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John Davison on the history of prophecy

August 7, 2013

In his Discourses on Prophecy John Davison reviewed the prophecies relating to Israel and Judah during the period from the reign of Solomon to the return of the Jews from the Exile in Babylon. A section of his account is reproduced below. This is Part 1 of Discourse VI. [John Davison, Discourses on Prophecy: In which are Considered Its Structure, Use, and Inspiration. William Warburton Lectures. J.H. Parker, 1845. pp. 230-265.]

DISCOURSE VI.

STATE OF PROPHECY FROM THE REIGN OF SOLOMON TO ITS FINAL CESSATION.

Part I. Temporal Prophecy relating to the Hebrew People, from the Time of Solomon to the Restoration from Babylon.
Part II. Christian Prophecy during the same period.
Part III. Pagan Prophecy
Part IV. Last Age of Prophecy, from the End of the Captivity to its Cessation.

Amos iii. 7.

Surely, the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.

They who have not turned their minds to consider the actual contents of ancient Prophecy, may not be aware how nearly it amounts to a complete history of the Hebrew people, that people of God to whom it was given: a complete history, not indeed through the whole of their Annals, but through that great period of them which includes the most remarkable changes of their condition, and during which the mission of Prophecy lasted: that period comprehending the time from the commencement of their Monarchy to their resettlement after the Babylonian Bondage and the restoration of their Temple. Within these limits I believe it to be nearly the fact, that there is no known event of any magnitude, affecting them as a people, which had not its place in the antecedent warnings of prophecy; nothing befell them, which was not foretold; the apparent case of prophecy fully supporting this declaration of one of its messengers: “Surely, the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” Through so full a probation did Prophecy pass in maintaining its cause with a people little disposed to a gratuitous conviction; and so great an insight did it afford into the Providential Government of God, to those among them who, with a more susceptible mind, sought that kind of instruction, and found it, as they might well do, in the explanations of their prophetic Oracles. In a certain sense. History has been justly called the interpreter of Prophecy; but to the Israelite, Prophecy was more the interpreter of History; for it gave him the intelligible notice of the approaching events, and it supplied him with the reasons of God’s Providence in bringing those events to pass.

Prophecy did not inform the Israelite in so systematic a way of the changes destined to take place in other states and kingdoms. There is a plain reason why it should not; for in those alien affairs he was not equally concerned, and of the truth and prescience of the predictions of them he could not always be so good a judge. But it opened enough of the history of those kingdoms, which lay within his sphere of view, to instruct him in the general Providence and Government of God; whilst in his own particular dispensation it was more watchful and constant.

I have now to follow it in its progress; and the completeness of its revelation, in that sense in which I have described it as complete, will be one point among others which my investigation will go to establish. The Division of the Kingdom was the next Epoch in the arrangement to which I proposed to adhere, and I proceed to the prophecy connected with that Epoch.

I. With the peaceful and prosperous reign of Solomon ended the glory of the kingdom of Israel. There straightway ensued the great change, in the dismemberment of the kingdom, by the revolt of the Ten Tribes from Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, and the establishment of a separate kingdom under Jeroboam: Judah, with Benjamin annexed, alone adhering to the house of David.

This was a convulsion in the whole body of Israel. Their monarchy, so lately compacted and settled, rent in pieces; their public union, under which they had originally been made subjects of the divine Covenant, broken; and a cause of discord, if not of a more active hostility, rooted between the members of the great Commonwealth, which God had planted in Canaan in a community of Country and Religion. It was a change which raised a question as to their covenanted relation; and this effect of it gives it its chief importance. For where did the promises of God, attached to that relation, rest? With Israel, or with Judah? or with both? or were they forfeited?

The shock was not permitted to take place without the prior information of prophecy to unravel the maze of things so disordered. The event itself had been foretold in Solomon’s reign, by the prophet Ahijah, and other prophecy supplied discriminating marks of the purposes of Providence now in operation. For let us consider. There were the predictions of the ascendency of power to the Tribe of Judah, and the continuance of its Sceptre, that is, of its public existence and civil union, till the advent of the Messiah: there were the recent promises of an extraordinary favour to the house of David; there was the Temple at Jerusalem, that Temple so lately built with a critical coincidence of the opportunity, to predetermine the local seat of their religion, and thereby attach and appropriate the Covenant; lastly, there was the precise document of Ahijah’s prophecy, which fully met the case, both in the particular form of the event, and in the reason of it. As to the event, that prophecy had limited the defection to the extent of the Ten Tribes, and had fixed the time of it, by throwing it beyond the life of Solomon, but bringing it within that of his son; and assigning the new kingdom to its master, who yet had to fly for his life into Egypt before he could aspire to the conquest which was promised to him. As to the reason of God’s moral government in this proceeding, that was also explained: so much was to be taken away, because of the corruptions of Jerusalem, and the demerit of the degenerated family of David: so much was to remain, to make good the mercy and favour promised to that city and that family, and thereby carry on the ulterior scheme of the divine dispensation. “Howbeit, I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand (Solomon’s); but I will make him prince all the days of his life, for David my servant’s sake, whom I chose, because he kept my commandments and my statutes. But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand, and will give it unto thee, even Ten Tribes. And unto his son will I give one Tribe, that David my servant may have a light alway before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen me to put my name there.” [1]

An event of such magnitude was preceded therefore, as we see, by an adequate information of prophecy. But for that information, the event might have seemed to be a catastrophe without hope; to break up the federal character of the chosen people; to interrupt, or confound, the transmission of the Covenant, under which they had been embodied. By the intimations previously given, all these points were adjusted; at least they were sufficiently cleared as to that which would be the first and principal object of a believer’s attention, either then or now, the course of the divine Economy.

