« הקודםהמשך »
God's hands, to punish his people. They did it in the pride of their hearts; not knowing that they executed the divine decree. The happy land, which four hundred years before, was the seat of piety and great worldly prosperity, was now laid waste; stripped of its inhabitants, and reduced to iron bondage.
But in looking over that dark period, in which iniquity abounded in the Jewish nation, we find the spiritual Church was not destroyed. God remembered his promise. A holy seed was preserved. Even in the days of Elijah the prophet, when the persecutions were so violent, that scarce any were seen avowing themselves on the Lord's side, and Elijah thought he was alone, God had 7000 secret ones who had not bowed the knee in idol worship. Some peculiarly precious seasons, the Church was permitted to enjoy. Many of the kings of Judah were friendly to the true religion, upheld the Temple worship, and protected the prophets. Rich consolations had the Church in the days of Hezekiah. His reign began about 731 B. C. and continued twenty-nine years. He made David his pattern, and trusted in God with all his heart. He destroyed idolatry throughout his dominions. He called together all the Priests and Levites, opened the house of God which his father had impiously shut up, and restored divine worship. He caused his people to keep the passover, and invited the ten tribes, who had, for a very long period neglected it, to unite with them. He kept skillful scribes to write out copies of the holy scriptures. He was a man of prayer, and his fervent supplications availed to his recovery from dangerous sickness. His reign was truly precious and joyful to the people of God.
Another season of rest and consolation, the Church enjoyed, about a century after, in the days of Josiah. In the interim between these excellent monarchs, the throne of Judah had been filled by a monster in wickedness. Manasseh reigned fifty-five years, and bent the whole energy of his government to the restoration of idolatry, and destruction of the knowledge and worship of God. He was the most impious man that ever reigned in Israel or Judah. When, therefore, Josiah came to the throne, religion was in Judah at its lowest ebb. This is strikingly shown in the fact, that when he was repairing the Temple, the workmen accidentally found among the rubbish, the law of God which was lost; or rather had been thus providen
tially preserved from the hands of Manasseh. It was read to the king; and when he heard the curses which were denounced against the Jews for not keeping it, and which had already been executed on the ten tribes, he wept and rent his clothes.
This pious prince went through the land, and thoroughly rooted out idolatry. He assembled the whole nation together at Jerusalem, and caused them to hear the law of God, and entered with them into a solemn covenant with Jehovah. He also caused them to keep the passover with a degree of solemnity which had never been known from the days of Samuel to that time. He made the people acquainted with the law of God, and caused them to walk in his statutes. He was a precious man of God. His heart was tender, and he humbled himself before God and met the divine acceptance. He was truly a nursing father to the Church.
During this dark period also, the Church was supported by a succession of eminent prophets; who boldly reproved the nation for their vices; revealed the purposes of Jehovah, and continually pointed the righteous to their great Redeemer.
In the reigns of Ahab, Jehoram and Jehosaphat, lived Elijah and Elisha. They were successively heads of the schools of the prophets; were men of great holiness and boldness, and denounced terrible judgments against injustice and idolatry in Judah and Israel. The former gained a signal triumph over the prophets of Baal and the prophets of the grove. He assembled 450 of the one, and 400 of the other on Mount Carmel, that the people might have a fair trial whether Jehovah or Baal was God. Sacrifices were then prepared and the issue was to rest upon the descent of fire from heaven. In vain did the false prophets call upon their gods. But no sooner did Elijah invoke Jehovah, than fire came down from heaven and consumed his sacrifice. The people beholding the miracle, cried out, “ The Lord he is the God;" and, at the command of Elijah, slew all the prophets of the grove and of Baal. His life was often exposed, but God miraculously preserved it, and enabled him to gain many triumphs over his enemies. The last miracle he performed was, dividing the waters of Jordan, that he and Elisha and fifty young prophets might pass over. Immediately there appeared a chariot of horses and fire; and Elijah, entering the chariot, was carried in a whirl. wind, into heaven. Elisha cried after him, “My Father, my Father, the chariot of Israel and horsemen thereof,” the strength and protection of my country. He was a type of John the Baptist. So distinguished and eminent was this man, that 750 years after, he with Moses, appeared and conversed with the Savior in his transfiguration.
On Elisha fell the mantle of Elijah as he ascended. With this he divided the waters of Jordan, and returned to Jericho. He performed many miracles, and possessed a far larger share of spiritual influence than any other man of his time. By some young men of a certain city which was given to idolatry, he was mocked and reviled, and told to “ go up," “ go up” like Elijah if he could; towards whom God, in vindication of his servant, came forth in wrath, and, by wild beasts destroyed them all. Sometime after his death, a dead body being thrown into his sepulchre, revived as soon as it touched his bones. Neither of these men wrote any prophecy or history for the future instruction of the Church. The distinguished prophets who succeeded, wrote under inspiration of God; and their prophecies form parts of the sacred canon.
