By James H. Brookes
The Major Prophets
It may be well before entering upon the prophecies to say that they must be studied in the light of two principles: First, they express the counsels of God with respect to His Son, and look on to the great crisis that is to usher in His second advent. Second, while many of the events which they predict may have had a fulfillment in the past, they can have their fulfillment only in that grand consummation, toward which the church and the world are so fast hastening. The five books known as "the Law "give us the utterance of God's voice, showing what man ought to be, followed by the historical books, showing what man is under the best circumstances. "The Prophets " give us the utterance of God's voice, showing what man will be till Jesus comes. The five books known as "the Psalms," and including Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon, give us the utterance of man's voice, telling out the various phases of human experience.
Job shows us "a perfect and an upright man," confessing, after creature goodness was thoroughly tested, that he was "vile," and abhorring himself. The Psalms record the joys and sorrows, the hopes and disappointments, the victories and defeats, of Israel and of the Church also, but having through it all the sympathy of a heart over which no storms can any more sweep. In Proverbs, Solomon is led by the Holy Ghost to trace the path of wisdom in the midst of abounding evils, making plain the harmony of God's providential government with obedience to His word. In Ecclesiastes we hear the dirge of a dead world, with its greatest prince as chief mourner. The wisest of men, with matchless skill to make the largest possible use of limitless resources, and with determined will to test to the utmost all sources of earthly happiness, comes forth with the wail, "all is vanity." In the Song of Songs, Solomon appears once more, after his bitter- grief, to celebrate in sweetest strains the approaching nuptials of the Prince of peace with restored Israel, amid the rejoicing of the nations, when the Church shall have been caught up in clouds to meet the Lord in the air. "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
It is needless to remind the careful reader of the Sacred Scriptures that the prophetical books are not arranged in chronological order. That order is probably as follows:
Here we have sixteen "holy men of God'' who "spake as they were moved b}' the Holy Ghost," (2 Pet. i. 21), appearing together, or at intervals for nearly five hundred years, and leaving on record seventeen distinct testimonies that still reach in their final sweep into the future.
Of these Isaiah, whose name means "Salvation of the Lord," or '' The Lord will save," is appropriately placed at the head, as he may be preeminently styled the prophet of redemption. His ministry-extended from the year B. C. 756, to the year B. C. 711, and included the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, Kings of Judah. When he states, as in the opening verse, that he is about to relate the vision which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, he means precisely what he says. It is a vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem, and not concerning the Christian Church, however proper it may be for us to learn lessons of wisdom from the great principles of God's dealings with men of old, which are of course applicable to all people in all ages. But so far is it from being true that the Church is his theme, we are explicitly told in the New Testament that it did not please the Holy Ghost to reveal to the ancient prophets the mystery of Christ and the church, or the Church as it really exists, the body of the risen Christ, Eph. iii.5, 6; Rom. xvi. 25, 26.
Chapter i. of Isaiah's prophecy includes the entire period of which he treats, and therefore may be regarded as a preface or introduction. Judah and Jerusalem are the prominent subjects throughout. The following divisions may be helpful: First, the sore punishment of the Jews, with their certain restoration and song of joy at the second coming of Christ, i.-xii. Second, the burden of seven Gentile nations, that would have had no mention by the Spirit but for their connection with God's covenant people, and that will reappear, though under new names, at the close of Jewish history, ending with the promise of the second coming of Christ, xiii.-xxvii. Third, God's wrath upon Israel as more guilty than the surrounding Gentile nations, ending with the promise of the second coming of Christ, xxviii.-xxxv. Fourth, historical, this being the third recital of the events recorded, because it presents in type Israel sick unto death, the appearing of antichrist, the miraculous deliverance of the Jews, accomplished, as we learn elsewhere, by the second coming of Christ, xxxvi.-xxxix. Filth, God's controversy with Israel for idolatry, containing promise of the second coming of Christ, but ending with the words, "There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked," xl.-xlviii. Sixth, God's sharper controversy with Israel for the rejection of Christ, containing promise of His second coming, but ending with the sharper words, "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked," xlix.-lvii. Seventh, a beautiful description of the second coming of Christ at the very time of Israel's worldliness and hypocrisy and defilement, but ending with a far more emphatic warning to unbelievers, "Their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh," lviii.-lxvi.
