« PreviousContinue »
INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF ISAIAH. The works of these prophets constitute the principal and most important part of what is called The BIBLE or Old Testament.
On the style of the prophets much has been said by several learned men ; particularly Calmet, Lowth, Bishop Newton, Vitringa, Michaelis, and Houbigant. Their chief observations, and especially those most within the reach of the common people, have been selected and abridged with great care and industry by the Rev. Dr. John Smith, of Cambleton, in his little Tract entitled “ A Summary View and Explanation of the Writings of the Prophets,” to which it forms preliminary observations, drawn up at the desire of the Scottish Society for propagating Christian Knowledge, in a small 8vo. 1804. From this work I thankfully borrow what concerns the present subject; taking occasion at the same time to recommend the whole to all Christian ministers, to private persons, and to all families who wish to read the prophets to their edification.
“ The writings of the prophets, the most sublime and beautiful in the world, lose much of that usefulness and effect which they are so well calculated to produce on the souls of men, from their not being more generally understood. Many prophecies are somewhat dark, till events explain them. They are, besides, delivered in such lofty and figurative terms, and with such frequent allusions to the customs and manners of times and places the most remote, that ordinary readers cannot, without some help, be supposed capable of understanding them. It must therefore be of use to make the language of prophecy as intelligible as may be, by explaining those images and figures of speech in which it most frequently abounds; and this may be done generally, even when the prophecies themselves are obscure.
“Some prophecies seem as if it were not intended that they should be clearly understood before they are fulfilled. As they relate to different periods, they may have been intended for exciting the attention of mankind from time to time both to providence and to Scripture, and to furnish every age with new evidence of Divine revelation ; by which means they serve the same purpose to the last ages of the world that miracles did to the first. Whereas, if they had been in every respect clear and obvious from the beginning, this wise purpose had been in a great measure defeated. Curiosity, industry, and attention would at once be at an end, or, by being too easily gratified, would be little exercised.
Besides, a great degree of obscurity is necessary to some prophecies before they can be fulfilled; and if not fulfilled, the consequence would not be so beneficial to mankind. Thus many of the ancient prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem had a manifest relation to the remoter destruction by the Romans, as well as to the nearer one by the Chaldeans. Had the Jews perceived this, which was not indeed clear enough till the event explained it, they would probably have wished to have remained for ever in their captivity at Babylon, rather than expose themselves or their offspring a second time to a destruction so dreadful as that which they had already experienced.
“With respect to our times, by far the greatest number of prophecies relate to events which are now past; and therefore a sufficient acquaintance with history, and with the language and style of prophecy, is all that is requisite to understand them. Some prophecies, however, relate to events still future; and these too may be understood in general, although some particular circumstances connected with them may remain obscure till they are fulfilled. If prophecies were not capable of being understood in general, we should not find the Jews so often blamed in this respect for their ignorance and want of discernment That they did actually understand many of them when they chose to search the Scriptures, we know. Daniel understood, from the prophecies of Jeremiah, the time at which the captivity in Babylon was to be at an end ; and the scribes knew from Micah, and told Herod, where the Messiah was to be born. A very little attention might have enabled them in the same manner to understand others, as they probably did; such as the seventy weeks of Daniel; the destruction of the Babylonian empire, and of the other three that were to succeed; and also of the ruin of the people and places around them, Moab, Ammon, Tyre,
INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF ISAIAH.
Sidon, Philistia, Egypt, and Idumea. Perhaps, indeed, a few enigmatical circumstances might have been annexed, which could not be understood till they were accomplished; but the general tenor of the prophecies they could be at no loss to understand. With regard to prophecies still future, we are in a similar situation. It is understood in general, that the Jews will be gathered from their dispersions, restored to their own land, and converted to Christianity; that the fulness of the Gentiles will likewise come in ; that Antichrist, Gog and Magog, and all the enemies of the Church will be destroyed; after which the Gospel will remarkably flourish, and be more than ever glorified. But several circumstances connected with those general events must probably remain in the dark till their accomplishment shall clearly explain them.
“ But this degree of obscurity which sometimes attends prophecy does not always proceed from the circumstances or subject; it frequently proceeds from the highly poetical and figurative style, in which prophecy is for the most part conveyed, and of which it will be proper to give some account. To speak of all the rhetorical figures with which the prophets adorn their style would lead us into a field too wide, and would be more the province of the rhetorician than of the commentator. It will be sufficient for our purpose at present to attend to the most common of them, consisting of allegory, parable, and metaphor, and then to consider the sources from which the prophets most frequenily borrow their images in those figures, and the sense which they wish to convey by them.
