We are here interested in these books only so far as they cast light upon the Messianic belief of the Jews after the cessation of prophecy in the person of Malachi. They are of various kinds, — historical, prophetic, didactic, poetic, and fictitious. Probably most were composed during the Grecian and Maccabaean periods (332-105 B.C.), or a little later; but exact dates are not for us important.
It was impossible that there should not have been in the long period from Malachi to the birth of Christ (some four hundred years), some development of religious ideas among the people, both among those dwelling in Judaea, and those scattered in other lands. Many influences from without were acting upon them to modify their beliefs, both through their subjection to heathen masters, and the close intercourse into which they were brought with intelligent foreigners; and the repeated reading of the law and the prophets in the synagogues kept the fact of their Divine calling continually before them, and incited them to reflection upon the unfulfilled promises of God. Thus there were two processes going on in the popular mind, — the reception and assimilation of foreign ideas, and the doctrinal interpretation of their own scriptures; the latter being necessarily affected by the former, and by the historical progress of events. It is the interpretation only of their Messianic scriptures that here concerns us.
Turning to the Apocryphal books, we are at once struck with the fact, that of the three elements already spoken of as entering into the general Messianic conception,— the universal Kingdom under Jehovah, the place of the Jews in that kingdom as the ruling people, and the kingship of the Messiah, — there is frequent mention of the first two, but little or none of the last. All nations are to be subjected to Jehovah, and the Jews are to be restored to their own land, and to dwell in peace; but it is Jehovah, and not the Messiah, who reveals Himself in Jerusalem, and is Ruler and Judge. A brief examination of the Apocryphal books will clearly show this.
The Book of Sirach — Ecclesiasticus — speaks of the judgments to be inflicted on all nations, of the coming of Elijah, and of the gathering of all the tribes of Israel together to their own land. Mention is also made of the perpetuity of the Abrahamic covenant: "The days of Israel are without number." Earnest wishes are often expressed for deliverance from the sore evils of the times, both political and religious, and the hope of better days, (xxxvi. 12.) Although there is no mention of the personal Messiah, there is an allusion to the covenant with David as yet to be fulfilled in his descendants: "The Lord gave David a covenant respecting kings;" i.e., that his descendants should be kings, (xliv. 13, xlvii.)
The Book of Baruch expresses strong confidence, that as the nations around Zion had seen the captivity of the Jews, so they should shortly see their deliverance, which should come with great glory, (iv. 23.) The enemy that had persecuted Zion should be destroyed, and Jerusalem be exalted forever. "The enemy hath persecuted thee, and shortly thou shalt see his destruction, and shalt tread upon his neck." "Miserable is she that received thy sons, O Jerusalem; for as she rejoiced at thy fall, so shall she be grieved over her own desolation." "Lo, thy sons come, . . . they come gathered from the east to the west by the word of the Holy One, rejoicing in the remembrance of God. . . . For God bringeth them unto thee, exalted with glory as the throne of a kingdom." "Set on thy head, O Jerusalem, the diadem of the glory everlasting, for God will shew thy brightness to every country under heaven. Thy name shall be called of God for ever, Peace of righteousness, and Glory of the fear of God." (iv. 37, v. 2, etc.)
The Book of Tobit foretells that Jerusalem will be rebuilt in great splendor, as the prophets declared, that God's tabernacle will again be set up in it, and that many nations will come from afar bringing gifts: "God is our Father for ever. He will have mercy again, and will gather us out of all nations, wherever we have been scattered among them. Many nations shall come from afar to the name of the Lord God, having gifts in their hands. . . . Jerusalem shall be built up with sapphires and emeralds, . . . and all her streets shall say, Alleluia." "All the heathen shall turn and fear the Lord God truly, and shall bury their idols; and all the heathen shall praise the Lord, and the Lord shall exalt His people." (xiii., xiv.)
The Book of Judith proclaims war to the nations that rise up against Israel: "The Lord will punish them in the day of judgment, putting fire and worms into their flesh, and they shall wail with pain for ever." (xvi. 17.)
