§ 17. Esther.
More striking still is the special divine design here, of which the omission of God's name is an essential part. It was intended to mark that, when the people, already Lo-ammi, were in such circumstances among the Gentiles that His name could not be named, His secret providence on their behalf comes out unfailingly. This is so sure and manifest, that no detailed proof is required. Yet deep religious feeling is latent throughout, as in the Jewish horror of the Agagite, the fasting of Esther, and the feast of Purim. It was indeed what people call an "invisible church" to the utmost.
The Septuagintal addition, we may add, brings in God's name to the destruction of that silence which so embarrasses Canon Rawlinson and most persons. When the people were in such a state that God could not own them, He unseen, unnamed, cares for them. How could He acknowledge a daughter of Israel married to the great king? The book looks at the dispersion, as Ezra and Nehemiah did at the returned remnant. It is thus unique as well as invaluable throughout its ten chapters.
As a type, it shows us the Gentile bride set aside who failed to display her beauty, and the Jewish one established in her stead. The enemy may rage in a last effort of destructive malice; but all ends in his own ruin and that of his instruments, but to the joy of Israel and of the nations under righteous rule throughout the vast dominion. How will not Christ administer the kingdom to the glory of God the Father!
§ 18. JOB.
Having thus surveyed the historical parts of the O.T. with a view to the question of divine design, it remains for us to apply the same research into the poetical books, at the head of which in the English and many other Bibles stands that of Job. No sufficient ground appears for doubting that it rightly opens this fresh division of O.T. scripture. Even those free handlers of the Bible (who admit the impossibility of fixing the date of this book precisely, but would like to bring it down to Jeremiah's age) allow the weight of Ezek. 14:14-20 for the true personality of the patriarch, his known righteousness, and the proved value of his intercession. The internal evidence of the book points to patriarchal times and manners; the religious observances, and even the idolatry which was spreading, though (like adultery) an iniquity for the judge, all confirm the bearing of his age. On the other hand the prologue and the epilogue naturally imply that the writer of the book was not earlier than Moses, though recounting the great debate which supposes God not so known. Indeed not a few of weight have been impressed by the similarity of its narrative to the book of Genesis.
This, however interesting in a literary way and otherwise, is quite subordinate to its inspiration. Nor do the neo-critics, though self-sufficient and scornful because of their inability to appreciate Elihu's speeches, fail to see the transcendent superiority of what Jehovah says here, as compared even with the grandest strain of Isaiah on a kindred theme. What then is the design of the book which proves God to be its author? What place does it hold in the Bible peculiar to itself, worthy of Him, and needed by man?
Here in the midst of the sacred writings of Israel stands a book, which no Jew of his own motion would ever have written or could even have conceived. For it authoritatively reveals the deepest interest of the true God in a man outside the fathers or the sons of the chosen race, a son of the east in the land of Uz, "perfect and upright, one that feared God and abstained from evil." Who can wonder at the outbreak of the early rationalism clearly as in Maimonides? Jewish pride would like to see in Job no more than a fictitious personage. Yet if even an inspired romance were really possible, the difficulty would remain. For the case presented is as overwhelming to Jewish narrowness, as it must cheer any soul on earth that knew it. The curtain is drawn (chap. 1) for the occasion from the unseen world, that the believing reader may know that God initiates the unparalleled trial about to open for the good of Job, and challenges the ever active Adversary. "Hast thou considered my servant Job? for there is none like him in the earth" etc. Satan imputes a selfish motive for Job's piety; and all belonging to him is left for the evil one to blast. This he at once willingly executes by natural means: a lesson of great value, nowhere else in the O.T. taught so clearly. Satan fails. In the midst of family joy and his own piety messenger follows messenger, of Sabean and Chaldean raids, of lightning and tempest, which swept from Job all his oxen, sheep, camels, and children; but Job blessed His name as to all, and sinned not.
The Adversary reappears with the sons of God on high (Job 2) and, challenged yet more, he obtains leave to touch Job's bone and flesh, apart from his life: not that this would have really made a disadvantage to Job; but it would have hindered the end of the Lord. Even when a mass and a spectacle of suffering, with his wife tempting him, Job cleaves to God, and Satan vanishes. But God carries on the trial; for the hindrance was not yet reached, and Job's self-complacency might and must have been enhanced by his patience in sad adversity, had all stopped there. So his three friends come, each from his own place; and their sympathetic grief brings out Job's passionate cursing of his day (Job 3), and desire for death to close his trouble. He is being laid bare and humbled in his own eyes before God, as he never had been before.
His friends, though pious men, knew still less of God and of themselves than the afflicted and now complaining saint. They each and all come out in their own thoughts, farther from the truth God was teaching than Job; for they assume the adequacy of present results as the criterion of God's estimate of man. Now there is a providential government, which overrules evil, and which does good according to God's nature; but His word reveals only at the close righteousness governing, and later still righteousness dwelling when all things are made new. Meanwhile God makes all things work together for good to those that love Him, humbling them, pious though they be, with what they are, and giving delight in God and submission to Him. We thus learn ourselves as well as God.
In this sketch it is not called for that we analyse the discussion that ensues. Suffice it to say that there are three series of speeches: from Eliphaz more grave and courteous; from Bildad more formal and severe; and from Zophar more suspicious; to each of whom Job replies respectively. The third time, Zophar, the least weighty and the most violent, is silenced. But Job took up his parable again, as if for him also, unless indeed we may not better regard chaps. 27, 28 as more general, and chaps. 29-31 as a closing summary which contrasts his bright past with his dark present, whereon he then confidently appeals to God. It is anything but a religious drama, or epos, or philosophy, as it has been called. It is a divinely given disclosure in a living saint's case for the instruction of man at any time (independently of special position as of Israel in particular), though for his correction too as peculiarly needing it. There we have a saint in the relationship with God which faith forms, exposed to the conflict of good and evil. Thus, as we discern Satan's enmity here below behind second causes and his accusation on high, we may also know God's gracious interest all through as before heaven. Not only is thus proved the failure of any righteousness on our part as a standing before God, but the necessity for such a daysman (or mediator) as the Lord Jesus, perfect God and perfect man.
But the intervention of Elihu is of the greatest moment, however people may disparage it who do not enter into the truth or feel their personal need of it. For he speaks as the requisite interpreter, "one of a thousand," and while exposing the rashness of Job and the inability of his friends to solve the difficulty, he furnishes the key: — God uses trial and suffering for the blessing of souls. This he shows in Job 33 as to man generally, to deliver him from going down to the pit; while in Job 36 it is to open to instruction the ears of the righteous, who might be sadly wrong and fall.
This was much for the good of souls. But more was vouchsafed; for Jehovah answered Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38, 39), not by argument nor even by instruction, but displaying the witness of His majesty and power, so that Job was constrained to say, "Behold, I am of small account: what shall I answer thee? I lay my hand upon my mouth: once have I spoken, and I will not answer; yea twice, but I will proceed no farther" (Job 40:3-5). Jehovah answers again out of the whirlwind, by presenting two creatures, behemoth and leviathan, to enforce Job's sense of powerlessness, and the folly of his presumptuous words, so that he again confesses (Job 42:2-6), "I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be hindered. Who is this that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore I uttered what I understood not, things too wonderful for me that I knew not. Hear, I beseech Thee, and I will speak. I will demand of Thee, and inform Thou me. I had heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee: wherefore I abhor [myself] and repent in dust and ashes."
