Job through Malachi
PROLOGUE 1-2 DIALOGUE 3-42:6 EPILOGUE 42:7-16
JOB: OPENING LAMENTATION 3
Job-His Piety in Eliphaz vs. Job 4-7 Job-His Proven Integrity
Prosperity 1:1-5 Bildad vs. Job 8-10 42:7
Satan-His Lie and Zophar vs. Job 11-14 Friends-Their Rebuked
Malignity 1:6-19 Perversity 42:8
Job-His Piety in Eliphaz vs. Job 15-17 Job-His Ended Captivity
Adversity 1:20-22 Bildad vs. Job 18-19 42:10
Satan-His Further Zophar vs. Job 20-21 Family-Their Restored
Malignity 2:1-8 Society 42:11
Job-His Piety in Eliphaz vs. Job 22-24 Job-His Final Prosperity
Extremity 2:9-13 Bildad vs. Job 25-31 42:12-17
Elihu vs. Job 32-37
GOD: CLOSING INTERVENTION 38-41
We cannot understand the meaning of many trials, God does not explain them. To explain a trial would be to destroy its object, which is that of calling forth simple faith and implicit obedience. If we knew why the Lord sent us this or that trial, it would thereby cease to be a trial either of faith or of patience. The subject here is that ever-present problem - the mystery of suffering, but especially as concerns the godly. The special object of the book is to show that there is a benevolent Divine purpose running through the sufferings of the godly, and that life's bitterest enigmas are reconcilable with this benevolent Divine purpose, did we but know all the facts. Job did NOT know. Between the prologue, which shows how Job's trial ORIGINATED in the counsels of heaven, and the epilogue, which shows how Job's trial EVENTUATED in enrichment and blessing, we have a group of patriarchal wiseacres theorizing and dogmatising from incomplete premises and deficient data. They knew nothing about the counsels of heaven which had preceded Job's trial; and they knew nothing about the coming epilogue of compensation. We are meant to see that there WAS an explanation, even though Job and his friends did not know it, so that when baffling affliction comes to ourselves we may believe that the same holds good in our case. The fact is, Job was NOT MEANT to know the explanation of his trial. If Job HAD known, there would have been no place for faith; and the man could never have come forth as gold purified in the fire.
The Scriptures are as wise in their RESERVATIONS as they are in their REVELATIONS. Enough is revealed to make faith intelligent. Enough is reserved to give faith scope for development. The purpose of the book is to show that the final solution is as yet withheld, and that an interim solution is provided, namely, that suffering fulfills a Divine purpose and exercises a gracious ministry in the godly. Behind all the suffering of the godly is a high purpose of God, and beyond it all is an afterwards of glorious enrichment. Such suffering, as we learn from this Book of Job, is not judicial, but remedial; not retributive, but disciplinary; not a penalty, but a ministry.
The central message of Job, may be expressed as: "BLESSING THROUGH SUFFERING." Through bitter calamity comes blessed discovery. "Self" is slain and God is known through trial. The book is a grand illustration of Paul's words, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil.3:8).
There is an alternating movement in the prologue between Job and Satan. Is not Satan represented as having access to God, as "the accuser of the brethren," in Revelation 12:10? And do we not see Satan standing in the Lord's presence to accuse Joshua, in Zechariah 3:1-2? Also note our Lord's word to Simon Peter in Luke 22:31, "Simon, Simon, behold, SATAN HAS OBTAINED YOU, by asking that he might sift you as wheat. But I HAVE PRAYED FOR YOU that your faith may not fail." Both verbs - Satan's having obtained, and Christ's having prayed - are in the Greek tense which indicates an act already past, as though Christ Himself had taken part in some such transaction as those described in Job and Zechariah, and had prevailed against the Accuser and Tempter.
We see that SATAN IS ACCOUNTABLE TO GOD. These "sons of God" come to present themselves before Jehovah, not to participate in the governmental deliberations of the Divine mind, but to render account, as servants of the Crown, concerning their respective ministrations. Satan must also give account. The point here is not that Satan has the privilege of access, but that he is compelled to come. To be brought thus and exposed before the white fire of that awful throne, what intense torture to that naked, malignant spirit.
Second, we see that EVEN THE DARK MIND OF SATAN IS AN OPEN BOOK TO GOD.
"Have you considered My servant Job...?" This was not a provocation or
incitement to Satan. No, God knew what was already there in that
evil-designing mind, just as He knew all Satan's goings to and fro
before ever He asked, "From where do you come?" The questions are asked,
not because God does not know, but to compel confession on the part of
Satan. More literally translated, God's question is, "Have you set your
heart on (or against) My servant Job because there is none like him...?"
Satan's reply immediately revealed that he had, and that he believed his
lack of success was because God had hedged Job in too perfectly.
Third, we see from this passage that SATAN IS BEHIND THE EVILS THAT CURSE THE EARTH. In reply to the question, "From where do you come?" he says, "From going to and fro in the earth..." This indicates his restless and unintermittent activity. The ban of Cain is upon him, that of vagabond restlessness. This perpetual motion of unrest is ever the mark of the evil, banished from God. But besides restlessness, there is perpetual purpose of evil in Satan's peregrinations.
Fourth, we see from Satan's words and doings in this prologue that THE EVIL ONE IS NEITHER OMNIPRESENT NOR OMNISCIENT. He is a created and therefore local being. God can see into all our minds; but Satan cannot. He cannot read my mind, much less force access, unless I let him.
Fifth, we note that SATAN CAN DO NOTHING WITHOUT THE DIVINE PERMISSION.
Sixth, that IN EVERY SUCH PERMISSION THERE IS A DEFINITE LIMITATION (1:12, 2:6). See I Corinthians 10:13 for the classic New Testament pronouncement on this.
Finally, GOD'S EYES ARE EVER ON HIS OWN PEOPLE, AND ESPECIALLY IN TIMES OF TRIAL. In the very question, "Have you considered My servant Job?" indicates that God also had Job in His thoughts. Note how the Lord particularizes Job by name, dilates on his godly character, commends his piety, and evinces special regard for him by calling him "My servant."
AN ALTERNATIVE THEORY:
Some believe that the "sons of God" who come to "present themselves before Jehovah" in Job 1:6 and 2:1 were not angels, but the godly men of that time. It is argued that the coming of these "sons of God" before Jehovah was the gathering of godly patriarchs to the place of Divine manifestation, for the purpose of worship.
The central problem is: Why does Job suffer? His three friends come from afar to comfort Job (2:11-13), but their condoling turns to condemning, and Job's suffering is thereby aggravated to a point of almost unendurable poignancy. Eliphaz rests his philosophy of life on EXPERIENCE. His argument is that JOB SUFFERS BECAUSE HE HAS SINNED (5:17). In Bildad we have the voice of TRADITION, and he argues that JOB IS A HYPOCRITE (8:6). Job never claimed to be without sin, but only that his sins had not been such as to account for his trouble. Zophar is less courteous and more tenacious than the previous two. He is content with mere ASSUMPTION, without reason. He argues that Job is suffering the portion of "A WICKED MAN" (11:6). There is no semblance of Eliphaz's "I have seen," or of Bildad's "Inquire, I pray thee, of the former age"; Zophar's word is a dogmatic "Know thou." Eliphaz is the religious MORALIST (APOLOGIST), Bildad the religious LEGALIST (LECTURER), and Zophar the religious DOGMATIST (BIGOT). In a rough sort of way, we have in Eliphaz the voice of philosophy, in Bildad the voice of history, and in Zophar the voice of orthodoxy.
is able to give a satisfying answer to a problem like Job's.
Take now the points of similarity. (1) All these men have the same fixed theory of life, that calamity is always the direct outcome of sin, and that the Divine favor or disfavor is seen in a man's material prosperity or adversity. (2) They all have too narrow a view of Providence; yet are so sure they are right that they look on resistance to it as resistance to God. (3) They all want to prove that goodness and evil are always rewarded IN THIS PRESENT LIFE; they are silent concerning human destiny and Divine retribution in the life beyond. (4) They are all absolutely static, that is, there is no advance at all in their argument except in the expression of their views. (5) They all fail to give any convincing answer to Job. (6) They all condemn Job; for on their philosophy, they must either justify Job at God's expense or justify God at Job's; and understandably, they chose that latter. Thus the discussion exhausts itself in a sheer deadlock. The orthodox formula of the trio on the one hand, and Job's experience on the other, were simply irreconcilable. Job knew that although he was a sinner, as all men are sinners, he had been conscientiously upright according to the light given to him, and that he was utterly sincere in his protestation to his friends. He felt no creed could be true or adequate if it contradicts that which is deepest and truest and most native in our human constitution.
A NEW VOICE - ELIHU:
The last verse of chapter 31 marks a major break - "The words of Job are ended." Elihu's is the most courteous speech of the debate, and undoubtedly surpasses all the preceding speeches in spiritual grasp. In relation to the problem under discussion he introduces a new APPROACH, a new ANSWER, and a new APPEAL. Elihu claims a special inspiration from God, yet can take Job's part also as being part of the same clay. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar had wished to be JUDGES; whereas Elihu would be a BROTHER. He would seek to sit with Job in the fellowship of human sympathy, yet at the same time speak the real truth from God's side. What Job had lacked was an interpreter; and it seems clear that Elihu considers himself the required interpreter. Elihu sees a different and superior purpose in suffering from that of the other three have seen.
Job's suffering is EDUCATIONAL. Suffering is not exclusively punitive, it is also CORRECTIVE; it is not only judicial, but REMEDIAL. It does not only come to requite a man, it comes to RESTORE a man. It is not only the Judge's rod, it is the shepherd's goad. Through suffering man is restrained and refined and restored. Elihu proposes that God is trying to teach Job something, and the suffering is being prolonged by Job's resentful unsubmissiveness (33:33). That is why, he argues, the Divine judgment still afflicts him (35:17). And Elihu warns Job that his affliction may even lead to death if there is no change of mind (35:18-21).
Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar had kept harping on some supposed wicked behavior IN THE PAST. Elihu is concerned with the wrong attitude IN THE PRESENT. Job's suffering may not be for past sin at all. His suffering is more probably a chastening with some ultimately good purpose, but Job is thwarting his own good by his impossible attitude. Elihu's appeal is for a teachable HUMILITY on Job's part (35:12), and for submissive PATIENCE. All God's judgments proceed from his absolute understanding (34:21-23). He also appeals to Job to have FAITH IN GOD HIMSELF rather than some demanded explanation. He charges Job, not with suffering because of sinning (as the other three speakers have said), but with sinning because of his suffering!
THE VOICE FROM THE WHIRLWIND:
The 5 men are now struck dumb with awe at this voice. Yet there is not even the slightest move to explain Job's suffering or to dissolve the problem of providence provoked by it! The Divine purpose is to humble Job, not to mock him or even humiliate him. Job would both sense the underlying irony of the speech and see the general purpose of it, just as we ourselves do. By simply exposing Job's profound ignorance of God's NATURAL government it shows his utter incapacity to pass judgment on that which is far more incomprehensible and mysterious, God's MORAL government. Job was NOT MEANT to know the explanation of his sufferings. There would have been no real test of character. Nor would there have been any place for the genuine exercise and education of faith. By means of the prologue we ourselves are SHOWN the explanation of Job's sufferings before ever they began, so that when the explanation is WITHHELD from Job we may appreciate at once that an explanation could have been given, easily enough, if God had so willed.
It also indicates the Divine CONCERN in Job's affairs. Although that aerial voice from the cyclone did not vouchsafe an explanation, it evidenced that God had been watching, hearing, caring. What tumult of emotion and rush of regret that he had allowed Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar to aggravate him into saying rash things about the unconcern of God! The Divine purpose is to bring Job to the point where he rests in GOD HIMSELF, apart from explanations. If only Job can be brought there, where he trusts God as being absolutely righteous and benevolent over all unexplained adversities, then Satan's slanderous libel (in the prologue) is proved false, and the devil is defeated. Job DOES get there, as chapter 42 shows, and we are meant to get there too. This is not mere blind faith. We have the completed Scripture revelation, throwing much light on the mystery of human sin and suffering. Most wonderful of all, God has shown us, in Christ, how He Himself suffers WITH us. Clearly, the Divine purpose is to bring Job to THE END OF HIMSELF - to the end of his own self - righteousness, self-vindication, self-wisdom, self-everything, so that he may find his all in God. Job is coming to see God in a new way, and he is coming to see himself in a new way too.
Job is vindicated and rewarded. It may not come in this present life-time, as Job's did, but come it surely will. The next thing that catches the eye is the Divine rebuke of Job's three "comforters." God's wrath is kindled against them. Why? Because they have more nearly wrecked Job's soul than even the devil himself. See how for the godly sufferer "Paradise Lost" becomes "Paradise Regained." See the 3 main features of the epilogue - transformation, vindication, restoration. First, there is the transformation of Job
as regards his own character, for he comes forth as "gold tried in the fire." Second, there is the vindication of Job before his friends, for God calls him "My servant" and makes him a priest to them. Third, there is the restoration to Job of all his former prosperity, and indeed far more. Yes the "end of the Lord" is very gracious (Js.5:11).
Behind it all, there is a mystical parable of the human race as such. The Job of that prologue and the Satan of malicious design, do they speak of Eden and what man was at first? The suffering Job of the potsherd and the ashes, does he speak to us of humanity as it is at present? The purified and reinstated Job of the epilogue, does he speak of the humanity that is yet to be?
BOOK I - MAINLY DAVIDIC; SUGGESTS GENESIS
BOOK II - MAINLY DAVIDIC; SUGGESTS EXODUS
BOOK III - MAINLY ASAPHIAN; SUGGESTS LEVITICUS
BOOK IV - MAINLY ANONYMOUS; SUGGESTS NUMBERS
BOOK V - DAVIDIC/ANONYMOUS; SUGGESTS DEUTERONOMY
This Book of Psalms is a limpid lake which reflects every mood of man's changeful sky. It is a river of consolation which, though swollen with many tears, never fails to gladden the fainting. It is a garden of flowers which never lose their fragrance, though some of the roses have sharp thorns. It is a stringed instrument which registers every note of praise and prayer, of triumph and trouble, of gladness and sadness, of hope and fear, and unites them all in the full multi-chord of human experience. The first great value of this Book of Psalms is that it provides for our emotions and feelings the same kind of guidance as the other Scriptures provide for our faith and actions. To all the godly these Psalms are an unmatched treasury of devotion, of comfort, of sympathy, and of gladdening reassurance. They are the sighings of men of like passions with ourselves; yet the very breath of heaven is in them. The word "psalm" means "a poem to be sung to a stringed instrument." Fifty-five of them are addressed to "the chief musician" that is the choir leader of the Hebrew worship. The usual Hebrew name for the book is "Tehillim," which means "Praises." Another Hebrew title is "Tephiloth," that is "Prayers."
The Book of Psalms is obviously a collection. The supersciptions in the Hebrew text ascribe 73 of them to David, 12 of them to Asaph, who was one of the heads of David's choir at Jerusalem (I & 2 Chr); 12 to the sons of Korah; 1 to Heman the Ezrahite; 1 to Ethan the Ezrahite; and 1 to Moses. This makes a total of exactly 100. The other 50 are left anonymous. They are in five groups, the end of each group being marked by a special ascription of praise to God. The first group, corresponds with Genesis and has much to say about MAN. The second group, like Exodus has much to say about DELIVERANCE. The third, like Leviticus, has its emphasis in the Asaph psalms, upon the SANCTUARY. The fourth group, corresponding with Numbers, and beginning with Psalm 90, the prayer of Moses, stresses the time when unrest and wandering will cease in the coming worldwide kingdom when the nations shall bow to God's King. The fifth group, corresponding with Deuteronomy, has much of thanksgiving for the Divine faithfulness, and lays much emphasis upon the word of the Lord, as for instance, in the longest of all the psalms, which has for its theme the written word of the Lord.
The central spiritual message of this Book of Psalms may be said to be PRAISE THROUGH PRAYER. Again and again, in individual psalms, we see how sighing is turned into singing through prayer; while if we take the book as a whole, we see this idea moving forward ever more definitely until the whole book is wound up in the five "Hallelujah" psalms with which it closes, each of which begins and ends with the exclamation "PRAISE YE THE LORD!"
PSALM INSCRIPTIONS: Of the 150 psalms that make up the book, only 34 are without any title whatever.
Psalms without inscription . . . . . . . . . . 34
Psalms with author inscriptions . . . . . . . 52
Psalms with historical inscriptions . . . . . . 14
Psalms with inscriptions denoting purpose . . 4
Psalms entitled "Songs of Degrees" . . . . . 15
Psalms with special-word inscriptions . . . 39
(less 8 which also have historical inscriptions)
The psalm inscriptions preceding many of the psalms have been a long-time puzzle. To resolve this one must notice that in most cases the inscription is really two. The first part of the title must be treated as the SUB-scription of the psalm which goes before; and the remaining words, such as "A Psalm of David," will remain as the SUPER-scription of the psalm which follows. This pattern is seen elsewhere in the Word (Is.38:9-20; Hab.3:1-19).
There are also special-word titles. Take the two words, SHOSHANNIM and GITTITH. The former means "lilies" and the latter means "wine-presses." The lilies speak of Springtime; and the wine-presses speak of Autumn; for the universal symbol for Spring is FLOWERS, and that of the Autumn is FRUIT. Now the first of the Jewish annual sacred feasts was the Passover which came in the Spring; while the last was the feast of Tabernacles, which came in the Autumn; and these psalms which bear the SHOSHANNIM and GITTITH sub-scripts are meant to be associated respectively with these two feasts. The Passover feast commemorated REDEMPTION and DELIVERANCE. The feast of Tabernacles commemorated the Divine PRESERVATION of Israel, when after the deliverance, God "made the children of Israel to dwell safely in booths."
Take the expression MUTH-LABBEN or MUTH-LABBEYN which means "death to the one coming between." Goliath is actually called the "man between the two hosts" (I Sam.17:4, 23). Read Psalm 8 again now in the light of this sub-script, and see in it the celebration of David's great victory over Goliath.
Words Meanings & Location
Aiieleth-Shahar The hind of the morning (the day dawn) Ps.21
Alamot The singing maidens (maidens choir) Ps.45
Al-Tashchith Destroy not 56-58,74
Gittith Winepresses 7,80,83
Jeduthun Praise-giver (a director of worship) 38,61,76
Jonath-Elem-Rec. The dove of the distant woods (David) Ps.55
M'choloth The great dancing Ps.52
Mahalath-Leannoth Dancings with shoutings Ps.87
Maschi Instruction, understanding Misc.(13)
Michtam Engraved (signifying permanence) 16,56-60
Muth-Labbeyn Death of the champion Ps.8
Neginoth Inheritances Ps.4
Sheminith 8th group in bringing back the Ark Ps.5,11
Shiggaion A crying aloud (grief or joy) Ps.7 title
Shoshannim Lilies 44,68
Shoshannim-Eduth Lilies of testimony 59,79
GROUPS OF PSALMS:Let's first look at the group of 15 psalms known as the "Songs of Degrees" (Ps.120-134). It should more literally read "A Song of THE Degrees." This suggests that certain well-known degrees are alluded to. These were the degrees on the great sun-dial of King Ahaz, at Jerusalem. It was on this sun-dial, in the reign of Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, that the shadow went back "ten" degrees as a sign that fifteen years were to be added to Hezekiah's life (II K.20:8-11). Hezekiah makes reference to a set of songs in Isaiah 38:9, 20 which he calls "my songs". It seems almost certain that they were the "Songs of Degrees." Note that the number of the songs is FIFTEEN, the same number of years added to Hezekiah's life. The shadow went back TEN degrees on the sun-dial; and TEN of the "Songs of Degrees" are left anonymous, while the remaining five are attributed to David and Solomon. Quite possibly the "songs" were known quite well to be Hezekiah's, that the putting of his name with them was deemed to be unnecessary. He himself spoke of them as "MY songs" as though even then, they were already well known. They were carefully arranged into their present order. There are five groups of three psalms each. In each group two are by Hezekiah, and one by David or Solomon. In each trio the first psalm is one of TROUBLE; the second, one of TRUST; and third, one of TRIUMPH. And finally, notice the correspondence between their contents and the historical account.
THE MESSIANIC PSALMS:
Besides having a real reference to the time in which they were written, they have their ultimate explanation and fulfillment in Christ. Three themes are covered by these psalms (1) the humiliation and exaltation of the Messiah; (2) the sorrows and eventual deliverance of Israel; (3) the future blessing of all the nations through Israel's reigning Messiah. The principal Messianic psalms are 2, 8, 16, 22, 23, 24, 40, 41, 45, 68, 69, 72, 87, 89, 102, 110, 118.
Take psalm 22 for instance. It opens with the very words which our Lord used in the 4th of His 7 utterances from the cross - "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Through the human writer the pre-incarnate Christ speaks as though He were already on the cross. He speaks of Himself as "despised" and "scorned" and taunted by the words, "He trusted on the Lord that He would deliver Him: let Him deliver Him, seeing He delighted in Him." The psalm goes on, "The assembly of the wicked have enclosed Me; they pierced My hands and My feet. I may tell all My bones; they (the wicked) look and stare upon Me. They part My garments among them, and cast lots upon My vesture." When we remember that these words were written hundreds of years before our Lord's incarnation, and that death by crucifixion was then a thing unknown (being introduced by the Romans), we cannot but wonder at the psalmist's language here, about the piercing of the hands and feet.
There are the HALLELUJAH psalms, of which there are ten - 106, 111, 112, 113, 135, and 146-150. The special characteristic of these is that each of them begins with the expression "Hallelu-Jah," and all but two of them also END with "Hallelu-Jah."
Then there are the PENITENTIAL psalms. These are 7 in number - 6, 32, 38, 39, 51, 102, 143. There are other smaller groups which go together because of their COMPLIMENTARINESS. Take psalms 22, 23 and 24 - these make a trinity of unity. These 3 psalms correspond with the three outstanding New Testament references to our Lord's "shepherd" work. In John 10, He is the "Good" Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep - as in psalm 22. In Hebrews 13:20-21, He is the "Great" Shepherd, who being brought again from the dead, perfects that which concerns His flock - as in psalm 23. In I Peter 5:4, He is the "Chief" Shepherd, who is to appear in glory, bringing crowns of reward - going with psalm 24.
Take psalms 46, 47 and 48. These three psalms are a striking triple foreview of the Messianic reign which is yet to be. In psalm 46 we have the COMING of the kingdom - through great tribulation. In psalm 47 we have the RANGE of the kingdom - even all the earth. In psalm 48 we have the CENTER of the kingdom - even Zion, the city of our God.
THE IMPRECATORY PSALMS:
These are psalms which express vehement anger and imprecation against enemies and evil-doers - Ps.35, 58, 59, 69, 83, 109, 137. The lesser passages are: 5:10; 6:10; 28:4; 31:17-18; 40:14-15; 41:10; 55:9,15; 70:2-3; 71:13; 79:6,12; 129:5-8; 140:9-10; 141:10; 149:7-9.
These are not peculiar to the old dispensation. In psalm 5:10 David says, "Destroy them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels. Cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions, for they have rebelled against Thee." The imprecation here is against rebellious transgressors; and it is against them solely BECAUSE they are such. They are the words of a man who has identified himself with God against sin, and who hates sin because God hates it. It is the attitude crystallized in Ps.139 - "Do not I hate them. O Lord, that hate Thee? And am not I grieved with those that rise up against Thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them my enemies." The psalmist's motive has nothing to do with jealousy, spite or ambition. Another fact to note is that 16 out of the 21 instances of imprecation are from David, who was a theocratic king. Unlike Saul, he never set himself above the Law or tried to pervert it to his own use. As a theocratic king, he was anointed by God, he ruled FOR God, and that he was directly RESPONSIBLE TO God. These Davidic imprecations are uttered from the standpoint of public justice and not private vengeance. As for the 5 imprecatory passages which are not Davidic, these are in each case NATIONAL and not personal - Ps.83; 137; 79:6,12; 129:5-8; 149:7-9.
Why didn't the psalmist show a spirit of kindness to those who were maltreating him? The answer is that he ALREADY HAD, and it had been abused. Here and there in these psalms we come across such words as, "They rewarded me evil for good"; "I restored that which I took not away"; "They have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love."
The imprecatory psalms are sound in their MOTIVE, in their STANDPOINT, in their SPIRIT. They express a constitutional moral sense of human nature, and not an individual desire for revenge. There is also a supernatural predictive element in them which seals their genuine inspiration.
Notice the 23rd psalm. The opening words, "I shall not want" are the key to the whole.
He makes me lie down in green pastures - not lack PROVISION
He leads me beside the still waters - not lack PEACE
He restores my soul - not lack RESTORATION
He leads me in paths of righteousness - not lack GUIDANCE
Through the valley, I shall not fear - not lack COURAGE
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me - not lack COMFORT
Thou preparest a table for me ... - not lack PROTECTION
These correspond to the 7 Jehovistic titles in the Old Testament:
Jehovah-jireh = The Lord will provide
Jehovah-rapha = The Lord that healeth
Jehovah-shalom = The Lord our peace
Jehovah-tsidkenu = The Lord our righteousness
Jehovah-shammah = The Lord ever-present
Jehovah-nissi = The Lord our banner
Jehovah-raah = The Lord my shepherd
Notice psalm 45 "A Royal Marriage Hymn." Its title is "A Song of Loves" and is the Scripture key to the Song of Solomon.
v.1 A preface
v.2 The beauty of His person
v.3-5 The valor of His conquests
v.6 The stability of His kingdom
v.7-9 The gladness of His marriage
v.10-11 An appeal for complete devotion
v.12 A promise of high honor
v.13-15 A eulogy of the bride's charms
v.16-17 A pledge of unceasing Divine favor
Notice psalm 90 "The Prayer of Moses, the man of God."