In the First Book of Maccabees, there is a reference to the covenant with David: "David through his piety possessed the throne of an everlasting kingdom." (ii. 57.) In the Second Book of Maccabees, there is mention of the restoration of Israel: "Plant thy people again in thy holy place, as Moses hath said." (i. 29.) "We hope truly in God that He will shortly have mercy upon us, and gather us together out of every land under heaven into the holy place." (ii. 17, 18.)
In the Wisdom of Solomon, probably of JewishEgyptian origin (B.C.), there is a passage wholly in the spirit of the prophets when describing the day of visitation and decision which ushers in the Messianic Kingdom: "The hope of the righteous is full of immortality, ... and in the time of their visitation they shall blaze forth, and run to and fro like sparks among the stubble. They shall judge nations, and have dominion over peoples, and their king shall be the Lord for ever. (iii. 2, etc.) "The righteous live for evermore; their reward, also, is in the Lord. . . . Therefore shall they receive the kingdom of glory, and a crown of beauty from the Lord's hand." (v. 15.)
Thus the Jews, as represented in these books, still had firm faith in their covenant standing, and believed that in time all would be gathered together in their land, and that God would dwell among them as their King, and all nations would worship Him, and honor them as His chosen people. But how is the silence respecting the Messiah to be understood? Some explain it as showing that these writers had no belief that He was to come, but the allusions to the Davidic covenant show that this inference is too large. This much may be admitted, that with the decay of the house of David, and in the absence of any one of that line to whom their eyes could turn, they looked directly to Jehovah as their deliverer and ruler. It was easier to believe in a general fulfillment of the theocratic promises by Him acting providentially, than in the fulfillment of the more special ones to David in the person of his Son. There was strong faith in a great national future, but this would be rather through a glorious revival of the Theocracy than through the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom under one of the house of David; as in our own day there is a general belief among Christians in the ultimate triumph of Christianity, but this rather through spiritual agencies now in operation than through the coming of the Lord from heaven. The burden of present distress led the Jews to hope for speedy deliverance, and to seek it through any present instruments raised up by Jehovah, — warriors and princes and priests, as those of the Hasmonean family, — rather than to wait patiently for the Davidic Messiah.
It is probable that during the wars of the Maccabees, there was a partial revival of faith in the promises of God to David respecting his Son, but it would seem that there was no expectation of His speedy coming. This is plain from the action of the people in regard to Simon Maccabseus: "The Jews and priests were well pleased that Simon should be their prince and high priest for ever, until there arise a trustworthy prophet." It is not probable that by this prophet the Messiah was meant, but rather one who, after the way of the old prophets, should declare the mind of God.
As belonging to this period, the beliefs of the Alexandrian Jews as represented by Philo, may be mentioned. Although much disposed to spiritualize the Old-Testament prophecies, yet he seems to have looked for the regathering of his people into their own land, and that the waste cities should be rebuilded. And he apparently looked for supernatural blessings, — that its inhabitants would all be long-lived, that snakes and scorpions would cease to be poisonous, and wild beasts lose their fierceness, and fruitful harvests never fail. The Jewish victories over the heathen would be chiefly moral, the captives subduing their conquerors through the truth, converting not destroying them; yet he hoped that God would send a king to lead their armies, and bring the disobedient and wicked into subjection. (Num. xxiv. 7.) Whether he meant by this king the Messiah is in dispute; and also whether he identified the Messiah with the Logos, and so made Him preexistent.
The Apocalyptic literature is generally regarded as having its origin in the Maccabsean struggle for freedom, and in the spirit of hope and expectation then enkindled. It is an attempt to bind together in a consistent whole, past and future, history and prophecy; and it is this which gives these writings their peculiar form. It is not easy to draw an exact line, so far as regards their general contents, between the Apocryphal and Apocalyptic books. But, as regards the Messiah, we may say that the Apocalyptic writers give Him much more prominence, and ascribe to Him a much more important part in the work of national redemption. As might have been expected, there were wide divergencies of belief as to details. We will briefly examine the most important of these books written before the time of Christ.
