Prophecy; Prophets, 3

Continued from PROPHECY; PROPHETS, 2.

III. Historical Development of Prophecy.

1. Contents of Prophecy:

The contents of prophecy are by no means merely predictions concerning the future. That which is given by the Spirit to the prophet can refer to the past and to the present as well as to the future. However, that which is revealed to the prophet finds its inner unity in this, that it all aims to establish the supremacy of Yahweh. Prophecy views also the detailed events in their relation to the divine plan, and this latter has for its purpose the absolute establishment of the supremacy of Yahweh in Israel and eventually on the entire earth. We are accustomed to call those utterances that predict this final purpose the Messianic prophecies. However, not only those that speak of the person of the Messiah belong to this class, but all that treat of the coming of the kingdom of God.

2. Conception of the Messiah:

The beginnings of the religion of Israel, as also the chief epoch in its development, emanated from prophetical revelations. The prophet Moses elevated the tribal religion into a national religion, and at the same time taught the people to regard the religion of the fathers more ethically, spiritually and vitally. Samuel crowned the earthly form of the concrete theocracy by introducing an "Anointed of Yahweh" in whom the covenant relation between Yahweh and Israel was concentrated personally. The Anointed of the Lord entered into a much more intimate relationship to Yahweh as His Son or Servant than it was possible for the whole people of Israel to do, although as a people they were also called the servant or the son of God (compare Ps 2:7 f; Ps 110:1-7). The Psalms of David are a proof of this, that this high destiny of the kingdom was recognized. David himself became a prophet in those hymns in which he describes his own unique relation to Yahweh. But the actual kings of history as a rule corresponded too imperfectly to this idea. For this reason the word "prophetic" already in David's time directs to the future, when this relationship shall be more perfectly realized (2Sa 7:12 ff; compare David's own words, 2Sa 23:4 ff).


3. Before the Exile (through Judgment to Deliverance):

Solomon completed the external equipment of theocracy by the erection of the temple. But it was just his reign that constituted the turning-point, from which time on the prophets begin to emphasize the judgment to come, i.e. the dissolution of the external existence of the kingdom of Yahweh. Yet prophecy at all times does this in such a manner, that a kernel of the divine establishment on Zion remains intact. The divine establishment of the sanctuary and the kingdom cannot be destroyed; all that is necessary is that they be restored in greater purity and dignity. This can be seen also in Amos, who predicts that the fallen tabernacle of David shall be raised up again (Am 9:11 ff), which shall then be followed by a condition of undisturbed blessing. The same is found in Hosea, who sees how all Israel is again united under "David" the king of the last times, when between God and the people, between heaven and earth, an unbroken covenant of love shall be made (Ho 2:1 f,18 ff); and also in Isaiah, who predicts that during the time of the conquest and subjection of the country by the Gentiles a Son of David shall be born in a miraculous manner and attain supremacy (Isa 7:14; 9:2 ff; Isa 11:1 ff), and who speaks constantly of that divine establishment on Zion (compare the quiet waters of Shiloah, Isa 8:6), the foundation stone that has been laid by Yahweh (Isa 28:16, etc.). Micah, his contemporary, does the same, and in an entirely similar manner predicts that the radical judgment of destruction which shall come over the temple and the royal palace shall be followed by the wondrous King of Peace from Bethlehem (Mic 5:1 ff). Possibly even at a somewhat earlier date Zec 9:9 described this future ruler in similar terms. In general it is not probable that Isaiah and Micah were the first to speak so personally of this King. They seem to presuppose that their contemporaries were acquainted with this idea.

4. Analogous Ideas among Heathen Peoples:

In recent times scholars have pointed to the fact that in the old Orient, among the Egyptians, the Babylonians and elsewhere, the expectation of a miraculously-born King of the future, who was to bring to His own people and to all nations salvation and peace, was entertained at an early period. Yet so much is certain, that Isaiah and Micah did not base their hopes on the vague dreams of the Gentileworld, but upon the prophetic establishment of a divine sanctuary and kingdom of Zion. The personal figure of this Son of David is not so much in the foreground in the other prophets down to the period of the exile. These prophets mention only casually the Good Shepherd, as e.g. Jer 23:1 ff; Jer 33:12 ff; Eze 34:23 f. But after that time this Messianic expectation became a permanent element in the hopes of Israel.