It is an unintelligent objection that when Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are censured, and owe their pardon to Job whom they had wholly misjudged, Elihu does not appear. He had done his good work: Jehovah alone must be exalted. And the captivity of Job was turned when he prayed for his friends; and Job got twice as much as before. Typically it applies to Israel when the time comes for His mercy to the erring people, then blessed more than at the first. But meanwhile for souls from the day it was written what an unfolding of the divine ways with those that fear God! They, because they are His, must learn the folly of their own heart, and confide submissively in what He is, not only in Himself and His work, but this in His ways toward them.
That still higher and deeper things appeared in Christ on earth, and by the Holy Spirit when He went up on high, is true; but such divine and heavenly communications in no way set aside the immense worth of the book before us, the design of which is unique in the Bible. And who but God Himself could have given it?
§ 19. THE PSALMS.
The special character of the Psalms is undeniable. In no part of scripture is the design of God more evident. This is the more notable, because of the variety of writers concerned, and the profound arrangement of their contributions, not superficially according to source or time, but by a distinct and divine purpose which governs the due place of no less than 150 several pieces, some alone, others in groups, all falling under five large sections, each with its own scope and its marked conclusion.
Of these the first comprises Psalms 1 to 41; the second has 42 to 72; the third contains 73 to 89; in the fourth are 90 to 106; and the last gives us 107 to 150, where the end comes without any form of expressing it as before. The first section, as one may gather from its contents, presents prophetically the general principle of the godly discriminated from the wicked among the Jews. Yet they are still together for the city and the sanctuary; and the covenant name of Jehovah predominates accordingly. In the second, on the contrary, the godly are a remnant who are severed from the multitude with whom they used to pass along to the house of God, as its opening intimates They are sorrow-stricken and ask Elohim to do them justice against an ungodly nation. Here accordingly, as deprived of public and common covenant privileges, they fall back on what God is in Himself, and the abstract name predominates. A striking proof of this appears from comparing Ps. 53 with 14. The third section, which has the divine names more mingled from Elohim to Jehovah, opens and goes through with the introduction of Israel as object of divine goodness, but such only "as are of a pure heart," with all the nations jealous and hostile coming under judgment. The fourth division, after an appropriate exordium, strikes the note of a psalm-song for the Sabbath, and is filled with Jehovah reigning when He again brings the First-begotten into the inhabited earth; and here with the covenant name we find also the Most High and the Almighty. The last part celebrates Jehovah in the redemption of His people from the oppressor's hand, and their ingathering out of all countries, east, west, north, and south. It furnishes a believing and moral review of all that had passed, the virtues of the law written thenceforward on Israel's heart, and an affecting series of songs of degrees, followed after due interval by an ever swelling chorus of Hallelujahs, universal and lasting while earth endures.
As the history of man and of Israel is but the history of sin and ruin, but on God's part from man's fall were given communications of grace in prophecy and promise, so we have in the O.T. this beautiful and central book whose undercurrent is "the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow them." Here we have the Holy Spirit providing inspired effusions from the heart and for the heart in sorrow and in joy, that the expression might have a divine savour through mercy and in truth, for His people passing through vicissitudes beyond all others, more favoured yet more guilty, in respect not only of the law, but of the Messiah, but at length brought out of all guilt as well as distress unequalled, repentant and meek, into the over-abounding joy of grace and the everlasting glory of the kingdom, when everything that has breath shall praise.
The Psalms therefore obviously and assuredly have the prophetic bearing which is stamped more or less plainly on all scripture. But they have the peculiarity of expressing the heart's feelings to God, produced by the Holy Spirit in poetic form, when holy men passed through grievous trials, as for instance David particularly, far the most fertile writer of Psalms. But we have the Lord's authority and that of the inspiring Spirit that an infinitely greater was the object of God, in some of them personally, in all of them His Spirit. This accordingly gave rise in the saints thus tried to the richest exercise of heart and conscience; which the Holy Spirit produced and clothed in appropriate language for others in similar or even deeper trials, especially those in which the Jew will be involved at the consummation of the age. Deepest of all are those which none but the Lord Jesus could adequately feel and express, such as Ps. 8, Ps. 16, Ps. 22, Ps. 40 etc. Many are the Psalms on the other hand which anticipate the glory which is to appear, and the triumph not in heaven only but here below for Him Who was rejected and put to shame and by none so bitterly as by His brethren after the flesh.
In the Psalms therefore, beyond every other part of the written word, we have the divinely inspired expression of the hopes and fears, of the dangers and falls, of the confessions and recoveries, of the self-judgment and the thanksgivings, of the praises and the blessings, of God's people. We have the outpouring even of the Lord Himself, alone in atoning for sin, associated with others in governmental affliction, and leading the praise where and when this could be. Who but God could have supplied all this with a vast deal more, and beforehand? Who could have combined the experience of man's trembling and agitated heart, with the consolations of divine grace suited to his state, in a form worthy of God and a bearing for all time, even for that when the groans of creation shall be changed into the joy of the earth in unison with the heavens, and the field shall exult, and all the trees of the forest sing for joy, when the floods shall clap hands and the mountains chant together? For Jehovah will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
The order of the Psalms was a final act of divine inspiration as certainly as the substance of every several psalm. There is an exact propriety in the succession, which in no case could be disturbed without loss, and thus forcibly attests the finger of God. The titles, where given, are significant of a deeper mind than man's, though naturally unintelligible to such as look only for what lies on the surface. The absence of a title has its meaning, though it may not always be the same.
Thus Ps. 1 and Ps. 2 have no title, not only to link them together, but this at the start as the preface to the first section and indeed also to the entire collection: one laying down the character of the godly man before Jehovah, whose hope is in Messiah; the other, the titles of Christ, as Jehovah's Son and King anointed for His holy hill of Zion, as surely as He will crush the nations and their kings in His day.
From Ps. 3 to 7 it is not the godly alone, nor Christ alone, but the Spirit of Christ in the godly. It is not Christ personally, but in His Spirit setting forth great moral principles. Thus in Ps. 3 it is faith in Jehovah, howsoever many be hostile; in Ps. 4 Jehovah sets apart the godly to Himself and hears him; in Ps. 5 it is confidence of blessing through Jehovah's righteousness for the righteous; in Ps. 6 he bows in distress before Jehovah in the sense of His just displeasure and pleads for mercy; in Ps. 7 he looks for His judgment falling on the wicked. Ps. 8 closes the group by passing from God's purpose about Christ to His suffering in fact as Son of man, and even now highly exalted in a wider glory, as in result Jehovah's name excellent in all the earth.
Again, Ps. 9 and Ps. 10 plunge us into the latter-day crisis as the time to which in general the psalms apply, not the period of the gospel and the church. Hence the issue is judgment executed on the quick (hostile heathen and wicked Jews), not the rapture of the saints glorified to heaven. They are a pair, and regard the enemies without and within. And they are followed up by a connected series up to Ps. 18 which express in Ps. 11-13 the experience and feelings of the godly in those days. Ps. 14 contrasts the character of the wicked and the righteous in view of that day; and 15 replies to the challenge, Who shall dwell with Him then? Then in Ps. 16 and Ps. 17. Christ is seen as taking in grace His place therein, and in righteousness; whereas Ps. 18 identifies strikingly Messiah with His people from the deliverance out of Egypt at the outset till the Abiding One, when He becomes head, not of the church as now, but of the nations at the end of the age.
Next, one can scarce fail to see, come the divine testimonies of creation and the law in Ps. 19, then in Ps. 20 of Messiah answered in the day of trouble, and glorified in Ps. 21; whilst Ps. 22 is Messiah made sin and so forsaken to God's glory, resulting in grace flowing out more and more widely, if not then so deeply, till all the ends of the earth turn to Jehovah, and His righteousness is declared to a people that shall be born, on the ground of Messiah's doing. For after all, as we read in Ps. 23, Ps. 24, He as Jehovah guards His sheep when evil reigns, and will Himself be owned as Jehovah King of glory in the kingdom and house of Jehovah.