1-6 The Divine Sovereignty and human history
7-11 The Divine Severity and human iniquity
12-17 The human appeal for compassion and favor
Take psalm 19; it is a psalm of Science and Religion. Here the two are shown to be fundamentally one. The first 14 lines are devoted to the revelation of God in the WORKS OF NATURE. The next 14 lines are devoted to the revelation of God in the WORDS OF SCRIPTURE. Then after these equally balanced parts, the psalm closes with a prayer:
"Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be
acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."
In part I the psalmist's name for God is EL, "The Mighty One." In part 2
he changes to the name JEHOVAH, which is distinctively the redemption
name of Deity. This name Jehovah is used 7 times in the latter part of
the psalm, but the name El not once. The name of God in science is El or
Elohim. The name of God in the realm of religion is Jehovah. The God of
science and the God of religion are one and the same - the only true
God, who is both the God of creation and the God of redemption.
There are 8 acrostic psalms - 9, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145.
BOOK I. SONNETS EXTOLLING WISDOM (1-9)
BOOK II. MAXIMS ENJOINING PRUDENCE (10-24)
BOOK III. MORE MAXIMS ON PRUDENCE (24-31)
15 SONNETS. Introduction (1:1-9); Enticements of Sinners (1:10-19)
Wisdom the Deliverer (2:1-22); The Reward of Piety (3:1-10);
Wisdom the Supreme Prize (3:11-20); Wisdom and Security (3:21-6)
Wisdom and Perversity (3:27-35); Tradition and Wisdom (4:1-9);
The Two Paths (4:10-19); Wisdom and Health (4:20-27);
The Strange Woman (5:1-23); Suretyship (6:1-5); The Sluggard
(6:6-11); The Discord Sower (6:12-19); Adultery (6:20-35);
House of Wisdom vs. that of Folly (9)
2 MONOLOGUES. Wisdom's Warning (1:20-33); Wisdom and the Strange
375 PROVERBS in the form of contrastive, completive or
comparative couplets (10:1-22:16)
16 EPIGRAMS. Introduction (22:17-21); Mixed Epigrams (22:22-29);
Awe before Appetite (23:1-3); Fleetingness of Riches (23:4-5);
Evil Hospitality (23:6-8); Mixed Epigrams (23:9-18); Gluttony
(23:19-21); Three Sayings (23:22-25); Whoredom (23:26-28);
Wine and Woe (23:29-35); Mixed Epigrams (24:1-10); Duty of
Rescue (24:11-12); Wisdom and Honey (24:13-14); Four Epigrams
(24:15-22); Respect of Persons (24:23-25); Three Sayings
(24:26-29); The Field of the Slothful (24:30-34).
7 EPIGRAMS. The King (25:1-7); Various (25:8-26:2); On Fools
(26:3-12); The Sluggard (26:13-16); Social Pests (26:17-26);
Various (26:27-27:22); Good Husbandry (27:23-27).
55 PROVERBS (28-29)
The Thirteen Sayings of Agur (30)
The Oracle of Lemuel's Mother (31:1-9)
An Acrostic on the Virtuous Woman (31:10-31)
Our Bible is both a book and a library. It is a book inasmuch as it is a diversity in unity, all of its 66 parts combining to make one progressive whole. It is a library in the sense that it is a unity in diversity, with its different groups of books given up to the principal different branches of knowledge. In it we have history and politics and poetry and prophecy and devotional literature and philosophy. To struggle through hundreds of the profoundest and most erudite of other books, and yet remain ignorant of THIS book, is infinite deprivation; whereas to know no other volume but this is to be made wise unto salvation, and to be furnished with a knowledge of fundamental realities which comes to us stamped with Divine certainty.
We note right away that the Proverbs are meant to be to our PRACTICAL life what the psalms are to our devotional life. Here are pointed precepts for practical prudence. Here are laws from heaven for life on earth. Here are the words of the wise on the ways of the world. We may put it that the general message of this Book of Proverbs is PRUDENCE THROUGH PRECEPTS.
The English word "proverb" means a brief saying in the place of many words. The Hebrew word "mishle" however has a much wider meaning, and is used of many discourses, sentences, and expressions which would not be classified as a proverb in the English sense. The genius of the proverb lies in its shrewd conception of a truth or of some sagacious counsel in a terse and striking way, so that it catches on, and becomes easier to remember than to forget.
Learn to appreciate the main features of proverb structure. Most common is the CONTRASTIVE proverb, which catches the mind and emphasizes a truth by the compact presentation of some striking contrast. Almost invariably "but" starts the second line.
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine;
But a broken spirit drieth the bones.
Then there are many proverbs of the COMPLETIVE type, in which the second line of the proverb agrees with the first and adds to it, or carries the thought of it to some further point. These may usually be known by the "and" which leads the second line.
Commit thy ways unto the Lord;
And thy thoughts shall be established.
Then again, there are those proverbs which are COMPARATIVE in their structure; and not infrequently they may be at once known by the "than" which leads the second line.
Better is a little with righteousness,
Than great revenues without right.
Running through the practical philosophy of the proverbs is a keen aliveness to the perpetual struggle which goes on between good and evil for the upper hand in mens’ lives. It is because of this that the proverbs retain a vivid up-to-dateness even though much of their language relates to a simple state of society far removed from our modern western world. These chapters of proverbs are not meant to be read in the way one reads narrative chapters. They are meant to be read lingeringly, ponderingly, and memorizingly.
Take the last chapter, with its acrostic on the "virtuous woman." It consists of 22 couplets, each beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, so that the 22 run right through the alphabet in proper order.
MRS. "FAR ABOVE RUBIES"
SHE IS A GOOD WOMAN
She works diligently - She worketh willingly with her hands
She contrives prudently - She considereth ... and buyeth
She behaves uprightly - Strength and honor are her clothing
SHE IS A GOOD WIFE
She seeks husband's good - She will do him good all her days
She keeps his confidence - His heart safely trusts in her
She aids his prosperity - Her husband is known among the elders
SHE IS A GOOD MOTHER
She wisely clothes family - Her household...clothed with scarlet
She feeds them well - She riseth and giveth meat to her house
She shops sensibly - She bringeth her food from far
SHE IS A GOOD NEIGHBOR
She helps the poor - She strecheth out her hand to the poor
She uplifts the needy - She reacheth forth her hands to needy
She speaks graciously - In her tongue is the law of kindness
Her value - "Her price is far above rubies"
Her praise - "Her children arise and call her blessed"
Her pre-eminence - "But thou excellest them all"
Her secret - "A woman that feareth the Lord"
Mrs. "Far-above-rubies" lives at "Godly House." The house is built on the Rock of Ages, over which the Way of Holiness runs, leading to the Celestial City. The house overlooks the boundless sea of the "riches of grace"; and as it is built foursquare on the Rock, the "Sun of Righteousness" is always shining in through one or more of the windows, which are "Pray without ceasing," "Rejoice evermore," "In everything give thanks," and "Quench not the Spirit." The house is built with the "exceeding great and precious promises" of the Scriptures, "Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone." The rooms are lighted with "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." The house is furnished with "every good and perfect gift from above." The servants of the house are "goodness and mercy"; and they are such faithful servants that they follow Mrs. Far-above-rubies all the days of her life. The wholesome diet of the house is the Bread of Life and the Water of Life, and the grapes of Eshcol, and the milk and honey and corn and wine of Canaan; and truly their mouths are "satisfied with good things." In the garden of the house there grows "the fruit of the Spirit" - "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance"; and the fragrant aroma which is exhaled from these fruits and flowers of the garden pervades the whole atmosphere of the place. Yes, this is where Mrs."Far-above-rubies" lives.
I. THE QUEST BY PERSONAL EXPERIMENT (1-2)
The Search in Wisdom 1:12-18
The Search in Pleasure 2:1-11
Comparison of the Two 2:12-23
Ad Interim Conclusion 2:24-26
II. THE QUEST BY GENERAL OBSERVATION (3-5)
Forfixedness of the Natural Order 3
Ills and Enigmas of Human Society 4
Advise in View of the Foregoing 5:1-17
Second Ad Interim Conclusion 5:18-20
III. THE QUEST BY PRACTICAL MORALITY (6-8)
Material Things Can Not Satisfy the Soul 6
So Expedient Morality Advocated 7:1-8:8
But There Are Strange Anomalies 8:9-14
Third Ad Interim Conclusion 8:15-17
IV. THE QUEST REVIEWED AND CONCLUDED (9-12)
The Big Evil Remains-One Event to All 9:1-6
Mirth, Wisdom, Morals, All Fare Same 9:7-11:8
True Good-A Wise Enjoyment of Present 11:9-10
Going with Faith in God and Life Beyond 12:1-7
The Book of Ecclesiastes is a sermon. The theme is "What is the chief good?" The standpoint is that of natural reason. In the opening verse (and six times later) the author styles himself KOHELETH, which is translated as "The Preacher, Master of Assemblies, or Teacher." The preacher's text is: "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity." Ecclesiastes is the QUEST OF THE NATURAL MAN FOR THE CHIEF GOOD. In the first two chapters the "preacher" tells us how he sought the chief good by PERSONAL EXPERIMENT. His conclusion is, "There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor" (2:14); and he perceives that this is from the hand of God.
In chapters 3-5 Koheleth pursues his quest by GENERAL OBSERVATION of the world and human affairs. He finds himself up against an impenetrable mystery of Divine providence, namely an apparently immutable forfixedness of all happenings which is as inexorable as it is inscrutable. On the other hand he finds human society disfigured by injustices, inequalities, enigmas and superficialities. He then comes to the same conclusion, "Behold, that which I have said holds good, that it is well for a man to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labors wherein he labors under the sun, through the brief day of his life which God hath given him; for this is his portion" (6:18).
In chapters 6-8 Koheleth renews his quest in the realm of PRACTICAL MORALITY. The secret he is after must surely lie in finding the true center of conduct, in achieving the even balance between things, the proper poise in behavior, the correct middle-course of expediency. More and more the preacher is being driven to see the necessity of God; yet once again he concludes, that "a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat and to drink, and to be merry; and that this should accompany him in his labor all the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun" (8:15).
Finally in chapters 9-12 we have the quest REVIEWED AND CONCLUDED. He reaffirms that the true good is not to be found in pleasure; nor in human wisdom; nor in expedient behavior because of the inevitable end. The highest good at present open to man is a wise, temperate, grateful use and enjoyment of the present life, combined with a steadfast faith in God and in the life to come (10:9-10; 12:1-7). It is the thought of that final judgment, and that life beyond, which gives the grand significance to life; and the preacher therefore winds up to his solemn, weighty, wise, and inspired conclusion -
"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and
keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God
shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing,
whether it be good or evil" (12:13-14).
After each recoil from things "under the sun," God is recognized (2:24-26, 3:10-14, 5:19, 8:17, 9:1), until at last the author sees through present "vanity" to the final verity. He sees that since God has "set eternity" in men's hearts, men can never be really satisfied by the things of this present life "under the sun". Indeed he sees that God has actually allowed the enigmas of the present order to remain so that men might be exercised thereby, and caused to think on higher things. The writer gradually reaches his final conclusion, that if we obey and honor God we may enjoy the good things of this life with a thoroughly easy conscience, and look forward also to a time when the other things - the ills and wrongs - shall be put right. This is the very opposite of pessimism. The wise philosopher has discovered that although the Creator has subjected this present life to "vanity," He has subjected it thus in hope.
When he declares the "vanity" of human wisdom and knowledge, he means that since human reason has such strict limits, and is utterly incapable of penetrating the present mysteries of providence, perfect intellectual satisfaction is impossible by that means. The wise thing is a hearty acquiescence, with trust in God; and this certainly is not skepticism. We must keep in mind THE STANDPOINT OF THE TREATISE AS A WHOLE. This is a book of man "under the sun." It is written from the standpoint of human reason, so that we may be shown where the proper exercise of human reason and intuition will lead us, if we will honestly follow. If we are honest with all the data, it will show us the vanity of living merely for earthly things, and will conduct us to a reverent faith in God, a keeping of His commandments, and belief in a judgment beyond.
The central purpose and message of the book. Above all else Ecclesiastes would teach us THE EMPTINESS OF EVERYTHING APART FROM GOD. That word "vanity" which occurs throughout the book speaks of this emptiness, in its final result of all life lived for this world alone.
The preacher sees that life is full of "vanities" which MOCK men. Then he sees that these "vanities" are MEANT to mock men. Then he sees that these "vanities" are not just meant to mock men cruelly, but with a BENIGN PURPOSE, namely to lead men to seek their true happiness in God Himself. He sees that things are from the hand of God. And he sees that things are allowed because God "hath set eternity" in men's hearts, and seeks to lead them to a true view of life in relation to material things. It is well to ponder the 10 "vanities" which Koheleth sees as occasioning the ironies and frustrations of human life, and which make so much of life "vexation or a striving after wind."
2:15-16 The "vanity" of Wise and foolish alike have one end, death.
2:19-21 The "vanity" of Worker is no better than shirker in the end.
2:26 The "vanity" of Although man purposes it is God who disposes.
4:4 The "vanity" of Much success brings envy more than joy.
4:7 The "vanity" of "Much" feeds lust for "more," yet often eludes.
4:16 The "vanity" of Is brief, uncertain, and soon forgotten.
5:10 The "vanity" of Money does not satisfy. Increase only feeds others.
6:9 The "vanity" of Often gain cannot be enjoyed, despite desire.
7:6 The "vanity" of It only camouflages the inevitable sad end.
8:10,14 The "vanity" of Bad often honored. Good and bad get wrong
human awards, desserts.
Yet again, this Book of Ecclesiastes should teach us the need of further Divine revelation. human reason can take us so far and no farther. Even the Mosaic Law, with its Ten Commandments and its high social ethics, cannot give us that which we most need to know and possess.
Oh, that the gifted Solomon who began so wisely should have had to write such a book as this! What intensity it gives to his doctrine of the vanity or emptiness of everything, apart from God.
CAUSE AND CURE OF PESSIMISM: The book is not pessimistic, but it shows its cause and cure. First, he views life SELFISHLY RATHER THAN SOCIALLY. He has lived to get, instead of to give; and he has found what all such persons find, namely, that the more one lives for self, the less do earthly things satisfy. When one lives just to "get," the more one gets the less one really has. It is a true paradox that the more one gives the more he gets. And those who do most for others do most for themselves. But second, Koheleth views life as APART FROM GOD RATHER THAN AS CONTROLLED BY HIM. God is scarcely mentioned, and even then only distantly. All seems in the hands of men. And third, Koheleth views human life as BOUNDED BY THE GRAVE RATHER THAN AS HAVING DESTINY BEYOND. Although the beasts can and do live simply in the present, man simply CANNOT do so, the reason being that God has set eternity in the human heart. Man simply cannot live merely in and for the present. He has a capacity for things intellectual and spiritual, and a consciousness that projects itself into the future.
Well, KOHELETH WAS WRONG. No man can have a true view of life who looks
at it selfishly rather than socially, and apart from God, and as bounded
by the grave. And when all the available data are considered, no man
NEEDS to view it as Koheleth did. Nor did Koheleth himself so view it at
the time when he wrote his treatise; for it must be remembered that he
was describing how he had thought EARLIER (as his use of the past tense
all through the book indicates).
We must turn on to the pages of the prophets and find there whole continents of further truth and wonderful new horizons spreading out before us. And most of all, we must turn on to the New Testament, to the crown of Divine revelation, even the incarnate Son of God Himself. Oh, what a different view of life we get when we see it through the eyes of the Lord Jesus! With Him their is no viewing of life selfishly. None was ever so social-minded as the Son of Man. There was pure "otherism" and absolutely no egoism. He went about doing good. He was the best of all mixers. He was at home in every circle, for wherever He was, He was there to forget Himself in the good of others. And with Him there was no viewing of human life as apart from God. He saw the Father's hand everywhere. And with Him there was no viewing of life as bounded by the grave. The very opposite! It is there, beyond the mortal present, that the vast issues of our life are. There is no "vanity of vanities" with Jesus. He comes to declare the reality of realities, that there is a Divine meaning and purpose running all through our human life. Even the cross, if it be the Father's will, is the pathway to a throne. There is benevolent purpose everywhere in the universe. We may trust God. We may know His love and presence in our lives. Life is not a mockery. God is LOVE. Behind every frowning providence there is a smiling face. We need to pass on from its pages to the further and fuller unfoldings of Scripture revelation. Would that the people of our time had learned the central lesson of this small book, that a life lived for self and the world, and without God, is "vanity," and that nothing "under the sun" can ever really satisfy the human heart!
1. THE ROYAL WEDDING LIVED OVER AGAIN 1:1-2:7
2. THE BRIDE'S COURTSHIP REMINISCENCES 2:8-3:5
3. THE OCCASION OF THE BETROTHAL RECALLED 3:6-5:1
4. THE BRIDE'S TROUBLED DREAM RELATED 5:2-6:3
5. THE KING'S MEDITATION ON HIS BRIDE 6:4-7:10
6. THE BRIDE LONGS TO SEE HER OLD HOME 7:11-8:4
7. THE RENEWAL OF LOVE AT LEBANON 8:5-14
Nowhere in Scripture does the unscriptural mind tread upon ground so
mysterious and incomprehensible as in this book, while the saintliest
men and women of the ages have found it a source of pure and exquisite
We believe that the key to the Song of Solomon is Psalm 45. When we look at this "Song of Loves" we find that it is a song of ROYAL love. In fact it is a royal MARRIAGE hymn; and it refers to SOLOMON. Thus, as Solomon is a type of Christ in his wisdom and riches and fame, so here, in this 45th psalm, he is a type in this marriage union. After the brief preface in verse 1, the psalm divides into two equal parts.
AN ADDRESS TO THE ROYAL BRIDEGROOM
a. The beauty of his person v.2
b. The valor of his conquests v.3-5
c. The stability of his kingdom v.6
d. The gladness of his marriage v.7-9
AN ADDRESS TO THE ROYAL BRIDE
a. An appeal for complete devotion v.10-11
b. A promise of high honor v.12
c. A eulogy of the bride's charms v.13-15
d. A pledge of unceasing Divine favor v.16-17
A comparison of this psalm with the Song of Solomon reveals striking correspondences such as that between the newly married queen's longing toward her now distant Lebanon home, and the exhortation to her, "Forget also thine own people, and thy father's house" (v.10). In light of Psalm 45, the love-suit in the Song of Songs is between Solomon and Shulamith, and that this exquisite love-suit is a most sacred type of the spiritual union between Christ and His Church. Of this relationship, the Church and the Heavenly Bridegroom, Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "Husbands love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (Eph.5:25-27).
This mystic presence of Christ and the Church in the Song of Songs gives it its deepest wonder and inmost meaning. It is from this that there comes to us its central message, namely: SUCH IS THE UNION OF CHRIST WITH HIS REDEEMED PEOPLE. Various figures are used in Scripture to express the various aspects of this wondrous union.
Christ is the Head and we are the body - A LIVING union
Christ is the Foundation and we the building - A LASTING union
Christ is the Vine and we are the branches -A FRUITFUL union
Christ is the Firstborn and we His brethren - JOINT-HEIRSHIP
Christ is the Bridegroom and we are His bride - A LOVING union
This union of love is the meaning which lies at the heart of Solomon's Song; and thus the Song of Solomon is the sheer opposite of Ecclesiastes; for in Ecclesiastes this present vain world is found too small ever to fill and satisfy the human heart, whereas in Solomon's Song the heart is filled and satisfied by Christ.
What then is the climax of this ideal espousal? It is the joy of mutual possession, as expressed in chapter 2:16 "My beloved is mine, and I am His." This is the quintessence of that holy joy which the Christian finds in his spiritual union with the adorable Son of God. It is the assurance of possessing and being possessed. On the one hand HE IS BOUND TO US by 1) the unbreakable cord of His own PROMISE, 2) the unseverable cord of an eternal COVENANT, 3) the golden cord of the Divine LOVE, 4) the proven cord of our own EXPERIENCE. On the other hand, WE ARE BOUND TO HIM by 1) the old cord of CREATION, 2) the red cord of REDEMPTION, 3) the strong cord of ELECTION, 4) the new cord of our own CHOICE. Seven out of these eight precious bands are those which our Lord Himself has tied; and even the eighth is really the work of His Holy Spirit within our hearts. These love cords will last forever. There is an inner circle of our Lord's disciples in which the love of God is so "shed abroad" that those that experience it must say with Bernard of Clairvaux, "The love of Jesus, what it is, none but His loved ones know," or as J.S. Pigott wrote, "Jesus! I am resting, resting in the joy of what Thou art; I am finding out the greatness of Thy loving heart."
The Song of Solomon is a poem, or more accurately several short poems combined into one. It's "A SUITE OF SEVEN IDYLLS." An idyll is a little picture. It is a short pictorial poem on some pastoral or homely subject; a short descriptive or narrative poem, especially one which gives a tinge of romance to familiar or everyday scenes. The Song of Solomon is not a consecutive story. With this in mind these lyric idylls may with perfect propriety, pick on different parts of the story, passing from the later to the earlier, without restriction to the order of time.
King Solomon, with a courtly retinue visiting the royal vineyards upon Mount Lebanon, comes by surprise upon the fair Shulamite. She flies from them. Solomon then visits her in the disguise of a shepherd, and so wins her love. He later comes in all his royal state, and calls her to leave Lebanon and become his queen. They are in the act of being wedded in the royal palace when the poem opens.
IDYLL 1 - THE ROYAL WEDDING LIVED OVER AGAIN (1:1-2:7)
The bridal procession reaches the palace. The royal bridegroom lifts the bride over the threshold (v.4), whereupon the daughters of Jerusalem break into chorus, "We will be glad, and rejoice in thee. We will make mention of thy love more than of wine." Inside the palace, the bride, whose marriage raises her from rustic obscurity to the throne of the land, gracefully excuses her country complexion to her more artificial city-bred wedding maidens (v.5-6). Although that for which she modestly apologizes is, in Solomon's eyes, part of her superlative charm. The two lovers now exchange whispered reminiscences of their courtship, how she sought to penetrate his disguise and he answered mysteriously (v.7-8). After this comes the procession from the banqueting house to the bridal chamber. Here the bride and groom are heard exchanging affectionate appreciations of each other (1:9-2:6), until the poet's refrain closes that happy day.
IDYLL 2 - THE BRIDE'S COURTSHIP REMINISCENCES (2:8-3:5)
Here she relives that unforgettable day in the fair springtime, when her princely lover first came to her mountain home, and when their love had its beginning (v.8-14). As she thinks upon her new-found lover's ardent words at that time, she also recalls how the harsh voices of her brothers had interrupted with the cry that the foxes had gotten into the vineyard (v.15). After this there follows the reminiscences of a happy dream in which she found her lost lover (3:1-4).
IDYLL 3 - THE OCCASION OF THE BETROTHAL RECALLED (3:6-5:1)
The day of the betrothal is relived. Already king Solomon, in shepherd disguise, has wooed and won the fair heroine; but now he comes in state (3:6-11). Having arrived, he pours out his love to the Shulamite (4:1-5). The maiden's modest embarrassment before such ardent praises is just before the actual proposal for marriage is given 4:6-15). Solomon invites her to leave Lebanon, for she has ravished his heart. Her rustic fragrance is better to him than all manner of `spices' - the more artificial perfumery of the city maidens. Yet while she is away amid her country surroundings she is like "a garden shut up" and inaccessible. So under this metaphor of a garden shut up, marriage is proposed; and under the same metaphor the beautiful Shulamite accepts in the words of v.16 "Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits." Solomon's joyous response is (5:1), "I am come into my garden, my sister, my bride."
IDYLL 4 - THE BRIDE'S TROUBLED DREAM RELATED (5:2-6:3)
She dreams that her beloved comes to her in the night, seeking admission. She hesitates. There is a little delay while she quickly attends to her personal appearance, and dips her hand in the myrrh. In that pause her beloved withdraws himself; and when she opens the door he is gone. She wanders forth in the night, seeking her lost lover. The watchmen find her; they smite and wound and insult her. In her troubled dreaming she now fancies herself accosting the chorus of bridesmaids, to whom she pours out her grief. To them she gives a description of her beloved which is surely a masterpiece of language, unexcelled for choiceness (v.10-16). Her rapturous eulogy of his charms has the effect of lifting her dream out of its troubled darkness and bringing it to a happy issue. She finds where her beloved has gone, and is relieved to awake with a song upon her lips.
IDYLL 5 - THE KING'S MEDITATION ON HIS BRIDE (6:4-7:10)
His meditation is both passionate and rapturous. In the first part (6:4-9), the king muses on her beauty. The language is richly expressive. At v.10 the meditation seems to become a reminiscence, and may well refer to the first meeting of Solomon and Shulamith. We seem to hear the words of surprise and praise from the royal party when they unexpectedly came upon the maiden.
Who is she that looketh forth as the morning,
Fair as the moon, pure as the sun,
Terrible as an army with banners?
The next 6 lines may well express the feelings of the maiden, sensitive under the admiring gaze of the royal party (v.11-12). The next verse may well fit the royal party as the maiden flees from them
Return, return, O Shulamite;
Return, return, that we may look upon thee.
The next verse gives her response, either spoken or unspoken,
Why will you look upon the Shulamite,
As upon the dance at Mahanaim?
