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Ezekiel was one of the Jewish prisoners carried to Babylon. He prophesied during the early part of the captivity, describing its moral causes in the ingratitude and rebellion of the Jewish nation against their Divine Sovereign ; predicting the judgments of heaven upon surrounding nations, for their several crimes; announcing the return from the captivity; and penetrating into the glories of the future age, when the true religion should spread through all the nations of the earth. He makes more use of emblematical representations than any other prophet, and they are generally very complicated; from which cause the interpretation of his writings is peculiarly difficult. This mode of representation we find soon afterwards in the visions and predictions of Daniel, in those of Zechariah, and, with a closer resemblance still, in the Revelation granted to the Apostle John.
DANIEL lived throughout the entire period of the captivity. One half of his book is historical, the other contains prophecies of the deepest interest and importance, and chiefly expressed in a magnificent train of symbolical imagery. *
A few years after the return of the Jews, upon the edict of Cyrus, from the captivity in Babylon, when they shewed themselves eager for the advancement of their private and selfish interests, but extremely remiss in taking' measures for the rebuilding of the temple, HAGGAI remonstrated against their criminal neglect, shewed that the various calamities which they were labouring under were divine visitations for it, removed their objections, and encouraged the viceroy Joshua and the high priest Zerubbabel in their attempts to effect a revival of zeal and exertion. The principal and almost the only prediction, in this short book, is that illustrious one, which refuted the dejected feeling of the Jews, when they compared the inferiority of the plan and commencement of the new building with what some of them could recollect of the grandeur of the former temple, by declaring that “ the DESIRE of all nations” should make his appearance in this house, and thus confer upon it a glory
* See Note C.
which the former temple knew not; and that the heathen nations should receive the richest blessings under his beneficent reign.
Only two months after Haggai entered upon his divinely commissioned work, ZECHARIAH was raised up as his faithful and effective coadjutor. His prophecies are chiefly revealed in symbolical visions, the machinery of which is extremely difficult for us to understand ;* and the other parts refer to the immediate condition of the restored Jews, directing their obedience and holding forth promises of signal mercy. The last six chapters of the book appear to have been written by another prophet, who had lived before the subversion of the kingdom of the Ten Tribes, consequently not less than two hundred years earlier than the Zechariah who wrote the former eight chapters. His subjects, style, and manner, are very different; and he utters some distinguished prophecies of the Messiah and his kingdom. It may be thought not improbable that he was the “ Zechariah, the son of Jeberechiah,” mentioned as a contemporary and friend of Isaiah.t The similarity of names might occasion the annexation of this work to the other, by those who, in the period after the closing of the Old Testament, formed the collection of the books. I
Seventy or eighty years later than Haggai and Zechariah, MALACHI came forth, the last of the inspired prophets, powerfully co-operating with the faithful and zealous Nehemiah, in reproving the sins of the people, especially of many members of the priesthood : and he concludes the Canon of the Old Testament by giving a most distinct prophecy concerning the Messiah and his forerunner.
It is important to observe that many predictions occur, scattered throughout the Historical Books of the Old Testament; of which, indeed, a part (the books of Joshua and Judges, Samuel and Kings) are denominated in the Hebrew
* The serious inquirer will obtain great instruction from Dr. Stonard's Commentary on the Vision of Zechariah, with a Corrected Translation and Notes. f Isaiah viii. 2.
See Note D.
Bibles, The Former Prophets, as those from Isaiah to Malachi, excepting the Book of Daniel, are called The Latter Prophets. It is also highly important to be observed, that numerous predictions, and those of the greatest weight and interest, are contained in the Book of PSALMS.
These are the Records of Prophecy, through which the Eternal Spirit hath spoken; first, to the ancient people selected by distinguishing wisdom and grace; and then, through them, to all the nations of the earth, for the confirmation of faith, obedience, and comfort. Our object now is to ascertain the means, in the use of which, under that DIVINE BLESSING upon impartial study which it is our privilege to seek by FERVENT PRAYER, we may hope to obtain a just knowledge of the sense and application of the Prophetic Scriptures. The Principles which appear to my own conviction certain in themselves and essential to this end, I shall endeavour to embody in the form of plain and practical Rules. My candid hearers will allow the free expression of my own convictions, without imputing to me any undue assuming of authority. I only request that what I shall advance may be judged of, with a free and unbiassed mind, according to its proper evidence; while I must confess my persuasion that, without the basis of these Principles and the application of these Rules, any attempt to disclose the genuine sense of the Prophetic Oracles will certainly fail of success. Rule I. It is necessary that we should acquire informa
tion, as full and correct as can be deduced from its proper source, the scriptural fountains, concerning the life and circumstances of the prophet whose composition is under consideration; the station which he occupied in his country, his connexions with the government and with the people, and the share which he bore and the interest he took in the political and religious affairs of
Israel or Judah. To explain the meaning and design of this recommendation, I will endeavour to illustrate it by an example; and we will select that of Isaiah, the prince of the prophets.