Then commencing with Ps. 25, Ps. 26 we have confession of sins and integrity of ways united in those that are His, emboldened by His sacrifice to own the truth and pursue holiness: a fresh start for the psalms to come. Whom should such a one fear? says Ps. 27, and (whatever the distress) Jehovah is his shield, Who will judge the wicked according to their deeds, as in Ps. 28 Hence the challenge in Ps. 29 to the sons of the mighty to own Jehovah, as every one in the temple says, Glory! Ps. 30 celebrates deliverance: if weeping comes for the night, there is joy at morn. Yet for this Messiah died, Ps. 31. Thus only could transgression be forgiven, sin be covered, and true blessedness come, Ps. 32; and thus alone could the righteous exult in Jehovah as in Ps. 33, its companion psalm, while Ps. 34 rises to a strain yet higher and sustained "at all times."
The next four psalms, again, contemplate the way and power of evil judicially, also the path of the righteous, as well as a just sense of their sins confessed; whilst Ps. 39 owns that it is to their chastening, though man walks in a vain show. The section worthily concludes with Christ, after death and resurrection, praising in a new song, faithful in obedience, as also in bearing sins, in word and deed and suffering to the uttermost (Ps. 40); and blessed is he that understands the Poor One, if His own familiar friend lifted up heel against Him (Ps. 41).
The second section regards the godly remnant as forced to flee and be outside Jerusalem (Ps. 42). Compare Matt. 24:15, etc. For those within are in league with idolatrous Gentiles, being alike ungodly and apostate (Ps. 43). "Arise," pleads Ps. 44. Christ too is no longer viewed in general as graciously in their midst on earth, but gloriously on high; as we see in Ps. 45. Elohim appropriately is their refuge in Ps. 46, but Jehovah Most High is anticipatively celebrated in faith, and this for all the peoples, a great King for all the earth (Ps. 47). Whatever present things may say, the utter rout of earth's kings is seen by faith, and Zion is the hill of His holiness (Ps. 48). Ps. 49 is a homily thereon: that day proclaims the folly of unbelief. Man in honour and understanding not is like the beasts that perish. Their wealth, lands, sayings, glory, come to nought. Only the redeemed abide. The chosen people in Ps. 50 were no better than the world, yea more guilty; but the godly made a covenant with God over sacrifice. In Ps 51 like David they own corruption and blood-guiltiness; they recognise man's might under judgment, Ps. 52, and the folly of "the many" Ps. 53. But all the resource of faith is in God, Ps. 54, though the wilderness was better than the city traitorous to Christ, Ps. 55. Ps. 56 and Ps. 57 are an evident pair, expressing confidence, and growingly, in that day of danger and distress. So are Ps. 58, Ps. 59 when God's judgment is owned as the only means to convince man of fruit for the righteous, and that God rules in Jacob.
In Ps. 60 the Jew accepts God's chastening, but looks for victory. In Ps. 61 he cries "from the end of the earth" (and it is mainly for his soul and the king's life); in Ps. 62 with enlarging expectation. In Ps. 63 the praise and blessing and soul-satisfaction rise, though he be still an outcast from the sanctuary. Ps. 64 spreads before God the deadly craft and evil of that day, but is sure of God's intervention; and also in Ps. 65 the outburst then of praise, silent long in Zion. Yea, all the earth shall shout aloud to God; and the godly one who had fled will then go into His house and pay the vows made in trouble, Ps. 66. Next Ps. 67 closes this group by the blessing of the Jew as the means for all nations to know God's salvation, never before nor otherwise.
The triumph of God, as Ps. 68 exultingly sings, is in and by Christ ascended on high. So shall His enemies be scattered when He arises; so shall the isolated be made to dwell in a home, and the kings of armies flee, and Jehovah dwell in Zion for ever, and the kingdoms of the earth sing to God: blessed be God! But what was not Christ's humiliation in order that it all should be righteously? This, Ps. 69 declares of Him, Who here speaks of being smitten and wounded of Jehovah. Indeed Christ bore reproach for His sake, for which judgment must follow on His enemies. Ps. 70 pleads for His deliverance, but withal to the shame of His wicked adversaries, and to their joy that sought Jehovah, Himself afflicted in order to it. Ps 71 turns this principle to Jewish deliverance, "old" as they might be, but yet to renew their youth in praise; and so this portion closes with Ps. 72 "for Solomon." It is not the aged David, the man of war, but the Prince of Peace, Who introduces the rest of God, when the prayers of Jesse's son are ended. Who can doubt the divine design thus far?
The third division bears out its larger character as bringing in Israel and their Gentile foes so plainly that fewer words are here needed. Ps. 73 speaks expressly of the people thus; as Ps. 74 of their and His enemies. In Ps. 75 Messiah intervenes, judging with equity; when earth and all its inhabitants are dissolved, He bears up its pillars. Can any one doubt Who He is? or when? Ps. 76 speaks of the catastrophe for the kings of the earth when He dwells in Zion; not when His presence shines from heaven to the destruction of the Beast and the False prophet. But there is inward deliverance also as in Ps. 77. And the history of the people is turned more than ever to "instruction" in that day as in Ps. 78. But even when Israel is back in the land, Gentile hatred once more breaks out as we see in Ps. 79, and the people are not yet established in the new covenant. In Ps. 80 they pray that the Shepherd of Israel may shine forth, and His hand be on the Man of His right hand, the Son of man.
Ps. 81 bids the trumpet be blown at the new moon. It is the awakening and gathering of Israel, as Ps. 82 warns the judges of His arising to judge the earth. Nor will the confederacy of Gentiles, small or great (Ps. 83), avail against God's hidden ones; their greed after His holy places will only bring out that He alone Whose name is Jehovah is the Most High over all the earth. Ps. 84 then points out the blessing, first, of dwelling where Jehovah dwells, in His house; next, of going up thither. Ps. 85 celebrates His favour, though the result was far from complete; for glory is to dwell in the land. Cf. Isa. 4 for Jerusalem. A suited prayer of David follows in Ps. 86; and Ps. 87 contrasts Zion with the passing splendour of the earth's great ones. But none the less do the godly feel and express in Ps. 88 the terrors of a broken law; and they cry to the God of their salvation accordingly. They had utterly failed in their relationship; but the Spirit of Christ in no way held aloof from this righteous affliction, Himself holy and spotless. Ps. 89 is the song of Jehovah's loving-kindness or mercies, the centre of which is the Merciful or Holy One in ver. 19. They had lost all but His mercies in Christ, which abide and will yet be theirs "for ever."
The fit opening of the fourth section is Moses' prayer, Ps. 90. The sovereign Lord alone can say to crumbling man, Return, children of men. But this turns on the Messiah, Ps. 91, Whose work brings in the true sabbath song, Ps. 92. Jehovah then reigns, higher than the highest of creatures; and holiness becomes His house ever more, Ps. 93. Yet vengeance belongs to Him, dishonoured from the first, and most of all at the last, Ps. 94. But when the workers of iniquity are cut off, then goes forth Israel's joyous call to sing to Jehovah, Ps. 95, as in Ps. 96 all the earth is invited to sing a new song. Is not Ps. 97 the answer to that, as Ps. 99 to Ps. 98 where Israel is in question? In Ps. 100 they are all summoned to shout aloud and serve Jehovah with joy. There is no narrowness of heart more. If "we" are His people, enter "ye" into His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Ps. 101 is Messiah setting out the terms of His reign, mercy and judgment. Ps. 102 gives the ground of all blessing in His humiliation, Who was not the cast down Messiah only but Jehovah, as truly as He who lifted Him up; for He is the Creator of all. Then, Ps. 103, what praise in Israel flows out! What praise in creation, Ps. 104! What thanks given in Ps. 105 where Jehovah's ways of grace are retraced from the fathers down till the sons entered on the lands of the nations! What thanks, in Ps. 106 not less deeply but here adding, "for His loving kindness (or mercy) is for ever." Grace opens their lips to confess how they had sinned with their fathers, and done wickedly throughout the self-same history, and later still when carried captive. Now they say, "Save us, Jehovah our God, and gather us from among the nations to give thanks to thy holy name, to triumph in thy praise."
