The prophets of the exile were Ezekiel and Daniel; and, according to some, the latter portion of Isaiah is to be ascribed to this period. (Chaps, xl.-lxvi.)
The utterances of Ezekiel, who was carried into captivity eleven years before Jerusalem's destruction by Nebuchadnezzar, and who began to prophesy in Mesopotamia to those captive with him (594 B.C.), have special interest as recording the departure of the Visible Glory from the temple and Jerusalem before their destruction; as showing the spiritual condition of the exiles; and as foretelling the return of the remnant, the invasion of Gog, a new division of the land, the reestablishment of worship in a new temple, the return of Jehovah to dwell in it, and the reconstitution of the Jewish State.
Among those who were carried captive with Ezekiel, there were many who did not believe that Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Babylonians, and cease to be the holy city, the dwelling-place of Jehovah. They expected soon to return to it, and see the kingdom restored to independence and prosperity. (Jer. xxix. 810.) It was, therefore, necessary for the prophet to show them how unfounded their expectations, and that be cause of their sins God was about to depart from His people, and to give up His holy temple to be defiled and destroyed by the hands of the heathen. In vision the prophet beholds the departure of the Visible Glory from the temple and the city before its overthrow. (Ezek. ix. 3, x. 4, 18, xi. 22.) The Glory was the symbol of Jehovah's Presence, as on Mount Sinai; and where it abode, there was His dwelling-place. When the Jews had made Him "a sanctuary that He might dwell among them," the Glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (Exod. xl. 34.) And there He continued to manifest Himself from between the Cherubim till the temple was built. At its dedication, we read that "the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the Glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord." (1 Kings viii. 10.) Notwithstanding all their subsequent idolatry and wickedness, Jehovah continued to dwell among them in His temple down to this time. But now that He is about to forsake them, and to give up His temple to be profaned and destroyed, the prophetic eye of Ezekiel beholds "the Glory of the God of Israel go up from the cherub, whereupon He was," to the threshold of the house, and then it departs from off the threshold of the house, and stands over the Cherubim at the door of the east gate; and at last, went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the Mount of Olives. It was the sign that Jehovah no more dwelt among them.
This departure of the symbol of Jehovah's Presence from the holy city made it certain to Ezekiel that the hopes of the exiles were vain. A great change was about to take place in the relation of Jehovah to the nation. He would not interfere to save the city. "Mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity." He left the holy mount He had chosen, no more to return to it till they were prepared to be in truth a holy and obedient people.
Of the religious condition of the exiles in Babylon, we learn much from this prophet. Judging by the character of those carried away with Jehoiachin (2 Kings xxiv. 8-12), and from the words of God to Ezekiel when calling him to his prophetic work (Ezek. ii. 3, xiv. 1, etc.), His dealings with them in the overthrow of the kingdom had produced little salutary fruit. Unchastened by captivity, they were unwilling to hearken to the prophet's reproofs and warnings. "The house of Israel will not hearken unto thee, for they will not hearken unto me." His words are often very severe against the princes and chiefs, those who should have been the shepherds of His flock, now " scattered upon all the face of the earth." "Woe to the shepherds that do feed themselves. ... Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool; ye kill them that are fed, but ye feed not the flock." (Chap, xxxiv.)
It is plain that upon the larger part of the exiles, their captivity produced no good effect. With the most there seems to have been little regard for the Mosaic institutions, and little desire for their restoration. The evil influences around them infected them; and if they were repelled from idolatry in the grosser forms, yet their faith in their own covenant standing, and in the promises of Jehovah, was weakened. Seen from the walls of Babylon beneath which flowed the broad Euphrates, Jerusalem was an insignificant city, the Jordan a mountain brook. How poor appeared the narrow territory of Judsea and its steep and barren hills, in contrast with the wide and fertile plains of Chaldsea! Even the holy temple, compared with those of Babylonian deities, was architecturally mean and unworth}'. What could the few warriors of Israel do against armies gathered from a hundred subject peoples? Every thing was fitted to make the exiles feel their relative insignificance, and that their hope of a great national future was visionary. It is most likely that a large proportion of them during the many years of expatriation, had become so wonted to the life of those around them, and penetrated by its spirit, as to be indifferent to their covenant relation, and to the claim of Jehovah upon them as His own people.