IDYLL 6 - THE BRIDE LONGS TO SEE HER OLD HOME (7:11-8:4)
There is but one voice in this, the shortest of these lyrics; it is that of the bride. Amid the palace splendors she yearns to see the country home on Mount Lebanon again. In these choice stanzas she makes tender appeal that she and her husband should visit it, and there renew their love.
IDYLL 7 - THE RENEWAL OF LOVE AT LEBANON (8:5-14)
In the opening verse the royal pair, unattended reach the spot where they had first met: "Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?" Solomon speaks (v.5), and then his bride (v.6-7). The bride now recalls riddling remarks of her brothers which had puzzled her in younger years, and which she now understands (v.8-10). And now she renews her love vow to Solomon under the figure of a vineyard and its landlord; he shall be landlord of her heart and home. The voices of the escort are now heard approaching to conduct them back from Lebanon. There is just time for a final embrace and a last word of love; and the poem ends.
A good translation in which to read the Song of Songs is Dr. Richard G. Moulton's "Modern Reader's Bible."
ORACLES OF RETRIBUTION AND RESTITUTION 1-39
The Day of Jehovah, and Judah 1-6
The Day of Jehovah, and Israel 7-12
The 10 burdens of the Nations 13-23
The "Day" and the Whole World 24-27
The 6 "Woes" upon Jerusalem 28-33
The Final Wrath: Zion Restored 34-35
Historical Addendum to Part I
ORACLES OF REDEMPTION AND CONSUMMATION 40-66
Group 1. The Supremacy of Jehovah 40-48
Jehovah Supreme in Attributes 40-41
Jehovah Supreme in Redemption 42-45
Jehovah Supreme in Punishment 46-48
Group 2. The "Servant" of Jehovah 49-57
Firstly Israel: Finally Christ 49-53
Israel Restored: Christ Reigns 54-55
Thus, Present Urge and Promise 56-57
Group 3. The Challenge of Jehovah 58-66
In View of Present Wrong-Doing 58-59
In View of Future Great Events 60-65
Final Challenge, Promise, Warning 66
The social status of Isaiah seems to have been high. He had familiar interviews with kings Ahaz and Hezekiah. He was historiographer at the Judaean court in Jotham's reign, and wrote accounts of the reigns of Uziah and Hezekiah. His book bears the stamp of a well educated man. Isaiah was a married man with two children, SHEAR-JASHUB (a remnant shall return), and MAHER-SHALAL-HASH-BAZ (haste ye haste ye to the spoil). His wife also possessed the gift of prophecy (8:3). The usual title for God is "The Holy One" and there is a vivid sense of the majesty of God. When Isaiah came to the fore in Judah, the 10-tribed northern kingdom was nearing its destruction by Assyria. Isaiah would then be between 50-60 years old. Judah remained vassal to Assyria till the reign of Hezekiah who rebelled. This move would be supported by Isaiah who ever advocated reliance on Jehovah.
PART 1: The first part of the book ends in Exile, causing gloom to the
faithful expecting redemption, so the second part tells of the
Restoration and the triumphs of Messiah's kingdom, to remove the
shadows. The first part is mainly upbraidings for sin, and warnings of
coming judgment. In the second part the judgment is seen as having
fallen, and Israel is felled to the ground. The message is now one of
comfort and hope and healing.
As there are 66 books in the Bible, so there are 66 chapters in the Book of Isaiah; 39 of the Old Testament and 27 of the New Testament. So the first 39 chapters of Isaiah are mainly occupied with the thought of judgment on the covenant people because of their disobedience to the Law; and so the 27 chapters to follow are mainly occupied with the message of Divine grace, and the salvation which it brings.
In the first six chapters the subject is the day of Jehovah concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In the 6th chapter Isaiah receives a new vision - Jehovah as King of all nations. For him to go and prophesy, it was needful to see the sovereign grip and purpose of the universal Emperor, Jehovah. In the next six chapters the subject is the day of Jehovah concerning Israel. Assyria was to destroy Israel and also afflict Judah, and in the end Assyria would be destroyed. Then chapter 11 and 12 describe the coming reign of the Messiah, in which the "outcasts of Israel" and the "dispersed of Judah" should be reunited. Just as chapters 1-6 were mainly concerned with JUDAH, ending with a wonderful vision of Jehovah as the reigning King in HEAVEN, so chapters 7-12 are mainly concerned with ISRAEL, ending with a glorious vision of Jehovah as the reigning King on EARTH, in the Messianic kingdom which is yet to be.
First of all the message was to Judah, then to Israel, then to all the surrounding Gentile nations, and then to the whole world. Next it is Jerusalem which becomes the focus point of being the center of all Jehovah's dealings and controversy with our race. Finally, we are plunged into the "great tribulation" (ch.34) at the end of the present age, and then brought through to the lovely climax of the Millennium. Chapters 36-39 are an evidently designed transition from the first part of the book to the second. The first two of these chapters are about the invasion of Judah by Assyria. The remaining two are about Hezekiah's illness, recovery, and contact with Babylon- which new world-power now begins to fill the scene. The transition is from part 1 in which ASSYRIA is the dominant world-power, to part 2 in which BABYLON is the dominant world-power.
PART 2: The final 27 chapters are a poem, a Messianic poem. It's ever recurrent subject is the coming Christ, the redemption of Israel, and the ultimate consummation. This poem is arranged in three groups of nine chapters each. And is it not luminously significant that this immortal "Lamb" chapter is the middle chapter of the middle nine? At the very center of this tremendous Messianic poem God has put the LAMB. He is the crux, the focus, the center, the heart. Christ as the Lamb of God must be central in our faith and hope and love, in our preaching and teaching and witness-bearing, in our thought and prayer and Bible study. In part 1 the key chapter is the 6th, where we have the prophet's vision of Jehovah as King. In part 2 the key chapter is the 53rd, where we see the Lamb, first suffering and then triumphing.
There is a noteworthy parallel between the two parts of Isaiah and Revelation 4 and 5. The whole movement in the first five chapters of Revelation is to put the Lamb on the throne. In chapter 4 we have an august unveiling of the THRONE. In chapter 5 we see the LAMB in the throne. So it is with the two parts of Isaiah. In the first 39 chapters we see the THRONE, with Jehovah as supreme Ruler. In the remaining 27 chapters we see the LAMB in the throne, expressing the truth that Jehovah is the only Savior.
THE SERVANT OF JEHOVAH:
Usually the prophet's message has a clear first reference to his own time. Thus, in the miracle of inspiration, it often occurs that a passage may have both a present and a future reference. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the "Servant" prophecies there should seem an alternation of reference between Israel and Christ; for the corporate Israel itself was a standing TYPE of Christ - Israel, that is, abstracted from its grievous failures, and viewed in the light of its Divine mission. His conception of the nation as "Servant" of Jehovah would inhere in the very fact of Israel's unique election in Jehovah's redemptive purpose for the human race. The "Servant" becomes then, not the actual, but the ideal Israel, represented by the godly remnant within the nation. Yet even here his mind does not find final rest. Peering ahead, as it were, and failing to glimpse even this ideal Israel collectively achieving the Divinely intended high destiny, his mind is lead on, both by human longing and Divine guiding, not only to idealize, but to INDIVIDUALIZE the true Israel, to draw its portrait in the features of a Person, a "Servant" of Jehovah who should be the perfect flower, the final embodiment, and the personal Head of the elect nation. Hence the seeming ambiguity in certain passages, and the clear transition from the nation to the Person in the "Servant" passages taken as a whole.
It has been truly said that "the prolonged description of chapter 53 suits only one figure in all human history - the Man of Calvary." The following 12 points absolutely confirm this, for in their totality they cannot possibly be applied to any other.
1. He comes in utter lowliness - "a root out of dry ground"
2. He is "despised and rejected of men"
3. He suffered for the sins and in the place of others - "He was wounded for our
4. It was God Himself who caused the suffering to be vicarious - "The Lord hath laid on
Him the iniquity of us all"
5. There was an absolute resignation under the vicarious suffering "He was afflicted, yet
He opened not His mouth"
6. He died as a felon - "He was taken from prison and from judgment"
7. He was cut off prematurely - "He was cut off out of the land of the living"
8. He was personally guiltless - "He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His
9. He was to live on after His sufferings - "He shall see His seed; He shall prolong His
10. Jehovah's pleasure was then to prosper in His hand v.10
11. He was to enter into mighty triumph after His suffering - "He shall divide the spoil
with the strong"
12. By all this, and by "justifying many" through His death and living again, He was "to
see the travail of His soul, and be satisfied."
As trait after trait is contributed, can we possibly write any other
name under the amazing portrait than JESUS OF NAZARETH? And can we fail
to marvel at the miracle of inspiration in this prophetic anticipation
of the Man of Sorrows, when we reflect that it was written probably 700
But look at this wonder-chapter again. Right at the heart of it we read: "He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter": and on each side of this central declaration there is a seven-fold setting forth of vicarious suffering. In the verses that go before, it is from the HUMAN standpoint. In the verses which follow, it is from the DIVINE standpoint.
INTRODUCTION - JEREMIAH COMMISSIONED 1
PROPHECIES, GENERAL AND UNDATED 2-20
1st Message (2:1-3:5); 2nd Message (3:6-6:30); 3rd Message - At
Temple Gate (7-10); 4th Message - The Broken Covenant (11-12);
5th Message - Sign of Linen Girdle (13); 6th Message - The Drought
(14-15); 7th Message - Sign of the Unmarried Prophet (16-17:18);
8th Message - At City Gates (17:19-27); 9th Message - The Potter's
Wheel (18); 10th Message - The Earthen Vessel (19); Result (20).
PROPHECIES, PARTICULAR AND DATED 21-39
1st - To Zedekiah (21-23); 2nd - After First Deportation (24);
3rd - Forth Year of Jehoiakim: The Coming Babylonian Captivity (25)
4th - Early Reign of Jehoiakim (26-28); 5th - To Captives of the
First Deportation (29-31); 6th - Tenth Year Zedekiah (32-33);
7th - During Babylonian Siege (34); 8th - Days of Jehoiakim (35);
9th - Forth Year Jehoiakim (36); 10th - Siege (37); Result (38-39)
PROPHECIES, AFTER FALL OF JERUSALEM 40-44
Babylonian Kindly Treatment of Jeremiah (40:1-6); Ill-Doings in
Land of Judea (40:7-41); Jeremiah's Message to Remnant in the Land
(42); Jeremiah Carried Down to Egypt (43:1-7); 1st Prophetic
Message in Egypt (43:8-13); 2nd Prophetic Message to Jewish
Refugees in Egypt (44); Result-Further Rejection of the Message by
the Jewish Refugees.
PROPHECIES UPON GENTILE NATIONS 45-51
Prefatory Note to Baruch the Faithful Scribe (45); 1st - Against
Egypt (46); 2nd - Against the Philistines (47); 3rd - Against Moab
(48); 4th - Against the Ammonites (49:1-6); 5th - Against Edom
(49:7-22); 6th - Against Damascus (49:23-27); 7th - Against Kedar
and Hazor (49:28-33); 8th - Against Elam (49:34-39); 9th - Against
Babylon and Chaldea (50-51).
CONCLUSION - JERUSALEM OVERTHROWN 52
Jeremiah was the prophet of Judah's midnight hour. Here was such a true heart likeness to Jesus Himself, in his suffering sympathy both with God and men, in his unretaliating forbearance, his yearning concern for his fellows, his guileless motive, his humility, his willingness for self-sacrifice, and his utter faithfulness, even to the point of unsparing severity in denunciation. Jeremiah's nature was such that he simply could not be merely a transmitter, able to detach his own feelings from that which he was commissioned to declare. There was Divine design in Jeremiah being raised up for such a time as that in which he lived (1:5).
What first impresses us is HIS SUFFERING SYMPATHY. His sorest inward trial was the tearing of his heart between two rival sympathies - on one hand, a sympathy with God such as few men have entered into, and on the other hand a grieving, yearning, longing sympathy with his fellow-countrymen, which made him suffer with them. In all their afflictions he himself was afflicted. He did not merely speak FOR God; he felt WITH Him; and he did not merely speak to the people, he felt with them.
We cannot fail to be impressed by Jeremiah's PATIENT PERSEVERANCE. Only pure love and goodness persevere as graciously as this man did, through such a protracted and forlorn ministry. Most of the other prophets seem to have produced a measure of reform. But through 40 years Jeremiah never once saw any grateful response. He stood alone, as God's spokesman, unheeded, humiliated, yet bravely persistent. Love alone keeps a man thus persevering in face of such discouragements. "Love suffereth long, and is kind. . . beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." In the story of Jeremiah's shrinking and pain and tears we have a picture of a man in such perfect fellowship with God that through him God was able to reveal His own suffering in the presence of sin.
The chapters and messages in this Book of Jeremiah are not arranged in chronological order. Even so, chapters 1-39 are all BEFORE THE FALL OF JERUSALEM. In chapters 40-44 we have Jeremiah's ministry to the Jews AFTER THE FALL OF JERUSALEM, first in Judea (40-42), then in Egypt (43-44). The central thought of the book may be expressed by bringing together the two recurrent expressions, "I will punish" and "I will restore." While there is present failure through the sin of man, there shall be final triumph through the love of God. There is WRATH TO THE FULL, but there is LOVE TO THE END. The key to the whole book is found in chapters 30-31, especially 30:15-18; "Because thy sins are become immense I have done these things unto thee . . . Yet all they that devour thee shall be devoured . . . For I will restore health to thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord."
BASIC AND VITAL LESSONS
To begin with, there is emphasized and tragically illustrated, that ALL NATIONAL DETERIORATION AND DISASTER IS DUE FUNDAMENTALLY TO THE DISREGARDING AND DISOBEYING OF GOD. The nation and people that dishonor God by denying Him usually degenerate into defying Him. The King himself burns God's message in the fire (36:27); the princes put Jeremiah into the dungeon (38:4); and as for the nation as a whole there is a defiant deafness to all appeal (37:2). Corrupt leadership inoculates the whole nation with moral poison; and inward moral failure issues in outward national ruin. The country's lamentable condition was due to the people's apostasy from the true God.
This Book of Jeremiah reveals to us THE PROCESS OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT IN NATIONAL LIFE. The judgment of the Almighty on the nation was operating through these things which, to sin warped little human minds were simply (as men call them) "misfortunes." When sin has quenched the vision of God, it also renders the mind incapable of seeing the operations of Divine judgment in the things which are permitted to happen.
GOD DOES NOT RECKON THE WORTH OF SERVICE FOR HIMSELF MERELY IN TERMS OF SUCCESS. Judged by that standard, where is Jeremiah? We must learn to be faithful even where we cannot be successful. We are almost - if not quite - at the point in the history of Christendom which corresponds to the time of Jeremiah in the history of Judah - the 11th hour, the hour leading to the midnight zero of the final apostasy under "the man of sin," and the final outbreak of the Divine judgment at Armageddon.
MESSIANIC AND RESTORATION PASSAGES
Jeremiah's mission was to a people who had shut there eyes and ears until they had become blind and deaf. In one sense they were past praying for, and three times it is said, "Pray not for this people." And notice God's awful word in chapter 15:1. The point is that the sentence of judgment was now irrevocable. As at Kadesh-Barnea of old (Num.14), so was it now again, in Jeremiah's time - that generation was doomed. Because of this, Jeremiah's message was largely one of coming judgment. But the sad ministry of this prophet carries a golden promise at heart. See the following passages again: 23:3-8; 30:1-10, 17-22; 31:1-14, 31-40; 32:37-44; 33:14-26; 3:16-18; 12:14-15; 16:14-15. Right at the heart of the book is the GOSPEL - good news of great days to come! "For, lo, the days come that I will bring again the captivity of My people . . . I will cause them to return to the land, and they shall possess it . . . and I will raise up unto them David, their King" (30). This is a scene of millennial blessedness. The PEOPLE are to be regathered. The LAND is to be repossessed. The MESSIAH-KING is to reign, and the glory of His reign shall never end! These promises look on to the second advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His coming reign on earth in a world-wide empire centered at Jerusalem.
THE BABYLON DOOM-SONG
The final prophecy of the book is on the doom of Babylon. It runs through 110 verses, the longest single prophecy in the book. This prophecy is carefully dated - the 4th year of Zedekiah, that is, 7 years before the fall of Jerusalem. There are parts of this prophecy which look far beyond the end of the captivity in Babylon. See chapter 50:14-16, where the destruction of the walls and foundations of Babylon is foretold. This demolition, not to mention other items in the prediction, did not occur at the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus at the end of the predicted captivity; it happened over 500 years after that!
A PIVOTAL CHAPTER
Chapter 25 marks for us precisely the starting point of Jeremiah's prophetic ministry (v.3). Second, it definitely predicts the 70 years' servitude to Babylon, a full 20 years in advance (v.1,11). Third, it clearly shows that chapters 46-51 - Jeremiah's batch of prophecies of the Gentile nations - were already in "book" form (v.13,17-26), here in "the 4th year of Jehoiakim," 20 years before the Exile, even though they are now placed right at the end of "the Book of Jeremiah" as it has come down to us. This chapter also explains why that tiny 45th chapter, addressed to Baruch, comes where it does. It is in its proper place as a prefatory note to chapters 46-51.
Lament 1 Lament 2 Lament 3 Lament 4 Lament 5
JERUSALEM'S JEHOVAH'S JEREMIAH'S JEHOVAH'S JERUSALEM'S
PLIGHT ANGER GRIEF ANGER PRAYER
The Prophet The Anger Affliction, Contrasts- Plea: Zion
Bewails it Described Yet Hope And Why Is Stricken
(1-11). (1-12). (1-39). (1-11). (1-18).
The City The City Plea: Onlookers- Plea: Jehovah
Bemoans it Exhorted National, Kings, Edom Can Restore
(12-22). (13-22). Personal (12-22). (19-22).
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Thou that killest the prophets,
and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would
I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen
gathereth her chicks under her wings, and ye would not!
Behold, your house is left unto desolate!"
Such was the tear-drenched plaint of the Man of Sorrows over the impenitent city which was soon to crucify its Messiah-King; but 600 years before then, those words were anticipated and adumbrated, in more elaborate form, by the brave but broken-hearted prophet, Jeremiah, in his 5-fold poem, the "Lamentations."
This pathetic little poem has been called "an elegy written in a graveyard." It is a memorial dirge written on the destruction and humiliation of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. It is a cloudburst of grief, a river of tears, a sea of sobs. In the Jewish grouping of the Old Testament Scriptures it is one of the five Megilloth, or "Rolls" because each of them was written on a roll for reading at Jewish festivals - the Song of Songs at the Passover, Ruth at the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, Ecclesiastes at the Feast of Tabernacles, Esther at the Feast of Purim, and Lamentations at the anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem.
But further, this 5-fold poem is built up in an ACROSTIC form. All the chapters have 22 verses, except the 3rd which has 66. This is because there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet; and the verses of these 5 elegies run successively through the 22-letter Hebrew alphabet. The third chapter has 66 verses instead of 22 because it runs in triplets of verses, each of the first three verses beginning with the first letter of the alphabet, and so on, thus taking 66 verses to run through the full 22 letters. The acrostic lettering is not continued in the 5th and shortest of these elegies although it has 22 verses.
The structure of this quintuple poem is remarkable. The two OUTER poemettes - the 1st and the 5th correspond. The two INNER ones - the 2nd and the 4th correspond. The MIDDLE one, the 3rd, which is the most elaborate in conception and the most finished in execution, is three times the size of the others, and stands at the center like a great throne draped with mourning.
In the first the subject is JERUSALEM'S PLIGHT. Verses 1-11 are all in
the third person - "she," "her," "the city," etc., because the prophet
himself is speaking ABOUT the city. Verses 12-22 are all in the first
person "my," "me," "I," because it is the city speaking OF ITSELF.
The subject of the second lament is JEHOVAH'S ANGER. The emphasis all the way through is on the fact that Jerusalem's humiliation has been brought about by Jehovah Himself. The expressions "The Lord hath" and "He hath" occur no less than 30 times, not to mention verbs like "He burned," "He slew," "He poured out," all emphasizing the fact that Jerusalem's discomfiture is THE LORD'S DOING. The first part is in the third person DESCRIBING HIS ANGER, the second part is in the second person EXHORTING THE CITY.
In the third and central elegy, at the heart of this 5-fold memorial, we have THE PROPHET'S OWN SORROW. So sensitively is his own spirit identified with his people, so afflicted is he in all their afflictions, that in some verses it could be either the prophet himself, or the personified nation speaking.
In the fourth poemette we have again the subject JEHOVAH'S ANGER, but with this difference, in the second acrostic the Lord's anger is DESCRIBED, in this fourth it is explained or DEFENDED. It is because of Jerusalem's sin. "For the iniquity of the daughter of My people is greater than the sin of Sodom" (v.6). "For the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her. . ." (v.13). In verses 1-11 we have a series of contrasts between the Zion that was and the Zion that now is. In verses 12-22 we have the thoughts and actions of the onlooking Gentile nations about it.
The fifth elegy is throughout a PRAYER, and the speaker is Jerusalem. In the first 18 verses the plea springs from Jerusalem's pitiful plight. In the remaining 4 verses the appeal is to Jehovah's abiding sovereignty and faithfulness.
One very tender truth here is that GOD SUFFERS WITH THOSE WHOM HE CHASTISES. This is immortally objectified in Jeremiah, who had become so sympathetically one with God, and at the same time with his countrymen, that he suffered a double agony in his own heart. No truth is more affecting than that God still loves and suffers with those whom He is obliged in righteousness to smite.
The heart of the poem is the middle passage of the middle chapter. Five times that word "hope" occurs. Affliction does its humbling work (v.20). The sufferer grasps its meaning, and cries out, "I have HOPE" (v.21). The new hope is in God alone. This is emphasized again as the poem closes, "Thou, O Lord remainest" (v.19). The final prayer of the poem will yet be fulfilled - "Renew our days as of old"; and Zion will be supreme among the nations; for although God's covenant people may suffer the fiercest fires of affliction and persecution, yet like the burning bush of Horeb, they are not consumed!
High calling, flaunted by low living, inevitably issues in deep suffering. Election is never indulgent favoritism, whether in relation to Israel or to the members of the Church today. Since the Divine Sinbearer bore all the sin of all believers, God never PUNISHES His born-again children when they sin. The relationship is now that of Father and child, rather than that of Judge and culprit. Yet the sins of Christian believers bring grievous CHASTISINGS upon them.
Opening Vision and Call of Ezekiel 1-3
1. THE PRESENT JUDGMENTS ON JERUSALEM 4-24
Similes and Prophecies of Imminent Doom 4-7
Vision of Temple and City: Glory Departs 8-11
Further Types and Messages of Judgment 12-24
2. THE FUTURE DESTINIES OF THE NATIONS 25-39
Prospective Judgments on Gentile Powers 25-32
After Present Judgments Israel Restored 33-37
Gog and Magog Destroyed: Israel Exalted 38-39
3. THE FINAL TEMPLE, WORSHIP AND CITY 40-48
The Reerected Temple, and New Glory 40-43:12
The Renewed Worship, and Holy River 43:13-47:12
The Redivided Land, and City of God 47:13-48
Ezekiel is the first of the five post-exilic prophets; Ezekiel, Daniel,
Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. With the prophet Ezekiel, like that of
Daniel which follows it, was written after the Babylonian exile of the
Jews had set in. Both Ezekiel and Daniel were carried captive to Babylon
some years before the final siege and sack of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.
Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, was a priest as well as a prophet (1:3). He was
a married man (24:16-18), and his wife's death came as a grievous blow
to him, and that according to Jewish tradition he was eventually slain
by a fellow-exile whose idolatries he had rebuked.
Ezekiel tells us that he commenced his prophesying in the 5th year of Jehoiachin, which was also his 5th year in captivity in Babylonia. Whenever Ezekiel gives the date of his visions or prophecies (13x) he reckons from that outstanding, tragic year of his life when his exile started in Babylonia. Ezekiel was 30 years of age when he commenced his prophetic ministry to the exiles; which means that he was carried to Babylon when he was 25. He exercised his ministry to the exiles for 6 years before Jerusalem fell. None of the first 24 chapters is dated later than the 9th year, whereas it was the 11th year Jerusalem fell. Ezekiel's ministry among the exiles was a difficult one. So senselessly had the people of Jerusalem misconstrued the meaning of the deportation as to flatter themselves, as though the remainder in the city, were heaven's favorites, to whom the land was given as a possession (11:15; 33:24). Other than dreading an imminent expulsion from the land, they persuaded themselves that the Babylonian armies would not return, and that Jehovah's city was inviolate. These exiles were also permeated by the delusive idea that their captivity would soon be ended, because of the many false prophets among them. It was certainly clear that there was need for such a prophet as Ezekiel among the exiles. His first task was to disabuse them of their false hope, which required much courage. He was also to interpret to his exiled people the stern logic of their past history. But the rainbow is again seen in the cloud; for Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, had a glorious picture to paint of the after-days, and a consummating vision in which he saw a reunited people, a re-erected temple, a reorganized worship, and a regenerated Israel.
The key idea and focal message of Ezekiel confronts us on almost every page, "They shall know that I am Jehovah." This occurs no less than 70x.
