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CHAPTER I X.
INTRODUCTION TO THE PROPHETIC BOOKS.
We resign to other writers--many of whom are so well competent for it—the task of disproving the theory that the prophets were the mere rhythmic historians of past events-merely the bards of their country. Indeed, one of the shrewdest of German critics, De Wette, abandons this as untenable, and concedes them a certain foresight of the future, although he evidently conceives it to be little better than the instinct of cats forecasting rain, or of vultures scenting carrion. We propose at present to make a few remarks illustrative of the prophetic office among the Hebrews. The general picture of a prophet has been given already.
The prophet, first, had a supernatural gift. That this was more than genius, is evident from the terms applied to it; the power moving them is always a moral power; it is the Holy" Ghost—it is a divine power—"the spirit of the Lord is upon them”—from the purposes served by their utterances, which are uniformly, not merely artistic, but moral and spiritual—from the objects presented to their view, often lying hid in regions which the most eagle-eyed genius were unable to scan-and from the miraculous circumstances by which so many of their messages were sealed. That this supernatural power did not interrupt, though it elevated, their natural faculties, is evident from the diversities of style and manner which are found not only among different prophets, but in different parts of the same prophecy. This gift, again, operated on the prophets in divers manners. Sometimes God visited their minds by silent suggestion; sometimes he spoke to them as he did to Samuel, by a voice ; sometimes the prophet fell into a trance or day-dream, and sometimes God instructed him through a vision of the night; sometimes angelic agency was interposed as a medium, and sometimes God directly dawned upon the soul; sometimes future events were distinctly predicted; sometimes they were adumbrated in figure; and sometimes counsel, admonition, and warning, constituted the entire “ burden.” Language, often creaking under the load, was the general vehicle for the prophetic message, but frequently, too, “signs” and “wonders” of the most singular description were employed to shadow and to sanction it. The prophet, who at one time only smote with his band, stamped with his foot, or cried with his voice, at another prepared stuff for removing, or besieged a tile, or married “ a wife of whoredoms,” to symbolize the mode, and attest the certainty, of approaching events. Bolder upon occasion still, he dared to stretch forth his hand to the wheel of nature, and it stopped at his touch-to call for fire from beaven, and it came when he called for it. .
The power of prophecy was fitful and intermitting : in this point, resembling genius. It was, like it,
“A power which comes and goes like a dream,
In the fine language of Hushai, it lighted upon the prophet as the “ dew falleth upon the ground.” Rather, it came upon his head, and stirred his hair, and kindled his eye, and inflated his breast, as a gust of wind comes upon a pine, for, though sudden, its advent was not soft as the dew. It was a nobler demoniac possession. Recovered from it, the prophet resumed his ordinary occupation, and was a common man once more. Then, too, his own words seemed strange to him; he wondered at them, as we can conceive the fabled oak wondering when it had sweltered honey. He searched what the Spirit did signify by him, nor probably was he always successful in the search. Authors of mere human gift are often surprised at their own utterances. Even while understanding their general meaning, there are certain shades, certain emphases, a prominence given by the spirit of the hour to some thoughts and words, which seem to them unaccountable, as to a dreamer his converse, or his singing, when reviewed by the light of day. How much more must the prophet, through whom passed the mighty rushing wind of the Divinity, have stared and trembled as he recalled the particulars of the passage.
Nor was this transit of God, over the prophetic soul, silent as that of a planet. It was attended by great bodily excitement and agony. The prophets were full of the fury of the Lord. The Pythoness, panting upon her stool-Eschylus, chased before his inspiration, as before his own Furies-Michael Angelo, hewing at his Moses, till he was surrounded by a spray of stone -the Ancient Marinere, wrenched in the anguish of the delivery of his tale--give us some notion of the Hebrew prophet, with the burden of the Lord upon his heart and his eye. Strong and hardy men, they generally were ; but the wind which crossed them, was a wind which could“ rend rocks,” and waft tongues of fire upon its wings. In apprehension of its effects, on both body and spirit, we find more than one of their number shrinking from below its power. It passed over them, notwithstanding, and, perhaps, an under-current of strength was stirred within, to sustain them in that “ celestial colloquy sublime.” But true inspiration does no injury, and has no drawback. Nectar has no dregs.