But, in contrast with this indifference of the many, the zeal of the few appeared the more marked. Whether the more earnest and devoted among them suffered religious persecution, is not clear, but the example of Daniel and his brethren shows that this might have been the case; and some expressions in the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel lead to this conclusion. These kept, so far as possible, the Mosaic laws, and valued more highly the religious privileges of which they were deprived. Of the feelings of such faithful ones, the one hundred and thirty-seventh psalm is a true expression: "Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy."
It was the intent of God that His people, scattered among the heathen, should bear a witness unto His name; but this the Babylonian exiles did not do. As the house of Israel had dishonored their God in their own land, so in the land of their captivity did they dishonor Him. "When they entered unto the heathen, whither they went, they profaned my holy name." (Ezek. xxxvi. 20.) As captives scattered through the land, and brought into close relations with the inhabitants, it was an opportunity for them to testify to Jehovah as the One, Holy, and Supreme God, a witness like that borne by Daniel and his companions in the capital city. (Dan. Hi. 12.) This they did not do; and the burden of the prophetic message to them was, "Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, 0 house of Israel?" (Ezek. xxxiii. 11.)
A people thus unrepentant under His judgments, Jehovah could not bless and take again into favor. Yet He would not wholly cast them off, nor suffer His purpose to fail. There were some repentant and faithful among the captives, and these He would bring back to their land. Before the destruction of Jerusalem He had shown to Ezekiel that there was an election that should be saved. He sees in vision "a man clothed with linen, with a writer's ink-horn by his side," who is commanded to go "through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof." (ix. 4.) It was men of this spirit whom God would deliver, the remnant that He would bring forth from captivity, and by them rebuild His temple and city. (vi. 8-10, xiv. 22.)
It is plain, however, that the words of this prophet looked beyond the return of the little company of Babylonian exiles under Joshua and Zerubbabel, and embraced that final remnant, "the holy seed " of Isaiah, in whom the Messianic Kingdom is to be set up, and God's purposes fully realized. A holy and obedient people will at last be found. God will dwell among them. The waste cities will be rebuilded, the desolate land will be tilled, and be as the garden of Eden, and they shall possess it forever. In that day, the old unity of the nation will be restored, and Judah and Israel will be one: "I will make them one in the land; . . . and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided any more into two kingdoms at all." (xxxvii. 22.) At the head of this united kingdom is one of the house of David: "And David my servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd." "I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them." (xxxiv. 24.) And under His administration are fulfilled all the promises of material prosperity. "The tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase. . . . They shall dwell safely, and none shall make them afraid." This blessed condition is followed by no apostasy: "I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them. ... I will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore, and the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel." (xxxvii. 26.) Through His holy nation will He then be honored in the eyes of all the nations.
Whilst all the prophets speak of the return of the remnant, and of the glory and blessedness of the Messianic Kingdom, Ezekiel alone describes in detail the new order to be established. (Chaps, xl.-xlvii.) He was bidden to show to the people the pattern of a new temple and of its ritual. Of its details, and of the new division of the land among the tribes, we have no need here to speak. These concern the future, and can be at best but very imperfectly understood till the time of fulfillment comes. But a point to be noticed is, that as the prophet saw the departure of the Visible Glory from the first temple, so he sees its return to this, the last. "Behold, the Glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east: and His voice was like a noise of many waters: and the earth shined with His Glory. . . . And the Glory of the Lord came into the house; . . . and, behold, the Glory of the Lord filled the house. . . . And He said unto me, the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever, and my holy name, shall the house of Israel no more defile." (xliii. 2-7.) It is to be noted that at this return it is said "the earth shined with His Glory." The Divine manifestation is no more confined to the limits of the Most Holy Place, nor of the temple, nor of the city, but the whole land is radiant with the heavenly light.
It is clear that Ezekiel did not expect that this new order would be established immediately after the return of the exiles from Babylon, but believed that this consummation would not be reached till other and sorer judgments had come upon them. Reference has already been made in another place to His words respecting "the third part," that "it should be scattered in the wind, and that God would draw out His sword after it:" teaching as Isaiah had done, that upon those who are delivered from one judgment another will come, and that this process will continue till the purified remnant is found, (v. 2, 4.)
