We may find in a recent landscape-painting an illustration of what meets the eye as we open the pages of written prophecy. In this painting we have before us in the foreground a highway with its passers-by and its various activities, and beyond this and low down in a broad valley, a lake lying in deep shadow; and still beyond, a range of hills, their highest points shining in the sun. Thus, in the prophetic picture, in the foreground is the active present, — the events political and religious which occupy national attention; and more remote, and dimly seen in the future, is the time of captivity and exile; and still beyond this, and far distant, is the glory of the Messianic Kingdom. The prophetic eye does not, indeed, look upon a lifeless canvas, upon moveless figures.; the present is ever changing; each prophet has his own distinctive point of view, and the time of the exile is ever drawing nearer. But the great features of the prophetic landscape remain unchanged; only, as the day of overthrow approaches, the present becomes more full of movement and of historic detail, as is seen in Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the prophet's word becomes more circumstantial and minute. We see before us the tumult of peoples, the marching of armies, the siege of cities: all is excitement and turmoil, anxiety and alarm. Over the sky the clouds are gathering; but through the deepening darkness the Spirit of God in the prophets points ever to the promised Kingdom, that the faithful may be saved by hope.
As was to be expected, there is great variety in the details. What is distinct and full in one prophet, is often indistinct and partial in another. This has its explanation in part from their differing mental constitutions and spiritual endowments, and in part from the differing circumstances of their times, and consequent varying points of view; the future always, in prophetic utterance, being presented in a certain correspondence to the present. As the day of national overthrow draws nearer, the utterances are more express and minute, both as to the nation by which it is to be effected, the extent of the dispersion, its duration, and other matters necessary to be known by those who have part in them.
Let us first sum up the chief points of agreement in their presentation of the future by the prophets of this period.
1. The day of God as impending, — a day of righteous retribution, in which He will manifest His holiness and justice in the punishment of the evil; but the end of which is to bring to repentance, and to prepare the way for His universal Kingdom. His judgments affect, first and chiefly His own people in their overthrow and captivity; then the heathen nations also, not only those in immediate relation to His people, but all on the earth.
2. The regathering of the tribes, the restoration of a remnant purified by Jehovah's discipline, their reconstitution, and His return to dwell among them at Jerusalem, and the blessings spiritual and temporal that follow.
3. The universal Kingdom of Jehovah. Those persistently rebellious among the nations are cut off: the residue become obedient, and are taught of the Lord, and partake of the blessings of His rule. The mention by these prophets of the Son of David as the universal King, will be considered later.
Let us now briefly pass in review the prophets of this period, in chronological order, noting the particulars just mentioned. Of Joel, the earliest (850 B.C.), we have already spoken in part. He sees in the present judgments of God upon the people the signs that "the day of the Lord" is approaching, — "a great and terrible day:" the people will go into captivity, and their land be possessed by their enemies, (iii. 1, etc.) There will be a time of universal war; Jehovah will sit in judgment on the nations, for their oppression of His people; "the harvest is ripe," "their wickedness is great." (iii. 13, etc.) The sun, moon, and stars will be darkened, the heavens and the earth will shake. But the Lord will be the hope and strength of His people: a remnant will be delivered, and upon them will He pour out His Spirit, and through them there will be deliverance to all who shall call on His name. (ii. 28, etc.) Then will Jehovah dwell in Zion, and His holy city no more be defiled by strangers, and to spiritual He will add all forms of temporal blessings, (iii. 17, etc.)
In Amos (about 800 B.C.) the utterances are clear as to the judgments to come on the people, the more severe because of their greater sin as His chosen, (iii. 1, etc.) His chastisements had not availed to bring them to repentance; therefore, He has punished them. (iv. 6-12.) But sorer punishments are to come; they shall go into captivity beyond Damascus (v. 27); He will scatter them among all nations, (ix. 9.) But His purpose will not fail, only the sinners among them shall be cut off. He will bring again the captivity of His people, and plant them upon their land, and bless them with all temporal blessings, (ix. 11-15.)