The fifth division begins with Ps. 107, in substance like the concluding one of the fourth, but adding the weighty facts in vers. 2, 3, and recounting their varied providential past, wise now to understand Jehovah's mercy. Cf. Rom. 11:30-32. Ps. 108 is the joy of the Spirit of Christ when Israel is put in possession of their long forfeited inheritance. Here it is His mercy, truth, and glory. Now in Ps. 109 we have Christ rejected but exalted to help the needy, with judgment on the son of perdition first and last. Ps. 110 is David's Son and Lord exalted. Though Priest for ever after Melchisedek's order, He is about to smite through kings in the day of His anger, especially the "head over a mighty land": the just reply to 109.
In 111 to 118 we have a group celebrating Jehovah successively in His works and wonders: Ps. 111, in His commandments and righteousness; Ps. 112, in His character and dealings; Ps. 113, in praise, all being Hallelujahs; then in Ps. 114 is the effect on the earth of the presence of Jacob's God, as Ps. 115 is the humbling effect on Israel to His glory, blessed and blessing; and in Ps. 116 their love in Christ's Spirit as delivered from death like Jairus' daughter. Again, Ps. 117 calls all the nations to praise Jehovah, as Ps. 118 closes the set with "His mercy for ever" sung by Israel, Aaron's house, and those that fear Him. Through sore trial Israel had passed, but destroyed their foes; but it was in His name Who set the rejected Stone at the head of the corner; and in His name Messiah coming they bless.
Next in Ps. 119 we have Israel's state shown, the law written on their hearts, and its virtues analysed fully and distinctively. Then follows the series of fifteen "Songs of degrees," or steps in Israel's restoration, not yet fulfilled. In Ps. 120 the deceitful foe is discerned; in Ps. 121 Jehovah is looked to for help; and in Ps. 122 Christ's Spirit kindles their joy in worship. Then in Ps. 123 their eyes are devotedly lifted up to Jehovah; and in Ps. 124 the snare is broken, and they bless Him. In Ps. 125 they confide in Jehovah, peace on Israel; in Ps. 126 joy is reaped after sowing in tears, by Christ above all. Ps. 127 is for Solomon, contrasting the house and the city of the rest of God with the Babel-building that preceded, and looking for a blessed posterity. The blessing of Jehovah-fearers duly ensues in Ps. 128 and their many afflictions can now, in Ps. 129, be calmly remembered with the assurance of shame to all that hate Zion. Then Ps. 130 tells how forgiveness with Jehovah taught them to fear Him, and wait for Him, and hope; as in Ps. 131 the moral effect goes forth in subjection of heart, deepening that hope. Ps. 132 asks Jehovah to remember for David all his affliction, the figure of infinitely greater; and to arise into His rest, with answers from ver. 14 exceeding every request. Next Ps. 133 points us to the beauteous dwelling in unity that results from the power of the Spirit, honouring a greater than Aaron in the blessing — life for evermore; while Ps. 134 ends this series with blessing rising up: night brings no pause, and Jehovah blesses out of Zion, king and priest being here together in it.
Ps. 135 is more general praise, though it and the succeeding Ps. 136 may be regarded as replying to the psalms of degrees. They are rehearsals. The first begins and ends with Hallelujah; the second resounds with Israel's known chorus.
Special circumstances, of the people's sorrow, and of Jehovah's fidelity to His word, begin in Ps. 137 and Ps. 138, while Ps. 139 gives the individual heart-searching in goodness of the Eternal, which encourages to pray, "Search me, O God, and know my heart," etc. As the last foe has not fallen before the kingdom is established in peace, we have in Ps. 140 a prayer for his fall; so in Ps. 141 for preservation and profit by the discipline meanwhile. It is even more urgent in Ps. 142 and in sense of loneliness. Ps. 143 takes the deep ground that in His sight no man living shall be justified. It is a question of divine righteousness. So in Ps. 144. "Jehovah, what is man?" Why should He delay judgment and blessing for him? for Jehovah only has and gives might.
Ps. 145 is the Spirit of Christ in the Jewish saints praising for the kingdom; and Hallelujah psalms swell in volume to the end. Ps. 146 is the contrast in the man of Jehovah delivering His people; Ps. 147 His mercy to Jerusalem and Israel's outcasts with His blessing of creation. In Ps. 148 it is His praise "from the heavens," and "from the earth," with all therein; as Ps. 149 is His praise in the congregation of the godly (for such are Israel henceforth). Ps. 150 is praise to El (the mighty One), everywhere and in all respects, with every instrument and by everything that has breath. How evident is the special design of God not only in each psalm but in their arrangement! Man without Him was incapable of either.
§ 20. PROVERBS.
The collection of "the words of the wise" which next claims our heed is as different in character from the book of Psalms as one can conceive, though both may be in form poetical, the latter in the highest degree. But they are the inverse of one another: the Psalms mostly presenting to us Jehovah, or God in His nature rather than in covenant, the expression by the Holy Spirit of His people's and His own feelings in their varying experience, in hopes and fears, joy and distress, as well as in the acknowledgment of His ways; the Proverbs, His wisdom in view of the difficulties and trials, snares and joys, and all other circumstances in the earthly path. The fear of Jehovah is the key-note. The special design of the book is unmistakable. No other part of the Bible fulfils or even shares its place. It communicates Jehovah's wisdom in its authoritative instruction of His people. Hence "God" as such occurs very sparingly in the prologue, Prov. 2:5, 17, Prov. 3:4; not at all in the strict "proverbs of Solomon" (10-24); once in the supplement which Hezekiah's men transcribed (Prov. 25:2); and twice in the appendix of Agur's words (Prov. 30:5, 9). This however gives no countenance to the dream of Astruc, but one more plain proof that it is false, senseless, and misleading.
After the preface of Prov. 1:1-7, we have a very full and affectionate introduction in the first nine chapters. In contrast with the authority given to parents is the enticement in the world through independence and lust, which calls to violence in Prov. 1 and corruption in Prov. 2. But if that authority works early and within, wisdom on Jehovah's part cries without, warning of the judgment at the end on the wicked man and the strange woman, and assuring of the moral value and blessing at all times for those that hear and prize her voice. In Prov. 3 not our own intelligence but Jehovah's fear and instruction can avail. Hence in Prov. 4 wisdom's words are to be sought to get true intelligence, avoiding all other ways. In Prov. 5 is shown that only remorse and ruin come from swerving to corruption, while Jehovah would have His own enjoy the relations He sanctions. Prov. 6 warns against suretyship and sloth, evil activity and adultery; as Prov. 7 pursues the latter in detail to death and Sheol. In Prov. 8 the wisdom of God, energetic and importunate in love, rises up to Him Who is Son; as Christ is said to be His wisdom in the N.T. (object of Jehovah's delight), and His delights not merely in Israel but "with the sons of men." In Prov. 9 wisdom has built her house with her seven pillars, answering to the house of God, as it were, and not His call only, but contrasted with "the foolish woman" who leads her victims to destruction. Wisdom has an organisation of good, as the strange and "clamorous" woman has of evil.