The predictions of Ezekiel respecting Gog present many difficulties; but one thing we may at least say, that they have not yet been fulfilled. (Chaps, xxxviii., xxxix.) They look forward to the time when the last great effort shall be made by hostile nations to destroy the Jewish people, and which seems to be immediately preceding the Messianic Kingdom. But this prophecy has this peculiarity, that it supposes the Jews to have been restored to their land, and to be dwelling in it at peace at the time when Gog and his hosts come up against them. For this reason, some would put this invasion at the end of the Messianic Kingdom. To this there are very strong objections; and it is easier to believe that there will be a partial restoration of the Jews before the final one, a restoration brought about perhaps for political ends. The founding of a Jewish state in Palestine under the protectorate of Christian nations, is not now incredible; but this would not be the kingdom under their Messiah. There are several intimations in the prophets of such partial return of the people before the last overthrow, as in Zech. xii. 2-8, xiv. 1-3. Whether by Gog we are to understand an enemy distinct from the Antichrist who wars against the Church, or that the Antichrist is here described in his special relations to the Jewish people, it is impossible to say; but the manner of his destruction, and the national blessedness that follow it, seem to point to one and the same chief and last enemy.
Whether the last part of Isaiah (chaps, xl.-lxvi.) was written by some unknown prophet, and during the Babylonian exile, as held by many, or by Isaiah himself, is of no great importance in our inquiry, since the point of view, whether historic or prophetic, is that of the captivity; and we may consider it here. The writer looks upon the people as already under God's judgment, and in bondage, (xlii. 24, xliii. 28, xlviii. 20.) But the allusions to Babylon as the instrument of their punishment and the place of their exile are few and general. There are references to a deliverance, and express mention of Cyrus as a deliverer; but it is not the complete and final deliverance. There are many declarations that point to another and a wider dispersion, and to a regathering from many lands, (xliii. 5, 6; xlix. 12.) Babylonia is only one of the lands of exile: the return of a few from it is not the perfect deliverance. Hence, there is a largeness and generality in these prophecies, that allows their application to all the phases of the captivity, in the larger sense of that term, down to the end, and which cannot be narrowed down to the very partial return under Cyrus, and to the imperfect and dependent kingdom then established.
To work repentance in His people, and to bring them to humility and confession, did Jehovah send them into captivity; and not till they were thus contrite and humbled, could He comfort them. (xii. 1. See Zech. xii. 10.) It is the sign that His discipline had produced its intended effect when He calls upon His prophets to cry: "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people." (xl. 1, 2. See lxi. 3.) Now her warfare is accomplished, and her iniquity is pardoned, and now can He return to them to dwell among them; but His way must be prepared, and then "the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together." Doubtless there were some of penitent spirit, who could be comforted at the return from Babylon; and in them there was an inchoate fulfillment. But the eye of the prophet was directed to the end of the captivity, the end of their wanderings and their chastisement, and to that return when the purpose of God could be fully accomplished. And in all the later and larger part of these prophecies there is no allusion to Babylon, or to the partial deliverance from the exile there. It is perfectly consistent with this that there is given a description of Babylon's overthrow. (Isa. xlvii. 8.) As the power by which was inflicted God's first great act of chastisement, we have in its overthrow a prophetic foreshadowing of the greater enemy to come, and of his final destruction.
It is this vision of the remote future, and of the great fulfillment of all prophecy in the Messianic Kingdom, that leads this prophet to speak so often of the power of God to foretell what is to come, and which none but He can do. (xlv. 21.) When His purpose is fulfilled in His people, and " the times of restitution " come of which He had spoken by all His prophets from the beginning of the world, "declaring the end from the beginning," then will it be known that His purpose will stand, and all His pleasure will He perform, (xli. 26, xlvi. 10, xlviii. 16.)
In none of the prophetic utterances is the glory of the Messianic Kingdom so vividly set forth as here, and in none is the place of Israel as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation " more clearly stated. "Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee; . . . and the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. . . . The sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, their kings shall minister unto thee; . . . the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; ... ye shall be named the priests of the Lord, men shall call you the ministers of our God." (lx., lxi.) Then does Israel fulfill its calling as the medium of God's revelation of Himself to the nations: "The Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory." "Behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy." "I will gather all nations and tongues, and they shall come and see my glory." Now begins a time of national prosperity and peace, of righteousness and blessedness, that is to have no end. The perfect is not, indeed, yet come; the people are still subject to death, (lxv. 20.) But the foundation is already laid in their risen King for the new heaven and new earth; for He that "poured out His soul unto death " would live again, and "the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand." (liii. 10-12.) And from this time onward no fresh apostasy shall come in to hinder the fulfillment of the Divine purpose.