29x - Jehovah's punishment of Jerusalem
24x - Jehovah's governmental judgments on the Gentile nations
17x - Coming restoration and final blessing of the elect nation
The elect people, and all other peoples, are to know by indubitable demonstration that Jehovah is the one true God, the sovereign Ruler of nations and history; and they are to know it by 3 revelations of His sovereign power - first, by the punishment of Jerusalem and the captivity of the chosen people, which came true exactly as foretold; second, by the judgments prophesied on the Gentile nations of Ezekiel's day, which also have come true exactly as foretold; and third, by the preservation and ultimate restoration of the covenant people, which had a partial fulfillment in the return of the Remnant, and which is still being fulfilled in the marvelous preservation of Israel, and which is even now hastening to its millennial consummation. This then is Ezekiel - "THEY SHALL KNOW THAT I AM JEHOVAH."
1ST MOVEMENT: Chapter 24, which brings us exactly half way through the book, coincides with the very day on which Nebuchadnezzar's armies commenced the fatal siege of the Jewish capital (2K.25:1; Ez.24:1-2). On the very day that Jerusalem was invested, God revealed the fact of it to Ezekiel, away in Babylonia. In this 24th chapter, also, Ezekiel's wife dies, and she is to be unmourned, as a tragic type of Jerusalem.
2ND MOVEMENT: Here we have Jehovah's purposes with the nations. Here national destinies are written in advance. But at chapter 33 Ezekiel turns again to his own nation, "Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying `Son of man, speak to THE CHILDREN OF THY PEOPLE . . ." From here to the end of chapter 39 we are dealing with the future destiny of Israel. Jerusalem has now fallen. Chapter 35, the judgment on Mount Seir may seem to cut across this high theme; but in reality it is certainly meant to fit in here by way of sharp contrast. Mount Seir is the substitute name for EDOM, the twin nation to Israel. The Edomites had descended from Esau, Jacob's twin brother, yet they had been from the very start Israel's bitterest foe, with a strange, fierce, implacable, spiteful, gloating hatred. The 39th chapter ends with ALL THE NATIONS RECOGNIZING JEHOVAH AS THE TRUE GOD, THROUGH HIS MARVELOUS DOINGS WITH ISRAEL.
3RD MOVEMENT: This vision of the ideal temple, worship, land and city stands by itself. It is carefully dated - the 14th year after the fall of Jerusalem (40:1).
In Ezekiel there are three modes of prophetic activity before us - visions, sign-sermons, and direct predictions.
THE OPENING VISION (1-3)
This vision is one of the most remarkable in the Bible; described mainly in chapter 1. Its contents are 3-fold and so is its purpose.
THE BACKGROUND OF EZEKIEL'S VISION:
The prophet sees a "whirlwind" and a "great cloud" and a "fire infolding itself," coming "out of the north." The picture is that of some terrific, whirling thundercloud, enclosed in a lurid surround of flashing fire.
What is the significance of this tempest and storm-cloud and fire? These are the symbols of JUDGMENT. This is corroborated by the fact that they came "out of the north," for it was from Babylon, via the north, that judgment was coming on Jerusalem (Jer.1:14-15; 4:6; 6:1). This is further corroborated by the fact that at the end of the vision a "hand" gave Ezekiel a "roll of a book" which was found to contain "lamentations and mourning and woe."
THE CENTER-GROUP OF EZEKIEL'S VISION:
Out of the fiery heart of this whirling storm-cloud Ezekiel sees "four living creatures," each with four faces and four wings and four hands. They are the living beings who appear in Genesis, guarding the gate of Eden, and who reappear in the Apocalypse as the mysterious guardians of the ineffable throne in heaven.
First, each had four faces - the face of a lion, of an ox, of a man, of an eagle. The 4-fold meaning here is obvious - strength, service, intelligence, heavenliness. Here in symbol is strength at its greatest, service at its meekest, intelligence at its fullest, and spirituality the most soaring. These beings also had four wings and four hands each - a wing and a hand on each side, these together symbolizing fullness of capacity for service.
Next, "they went every one straight forward, whither the Spirit was to go, they went. Here is symbolized the undeviating prosecution of the Divine will. Their appearance was "like burning coals of fire, like lightnings" - a symbolic expression of their utter holiness. And again, they "ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning, which expresses their utter swiftness of action.
But now (v.15) four awesome wheels appear "beside" these four living beings. The size and sweep of these wheels was vast. They reached down to the earth, yet they reached up to heaven. These four wheels connect these heavenly beings with the earth. Each wheel was two in one. "They turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward." It was because, having four faces, they each faced north, south, east, west, simultaneously, and therefore did not need to turn in any direction. Nor did they need to turn when they flew, for each had four wings, they simply needed to use the appropriate pair of wings for any of the four directions, without any necessity to turn. And similarly, the wheels needed not to turn, for they were two wheels in one, the one being through the other, that is crosswise to each other, the one revolving north-south and the other east-west, so that there was no need to turn for any direction. These wheels, which thus whirled with lightning-like rapidity in every direction, without need of turning, had their vast rims "full of eyes." These countless eyes looked simultaneously in every direction from the crosswise rims. They saw everything, nothing could be hid from them. This undoubtedly, is the symbol of OMNISCIENCE. Finally, these awesome wheels were filled with the life of the living beings themselves.
In these cherubim and their wheels Ezekiel was meant to learn that the judgments which were about to happen on earth were but the expression of what was happening in the invisible realm. The purpose then, in this center-group of Ezekiel's vision is to show that BEHIND THE EVENTS WHICH TAKE PLACE ON EARTH ARE THE OPERATIONS OF SUPERNATURAL POWERS IN HEAVEN.
See how significantly the wheels show this. They rest down on earth, yet
they reach up to heaven. They run to and fro down here, yet they move by
a power from above, for "the spirit of the living creatures was in the
wheels!" Those vast awesome wheels are the WHEELS OF DIVINE GOVERNMENT,
the wheels of so-called "Providence." Those wheels of Divine government
run with resistless, lightning-like swiftness in all directions over all
the earth and simultaneously see everything, everywhere, every minute.
Not only did the myriad eyes of the four double wheels look in every
direction, but the 16 faces of the living beings, in four fours, also
looked in every direction; and as the four awesome wheels expressed the
omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence of God, so the faces of the
living beings expressed the moral and intellectual nature of God.
Both Ezekiel and John make it clear that these four living ones somehow live nearest of all God's creatures to the throne of God Himself, and most nearly express His life. It is not surprising therefore, that when the very Son of God became incarnate there should be seen a correspondence between Him and these 4 symbol-clad figures of Ezekiel's vision. It is seen in the distinctive emphasis of the four Gospel writers. In Matthew it is the lion; in Mark, the ox; in Luke, the man; in John, the eagle.
THE SUPER-CLIMAX OF EZEKIEL'S VISION:
Ezekiel now sees above the cherubim a superstructure of almost blinding glory. He suddenly hears a voice from the firmament, and on looking up he sees "the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone." On the throne is a fire-enveloped Figure having "the LIKENESS as the APPEARANCE of a man." It is not the Divine Being Himself whom Ezekiel sees, but certain appearances to make vivid to him the character and attributes of Him whom "no man hath seen nor can see."
The Figure is wreathed in fire. There is a center-glow as of luminous or molten metal, and a brightness round about. The symbols are expressive of awful holiness and unapproachable glory. Ezekiel at once recognizes in it "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah," and falls in prostrate adoration. This super-climax of the throne expresses the fact that BOTH BEHIND ALL EVENTS ON EARTH AND ABOVE ALL SUPERNATURAL POWERS IN HEAVEN IS THE SOVEREIGN THRONE AND WILL AND PURPOSE OF THE INFINITE JEHOVAH HIMSELF.
He had caught sight of something he would never forget. He had seen a RAINBOW round about the throne, which crowns all the awful glory with a gentle beauty. It is the token of a Divine covenant. It is the symbol of the Divine faithfulness. It is the pledge of a final clear shining after the dark thunder-clouds of judgment have passed away. It says that amid wrath to the full there is love to the end. When the tragedy of Jerusalem's ruin came, Ezekiel was not to let his faith go to pieces, thinking that Jehovah, after all, had proved unable to preserve His own chosen city, that the reins had been snatched from his grasp, and that the gods of the heathen were mighty. He was to know that before ever the judgment fell it was foreknown and actually predetermined, that behind it was the operation of supernatural power, and that beyond it there would be an outcome of final blessing.
THE SECOND VISION (8-11)
This second vision came in the 6th year, that is 5 years before the overthrow of Jerusalem. In it Ezekiel was transported to Jerusalem. In chapter 8 we see Judah's profaning of the temple; in chapter 9 we see Jehovah's judgment on the people; in chapter 10 the "glory" of Jehovah leaves the temple and in 11 it leaves the city. Ezekiel sees the general idol-worship of the PEOPLE, the secret animal-worship of the ELDERS, the sex-corruption of the WOMEN, and the shameless apostasy of the PRIESTHOOD. All classes are involved in the debasing infidelity. Chapter 9 follows with a symbolic picture of JUDGMENT on the wicked populace. Seven men are dispatched, one to spare the godly minority, six to slay the rest (which is by the command of Jehovah). Then comes chapters 10 - 11 with its significant ceremony of the departure of the Divine presence from the temple. The doom of the now God-forsaken city is sealed.
If the first vision means to show that the power behind the coming judgment is that of God Himself, the purpose of this second vision is to show that the reason for the coming judgment is the guilt of Judah. The first vision says the judgment is FROM GOD; the second vision says that the judgment is FOR SIN. The first vision explains the FACT of the judgment; the second explains the CAUSE of it.
THE THIRD VISION (40-48)
Here he sees a temple and city of the future in which the glory of God shall abide forever. With this final vision of Ezekiel there is a core of real fact, surrounded and expressed by symbols. The millennial temple and city will be concrete realities. The symbols used of them in this vision are meant to express figuratively their principal features.
The main meanings of the striking symbols are clear. The vastness of the dimensions in the vision indicate the TRANSCENDENT GREATNESS of the final temple and city. The various cube measurements symbolize their DIVINE PERFECTION. In the description of the sacrificial ritual we see the ABSOLUTE PURITY of the final worship. The marvelous waters gushing from the sanctuary foretell FULLNESS OF LIFE, and WORLDWIDE BLESSING. The returning of the Divine "glory," never to depart again, tells of SIN FOREVER REMOVED and of RIGHTEOUSNESS FINALLY TRIUMPHANT; while the putting of Jehovah's throne "in the midst forever" expresses the EVER-ENDURING GLORY of the consummation.
The three visions together were all necessary to give Ezekiel the full view of things.
The central idea of the first is that of God OVERRULING.
The central idea of the second is that of God INTERVENING.
The central idea of the third is that of God CONSUMMATING.
In the first God overrules in sovereign GOVERNMENT. In the second God intervenes in righteous JUDGMENT. In the third God consummates in gracious RESTORATION. In the first we see glory TRANSCENDING. In the second we see glory DEPARTING. In the third we see glory RETURNING. In the first vision Ezekiel must see the throne of Jehovah high over the wheels of government. In the second he must see the activity of Jehovah behind the stroke of judgment. In the third he must see the victory of Jehovah in the ultimate realization of the ideal. In other words, Ezekiel was to see, in these three visions, the purpose of Jehovah ABOVE all, and BEHIND all, and BEYOND all.
As Jehovah's witness among a "most rebellious" people, Ezekiel was directed to perform various symbolic or typical actions before them, at different times, all portraying in one aspect or another, the impending judgment on Judah. There are no less than 10 of these sign - actions between chapters 4-24, whereas there is only one in the remaining chapters (37:16). Ezekiel was to be in a certain sense DUMB until the fall of Jerusalem (note v.3:26-27; 24:27; 33:21-22). To a people whose ears were largely closed God was largely dumb. God will not have even the most "stiffhearted" and "rebellious" laid low by final judgment without a witness and a warning being uttered to them right up to the midnight knell.
So deaf to the spoken word of God, had these old-time Jews become, through their disobedience, that even the warning of judgment must be conveyed to them in the form of these SIGN-ACTIONS, with the purpose of at least arousing curiosity and causing inquiry. The Lord was also indicating His withdrawal from any further reasoning or pleading with them. Such was their obduracy that a point had now been reached where God would not speak to them directly any more (14:3). Ezekiel is a last tragic witness for God, to a "crooked and perverse generation." Up to chapter 24:16 the dumbness was only PARTIAL, after this the dumbness was TOTAL, for in the intervening chapters Ezekiel has not one word for his own people, but addresses the Gentile nations only in the period before the fall of Jerusalem. Ezekiel's last sign-sermon to his own people, before his total dumbness for about 1« years, was the culminating tragic sign of his own wife's death (24:15-27).
So Jerusalem has failed, and lies weeping in the dust; but Jerusalem's God drives on through the ages to the predestined consummation. He will not rest until the NEW Jerusalem becomes the queen city of a new order, inscribed with JEHOVAH SHAMMAH - "The Lord is There."
1. HISTORICAL PART 1-6
2. PROPHETICAL PART 7-12
There is a special reason why the supernatural is so prominent in
Daniel. Israel was now in captivity, Jerusalem was ruined. Even the
temple, that last hope, was gone. Jehovah, after all, had proved unequal
to the gods of the Babylonians! Bel-Merodach had conquered Jehovah! That
is what the Babylonians exultantly supposed. That is what the Jews were
tempted to believe. There seemed no possibility now of national
restoration. What though Jeremiah had given it as Jehovah's word that
there should be a return after 70 years? Had not Jehovah's promises to
David and Solomon now proved false?
Now the miracles in this book of Daniel were a SIGN FROM GOD, both to Israel and the Gentiles. When the earthly sovereignty was transferred from Israel to Nebuchadnezzar, God raised up this notable man, Daniel, to represent Him at the Babylonian courts, so that through his lips, and by these supernatural attestations, He might teach Nebuchadnezzar, and impress upon the Gentile world-empires, through Nebuchadnezzar their head, the delegated nature of their authority, and their accountability to the one true God, even the God of Israel. And the chosen people were to know that Jehovah's eye was watching, and His hand still guiding the course of things on earth, that He was as near to His people in exile as He had been to them in their own land, and just as able to deliver them from Babylon as when He had brought their fathers out of Egypt.
The Jews went into that exile helpless addicts to idolatry. Yet they emerged from that brief interval of the Exile what they have remained to this day - the most rigidly monotheistic people in the world. It certainly cannot be attributed to Babylonian influence, for Babylon was a hotbed of idolatry. Certainly Nebuchadnezzar's proclamation to the whole empire (Ch.4), in acknowledgment of Israel's God, must have had a simply indescribable effect on the Jews. How they would now turn again to Jeremiah's prophecy concerning the duration of their exile, and to the earlier prophecy of Isaiah's in which the very name of their coming deliverer was foretold (Is.45). How could it be otherwise than that Jewish doubt should now be utterly silenced, and adoration of the one true God cure them forever of their idolatry?
Daniel was carried to Babylon 8 years before Ezekiel, about 19 years before the destruction of Jerusalem. He began there in 606 B.C. and was there at least until 534 B.C. (3rd year of Cyrus; Dan.12:2); Daniel must have lived there for at least 72 years.
Daniel lived RIGHT THROUGH THE 70 YEARS SERVITUDE. Daniel outlived the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (34 years), his son Evil-Merodach (2yrs.), his son Neriglissar (4 years), his son Labishi-Marduk (4 months), a usurper Nabonidus, who put his son Belshazzar in command of the city of Babylon. Belshazzar makes his great feast, and the handwriting appears on the wall. That night Belshazzar is slain. Babylon is taken by the Persians, under Cyrus. The Babylonian empire is no more, that of Media-Persia takes its place. Cyrus makes his great proclamation for the return of the Jews to Jerusalem. Daniel stays in Babylon. Thus Daniel links the pre-exile and post-exile periods together.
Notice Daniel's unwavering godliness. We admire Daniel the youth, refusing to defile himself with the king's meat and the wine. And also Daniel the aged, going into the lion's den rather than forgo his lifelong practice of daily prayer (approx. 70 years old). He is one of the few men about whom God says only good. He is 3x called "greatly beloved." What John, the beloved disciple, was among the apostles in the New Testament, that was Daniel among the prophets of the Old Testament. They had a like close place to the Divine heart. To both were great visions given. They were admitted, we may say, into the very arcana of the Deity. Daniel held a high administrative office with both the Babylonians and the Persians, yet his faith remains simple, his heart humble, his character unblemished, and his godliness supreme.
The key thought and central purpose is expressed in chapter 4, three
times for emphasis, "That the living may know that the most high ruleth
in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomever he will." It is
significant that this key utterance is made to come to us through the
lips of the humbled Nebuchadnezzar, who was the "golden head" and first
world ruler of "the times of the Gentiles." Also noteworthy is the fact
that this central theme parallels that of Ezekiel's. In Ezekiel it is
"They (ISRAEL) shall know that I am Jehovah." In Daniel it is "That the
living (ALL NATIONS) may know that the Most High ruleth."
A striking feature of this Book of Daniel is that it is written in two languages. From chapter 2:4 through chapter 7 the language is Aramaic. Elsewhere it is Hebrew. Nebuchadnezzar's dream-image in chapter 2 and Daniel's first vision in chapter 7, both give in general outline the whole course of the "times of the Gentiles"; whereas the later visions foretell the future especially in relation to the covenant people. Accordingly, chapters 2-7 are in Aramaic, which was at the time, the Gentile language of commerce and diplomacy over the whole known world. This also, is one more proof that the book was written when it says it was. Before that time the Jews did not understand Aramaic (2K.18:26), and after that time they ceased to understand Hebrew (Neh.8:8). but in the time of Daniel they knew both languages.
In the Book of Daniel there are two prophecies which are basal to the others - that of Nebuchadnezzar's dream-image in chapter 2 (concerning the Gentile nations), and that of the "70 weeks" in chapter 9 (concerning Israel).
It was just as necessary that Nebuchadnezzar should forget it as that he should dream it. That it should become a sheer blank and then be recalled by the inspired Daniel was proof beyond question that both the dream and its interpretation were from the Most High. With Daniel's words before us and the record of history behind us, we surely see that the head of gold is BABYLON, the breast and arms of silver MEDIA-PERSIA, the lower trunk of brass GREECE, the legs of iron ROME.
In chapter 8 the two empires, Media-Persia and Greece, are each mentioned by name. Daniel is shown "a ram which had two horns, but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last." The heavenly interpreter says, "The ram which thou sawest that had the two horns, they are the kings of Media and Persia." So the one figure, the ram, represents Medes and Persians as one kingdom, while yet the two-fold character of that kingdom is preserved in the two horns. This corresponds with the silver breast and arms of the image, in each case the dual nature of Media-Persia, while yet the unity of that empire is preserved in the one ram and the one metal.
Equally clearly we are told the identity of the "he-goat" which destroys
Media-Persia. "The rough goat is the king of Greece, and the great horn
that is between his eyes is the first king." In the vision however, "the
great horn (Alexander the Great) was broken, and from it came up four
notable ones toward the four winds of heaven. . . That (the great horn)
being broken, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not
with his power." While the later divisions of the Greek empire are
clearly anticipated, Alexander and his successors are represented as
forming one empire, under this figure of the he-goat.
In chapter 7 the four kingdoms represented by the four metals are seen again, as four beasts of prey. Special attention is focused on the FOURTH beast, like that of the fourth metal - it was "strong exceedingly, and it had great IRON teeth." This fearsome beast has 10 horns (the symbol of ruling power), and among these a new horn arises which uproots three of the others, and has a "mouth speaking great things." Daniel says, "I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them, UNTIL the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given unto the saints of the Most High, and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom." The 4th kingdom therefore, in its parts - the legs, the iron-clay feet, and the 10 toes - is to continue "UNTIL" the coming of the Messiah's world-wide kingdom. This can only be Rome.
Now there are two big facts revealed through that dream-image which relate momentously to ourselves in the 20th century. First, the end of the present age is not to come by gradual betterment until some high point of excellence is reached, but BY A CRISIS, A CRASH, A SUDDEN CATASTROPHE; for in the days represented by the 10 toes a "Stone cut out without hands" (Christ in His Messianic kingdom) smites the image and crushes it to powder. The world will be saying, "Peace and prosperity" when "sudden destruction" smites the whole present system of things. Second, THE END OF THE PRESENT AGE IS NOW NEAR. The two legs representing Rome are true to historical fact; for as is well known, the Roman empire split into two great halves - the eastern and the western empires. The division took place in 395 A.D.
THE "SEVENTY WEEKS":
In chapter 9:24-27 Daniel is told that "seventy weeks (or sevens of years) are determined" on his people. From the going forth of the "command to restore and to build Jerusalem" down to the time when the Messiah should be "cut off" would be 7 + 62, which is 69 weeks (or sevens); that is 483 years. The 70th week is treated as distinct. In it an evil ruler violates covenant with the Jews, and desecrates Jerusalem.
That one edict in history for the rebuilding of the city itself is that which was issued by Artaxerxes at the appeal of Nehemiah - "That thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers' sepulchers, THAT I MAY BUILD IT" (Neh.2:5). Nehemiah himself gives the date, "the month Nisan, in the 20th year of Artaxerxes." This then is the starting point: Nisan, 445 B.C. Nisan is the first month of the Jewish year. As Nehemiah names no other day, the prophetic period must be reckoned, according to common Jewish custom, from the New Year's Day (March 14, 445 B.C.). The prophetic year is a lunisolar year of 360 days (Dan.7:25; 9:27; Rev.11:2-3; 12:6,14; 13:5).
So then, from the edict to rebuild Jerusalem, down to the cutting off of Messiah, was to be 483 years of 360 days each. Once only did our Lord offer Himself publicly and officially as Israel's Messiah. Previously He had avoided all public recognition of those claims. But now His testimony had been fully given, and the purpose of His entry into the capital was to proclaim openly His Messiahship, and to receive His doom. Even His apostles themselves had been charged again and again that they should not make Him known; but now He accepted the acclamations of "the whole multitude' of the disciples. It was on this day that our Lord looked on Jerusalem and exclaimed, "If THOU also hadst known, even on THIS DAY, the things that belong to thy peace . . !" And we are expressly told that this day was the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9 (Mat.21:4-5). This was the predicted day of His public offer to the nation; and which directly occasioned His being "cut off." Here then we find the TERMINUS of the 483 years, emphasized too clearly to be misunderstood. The Julian date of that 10th of Nisan was Sunday the 6th of April, 32 A.D. What was the length of time between the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and this climactic public advent of Christ? Sir Robert Anderson tells us that it was EXACTLY 173,880 DAYS, THAT IS 483 PROPHETIC YEARS OF 360 DAYS!
What about the 70th week? It is yet to be. Between the Messiah's being "cut off" and the 70th week, the whole of the present "Church" age intervenes. The Church of the present dispensation is nowhere the subject of direct prediction in the Old Testament. It was the "secret" kept "hidden" during preceding ages (Eph.3). Again and again in the Old Testament we find both advents of Christ foretold in the same verse or passage, but with no light given as to the intervening of the present age between them (Ge.49:10; Is.53:11-12; Mic.5:3; Is.61:1-2; Lk.4:17-19; Zec.9:9-10; Mal.3:1; 1P:1-10-11).
In chapter 11:1-39 we have the period of Antiochus' persecution; the actual facts are described with surpassing distinctness. At v.40 and on we leap over centuries to "the time of the end"; and we know that this means "the time" which is yet to be. So this Antiochus casts a shadow which reaches right to the final crisis of the present age because of a latent and further meaning in the words.
PROLOGUE: THE WHOLE STORY IN SYMBOL 1-3
ISRAEL'S SIN INTOLERABLE: GOD IS HOLY 4-7
The Fivefold Indictment 4-5
Israel's Unreal "Return" 6
Healing Made Impossible 7
ISRAEL SHALL BE PUNISHED: GOD IS JUST 8-10
The Trumpet of Judgment -
These Chapter Throughout are
Expressions of Wrath to Come.
ISRAEL SHALL BE RESTORED: GOD IS LOVE 11-14
Divine Yearning 11
Yet Israel Must Suffer 12
The Final Victory of Love 14
Hosea is the prophet of Israel's zero hour. The nation had sunk to a point of such corruption that a major stroke of Divine judgment could no longer be stayed off. What the weeping Jeremiah was to Judah, the southern kingdom, nearly 1« centuries later, that was the sob-choked Hosea to Israel, the northern kingdom. The opening verse of the book tells us that he prophesied from the times of Uzziah to that of Hezekiah. Hosea lived on through the 50 years or more in Israel between the death of Jeroboam II and the Assyrian invasion. Now this period, from Jeroboam II on to the captivity, was the awful "last lap" of iniquity in Israel's downward drive. Jeroboam is the last king who reigns in Israel with any semblance of Divine appointment. The kings who follow seize the throne by murdering its occupant at the time. Shallum slays Zechariah, Manahem slays Shallum, Pekah kills Pekahiah, and Hoshea the last of them kills Pekah. Israel's self-reliance is gone. She is as fluttered as a startled bird; "They call to Egypt; they go to Assyria." But everything is hopeless, kings cannot save, for Ephraim (Israel) is seized by the pangs of a fatal crisis.
Things were even worse morally and spiritually than they were politically. The alliances which Israel's kings made with foreign powers brought in the immoral idolatries of Syria and Phoenicia - cruel nature-worship associated with the names of Baal and Ashtaroth, with all the attendant abominations of child-sacrifices and revolting licentiousness.
THE STORY IN SYMBOL:
These first three chapters are symbolical narrative. The prophet's wife, Gomer, and the three children, Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi, and the tragedy of the prophet's married life, of which these chapters speak, are all symbolic of the relationship between Jehovah and Israel. Here we have the faithless wife and her faithful husband, and the remaining 11 chapters, where we have faithless Israel and her faithful God.