The intermediate chapters to 24, with the supplement in Prov. 25-29, present us the detailed wisdom of Jehovah for His people on the earth. The special walk of the Christian is not contemplated; still less is the church of God before us; any more than Christ suffering as God's witness, or for our sins, or His exaltation on high as Head, and in the heavenly sanctuary as Priest. But we have those divine apophthegms on the earthly path, which have drawn out the admiration of the wisest among men. After all they are but a selection from the "three thousand proverbs" which Solomon spoke (1 Kings 4:32). For God gave the king wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea-shore. And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men, than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all nations round about. What we have is a selection made by the Holy Spirit: a principle just as true of the "signs" wrought by our Lord (John 20:30-31, John 21:24-25). Every scripture is of God's special design.
Of the concluding Prov. 30, 31 we would say here little more than that they are in keeping with the book and worthy of forming its close. They claim the character of "prophecy"; and every word bears the stamp of God. The picture of the matron in the last 22 verses (acrostics) of the book is beautiful, and shows what woman might be under the law, even before Christ came and gave her a yet higher dignity.
§ 21. ECCLESIASTES.
On the face of the book stands revealed this striking difference from the Proverbs that here Elohim, or God, is found from first to last, never once Jehovah. Hence it is not the people in special relationship, but man as he is. Indeed some found on this fact the absurd inference that, if Solomon for the most part wrote the former, he could not have written the latter. The books claim to have emanated from the son of David. This however is nothing to a rationalist, save perhaps one incentive more to deny it. Leaving such a question, the case confirms the truth which we have often asserted, that the use of these divine designations depends on the different objects in view, not on separate writers. In Ecclesiastes it is no question of covenant relationship and its prescribed order, but of God, of the Creator, and of man vainly seeking happiness in a ruined creation. Here therefore Jehovah would be wholly out of place. It is moral suitability under the Holy Spirit which regulates the choice quite independently of the writer, whether the same or a different person. It is therefore Elohim, and man having to do with Him and His judgment.
Thus here again God's special design is manifest; and so is the shortsightedness of learning, or rather of unbelief, in overlooking the intimations of the written word for an hypothesis of pure imagination. The truth on the contrary, if it be only in the designation, edifies and helps us so far to enter into the scope of the book. Here it is a book which has its own peculiar place; none other even resembles it. It is the experience of a man unequalled in his capacity, in his circumstances, and in his means (for what can the man do that comes after the king?) for quest of happiness, and finding only vanity and pursuit of the wind in all "done under the sun." How could it be otherwise, if man is an outcast from paradise, and looks not in faith to Him Who is above the sun? Experience, even the exceptional power, position, and activity of Solomon, experience of all that promises most on earth, ends in "vanity of vanities," as surely as experience of self does to the man born of God who is occupied with himself (Rom. 7:7-24). All in man or the world is fallen and most wretched. Nor did wisdom itself avail to help, but rather intensified, the dissatisfaction and the sorrow. Death comes, and what does man as such know of that which is after it? To outward eye he dies as the brute. What then is for him but to fear God and keep His commandments? For this is the whole of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
This has been counted pessimistic and sceptical; and so it would be if it were all. But the book itself urges the thankful use of the good God gives in a ruin so pervading. And if He gives them to weary themselves, it is to cast themselves on His fear and obedience, wherein is no vanity, But it was in no way the aim of the book to unfold sovereign grace, and its saving provisions.
"The words of the wise" are not positive here as in the Proverbs, but negative, acting as goads to turn from seeking good in the creature, seeing that the end of all is death. Of this, as it closes on man, is given a most poetical allegory at the close; as the book opens with the constant change stamped on all the creature around and within. What a contrast with the rest of God into which the work of Christ (here entirely out of sight) alone can introduce such as we are, which from the beginning pointed to the Messiah and redemption based on sacrifice! Even when God's house is named, it is for man to hear, and pay vows conscientiously, and fear God; but the forgiveness with Jehovah that produces fear is no more entered on here than propitiation is in Rom. 2:1-16, where the apostle lays down God's immutable principles in dealing with men, be they who they may. Man needs God as a centre for his heart which the creature cannot satisfy.
§ 22. SOLOMON'S SONG.
Quite as unique is God's special design in Canticles, wherein neither Elohim nor Jehovah is once found, only Jah descriptively and not as an object (Cant. 7:6). It is the Beloved and His love, the Bridegroom and the Bride as revealed to Israel; not the great secret as to Christ and as to the church, but a communication fully disclosed to the ancient people of God. (Compare also Ps. 45 and Isaiah 62.). The one who drew the bride's heart is the King, Messiah Himself; as this Song of songs is Solomon's. This need not hinder its application to the believer, or mutatis mutandis to the church; for there is a principle of relationship common to them all. It was an early error, especially from and even before the Constantinian epoch, to conceive Israel cast off for ever, and the church the heir of earthly honour and power. Men forgot the warning in Rom. 11 that this is but Gentile conceit, which loses the church's present suffering and future glory with Christ, and also denies the mercy which, when the Gentile calling corrupts itself and is cut off, will restore Israel and be to the world as life from the dead when the Lord comes to reign. Thus the key to Canticles got hidden; and the boon was either lowered irreverently, and sometimes grossly enough as is natural to a rationalist, or elevated in error to a heavenly object, which finds its proper unfolding in Rev. 19-22, not here strictly or fully.
The church is the body of Christ glorified at God's right hand on high by virtue of the baptism of the Holy Spirit sent down as the fruit of Christ's known redemption. This explains the peace and calm enjoyment of our peculiar relationship even now, before the day comes for the marriage of the Lamb above, as we read in Rev. 19 which adds and keeps for us, in all its fulness, the power of hope in Christ's coming.
It is a different state we find here where the relationship has to be formed or re-established under the new covenant. Hence the varied antecedent experiences for the heart of which this book so largely consists, and which grace will turn to the blessing of the daughter of Zion. Nothing of the kind is found in the N.T. any more than a collection of Psalms; but they are both provided in the O.T. about the ancient people, though all is surely for our use and blessing, although not about us. We are supposed to be in such peace, liberty, and joy by the presence of the Holy Spirit, as to make and sing our own psalms and hymns (1 Cor. 14, Eph. 5, Col. 3). The misuse of these scriptures, as if the church were Zion, Judah, Israel, etc., has done much to judaize the Christian. The blessing of their direct use will begin for the godly remnant before the day breaks; after which all Israel will sing them together — with what joy in that day! But who save God could have provided this wonderful anticipation?
§ 23. ISAIAH.
The vision of Isaiah is here unrolled before us. What is the special design? One does not enquire whether the noblest and most comprehensive of the prophets wrote without a purpose. The question is then, judging by its contents throughout, what did God mean His ancient people, ourselves too who now believe, to consider His aim to be in the book? What does He teach in it as a whole?
Jerusalem and Judah have a marked prominence; but from first to last the holy seer was given to judge the moral ruin of Israel by the word of Jehovah and the future glory under the sway of the divine Messiah, when all the nations shall flow to the mountain of Jehovah's house. What could be more odious than sacrifices and offerings, new moons and set feasts, from rulers of Sodom and a people of Gomorrah? If we must reject the traditional delusion that Isaiah 2 opens with the progress of the gospel, how can rationalist unbelief face the plain intimation that only by the judgment He will execute are the people to be restored? and this, not nationally only but also in their souls, that only thus will all the nations be brought into glad and willing subjection? What for so good and grand an issue has present experience to do with either outlook? Surely not the hypocrisy of the Jews, or the idolatrous iniquities of all the nations.