In the meanwhile, prophecy had thrown much light on the ways of God, which prepare for His kingdom on earth. Even long before Amos (5:18 ff) the idea of a "day of Yahweh," which was to be a day of revelation, on which God makes a settlement with the nations, must have been generally known, since Amos is already compelled to protest against the abuse of this expectation. But hand in hand with this settlement we find also and at all times the expectation of the exaltation and of the salvation of Israel. Yet the prophets have all emphasized that Israel and Judah must first be thoroughly purified by a judgment, before the land could, through God's grace, be glorified and richly blessed. The judgment which the preexilic prophets are continually predicting is, however, only a means to an end. This judgment is not the final word of the Lord, as Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah and Habakkuk constantly teach. They announce that return to Yahweh and obedience to His commandments is the way to salvation (Ho 6:1; Isa 1:18; Jer 4:1, and often). However, the prophets know that the people will not turn again to God, but that first the Jewish state must be entirely overthrown (Isa 6:1-13). It is particularly deserving of notice, that believing trust in Yahweh is regarded as the positive means for deliverance (Isa 7:9; 30:15; Hab 2:4). It is through this that the "remnant" of the faithful, "the kernel" of the people, is saved. Also in the case of Jeremiah, whose work it was to predict the immediate destruction of Judah, there is not absent a kind of an esoteric book of consolation. His battle cry for the future is "Yahweh our righteousness" (Jer 23:6; 33:16). In his case we find a rich spiritualization of religion. The external customs, circumcision and the like, he declares, do no good, if the true state of the heart is lacking. Even the ark of the covenant is unnecessary and is discarded in the enlargement of the sanctuary. Ezekiel, who lays more stress on the external ordinances, nevertheless agrees with Jeremiah in this, that Jerusalem together with the temple must fall. Only after this destruction the prophet in his spirit builds the sanctuary again; notwithstanding the external character of his restoration, there is yet found in his picture a further development of its spiritual character. The ethical rights and the responsibility of the individual are strongly emphasized (Eze 18:1-32; 33:1-33). The land becomes transformed; the Gentiles are received into the covenant of God.

5. During the Exile (Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah):

Deutero-Isaiah (Isa 40:1-31 through Isa 66:1-24), during the time of the Babylonian captivity, enriches prophecy in an extraordinary manner, through the figure of the true "Servant of Yahweh," who in a peaceful way, through his words of instruction and especially through his innocent sufferings and his vicarious deeds, converts Israel, the undeserving servant, and also wins over the Gentileworld to Yahweh. It was not possible that the picture of a suffering man of God, who through his death as a martyr attains to exaltation, should be suggested to the Jews by the altogether different figure of a death and resurrection of a Babylonian god (Thammuz-Adonis!). Since the unjust persecutions of Joseph and David they were acquainted with the sufferings of the just, and Jeremiah's life as a prophet was a continuous martyrdom. But the writer of the second part of Isaiah had before his eyes a vision that far excelled all of these types in purity and in greatness to such a degree as did David's Son in Isaiah and Micah surpass His great ancestor. He brings to a completion the kingdom of God through teaching, suffering and death, and attains to the glory of rulership. In this way He unites the offices of prophet, priest and king.

6. After the Exile (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi):

After the exile prophecy continues its work. The Messianic expectations, too, are developed further by Haggai, and still more by Zechariah. Malachi announces the advent of the Day of Yahweh, but expects before this a complete purification of the people of God. God Himself will come, and His angel will prepare the way for Him. The visions of Daniel picture the transformation of the world into a kingdom of God. The latter will mark the end of the history of the world. It comes from above; the earthly kingdoms are from below, and are pictured as beasts; the Ruler of the kingdom of God is a Son of man. The latter comes with the clouds of the heaven to take possession of His kingdom (Da 7:13 ff). Then the judgment of the world will take place and include also each human being, who before this will bodily arise from the dead, in order to enter upon blessedness or condemnation. Here we find indicated a universal expansion of the kingdom of God extending over the whole world and all mankind.

7. Contemporaneous Character of Prophecy:

If we survey this prophecy of the kingdom of God and its divinely-blessed Ruler, the Messiah, from a Christian standpoint, we find that a grand divine unity connects its different elements. The form of this prophecy is indeed conditioned by the views and ideas of the time of utterance. The prophets were compelled to speak so that their hearers could understand them. Only gradually these limitations and forms become spiritualized, e.g. the kingdom of God is still pictured by the prophets as established around the local center of Zion. Mt. Zion is in a concrete manner exalted, in order to give expression to its importance, etc. It is the New Testament fulfillment that for the first time gives adequate form to divine revelation. At least in the person of Jesus Christ this perfection is given, although the full unfolding of this kingdom is yet a matter of the future.

8. Partial Character of Prophecy:

A second characteristic feature of prophecy is the partial nature of the individual prophetical utterances and prophetical pictures. One picture must be supplemented by the others, in order not to be misunderstood. Thus, e.g. according to Isa 11:14; Zec 9:13 ff, we might expect that the kingdom of God was to be established by force of arms. But the same prophets show in other utterances (Isa 9:6 f; Zec 9:9 f) that these warlike expressions are to be understood figuratively, since the Messianic King is more than all others a Prince of Peace.

9. Perspective Character of Prophecy:

A third feature that deserves attention is the perspective character of prophecy. The prophet sees together and at once upon the surface of the pictures things which are to be fulfilled only successively and gradually. Thus, e.g. Deutero-Isaiah sees in the near future the return from captivity, and directly connected with this a miraculous glorification of the city of God. The return did as a matter of fact take place soon afterward, but the glorification of the city in which Yahweh Himself had promised to dwell was yet in the distant future. The succeeding prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, predict that this consummation shall take place in the future.

Also in the predictions concerning the future made by Jesus and in the Apocalypse of John these characteristics of prophecy, its contemporaneous and perspective and at times symbolical features, are not disregarded. The firm prophetic word is intended to give the congregation certain directive lines and distinctive work. But an adequate idea of what is to come the Christian church will become compelled to form for itself, when the fulfillment and completion shall have taken place.

Continued in PROPHECY; PROPHETS, 4.

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