Hosea (about 780 B.C.) repeats the same declarations in substance, but adds that the captivity is for "many days;" in "the latter days " they shall return, (iii. 4, 5.) They shall be greatly increased in number, and shall be called "the sons of the living God," and God will betroth them unto Him forever, and they shall know the Lord. (ii. 19.) Nothing is said by this prophet of the judgment of the nations, and but little of outward and temporal blessings, (ii. 18, etc., xiv. 5-7.)
Micah (about 750 B.C.) announces the coming of Jehovah to judgment. "The mountains shall be molten under Him, and the valleys shall be cleft. . . . For the transgression of Jacob is all this, and for the sins of the house of Israel." (i. 4, 5.) He will not spare His own city and holy hill. Zion shall be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the people shall be carried to Babylon, (iii. 12.) But this desolation is not to continue. "I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee; I will surely gather the remnant of Israel." They shall come up out of all countries, and Jehovah will show marvellous things as at the coming up from Egypt. "The nations shall see and be confounded, . . . they shall be afraid of the Lord our God, and shall fear because of Thee." (vii. 15-17.) Here, as often in the prophets, there is a twofold presentation of the relation of the nations to His returning people, first as hostile, but afterwards, when through Divine judgments the nations are humbled, all submit to Jehovah's rule, and there is peace. Thus we read that "many nations are gathered against the daughter of Zion, saying, Let her be defiled, and let our eye look upon Zion." But God shall gather them as the sheaves into the floor. "Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion. . . . Thou shalt beat in pieces many people, (iv. 11-13.) "The remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles in the midst of many people as a lion among the beasts of the forest." "I will execute vengeance in anger and fury upon the heathen, such as they have not heard." (v. 8, 15.) It is through this manifestation of His severity that the residue of the nations are brought into submission to His holy rule. Then shall there be universal peace, and "every man shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree." (iv. 4.) Jerusalem will be the religious and political centre of the world.
The prophecies of Isaiah, extending through a long period (759 to 698), are often divided into two parts, the last chapters (xl.-lxvi.) being ascribed to a prophet living during the exile. Without accepting or denying this division, it will be convenient to speak here chiefly of the first part. (Chaps, i.-xxxix.) It was given to this prophet to announce a series of judgments not to end till the holy seed was found, the purified remnant; and it was declared to him by God, that all the words he might speak to the people would but harden them. In one point of view, it may be regarded as pronouncing upon them a sentence of judicial blindness, (vi. 9-13.) As this commission was given him in the year that king Uzziah died (758 B.C.), and so at the very beginning of his ministry, it must have greatly affected the character of all his utterances. That "the day of the Lord" was rapidly approaching as a day of punishment, and the captivity about to come because of the sins of the people, were to him most assured. No words of warning or rebuke that he could utter would bring them to repentance. The captivity must come, Jehovah using Babylon as His instrument. But, if this punishment failed to bring to repentance and to obedience, still another and another must follow. The prophet's eye, therefore, overlooks the whole period of penal blindness and its judgments, down to the end, though without seeing how remote that end may be. Like all the prophets, he speaks primarily to his own generation, and present events fill the foreground. But he is looking far beyond these to the greater things to come; and thus there is in his words such a frequency and rapidity of transition from the immediate present to the remote future, as is found in no other prophet. As Moses, in the record of the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, speaks only of the events at its beginning and its close, so is it with Isaiah of the period of the exile. He sees only the beginning and the end, the entry into the captivity and the exit from it. He passes at a bound from the Assyrian to the Messiah, from the ruins of Babylon to the rebuilding of Jerusalem, from the desolate land of Israel to the new heavens and earth.
In so far-reaching a vision, it is a matter of prophetic necessity that present relations and events be used as symbols of those in the distant future. Egypt and Assyria and Babylon, Edom and Moab, realities of the present, become names descriptive of like hostile powers in the future, with which the elect people will then be brought into relation; and therefore there is in this prophet such largeness of expression, such an absence of local and temporal particulars, both as regards events now present and those yet to come. Jehovah's people abide His people, and the law of retribution is the same and unchangeable; but the instruments by whom He inflicts His judgments are new, and one may be named as a type of all.