· By allegory, the first of the figures mentioned, is meant that mode of speech in which the writer or speaker means to convey a different idea from what the words in their obvious and primary signification bear. Thus, · Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns,' (Jer. iv. 3,) is to be understood, not of tillage, but of repentance. And these words, • Thy rowers have brought thee into great waters, the east wind hath broken thee in the midst of the seas,' Ezek. xxvii. 26, allude not to the fate of a ship, but of a city.
“ To this figure the parable, in which the prophets frequently speak, is nearly allied. It consists in the application of some feigned narrative to some real truth, which might have been less striking or more disagreeable if expressed in plain terms. Such is the following one of Isaiah, v. 1, 2: “My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill. And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a wine-press therein ; and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.' The seventh verse tells us that this vineyard was the house of Israel, which had so ill requited the favour which God had shown it. On this subject see the dissertation at the end of the notes on Matt. xiii.
“ There is, besides, another kind of allegory not uncommon with the prophets, called mystical allegory or double prophecy. Thus it is said of Eliakim, Isa. xxi. 22: · And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; and he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.' In the first and obvious sense, the words relate to Eliakim; but in the secondary or mystical sense, to the Messiah. Instances of the same kind are frequent in those prophecies that relate to David, Zerubbabel, Cyrus, and other types of Christ. In the first sense the words relate to the type ; in the second, to the antitype. The use of this allegory, however, is not so frequent as that of the former. It is generally confined to things most nearly connected with the Jewish religion ; with Israel, Sion, Jerusalem, and its kings and rulers; or such as were most opposite to these, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Idumea, and the like. In the former kind of allegory the primitive meaning is dropped, and the figurative only is retained ; in this, both the one and the other are preserved, and this is what constitutes the difference.
“ But of all the figures used by the prophets the most frequent is the metaphor, by which words are transferred from their primitive and plain to a secondary meaning. This figure, common in all poetry and in all languages, is of indispensable necessity in Scripture, which, having occasion to speak of Divine and spiritual matters, could do it only by terms borrowed from sensible and material objects. Hence it is that the sentiments, actions, and corporeal
INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF ISAIAH.
parts, not only of man, but also of inferior creatures, are ascribed to God himself; it being otherwise impossible for us to form any conceptions of his pure essence and incommunicable attributes. But though the prophets, partly from necessity and partly from choice, are thus profuse in the use of metaphors, they do not appear, like other writers, to have the liberty of using them as fancy directed. The same set of images, however diversified in the manner of applying them, is always used, both in allegory and metaphor, to denote the same subjects, to which they are in a manner appropriated. This peculiar characteristic of the Hebrew poetry might perhaps be owing to some rules taught in the prophetic schools, which did not allow the same latitude in this respect as other poetry. Whatever it may be owing to, the uniform manner in which the prophets apply these images tends greatly to illustrate the prophetic style; and therefore it will be proper now to consider the sources from which those images are most frequently derived, and the subjects and ideas which they severally denote. These sources may be classed under four heads; natural, artificial, religious, and historical.
“ I. The first and most copious, as well as the most pleasing source of images in the prophetic writings, as in all other poetry, is nature ; and the principal images drawn from nature, together with their application, are the following :
“ The sun, moon, and stars, the highest objects in the natural world, figuratively represent kings, queens, and princes or rulers ; the highest in the world politic. "The moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed; Isa. xxiv. 23. I will cover the heavens, and make the stars thereof dark : I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light;' Ezek. xxxii. 7.
Light and darkness are used figuratively for joy and sorrow, prosperity and adversity. •We wait for light, but behold obscurity ; for brightness, but we walk in darkness ;' chap. lix. 9.
An uncommon degree of light denotes an uncommon degree of joy and prosperity, and vice versa. • The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold ;' chap. xxx. 26. The same metaphors are likewise used to denote knowledge and ignorance. If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them;' chap. viii. 20. • The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light;' chap. ix. 2.
“ Dew, moderate rains, gentle streams, and running waters denote the blessings of the Gospel. “Thy dew is as the dew of herbs;' chap. xxvi. 19. He shall come unto us as the rain ;' Hosea vi. 3. •I will water it every moment;' chap. xxvii. 3. • I will pour water on him that is thirsty ;' chap. xliv. 3.