Yet such were the actual facts. What sign, then or since, of Jerusalem thoroughly purged or of the Gentiles learning war no more? No, the Holy Spirit led the prophet to foresee the "end of the age," and the judgment of Jehovah's adversaries; neither the one nor the other as yet accomplished facts. He shall reign Whose right it is. In that day all pride shall fall, and every disorder be rectified; even each petty female vanity shall vanish (Isa. 3). Yet it will not be by the gospel nor the church; but the Lord shall scour out corruption and violence by the spirit of judgment and of burning; and Jehovah will create over every dwelling-place the glory to be a canopy (Isa. 4). Such is the introduction, each part ending with Israel's restoration, as does each larger section prove save the intermediary one.
Then follows in Isa. 5 a song of lamentation touching His vineyard, the house of Israel, and Judah the plant of His delight, followed by manifold woes on His people, which introduces the refrain of His anger not turned away, and His hand stretched out still, closing here with darkness and distress on the land and light darkened in the heavens thereof. After a striking parenthesis in Isa. 6 followed up in Isa. 7 to 9:7, the refrain is repeated from Isa. 9:8, till the end comes in the Assyrian who had been the rod of His anger (Isa. 10:5), now to be punished and destroyed when the Lord has performed His whole work on mount Zion. "For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall be accomplished, and mine anger, in their destruction." Deliverance comes by divine judgment. Who He is that makes good both is given in Isa. 11 with Israel's song of joy in Isa. 12. But the parenthesis which is occupied with Judah and David's house had already prepared for this. For His divine glory is seen according to John 12 in Isa. 6; then in Isa. 7 His incarnation; in Isa. 8 His claim too (as Immanuel) to the land; and in Isa. 9, after the eclipse of His rejection, when Jehovah hid His face from the house of Jacob, His victory over the oppressor as in the day of Midian, when His glories are proclaimed. Thus the general course of judgment, as well as the parenthetic revelation of Messiah rejected but at last intervening for judgment of the foe, coalesce. Such is the remainder of the first section, ending in Jehovah's praise, and the Holy One of Israel great in the midst of Zion.
The second division consists of "burdens" or "oracles" of judgment from Isa. 13 to 23, ending with not the land only but "the world" languishing and fading away, and Jehovah punishing the high ones on high and the kings of the earth on the earth, but a fortress to the poor remnant of godly Jews, when the veil is destroyed that veils all the peoples; yea death is swallowed up in victory. Who can fail to discern the end of the age? For in that day shall be sung in Judah's land a song of victory; and a vineyard of verjuice no more, but of pure wine; and Israel shall fill the face of the world with fruit, as we read with much more in Isa. 25-27. The end is full triumph for restored Israel, as throughout it appears briefly in each part. And how plainly the future is in view by beginning with Babylon and next Assyria! For historically every one knows this is not the order: compare Micah 5:4-7.
The portion that succeeds begins with "woe" to Ephraim, and "woe" to Ariel or Jerusalem, in Isa. 28, 29, with moral "woes" going on to Isa. 30 and in Isa. 31 on those that go down to Egypt for help: Jehovah alone avails. In Isa. 32 is the contrasted reign of Christ, and the Spirit poured out for that day on the earth, as already on the Christian for heaven. Isa. 33 is "woe" on the last spoiler, as Isa. 34 is the final slaughter in the land of Edom, which makes way for the wilderness and the parched land to be glad, indeed for all creation. And no wonder; for they shall see the glory of Jehovah, the excellency of Israel's God. The church, and all the glorified, will have a still more lofty and a deeper portion on high.
Then we have four prose chapters (Isa. 36-39) of the greatest interest, evidently of prophetic type, and meant to brace together the two halves of this sublime prophecy by recounting the facts of Hezekiah's history, which begin with the blasphemous pride and the divine overthrow of the Assyrian, and end with the predicted removal to Babylon, occupying as it does large space in the unbroken stream of prophecy that follows. But even this interlude of external change would not have been complete without the inner revelation of the sickness unto death of the king, from which Jehovah raised him up (Isa. 38), and which has its glorious counterpart in the infinitely greater Son of David, Who really died and rose again: the everlasting ground, not merely for the sure mercies of David toward Israel, but for all the divine counsels of blessing for all saints, for heaven and earth, for time and eternity. But what is this to the higher criticism so called? Alas! it derides true prophecy and miracle, and has no revealed future of blessedness or judgment, confessing neither the Father nor the Son. Is it of God, or of the enemy?
The profound and majestic dignity of the latter half (vainly attributed to "the Great Unnamed") is exactly suited to its more inward character, each section, though more secretly intimated than in the first half, centring in the Messiah. There are three distinct aspects in continuous flow. Isa. 40 to 48 are the first where Jehovah redeemed His servant Jacob, adumbrated by Cyrus' overthrow of Babylon, and his proclamation of liberty and return to the captive Jew. "There is no peace, saith Jehovah, to the wicked"; which only a far greater than Cyrus will effectuate. The second consists of Isa. 49 to 57 where it is no question of idols judged in Babylon, as a chastening for the Jew but final and fatal for the heathen; but we have the still more impious and unbelieving guilt of the Jew in rejecting Jehovah-Messiah, with "no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." For this evil lies deeper and strikes at God Himself, not merely at His relative and continuous title as the God of ages, and governor of Israel. Lastly, the crown of blessing is to the end of the book, where faith in the Righteous Servant and in His atonement changes unrighteous Israel; and the elect from them become His servants, not only delivered from every foe at the last extremity, but brought into unchanging joy and glory; no longer a curse, but at the end of the age an everlasting blessing to all families of the earth, as was promised at the beginning of their history to their first fathers.
Who but God could have inspired so far reaching a plan, worthy of Himself and of His Son the Anointed! He, by unreserved obedience and infinite suffering in atonement, will deliver His people at last out of their manifold evil, wandering, and ruin, to become the ready servants of His good and holy will, and the honoured instruments as well as objects of His mercy in the great day, when Israel shall be as stable before Jehovah as the new heavens and the new earth which He will create. How sad the unbelief which doubts that the zeal of Jehovah will do this, and much more! How blind those who fail to see the glowing and splendid testimony of all the vision of Isaiah to it all!
Take the Incarnation so clearly predicted in Isa. 7, yet in Isa. 8 a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, while Jehovah hides His face from the guilty people, but has "disciples" given to the rejected Christ for signs, and for wonders, before the day of final victory and abiding joy. Then shall the nation be multiplied as in Isa. 9 and say triumphantly, Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The Father of the age to come (or eternity), The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and with justice henceforth even for ever. Is the trumpet's voice uncertain?
Take again His atoning death in Isa. 53 and the glories surely to follow, though we have to wait for the Jews to look on Him Whom they pierced before He is set on Zion, and reigns as Jehovah over all the earth. How honestly deny true, divinely given, foresight in broad and clear instances like these, early and later? Indubitable fairly as they are, they serve to attest all the others as to Babylon, Cyrus, etc. — any of which have furnished matter for critical cavil. But the orderly design also of the book, both as a whole and in each of its seven parts, points to its divine author through Isaiah.
§ 24a. JEREMIAH.
The special object of Jeremiah's prophecy is no less evident than Isaiah's; yet is each as different in character and style from the other, as both are from Ezekiel and Daniel. It was Jeremiah's lot to live and testify in the midst of guilty Judah hastening to utter ruin, and in the land for the most part during the crisis of its last kings of David's house. Instead of being the honoured prophet of the king (save Josiah of course), and dear alike to monarch and people, he was a weeping Seer. It was not his to see his prediction accomplished in the sudden judgment which befell the most arrogant of Assyrian monarchs, who in his retreat of shame perished by the hand of his own sons before the vain idol of his worship. We have before us the greatest and most constant sufferer among the prophets; and this at the hand, now of kings, now of priests and false prophets, now of princes, and of the people, the chosen people; who, after their rebellious contempt during his life, regarded him subsequently to his death as the chief of prophets.