This character of universality appears in all Isaiah's words. He speaks as one who stands at the end, when the purpose of God in His people is about to be made known to all the nations. He calls on the heavens and the earth to hear what God had done for them, and how they had repaid Him. And now will He judge them; but His judgments affect also all the world. The day of the Lord is upon all the pride and glory of the earth, (ii. 10-22.) Not in one land only, but throughout all lands, are His people to be scattered; not Babylon only, but all nations are to be His instruments to execute His judgments on them, and from the four corners of the earth will He gather them. (xi. 11, 12.) And at the end, when He shall "rise to shake terribly the earth," and to humble the loftiness of man, the disorder and confusion will have become universal. All the bonds that bind society together will have been dissolved. No land, no people, no class, will in that day escape His judgments. "The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly." Then will "He punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth." And this is the day in which He alone will be exalted. "Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and before His ancients gloriously." (Chaps, xxiv.-xxvii.)
Thus through His mighty actings in righteousness the whole earth is brought at last to know Jehovah, to know Him as the One Supreme and Holy God. "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together." And in this revelation of Himself before the nations, His elect people bear a most important part as His helpers First, the time of penal blindness comes to its end, the veil is taken from their hearts. "The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped." They will see His hand, they will hear His words, and cry unto Him; "and the rebuke of His people will He take away from off all the earth." Again at Jerusalem will He manifest His Presence by visible symbols as of old. "The Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence." (iv. 5.) And not only in that day will the living be gathered to Him, "the ransomed return and come to Zion, with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads:" He will gather, also, the faithful departed. "Thy dead shall live, my dead body shall they arise." Having thus perfected His purpose in His own, He will "destroy the veil that is spread over all nations." Then will they see His glory revealed in Zion, and go up to worship, and to be taught His will. "And many peoples shall go and say, Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths." "Then the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
In the prophet Jeremiah (630 B.C.), who addresses himself chiefly to the events of his own day, in which he bore so active a part, continual mention is made of the coming captivity in Babylon which is now at the very door; and he alone defines its length as seventy years, (xxv. 11.) As living at the time of the captivity, and seeing the general distress and despair, he comforts the believing by reminding them of the faithfulness of God. They are His covenant people, and they will assuredly return. As the ordinances of day and night are unchangeable, so is His covenant with His people. "If these ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever." "From their iniquities will He cleanse them, and pardon all their sins, and He will write His law in their hearts, and will be their God, and they His people." "Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul. . . . And it shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honour before all the nations of the earth." All that has been said of the universal Kingdom, and of their place in it, will then be fulfilled. "At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it." (iii. 17.)
We have still to ask what the prophets of this period say of the house of David, and of the Messiah. That during the exile and dispersion of the people the royal family must share the national fate, needed no special declaration: the throne must fall with the city and the temple. But, with the restoration of the nation, it will be restored. The Divine purpose is unchangeable, that, so long as the people remain His people, so long one of the house of David shall be His king.
Among the minor prophets Joel says nothing of the family of David: it is Jehovah who gathers all nations and judges them, and delivers and restores His people, and dwells among them in Zion, His holy mountain.
Obadiah speaks of "the day of the Lord as near upon all the heathen," of "the saviours upon Mount Zion," of the restoration of the possessions of Jacob, and of the kingdom as the Lord's; but he does not speak of David's house. Neither Nahum nor Habakkuk makes any mention of the Son of David. Zephaniah speaks of tho restoration of the people, and of Jehovah as the King of Israel, but not of David's house.
Amos declares that God will bring again the captivity of His people, and set them in their own land for ever, and then will He "raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, . . . and build it as in the days of old." (ix. 11-15.)
Hosea makes mention of the family of David: "For many days Israel shall abide without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice," a subject and scattered people; but "afterwards they shall return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days." (iii. 4, 5.) Here is plainly meant, not the literal David, but the promised One of his line. And under Him Judah and Israel will be reconciled, and become one people. "Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land." (i. 11.)