What then is the special relevance of this prologue? It is this: THE PROPHET, THROUGH THE HEARTBREAK OF HIS OWN MARRIAGE TRAGEDY, HAD COME TO SEE ISRAEL'S SIN AGAINST GOD IN ITS DEEPEST AND MOST AWFUL SIGNIFICANCE. Hosea had loved, with a pure, deep, tender, sensitive love. He had honorably taken to himself the woman of his choice, and entered into what he anticipated would be a union of life-long happiness. After the birth of the first child, however, painful suspicions were aroused in his mind as to Gomer's loyalty; and these were confirmed later by the discovery of adultery. The first child Jezreel is definitely said to be born to Hosea (1:3), but the others are not. The 2nd child he does not own. He names the little girl Lo-ruhammah, which means "Unloved," or "she that never knew a father's love." The 3rd child he disowns outright, calling it Lo-ammi, which means "Not my people" or "No kin of mine."
We can imagine the conflict of emotion in Hosea's heart, the sense of shame in his desecrated home. He had forgiven his beloved but weak and disloyal Gomer once . . . twice . . . He had pleaded and warned. But things had at length reached the point where separation was necessary. After this, so it would appear, Gomer had sold herself for money, and later drifted into slavery, from which however, she was redeemed by the still compassionate Hosea (3:2), though there could be no thought of reunion without a process of discipline and chastening.
This story is told consecutively, and at each point the symbolism is explained and applied. Gomer is the nation, Israel. The children are the people of that nation. Hosea's sorrow, patience, compassion, and his final act of redeeming, chastening and restoring Gomer are, in adumbration, the sorrow, patience, compassion, and love of God toward sinning Israel. The whole tragic story of Israel is here, in these first 3 chapters, and the ultimate triumph of that day yet to be when God shall say, "I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies...I will say to them which were not My people: Thou art My people; and they shall say: Thou art my God."
Chapter 2 is the application of chapter 1. And chapter 3 looks right on to the end of the present age, for its last words are, "Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God , and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and His goodness IN THE LATTER DAYS." Yes, the whole story of Israel, past, present, and future, is here, in this symbolic prologue.
But the deepest and most awesome thing of all in these chapters is that through his own cruelly desecrated relationship with Gomer, Hosea came to understand the true meaning of Israel's sin: it was SPIRITUAL ADULTERY, and even HARLOTRY! The sin of adultery has been defined as that of "seeking satisfaction in unlawful relations." That is what Israel had done. Harlotry is even worse. It is the sin of "prostituting high possessions for the sake of hire and gain." That too, Israel had done. As Hosea tells them, God had taken them to Himself in a special relationship, had loved them, carried them in His arms, taught them to walk, been Husband and home to them; and they had gone after other gods - and had prostrated their high privileges to the lascivious indulgence of idolatry! Such sin is spiritual adultery! To see it in this light is to see it in its ugliest enormity, and at the same time to realize with a cutting keenness THE SUFFERING WHICH IT CAUSES TO THE HEART OF GOD. The sin of a people with such high privilege and sacred relationship as Israel is the most heinous sin thinkable; that of WILLFUL INFIDELITY TO LOVE.
God sustains four principal relationships to mankind (1) Creator, (2) King, (3) Judge, (4) Father. Which of these four demonstrates the fundamental motive and purpose in the bringing of the human race into being? Did God create merely to possess? to reign? to judge? No, it is the fatherhood of God which is ultimate. God created us for FELLOWSHIP with Himself. This means that human sin hurts the great, loving heart of God. In its deeper aspect, sin does not merely break God's law, it breaks His heart. Calvary says so. Whether it be under Hosea's metaphor of the grieved and wounded husband, or our Lord's picture of the sorrowing and compassionate father, the truth is there: HUMAN SIN HURTS GOD! "Lost souls" are a loss to the heart of God!
ISRAEL'S INTOLERABLE SIN:
In chapter 5 the Lord speaks twice of withdrawing Himself from Israel. The knowledge of God was destroyed in the land (4:1,6); and this was the tap-root of all manner of evils. Because of Israel's impenitent persistence in these evils Jehovah purposes to exact retribution and to withdraw Himself from them (5:6,15). Whereupon Israel superficially "returns" to "know" Jehovah, taking it presumptuously for granted that "after a couple of days" there will be a reviving (6:1-3). But their professed return is merely ritualistic, and Jehovah protests, "I desire real love, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." Jehovah, however, still longs to spare and restore Israel, but when He would do so the determined wickedness of the nation prevents Him. The upshot of these chapters is that ISRAEL'S SIN HAS REACHED THE POINT WHERE IT IS INTOLERABLE.
ISRAEL SHALL BE PUNISHED:
In the first part of the book we have the exposure of Israel's awful SIN, in these 3 chapters that follow we notice the utterance of the awful JUDGMENT which is swiftly coming upon it.
ISRAEL SHALL BE RESTORED:
Finally, in this last part of the book we find "The Yearning of God." The yearning is that of LOVE. See the opening words, "When Israel was a child I LOVED him . . . I drew them with cords of a man, with the bands of LOVE..." "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? . . . Mine heart is turned within Me, My repentings are kindled together..." Although the inevitability of judgment is reiterated, yet the note is now that of sorrowing regret that it must be so.
But most of all here is the final triumph of love, culminating in the last chapter. It is a grand and beautiful climax. Judgment is finished. Sin is forsaken. Backsliding is healed. Love reigns. In the closing verse Ephraim says, "What have I to do any more with idols?" Jehovah responds, "I have answered and will regard him." Ephraim again says, "I am like a green fir tree"; and again Jehovah responds, "From Me is thy fruit found."
AN ALARM - INVASION BY PLAGUE 1:1-2:11
The Present Desolation 1:1-20
The Yet Further Threat 2:1-11
AN APPEAL - ELEVENTH-HOUR HOPE 2:12-27
Appeal: "Turn Ye to Me" 2:12-17
Promise: "I Will Restore" 2:18-27
AN ANNEX - ON THE AFTER-DAYS 2:28-3:21
Epochs of the End Time 2:28-3:16
Ultimate Glory of Zion 3:17-21
Joel whose name means "Jehovah is God," calls himself the son of Pethuel. Beyond this we are told nothing about him. His book makes it tolerably certain, however, that he exercised his prophetic ministry in or near Jerusalem. It is the inhabitants of that city whom he addresses. It is Jerusalem which he sees in danger, it is in Zion that the "alarm" is to be sounded (2:1,9,15). The 10-tribed northern kingdom is not once mentioned.
INVASION BY PLAGUE: Chapter 1 is a moving description of the desolation in the land, resulting from successive locust ravages. The prophet was here using the graphic present to depict, as though it were already there, a calamity yet to break on the nation. As so often used in the prophetic writings, the prophecy is so worded that while there is a primary reference to a historical happening with which the prophet's contemporaries were familiar, there is a further and larger fulfillment envisioned away in the future.
In the first 11 verses of chapter 2 we find a most gripping and awesome picture of this still further and greater trouble which was about to break upon the nation. This visitation, whatever its nature, was to be so grave and extraordinary that it could be described by no less an expression than "the Day of Jehovah is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?"
At verse 12 there is an imploring appeal to the nation to repent before the dread stroke falls. In the mercy of God there is always this 11th hour chance before a major stroke of judgment falls.
At v.18 there is a gracious promise - a promise of salvation if the 11th hour appeal is heeded. It is in the past tense, for it visualizes the Divine response, if the people repent, as though it had already happened.
THE AFTER DAYS:
This section plainly stands by itself, for it is all PREDICTIVE of what will happen in the after days. The apostle Peter, in his discourse on the day of Pentecost, definitely relates Joel 2:28, and what follows it, to the last days (Acts 2:15-21). Whatever latent significances (Armageddon) may lie in Joel's words, the genuine first sense has to do with Joel's own time (Locust plague); and we do not serve the best interests of our Bible when, with zeal for seeing prophetic meanings, we exalt the apocalyptic at the expense of the historical integrity of Scripture.
INVASION BY LOCUSTS:
The ground over which their devastating hordes have passed at once assumes an appearance of sterility and dearth. Well did the Romans call them "the burners of the land," which is the literal meaning of our word "locust." All is as nothing to the myriads of insects that blot out the sun above and cover the ground beneath and fill the air whichever way one looks. The breeze carries them swiftly past, but they come on in fresh clouds, a host of which there is no end, each of them a harmless creature which you can catch and crush in your hand, but appalling in their power of collective devastation. Nothing in their habits is more striking than the pertinacity with which they all pursue the same line of march, like a disciplined army. W.M. Thomson tells us that when the millions upon millions of locust eggs hatch, the very dust seems to waken to life, and the earth itself seems to tremble with them; and later, when the vast new breed have acquired wings, the very heavens seem tremulous with them.
THE DAY OF JEHOVAH:
The term "the day of Jehovah appears 5x (1:15, 2:1,11,31; 3:14). Joel uses this term in three ways. He uses it of THE THREATENED LOCUST PLAGUE (2:11,25). He uses it of a "great and terrible" day which is even yet to come, at THE END OF THE PRESENT AGE (Acts 2:14-21). He uses it of a day of Divine judgment which was even then "near" upon THE PALESTINIAN NATIONS which had afflicted Israel (3:2-14). The three uses of this phrase then, are a LOCAL sense, a FINAL sense, and a in a DOUBLE sense - examples are as follows (Is.2:12, 13:6,9, 14:3, Jer.30:7-8, 46:10, Lam.2:16, Ez.7:19, 13:5, 30:3,9, Amos 5:18-20, Obad.15, Zeph.1:7, Zech.14, Mal.4:5).
But even when this "day of Jehovah" does not look right on to the end of our own age, it is reserved to denote only the most extraordinary visitations of Divine judgments. Here in Joel, for instance, where it is used of the threatened locust-plague, the plague is such that "there has not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations (2:2).
What the day of Jehovah at the end of the present age will be passes the power of imagination to anticipate. We only need to look up the references to it in both Testaments to realize that all the events of past history will be dwarfed by this magnitudinous culmination. It will suddenly burst into occurrence with the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in supernatural splendor. This will precipitate Armageddon, when the "beast" and the "false prophet" and the anti-christ's "kings of the earth with their armies" shall be utterly overwhelmed, the present world system smashed, Satan flung into the bottomless abyss, and all powers of evil crushed to the dust. And this will inaugurate the world-wide empire of Christ, with a restored Israel in Palestine, and all the peoples of the earth forming the one kingdom of "our God and of His Christ." This "day of Jehovah" will be heralded by cosmic disturbances and other preternatural signs; it will continue for 1000 years; it will end with a Divinely permitted final insurrection of evil inspired by Satan; then the final abolition of evil from the earth, the general judgment of the human race at the Great White Throne, and a cataclysm of fire, followed by a "new heaven and a new earth."
ADDENDUM TO JOEL:
It is usually held that the inauguration of the Christian church dates back to Pentecost. Acts 2:16, however, explains Pentecost as, "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel . . ." And Joel 2:28-3:21 refers not to the church, but to the even yet future "great and terrible day of Jehovah," the final regathering of Israel, and the Messianic kingdom. But if that Joel prophecy is yet unfulfilled, how could Peter say at Pentecost, "This is THAT"?
In fulfillment of promise, our Lord proclaimed the kingdom of the Jews, and offered Himself as Messiah. The Jews who had doted on the material aspects of the promised kingdom, to the neglect of its spiritual requirements, rejected and even crucified Christ - which, however, was foreknown and overruled of God to effect a world-wide Gospel of individual salvation.
On the cross our Lord prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." In answer, the Jews were given a further opportunity in the period covered by the Acts, when the new offer was accompanied by the additional message (and proofs) of the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Pentecostal miracles were God-given SIGNS that the kingdom was truly drawing near again in offer. Therefore Peter's "This is THAT..." But Israel again rejected; and as the further rejection crystallized, the Pentecostal signs were withdrawn, as also was the kingdom. The Joel passage now awaits the second coming of Christ, when the church age ends, and the kingdom age begins.
1. EIGHT "BURDENS" 1-2
Damascus Gaza Tyre Edom
Ammon Moab Judah Israel
Note: "For three transgressions and for four."
2. THREE "SERMONS" 3-6
Judgment Deserved (3:1-10); Decreed (11-15)
Judgment Deserved (4:1-11); Decreed (12-13)
Judgment Deserved (5:1-15); Decreed (16-6:14)
3. FIVE "VISIONS" 7-9
Grasshoppers Fire Plumbline
Summer Fruit God over the Altar
Note the final promise to Israel
Amos, the herdsman-prophet, is a singular figure among the Old Testament prophets. His writing too is distinguished by a peculiar forcefulness and rural freshness. In chapter 1 he speaks of himself as "Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Tekoa." It was there he was called of God to be a prophet to the northern kingdom, Israel. He says, "I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was a herdsman and a cultivator (of Sycamore figs); and the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, "Go, prophesy unto My people Israel" (7:14-15). He had not been trained in any of the "schools of the prophets." He was what we would today call a "layman." His vocabulary, his figures of speech, his illustrations, are all redolent of the country life from which he came. There was an unconventional bluntness about him which must have been pretty disconcerting to the college trained professional prophets of Bethel calf-worship, with their polished ambiguities and evasions. They would certainly feel a cold shiver down their spines to hear Amos address the upper-class ladies of Samaria as "cows" (4:1).
Here we see coming retribution on 8 Palestinian nations - Syria, which is addressed through Damascus its capital, Philistia, which is represented by its fortress-city of Gaza; Phoenicia, which is represented by its great seaport, Tyre; Edom; Ammon; Moab; Judah and Israel.
Each address is prefaced by the formula, "For three transgressions and
for four. . ." Idiomatically, this means that the measure was full, and
more than full; the sin of these people had overreached itself; or, to
put it in an allowable bit of modern slang, they had "gone one too
many," and "tipped the scale." The first time they had done the evil,
God had rebuked. The second time He had threatened. The third time He
had menaced with uplifted hand. Now, at the 4th time He smites! Let the
nations know that though God may bear long with the wicked, they can sin
once too often! God is not mocked; there cannot be cumulative sin
without a culminative stroke of retribution.
Second, in each of these burdens the symbol of judgment is FIRE - the most destructive of all the elements. Extreme guilt brings extreme doom.
Third, in each case (except Judah and Israel) the sins to be punished are CRUELTIES AGAINST OTHER PEOPLES. See the recurrence of "Because they . . ." God hates inhumanity. Yet never in all history have nations shown such coldly calculated inhumanity to other nations as have certain nations of today.
Each of the three sermons is divided by an emphatic "THEREFORE," so that in each we have in the 1st part judgment DESERVED, and in the remainder judgment DECREED (3:11, 4:12, 5:16). These three addresses grow in intensity, and the third is made longer than the others by two culminating "woes" which are appended to it. The 1st sermon declares the fact of Israel's guilt in the PRESENT. The 2nd stresses Israel's sin in the PAST. The 3rd stresses the punishment of Israel's sin in the FUTURE. Note the vehemence and intensity at the end. Yet notice also the 11th hour warning in the thrice-uttered appeal of Jehovah, "Seek ye Me, and ye shall live."
Note further about these 3 addresses that in the 1st we have the PRINCIPLE underlying Divine judgment - "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; THEREFORE WILL I PUNISH YOU for all your iniquities (3:2). This is the key verse of the book. Amos is the prophet of JUDGMENT FOR ABUSED PRIVILEGE. Judgment is always determined according to privilege. Increased privilege is increased responsibility. Israel had been supremely favored, and therefore was supremely responsible.
In the 2nd address we see the FORBEARANCE behind Divine judgment. Before the stroke of a final major judgment is allowed to fall on the nation, there comes a succession of minor judgments to warn. It is when these are ignored and the Divine patience is outraged that the culminative judgment falls (4:12).
In the 3rd sermon we see the uncompromising SEVERITY of Divine judgment on the impenitent, where sin has been obdurately persisted in.
In chapter 7:1-3 is the vision of the GRASSHOPPERS, or locusts, eating up the product of the soil. But in answer to the prophet's entreaty to "forgive," the plague is AVERTED.
Next in v.4-6 we have the vision of the devouring FIRE. This is definitely the symbol of judgment; yet in response to the prophet's entreaty to "cease," the fire is stayed; so that the judgment is RESTRAINED.
Next in v.7-9, there is the vision of the plumbline (fitting symbol of judgment according to a righteous, Divine standard). Here God says, "I will not again pass by them"; and there is no intercession of Amos. Here, then, is judgment DETERMINED. Following this there is the parenthetical episode of Amaziah's rebuke to Amos v.10-17, making it clear that the nation, at least officially, was certainly set against the appeals of Jehovah.
Then in chapter 8 we find the vision of the basket of SUMMER FRUIT. The fruit was dead ripe, and once fruit has reached that point, especially in hot lands, it is on the point of quickly perishing. Here then, we see judgment IMMINENT.
Lastly in chapter 9, in one of the most awe inspiring visions of the Bible, we are shown Jehovah Himself "standing upon the altar" - that is upon the false altar at Bethel. No symbol is here used, as in the visions preceding. It is the Lord Himself, and He says, "Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake, and cut them in the head, all of them. . ." Here is judgment EXECUTED. There is an increasing intensity in the five visions, as there is in the three sermons. Yet even amid the execution of the culminative judgment, not one grain of the pure wheat was to be allowed to perish (9:9)! Even in wrath God remembers mercy!
Note: Amos 5:26-27 - The word rendered as "tabernacle" in v.26 is the Hebrew "SUCCOTH," and research has now shown that it is the name of a heathen god, not just the Hebrew word for a tabernacle. The more correct rendering is, "Succoth your king." Schrader translates the verse: "Thus shall you then take Succoth your king and Kewan your star-god, your images which you have made for yourselves, and I will carry you off into captivity..." It was the forewarning of expulsion to a people who had forsaken Jehovah and made idols their gods.
1. THE DESTRUCTION OF EDOM 1-16
The Certainty of It 1-9
The Reason for It 10-16
2. THE SALVATION OF ISRAEL 17-21
The Promise of It 17-18
The Fullness of It 19-21
This remarkable fragment from the pen of Obadiah is the shortest and perhaps the earliest of the writings which have come down to us from these Hebrew prophets. It has one subject only, JUDGMENT on Edom, though this is offset in the closing verses by a contrastive reference to the final salvation of Israel.
Of Obadiah himself nothing is known. Not even his father's name is given in the title of the book. The name "Obadiah" was common enough among the Hebrews, and means a "worshipper" or "servant of Jehovah"; but he cannot be identified with any of the persons so named in the Scriptures. The contents of his prophecy, however, indicate that he belonged to Judah, the southern kingdom.
The name "Edom" means RED. It is the name that was given to Jacob's brother, Esau, because he sold his birthright for Jacob's red pottage. The Edomites were Esau's descendants, and their country was Mount Seir.
"Esau said to Jacob, `Feed me I pray thee, with that same red
pottage, for I am faint. Therefore was his name called Edom'."
"Esau dwelt in Mount Seir: Esau is Edom. . . the father of the
Edomites in Mount Seir." Genesis 36:8-9
Esau means rough or hairy. It may be for this reason and his love for the field and the hunt and the wild life of the open, that Esau was first drawn to Mount Seir and the Horites, or rock-dwellers. At any rate, this was the identity and background of the Edomites who are addressed by the prophet Obadiah. Their father was Esau, and their country was Seir.
The area occupied by the Edomites, although mountainous and craggy, had no lack of fertile valleys and fruitful soil. The ancient capital was Bozrah, a few miles south of the Dead Sea; but in Obadiah's days the capital was Sela, or Petra, the rock city, which because of its peculiar position, its difficult access, its rock-hewn dwellings, and its precipitous natural defenses, was considered impregnable, and had fostered a spirit of fierce independence and security in the Edomites, which defied attack and scorned all attempts to subjugate them.
Now the Edomites were like both their father and their country. Their nature was marked by a hard earthiness. They were profane, proud, fierce, cruel; and these tempers found concentrated vent in a strangely persistent, implacable, bitter, gloating spite against Israel, the nation which had descended from the twin brother of their own national father, Esau. This violent nastiness had expressed itself again and again in the history of the two peoples. See Num.20:14-22.
In Obadiah's times, this undying Edomite anti-Jacobism had flamed out more wickedly than ever, in unprovoked treachery. In the days of Jerusalem's disaster, instead of befriending or at least sympathizing, the people had indulged the passive cruelty of looking on with gloating satisfaction, and had egged on the plunderers. It was the Edomite venom that the Judean captives in Babylon recalled in the words of psalm 87:7, "Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem, who said, `Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof.'"
But passive callousness had given place to active alliance with Jerusalem's destroyers. The Edomites had "entered the gate"; they had robbed and despoiled Jacob; they had barred the escape of the refugees, and had delivered up the remnant to the spoilers (v.13-14).
It was this long-accumulating guilt that Divine retribution was now determined against Edom. The key verse is 15 - "As thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee." In this prophecy about Edom, we are meant to learn emphatically that there is a principle of "poetic justice" operative in the Divine government of the earth's peoples. This is the distinctive contribution of this Edom prophecy. Obadiah, let us remember, is the prophet of poetic justice.
See how this key truth is amplified by the context. Edom had indulged in treachery against Judah (v.11-12), therefore Edom should perish through the treachery of confederates (v.7). Edom had seized the chance to rob Judah (v.13); therefore Edom should be robbed even till his hidden things, or treasures, were searched out (v.5-6). Edom had lifted the sword and shown violence against Judah (v.10); Edom should perish by slaughter (v.9). Edom had sought the utter destruction of Judah (v.12-14); therefore Edom should be utterly destroyed (v.10,18). Edom had even sought to hand over and dispossess the remnant of the invaded Jerusalem (v.14); therefore, in the end, the remnant of Jacob should possess the land of Edom (v.19). Yes, poetic justice! - the penalty corresponding to the iniquity as one line of poetry corresponds to another! And have we not seen in our own day the operation of poetic justice in the anti-Axis war? Never was there a war with such strange anomalies. To mention only one - was it altogether without significance that Britain was forced off the European mainland, first in the north, at Dunkirk, and then in the south, from Greece, and made to stand aside for the time, while Germany and Russia, the two nations which, officially and more blatantly than all others, had blasphemed God, slaughtered each other, despite their recently-signed pact of friendship? Were not the shocking brutalities of both these nations to the Jews paid back to them in identical terms? Yes, if we believe the Hebrew prophets, and Obadiah in particular, then we believe in poetic justice!
Obadiah predicts even the EXTINCTION of Edom. "Thou shalt be cut off forever" (v.10), "There shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau" (v.18). At the time when the prophet wrote, Edom might have seemed far more likely to survive than Judah; yet history has strikingly endorsed the prophecy. Edom has perished, Judah persists.
There is a strangely fascinating, symbolic interest about the successive PAIRS OF SONS way back in Genesis - Cain & Abel, Ishmael & Isaac, Esau & Jacob. Cain, Ishmael and Esau are the "natural" men, who are "of the earth, earthy," and they represent different aspects of the self-life or "flesh." Cain is the natural heart in its antipathy to REDEMPTION. He is all for religion and culture. In Ishmael we see the self-life in its antagonism to that which is of FAITH, as Paul tells us in Galatians 4:29. In Esau we see the self-life in its disappreciation of that which is SPIRITUAL. He is the man "who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright" (He.12:16). From Genesis 25:25 we learn that two characteristics distinguished him from his birth; he was "ruddy," and he was "hairy," which two things speak of beauty and strength. Yes, there is no doubt that in Esau the "flesh" is attractive. But wait, see how soon the beauty corrupts. Esau the "ruddy" becomes Edom, "the red one"; and his hue, like that of the red horse and the red dragon and the scarlet beast in Revelation 6, 12, and 17, betokens the fierce life within. The hair which at first bespeaks strength soon comes to indicate animal coarseness. Esau the strong becomes Edom the wild, the hunter, the slayer. After all, in Hebrew, the word "Edom" is actually a form of the word "Adam." Edom is Adam, and Esau is the flesh again - outwardly fair but inwardly fierce. When he really expresses himself, see the value he puts on spiritual things; for a dish of lentils he scorns his birthright, even though he knows that the birthright from his grandfather Abraham downwards carries the Divine promises of great spiritual and future blessing. This is the "flesh" in every age. For a momentary gratification it will despise the hope of a heavenly glory, and esteem an earthly morsel in the present far more than a Divine promise for the future.
Edom pictures the "flesh" or Adamic-nature. See first its pride - "The pride of thine heart" (v.3); then see how strong its hold is - "Thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock"; then its defiance - "Who shall bring me down?"; then see its ambition - "though thou set thy nest among the stars" (v.4); then its hatred of the spiritual - "thy violence against thy brother Jacob" (v.10); then see its real cruelty - (v.11-14). But on the other hand, see its self-deceivedness (v.3); its detestableness to God (v.2); its eventual defeat by the sons of faith (v.17-21); and its final destruction by God (v.10,18).
1. JONAH AND THE STORM
Disobedience - Fleeing from God
2. JONAH AND THE FISH
Preservation - Praying to God
3. JONAH AND THE CITY
Proclamation - Speaking for God
4. JONAH AND THE LORD
Correction - Learning of God
We also see "Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet which was of Gath-hepher" with king Jeroboam II in 2K.14:25. If this Jeroboam, who fulfilled Jonah's prophecy, was a real enough person, so was this Jonah himself who uttered it. Second Kings fixes the time of Jonah's ministry. It was during the later years of Joash, and (presumably) the earlier years of Jeroboam II.
Also, tradition strongly attests to the historicity of the narrative.
Its early and unquestioned place in the Hebrew Scriptures at once argues
the original belief of the Hebrews in its historicity.