No such immense sweep is compassed by the tender priest of Anathoth as in Isaiah's sublime vision with its rich and varied expression. But no book in the O.T. is so distinguished as this of Jeremiah, on the one hand by entire identification with Jehovah's indignant denunciation of Jewish iniquity and apostasy, on the other hand by self-sacrificing love to the end toward his countrymen who despised and hated him for his faithful rebukes and solemn warnings. Yet the wicked Jews were not so wicked even at last as the higher critics. "That generation" in the spurious 2 Macc. 2 represents him as appearing to their hero Judas Macc. as "a man with grey hairs and exceeding glorious, and a wonderful and excellent majesty to gird him with a golden sword:" an imposture singularly out of harmony with all that scripture tells us of this prophet of sorrows, troubles, and woes. Yet as he was given to proclaim, not only the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by Nebuchadnezzar and the captivity in Babylon, but also at the close of seventy years the downfall of that great city and the first of the proper world-powers, even "that generation" was not so incredulous as the self-exalting and God-defying scribes of the last century and our own, who are audacious enough to deny all true prediction as they do all real miracle, just as they reject the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ and the future glory to be revealed.
Unbelievers may speculate about the Pentateuch generally, and Deuteronomy in particular; for nothing is easier than for sharp wits, armed by self-will, to conjure difficulties and doubts against books so ancient as they profess to be. But the prophet lived till the Four great Empires or the "times of the Gentiles" began, and extant human history more or less credible followed, to say nothing of monuments (spite of their vain-glory and too frequent lying), which confirm him in remarkable and unexpected ways. And as the authenticity of his writings cannot be justly questioned, so the punctual accomplishment of so striking a prediction deeply moved the Jewish mind. Thereby the saintly captive was led to look onward, not merely to the proximate and provisional return of a remnant to the land, but to the final and full and everlasting redemption of Jerusalem in the latter days.
Then Jehovah will turn again the captivity of His people Israel and Judah, who will possess (as they have not yet done) the land given to their fathers, and Jehovah will be the God of all the families of Israel. Yet it cannot be without the last and unparalleled time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. "Behold, days come, saith Jehovah [not merely to "sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah," not for destruction and affliction, but to build and plant them], that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." It will not rest, as he declares, on man's weakness, but on divine grace. For Jehovah will put His law in their inward parts, and will write it in their hearts, and as He will be their God, so they His people knowing Him from the least of them to the greatest, and their sins remembered by Him no more.
But while Jeremiah laboured and testified, he had the bitter lot of his worst enemies among those he loved and pitied and censured so profoundly. This incredulity of Jehovah's word was caused by their rebellion of will against Jehovah Himself, as it ever is, whatever men say or boast. Nebuchadnezzar and his servants shone in honouring Jeremiah, in the most marked contrast with priests and false prophets and even kings Jehoiachim and Zedekiah. Nevertheless, as a true lover of God's people in their lowest estate and their base ingratitude to him, instead of going to Babylon where ease and honour were assured, he preferred to suffer affliction with the most despised in the land, who behaved as ill as ever and against his inspired warnings carried him down into Egypt, rather than abide in subjection to the Chaldean.
Who can doubt, whose ear is opened to hear, the specific design and unique place of Jeremiah's writings in the Bible? But, as before, a sketch of its parts is given in proof that the general estimate is only confirmed by the detail. Moral appeal to conscience in Jerusalem and Judah occupies the early half, or nearly so, Jer. 1 being the prophet's inauguration as a young man. Nor is any fact more striking than the way in which the apparent disorder of the chapters as in Jer. 21-24, even in the Hebrew (to say nothing of the Septuagint), subserves the aim of God's Spirit by the truth. To characterise it as confusion among his writings owing to a violent death is a mere and arbitrary guess, which overlooks the moral purpose and design of God. Jer. 25 is a transition, declaring the providential judgment of nations, ominously putting Jerusalem and Judah in their forefront. In Jer. 30-33 the entire people of God, all Israel, are promised restoration to the land with salvation (in its vital and blessed sense) in days to come, under a new covenant and the Messiah clearly announced to reign (as King in Jer. 23:5), a Branch of righteousness unto David, as Jerusalem shall be called by the new name of Jehovah our righteousness. From Jer. 34 to 38 is the word of Jehovah as to various kings of Judah, but not in historical order, save that they preceded the fall of Jerusalem; while those from Jer. 39 to 44 bear on what followed, Jer. 14 closing the section with the prophetic word to Baruch his amanuensis. The last series consists of predictions on foreign nations separately, as we may see also in the writings of Isaiah and Ezekiel. The last Jer. 52 is expressly an appendix to the words of Jeremiah by the inspired editor. It is a most appropriate close of the prophecy and introduction to the Lamentations.
§ 24b. THE LAMENTATIONS OF JEREMIAH.
It is notable, but by no means an unprecedented thing, that the book, which more than any other breathes the distress of a pious and broken heart, is clothed in a markedly artificial form. God meant His people to share the prophet's lamentation; and its predominant shape occupied his heart who wrote, and theirs who pondered and remembered it all the more. Its five chapters are five elegies. Lam. 1, Lam. 2 have twenty-two stanzas or verses, answering to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and each stanza with three parts. In the third chapter the initial letter occurs for each of the three parts, when the prophet speaks personally of his own sufferings, as before and after Lam. 3 he pours forth his groans over the city destroyed with all its glories. In Lam. 4 each stanza consists of two parts, each verse beginning with the successive letters of the alphabet. Though Lam. 5 has twenty-two stanzas or verses of two parts, the initial letters do not follow regularly. It is throughout a true-hearted confession of sins. "The crown is fallen from our head; woe unto us for we have sinned! For this our heart is faint; for these things our eyes have grown dim, because of the mountain of Zion, which is desolate: foxes walk over it. Thou, Jehovah, dwellest for ever; thy throne is from generation to generation. Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever — dost thou forsake us so long time? Turn thou us unto thee, Jehovah, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old. Or is it that thou hast utterly rejected us — art wroth with us exceedingly?"
The book has then a place quite unique, from a heart which answered to the love of Jehovah for His people, when they were most justly in the depths because of their sins and His chastisement, even to blotting them out from His land, city, kingdom, and house. It is thorough self-judgment in the heart's solidarity with them and clinging in the face and experience of all to Him. Can we not discern what a gap for the Bible if we had not Lamentations? What will it not be to the godly in their last tribulation? Did the writer forget his own purchase (Jer. 32.) in faith of the word? or his prophecy of Israel under Messiah and the new covenant? Assuredly not; yet none the less did he mourn the ruin of Israel, and that Jehovah should have grounds so valid for His severe chastening.
§ 25. EZEKIEL.
We have traced the distinctive character of Jeremiah as compared with Isaiah, and the special design by each. Ezekiel (= strengthened of God), who was a priest like Jeremiah, has his characteristic differences. Here rationalism seems less irreverent. As Christ is not so openly predicted, they are more indifferent to question and deny the truth. If the orthodox were decided in confessing the millennial city and sanctuary in his concluding chapters, we should hear of their opposition and vapid theories to get rid of divine truths. For Christendom it is all ideal enough; and the neo-critics can leave the visions of their coming glory undisturbed. Real and pronounced faith in others would soon awaken their enmity. But alas! when the Son of man comes, shall He find faith on the earth?
