By George S. Goodspeed
The University of Chicago.
VI. FORESHADOWINGS FROM THE TIMES OF JEREMIAH.
I. A century of gathering gloom.— The century that intervenes between the last of the messianic addresses of Isaiah and the time of Jeremiah is one that is full of stirring events in the political world. Assyria, while extending the boundaries of her empire under the leadership of two of her most brilliant kings, is yet in reality standing still, if not beginning to decline. Esarhaddon undertakes the conquest of Egypt and Ashurbanipal achieves it. The one pierces far into the northeastern mountains. The latter subjugates Elam. Throughout the years of these two kings Judah doubtless remains for the most part in a state of vassalage to Assyria. Within the state a lamentable reaction has followed the death of Hezekiah. Manasseh, his successor, from causes which it is now difficult to discover, the chief being, perhaps, the failure of the great expectations connected with the retirement of Sennacherib from the west, takes a religious position in direct antagonism to the higher principles of the prophets, and discloses what is rare in the history of ancient religions—a spirit of persecution. The disciples of Isaiah are mercilessly slaughtered. Tradition has it that the old prophet himself is a victim of the king's wrath. The lower forms of the worship of Jehovah are favored in all respects and the king's dependence upon Assyria opens the way for the popularity of Assyrian cults of every sort.
It was not until the accession of Josiah that the violence of the persecution wore itself out and a new order of things was manifest. This new order had its counterpart and perhaps its cause in the course of events outside the nation. After the death of Ashurbanipal Assyria went rapidly to its fall. The dependent kingdom of Babylon fell away, and its Chaldaean ruler united with the king of the newly appearing nation of Media in opposition to the old Assyrian power. Meanwhile, a horde of nomadic peoples came down from the northern mountains and seemed likely to spread destruction over the entire field of western Asia. These were the Scythians. It is not certain how deeply they penetrated into the heart of this region, or how widespread were their devastations, but the fear of them fell upon all the peoples and their presence helped to dissolve the disordered frame of the Assyrian Empire.
Naturally in Judah things Assyrian were at a discount, and among them, the religion. The persecuted Jehovah prophets of the school of Isaiah came forth to maintain the truth of their master's words. A reformation began under the new king, and, like all reformations instituted after a period of persecution, was extreme in its provisions, and rigorously enforced. A programme for it was found when a book, which is now generally acknowledged to be similar to the Book of Deuteronomy if not identical with it, was discovered and brought to the notice of the king. All things seemed to favor the movement. Assyria was hard pressed by her foes, and her heavy hand was lifted from the countries on the Mediterranean coast. Judah was free. Josiah brought northern Israel under his sway and under the influences of the reformation. When the king of Egypt, who took advantage of the situation to better his fortunes in these regions, started on his march to the Euphrates, Josiah, with the consciousness of divine approval, stopped him with an army on the plain of Esdraelon. But, alas for his faith! his army was smitten, he himself was slain, and Judah became an Egyptian tributary, to be passed in turn into the hand of the Chaldaean, Nebuchadrezzar, who drove Necho back into his own land. Naturally the reformation came to an end, the old popular faith resumed its place, and Judah hastened with rapid steps to its destruction.
The spiritual hero and representative of these last sad years is Jeremiah, the prophet. Times have changed since the court statesman and prophet, Isaiah, preached deliverance, permanence, and peace. There is no deliverance for this corrupt people now. The holy city and its temple are certain to fall into the hands of the conqueror and be destroyed. The prospect of a captivity in a foreign land or of obscurity and poverty at home stands in the forefront of the seer's horizon.
2. The prophet's larger outlook.—The immediate present and impending future are not, however, all that Jeremiah sees. After the dark cloud of destruction, dissolution, and captivity is passed, he beholds a happier day to come.
a. His unquestioning faith in the all-embracing, all-foreseeing, allenergizing Jehovah lies at the basis of his picture. Just as to the vision of Isaiah Jehovah held in his hand the rod of the Assyrian for punishment of his people, but broke it in pieces at his own good pleasure, so now in the thought of the prophets of this troubled time he brings the Chaldaean as the scourge to punish, as the flood to overwhelm, the nation, its king and its temple;, and he who thus is present wielding the world powers in punishment will also bring about the restoration and the salvation of his people from their calamities and sins. The prophet urges with great force that the very calamities and punishments which have been brought to bear by Jehovah are proofs that he can restore. They reveal the measure of blessing which he will ultimately bestow (32:42).
But what leads Jehovah to this marvelous manifestation of mercy toward a wretched and unworthy nation? Here Jeremiah reminds us of Hosea. It is Jehovah's love, an everlasting love, that constrains him to deliver (31:3). He is a father to Israel. Ephraim is his firstborn (31:9). He cannot refrain from blessing.
b. Jeremiah's outlook, starting as it does from the certainty of the utter destruction of the national life, and dependent upon the assurance of the divine love, finds its central thought in the prospect of restoration. He cannot think, as Isaiah did, of the deliverance of the people. It is too late. There is no hope. The unbroken continuance of the national life, which was the main plank in the platform of the earlier prophet, quite disappears. But the overthrow is not the end of the state. Jehovah having brought this about is constrained also by the irresistible might of his own affection to bring the people together again and reestablish their nationality. The prophet also expects as the concomitant of the divine redemption a repentance of the people. They shall return in tears, declaring their sin (31:9, 15-19). This great and crowning work of restoration is the culminating evidence of the might of Jehovah (23:7, 8). This is the great and difficult thing which he will show (33:3-6). This is a world event to be announced to the nations, and to cause them to fear (31:7-10; 33:9). We observe some elements in the picture:
(1) The restoration which presents itself to the prophet is one which implies the preservation and heightening of many elements of their past life. (a) They are to be restored to their home and city. (b) It is to be glorified, enlarged so as to take in its suburbs (30:18 31:38-40; 23:3, 8).