Third, the word of Christ Himself conclusively confirms it. In Matthew 12:39-40 He says, "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonah, for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." He also states, "The men of Nineveh shall rise in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here" (Mat.12).
And the PHYSICAL miracle of the "whale" is not nearly so wonderful as the MORAL miracle of Nineveh's repentance, or as the SPIRITUAL miracle of the Divine Self-revelation at the end of the book.
WHY DID JONAH FLEE?
In chapter 4:2 Jonah says to God, "Therefore I fled to Tarshish, because I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest Thee of the evil." Nothing could be franker than that! JONAH DID NOT WANT GOD TO SPARE NINEVEH. Moreover, Jonah had shown himself prepared to forfeit his prophetic office, prepared to flee into exile, prepared even to resign life itself, rather than that Nineveh should be spared! Now such deliberate self-abandonment, followed by such frankness to the One who, as Jonah well realized, could read his inmost motive, surely will persuade us that Jonah must have had some far greater reason than any thought of personal safety, prejudice, prestige, or wishing to leave Nineveh to its doom.
There are two awesome facts about Assyria which gave Jonah a vehement dread of its wicked capital, Nineveh. First, ASSYRIA WAS THE RISING WORLD-POWER DESTINED TO DESTROY ISRAEL; and Jonah knew this. Second, THE NOTORIOUS BRUTALITY OF THE ASSYRIANS was such as to make the surrounding peoples shudder with a sickly terror of ever falling prey to them. They reveled in hideous cruelty on those whom they vanquished.
Jonah knew that Assyria was the nation which was predicted to destroy his own beloved land and people (Nah.2:12; 3:1-4,19). The Hebrew prophets were made aware of what was to happen consequent upon Assyria's rise to the mastery. Twenty, thirty or more years before the event, Isaiah foretold how Assyria would despoil Israel (7:17); and Hosea (9:3, 10:6-7, 11:5). Yes, Jonah knew the bitter role that Assyria was intended to play; and when the almost unbelievable Divine announcement came to him, that Nineveh was to be destroyed within 40 days, his heart must have leapt with a sudden sense of relief. Gladder news had never come to him! Besides being a prophet, he was a man of Israel, and an ardent patriot, who loved his native land, and yearned as a shepherd over his beloved but wayward countrymen. What would he have done or given for their salvation? With what emotion he would cogitate on the Divine command - "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before Me"! So Nineveh's cup was full! The great Judge had passed sentence; and if Nineveh perished, then - oh, the gladness of the thought - Israel was saved! There was but one thing that Jonah feared; Jehovah was a merciful God; and if Nineveh cried to Him, even at the 11th hour, Assyria might be spared, and then Israel would perish. Oh that he might be quite sure that Nineveh would not be spared! But how could that be? Well, there was a way - he could leave Nineveh without the warning! Thus she would be left to reap the deserved harvest of her wickedness.
Jonah must now make the most costly choice of his life. He must choose between suffering the Divine vengeance upon himself for awful disobedience, and thus save Israel; or else he must go to Nineveh, and possibly cause the salvation of Nineveh, which would result in Israel's ruin. His mental agony resolves itself into the determination to flee rather than risk delivering the message. He would sacrifice himself that Israel might be saved; for if it came to a choice as to which should not be spared, Nineveh or Israel? - then let it be wicked Nineveh!
Jonah knew well enough the omnipresence of God. He knew that he would not escape Him, but he was willing to suffer the inescapable vengeance of Heaven if only Israel might be saved. Yes if only Israel might be saved - that was why Jonah fled.
Jonah and the Storm
The storm came because of him - because of his fleeing from the presence of Jehovah. Three times in the first 10 verses we have it that Jonah's flight was from "the presence of Jehovah." These words were never meant to suggest that Jonah thought he could sail to a place where God was not! When Jonah "rose up to flee to Tarshish, from the presence of the Lord," he was voluntarily forfeiting his prophetic office and his prophetic standing before Jehovah (2Chr.29:11).
When the sailors realize the greatness of Jehovah from Jonah's own
words, they are filled with consternation at having one of His prophets
- a disobedient one - on board with them. Understanding fully, now,
Jonah's identity, they try their very utmost to spare him. But without
success, they reluctantly cast him overboard into the foaming fury
beneath, and lo, the storm at once dies away into dead calm! We are not
surprised that these amazed men "feared Jehovah exceedingly, and offered
a sacrifice unto Jehovah, and made vows."
One wonders what the next move of these sailors was after their scaring experience. They certainly could not have proceeded with their intended voyage, for all their cargo had been jettisoned, and probably their boat had been damaged. Presumably they would return to Joppa, to report on the happening, and to make new preparations. One wonders if they had actually seen the fish appear, and Jonah pass into its great wide mouth. Nor can one help wondering how soon and how far the story got around - possibly even as far as Nineveh, before Jonah himself ever got there!
Jonah and the Fish
The swallowing of Jonah by the "sea-monster" was not an act of punishment but of preservation. That, perhaps more than anything else, confirms the belief that Jonah's motive in fleeing was, the high motive of Israel's salvation.
Jonah's prayer from inside the great fish is not a cry for deliverance. Jonah knew that he was already being delivered. His prayer is really a psalm of praise. There is not one word of petition in Jonah's prayer. It consists of thanksgiving (2-6), contrition (7-8), and rededication (9). Inside that fish Jonah realized in a new way the wonderful love and care of his God. He learned as never before, that underneath and round about him were the "everlasting arms" of Jehovah. It was there too, that he came to understand with vividness the folly and futility of disobedience to God, for he said, "They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy" (rebuking himself for his own self-willed subterfuge). Still more, in that fish, Jonah recovenanted with God, saying, "I will pay that which I have vowed"; while his final word is "Salvation is of Jehovah." Thereupon, the fish discharged its unusual cargo, safe and sound at an unnamed port of call.
Jonah and the City
Most remarkable of all, perhaps, is that of Nineveh's repentance. How great this moral miracle was may be judged from the size of the city. Three times God speaks of Nineveh as "the great city." Its circumference was about 60 miles, containing about 350 square miles. The walls were 100 feet high, and so broad that three chariots could be driven abreast on them. They were fortified with 1500 towers, each of these being 200 feet in height. On the basis of the Scripture reference to the great number of young infants in Nineveh, namely the "120,000 persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand," the population is estimated about one million. The whole of this vast and populous metropolis repented, with an immediate and genuine repentance, at the preaching of this lone prophet from Israel?
Now a most significant clue to the reason why Jonah's appearance and proclamation at Nineveh created such an immediate stir is found in the New Testament, in our Lord's words - "This is an evil generation; they seek a SIGN; and there shall no SIGN be given unto it, but the SIGN of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was a SIGN unto the Ninevites, so shall the Son of Man be to this generation" (Lk.11:29-30). Jonah was a sign unto the old-time Ninevites, by this miraculous experience in the great fish; but the question at once presents itself, "How could Jonah have been a sign to them if the Ninevites DID NOT KNOW of Jonah's experience? How could it be otherwise than that this phenomenal story should reach Nineveh before ever Jonah got there? Also, Jonah's experience in the "whale" had perhaps left a bleached appearance about him, we can well imagine what a startling and solemn "sign" he would be to the astonished Ninevites.
Still further, many revolts had shaken Assyria's hold on its subjects, and contracted her boundaries. It began to look as though Assyria's hour was coming. Jonah's sudden cry came just at the most telling moment. It was like a spark on dried wood, or a thrusting in of the sickle when the harvest was dead ripe. The hearts of Nineveh's thousands were bowed as the heart of one man.
Jonah and the Lord
Chapter 4 is a dialogue between Jonah and the Lord, and it gives us the supreme message of the book. Jonah is not only displeased and angry, but is dismayed at Israel's dark future, now that Nineveh is to be spared. The Lord tenderly reproves him with the question, "Doest thou well to be angry?" Thereupon, Jonah, thinking that possibly there was still a gleam of hope, "went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, TILL HE MIGHT SEE WHAT WOULD BECOME OF THE CITY." Here the Lord tenderly and patiently reasoned with His overwrought servant, by three "prepared" things - a gourd, a worm, and a wind.
First, God "prepared a GOURD, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to deliver him from his grief." It has been truly observed that "the tenderness in the heart of God is manifested not only in His compassion for repenting sinners, but also in His patience with repining saints."
But with the next sunrise God also "prepared" a WORM, which "smote the gourd that it withered. Thus Jonah was now left exposed to the sun again.
Still further, however, God "prepared" a SULTRY EAST WIND. Poor Jonah, dispirited at the thought of Israel's dark future now that Nineveh is to be spared, inadequately screened from the glare of the merciless sun, and reduced to utter lassitude by the sweltering heat, sinks down and yearns that he might die. He is roused by a voice, however. It is God speaking. "Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?" Jonah's reply is, "I do well to be angry, even unto death." This occasions the wonderful Divine utterance with which the book closes.
"Then said Jehovah: Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which
thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in
a night, and perished in a night. And should not I spare Nineveh,
that great city, wherein are more than 120,000 persons that cannot
discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also
This is the revelation of the heart of God to which the whole book has been moving, and for which indeed it was written. We are left in the presence of God, face to face with this moving revelation of the Divine compassion. We are told the story of this man and Nineveh because of what it reveals to us of GOD.
Ponder then this revelation of God. It is perhaps the most tender
anticipation of John 3:16, the parable of the prodigal son, and the
world-embracing message of the Gospel, to be found anywhere in the Old
Testament. God's tender patience with the resentful prophet, and His
tender concern for the Ninevites, despite their wickedness, together
give us a unique expression of the Divine compassion. See here the
compassion of God toward penitent wicked-doers, and toward innocent
little children, and even toward dumb animals. He is as slow to punish
as He is quick to pardon when there is penitence.
Jonah needed to learn that God's special favor toward Israel did not mean a lessened love for other peoples. He must learn that the Divine election is not arbitrary, but for the fulfilling of high purpose. Israel had not been chosen simply for Israel's own sake, but to fulfill a Divine purpose, the end of which was the blessing of ALL peoples. The election of the nation did not mean the rejection of others! The omnipresent Jehovah had an omnipresent care and concern and compassion toward ALL men and women, boys and girls, and even the lower animals.
Jonah's pity for the gourd was not only because a thing of beauty and fragrance had been ruined, but because the loss of the plant meant much to HIMSELF. Even so, God's pity toward the Ninevites is not only because of their instinctive preciousness as human souls, but because they mean much TO HIS OWN HEART. How that comparison must have set Jonah thinking! And how precious to ourselves is this thought that each one of us means much to the heart of the Eternal! And how it pulls at our heart-strings to know that each man and woman and boy and girl, of whatever race or clime or color, means something very tender in the mind of God! Surely this is the deepest inspiration of all overseas missionary activity - and this revelation was given to the first foreign missionary sent out from Israel! Even a modern critic like Dr. Arthur Peake is obliged to say, "That out of the stony heart of Judaism such a book should come, is nothing less than a marvel of Divine grace."
Jonah as a Type
First, Jonah typically foreshadows THE HISTORY OF HIS OWN NATION, ISRAEL. See the whole nation of Israel moving with him, just as a man's shadow on a wall behind him moves with him. See here the people of Israel - disobedient to the heavenly commission, as Jonah was; out of their own land as Jonah was; finding precarious refuge with the Gentiles as Jonah did; everywhere a trouble to the Gentiles, as Jonah was on that ship; yet witnessing to the true God, among the Gentiles, as Jonah did to those sailors; cast out by the Gentiles, as Jonah was cast out by the troubled seamen; yet miraculously preserved amid their calamities, as Jonah was miraculously preserved in the deep; calling on Jehovah, at last, in repentance and rededication, as Jonah did from inside the great fish; finding salvation and deliverance in Jehovah-Jesus, as Jonah found salvation in a new way in the deep, concluding his prayer with the words, "Salvation is of Jehovah"; and in the end becoming missionaries to the Gentile nations (Zec.8:13,20,23), as Jonah in the end, became God's missionary to Gentile Nineveh.
Second, Jonah typically anticipates the DEATH, BURIAL AND RESURRECTION OF CHRIST. Jonah was inside the great fish for "three days and three nights." Why? So long as the fish had served the purpose of preventing drowning, might not the prophet been discharged from the fish without further delay? The Lord Jesus tells us why, "As Jonah was three days and three nights in the sea-monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Hundreds of years before our Lord's incarnation, Jonah's entombment in the great fish should be sovereignly overruled to become a type in this way. For the inside of the fish is likened in Jonah's prayer, to Sheol (the Hades in the New Testament), into which our Lord went between the death and resurrection of His body, and where He "preached unto the spirits in prison" (1Pe.3:19). See note on the triple type of Christ's resurrection of Elijah, Elisha and Jonah in notes on II Kings. Following is a summary in type.
Jonah - Dies, goes down to Sheol, does not see corruption
Elisha - Dies and in his death gives life to others
Elijah - Ascends to heaven and Pentecostal Spirit is sent
Third, Jonah is a type of CHRIST HIMSELF AS GOD'S "SIGN" MESSENGER. Our Lord Jesus said, "As Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of Man be to this generation." The late John Urquhart wrote, "Look back over those nearly 20 centuries and you will see the answer. When Jonah, having become a curse for his people, came back as it were from the dead, whither did he carry the word of the Lord? To Israel? No, to the Gentile city of Nineveh. And there he beheld what he had in vain longed and prayed to see among his own people - the turning of a whole city to God - the leaders for once leading in the right direction, and the entire people following and seeking God with purpose of heart. When Christ came back from the grave, and the word of the Lord was once more to be proclaimed, whither was it carried? It was borne to the Gentiles. And how fared it with the message there? The Word of Life, which Israel had rejected, these received. Age after age the Jew has been confronted with that sign. Out of the grave of the Crucified has come this power that has tamed the barbarian, changed the savage, cleansed and raised the hopelessly debased, brought back the outcast races into the brotherhood of man, and given to all who have received the message, the nobility, the spiritual insight, the compassions and the purity of the children of God. He who said that the Jew should have that sign read the future. He gave a promise, and, rising from the grave He has kept it. He has proved His claim to be the Son of God and the world's Savior. He has attested the Book of Jonah, He has attested the entire Scripture; and for us that attestation is final."
1. IMMINENT JUDGMENT DECLARED 1-3
2. ULTIMATE BLESSING PROMISED 4-5
3. PRESENT REPENTANCE PLEADED 6-7
It is good to know that in the Judean capital, the great prophet Isaiah had such a trusty comrade and fellow companion of truth as "Micah the Morashtite." Although Isaiah was a man of the schools and Micah a man of the fields, these two giants of faith would no doubt have their heart to heart consultations on the stirring doings of those eventful days. Probably Isaiah's ministry was more to the upper classes, and Micah's more to the lower. Our prophet calls himself a "Morashtite," which means that he was from Moresheth, a little place in Judea, near Gath on the Philistine border. He was a prophet of Judah, with Jerusalem as the center-point of his prophetic ministry and message, though he often also includes Samaria.
The central thought is: PRESENT JUDGMENT BUT FUTURE BLESSING. The present judgment is because of Israel's unfaithfulness to the Covenant. The future blessing is because of Jehovah's UNCHANGING FAITHFULNESS to it.
The "wound" in v.1:9 is the stroke of retribution. There had been earlier chastisements, but this coming one was to be "incurable," that is, they would not be recovery from it. Jehovah's rod to inflict the stroke would be Assyria; and after the Assyrians had laid low the northern kingdom they also invaded the southern kingdom, even to Jerusalem itself (2K.18:9-19:37). "It (the stroke) is come unto Judah; it is come unto the gate of MY people, even to Jerusalem."
In chapter 4 we have the future KINGDOM, in chapter 5 the future KING. To Micah and the Hebrew prophets it was given by the Spirit of inspiration to foresee a golden day-break of restoration beyond the grim nightfall of retribution. They were not given to see all the intervening historical processes; they did not discern the long period between the Messiah's first coming, as the suffering Servant to bear the curse of the Law, and His second coming, as King of kings, to administer the blessings of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants; but they DID see the eventual consummation. In 1 Peter 1:11 we learn that they actually studied their own writings to ascertain "what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." The present age of grace and of the Church was a secret of God and not divulged until apostolic times (Ef.3).
There is something rather thrilling in the fact that these Hebrew preachers of 25 centuries ago should be telling us even today of things which are still to happen. An unbiased consideration of such predictions as we have in Micah 4 and 5 will convince any honest mind that there has not yet been a fulfillment which satisfies all their intent. They await the Millennial age era for their full realization. They will burst into consummating occurrence at the reappearing of Israel's great Deliverer, the now rejected Christ.
And now in this 4th chapter, note the opening phrase, "In the last days." It clearly lifts the passage from any application merely to the prophet's own time, and points to the far future. Also note v.2. Nations other than Israel are to be in the Messianic kingdom and are to walk in the ways of Jehovah. And v.5 should read, "All the peoples now walk in the name of their god, but shall walk in the name of Jehovah our God forever."
Note also the sharp contrast Micah makes between the restoration promised for the LAST days, and the judgment imminent in HIS OWN. In v.1-8 he speaks of "in the last days" and "in that day." But see v.9-11, "NOW doest thou cry" and "NOW shalt thou go...to Babylon" and "NOW also many nations are gathered against thee"; and 5:1 "NOW...he hath laid siege against us"; and 5:3 says, "UNTIL" the coming of Christ.
This brings us to the remarkable prediction of the place of Christ's birth (5:2). Micah and Isaiah give the two clearest predictions concerning our Lord's incarnation. Isaiah foretells His birth of the VIRGIN. Micah tells the PLACE of His birth so plainly that when the Magi long after inquired of Herod where the King of the Jews should be born, the scribes answered without hesitation, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written of the prophet." Note that between the first half of Micah 5:3 and the second, the present age with its further scattering of the Jews intervenes, which Micah was not given to see. The rest of the 5th chapter looks on to the kingdom age yet to be. Note Israel's double aspect in v.7-8 - fresh as the dew, strong as the lion! Mark the regeneration of Israel in v.10-14. And in v.15 see the coming wrath on the earth's penitent peoples. This verse should read, "I will execute vengeance in anger and fury upon the nations which do not hearken."
The last two chapters of Micah are in the form of a colloquy; and when read as such they light up with new interest. In chapter 6:1-2, the MOUNTAINS are exhorted to listen, like stately referees, to Jehovah's "controversy." Then in v.3-5, JEHOVAH pleads. In v.6-7 MICAH speaks, representing those in the nation who would fitly respond. In v.8 the overhearing mountains break in - "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth Jehovah require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" Next, in v.9-16 JEHOVAH speaks to "the man of wisdom," wherever he is, in the city, exposing the nation's sin, and showing why the nation suffered. Then in 7:1-6, the unhappy NATION is impersonated as confessing its baneful state. In v.7-10 the "man of wisdom" speaks again. In v.11-13 it is Jehovah. In v.14 the man of wisdom. In v.15 Jehovah. Finally, from v.16 to the end it is the man of wisdom. These two chapters are Jehovah's pleading for REPENTANCE. They are the "application" of the great sermon preached in the foregoing chapters.
Note first, THE PROFOUND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DIVINE DEALINGS WITH THE HEBREW NATION. Micah addresses a small people in a strip of land merely the size of Florida yet in 1:2 and 6:1-2, he commands the whole earth, the mountains, the hills to attend (frequently in Scripture mountains and hills symbolize kingdoms). Micah realized that the covenant people were brought into their unique relationship with Jehovah so that through them the sovereignty of the true God, in its governmental administration among the nations, might be objectified to all peoples and for all time. Had Israel remained faithful she would have displayed the munificence of the Divine government. Alas, Israel exhibits a tragically different yet vastly significant aspect of the Divine government.
Note too, the contrast which Micah strikes by THE UNMASKING OF FALSE RULERSHIP VERSUS THE UNVEILING OF TRUE RULERSHIP IN CHRIST. God delegates authority to human rulers. Micah recognizes this fact in the Divine economy, and addresses the princes, priests, and prophets as the ordained representatives of the Divine administration. Their responsibility is commensurately great. See Micah's scathing indictment of false rulership in chapter 3 vs. the arresting description of the TRUE "RULER," in chapter 5, who was yet to come. Christ is God's ideal of rulership. Micah traces the perversion and adversity of the people to the misrule of those over them, and all who abuse such authority incur equal penalty.
Finally, we revert to Micah's AUGUST DECLARATION AS TO THE TRUE ESSENCE OF RELIGION. Note that God "REQUIRES" for He is God. And God also REVEALS, for "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good..."(Dt.10:12).And when we turn to the New Testament, and learn there that God REDEEMS. He "requires" because He is God. He "reveals" because He is good. He "redeems" because He is love. The Christ of God has come already to redeem. He will come again to restore. Meanwhile let us view all our life in the light of the Divine purposes and the future reappearance of the great "Ruler" whose goings forth have been "from of old, even from everlasting."
1. NINEVEH'S DOOM DECLARED
2. NINEVEH'S DOOM DESCRIBED
3. NINEVEH'S DOOM DESERVED
Of this prophet who tolls the knell over Nineveh practically nothing is known. He comes to us simply as "Nahum the Elkoshite"; that is, he was of Elkosh, a place which cannot now be located with certainty. It is surmised that he was of Galilee. His name is thought to be preserved in the Galilean city of Capernaum, the name of which (Kaphar-Nahum) means Village-of-Nahum. This much is certain, Nahum addresses Judah; and the impression left on the reader's mind is that he also wrote from Judah. He follows Isaiah, in the reign of Judah's most wicked king, Manasseh.
Jehovah and Nineveh
Nahum's oracle is given to one subject alone - the doom of Nineveh, capital of Assyria, and when Nahum wrote the world's greatest city. It is noteworthy that two books of the Minor Prophets are devoted wholly to Nineveh. Over a century before Nahum, Jonah had lifted up his voice for Jehovah in the great thoroughfares of Nineveh; and the Ninevites had learned through him that "Jehovah is slow to anger." Jonah would preach this to the Ninevites, and it would strike a sharp contrast between Jehovah and the fierce-tempered deities of the Assyrians. To this strangely welcome compassion of Jehovah, they responded; but soon afterward they had presumed upon it, going to greater lengths of wickedness than ever before. They must now learn through Nahum, that "Jehovah is a jealous God"; jealous of His rights over His creatures. They must now learn that wrath restrained (as in Jonah's time) is wrath RESERVED, if there is willful return to wickedness. Nahum takes up where Jonah left off. Like Jonah he says, "Jehovah is slow to anger" (1:3), but he adds the other side of the truth - "and great in power, AND WILL NOT AT ALL ACQUIT THE WICKED." These words are the key to this doom song of Nahum. The fact that two of the Minor Prophets are devoted to Nineveh emphasize its significance. This mighty metropolis of a bygone empire was meant to objectify for all peoples and for all time the governmental method of God with the Gentile nations. Though God will forgive sin repented of, He will not condone sin persisted in. Compassion can never be exercised at the expense of righteousness. Nineveh was the proudest and the fiercest, as well as the vilest of cities. The surrounding peoples cringed at her feet. She swelled with pride in the imagination of her seeming invulnerability. But now, besides rebuking Nineveh's pride, oppression, idolatry, and defiance of the sovereign Jehovah, Nahum publishes the irreversible decree that she shall be forever destroyed.
Practically throughout, it is poetic in form, and it is poetry unsurpassed for power of description. It opens with a description of the attributes and operations of God, and runs in three strophes. Chapter 1 asserts the CERTAINTY of Nineveh's overthrow. Chapter 2 depicts the SIEGE AND CAPTURE of the city. Chapter 3 tells of the WICKEDNESS which provoked the retribution. Nineveh's vastness was eclipsed by its VILENESS. The surrounding peoples shuddered with a sickly horror at the thought of ever being prey to them. Their mania for blood and savagery was gruesome and foul. The word of God to her is, "I will make thy grave, for thou art vile" (1:14).
NAHUM'S PROPHECY FULFILLED
One of the unanswerable arguments for the superhuman origin of the Bible is its amplitude of fulfilled prediction. Nahum's oracle on Nineveh is an impressive instance. His reference to "the gates of the rivers" being opened, and the palace "dissolved" (2:6), is striking in view of what actually happened. The Pulpit Commentary says, "This prophecy, so precise and assured, was the result of no human prevision. When Nahum prophesied, Assyria was at the height of its prosperity. No enemy in its neighborhood was left unsubdued; the distant Egypt had submitted to its arms; Phoenicia and Cyprus owned its sway; Judah paid annual tribute; commercial enterprise had drawn unto it the riches of all nations. No one at this epoch could have seen the speedy end of this prosperity. In 50 years the end came. Nabopolassar made alliance with all the enemies of Assyria, and became the ruling spirit of a strong confederacy which comprised Medes and Persians, Egyptians, Armenians, and other nations, all animated with the fierce desire of revenging themselves on Assyria. About 612 B.C. the allied forces attacked Nineveh, but were repulsed with loss. Victory some time hovered over the Assyrians; but the enemy, reinforced from Bactria, proved irresistible. The Ninevites, fearing for their final safety, attempted to escape from the city. They were overtaken, and again shut up within their walls. Here they defended themselves for more than 2 years, when a circumstance against which no remedy availed laid them at the mercies of the besiegers. An unusual heavy flood of the Tigris carried away a large section of the huge rampart that surrounded the city. Through the gap thus formed the enemy forced their way within the walls and captured the place. The town was sacked, and a great number of the inhabitants were massacred. Thus fell Nineveh in 608 B.C., according to the prophecy of Nahum." So completely was Nineveh destroyed, we may add, that in the 2nd century A.D. even the cite of it had become uncertain.