“ Immoderate rains on the other hand, hail, floods, deep waters, torrents, and inundations, denote judgments and destruction. I will rain upon him an overflowing rain, and great hailstones,' Ezek. xxxviii. 22. • Waters rise up out of the north, and shall overflow the land,' Jer. xlvii. 2.
“ Fire also, and the east wind, parching and hurtful, frequently denote the same. • They shall cast thy choice cedars into the fire,' Jer. xxii. 7. • He stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind,' Isa. xxvii. 8. “Wind in general is often taken in the same sense.
• The wind shall eat up all thy pastures,' Jer. xxii. 22. Sometimes it is put for any thing empty or fallacious, as well as hurtful. • The prophets shall become wind, Jer. v. 13. They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind,' Hos. viii. 7.
“ Lebanon and Carmel ; the one remarkable for its height and stately cedars, was the image of majesty, strength, or any thing very great or noble. “He shall cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one,' Isa. x. 34.
"The Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon,' Ezek. xxxi. 3. The other mountain (Carmel) being fruitful, and abounding in vines and olives, denoted beauty and fertility. The glory of Lebanon shall be given it, the excellency of Carmel; Isa. xxxv. 2.
The vine alone is a frequent image of the Jewish Church. I had planted thee a noble vine,' Jer. ii. 21.
“ Rams and bullocks of Bashan, lions, eagles, sea-monsters, or any animals of prey, are
INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF ISAIAH.
figures frequently used for cruel and oppressive tyrants and conquerors, Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, which oppress the poor,' Amos iv. 1. . The lion is come up from his thicket,' Jer. iv. 7. A great eagle came unto Lebanon, and took the highest branch of the cedar,' Ezek. xvii. 3. • Thou art as a whale in the seas,' Ezek. xxxii. 2. • The unicorns shall come down, and their land shall be soaked with blood,' Isa. xxxiv. 7.
“II. The ordinary occupations and customs of life, with the few arts practised at the time, were another source from which the prophets derived many of their figures, particularly,
“ From husbandry in all its parts, and from its implements. Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy : break up your fallow ground,' Hos. x. 12. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe,' Joel iii. 13. • I am pressed under you, as a wain under a load of sheaves,' Amos ii. 13. Threshing was performed in various ways, (mentioned Isa. xxviii. 24, &c.,) which furnish a variety of images denoting .punishment. “Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion; for I will make thine horn iron, and thy hoofs brass,' &c., Micah iv. 13. The operation was performed on rising grounds, where the chaff was driven away by the wind, while the grain remained; a fit emblem of the fate of the wicked, and of the salvation of the just. • Behold, I will make thee a new threshing-instrument having teeth ; thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and thou shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwird shall scatter them,' Isa. xli. 15, 16.
“ The vintage and winepress also furnished many images, obvious enough in their application. • The press is full, the fats overflow, for their wickedness is great,' Joel iii. 13. 'I have trod the winepress alone. I will tread down the people in mine anger,' Isa. lxiii. 3,
As the vintage was gathered with shouting and rejoicing, the ceasing of the vintageshouting is frequently one of the figures that denote misery and desolation. · None shall tread with shouting; their shouting shall be no shouting,' Jer. xlviii. 33.
“ From the occupation of tending cattle we have many images. Wo unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture,' Jer. xxiii. 1. The people are the flock; teachers and rulers the pastors. «Israel is a scattered sheep, the lions have driven him away.' •As a shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear,' &c., Amos iii. 12. Some of the images derived from husbandry, tending cattle, &c., may perhaps appear mean to us ; though not to the Jews, whose manner of life was simple and plain, and whose greatest men (such as Moses, David, Gideon, &c.) were often husbandmen and shepherds. Accordingly, the Messiah himself is frequently described under the character of a shepherd. (See Fleury's Manners of the Israelites.)
“ It was customary in deep mournings to shave the head and beard, to retire to the housetops, which in those countries were flat, and furnished with litile chambers adapted to the purposes of devotion or of sequestered grief; also to sing dirges at funerals, and to accompany them with a mournful sort of music; and from these and the like circumstances images are frequently borrowed by the prophets to denote the greatest danger, and the deepest distress. • Mine heart shall sound for Moab like pipes.' Every head shall be bald, and every beard clipt—there shall be lamentation on all the house-tops of Moab,’ Jer. xlviii. 36–38; Isa. xv. 2, 3.