The particular prophecy of Ahijah is so exact in its terms, as to be a perfect history of the impending event. But there is one supposable way of attempting to invalidate that prophecy, which I may do well to consider. It may be said, that the Partition foretold was possible to be foreseen, inasmuch as the Ten Tribes had already shewn a disposition to act together (which is true) and oppose themselves in concert to the dominion of the tribe of Judah. Consequently under symptoms of commotion it might be expected that the confederacy in a revolt would be composed of those Tribes.

To this surmise I would reply, that the occasion and pretext of the revolt did not subsist till after the prophecy of it was delivered. It took its rise from Rehoboam’s rigour of government; and the prophecy fell upon the prosperous reign of Solomon, [2] who held all Israel together in peace; a peace undisturbed, till the prophetic warning had first been given. But suppose that this incident of the change, the Separation of the Ten Tribes, taken alone, was not a test of clear supernatural prescience in the days of Ahijah; how will the case stand? That disposition of the Tribes which united them together, and opposed them to Judah, was created and ripened, no doubt, by moral or occasional causes influencing the passions and conduct of human agents, although we have not those causes particularly explained. It illustrates, therefore, in a signal manner, the prescience of that older prophecy of Jacob, given so many hundred years before, which separated the Tribe of Judah to some destination above the rest, and apart from the rest; since nothing could prepare so well for the fulfilment of those restricted promises verging to the favour of that single Tribe, as this very disposition of union and of jealousy. What might be doubtful as a sign of divine foreknowledge in one age of prophecy, is a more pregnant proof of it in another. Let the arrangement of things, which issued in the division of the Kingdom, pass for an object of human calculation in the days of Solomon. What is it, when viewed from the death-bed of Jacob in Egypt?

The revolt, predicted by one Prophet, took place on the excitement of human motives. It was established and confirmed by another [3] against the current of such motives. God forbade the attempt to subdue it. “Return every man to his house, for this thing is from me.” Under this command the extraordinary change was completed. The agency of man had been prophetically foreshewn in the one instance; it was authoritatively suspended in the other. A ferocious and self-willed king, who would take no counsel before the revolt, acquiesced, and all Judah with him, in the dictate of a prophet, after it.

Why did he and his people so act, except upon a conviction which they could not resist of that prophet’s authority? Do princes make a surrender of their kingdoms and their passions on such easy terms, without knowing why they do it? The time had been, when “the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel.” But now “an hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, which were warriors, and assembled to fight against the house of Israel, to bring back the kingdom again to Rehoboam, the son of Solomon,” [4] turned their steps in obedience to a prophet. Such men are not governed by mere words. “When they hearkened, therefore, to the word of the Lord, and returned to depart, according to the word of the Lord;” I infer that they had reason to know whose word it was which they obeyed.

I must advert once more to the Moral History of this change, which the Scripture has very clearly expressed. The judicial cause of the spoliation of the kingdom is declared to have been the Idolatrous impieties introduced by Solomon, and advanced by Rehoboam; whom therefore God infatuated in his counsels to urge him to his punishment. Such was the will of God’s providence, and the reason of it. Whereas the proximate cause, by which the human agency in the affair moved, was the violence and rigour of Rehoboam, when he rejected the hoary wisdom of the advisers of his father’s throne, and thereby, in the common course of human feeling, provoked his people to rebellion. But in the government of God, whence events, not the sins of men, spring; for those sins are of the objects of his government; Idolatry was the crime which led, in penal retribution, to the first defacing of the commonwealth of Israel; according to the sentence of the Law, which in its threats had said, “I will break the pride of your power.” [5] And Ahijah’s prophecy, when it promised to Jeroboam his kingdom, explained withal the reason of the gift, that it was not granted in favour to himself, but in chastisement to Jerusalem and her King.—Hereby this piece of history becomes a moral document definite and complete. For it presents an example, explained in all its parts, of God’s overruling power, and man’s agency, concurring to complete a prophecy; that completion a moral end, in conformity to a sentence of the divine law.