The name of the prophet Nahum means Comfort; and frankly Nahum's dirge is real comfort for the godly. It is the comfort of knowing that in the righteous government of God, the outrages of impenitent evil-doers against their fellow-humans are Divinely requited. Note the fact that Nahum scarcely mentions his own nation. He does not exult in Nineveh's downfall merely for Judah's sake, or for his own. Nineveh had sold whole peoples for her whoredoms and witchcrafts. Nahum voices the outraged conscience of mankind. Other than merely indulging revenge, he identifies himself with God's government in its guarantee that such wrongs shall not go without redress.
Again, Nineveh figures to us "this present evil world," in its outward display, its seeming security, its superficial response to God's message, its false religion, its inward corruption, its cruelty to the souls of men, and its eventual overthrow by Divine judgment. But there is another significant correspondence. In chapter 1:11 Nahum says to Nineveh, "there is one come out of thee that imagineth evil against Jehovah, a wicked counselor." Possibly Nahum here harks back to Rab-shakeh, who a few years earlier, had come from Assyria to terrify Jerusalem (2K.18 & 19; Is.36). Rab-shakeh certainly was a "man of sin" with a foul mouth speaking insolent things, and exalting the Assyrian sovereign above all gods, even above Jehovah Himself. He certainly adumbrated, if he did not actually typify the "man of sin" who is to appear toward the end of the present age. Again and again, in the course of history, the world spirit, the spirit of anti-christ, has expressed itself with blatant concentration through some outstanding personality. But there is yet to appear the Rab-shakeh whose number is 666, through whom the forces of evil will vent their culminating defiance of the true God and His Christ. It will then be as it was with Rab-shakeh and the suddenly death-smitten Assyrian host (Is.37:36); for it is written, "Then shall the lawless one be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the breath of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming" (2Thes.2:8). Yes, Nineveh is fallen. Jehovah will not acquit! His government is righteous. He is the stronghold of the godly. Christ is His supreme pledge. Lo, He comes, and every eye shall see Him! Wrongs shall be righted. The valleys shall be exalted, and the mountains brought low. The dark shall be made light, and the crooked straight; and the kingdoms of this world shall yet become the kingdom of our God and His Christ.
CH.1 "BURDEN": FAITH GRAPPLING WITH PROBLEM.
CH.2 "VISION": FAITH GRASPING THE SOLUTION.
CH.3 "PRAYER": FAITH GLORYING IN ASSURANCE.
Habakkuk, like any individual, is unique. Unlike the other prophets, he does not address either his own countrymen or a foreign people; his speech is to God alone. Again, unlike the other prophets, he is not concerned so much with delivering a message as with solving a PROBLEM - a problem which vexed his own sensitive soul relating to Jehovah's government of the nations. The first part of this prophecy (1 & 2) is a COLLOQUY between Habakkuk and Jehovah. The remainder (3) is an exquisitely beautiful ode describing a majestic THEOPHANY, or visible coming of God to the earth. Both in the colloquy which it relates and in the theophany which it describes, this book of Habakkuk is unique.
The focus of Habakkuk's problem and prophecy is BABYLON. Of the enemies
which afflicted the covenant people long ago, three were outstanding -
the Edomites, the Assyrians, and the Chaldeans (Babylonians). It was
given to three of the Hebrew prophets to pronounce the doom of these
three powers. The prophecy of Obadiah sealed the fate of Edom. The
prophecy of Nahum tolled the knell over Assyria. The prophecy of
Habakkuk dug the grave of Babylon.
Now it was not until Nineveh had been destroyed that Babylon rose above the nations as the new dominating world power, which suggests that Habakkuk wrote either a little while BEFORE, or more probably, soon AFTER the fall of Nineveh, in 608 B.C. It was probably in Jehoiakim's reign that Habakkuk wrote, somewhere about 600 B.C., and we are confirmed in this by II Kings 24, which gives the reign of this Jehoiakim as the time when the Babylonians began their harassing of Judah when eventually culminated in Judah's seventy years' Babylonian servitude.
Thus Habakkuk, contemporary of Jeremiah, was a prophet of fateful days in Judah. The dark storm-clouds were massing over Jerusalem. This prophecy of Habakkuk puts into words a struggle and triumph of faith which took place in the soul of the prophet himself. It begins with a sob, and ends with a song.
Chapter 1 - A "Burden"
The prophet here is in an agony of perplexity. He is beset by a double enigma of the Divine providence, or at any rate, what seems to be so. He sighs -
"O Lord, how long shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear? I cry
out unto Thee of violence, and Thou wilt not save! Why doest
Thou show me iniquity, and look upon perverseness? (v.2-4)
Habakkuk's problem was the silence, inactivity, and apparent unconcern of God. Violence abounded; lawlessness was rife; blatant evils defied all protest from God's prophets; and God seemed to be doing nothing. But Habakkuk's problem on this score was cleared up by a special word from God-
"Behold ye among the nations, and regard, and wonder
marvelously; for I work a work in your days which ye
will not believe though it be told you. For, lo, I raise
up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation; which
march through the breadth of the earth, to possess
dwelling-places that are not theirs."
This, however, to the distraught Habakkuk, only solved the one problem by raising a still bigger one. Certainly the crushing requital coming to Judah was deserved; but why should God punish Judah by means of a people far more wicked and ruthless than the Jews themselves? The thought of this was a painful shock to Habakkuk. It seemed hard to reconcile with his belief in the righteousness of Jehovah's government over the nations of the earth.
Habakkuk's plaintive further appeal to God is given in v.12-17, which should be read again in a revised version. What can Habakkuk do about it? After all, God is sovereign. It is no use beating one's head against the wall. Will God be gracious and give His servant some understanding of this matter? Habakkuk resolves to await God's word. He says, "I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and I will look forth to see what He will speak with me (2:1).
Chapter 2 - A "Vision"
In this chapter we have the wonderful "vision" which God gave to Habakkuk; and here faith finds a solution, though not a solution in the logical sense, but a spiritual solution which is thoroughly intelligible to faith. The chapter should be read again with special regard to two great pledges which God gives in v.4 and 14. Verse 4 says, "Behold his soul (the Babylonian's) is puffed up, it is not upright in him; BUT THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." And v.14 says, "FOR THE EARTH SHALL BE FILLED WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE GLORY OF THE LORD." If then, in chapter 1 we have a double problem, in chapter 2 we have a double pledge.
What is the meaning of these two assurances? Take the first - "The just shall live by his faith." The words might almost seem to occur in a merely incidental way; yet in reality they are so significant that they are quoted no less than three times in the New Testament as a decisive factor in evangelical argument (Ro.1:17, Ga.3:11, He.10:38). It should be understood at once that the words look beyond the body to the SOUL. This is indicated by the earlier half of the sentence, in which God says to the proud Chaldean, "Behold his SOUL is puffed up; it is not upright in him." That word "soul" betokens the deeper sense in which we are to read the remaining words of the sentence, namely, "the just shall live by his faith." The words look beyond the outward to the INWARD, beyond the merely physical to the SPIRITUAL, beyond the present to the FUTURE, beyond the intermediate and episodal to the ULTIMATE and the ETERNAL. It is as though God said to Habakkuk, "Yes, your estimate of the Chaldean is quite right; his soul is all wrong; but though I use him to chastise My people, he himself shall be brought to woe in the end; and although in the present painful process the righteous suffer with (and by) the wicked, yet the righteous shall never perish in the end like the wicked, but shall live because of his faith, as will yet be seen, for the earth shall yet be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord." The fact is that this word to Habakkuk is one of those prolific words of the Old Testament which must be read in the light of New Testament revelation if we are to grasp the full meaning. Those who by faith in the God of the Lord Jesus are justified, or made righteous, in Christ, DO "live" by their faith, in the sense that they RECEIVE new spiritual life here and now, and SHALL live forever with Christ beyond the short years of mortality on earth.
As for the second pledge - "For the earth shall (yet) be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord", that also must be read anew in New Testament light. Not yet have the words had fulfillment. They await the return of Christ. They look on to the Millennium. THEN the meek shall inherit the earth, and the controversy of history be resolved in the final vindication of the right and true. God's word to Habakkuk is, "Though it tarry, WAIT for it; because it will surely come" (2:3). God has given supreme pledge in Christ that He is indeed working out great and gracious purposes for mankind. Habakkuk himself grasped something of this, and said, "Jehovah is in His holy temple; LET ALL THE EARTH KEEP SILENCE BEFORE HIM" (2:20).
Chapter 3 - A "Prayer"
This "prayer" of Habakkuk is really a sublime rhapsody of faith. It begins, with an appeal to God, to grant a gracious revival "in the midst of the years," before ever his ultimate purpose for history has worked out to its final fulfillment (3:2). Then, from v.3-15 there is a glorying in Jehovah's mighty deeds of the past, His coming forth for the emancipation of Israel, His marvels from the time of the Exodus onwards. There can be no doubt that Habakkuk here refers to these things; yet significantly enough he puts his verbs in the FUTURE tense, so that from the imagery of the Exodus and the journeying to Canaan there is a solemn picturing of a far greater coming of God to judgment which is yet to be. Thus v.3 should really read, "God SHALL COME from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran"; similarly the future tense in most of the verses. "Teman" and "Paran" are the land of Edom, and the land between Edom and Egypt.
Finally, in v.16-19, we have a postlude, in which faith soars on wings above all doubts and fears. It does the heart good to read such exulting words of assurance in days like these. Although the prophet had "trembled" at the coming judgment upon his own people (v.16), he now speaks of himself as "I who shall REST in the day of tribulation." That is the more literal translation. Though he should be brought to utmost destitution, yet he says, "I will rejoice in Jehovah; I will joy in the God of my salvation." The literal is, "I will jump for joy in the Lord; I will spin round for delight in God." Here is the hilarity of faith! - joy at its best with circumstances at their worst! What a victory! May it be ours!
Such then is the book of Habakkuk. In chapter 1 we have a twofold PROBLEM; in chapter 2 a twofold PROMISE; in chapter 3 a twofold PRODUCT - praise for the past and confidence for the future. In chapter 1 we have faith SIGHING; in chapter 2 faith SEEING; in chapter 3 faith SINGING.
The key verse to Habakkuk is 2:4 - "The just shall live by his faith"; and around this truth precious lessons for faith are written. The living message of the little book is clear, "Faith has still its problems." If Habakkuk's days seemed draped with dark enigmas, even more do our own. But this book tells us not to judge merely by the appearances of the hour. God has given us great promises, and is working out great purposes. He cannot tell us the whole in so many words; but He has revealed enough to make faith intelligent, and to give it scope for development.
There is also truth of high value for us in the process by which Habakkuk passed from his sob of doubt to his song of trust. First, he told his honest doubt to GOD, and not to any mere human "brain trust." If we would only do that instead of sighing abroad our doubts on human ears, what unrest we would escape! But second, Habakkuk resolved to WAIT on God. He said, "I will get to my watchtower. I will wait to see what it all means." Nor did God mock him. Nor does God ever mock such a man. We do not know how long Habakkuk waited; but we do know God answered him. Oh, if we would only give God time, so that He might prepare our minds for what He has to say! People say that God does not speak to men today as He did long ago. The truer statement is that men do not listen today as they did of old. To the man who waits, God does not remain silent. Thus thirdly, Habakkuk broke through to joyous certitude and song. He had seen a vision. All was changed. When he had looked at circumstances he was in despair. When he waited and heard God speak he began to sing.
Finally, let us keep Habakkuk's golden hope before us, that the earth shall yet be filled with the glory of the Lord. The age is far spent. The final epoch hastens to us. The vision has tarried; but now it speeds to its full realization. Christ is coming soon; the big events of our time are the solemn heralds of His return. God help us to wait with the patience of a true hope, to watch with the eye of a true faith, to work with the zeal of a true love - until He come!
LOOK WITHIN! - WRATH COMING ON JUDAH (1:1-2:3)
The purpose of Jehovah to judge 1-6
The "Day" of Jehovah "at hand" 7-18
And so - plea to Jerusalem 2:1-3
LOOK AROUND! - WRATH ON ALL NATIONS (2:4-3:8)
West, East - Philistia, Moab, Ammon 4-11
South, North - Ethiopia and Assyria 12-15
And so - "Woe" to Jerusalem 3:1-8
LOOK BEYOND! - AFTER WRATH, HEALING (3:9-3:20)
Conversion of Gentile peoples 9
Restoring of Covenant people 10-15
And so - the NEW JERUSALEM 16-20
In introducing himself to us, Zephaniah gives his pedigree more fully than any other of the prophets. We can understand how a prophet like Zephaniah would be grateful to show his near descent from a king like Hezekiah. So, Zephaniah is by distinction the prophet of royal descent. He is a prince of the house of David, and the great-great-grandson of Hezekiah. He also tells us when he prophesied. It was "in the days of Josiah." We can well appreciate that king Josiah, in his noble religious reforms, would have the ardent backing of his prophet - cousin. It may be that much of the urge toward these reforms came from Zephaniah, who would have the intimate influence of a relative in the royal house. There is something pathetic however, about the religious reforms in the days of King Josiah. Outwardly it was impressive perhaps, but inwardly it was far from what was needed. Noting particularly the words of prophetess Hulda to Josiah (2K.22:15-20). In effect the prophetess said, "Yes, King Josiah, do all that is in your mind; it is good, but the heart of this people is become gross; there will not be a real heart turning to God such as would avert judgment."
We are not greatly surprised, therefore, that our prophet Zehanaih does not make mention of these outward reforms. His perceiving eye left him in no doubt as to the real state of the nation's life. He exposes the transgressions and pollutions of his days, and with a stern vehemence warns his people that the "Day of Jehovah" hastens toward them, with its tornado of Divine wrath. The two prophets Joel and Zephaniah are in an emphatic way the prophets of judgment against Judah; yet both of them, having delivered their message of judgment, foretell a glorious aftermath. The final passage from Zephaniah's pen is one of the most beautiful in the Scriptures. It looks on to that promised age which is yet to be, when Israel's Messiah, the Church's Divine Husband, shall hold empire over all the earth.
Zephaniah's Threefold Message
PART 1 - In all this run of verses there is no mention of the outside nations. The theme is the sin and coming judgment of JUDAH. Note the one grimly significant "BECAUSE" in 1:17. "Because they have sinned against Jehovah." And note also, that this part of the book ends with an appeal for repentance, and an encouraging word to the little company of upright ones among the degraded populace (2:1-3).
PART 2 - Here the prophet looks away from Jerusalem and Judah to THE SURROUNDING NATIONS. Note that this part concludes with a sudden turning round on Jerusalem again, the point being that if God so smites the surrounding nations with judgment, how certainly will He smite the people of Judah who have had privileges above all others! "I have cut off the nations; their towers are desolate; I made their streets waste, that none passeth by; their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant. I said, surely (in view of all this) thou (Jerusalem) wilt fear Me, thou wilt receive instruction ... but they rose early and corrupted all their doings ... Therefore ... I rise to the prey" (3:6-8).
PART 3 - Blessings shall come to Israel and to all peoples alike, after the days of judgment have served their purpose. The passage begins, "For then will I turn to the PEOPLES (not singular as in the authorized version) a pure language, that they may ALL call upon the name of Jehovah, to serve Him with one consent." In this the vision of Zephaniah is like that of other prophets. The coming Messianic kingdom is to embrace all the nations. Yet the covenant people are to be the center of that kingdom; and therefore Zephaniah concludes by picturing the exalted blessings of Israel in that golden age. There is to be a regathering of the dispersed (v.10). There is to be a changed temper and behavior of the people (v.11-13). There is to be banishment of evil, and an exulting joyousness (v.14-15). God Himself is going to find utter pleasure in the Holy City and her people; it shall be said to Zion, "Jehovah, thy God, is in the midst of thee, the Mighty One who will save; He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love; He will joy over thee with singing" (v.16-17). All afflictions are to be forever over, and Israel is to be made "a praise among all the peoples of the earth" v.20. It is a delectable picture indeed, and sets our longing hearts praying the more fervently, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
The key thought is not expressed so much in any one verse as in the CONTRAST between the very first and last verses. After the superscription, the first word is, "I WILL UTTERLY CONSUME." This is the fierce fire of judgment. But the last word of the book is, "I WILL MAKE YOU A NAME AND A PRAISE." This is the final fullness and blessing.
God has a glorious end and purpose in view; but even that golden goal must not be gained at the expense of absolute justice and righteousness in the present; and therefore present sin must be equated by present judgment. Yet even so, the ultimate purpose shall be realized, for the sovereign Jehovah so overrules, that, however grievously His people sin, and however grievously He must punish, the present process of judgment shall eventually issue in the final blessing. There must be the smiting with retribution before there can be the smiling of restoration. Thus we may say that the key thought of Zephaniah is, "THROUGH JUDGMENT TO BLESSING." Closely allied with this is the thought that, "Jehovah is in the midst." He is in the midst of Jerusalem to JUDGE (3:5); and He is in the midst of Jerusalem to SAVE (3:15-17). Well may we sing -
"And though His arm is strong to smite
'Tis also strong to save."
Here was a man who had the mind of God on the national and international situation when few others, if any, had taken the measure of it or sensed the gravity of it; and he declared it even though it was severely unpopular. This is ever the mark of the true prophet. This man saw beneath the sudden new burst of religious activity, and judged it for what it was really worth. He looked out on the larger crowd of the populace, the irreligious lot, who simply nodded an artificial respect for the new stir of Jehovah-worship because the king was chief patron, but who had said among themselves that these religious ideas were now played out, that "Jehovah will not do good, neither will He do evil" (1:12), or in other words, that Jehovah just didn't bother and didn't matter - Zephaniah looked out on these and saw the tragic farce of their unconcern. He had heard the sickening thud and rumble of a coming judgment which would crush the nations to pieces; he knew that soon there would be upon them the biggest calamity since Israel had become a nation. Zephaniah knew and cried to his countrymen, "The Day of Jehovah is at hand!" (1:7). This is his great theme, especially in the first part of his prophecy (1:1-2:3).
And now the time is once more here when we must lift up our cry that "The Day of the Lord is at hand!" Zephaniah's fervid depicting of "The Day of Jehovah" - the awful judgment which was determined on his own generation, is really an adumbration of that all eclipsing "Day of the Lord" which is to be at the end of the present age. And unless we are strangely deceived, the words of the Book, together with the signs of the times, point to its near approach. The religious and social conditions are morally similar to those of Zephaniah's days. Despite the new bursts of religious activity of different groups, and the strong passion for conferences on denominational reunion, the spiritual condition of the churches and the people is worse than at any time since just before the Methodist revival.
That day will be joy superlative for Christ's own, the blood-bought, Spirit-born members of the true Church; but it is well that we should cry aloud the TERROR of that day to many others. This is the aspect of it which grips and excites Zephaniah. Mark his phrases as he struggles to impress his lethargic fellow countrymen with the dread of it: "That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of waste and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities and against the high towers" (1:15-16).
The popular attitude today is exactly that of Zephaniah's time - "The
Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil," that is, God doesn't
act in human affairs, He neither blesses or punishes; the world is
governed by "natural laws," and God doesn't interfere with these laws to
give supposed answers to prayers. God's existence is remotely admitted,
but His interest and activity in human affairs is denied.
Finally, let us learn the threefold truth that God permits, but punishes, and in the end perfects. Men are free agents. God allows enough freedom to the human will for any man to know at any time that he is thinking and speaking and choosing and acting of his own volition. Thus God PERMITS sin - and suffering. If God were to intervene everytime the innocent are made to suffer by the wicked there would be no history at all. But God PUNISHES the wicked - usually by overruling natural processes, and not by miracles. Thus, He allows Israel to be punished through the agency of wicked nations; but in turn He punishes these nations for their own wrongs. In this process the innocent often suffer; but God has pledged a final restitution; and He has pointed us to a time when the present darkness shall give way before a sorrowless daybreak, and the present travail shall be forgotten in the tender triumph of love and virtue. Smiting will give place to smiling. The peoples shall serve the Lord "with one consent." God will PERFECT His purpose, and fulfill all His promises. Christ shall reign. The curse shall be gone. God will rejoice over His redeemed sons and daughters. He will rest in His love. He will "joy over them with singing."
FIRST MESSAGE - TO AROUSE 1:1-15
Date - Sixth month, first day.
Crux - "Build the House" v.8
SECOND MESSAGE - TO SUPPORT 2:1-9
Date - Seventh month, 21st day.
Crux - "I am with you" v.4
THIRD MESSAGE - TO CONFIRM 2:10-19
Date - Ninth month, 24th day.
Crux - "From THIS day will I bless you"
FOURTH MESSAGE - TO ASSURE 2:20-23
Date - Ninth month, 24th day.
Crux - "In THAT day I will make thee..."
This book covers a period of merely four months and it puts on record one of the crucial turning points of the Divine dealings with Jerusalem and the covenant people. It has to do with the Jewish "remnant" who returned to Judea and the rebuilding of the temple.
In 520 B.C. this otherwise unknown prophet Haggai stood forth and voiced
his message to the leaders of the returned Jews. This was 16 years after
the decree of Cyrus for the rebuilding of Jehovah's temple, 14 years
after the foundation had been laid and the work halted. Adversaries from
the mongrel race of the Samaritans had opposed them, and now with
Artaxerxes, Cyrus' successor in power.
The repatriated Jews seemed to have accepted the situation with an almost fatalistic resignation. This was the result of a wrong reaction to prophecy. Jeremiah had predicted a seventy year period of "desolations" on Jerusalem. The Jews of the returned "Remnant" seemed to have mistakenly inferred (despite God's sign to them by the edict of Cyrus) that even the temple could not be rebuilt until the period of the "desolations" had run their course. It is this which the prophet Haggai has in mind in his very first words, "This people say, The time is not come, the time that Jehovah's house should be built" v.1:2. They were paralyzed by a wrong attitude to prophecy.
Now the pivotal significance of Haggai lies in the fact that this very year in which he uttered his fourfold prophecy, 520 B.C., was THE YEAR WHICH ENDED THE PERIOD OF THE "DESOLATIONS" AND INTRODUCED A NEW PERIOD OF DIVINE BLESSING. Through the lips of the inspired Haggai, the Spirit of God had marked and emphasized the point of transition, to the very month, and even to the very day.
"Consider from this day and upward, from before a stone was
laid upon a stone in the temple of the Lord ... consider now
from this day and upward, from the 24th day of the 9th month,
even from the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple
was laid, consider it ... from this day will I bless you."
The last deep shadow of that night slinks away, a new sun has risen. Here is a word of new hope, heralding good things to come. This is Jehovah's announcement - "FROM THIS DAY WILL I BLESS YOU." This is the crux of Haggai's message. Four times within four months in that notable "second year of Darius," 520 B.C. the "word of Jehovah" came through the lips of this prophet. Each of the four communications is carefully dated, and each has its own clear focus-point.
The Four-Fold Message
In his first address his purpose is to reprove the people for their neglect, and to arouse them to immediate action. They were presuming on prophecy, and saying, "The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built." Whatever their original reason might have been it had degenerated to a mere excuse for negligence of religious duty and for the pursuance of selfish interests. "Consider your ways!" cries the prophet. "Is it time for YOU to dwell in YOUR ceiled houses (expensive and embellished), while this House (of Jehovah) lies waste?"
There are those among us today who presume upon prophecy, and say, "The
time has not come." They mislead or excuse themselves into inactivity on
this plea, when they ought to be spending themselves in the effort to
win our present generation for Christ. The mistake of the returned
Jewish exiles is a case in point. They had given way to a feeling that
there was a hopeless inevitability in things. Present effort was of no
use; they must just wait until the clock of prophecy struck the
predestined hour. The result was indifference, and the cause of God
suffered. The people were getting used to being without a temple; and
this would have proved fatal.
Who says that there cannot or will not be another great ingathering of souls before Christ returns? "Consider your ways," says Haggai. "Go up ... and build the House." WHILE REGENERATION AND REVIVAL ARE THE SOVEREIGN ACT OF GOD, EVANGELISM IS THE CONSTANT OBLIGATION OF THE CHURCH. The Divine sovereignty and human endeavor are not mutually exclusive; they are meant to be co-operative. It is not the case of "either ... or ..." It is not the case of either "waiting on God" or "working for revival"; it must be the two together - waiting and working. It is not a choice between agonizing in prayer or organizing an effort.
Haggai's second message is a striking one. Its purpose was to encourage. Some of the older Jews who remembered the former temple were downcast at the contrast between it and that which was now being built. Haggai therefore heartens them by a declaring of three great facts. (1) Jehovah's covenant with Israel still stands, and Jehovah's faithfulness to it continues v.5, (2) the Spirit of God still remains among them v.5, (3) God's promise is that there shall yet be a great shaking, that One shall come who is the Desire of all nations, and that "the glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former" v.6-9. These are the three great things that must ever inspire ourselves - the covenant, the Spirit's presence, the promised return of the King. A shaking - an advent - a glory filled temple; this is the landscape of promise.
We have already mentioned Haggai's third message. The people had expected a return to material prosperity as a result of recommencing work on the temple. But Haggai now points out that God was not under obligation to them for their renewed work on the temple. Instead of having special merit, they were defiled; and it was grace on God's part to accept them. Yet now, none the less, God would give them a special sign of His favor, for FROM THIS DAY onwards He would bless them.