“ The mode of burying in the Jewish sepulchres, or sides of the pit,' and their Hades, or state of the dead, supplied many images of the same kind. See observations on Isa. xiv., and Ezek. xxvi. 20.
“According to the barbarous custom of those times, conquerors drove their captives before them almost naked, and exposed to the intolerable heat of the sun, and the inclemencies of the weather. They afterwards employed them frequently in grinding at the handmill, (watermills not being then invented ;) hence nakedness, and grinding at the mill, and sitting on the ground (the posture in which they wrought) express captivity. • Descend and sit in the dust, () virgin daughter of Babylon ; take the millstones—thy nakedness shall be uncovered,' Jsa. xlvii. 1-3.
INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF ISAIAH. “ The marriage relation supplied metaphors to express the relation or covenant between God and his people. On the other hand adultery, infidelity to the marriage bed, &c., denoted any breach of covenant with God, particularly the love and worship of idols. Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord, for I am married unto you,' Jer. ii. 14. • There were two women, the daughters of one mother, and they committed whoredoms—with their idols have they committed adultery,' &c., Ezek. xxiii. 2–37.
“The debility and stupefaction caused by intoxicating liquors suggested very apt images to express the terrible effects of the Divine judgments on those who are the unhappy objects of them. Thou shalt be filled with drunkenness, with the cup of thy sister Samaria,' Ezek. xxii. 33.
“ From the method of refining metals in the furnace images are often borrowed to denote the judgments inflicted by God on his people, with a view to cleanse them from their sins, as metal from its dross. • Israel is dross in the midst of the furnace,' Ezek. xxii. 18. He shall sit az a refiner and purifier of silver,' Mal. m. 3.
Among the other few arts from which the Hebrew poets derive some of their images, are those of the fuller and potter, Mal. iii. 2, &c.; Jer. xviii. 1, &c.; of which the application is obvious. No less so is that of images derived from fishing, fowling, and the implements belonging to them; the hook, net, pit, snare, &c., which generally denote captivity or destruction. I will send for many fishers, and they shall fish them; and for
many hunters, and they shall hunt them; for their iniquity is not hid from mine eyes,' Jer. xvi. 16, 17. • I will put hooks to thy jaws,' Ezek. xxix. 4. •Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth,' Isa. xxiv. 17.
“ A few images are derived from building, as when the Messiah is denoted by a foundation and corner-stone, Isa. xxviii. 16. The next verse describes the rectitude of judgment by metaphors borrowed from the line and plummet; and by building with precious stones is denoted a very high degree of prosperity, whether applied to church or state, Isa. liv. 11, 12.
“ III. Religion, and things connected with it, furnished many images to the sacred poets.
“ From the temple and its pompous service, from the tabernacle, shechinah, mercy-seat, &c., are derived a variety of images, chiefly serving to denote the glory of the Christian Church, the excellency of its worship, God's favour towards it, and his constant presence with it; the prophets speaking to the Jews in terms accommodated to their own ideas. And the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of Monnt Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory shall be a covering,' Isa. iv. 5. · Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean,' Ezek. xxxvi. 25.
“ The ceremonial law, and especially its distinctions between things clean and unclean, furnished a number of innages, all obvious in their application. Wash ye, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings,' Isa. i. 16. • Their way was before me as the uncleanness of a removed woman,' Ezek. xxxvi. 17.
“The killing of sacrifices and feasting upon them, serve as metaphors for slaughter. The Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah,' Isa. xxxiv. 6; Ezek. xxxix. 17.
“ The pontifical robes, which were very splendid, suggested several images expressive of the glory of both the Jewish and Christian Church. I clothed thee with broidered work,' &c., Ezek. xvi, 10. He clothed me with the garments of salvation,' Isa. lxi. 10. - The prophets wore a rough upper garment ; false prophets wore the like, in imitation of true ones ; and to this there are frequent allusions. - Neither shall they wear a rough garment to deceive,' Zech. xiii. 4.
“ From the pots, and other vessels and utensils of the temple, are likewise borrowed a few metaphors obvious enough without explanation : Every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness,' Zech. xiv. 21.
“ The prophets have likewise many images that allude to the idolatrous rites of the neighbouring nations, to their groves and high places, Isa. xxvii. 9, and to the worship paid