II. We have seen the Establishment of this new kingdom, and how prophecy directed it; we must look next to its singular and bold Corruption. Jeroboam, in his very acquisition, received a warning against the sin which had forfeited the spoil into his hands: but he was no sooner possessed of it than he outdid the offence which had incurred the prior forfeiture. He founded in Samaria a system of open Idolatry. To counteract the alienation of his people by any return of feeling to their worship at Jerusalem, he set up for their use a Priesthood, Ritual, and Altar, not of pure Religion, but of Idol Worship. The Golden Calves in Bethel and in Dan were the public monument of this impiety. “These are thy gods, O Israel,” the creed of the new kingdom. [6]

The Unity and the Spirituality of God being the first doctrines of their Law, and the confession and worship of Him, under that character, the first duties of their Religion, and all Idol-worship prohibited, whether as a substitute for, or an addition to, their proper religious service; the sin of Jeroboam had this novelty and excess of enormity in it, that whereas the contaminations of Idolatry before had been surreptitiously, or more openly, associated with their better Institutions, it was now made the National Religion, formally received and established. For the king’s apostasy met a ready participation among his people. He incorporated them in allegiance to his throne under the compact of this sin. Hence the reason of the title which is affixed to his memory, to brand his crime, and the general contagion of it, the title of “Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.”

After what we have seen of Prophecy hitherto, we shall scarcely expect it to remain silent in this crisis of wickedness, involving the whole kingdom of Israel, unless their transgression was come to the height of cutting off from them the access of such communications. But God’s providence left them not to a state of dereliction. He continued to send his prophets to the divided members of his people, to Israel, as well as to Judah, as if to demonstrate to them that his government was one of patience and longsuffering; of which the continued mission of the prophets, under such provocation of offence, was an exercise, and a sensible proof; nor was it the less so, when those messengers could carry only rebuke and corruption.

We know how prophecy dealt with this offence, which may not improperly be called the original sin of the kingdom of Israel. The Idol Altar in Bethel, as soon as it was reared, had its sentence of condemnation written upon it. Whilst the king was in the act of hallowing it to its profane service, at its first festival, it fell by prophecy: its polluter was foretold by name, and it was desecrated in prediction with the ashes of its own priests. “Behold, there came a man out of Judah by the word of the Lord unto Bethel; and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord, and said, O Altar, Altar, thus saith the Lord, Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name, and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee.” [7] Every one will perceive that all this solemnity of prediction delivered by a prophet sent for the purpose out of the land of Judah, was not merely to certify the future fact, that the Altar should be so defiled, but to set a mark upon the sin which was established and propagated by that public scandal and seat of impiety. This was the immediate moral use of the prophecy delivered. The train of circumstances connected with the utterance of it had the like effect in giving force to this present object of its denunciation. The withering of the king’s hand, when ” he put it forth from the altar” against the prophet; the healing of it again upon the momentary pang of his humiliation; the signs given by the rending of the Altar, and the scattering of its ashes; the command laid upon the messenger prophet to eat no bread, nor drink water” in that polluted place; his strange kind of death for prevarication of duty in this point; the dying request of the old inhabitant prophet of Bethel; these are the group of particulars gathered round the prediction. Do we ask what they all mean? They were instruments to heighten the prophetic warning, and enforce it upon men’s senses and attention.

But what is more, they serve now to authenticate the prediction. Take the withering of the king’s hand whilst he stood by the altar, in his high place, with his people around him, assembled for the establishment and celebration of their reprobated religion; a prophet from Judah being the accusing party on the other side. The king was no penitent; he had no more inclination to believe afterwards in judicial miracles wrought upon himself, or to uphold the credit of a Judah prophet, than the Altar had to scatter its ashes. I ask then, how this exhibition of a public miracle upon his person, done in the face of day, or how the story of it, could be shaped into a tolerable falsehood, if it was not a perfect truth?

Or take the dying request of the Bethel prophet: “He said to his sons, When I am dead, then bury me in the sepulchre wherein the man of God is laid; lay my bones beside his bones: for the saying which he cried against the altar in Bethel, and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria, shall surely come to pass.” Such a command for the place of his burial was equivalent to an inscription placed over his grave, expressing the reason of his choice. Suppose the inscription to have been there; it would be an evidence, not that the prophecy was a true one, but that it was uttered. The public annals of Josiah’s history, at the distance of three hundred and fifty years, will speak to its truth.

This interposition of prophecy was for a sufficient cause. It was a timely remonstrance with the separated part of God’s people upon the crime which became the chief source and spring of their growing corruptions, and thereby the cause of their reprobation, miseries, and ruin. The remonstrance was planted upon the public ground and scene of their offence: a memorial of reproof, which might constantly meet the transgressor, whenever he came before the forbidden Altar.

But with what effect was this and other warning prophecy given? From Jeroboam, the first king of Israel, to Hoshea, the last, there is no one reign, no one king, excepted from the imputation of the general depravity. It is a line of unmitigated irreligion and wickedness. [8] King after king has his historic epitaph, annexed to his memory, that “he did evil in the sight of the Lord;” whilst his people followed his example. In that people a righteous few indeed there were. But a prophet’s eye once explored in vain to find them: and it required a revelation of God to number the “Seven Thousand” in Israel. I need not enlarge upon the service of prophecy during this period. It is clearly adapted to the state of reigning irreligion, in conmination and reproof. The mission of the two great prophets, Elijah and Elisha, falls in the earlier time of this period, a mission directed chiefly to the house of Israel and her kings, and enforced by Miracles, to convince and awaken an apostate people. The duration of Elisha’s ministry reaches nearly to that of Jonah; and from Jonah we enter into the series of the prophetic Canon. This is the continuity of Prophecy.—There is also another proof of that same continuity, viz., the prophecy given to Jehu during the ministry of Elisha, that his children should reign after him to the fourth generation,” expires not till after the prophecies of Amos and Hosea have begun: [9] and these prophets, as will be shewn hereafter, begin to foreshew the deletion of the kingdom of Israel. Consequently the series of prophecy is so far complete.