The fourth message is to Zerubbabel himself, and beyond him to the ultimate consummation of the Davidic line in the coming reign of Christ. Zerubbabel is here addressed as the representative of the Davidic line. Once more God speaks of the great shaking which is to come, but adds that "in THAT DAY" Zerubbabel shall be as a signet (the sign of authority). The signet was used of his grandfather, king Jeconiah, in a tragic way, to express God's rejection of him, "As I live, saith the Lord, though Jeconiah, the son of Jehoiakim King of Judah were the signet upon My right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence" (Jer.22:24). In the last great victory of the Divine purpose, Christ, the greater Son and wonderful Antitype of David and Zerubbabel, will be Jehovah's signet whereby He shall impress and imprint upon all nations His own majesty, His own will and ways, His own perfect ideal, and His own very image.
Jeremiah's 70 year period of servitude (606 - 536 B.C.)
Began with Jehoiakim's submission to Nebuchadnezzar in 606 B.C. and ended with the proclamation of Cyrus in 536 B.C. The Revised Version correctly translates it, "Thus saith the Lord, After seventy years be accomplished FOR Babylon, I will visit you, and perform My good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place" (Jer.29:10). God had appointed 70 years "FOR Babylon" to rule over the nations. He nowhere said the Jews would have to be there for 70 years, but that they would be in SERVITUDE to them.
Jeremiah's 70 year period of desolations (590 - 520 B.C.
This was as a consequence of Israel's further impenitence (Jer.25:9-11, Dan.9:1-2, Zech.1:12). The day when the siege began was the 10th day of the 10th month (Tebeth) 590 B.C. in the 9th year of Ezekiel's captivity in Babylonia (Ez.24:1-2, 2K.25:1, Jer.52:4). This is the first time in the historical books that an event is dated to the very day. From this date down to the date emphasized by Haggai (2:15-19) the 24th day of the month Chisleu, 520 B.C. is 25,200 days, exactly 70 years of 360 days each.
EARLY PROPHECIES: TEMPLE BEING REBUILT 1-8
A Sevenfold vision: Horses, horns & smiths, measuring line,
reclothing Joshua, candlestand, roll-ephah-women, chariots.
A Fourfold message: 7:1-7, 8-14, 8:1-17, 18-23.
LATER PROPHECIES: AFTER TEMPLE REBUILT 9-14
The coming Shepherd-King, and Zion's consequent blessing 9-10
The offending of the Shepherd-King, and its tragic results 11
The final travail and triumph of Zion; Jehovah's victory 12-14
The little scroll of Haggai might almost be considered an introduction to this larger work from Zechariah. Zechariah was both a priest and a prophet. When many times the prophets had to stand in sharp opposition to the priest, Zechariah had united in himself all the sacerdotal traditions of the Aaronic priesthood with the zeal and authority of the prophet. Nothing could have been more timely than that the one voice should have this double appeal.
It is worthy of note that from this time the priesthood takes the lead in the nation. As to government the history of the covenant people falls into three main periods.
(1) From Moses to Samuel we have Israel under the JUDGES.
(2) From Saul to Zedekiah we have Israel under the KINGS.
(3) From Jeshua and the repatriation of the Remnant, down to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 we have Israel under the PRIESTS.
The first eight chapters are mainly VISION-prophecies, the remaining six chapters are wholly DIRECT prophecies. The first eight prophecies were written DURING the rebuilding of the temple; the remaining six chapters were written considerably AFTER the temple was rebuilt. The first eight have a PARTICULAR & IMMEDIATE reference to the Jewish "Remnant" now back in the land; the remaining six have a GENERAL & FAR-REACHING reference to Israel as a whole, to the ultimate future, and to the Gentile nations. The contents of the first eight are CAREFULLY dated (1:1, 7; 7:1); the contents of the remaining six are NOWHERE dated.
In the first part we have SEVEN VISIONS with a follow-up message of application to "all the people of the land." The second part of the book consists of one continuous, unfolding prophecy which looks beyond the prophet's own time to the conquests of Alexander the Great, and the sway of the Greek empire, and the heroic struggles of the Maccabees, and the coming of Israel's Shepherd-King, the Messiah. It trumpets the King's first advent, then, in veiled, mystic phraseology, tells of His rejection, and then sweeps on to His second advent, overleaping the present age and depicting the final travail and triumph of Zion, when the bells on the horses and the posts in the kitchens shall be "holiness unto the Lord."
It runs in three movements. First, in chapters 9 and 10, we have the coming Shepherd-King, and Zion's consequent blessing. Second, in chapter 11, we have the offending of the Shepherd-King, and its tragic results. Third, in chapters 12 to 14, we have Zion's final travail and triumph, and Jehovah's ultimate victory.
The key-word here in Zechariah is, "I am (become) jealous for Zion (again); I am returned unto Jerusalem with mercies" (1:14-16, 8:1-3).
The seven visions described in the first part of the book are really seven in one, for they all came, so it would seem, in the one night, that of the 24th day of the 11th month (Sebat), in the second year of Darius. Take the FIRST of them, THE FOUR HORSES AND THEIR RIDERS. Zechariah sees an angel patrol drawn up among the myrtles in the vale. These heavenly "scouts" report to the Angel of Jehovah the result of their survey of world conditions; the nations are "at ease." Zechariah is intended to grasp that although the surrounding nations are at careless ease while Jehovah's remnant suffer hardships, and although there may seem little sign that judgment is about to fall on these wicked nations, according to Jehovah's word through Haggai (v.2:22), yet in the invisible realm, God is watching, and the heavenly powers are already preparing for the stroke of retribution. The Angel of Jehovah asks, "O Jehovah of hosts, how long wilt Thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which Thou hast had indignation these seventy years?" The answer is, "Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy. And I am very sore displeased with the nations that are at ease, for I was but for a little (while) displeased (with Jerusalem and Judah) and they (the nations) helped forward the affliction (lit. `they helped for evil'). Therefore, thus saith Jehovah: I AM RETURNED TO JERUSALEM WITH MERCIES: MY HOUSE SHALL BE BUILT IN IT, SAITH JEHOVAH OF HOSTS, AND A LINE (A MEASURING-LINE FOR ITS REBUILDING) SHALL BE STRETCHED FORTH UPON JERUSALEM." Clearly then, the essential point in this first vision-picture is that Jehovah has now become jealous again for Jerusalem, and is about to punish the nations for their abuse of His covenant people.
The SECOND and THIRD visions re-express this very same fact under different symbols. In the second vision Zechariah sees "four horns" and then "four carpenters" which come to "fray" them. The four horns are the four nations which have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem, and the four carpenters are Jehovah's agencies of judgment against these nations. In the third vision Zechariah sees "a young man" with "a measuring line" going to "measure Jerusalem." But a heavenly messenger runs to this young man saying, "Jerusalem shall be inhabited as TOWNS WITHOUT WALLS, for the multitude of men and cattle therein" (that is, it would exceed all the wall measurements which this young man was intending to take, so great would be its prosperity). Jehovah Himself should be Jerusalem's wall, as v.5 continues, "For I, saith Jehovah, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her." Here again we see the judgment of the nations, and the return of Jehovah's favor toward Jerusalem - Jehovah has become jealous for Zion.
In the FOURTH vision-scene, Zechariah is shown "Joshua the high priest (of the returned remnant) standing before the Angel of Jehovah, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him." During the period of the "desolations" Jerusalem has been rebuked and chastised, and her priests and people have suffered Jehovah's indignation. But now there is a change. It is shown in the reclothing of Joshua, the representative of the covenant people. Instead of rebuke against Joshua, it is now Satan who is rebuked, and Joshua, representative of the returned remnant, is a "brand plucked out of the fire." Joshua's filthy garments are removed, the symbolic meaning of which is THE REMOVING OF INIQUITY. Joshua is then clothed with "rich apparel" and a "diadem" is set on his head, and a new commission and promise for the future are given him. Quite clearly again we have Jehovah's return of favor to His people and city.
The FIFTH vision, that of the golden candlestick and two olive trees, is a special encouragement to Zerubbabel, the CIVIL leader of the remnant, as the preceding vision was to Joshua, the RELIGIOUS leader. The mountain should become a plain before him, and he should certainly complete the rebuilding of the temple. Verse 10 is the crux which should read, "Who hath despised the day of small things (the poor looking beginnings of the rebuilding)? For these seven eyes of Jehovah (the seven lamps of the candlestick) which run through all the earth SHALL BEHOLD WITH JOY THE PLUMMET IN THE HAND OF ZERUBBABEL." Once again the meaning is that of Jehovah's new pleasure and favor toward Zion. Verse 12 should read, "What be these two olive branches which through the two golden spouts (or tubes) pour out from themselves the golden oil?" (the oil dropped of itself from the fruit-bearing branches into two spouts or channels which conveyed it to the central reservoir). The answer is, "These are the two sons of oil which stand by the Lord of the whole earth" - Joshua and Zerubbabel, as representing the covenant people, and through whom the spirit of Jehovah was now flowing again to bless.
In the SIXTH vision Zechariah sees a huge scroll (30'x15'), passing through the air, and is told that this is the curse which goeth forth against wickedness in the land. When God sets up His house (as in the preceding vision) His word goes forth (as in this vision) to judge and sentence all that is not in harmony with that house. There cannot be a restoration of Jehovah's blessing without the expulsion of that which is evil. That large, floating scroll, open for all to read, explains why there had been such adversity among the remnant: it was Jehovah's curse upon the evil which was still permitted. But now, Zechariah is shown what is to be done to the evil. It is to be removed to Babylon. The "ephah" was the largest of the dry measurements used by the Jews (6 or 7 gallons). The outstanding point of the vision is plain enough. Let the false swearing and stealing which were extracted on the flying scroll go where they properly belong, even to Babylon, the seat of anti-Godism right from the days of Nimrod (Gen.10:10). If the "ephah" was the old-time Jewish symbol for TRADE, then the woman in the ephah would represent Babylonian corruption which was leavening commerce among the returned remnant. The proper home for such corruption is not Jerusalem, the city of Jehovah, but Satan's rival city, Babylon.
Finally, in the SEVENTH vision, and the symbolic CROWNING OF JOSHUA,
which follows it, we see again Jehovah's judgment on the Gentile
nations, and His return of favor toward Jerusalem. There can be little
doubt that the four war-chariots represent swift-coming Divine judgment.
The four angel drivers are "the four spirits of the heavens which go
forth from standing before the Lord of the whole earth" - thus
corresponding to the four angels of Rev. 7, as Jehovah's agents of
JUDGMENT. Special judgment is meted to "the north country" from where
the great Gentile invaders had come. But in marked contrast with this,
there comes to Zechariah - apparently at dawn - the instruction to enact
a remarkable CORONATION CEREMONY. He was to receive silver and gold from
certain Jewish visitors who were present from Babylon, and to make a
composite diadem with which to crown Joshua, the new high priest at
Jerusalem. Then he was to say, "Behold the man whose name is the BRANCH,
and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of
Jehovah ..." There is here a definite type reference to Christ. But the
immediate meaning, is that Jehovah, besides sending forth His chariot
judgments on the surrounding Gentile powers, has returned with mercies
and gracious promises to the remnant of His people.
In these seven visions of Zechariah we can see the unifying idea: "I AM JEALOUS (AGAIN) FOR JERUSALEM AND FOR ZION WITH A GREAT JEALOUSY; and I am sore displeased with the nations that are at ease; for I was but a little while displeased , and they helped for evil. Therefore, thus saith Jehovah, "I AM RETURNED TO JERUSALEM WITH MERCIES."
We are now at chapters 9-14 which constitute one of the most remarkable prophecies ever penned. Many of the translation obscurities can be overcome by reading one of the newer English translations. Chapter 9-10 is about THE COMING SHEPHERD-KING, AND ZION'S CONSEQUENT BLESSING. In verses 1-8 Zechariah gives his prelude of predicted judgments on the Gentile nations, and then in v.9 he breaks out in rhapsody over the coming King and the coming blessing on Zion. Also in this chapter we find the prediction of the period of the Maccabees, which led up to the first coming of Zion's King, which COULD have led right to the final struggle and victory of Zion which is depicted in the 10th chapter, had it not been for the unbelief and sin of the Jews. As a result of what happened when Zion's King first came and offered Himself, nineteen hundred years ago, the final struggle and victory now depicted in chapter 10 are postponed, and the present age intervenes (as it does between 9:1-10).
Zechariah, like the other O.T. prophets, is not enlightened as to the present long interval of the "Church" age (Eph.3). It may be asked, "Why did not God reveal this in advance since He foreknew that it would come to pass?" The answer is twofold. First, if God had plainly revealed this beforehand, then the Lord Jesus could never have come and made a real, BONA FIDE offer of Himself as Messiah; and God could never have tested the Jews in relation to Him. Second, God HAS been pleased to foreshow the rejection and crucifixion of Christ again and again in Old Testament prophecy, so that we ourselves, in this present age, both Jew and Gentile, may know that He had anticipated and graciously overruled the unbelief and sin of the Jews when Christ first came to them.
Part II - THE OFFENDING OF THE SHEPHERD-KING, AND ITS TRAGIC RESULTS (11). This part, like the former, begins with an outburst of calamities on the surrounding powers - Lebanon and Bashan and the pride of Jordan, denoting areas north, northeast and east, just beyond the bounds of the area which was now occupied by the Jews. Then Zechariah tells us how Jehovah instructed him to "feed the FLOCK OF SLAUGHTER" (Judah), and how he did so (emblematically), and what eventuated.
Thus the true Shepherd is despised and rejected, with tragic consequences. The remaining tell of a faithless shepherd who should exploit the flock. The big fact to grasp is that the transaction of the thirty pieces of silver, in the light of Matthew 28:9-10, clearly has reference to Christ. As a result of His humiliation the Jews have been under false shepherds ever since; and the falsest of all shepherds is yet to exploit them as the present age draws to its close. No wonder our Lord wept over Jerusalem, on the very day when He fulfilled Zechariah 9:9, If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes" (Luke 19:42).
Part III - THE FINAL TRAVAIL AND TRIUMPH OF ZION: JEHOVAH'S VICTORY (12-14)
In this part the language makes it clear that this passage passes over the present "Church" interval, right on to that culminating epoch at the end of the present age, when after all the tragic delay caused through the rejection of the true Shepherd-King, Jehovah shall again take up and complete His grand purposes with and for and through Israel.
Such, then, is the Book of Zechariah. In both the first and last parts of the book we hear the same recurrent key-note - Jehovah is "jealous for Zion." The Pulpit Commentary remarks on chapter 9:13, "NOTHING BUT INSPIRATION could have enabled Zechariah and Daniel to foresee the rise of the Macedonian dynasty, and the struggle between the Jews and the Syro-Grecian power in Maccabean times, which is here announced." What then shall we say about those passages in Zechariah which look right on to the Messiah's first and second comings - to His public entry into Jerusalem in lowly dignity, riding on an ass; to His being "wounded" in the house of his own kinsmen; to the "smiting of the Shepherd and the scattering of the flock"; to the preservation of the remnant even as at this very day; to the "mourning" for Him, which is yet to be, when the Jews "look on Him whom they pierced"; to the last super-conflict and the final kingdom-glories? Yes, what shall we say to all this? Is it not a marvel of inspiration? Oh for that final triumph which Zechariah has predicted! "EVEN SO, COME, LORD JESUS!"
APPEAL (A) - IN VIEW OF THE PRESENT SIN (1-2)
Jehovah the speaker: the priests are appealed to 1:6-2:9
Malachi the speaker: the people are appealed to 2:10-17
APPEAL (B) - IN VIEW OF THE COMING "DAY" (3-4)
The day will judge the guilty (3:1-6) therefore appeal 7-12
The day will bless the godly (3:13-4:3) therefore appeal 4-6
Malachi calling! - the last call of the Old Testament before the voice of prophecy dies into a silence of four hundred years. One great phase of Divine revelation is now to close. The last spokesman utters his soul, and retires behind the misty curtains of the past. A peculiar solemnity clings about him. What does this last speaker say? What is the final message? What is the parting word?
One step toward appreciating the message of Malachi is to see him amid his own times. All agree that his book is post-exilic, and later than the other two post-exilic prophets Haggai and Zechariah. The likelihood is that it was written a little later than the days of Nehemiah. Here follows a brief summary of the post-exile days:
Did Malachi prophesy during the days of Nehemiah? No, not during Nehemiah's FIRST TWELVE YEARS as Governor of Jerusalem when such grand restorations were effected. No, not during the brief INTERVAL was away at the Persian court. For there is a settled attitude and behavior, and a state of callousness and defiant hostility, indicated in the time of Malachi which were not the product merely of a sudden collapse all within a couple of years, but a growth through a longer period. No, not during Nehemiah's SECOND TERM at Jerusalem. There is a reference to "the Governor" (unnamed) in Malachi 1:8. This verse also speaks of "offerings" for the Governor; but Nehemiah expressly tells us that HE made it his practice to maintain himself apart from such Governor's dues (Neh.5:14-15); and it is not likely that he changed later!
Nehemiah, it will be realized, may have lived for a considerable time beyond the last event recorded in the book that bears his name; and so long as he lived he would exert a strong influence for moral and religious purity. But the conditions described by Malachi suggest a deterioration which had come about AFTER THAT INFLUENCE WAS WITHDRAWN. Not only had the earlier zeal of people and priests cooled down; it had given place to a complex of slovenly formalism (3:14) and even deceitful evasion (1:14). Our last glimpse of Nehemiah in Jerusalem is about 430 B.C., but he probably continued there for some years after that; so we put the ministry of Malachi somewhere between 420 and 397 B.C.
The Meaning and Message of the Book
And now what is the special purpose, the central message, the key thought of the book? If we mentally place ourselves in the ring of Malachi's first audience, and read through the book at speaking pace, letting it speak to us as though it were the living voice of the prophet himself ringing in our ears, we simply cannot miss seeing that from beginning to end this little book is AN APPEAL - a powerful, passionate, pleading appeal - an appeal to REPENT of sin and to RETURN to God - an appeal accompanied by rich PROMISE if the people respond, and by stern WARNING if they refuse.
The simple fact to note is that this APPEAL of Malachi quite naturally falls into TWO PARTS. In chapters 1-2 the appeal is made in view of THE PRESENT SIN OF THE NATION. In chapters 3-4 it is in view of THE COMING "DAY OF JEHOVAH."
After the few verses of introduction it is the PRIESTS who are first addressed. Also notice that it is JEHOVAH HIMSELF who directly addresses these priests, and all the way through to v. 2:9, the verses are in the first person. Then at v. 2:10 there is a change. It is the PROPHET now, who speaks on behalf of Jehovah. It is no longer the priests who are addressed, but THE PEOPLE GENERALLY. The prophet puts himself among them, and asks, "Have we not all one Father? Hath not one God created us? ..." And from this point all the verses are in the third person.
Now in chapters 3-4 a new note is struck. The prophet views the present
IN THE LIGHT OF THE GREAT "DAY OF JEHOVAH" WHICH IS TO COME. It will be
noted that beginning with the first verse of chapter three it is Jehovah
Himself who speaks directly again, using the first person, "I," "Me,"
"My," right to the end of the book. First, in v.1-6, we are told that
THE COMING ONE who was the nation's hope of future blessing was coming
to JUDGE (not merely, as was being presumed, to bless the nation
indiscriminately!); and rising from this there is RENEWED APPEAL to the
people to "return" and to "bring all the tithes" and to "prove"
Jehovah's present offer of blessing.
Then from v.13 to the end of the book, there is a further addition about this coming "Day of Jehovah" - not only will it judge the guilty, it will VINDICATE THE GODLY MINORITY; and arising from this is the closing appeal of the book, to "give heed" again to "the Law of Moses." The final section of the book which runs from 3:13, brings out a contrast between two classes - the larger number who RESISTED Jehovah and "spake together", and minority who FEARED Jehovah and "spake often one to another. There are only two tenses in the Hebrew language, and the context must decide. Verses 13-16 should read:
"Your words are stout against Me, saith Jehovah; yet ye say,
What do we speak in our conversation together against Thee?
Ye say, It is a vain thing to serve God ...
But those who fear Jehovah speak one to another, and Jehovah
doth attend and hear. And a book of remembrance is being
written before Him, of them that fear Jehovah, and that
esteem His name. And they shall be to Me a peculiar treasure,
saith Jehovah of Hosts, in the day that I am preparing ..."
"Behold, He shall come ... but"
The key thought of Malachi is found in chapter 3:1-2 - "BEHOLD, HE SHALL COME, SAITH JEHOVAH OF HOSTS, BUT WHO MAY ABIDE THE DAY OF HIS COMING?" In our study of Haggai we saw that the Jewish Remnant had become indifferent to the rebuilding of the temple through a wrong attitude to prophecy. On the strength of Jeremiah's prediction that seventy years of "desolations" were determined on Jerusalem, the leaders of the people were saying, "The time is not come, the time that Jehovah's house should be built" (Hag.1:2). Thus they excused themselves into blameworthy indolence - and were rightly rebuked for it. A hundred years later in Malachi's time, there is a WRONG ATTITUDE TO DIVINE PROMISE. The earlier prophets had foretold of the coming One who should bring final deliverance and age-long blessing to the covenant nation; Ezekiel and Daniel had continued the strain; the post-exile prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, had carried it still further, the time was now surely drawing nearer, and the promised One would come to exalt the nation in untold dignity and prosperity. All would then be well, so the leaders, priests and people told themselves, and the present did not very much matter. Thus they sank into a non-chalant formalism, and even into unblushing hypocrisy in their dealings both with God and with each other. Malachi now shows them that the Divine promise is a two-edged sword. Not only will the coming "Day" slay the enemies OUTSIDE the nation, but also the wicked INSIDE the nation. The "Messenger of the Covenant" in whose promised coming they were "delighting" should surely come, as promised; BUT (let them mark it well, this very big "but") - who should "abide the day of His coming"? for He would come as a "refiner's fire" and would be a "swift witness" against all evildoers. Yes, there is a "but" in the promise. "Behold, He shall come ... BUT." That is the center thought in Malachi.
We must make a sharp distinction always between Divine foreknowledge and Divine fore-ordination. God foreknew the Jewish rejection of Christ; but He did not fore-ORDAIN it. God never predestines sin! In His government of this world God does not allow His larger purposes for the human race to rest upon the uncertain behavior of the human will; yet He does leave enough scope for the free action of the human will to make men conscious at all times that they are acting of themselves, and by their own intelligent choice. Thus He permitted even the crucifixion of Christ. He foreknew it, and fore-provided against it, so that THE CRUCIFIXION OF ISRAEL'S MESSIAH BECAME THE CORONATION OF THE WORLD'S SAVIOR, and from the ugly debris of Jewish failure there emerged God's further purpose, that is, the CHURCH, and the proclaiming of a WORLD-EMBRACING GOSPEL of personal salvation throughout the present age. God could not reveal all this to the Old Testament prophets; for had He done so, Christ could never have come and made a bona fide offer of Himself as Israel's Messiah.
Then again, with this little scroll of Malachi before us, we should ever
guard against a WRONG ATTITUDE TO DIVINE PROMISE. We have seen how this
wrong attitude cursed Malachi's generation. So today there is a
complacent indifference to the hope of Christ's return. "Thou wicked and
slothful servant!" - will those awful words fall on some of US who have
been believers in the Lord's second coming? Oh, may the deeper prospect
of His coming ever be an incentive to holiness, and an urge to the
winning of other souls to Him!
Again, if we have read Malachi observantly, we cannot have missed seeing that the two besetting evils of his day were FORMALISM and SKEPTICISM. In these we see the beginnings of Pharisaism (formalism) and the Sadduceeism (scepticism) which later reached their harvest - whiteness in our Lord's days. How these two things curse us today! And how they cause men to argue back against God! Seven times the priests and people of Malachi's time are faced with the vital issues of real heart-religion:
1) Wherein hast Thou loved us? 1:2
2) Wherein have we despised Thy name? 1:6
3) Wherein have we polluted Thee? 1:7
4) Wherein have we wearied Thee? 2:17
5) Wherein shall we return? 3:7
6) Wherein have we robbed Thee? 3:8
7) Wherein have we spoken against Thee? 3:13
The formalist does not like to have his formalism DISTURBED. The skeptic does not like to have his skepticism DISPROVED. Both will evade the real issues of heart-religion by self-justifying counter - argument.
And finally, in Malachi we see how precious to God are the godly minority in times of declension. A "book of remembrance" is kept; and they, God's remnant, are to be Jehovah's "peculiar treasure" in the "day" which He is "preparing." Thus, as the Old Testament closes, we see the godly remnant speaking softly to one another of a great hope - "He is coming!" Then, for four hundred years they disappear from sight, until they reappear from obscurity in New Testament times, in the aged Simeon and Anna, who are found in Jerusalem, "waiting for the consolation of Israel." And so it is today. They who fear and love Jehovah-Jesus speak one to another amid the closing decades of the present age, comforting one another with the words, "He is coming!" And God's book of remembrance is being kept. Yes, He is surely coming - "Unto you that fear My name," saith Jehovah, "shall the Sun of righteousness arise, with healing in His wings!" And our prayer is, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
Yes, comforting, thrilling prospect, He is coming, coming a SECOND time.
The inviolable guarantee of this is the historical fact of His FIRST
coming, as vicarious Savior, which fulfilled scores and scores of Old
Testament predictions, with Divine precision. That first batch of
fulfillments, two thousand years ago, constitutes the mightiest
conceivable guarantee that ALL THE OTHER predictions and promises
concerning His reign on earth in world-wide empire will similarly be
fulfilled. Yes, He is coming! HE is coming - the Church's Bridegroom,
Israel's Messiah, and God-Man Emperor of all nations!