His name means "whom the Lord sets, appoints," or as some say, "Elevated of the Lord." The word of the Lord came to him when he was very young, in the thirteenth year of Josiah, or B. C. 628, so that he followed Isaiah at the distance of about one hundred years. He was contemporary with Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Ezekiel, and Daniel, preceding the last two by a brief interval. He delivered his discourses at particular times during a period of more than forty years, and hence the lack of chronological order and logical arrangement. Although his entire ministry was passed in the most trying circumstances, immediately pre^ ceding and immediately succeeding the Babylonian invasion and the fall of Jerusalem, he may be preeminently called the prophet of hope.
Chapter i., as with Isaiah, is a general introduction to his book, which may be divided as follows; First, the bitter complaints of Jehovah against the Jews for their perversity, and idolatry, and manifold sins, ending with theory of the prophet's wounded heart, cursing the very day wherein he was born, i.-xx. Second, specific predictions against individuals, as Zedekiah, Shallum, Jehoiakim, and Coniah, false prophets and false priests, together with the distinct announcement of the overthrow of the house of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, and the seventy years' captivity, xxi.-xxix. Third, the promised restoration of Israel, looking forward most clearly and fully to their final re-establishment in their own land at the personal second coming of Christ, xxx.-xxxiii. Fourth, historical, showing the false confidence of the princes and the people, the Nazarite separation of the Rechabites in the midst of abounding evils, the contempt of the king for the word of God, the scourging and imprisonment of the prophet, the capture and destruction of Jerusalem, the release of Jeremiah and his removal to Egypt, but the continuance of God's testimony through it all, xxxiv.-xlv. Fifth, the judgment of seven surrounding Gentile nations, xlvi.-xlix. Sixth, the fearful doom of Babylon, and the glorious redemption of Israel, plainly looking on to a period yet future, L, li. Seventh, historical appendix, lii.
This remarkable book is a dirge consisting of five elegies, sung amid the ruins of Jerusalem. Each of these has twenty-two stanzas, according to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The third chapter, however, has sixty-six stanzas, containing three short verses under each letter of the alphabet, the initial letter being three times repeated. The first four elegies are acrostic, the successive stanzas beginning with the successive letters of the alphabet, but in the fifth the alphabetic arrangement disappears. As in the Psalms, the sufferings of God's people are so linked with the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ, lie is to be kept in view all the time. First, we hear the touching lament of Zion, sitting like a desolate widow in unutterable grief. "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.'' But she also confesses, "The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandment," i. Second, This is followed by the lament of the prophet. ''All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying. Is this the city that men call The perfection of beauty. The joy of the whole earth f He then beseeches Jehovah to behold the low estate of His people, ii. Third, Jeremiah describes his own deep afflictions, but hope lights up the darkness, and in the brightness of this hope, he looks on to the time when judgment shall be established on the earth under the sceptre of Christ, iii. Fourth, the prophet identifies himself with the afflicted people, in distinction from their false prophets and priests, and although the sufferings of Jerusalem were so great that "the hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children,'' yet he anticipates with joy the restoration and triumph of Israel, iv. Fifth, the last elegy is the voice of the stricken people, and is throughout an earnest appeal for divine mercy, v.
After the surrender of Jerusalem by the worthless Jehoiachim, and previous to its destruction under Zedekiah, many of the noblest in the land were carried away in captivity to the rivers of Babylon. Jeremiah remained in the city until its overthrow, and sent an inspired message to the captives, recorded in the twenty-ninth chapter of his prophecy, warning them against the delusion of believing that they would soon return from their exile. Among these captives was Ezekiel, the meaning of whose name is '' God shall strengthen," or "Strength of God." Like Jeremiah Le was a priest by extraction, and like him and Isaiah also, his prophecy was principally concerning Judah and Jerusalem, and not concerning the Christian Church. Part of his predictions and messages he delivered previous to the final capture and desolation of Jerusalem, and part afterwards.