Micah prophesies that Jehovah will bring back the people whom He had driven out and afflicted, and reign over them in Mount Zion forever, (iv. 1-7.) And as the universal Kingdom is then established, so the Ruler of the house of David also appears. "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, . . . out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be Ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." Not out of the royal city, but out of little Bethlehem should He come, as did David, thus pointing both to the obscurity into which the family had fallen, and to the fact that in Him a new founder would appear, and a new age begin. Till He come, the people must remain in their bondage: "Therefore will He give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of His brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. And He shall stand and feed " — rule — " in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God; and they shall abide: for now shall He be great unto the ends of the earth." (v. 2-4.) When the people are restored to the Divine favor, and the universal Kingdom is set up, He takes His place as Jehovah's King.
In the prophet Isaiah, mention is made of the birth of a child to sit upon the throne of David: "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder. ... Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever." (ix. 6, 7.) Although it is not here said that He is a Son of David, yet no one can doubt who is meant. Again it is said, "There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots." The house of Jesse is here likened to a tree that has been cut down of which only the stump remains, but there is still life in it. During all the years following the overthrow by the Babylonians, the family of David remains hidden. Except for a brief period, in the person of Zerubbabel, the throne is not re-established. But when the time comes for the reconstitution of the kingdom, then appears the Branch, — Jehovah's King and that which marks Him above all is His endowment with the Spirit, by which He is qualified to be the Ruler and the Judge. To Him thus endowed all power is given: "With righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth; and He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked." "In that day there shall be a root of Jesse which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek; and His rest shall be glorious." (xi. 1-10.)
Of the promise of the Immanuel, it is not necessary to speak here in detail, (vii. 14.)
If we now consider this prophet's words respecting this King, we see that the conception of a man extraordinarily endowed with the gifts of the Spirit does not exhaust their meaning: "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." (ix. 6.)
Without entering into the question how far these, and other like terms in the Old Testament, teach the fact of the Incarnation, one thing cannot well be doubted, — that they ascribe to Him a superhuman nature. Applied to a mere man, however richly endowed with natural and spiritual gifts, all feel them to be grossly exaggerated. He is not merely one in the line of David's successors, — greater, indeed, than any before Him, but with difference only of degree. He is not to be classed with them: He is the Wonderful, like none other; Immanuel, — God with us. And His government is not like theirs, temporary: "Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end." Immortal, He is the last of the Davidic kings.
To other words of this prophet, and the terms "Branch of the Lord," and "Fruit of the earth" (iv. 2), we must content ourselves with simple reference. But it is not to be overlooked, that it was given him to see the Lord in vision sitting as King in His temple; and we are told by the evangelist, that it was a vision of the Messiah: "These things said Esaias when he saw His glory, and spake of Him." (John xii. 38-41.) As in the case of the apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration, and of Paul on his way to Damascus, an indelible impression must have been made on the mind of the prophet. Beholding the heavenly majesty, the holiness, the angelic ministries, he was prepared to understand how great was this Son of David, and how glorious His kingdom. Well might he say, that when He should "reign in Mount Zion, and before His elders in glory, the moon would be confounded, and the sun ashamed." (xxiv. 23.)
The power of the Messiah, and His supernatural character, are less emphasized by Jeremiah than by Isaiah; but the permanence of the covenant with David is often and strongly expressed: "Thus saith the Lord; If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season; then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne." (xxxiii. 20-26.) It is as enduring as His covenant with the people. In due time, therefore, when the nation should be restored, the throne of David must be re-established: "I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely." (xxiii. 5.) "Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. . . . They shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them." (xxx. 7, 9.) "In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David, and He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely." (xxxiii. 15, 16.)
Thus we find in all these prophets, not only the expectation of the restoration of His elect people, and of the future universal Kingdom of Jehovah, but also, in most of them, distinct mention that a Son of David will be the ruler under Him. In the prophetic future He stands under Jehovah the chief and central figure. No vision of the restoration is complete that does not behold Him sitting upon His throne, and His majesty corresponds to the majesty of the kingdom. (Mic. v. 4.)