This “ holy man of God” was called to the prophetic
office and consecrated to a divine mission, in the last year of Uzziah, king of Judah. The next reign, that of Jotham, comprised sixteen years. He was an upright ruler, and endeavoured to reform the depraved moral condition of his people. The general state of the country, with regard to temporal enjoyments, was flourishing, riches were accumulating, and a rapid advancement in public and private affluence was confidently expected. But the vices of unsanctified prosperity grew rank and rapid. The holy authority of Jehovah, the God of Abraham and the Ruler of the world, was rejected; the institutions of his miraculous covenant with the Hebrew nation were violated and openly contemned; immorality was extensively predominant among all ranks ; the most corrupt manners of foreign nations were imitated; idolatry, necromancy, and other impious superstitions, were greedily adopted; and the higher classes distinguished themselves by their oppression of the lower, their luxury, their licentiousness, and their hypocrisy. To stem the tide of wickedness, the influence and example of the king were too feeble. Then the inspired prophet came forth, with his vivid pictures of persons and characters, his animated descriptions of judgment and mercy, his faithful reproofs, his pathetic expostulations, his ardent enforcement of Jehovah's commands and reproofs, invitations, promises, and threatenings. What degree of success followed these means of grace
and instruction, we find not recorded : but, from the continued strain of the prophet's writings, there is much reason to fear that little reformation was effected. The successor to the kingdom was Ahaz, a weak and wicked prince, extremely addicted to the superstitions and idolatry of the neighbouring nations. The opportunity of his imbecile reign was seized by Pekah, the usurper of the throne of Israel, and Rezin, the king of Syria. They invaded the territory of Ahaz, defeated his army with tremendous slaughter, and took him prisoner, with an immense number of his subjects: but the emancipation of these prisoners was effected immediately, in a way of extraordinary divine interposition.* Yet
* 2 Chron. xxviii. 5-15.
it appears that a very short time elapsed, before the confederates made a second invasion; and, in their confidence of success, had projected the deposing of the royal family of David, and the setting up of a creature of their own. *
In this project they had the concurrence of a powerful traitorous party, in the heart of Judah itself.+
Under these alarming circumstances, Ahaz and his people were reasonably enough thrown into the deepest consternation: and, with equal impolicy and contempt of God, he determined to seek aid from a powerful conqueror, Tiglathpilésér, the king of Assyria. Against this step, Isaiah remonstrated, intreated, and threatened the ruinous consequences; but in vain. The proud Assyrian did indeed interfere, so far as to take a ruinous subsidy from Ahaz, and to invade the other two powers; but he effected no real deliverance for the Jewish people : on the contrary, he established his demands for further and more exorbitant contributions, as the price, not so much of his protection as of his precarious forbearance from making them also his prey. During his whole reign, this unbappy king Ahaz continued the slave of wickedness, superstition, and abominable idolatries, even to the burning alive of his own offspring as a sacrifice to Moloch. The affairs of the nation and the interests of religion must have sunk perpetually lower into the gulf of ruin: and most probably neglect and contempt, if not coercive persecution, oppressed the prophets of God. This melancholy state of things is described in the first nine chapters of the book, annexing four verses of the tenth.
To a kingdom thus depraved and impoverished, to a throne thus dishonoured, the simple-hearted and pious Hezekiah succeeded. Powerful obstructions, and even formidable dangers, opposed his endeavours for the reformation of his country. The domineering faction before mentioned, disaffected to the house of David, impiously hating the religious institutions of Jehovah, and enamoured with the polytheism, the superstitions, and the licentiousness, of the heathen kingdoms around them, put forth their machinations, by
* Isaiah vii. 1-6.
+ Ib. viii. 6, 19, 21.