The prophet, thus excited and inspired, was certain to deliver himself in figurative language. All high and great thought, as we have intimated before, casts metaphor from it, as surely as substance produces shadow. The thought of the Hebrew bard had come from heaven, and must incarnate itself in earthly similitudes, or remain unuttered. Figure, in some cases a luxury, was here a necessity of speech. As this thought, besides, was destined to be coeval with earth, it must be expressed in that universal cipher which the language of
figure alone supplies. It, like sunlight, always explains and recommends itself to every one who has eyes to see. A figure on the breast of a truth, is like a flower in the hand of a friend. Hence, its language, like the language of flowers, is free of the world and of all its ages. It is fine to see the genius of poetry stooping to do the tasks of the prophetic power. Herself a “daughter of the king,” she is willing to be the handmaid of her elder sister. Instead of an original, she is content to be the mere translator, into her own everlasting vernacular, of the oracles of heaven.
This singular form—its soul the truth of heaven-its body the beauty of earth-was attached, for wisest purposes, to the Jewish economy. It acted as God's spur, suspended by the side of the system, as it moved slowly forward. It gave life to many dead services; it-mingled a nobler element with the blood of bulls and goats ; it disturbed the dull tide of national degeneracy; it stirred, again and again, the old flames of Sinai; it re-wrote, in startling characters, the precepts of the moral law; and, in its perpetual and vivid predictions of Messiah's coming, and death, and reign, outshot by ages the testimony of types, rites, and ceremonies. It did for the law what preaching has done for the Gospel : it supplied a living sanction, a running comment, and a quickening influence. When, at times, its voice ceased, the cessation was mourned as a national loss; and we hear one of Israel's later psalmists complaining that " there is not among us a prophet more.” And this not that Asaph lamented that there was none to sing the great deeds of his country, but that he mourned the decay of the piety and insight of which prophecy had been the “ bright consummate flower.” In truth, prophecy represented in itself the devotion, the insight, and the genius of the land, and of the period when it was poured forth.
This power was subjected to a certain culture. Schools of the prophets seem to have been first established by Samuel. The pupils were trained up in a knowledge of religion, and in habits of devotion. These schools were nurseries, and from
them God might, and did, choose, from time to time, bis appointed instruments. Amos seems (vii. 14) to regard it as a thing uncommon, that though he was a prophet, he had not been trained in such seminaries. It is supposed by some, that those sons of the prophets were employed as their assistants, and stood in the relation which evangelists afterward bore to the apostles.
Lastly, This prophetic vision, centring in Christ, became clearer as he drew near. At first it is dim; the character of the person is but partially disclosed ; his divinity glimmers faintly on the view, and a cloud of darkness rests on his predestined sufferings-on that perilous“ bruising,” by which he was to send forth judgment unto victory. Gradually, however, it brightens ; the particulars of his mystic agony begin to flash on the view of the prophets, while, at the same time, his divine dignity is becoming luminously visible, and while the prospect of the triumphs, consequent on his death, is stirring their hearts tó rapture; and, finally, the very date of the hour and power of darkness is recorded, the place of his birth is disclosed, and his coming to his father's temple is announced in thunder. Thus did the “spirit of prophecy” bear a growing testimony to Jesus. Thus did the long line of the prophets, like the stars of morning, shine more and more, till they yielded and melted in the Sun of Righteousness. And through this deepening and enlarging vision it was that the Jewish imagination, and the Jewish heart, were prepared for his coming. The prophets, kings though they were, over their own economy, were quite ready to surrender their scepters to a greater than they. Would that the sovereigns, statesmen, poets, and philosophers of the present age were equally ready to cast their crowns at the feet of that expected One," who shall come, will come, and will not tarry."