First, in the fifth year of his captivity he beheld the vision of the Cherubim and of the glory of God, followed by his commission, as a watchman unto the house of Israel, i.-iii. Second, then came strange signs and visions, setting forth the wickedness of the people and their impending doom; and in the midst of his denunciations he was carried in the spirit to Jerusalem, where he beheld the glory of God, which lingered about the threshhold of the temple, arose from the midst of the city,' stood for a moment on the mount of Olives, and then disappeared, iv.-xi. Third, having been returned by the Spirit into captivity, he enters upon a series of typical actions, and delivers stern reproofs, all bearing upon the swiftly approaching doom of his distant countrymen, until on the very day the Chaldean army. invested Jerusalem, he told his fellow-prisoners in Babylon what was occurring hundreds of miles away; and his wife dying on the evening of the same day, in obedience to God's command, he shed no tear, to signify that a heavier woe was at hand, xii.-xxiv. Fourth, but if Jerusalem is punished, the wicked heathen shall not escape, and sentence of judgment is pronounced upon seven Gentile nations, the prince of Tyre being made a type of antichrist, and Egypt a type of the world, xxv.-xxxii. Fifth, upon the news of the capture of Jerusalem, he is led to predict the long continued desolation of the laud, ascribed to the influence of false shepherds, but also the literal and happy restoration of the widely scattered flock, by the power of the true Shepherd at His second coming, xxxiii.-xxxvii. Sixth, this restoration is to be followed by an invasion of their land from Russia and its dependencies; but the armies of the uncircumcised will find a place of graves, and the debris of the battle-field will supply Israel with fire wood, xxxviii., xxxix. Seventh, all their enemies having been crushed, the glory returns, the temple is built, Jesus is worshipped as King over all the earth, and the Holy City shall be named Jehovah-Shammah, the Lord is there, xl.-xlviii.
During the Babylonian captivity the Holy Ghost raised up a man whose inspired testimony opens a most important era, for it marks "the times of the Gentiles." The testimony is given in Chaldee from the fourth verse of the second chapter to the close of the seventh chapter, as if God would say to the proud kingdoms of the world, " Eead in your own language what shall be the end of your boasted power." The book is divided into two equal parts, the historical, i.-vi., and the prophetical, vii.-xii. But the historical is ]3rophetical in the sense that it is typical, the characteristic features of Gentile dominion being exhibited in the singular narratives that interrupt the visions of the seer. Its idolatry is shown in the golden image which the king of Babylon commanded all people, nations, and languages to worship; its pride and brutal indifference to God is shown in the degradation of Nebuchadnezzar to the condition of the beasts; its impiety and sensuality in Belshazzar's wild, revelry; its daring blasphemy in the decree of Darius, anticipating the antichrist, forbidding prayer to be offered to any being other than himself.
But apart from this the book gives us in unmistakeable outline the course of the present age down to the second coming of Christ. First, we have Nebuchadnezzar's dream, in which the four great world powers are clearly delineated, and during the existence of the last of these in a divided state» the God of heaven sets up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, ii. Second, in the first year of Belshazzar Daniel had a dream, and in his vision saw the same four world powers, symbolized by four beasts, with the added feature of a power known as the "little horn," the antichrist making war with the saints, and prevailing against them until Jesus comes in person, vii. Third, in the third year of Belshazzar he had another vision in which the beasts are not only most appropriately described, but two of them are named, as Babylon has been previously named, so that we do not need to go out of the Bible to learn that the four universal empires are the Babylonian, Medo Persian, Grecian, and Roman, viii. Fourth, in the first year of Darius, after earnest prayer and humble confession, Daniel learns that seventy periods of seven will include the whole troubled history of his people. the Jews, and of his holy city, Jerusalem; sixty-nine of these periods having elapsed when Messiah was cut off, and the seventieth heptad still lying in the future, the interval being filled by the church, of which no notice is here taken, ix. Fifth, in the third year of Cyrus, another vision was granted, which was designed, as he was told, to make him understand what shall befall his people, that is, the Jews, in the latter days: "for yet the vision is for many days," x. Sixth, in the first year of Darius the Mede, a wonderful vision passed before his rapt spirit, that unfolds the history of the Jews after prophecy ceased with Malachi, and before the birth of Messiah, but that reaches on to the reign of antichrist, xi. Seventh, deliverance comes at last, and Daniel whose name means "God is my Judge," or, "Judge of God," the singularly conscientious and consecrated youth and man, almost blameless in the highest aud most trying position, will stand in his lot at the end of the days, crowned with the approval of his Lord.