The result is, that the kingdom of Israel has its entire history written in the perpetuity of its wickedness, as recorded in the ministry of its prophets; and the one general document which expresses what the state of that kingdom was from first to last, and for what object of merciful forewarning its prophets were sent, is this: “Jeroboam drave Israel from following the Lord, and made Israel sin a great sin. For the children of Israel walked in the sins of Jeroboam, which he did; they departed not from them: until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had said by all his servants the prophets.” [10]

III. It belongs to the outline of the structure of Prophecy which I am now giving, to remark, that the dismemberment of the Hebrew nation became one safeguard of the prophetic evidence. The people of Samaria professed to hold the Law of Moses, and to receive the Pentateuch. The predictions contained in the Pentateuch were thereby placed under a jealous and divided care. The jealous feeling would be addressed most of all to those predictions which concerned the fortunes of the Tribe of Judah, partly delivered in those books. If the Samaritans did not receive into their Canon some of the later predictions relating to the Tribe, or to the Family, of David, those predictions, and many others, were not on that account the less, but rather the more submitted to their scrutiny, and might have been discredited, either as to their promulgation, or their fulfilment, if the eye of an enemy could have found the means of inflicting any such discredit upon them. The prophecy against the Altar in Bethel has all the benefit of these invidious and hostile circumstances. That Altar was set up in a spirit of schism to the Temple at Jerusalem. A prophet of Judah was sent against it: a king of Judah was proclaimed the person to pollute it. How desirable would it have been to the separatists of Samaria, and how easy, to have disproved, by a simple denial, the utterance of a prophecy in their high place purporting to be for the affront of their country, and the shame of their national worship, if no such prophet were sent among them? This guarantee of the evidence of Prophecy, in several of its chief articles, was most perfect so long as the kingdom of Samaria stood; it lost much of its force, when that kingdom was reduced; but there were relicks of the Ten Tribes left in Samaria and in Judaea, among whom the tradition of history and of adverse public feeling continued: who, therefore, were always some check upon the custody of that evidence. And it will be borne in mind that much of later prophecy continues to enlarge the distinction in favour of the Tribe of Judah; a preference which must therefore have kept alive that kind of inquisitive attention. The same spirit was animated again by the building of the Second Temple, which became a known object of jealousy to the Samaritan race. [11]

IV. From the Establishment of the separate Kingdoms, I pass to their Dissolution and Captivity, and the State of Prophecy connected therewith.

When these kingdoms stood up together, it was indeterminable by reason, for any thing that we can see, which would be the more stable or prosperous of the two. That of Samaria seemed to have the advantage, her greater territory and numbers considered. Perhaps the spirit of defection, in which her state was founded, portended ill to her internal peace. That symptom excepted, it a doubtful one, the problem of calculation apparently was either indeterminable, or the data of it inclined to the preponderance and superior stability of the new kingdom.

Prophecy however supplied other data. What we have already seen of the promises on the side of the Tribe of Judah and the Family of David, might be taken by a plain inference to negative the hopes of the other Tribes, and other families. For those promises made to the first, being matter of favour and distinction, virtually cut off other Tribes and Thrones by a speedier termination of their power.

But the question was not left to depend upon such an inference. It was decided more positively, by direct prophecy. Of the Four Greater, and the Twelve Less, Prophets, whose books we possess, the most ancient are Jonah, Hosea, Amos, Isaiah. The Chronology of the age of Joel cannot be well ascertained; but no difficulty results from thence to the point in hand. For whatever be his age, his prophecy implies the protection and preservation of Judah and Jerusalem: and the prophecy of Jonah relates to a foreign subject, the city of Nineveh. Taking then the other three prophets of the highest antiquity, Hosea, Amos, and Isaiah, who are at the same time more copious and articulate in their predictions, consider the information they supplied concerning the relative destiny of the two kingdoms. It is a striking fact, that the First Chapter of Hosea, probably the most ancient of the three, is directly to the point. It bears upon the difference to be made between the House of Israel and the House of Judah. Observe the text; ” I will ” no more have mercy upon the House of Israel; ” but I will utterly take them away. But I will ” have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the Lord their God” The whole book of this prophet inculcates the speedier dispersion and desolation of the house of Israel. Both Israel and Judah indeed are threatened: but the burden of his prophecy is upon Ephraim, Bethel, and Samaria.

Take the other eldest prophets, Amos and Isaiah. The words of Amos are those ” which he saw concerning Israel,” and the main drift of his prophecy bears upon the desolation and captivity of Samaria. Consult Isaiah, and you find him prophesying thus: “Because Syria, Ephraim (Israel), and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying, Let us go up against Judah and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal; thus saith the Lord God, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin: and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people.” [12]

These texts which I have cited are decisive in expressing the earlier downfall of Israel; but they are only some of the first, with many following them, to the same effect.