Although there is no express mention of the Messiah as ruling under Jehovah, yet that it is He who is spoken of as "The Redeemer," "The Salvation," "He that cometh from Edom," cannot be doubted by any one who believes that one Spirit speaks by all the prophets. Isaiah saw Him upon His throne (vi. 1), and now He appears to take the kingdom. "The Redeemer" — Goel — " shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob," — the purified remnant. "Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy Salvation cometh; behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him." And a part of His work is to redeem His own from their enemies. "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? . . . I have trodden the wine-press alone. ... I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury. . . . For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come." (lxiii.) Here, as everywhere in the prophets, a day of sore judgments upon the nations precedes the day of salvation. (Ps. ex. 5, 7; ii. 8, 9.) But not as an earthly warrior does He subdue His enemies. His battle shall be "with burning and fuel of fire." "Behold, the Lord will come with fire, ... to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire." But when He has punished His enemies, and purified His people, then shall the name of Jehovah be honored throughout all the earth. "And it shall come to pass that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord." (Chap. Ixvi.)
It was the prophet Daniel whose prophecies most influenced the popular mind, and gave more definite form to their Messianic conceptions. This prophet was the first who set forth the Messianic Kingdom in its temporal relations to the successive great kingdoms of the world. The earlier prophets had repeatedly spoken of the relations of the Jews to the smaller states around them, but by Daniel they were taught the place which the monarchy of the Messiah held in the series of the great world monarchies. Four should precede it, and it should constitute the fifth and last. It was symbolized under the figure of a stone which was cut out without hands, and which should become a great mountain, and fill the whole earth. The time of its appearance was in the last stage of the last monarchy, in the time of the feet and toes of the image, and of the little horn of the fourth wild beast, (ii. 44, vii. 8-11.)
In another vision was revealed to Daniel who the head of this last kingdom should be: "Behold, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed."
Although no explanation is given as to this Son of Man, yet no doubt existed in the Jewish mind that it was their expected Messiah. In the interpretation of the vision, the prophet was told that the ruling power of the fifth kingdom, or that of the stone, was the saints of the Most High. "The saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever." As the elect of God, a holy nation, to the Jews must this pre-eminence belong; the kingdom could, therefore, be only the Messianic Kingdom, and the Son of David the King. He possesses the kingdom, and they possess it with Him.
In two important particulars do these visions of Daniel— for into the more obscure words respecting the seventy weeks we need not here enter—give fresh light respecting the Divine purpose. First, that the Messianic Kingdom could not be established till the counsel of God respecting the four world monarchies had been accomplished j until that time the theocratic people must take a position of subjection. The establishment of the Messianic Kingdom could not, then, be at the return of the exiles from Babylon. They would not regain their independence, but must remain a subject people till the times of heathen dominion, " the times of the Gentiles," were fulfilled. Not till then could there be a restoration of the theocratic kingdom. Second, with their national deliverance was inseparably connected the coming of the Messiah; till He came they would be exposed to great oppression and affliction from the successive monarchies impressively set forth under the symbol of fierce wild beasts. This revelation respecting the future, its perils and sufferings, should have taught them how great their sins before Jehovah that He should thus give them up into the hands of such enemies; and also have greatly increased their longing for the coming King. In point of fact, however, it was perverted to increase their pride; for they now felt assured that in due time all their enemies would be overthrown, and universal dominion be given into their hands. Understanding this dominion in a fleshly way, the Messianic Kingdom lost in good measure its high and holy character, and became but one in the series of the world monarchies.
Yet, on the other hand, it is probable, that, among the more spiritually-minded of the Jews, the conception of the person of the Messiah was elevated through the vision of Daniel. He appears coming in great majesty with the clouds of heaven before the Ancient of Days; and they could not but ask, Is not this more than a descendant of David? Is He not a superhuman and heavenly Being? There is no proof that any thought of the Incarnation as taught in these visions; but they who meditated upon the words of the earlier prophets, could scarcely have failed to see that there was to be a revelation of the power and glory of Jehovah in the Messiah, such as had never been before; and that the place assigned Him and the honor given Him in Daniel could not be bestowed upon a frail and mortal man.