. By much the most important question now is, how it tells on the claims of Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah? For here we have to do with the main trunk of the prophetic tree, not simply with a few occasional branches. And accordingly it is here that the Scriptures of the New Testament lay the great stress of the argument from prophecy; “the spirit of prophecy,” they declare, “is the testimony of Jesus;” and both Jesus Himself and His apostles made constant reference to the things written in the prophets, as what at once required and found a verification in His appearance among men. Here, therefore, especially, it is necessary to compare together prophecy and history.
We again conceive ourselves in the presence of one who doubts—doubts, perhaps, whether there were anything more in the prophecies of the Old Testament than certain indefinite longings after some distinguished guide and leader, or a series of guides and leaders, who might carry the nation to a high degree of glory; and whether anything written and verified in this respect was so peculiar as to exceed the limits of men’s unaided powers. How should we proceed to deal with such a person? The difficulty is not where to find materials of proof, but which to select as best fitted to produce conviction on a mind that is likely to be affected only by the more palpable and obvious lines of resemblance. In such a case nothing more than fragments of the truth can be presented, as it will naturally appear to those who are conversant with the entire field. Yet even a fragmentary exhibition of the truth ought here to be sufficient, if rightly presented, to carry conviction to a mind that is not absolutely foreclosed against it. There is, in the first instance, the gradual contracting of the purpose of Heaven from a more general to a more specific object of hope and expectation, till it evidently centres in a person of singular gifts and endowments,—beginning with the woman’s seed generally, though, as the nature of the case implied, and the course of Providence soon clearly determined, that seed only in the spiritual line; then confining itself to the seed of Abraham, still, of course, under spiritual conditions; then to the tribe of Judah, where it first distinctly assumes the personal form in the promise of a future Shiloh, or prince of peace; next, to the house of David, a family within the tribe of Judah, which is appointed to the high destiny of carrying out the provisions of the Abrahamic covenant, of bearing sway in the affairs of men, and diffusing among them the blessings of salvation; then, finally, to a son of that house, a definite child of promise, to be born of a virgin, and somehow mysteriously connected with the Godhead, so that divine names are freely applied to Him, and a divine work the work of making reconciliation for iniquity, and, in the proper sense, redeeming a people whom He was to rule and bless—is associated with His appearance and mission.
Finding, thus, the proper personality and special destination of the Messiah distinctly marked in the prophecies of the Old Testament, we would, thereafter, point to the local circumstances and individual characteristics plainly ascribed to Him; the clear designation, for example, of the place of His birth, in Bethlehem-Ephratah (Mic_5:2), historically verified in a manner that effectually prevented the possibility of collusion; the mingled lowliness and majesty of His appearance, as of a rod from the stem of Jesse, and a branch, or tender suckling, from his roots (Isa_11:1; Jer_23:5); or, as one marred in his visage, and without either form or comeliness, yet, withal, a King, clothed with power and authority to subdue every form of evil, and bear the government on His shoulder, coming, like other kings, with a herald or forerunner, yet not coming in lordly state, but as one meek and lowly, riding on an ass (Isa_9:7; Isa_52:14 to Isa_53:12; Zec_9:9; Mal_3:1); on the one side, having experience of the sorest trials and indignities, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isa_53:3); on the other, possessing every element of greatness, the elect of God, and the hope of the world (Isa_42:1-4); nay, more marvellous still, a priest as well as a king, and a priest that was himself to become an offering for sin, and give His life a ransom for many, while yet He should prolong His days, and out of the travail of His soul should have given to Him a seed and kingdom, in every respect worthy of His incomparable merits and successful mediation (Isaiah 53; Zec_6:12-13; Psalms 110). What a singular combination of qualities and results! And yet how completely authenticated by the history! The heights and depths—the apparent anomalies and seeming incompatibilities, such as no human imagination of itself could have conceived, yet all most wonderfully meeting in the history of Jesus of Nazareth! If such a series of characteristics, traced out hundreds of years before the person appeared in whom they were to be exemplified, could have at once originated in human conjecture, and received, as they have done, the seal of Divine providence, then it may justly be affirmed, there are no certain landmarks between the human and the divine; the possible achievements of man have nothing essentially to distinguish them from the powers and operations of Godhead.
We might even carry the argument farther. As our Lord himself spake of things written concerning Him in Moses, as well as the prophets, that required to be fulfilled, so we might rise from the individual prophecies contained in the later writings of the Old Testament to the one great prophecy embodied in the law. We might say, to use the language of another, “Though you were to evacuate the Old Testament of, every express miracle it records, though you were to convert the prophets into jugglers and the people into fools, and make our Elijahs and Isaiahs pretenders to power and conjecturers in knowledge, could you even so clear the Old Testament of wonders? You may deny the story of miracles, but can you deny the miracle of the story? Can you resolve the enormous difficulty of this history, these recorded habits, and, above all, this recorded religion? You deny, or, in confessing, you neutralise any typical import, any prospective atonement. Mark, then, the mysteries that emerge on your supposition. The whole spiritual system of the Hebrew Scriptures is made up of two elements, entwined with the most intricate closeness, yet absolutely opposite in character. You are, then, to answer how it was that every particular of a long and laborious system of minute, and often very repulsive, sacrificial observances is found united in the same volume with conceptions of God, that surpass, in their profound and internal spirituality, all that unassisted man has ever elsewhere imagined, nay, that