Israel was to be broken within threescore and five years; and the Assyrian power, “the rod of the divine anger,” was foreshewn by Hosea’s prediction to be the instrument of the divine judgment so proclaimed. [13] The Assyrian conquest fell upon that kingdom, in three repeated invasions, which ended in its desolation and captivity in the fullest extent; whilst the inhabitants of the land, the flower and strength of it, were swept away, transplanted among strangers in the cities of the Medes, [14] and lost in the obscure settlements of an irreclaimable exile. From that day Israel has ceased from being a people.

The question naturally strikes us here, Why did Israel fall, and Judah not follow in the overthrow? The Assyrian power was in the career of its victories, and meant to have overwhelmed Judah also. The attempt was made; the assailant army was on its approach, and had advanced within sight of the walls of Jerusalem. But Prophecy cast its shield in the way, and cut off the assault in the preparations of it. We have seen what was said by Hosea long before, in the difference of God’s mercy to Israel and to Judah. But in the last moment of danger, Isaiah was sent with the message of deliverance. “Thus saith the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it, for I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.” [15] By a miracle this prophecy was accomplished.

But both the prophecy and miracle require some further attention. Read the history of the Assyrian invasion, and you will see it was not an aggression of common warfare, in the mere lust of conquest. The Invader made it his boast, that he would confound the God who was known and worshipped at Jerusalem with the defeated idols and divinities of Polytheism, whose local tutelary name had been no defence against the power of his arms. His defiance is that of Infidelity and Irreligion, more than the vaunt of ordinary aggression. He sent to reproach and blaspheme the Holy One of Israel. [16] The vindication of God’s own name, and the truth of his Revealed Religion, were in question. It was a case something similar to that of Egypt; and the prophet Isaiah has plainly suggested the comparison of the two. [17] Hence the evident fitness of the miraculous interposition.

This unequal distribution of fortune between the two kingdoms is a fact in their history which Scepticism itself must admit. It forms a broad indisputable record, which it would be idle to go about to prove; but it is no more than the previous state of prophecy required. For prophecy had pledged its word for the preservation of Judah beyond the fall of Samaria, and specifically from the Assyrians. [18] Yet greater kingdoms than either of these had fallen under the Assyrian arms; and these two countries lay together, equally exposed. There was scarcely a natural line of separation between them; but it seems there was a wall of fire in the warrant of prophecy. Admit the prophecy, and the moral reasons joined with it, those reasons regarding both the promises of God’s covenant with Judah, and the singular Impiety of the Invader; admit this, and there is an adequate account of the miracle, and the miracle will answer for the event. Otherwise the event itself would offer some difficulty to the historian, who should have to give an account of it in the ordinary way. It is true, there are great anomalies and inconsistencies in the comparative fate of kingdoms placed under equal circumstances of exposure and assault, and the difference is the greatest when it occurs under a general system of conquest, such as that of the Assyrian power. In some such idea of the anomaly of events, stretched to the utmost, Unbelief must take refuge, if it decline the adequate explanation which assigns a final cause for the known state of the fact, and renders the whole history of the phenomenon consistent.

With respect to the preparation made by prophecy to foreshew this difference, which God intended to make between the two branches of his ancient people, in the earlier ruin and rejection of the one, and the preservation of the other, we should understand the case better, if we separated from the rest what prophecy there really was in hand at the time when the event was approaching, and considered so much of it apart. For it happens, through the mixt light, and various subjects, of the whole body of the prophetic revelation, that we distinguish less clearly in what line single portions of it were directed, or how they operated to guide men’s observation to the progressive order of God’s providence. But it is easy to correct our inquiry by giving to it the right point of view. In this way, with respect to the subject before us, The different condition of the two kingdoms, if any person would read the books of Hosea and Amos, and some few of the earlier portions of Isaiah, I believe the whole impression of his mind would be, that the general disclosure of prophecy was altogether in the direction of the eventual state of things, and such as rendered the intentions of God’s providence sufficiently intelligible to any attentive inquirer. Such a separation and adjustment of the prophetic evidence, bringing it more nearly into the form and order in which it was delivered, would be seen at once to define its application, and improve its force.

The prediction of Isaiah had fixed the overthrow of the kingdom of Samaria to come within the precise term of Sixty-five years. But there was more than this foreshewn. It was not to be simply a subjugation, a loss of public freedom and safety, but the very body of the state was to be dissolved—”they were to cease from being a people;” and the prophecy of Amos is the solemn dirge of that kingdom’s fate. “Hear ye this word which I take up against you, even a lamentation, O house of Israel. The virgin of Israel is fallen, she shall no more rise: she is forsaken upon her land: there is none to raise her up.” [19] The ruin so foretold came by the Assyrian conquest. Samaria was taken, and the land dispeopled of her inhabitants; the mass of population composing the Ten Tribes being subjected to the rigour of that law of conquest often exercised by the ancient Asiatic armies, in a loss of their country, and a removal into a foreign region, where they were cast out to waste and languish in the transplanted settlement of an inhospitable home among aliens and enemies: whilst barbaric colonies from the East, Cuthites and Babylonians, took possession of their lands and cities, and sunk their distinctive lineage, and thereby defeated the hope of any national revival in Canaan from their surviving stock. This is the era of the dissolution of the kingdom and people of Israel. Not that their race was forthwith obliterated in their exile, or that the last scattering and remnant of them left behind in Samaria perished. But according to the terms of the prophecy, “they ceased from being a people.” Their national state was broken up, and has not been restored. The sentence of civil desolation passed upon them has not been recalled. With it they lost their prophets, their covenant, and their last hopes under that Temporal Covenant, as a part of the people of God. If this extinction of Ten Tribes in Israel was a great and memorable event, the previous annunciation of it was proportionably clear. The prophecy is commensurate with the object.