The Sibylline Oracles are of various authors and dates, but we are concerned with those only that are of Jewish origin, and pre-Christian. In these mention is made of a mighty king to be sent of God from heaven, who conquers all His enemies, gathers His people, rebuilds the temple, establishes upon earth universal peace, and makes the will of God to be everywhere obeyed. This king is of the family of David: heavy judgments will be inflicted on all the heathen nations, the object of which is not their destruction, but their conversion. There will then be but one temple; and Jehovah will manifest Himself gloriously in the holy city, and the kingdom be without end. There is no mention of the resurrection, but the earth will be melted and purified.
How far the Messianic parts of the several Books of Henoch may be cited as proofs of Jewish beliefs before Christ, is disputed; but the better authority assigns them a pre-Christian origin. The object of the book in general is, in opposition to Hellenic scepticism, to confirm the Jewish mind in the faith of the Old-Testament teaching respecting a future life, the promised Messiah and His kingdom, the resurrection and general judgment. The Messiah is thought of as pre-existent and supernatural. "Before the sun and the stars were created, His name was invoked in the presence of the Lord of spirits. . . . The elect and concealed one existed in His presence before the world was created, and for ever." "Then I beheld the Ancient of Days, . . . and with Him another whose countenance resembled that of man. . . . This is the Son of man to whom righteousness belongs. He shall punish kings and their dominions because they will not exalt and praise Him, nor humble themselves before Him. . . . All who dwell on earth shall fall down and worship before Him, and bring praise to the Lord of spirits. He is the judge of all concealed things, of all the works of the Holy One in heaven, of Satan and all his host. When He is revealed, there will be a resurrection; but of the righteous only. The earth will give up her dead, and hell — sheol — those in her. Then the earth will rejoice, the mountains skip as rams, the hills be as springs of water, and the righteous shall inherit it." This is the beginning of "the world to come," which endures forever.
Though the Messiah is spoken of as the judge of the earth and of all creatures, yet sometimes judgment is also ascribed to God. It is here, as often in the Old Testament, that judgment is now ascribed to Jehovah, and now to Messiah; the true thought to be expressed being that Jehovah is the ultimate source of all authority and judgment, but His authority is put forth through His chosen and Holy One.
In the "Psalms of Solomon " the writer confidently expects a king to be sent by God, of the house of David, and specially endowed by the Spirit, but not a supernatural being; and through Him all the promises made to the Jews will be fulfilled. He will gather together His people and purify Jerusalem, and no strangers will dwell in the land. The writer closely connects the theocracy of Jehovah and the rule of Messiah. The King is the Righteous One without sin, the "Anointed of the Lord." The nations are to be converted rather than destroyed, and will bring their gifts to Jerusalem. Mention is made of resurrection to life, but the inheritance of sinners is hell and darkness and destruction. That this kingdom is not thought of as eternal, but as temporal, may be inferred from the intimation that children will be born in that time to the holy people.
In the Book of Jubilees, said by some to be preChristian, but by most put later, it is declared that the Jews purified by God will again inherit their land, and rule over the nations forever. The lives of men will be prolonged even to a thousand years. Mention is made of the day of judgment, in which Jehovah will punish with sword and fire, but no mention is made of the Messiah or of the resurrection of the dead.
The Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra being admitted to be after Christ, and probably later than the destruction of Jerusalem, are not of importance to us. Both regard the Messianic Kingdom as limited in time. Ezra says, it endures for four hundred years, and the Messiah then dies; and after it are the judgment and resurrection, both by Jehovah. Baruch seems to believe in a twofold form of the Messianic Kingdom: the first is of "this world;" and a second then begins, which is identical with "the world to come," and endures forever. At the end of the earthly kingdom is a general resurrection. All are raised in earthly bodies; and after judgment these are changed, some to glory, and some to shame; then the righteous behold the invisible world, and are made higher than the angels. During the first form of the kingdom Israel will be saved, and all nations be subject to the Messiah.