(c) Two institutions of the past are especially mentioned as to be revived. The levitical priesthood shall be an element in the new life, and their sacrificial duties shall continue as before, presumably in the temple (33:18-22), and Ephraim shall go up as before to Zion. The monarchy shall resume its place, one of the house of David taking his seat upon the throne. He shall be a righteous ruler, and under him Israel and Judah shall prosper exceedingly, full of joy and gladness (26:5, 6; 33:15-16, 17, 21). Thus in the purified and glorious state the old life will be renewed, and now all shall be continued forever, as long as the universe endures (33:17-26).
(2) But the real contribution of Jeremiah to the thought of the future does not lie in these pictures of the revival of old conditions wherein he is at one with those who have gone before him, but rather in the expectation which he cherishes that in some respects the new community will make an essential and complete break with the past. (a) In his description of the glorified city and its revived monarchy he declares that city and king will both bear the name "Jehovah, our righteousness." This phrase suggests more than can well be put into a few words. We should hardly see in Jeremiah's employment of it the New Testament doctrine of imputed righteousness, for probably no such thought lay in the mind of the prophet. Yet it seems clear that the prophet expected the righteousness characteristic of the new age to be brought about by the act of Jehovah himself. Not merely would Jehovah be accepted as the standard of righteousness, but the impulse and energy to reach this standard would come from him. Even if this doctrine were involved in what earlier prophets had said about Jehovah's cleansing and purifying his people, their suggestions contemplated rather a sifting process whereby those who were already righteous or who might of their own accord turn from their iniquity for fear of the divine vengeance would make up the people of the new age. But Jeremiah meant more than this. To him there was little hope that enough of the righteous remnant remained to be of any avail. If there were not enough to save the nation from destruction, how could it be hoped that there were enough to form the nucleus of the future state? And so, out of these gloomy and apparently hopeless conditions Jeremiah rose to the high and heavenly thought of Jehovah himself producing righteousness in his people.
(b) Naturally the first condition of this was the forgiveness of sins. This forgiveness which Isaiah had already suggested as an element of the new social order (Isa. 33: 24) was repeated and enlarged by Jeremiah (31:20, 34). Closely associated with this pardon was the assurance that it covered all the past, so that henceforth punishment would be inflicted for one's own sin. One was not to suffer for those of his ancestors.
(c) And Jeremiah summed this all up in his declaration that the new state would be founded upon a new covenant with Jehovah, the old having been dissolved (31:34). Herein Jehovah agrees not merely to give them a law and statutes by which they are to regulate their action and relation to him, but promises to plant this law deep down in their hearts, so that it will be a part of themselves.
It will be a matter of inward knowledge and possession. Thus with their duty at one with their impulses and their knowledge, there will be no further need of teachers to instruct them as to the will of Jehovah. This covenant will be everlasting (32:40). It seems as though with these words Jeremiah had transcended the limits of his own previous teaching, for surely in such a day as the one in prospect here, neither prophets nor priests will be required to mediate between the people and Jehovah. And while no reference is made to any messianic person as the medium of Jehovah's deed, who can doubt that the teaching embodies one of the most remarkable foreshadowings of the Christian faith?
3. Other prophetic utterances of this time, while they do not reach the height of Jeremiah's insight, still bear testimony in harmony with his. Zephaniah looks forward to a similar glorious future when only the faithful shall remain, glorified and at peace. He, too, ascribes all this consummation to Jehovah, who is in the midst of his people. The prophet expresses the attitude of Jehovah towards them as that of one whose love is so great that there are no words in which he can utter it. To this community shall the nations come that they may worship its God (Zeph. 3:8-20).
Habakkuk beholds Jehovah coming in glorious majesty to disperse and punish the enemy, to save his people and their king. The prophet is overwhelmed at the sight. Yet though disaster appears on every hand, he will trust and rejoice in Jehovah's salvation.
Psalms such as the 80th, 89th, and 132d seem to reflect the historical conditions of this time, and out of them, in trust in the promises of Jehovah, to look for better days. Has not Israel been chosen and cherished as a vine by Jehovah? Has he not selected the house of David and promised him wide dominion, and made a covenant with him which even wickedness among his sons cannot annul? Surely, then, the time shall come when the present evil case shall cease, when Zion shall again be Jehovah's favorite habitation, when David's enemies shall be discomfited and he exalted.
Some concluding reflections may be considered:
(1) In comparison with the teachings of Isaiah regarding the future those of Jeremiah show (a) a similar limitation to the nation Israel. It is in the forefront of their vision and the object of their interest. Jeremiah's is the more passionate as his nature is the more emotional and the crisis of the nation's life more terrible and gloomy. The prospect that opens before both finds its completion in the beatific glorification of the nation. But (b) the nature of the gulf that stretched for Jeremiah between the present and the future forced him to a more ideal and sublime, a more spiritual, solution than was revealed to Isaiah. As outward permanence seemed impossible, the thought of the future centered on the inward life which Jehovah from his own fullness would revive in his own time. Only thus far did the prophet reach in the idea of the relation of the individual to Jehovah, that he conceived the nation as an individual in whose heart the divine law would be placed. But the employment of this image would suggest the other and richer thought. Here Jeremiah nearly touches an essential element of the gospel, the relation of God to the soul.
(2) Jeremiah himself in the manifold experience and wonderful development of his personal and public character is after all the most striking foreshadowing. He carried Israel and Jehovah in his own heart. The one was broken and revived in him. The other revealed his love and power through him. There was the nation in the individual. There was the communion of God and man, the suffering, the redemption, the restoration which were accomplished within,—the prophecy and assurance of the sorrow and triumph of the Cross.