V. I must next advert to the subsequent Captivity of Judah, and shew in this other line of the history what was the prophetic information imparted.

The kingdom of Judah, which prophecies and miracles had combined to protect, was to suffer in her turn. In a later age she too was visited with the calamities of desolation and captivity. Her king deposed; her Temple burnt to the ground; her inhabitants carried to Babylon. The preparations made by prophecy for this event are of the following kind. They begin at a distance from the event; they are clear and literal; they are copious, and delivered by several Prophets in succession; they comprehend a view of the moral reasons of the calamity; of its duration; of its issue; and of every material point connected with it, upon which a serious observer of the course of things under God’s dispensation could be intent, and desire to be informed.

Take them at their origin, they open in the reign of Hezekiah; and they open at once with a full disclosure of the subject in question; the occasion of the disclosure being as follows. It was in the reign of this virtuous and religious prince that Jerusalem was saved from the Assyrians. Babylon was then a subordinate kingdom, and its king in friendship with Hezekiah. Hezekiah having been sick nigh unto death, the king of Babylon sent messengers to congratulate him, by letters and a present, on his recovery from his sickness. In such a season of the expansion of joy, and of honour and entertainment to his guests, in the elevation of his heart, not free from some stain of pride, he made a display to them of his palace, his arms, and the treasures of wealth and decoration which he and his fathers had gathered for the splendour of his kingdom. [20] It is an impressive, and almost a fearful, circumstance, in the history of prophecy, that this season of exultation was chosen as the time of revealing to this virtuous king the future captivity and degradation of his children, and the spoliation of his house, and the evil appointed to come by no other power than Babylon, whose king was then his friend, and whose messengers had been exchanging with him the offices of kindness and congratulation. “Hear the word of the Lord,” said the prophet Isaiah: “Behold the days come that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store, even to this day, shall be carried to Babylon, nothing shall be left. And of thy sons which shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” [21]

Thus the Assyrian Deliverance, and the Babylonian captivity, were both predicted by one and the same Prophet; both foreshewn to one and the same king. They make consecutive subjects in the page of prophecy. It is not clear which was delivered first; for every purpose of substantial consideration they must be taken as coming together. The prediction of the Deliverance was of an event at hand, but against all imminent appearances; the prediction of the Captivity was of an event remote, and beset by the uncertainties of time and the improbabilities of a present experience; for why should Babylon, a weaker and a friendly state, do that which the Assyrian, in the fulness of his power, was unable, or not permitted, to do?

The span of prescience, however, embraced in this example of prophecy, is not the whole of what is to be observed in its structure. It is the combination of things so dissimilar, in the same train and season of prediction, which calls for some part of our attention. The contemporary exhibition of the near and the distant event is sufficiently illustrative of the divine foreknowledge. But the force and severity of the prophetic Ethics, in connecting the view of the blessing and the evil together, exhibit another object equally striking. In the midst of Hezekiah’s public and private joy the veil is drawn aside, and the opposite scene disclosed. The import of that disclosure is to chasten the exultation of man, and teach him, by the most affecting discipline, the principle of humility and self-recollection, under a sense of the unseen extent and variety of God’s providence operating in the dispensation of joy and evil, deliverances and afflictions. And he who is no believer in the inspiration of these prophecies, (if, after studying them, any remain such,) would yet scarcely be able to resist the impression they carry with them, combined and contrasted, as they are, to a great effect of ethical wisdom.

When the event arrived which began to be disclosed in this prophecy, and Judah was laid desolate, it was the greatest shock of change which had hitherto befallen the adopted people of God. The extinction of the kingdom of Samaria must be set aside in the comparison; because, whilst Judah remained, there was still a chosen people, a continuance of the covenant, a perpetuity of the dispensation. But when Jerusalem was taken and laid waste, the Temple thrown down, Judaea depopulated, and her inhabitants buried in the heathen city of Babylon, there seemed to be an end of all—Where were God’s promises? where the hopes of his people?

I answer, they were safe in the custody of Prophecy. There existed predictions which covered every question, and cleared up every perplexity, which attached to this new and anomalous crisis of their condition.

