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imperfection of the characters with which History deals, naturally embarrasses its general conclusions : we can trace the rise and fall of such a nation or such a city; but this is not the rise or fall of any one principle, either good or evil; but of many principles, which are partly good and partly evil. Our sympathy with the prosperity and adversity of any one people must be qualified; there is an evil about them, which triumphs in their triumph; there is a good about them, which suffers in their overthrow.
Now what History does not and cannot do, that Prophecy does, and for that very reason it is very different from History. Prophecy fixes our attention on principles, on good and evil, on truth and falsehood, on God and on his enemy. Here, there is no division of feeling, no qualified sympathy; the one are deserving of our entire devotion and love, the other of our unmixed abhorrence.
Prophecy then is God's voice, speaking to us respecting the issue in all time of that great struggle which is the real interest of human life, the struggle between good and evil. Beset as we are by evil within us and without, it is the natural and earnest question of the human mind, what shall be the end at last? And the answer is given by Prophecy, that it shall be well at last; that there shall be a time when good shall perfectly triumph. But the answer declares also, that the struggle shall be long and hard ; that there will be much to suffer before the victory be complete. The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head, but the serpent notwithstanding shall first bruise his heelt. So completely is the earliest prophecy recorded in Scripture, the sum and substance so to speak of the whole language of Prophecy, how diversified soever in its particular forms.
History, we have said, is busied with particular nations, persons, and events; and from the study of these, extracts, as well as it can, some general principles. Prophecy is busied with general principles; and inasmuch as particular nations, persons, and events, represent these principles up to a certain point, so far it is concerned also with them. But their mixed character as it embarrasses and qualifies the judgment of the historian, so it must necessarily lower and qualify the promises and threatenings of the prophet. The full bliss which he delights to contemplate, because his eye is fixed chiefly upon God and perfect goodness, is not equally suited to the most imperfect goodness of God's servants. The utter extremity of suffering which belongs to God's enemy must be mitigated for those earthly evil-doers, whom God till the last great day has not yet wholly ceased to regard as his creatures.
Now then, to take examples of this both ways, Israel, the people of Israel, their kings, and their prophets, stand forth in the history and in the
o See note 2.
See note 3.
prophecy of Scripture as the representatives, so to speak, of the cause of God and of goodness. But the History shows that they were very imperfect representatives of it, and therefore they can only be imperfectly the subject of the promises of Prophecy. So far as they belonged to God, the blessing is theirs; so far as they fell short of what God's servants should be, the blessing is not theirs ; for they are not the real subjects of the prophecy. For it is History, and not Prophecy, which deals with the twelve tribes of the land of Canaan, their good and evil kings, their fallings away, and final rejection of Christ their Saviour: the Israel of Prophecy is God's d Israel really and truly, who walk with him faithfully, and abide with him to the end.
Thus, as in the text, Balak king of the Moabites calls upon Balaam the prophet to curse Israel. . This is the History; on the one hand there was one people, on the other there was another. Moab was not all evil; Israel was not all good; but mere History can find no difficulty in determining, that so opposed to one another in that wilderness between Egypt and Palestine, the highest good to unborn generations of the human race was involved in the preservation of Israel. It is this comparative good and evil which History can discern in the two nations, which determines their respective characters as the representatives at that time and place of that real good and evil, whose contest is the enduring subject of Prophecy. They are their representatives, but only imperfectly; signs of ideas which Prophecy uses, as Revelation avails itself of human language; a shadow of the reality, but not its substance.
d See note 4.
Was it indeed that murmuring rebellious people, rebellious against God from the time when Moses brought them out of Egypt, of whom Prophecy declared, that God had not beheld iniquity, nor seen perverseness? Or that camp, in which every man did that which was right in his own eyes; that camp, pitched amid the sands of the wilderness, beside such a narrow strip of green watered country as is all that can be found by the traveller in the desert; did it really contain the goodly tents and tabernacles which Prophecy saw spread forth as gardens by the river side, as cedar trees beside the waters? Was it the Israel of History, whose short term of greatness in the days of David and Solomon was so soon overcast by internal division and external invasion, sinking down gradually into long centuries of subjection, humiliation, or exile, that was to rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion, not to lie down till he should eat of the prey and drink the blood of the slain; from which the Star should come and the Sceptre arise, that should smite all the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth? Prophecy spoke without reserve of the triumph of God and God's servants ; if Israel
belonged to God only imperfectly, her share in the triumphs of God must in that same proportion be imperfect also.
But, on the other hand, the Israel of History was, comparatively with other people, the chosen of God; and for that very reason she was appointed to the honour of representing God's true people in the language of Prophecy. As far as she represented them imperfectly, the language of Prophecy belongs not to her; but so far as she did represent them, she received their blessing; and if there was a triumph too high for her to obtain because of her imperfections, there must be also a blessing upon her for the sake of him whose name she bears, and whose cause she is permitted to represent before the world. And so we shall find it; “ The people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations." Nor have they been. For where is Moab now, or Amalek, or Ammon, or Babylon ? They are vanished out of history. Not as if the places were accursed for ever; or as if the language of utter vengeance, which we find in prophecy, was really applicable to the soil of Mesopotamia or Edom; but the people, the race, the language, the institutions, the religion, all that constitutes national personality, if I may so speak, are passed away from the earth. And if Mesopotamia were to be civilized and fertilized to-morrow, and Babylon again rebuilt, yet it could not be the old Babylon,
• See note 5.