Jonah, the first in the order of time, was commissioned to warn Nineveh, a heathen city, of destruction; and call its inhabitants to repentance. That he might be chastened for disobedience and also be a symbol of Christ, who was to be entombed three days and nights in the grave, he was swallowed up and retained for this period by a great fish. His warnings produced the desired effect. The Ninevites turned to the Lord with weeping, fasting and mourning, and the judgment was averted.
Amos, the next, was a herdsman. He was not of the schools of the prophets. He predicted the captivity and destruction of Israel, the restoration of the kingdom of David, and the blessed reign of the Prince of Peace. His images are drawn from the scenes of nature.
Hosea resided chiefly in Samaria. He prophesied sixty. six years. His book is a continued strain of invective against the sins of Israel. He foretold their captivity and distress; the reception of the Gentiles into the Church; the present state of the Jews; their future restoration; the coming of the Savior and the final judgment. He also denounced some judgments against the Gentile nations. His style is beautiful and his writings are powerful.
Isaiah was of the seed royal. Tradition reports that he
was sawn asunder in the reign of Manasseh. He was the brightest luminary of the Jewish Church. So clearly does he describe the Messiah and his kingdom, that he is often emphatically styled the evangelical Prophet. In early life he was blessed with a remarkable vision of Jehovah sitting in glory, and worshipped by the Seraphim. It was, we are told by John,* a vision of Christ, and is an incontrovertible proof of his real divinity. The view caused the prophet to lie low in the dust and bewail his own sinfulness; but a seraph touched his lips with a live coal from the altar, and intimated that his sin was purged. Immediately he received a commission to declare the judgments of the Lord. He prophesied about sixty years, commencing at the close of the reign of Uzziah, and was an eminent counsellor of some of the kings. The first part of his book consists chiefly of declarations of sins and threatenings of judgments; then follows predictions of judgments on various nations; some plain history and the most precious promises to the Churchpromises of the redemption and glorious kingdom of the Messiah, of the double restoration of the Jews, and the blessed millenium. His style is a perfect model of the sublime. He stands to this day, unrivalled in eloquence.
Micah was cotemporary with Isaiah, and has much of his style and spirit. He exclaims against the wickedness of the ten tribes; foretells the Assyrian invasion, and the destruction of Jerusalem; the return of the Jews from captivity; the birth of Christ at Bethlehem Ephratah, and the peace and prosperity of the Christian Church.
Nahum appears to have prophesied just as Sennacherib was returning from Egypt, with the intention of destroying Jerusalem; and with great fire and spirit, he utters an illustrious prophecy against Nineveh, which was fulfilled in little more than a century after its delivery.
Zephaniah was of royal extract and lived in the time of king Josiah. In terms wonderfully descriptive, he denounces vengeance against the wicked Jews; the Philistines; the Moabites; Amonites; Ethiopians and Assyrians; and promises a restoration of the captive people of God.
Joel takes no notice of the ten tribes, but confines himself to Judah, and may therefore be supposed to have lived after the first captivity. He predicts a fearful famine, and directs to repentance, fasting and prayer as the means of
* John xii. 41.
deliverance. His most remarkable prophecy is of the general out-pouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
Jeremiah was devoted to the prophetic office before his birth. When first commissioned, he prayed to be excused because of his youth. But God bade him go forward and fear nothing, for he would be with him and make him as a brazen wall against his enemies. He began to prophesy, in the thirteenth year of Josiah, and prophesied forty years. For his boldness in reproving vice and predicting judgments, he suffered the most cruel persecutions, and is said, by Jerome, to have been stoned to death. His prophecies are of a very distinguished and illustrious character. They relate chiefly to the captivity, the precise time of its duration, and the downfall of the neighboring nations. Some of them extend through remote ages. His style is less lofty than that of Isaiah, but breathes a tenderness of spirit which deeply interests the affections of the reader.
Besides his prophecies, he wrote the book of Lamentations, in which he bewails the desolations of Jerusalem, with wonderful tenderness. “ Every letter seems written with a tear, every word is the sound of a breaking heart.” But whether it is a prophecy of future events or a description of scenes then present, is not easily determined.
About the same period, Obadiah predicted the destruction of the enemies of Judah, and the restoration of the Jews. His work is short, but has much beauty.
Habakkuk was the last who began to prophesy before the captivity. His style is poetical and beautiful. His description of God's descent from Teman, far surpasses in sublimity any description ever given of any heathen god. He predicts the downfall of the enemies of the Church, and pleads with God for her deliverance.
These and other prophets who succeeded them, were instructed in future events by dreams and visions, by audible words and immediate inspiration. The holiness of their doctrines, their miracles, and the accomplishment of their predictions, afforded indisputable proof that they were taught of God.
They published their predictions, by uttering them loud in public places; by posting them on the gates of the temple, where they might be read; and sometimes, by highly expressive actions: Isaiah walked naked* and barefoot;
* He laid aside his royal and priestly vestments, to show that the government and priesthood would be overthrown. This gives no warrant to those who appear in a state of perfect nudity as a sign.