To speak of them in a general way, the predictions on this particular subject of the Babylonian Captivity are the most extensive and the most elaborate, not of all the Prophecies, but of all those which come under the same head of the temporal condition of the Jewish people. Read the Greater Prophets, and read the Less, antecedent to the Captivity; it is the Babylonian subject that engages them most, the Christian only excepted. The magnitude of the event was therefore matched by a correspondent prophetic information. To speak of the same predictions more definitely, they decide those material points of the subject to which I have already adverted: viz., the moral reasons of the calamity, the time of its continuance, the issue of it, the course of means by which that issue should take effect. They state the moral reasons of it to have been the visitation of a judgment, for a degree of sin and corruption, not otherwise to be purged away; [22] and they define it to be not for a punishment of final excision, but a discipline of repentance and humiliation. [23] They limit the period of its continuance to Seventy Years; they make the issue of it a complete public deliverance. They announce the name of the Deliverer who was to arise, Cyrus. They describe his previous conquest of Babylon, and the use he would make of that conquest to the emancipation of God’s people. They add the most vivid picture of the ruin and subsequent desolation of Babylon, to enforce this truth, that the victorious power and greatness of that domineering state were only instrumental to the special purposes of the divine judgments; which purposes satisfied, the scene would change.

In a word, there is nothing wanting in Prophecy to the entire order of the events, or the interpretation of them; and the most material parts of it are delivered with the perspicuity of a narrative, in which the particulars of time, persons, and place, are given under the most exact designation. For the evidence of this statement, I refer to the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, relating to the subject; [24] whilst I cite the two following texts from among all the rest. “Thus saith the Lord, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon, I will visit you, and perform my good word towards you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord; thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” [25] Isaiah, speaking of Cyrus by name, assigns to him this office; “I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways; he shall build my city; and he shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward, saith the Lord of Hosts.” [26]

Upon this event of the Restoration of Judah, and the prophecy of it, the following remarks are suggested. First, as to the Restoration itself, so predetermined by prophecy; I would observe that such a conclusion of a national calamity of that kind, so rudely inflicted at the first, and after so long a continuance, is not one of the ordinary occurrences of history. Of conquered and enslaved nations, transplanted from their home, how few are restored into a public community again; how few replaced in their own land. The frequent exiles and restorations of the small states of Greece were of another kind and scale. They were the violent transpositions of Civil War, or the removals of a migratory Adventure. Yet this Restoration of a people, in the case before us, so little to be hoped in the ordinary course of things, was foretold as plainly and constantly as the Captivity itself which it was to reverse. It forms a subject of prediction to each of the Three Greater Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. [27] Consequently the fulfilment of it became an eminent demonstration of Prophecy, and thereby a support and revival of Religion. “When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, then were we like unto them that dream.” We need not wonder that those exiles, who had wept by the waters of Babylon, “could scarcely believe their deliverance, when it filled their mouth with laughter, and their tongue with joy.” It was beyond the probability of human calculation. But their dream of joy had been one of the past visions of Prophecy. And as God has made the known visible history of this people, in its uncontested facts, something different from that of all other nations on the face of the earth, so the two events of their deliverance from Egypt, and from Babylon, are monuments of his providence, on which his finger has pointed to the world, in two distant ages, this singularity of their character, and of his own work in the government of them. “Hath God assayed to go and take him a nation, from the midst of another nation” in this manner, once and again, in any other instance? or has the bare fact elsewhere been seen?

Secondly. The promise of restoration was a provision of God’s mercy to his faithful servants, whilst it was yet only in prospect. The piety of Daniel was instructed and supported by it. [28] We cannot doubt that other good and pious men found in it the like resources of hope and consolation.

Thirdly. The distinctness of the prediction as to the temporary duration of the captivity, kept this and other parts of prophecy clear in their related sense. Otherwise there might have been a collision between the older and the recent predictions; the older given by Moses, the recent delivered by all the prophets of this era. The overthrow of their state by the Babylonian conquest might have been taken to comprehend the whole of their ruin foretold by Moses. Many points are common in the two cases. But when their speedy restoration was foreshewn, the doubt was removed; and it was made clear that the wide dispersion and desolation which Moses had foretold could not be exhausted in the temporary bondage in Babylon. Whatever their present visitation might have seemed to be, and however hopeless taken by itself, their emergent destiny was placed clearly in view. And herein we may observe an analogy in this instance of prophecy, and a former. The Bondage in Egypt, and the Captivity in Babylon, appeared to extinguish the people, and cut off their very tenure of the favour and promises of God. But in each case the equivocal circumstances of a present condition were counterchecked by limitations of time predicted. Four hundred and thirty years in the one case, Seventy in the other, defined the period of their Sufferings and their Hopes, and rendered the scheme of Providence clear.

VI. Before I leave this period of the temporal Prophecy, embracing the Captivity of the two Kingdoms, let me state in one brief and summary view the chief points which fall within it. If we take our station in the age of Isaiah, and look through his prophecies alone, we shall have the following draught of events, representing the respective fortunes of the two kingdoms, and reaching through a space of more than Two Hundred Years.