There are certain points in which there is entire agreement in all these books, Apocryphal and Apocalyptic. All believe that the Jews are God's chosen people; that they will return to their land; that the temple will be rebuilt, and worship restored; that all nations will acknowledge Jehovah, and keep His law; and, though not always affirmed, that one of the house of David will reign over them. But there was disagreement as to the person of the Messiah and His work. Some affirm that He will be man only, and mortal, not working any miracles, but a wise and able ruler; that His kingdom is of limited duration, and preparatory in its nature, and is to be followed by resurrection and judgment, and the eternal Kingdom of Jehovah. Others, holding, like the former, the Messiah to be mere man, ascribe to Him a more important part in the redemption of the people, and a higher place to the Messianic Kingdom. He is largely endowed with the Spirit of God, He authenticates Himself by miracles, He conquers His enemies through supernatural judgments upon them; but His kingdom is of limited duration, and is followed by "the world to come," or Jehovah's eternal Kingdom. Others still, mating Him to be more than man, the Son of God pre-existent and heavenly, give to Him the chief place in the work of national redemption. The administration of the kingdom is supernatural. He gathers the scattered nation, He raises the faithful dead, the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven, He judges the nations, casting the evil into Gehenna, all the nations love and honor Him, and His kingdom is without any assignable end.
It is in the first of these classes that the Apocryphal books may for the most part be placed. Their general spirit we may characterize as rationalistic. The Messianic prophecies are divested in great degree of their supernatural character: the Messiah is a man probably of David's house, God's instrument in their national restoration, as David was in the establishment of the kingdom. But his place is subordinate. It is Jehovah who will gather Israel out from among the nations, who will judge them and the heathen, and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. And after the kingdom has thus been set up, the Son of David appears to reign ; but His authority is very limited. His work is of chief importance as preparatory to that of Jehovah which is to follow. The Messianic Kingdom is a part of the present world, and serves to introduce the world to come; the resurrection and judgment follow it, not precede it. Thus the Messiah's kingdom is only a reproduction of the Davidic in an enlarged and higher form.
The conception of the Messiah in the Apocryphal books is also colored by the place given to the law at this period, and by the prevalent notions of legal righteousness. The Law He may not change, nor alter any of the original theocratic institutions, but will restore them, and Himself be subject to them. As a diligent student of the law, a truly righteous man, His prayers for the people will be acceptable to God. It is thus only that He can make an atonement for them, obtaining grace from God through the merits of His perfect obedience. Through His prayers the sins of the people will be forgiven them. Thus He becomes their Saviour, obtaining the remission of their sins through His own personal righteousness, and not through any expiatory sacrifice. Being Himself a righteous man after the law, He teaches the people to obey it; and this law continues in force during the Messianic Kingdom.
But there were others who saw in the Messiah a supernatural being, and in His kingdom the beginning of a new and heavenly order, an order not of this world, but to be identified with the world to come. Therefore they thought of the resurrection and judgment to be by Him at His coming, and that He would abide forever. There is in the Apocalyptic books much diversity in the details, but we may say in general that they present a view of the Messiah and His kingdom much more conformable to the utterances of the prophets than that presented in the Apocryphal.
It is evident that the Jews as a people, during the centuries immediately before Christ, looked backward to the restoration of the theocratic rule of Jehovah, as the thing to be chiefly looked for, rather than forward to the Messianic Kingdom. Their sore punishment in the Babylonian captivity, and their oppression under the Persians and the Greeks, had made them realize in a higher degree than ever before that the rule of Jehovah over them was a reality; and the experience of His power and just severity awakened in their breasts a salutary fear of His judgments. They saw that to put the gods of other nations in comparison with Him, and to worship them, was an offence that He would not pardon. He was God alone. To this was also added a higher conception of His character through contrast with the heathen deities. Thus they became more and more strict monotheists, and His law demanded their exact obedience. This exaltation of Jehovah naturally brought with it the exaltation of His rule as distinguished from that of the Messiah.