Now as Jeremiah prophesied long after Isaiah in the closing throes of the expiring monarchy of Judah, his mournful mission and messages from Jehovah lay up to the last in the land, till he was carried away by the unbelieving leaders of the remnant into Egypt. But Ezekiel was carried into captivity with Jehoiachin by Nebuchadnezzar, and given his place with others at Tel-Abib on the river Chebar. It was in the "thirtieth year" (he does not say of what epoch, but it would seem of Nabopolassar's era), the fifth of the Jewish king's captivity, that he saw the vision of Ezek. 1. It was the throne of the Lord Jehovah in unsparing majesty seen in Chaldea and judging Jerusalem and His sanctuary there. What a solemn change, not reigning, but vengeance on His house and city!
Here there appeared four living creatures, as a stormy wind issuing from the north, with cloud and a fire infolding itself, out of which indeed they came each with four faces and four wings, running and returning like lightning. But their four wheels too he beheld on the earth, and wheel within a wheel, with rims full of eyes, and the spirit of the living creatures in the four wheels. Overhead was the likeness of an expanse "as the look of the terrible crystal," and above the expanse the likeness of a throne as of sapphire, and as it were a man above upon it. As the appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire, as the appearance of torches, so the man's likeness was as the look of glowing brass, as the appearance of fire within round about, and from the loins and downward the appearance of fire. It was at this time the suited display of Jehovah's glory, but in punitive judgment of Israel.
How strikingly different from the holy scene of the Lord in the temple, where Isaiah saw His glory with winged seraphim in attendance, and one touched the Seer's lips with a coal from the altar, that he might tell the people (who seemed so prospering in religion and all else) of the judicial darkness about to befall them and the desolation, to follow, though a remnant should be spared for the unfailing purpose of Jehovah. How different from both the call of Jeremiah, with its lowly symbols, yet hallowed before his birth to be a prophet to the nations, to pluck up and to break down, and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant. He too learnt that out of the north should evil break forth on all the inhabitants of the land. Feeble and sensitive as he was, Jeremiah was to speak all Jehovah should command him: he was in their midst and tasted sorrows out of a full cup. Ezekiel is away from the land, which the divine glory visits judicially by Nebuchadnezzar. He, and not Jeremiah or Isaiah, is regularly called "Son of man" as Daniel but once. Hence it is not a dealing with conscience as with Jeremiah to restore; Ezekiel was to be dumb, and only to pronounce Jehovah's sentence. Yet is it constantly to Israel, or "the house of Israel," or the like, he refers, when as a prophet His mouth is opened to vindicate Jehovah's casting them off. They were more hardened than the heathen who knew not God; and he had to speak whether they heard or forbore.
Ezek. 1 to 7 comprise the first division, the judgment that was sent on Jehovah's people. The next comprehends from Ezek. 8 to 19 though with a subdivision at the end of Ezek. 11. The prophet was carried to Jerusalem in the Spirit that he might behold the abominations of all the remnant there, and especially in His house, which His glory visits in judgment. The city is also entirely given up, as well as the sanctuary. The last prince should go captive to Babylon, but should not see it, yet there die (Ezek. 12). Think of any but a profane scoffer here denying true prediction! It was not only in great events, but in a minute point like this, which seemed an enigma till the event made it as impressive as plain. And who were guilty? Not the king only, but the prophets, and the people down to the women in their petty ways (Ezek. 13). So were the elders, though they came and sat before Ezekiel (Ezek. 14). Famine, etc. must come to cut off man and beast; in such a crisis not even Noah, Daniel, and Job could deliver any but their own souls. The vine (Ezek. 15), being fruitless, was good only for fuel; such the doom for the capital. Jerusalem's father was Amorite and mother Hittite; Jehovah's love to win her she rejected; worse was she than Sodom and Samaria; yet would He establish His covenant with her for ever (Ezek. 16). After a parable it is shown in Ezek. 17 how Jerusalem's king despised Jehovah's oath and broke the covenant to utter ruin; but grace in the end is to Jehovah's praise. And Ezek. 18 declares that they need not complain of the old ground of national judgment: they would be dealt with each according to his works. This portion closes with a lamentation over the total ruin of the last princes of Israel in Ezek. 19.
The third part goes hence to the end of Ezek. 23. Here Israel is again prominent, and sin from the beginning, and that, idolatry; but in the end He will purge out the rebels and work for His own name. It is Israel contrasted here with Judah's lot. A fresh threat comes from ver. 45 to the end; and Ezek. 21 declares Jehovah's sword unsheathed against Jerusalem and the land of Israel because of the profane and wicked prince (Zedekiah) till He come Whose right is the crown: an allusion, we may presume, invisible to unbelieving eyes. Ammon shares the judgment (21). The prophet is to judge the bloody and unclean Jerusalem (22); and the fresh parable of Oholah and Oholibah enforces it in Ezek. 23.
Ezek. 24 is the utter rejection of Jerusalem, which the prophet is not to mourn: another contrast with Jeremiah who was unmarried; and as a sign, Ezekiel loses suddenly his wife whom he was forbidden to lament. It was in the ninth year of the captivity, as Ezek. 1-7 pertained to the fifth year, Ezek. 8-19 to the sixth, and Ezek. 20-23 to the seventh. Ezek. 24 leads to Ezek. 25-32 which take up the nations around or within the land dealt with by the Lord Jehovah, but no longer in chronological order like the first half of the book: a fact instructive for other books, inasmuch as the neo-critics do not dispute our prophet's hand. The arrangement is due to no disturbing cause, but to God's design above man's thought (or want of thought) and care. Like Jerusalem, Ammon, Moab, Edom, and the Philistine shall know that He is Jehovah. So (Ezek. 26) shall Tyre and her towns. This is pursued with wide and accurate minuteness as to its commerce in chap. Ezek. 27, and in Ezek. 28 for the prince and the king of Tyre, with veiled reference to Satan's fall, the great world-ruler. The chapter goes on to Sidon's judgment, and closes with the assured restoration of Israel. The three chapters following contain Egypt's judgment under Nebuchadnezzar who had put down the rest.
Ezek. 33 opens a new series by proclaiming individual responsibility henceforth, instead of national solidarity with their ancestors' guilt as in Ezek. 18. Ezek. 34 gives their chiefs judged; and Ezek. 35. Edom once more. But Ezek. 36 is the work of grace inward and self-judging in Israel; as Ezek. 37 is the nation resuscitated and united under the true David; ending with Ezek. 38, Ezek. 39, the judgment of Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal (all the Russias), who attacks Israel when peaceful in the land, and perishes with all the nations which fight under that banner. This done, the Solomon type will be fulfilled.
Ezek. 40-48, the concluding series, furnish the grand picture of that day. In the visions of God Ezekiel is set on a very high mountain, on or by which was a city. But the primary object is the temple with its many chambers, into which comes the glory of Jehovah, the God of Israel. Therein the sons of Zadok shall minister to Him with burnt, sin, and peace offerings, as we find later the guilt and the meal offerings. A prince too of David's house represents Messiah (Ezek. 44), with a portion for priests and prince. The first of the month and the last of the week are remembered; the Passover and the Tabernacles, but no Pentecost, no Atonement-day, no Red Heifer. Ezek. 47 presents the beautiful sight of waters issuing from under the threshold of the house, which soon rise into a river that could not be waded through; a river of healing where death reigned, only with an exception to show that it is not yet the new heaven and new earth absolutely and eternally. It is the kingdom that precedes; and the division of the land for the twelve tribes is such as never has been more than any other part of this vision. And the name of the city from that day shall be Jehovah-Shammah (Jehovah [is] there). The originality of Ezekiel, in God's special design, starts from Israel given up and judged of old, passing clean over the four Gentile empires or world-powers, till Jehovah takes up Israel (when this age ends) for His grand and unfailing purpose of blessing on all the earth. It is in no way typical of the church of God destined to heavenly glory.