First, The prophetic scheme will present to us Samaria to be overthrown; but Judah to be preserved. Then, Judah and Jerusalem, though rescued from the Assyrians, to fall into the hands of the Babylonians; [29] a smaller and a friendly power at the date of the prediction. The catastrophe to be hopeless to Samaria; so that “Ephraim should be broken from being a people.” The captivity not to be hopeless to Judah, but a restoration to ensue. The person appointed to be the restorer of Judah (Cyrus), to arise in a country which was then not thought of among the greater subsisting kingdoms of the East (Persia). The medium of their restoration, his capture of Babylon; which capture was to be effected by a singular form of art in drying the River, and obtaining access to the Gates; [30] the Medes and Persians to be the powers engaged in the siege; and all these characteristic points significantly expressed in the prediction. Lastly, the city of Jerusalem, and the Temple, to be rebuilt.

I am not canvassing now the Evidence, but the Contents of Prophecy; and such is a part of the extended range which is exhibited in the revelation of this single prophet. But upon the Evidence I shall make one concluding remark. For here I would put the question to any person acquainted with the history of those times and countries, as preserved in independent heathen writers; and enough is preserved for the purpose of the inquiry; whether there existed in the age of the prophet Isaiah the most remote preparations discernible by human foresight for the conclusion of this order of things, which is so described by him. In particular, whether the Medo-Persian victories by Cyrus, or by any person either of Median or Persian race, as the means of releasing Judah from Babylon, could have been foreseen, when the Median power, as we know, much more the Persian [31] had no existence: when there was neither Captivity in Babylon nor victories of Babylon to produce it: when, in fact, the elder Assyrian power was yet in vigour, the subversion of which was only the opening to the possibility of the several distant changes and events foretold. One prediction of this prophet penetrates through another; and each stage of the anticipated course of things leads to more remote positions of prophecy. There is a depth and a combination of prescience in the prolonged succession of his predictions, which oblige us to ask, whence it came, whence it could come, if not from the revelation of Him “who calleth the things that are not as though they were?”

In order to evade this conclusion, nothing is left but to deny that Isaiah, or any person of his age, wrote the book ascribed to him; which is to affirm that the Jewish people knew nothing of the Book which they placed at the head of their Prophetic Canon; and, to say nothing of what they might think of its inspired authority, did not even know the age when it was written, or its author. An assertion without evidence, and against it. “Ye are my witnesses,” saith God by this prophet, when he delivers to them these his comprehensive predictions. Let them be witnesses only of the date of the prophecies. The prophecies themselves will bear witness to their own inspiration, when compared with their counterpart in the volume of history. “Thus saith the Lord, the king of Israel, Who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming and shall come; Let them shew unto them. Have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? Ye are my witnesses. Is there a God besides me? Yea, there is no God, I know not any.” [32] An appeal fitly made by the medium of the Prophet who has supplied materials for the fullest confirmation of that appeal.

[End of Part 1]

Author’s Notes and References

1. 1 Kings xi. 34.

2. Jeroboam’s flight into Egypt, (a public fact;) whom “Solomon sought to kill,” because of this prophecy, shews that it was then published. 1 Kings xi. 40.

3. Shemaiah. 2 Chron. xi. 3.

4. 1 Kings xiii. 21.

5. Levit. xxvi. 19.

6. I Kings xii. 28.

7. 1 Kings xiii.

8. Of Jehu, the single king “who destroyed Baal out of Israel,” and so far “did well;” the other memorial follows; “but Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which made Israel to sin.” 2 Kings x. 31.

9. For this fact, compare 2 Kings xv. 8—12, with the date of time prefixed to the prophecies of Hosea and Amos.

10. 2 Kings xviii. 21, &c.

11. Ezra, chap. iv.

12. Isaiah vii. 6, 7, 8.

13. Hosea xi. 5.

14. According to the original prediction of Ahijah, and given at the beginning of the kingdom, “The Lord shall root up Israel out of this land; and shall scatter them beyond the river.” I Kings xv. 15.

15. Isaiah xxxvii. 33,35.

16. See Isaiah xxxvii. 23; 2 Chron. xxxii. 17.

17. Isaiah x. 26.

18. Isaiah x. 24.

19. Amos v. 1.

20. Compare Isaiah xxxix. 2; 2 Chron. xxxii. 27.

21. Isaiah xxxix. 6.

22. Ezek. xxiv.

23. Jer. xxx. 1. 20 xxix. 13; Isaiah xl. 22.

24. Isaiah xiii. 19. xiv. 3. xxi. 10. xliv. xlv., &c.; Jer. xxv. l., &c. Ezek, ii. xii. xxiii., &c.

25. Jer. xxix. 10.

26. Isaiah xliv. 28.

27. Ezek. xx.

28. Dan. ix. 2.

29. The Chaldaeans are commonly named by the Prophets. I use the word Babylonians to describe the inhabitants of Babylon, whether the natives, or the successful occupant people, which last are the Chaldaeans.

30. Isaiah xxi. 2.

31. The latest age of Isaiah may possibly reach the first rudiments of the Median kingdom, when Deioces was beginning to reduce it into order. Prior to which, the Medes and Babylonians were subjects of the Assyrian empire.–Isaiah’s prophesying continued into Hezekiah’s reign. Hezekiah died 698 B. C. Deioces began to reign 700 B. C.

32. Isaiah xliv. 7. 8.

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