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Outlines Of Jewish History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.

§ 1. Nature of the Prophetical Office

1. Meaning of the Words: Prophet; Prophecy. It is impossible to peruse the historical records of the Old Testament without noticing that, chiefly during the Royal Period, there existed in the Jewish State a powerful element for the guidance of both rulers and people in the person of the Prophets of Jehovah and in their Prophecies or prophetical utterances. The Seer or Prophet of that period—as indeed of any period in Jewish history—was neither necessarily nor exclusively a man endowed with supernatural insight into the future, and hence able to foretell far distant events, although to be considered as a true prophet, predictions, if made by him, had to be verified by the event. He was rather, according to the constant meaning of the Hebrew word rendered by “Prophet,” the man who had been selected by Jehovah to receive and communicate to others knowledge of the Divine will and purposes. The prophet was thus the mouthpiece of the God of Israel, and his prophecy a Divine message (cfr. PELT, vol. ii. p. 136; CHARLES ELLIOTT, Old Testament Prophecy, p. 21, sq.).

2. Prophetical Mission. No one, of course, could lawfully call himself a prophet of Jehovah and claim to give utterance to a Divine message, who had not been selected and called by the Almighty for the exalted mission of being his messenger and speaking in his name. This prophetical mission, when actually intrusted to a man, was ever in harmony with the essentially theocratic character of the Jewish people, and its proper object was not so much the political or material well-being of the nation, as its moral and religious advantage. The true prophet had stood in the secret counsel of Jehovah, the God and King of Israel, and when he came forth he spoke the words he had heard from his mouth. His was the mission of declaring God’s will, of denouncing God’s judgments, of defending truth and righteousness and innocence, of keeping alive the constant intercourse been God and his chosen people, of making of Israel’s religion a moral and spiritual religion, of opposing sternly idolatry and promoting energetically public compliance with the Divine law and ultimately of preparing by all this the nation at large, for the coming of the Messias who was “the end of the law” (Rom. 10:4).

3. Prophetical Inspiration. To fulfil this most important and most difficult mission, the true prophets of Israel received a wonderful gift, known under the name of prophetical inspiration. This inspiration did not find its origin in the unassisted intelligence of man, in his natural parts and powers however great, but was the result of a special and higher supernatural working of the Spirit of God. Thus Holy Writ teaches repeatedly that the prophets received their communication by the agency of the Divine Spirit (Numb. 11:17, 25; 1 Kings 10:6, etc.), whilst it describes the false prophets as men who “spoke out of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of Jehovah” (Jerem. 23:16).

The ordinary mode of communication between God and His prophets was what may be called a direct manifestation of His will by word. It usually consisted of ideas distinctly suggested to the understanding of the prophets without any articulate sound (for cases of articulate speech, see 1 Kings 3:4, 10, sq.; Exod. 3:4, etc.). God revealed also His will and purposes in visions, and this is the very title of the prophesies of Isaias, for instance; but the precise nature of these visions cannot well be defined. It is probable, however, that ordinarily pictures familiar to the prophets were presented to their imagination without any external corresponding object, and that in some cases actual apparitions are described, as, for instance, in Daniel 8:16, sq. Finally, God’s communications were made, but more rarely in dreams sent during the sleep of the prophets.

The principal difference between the two latter modes of Divine revelation and the former seems to consist in this: when God spoke to the prophets, they retained the use of their external senses and the normal exercise of their intelligence and freedom; when, on the contrary, Divine communications were imparted in visions or dreams, the prophets were in what has been called ecstasy. Their external senses were at rest; their soul was inactive, passive, powerless to react against what they perceived, whilst on the contrary, their power of intuition was raised to its highest degree and enabled the prophets to understand and behold everything with the greatest distinctness (cfr. Daniel 8:18, sq.; 10:9, sq. See also VIGOUROUX, Manuel Biblique, vol. ii. PELT, vol. ii. p. 140, sq.).

This state of ecstasy stands in very great contrast with heathen divination. Whilst the higher faculties of the Jewish prophet are the medium of communication with Jehovah, the spiritual God of Israel, the lower powers of human nature in the pagan diviner were ever conceived as the means whereby he had access to his god (cfr. W. R. SMITH, Old Testament in the Jewish Church, second edit., p. 285, sq.). Again, whilst heathen diviners uttered their oracles when in paroxysms of delirium and frenzy, the prophets of the Old Testament when making their announcements were always in full possession of themselves, knowing that they had a Divine commission and prefacing their prophetical utterances accordingly (cfr. HANNEBERG, Histoire de la Révélation Biblique, vol. i. p. 294, sq.).

4. Prophetical Training. It was only natural that men, who felt some attraction for the exalted and difficult functions of the prophetical office, should be gradually prepared by a special training for those parts of their future work which depended upon religious and literary culture. In point of fact, schools in which promising young men were gathered and trained in view of the prophetical mission existed among the Jews during the whole Royal Period, and their institution is generally referred to Samuel, the introducer of the monarchy into Israel. One of these existed in his lifetime at Ramatha, where his house was (1 Kings 19:19, 20; 7:17); others flourished in various places, such as Bethel, Jericho, Galgal, etc.

These schools, now known as the Schools of the Prophets, appear to have consisted of students different in numbers; at the head of each there was an elderly or leading prophet, who acted as president (1 Kings 19:20; 4 Kings 4:38) and to whom the young men gave the name of “Father” or “Master” (4 Kings 2:3; 1 Kings 10:12). The Sons of the Prophets, as these students were called, lived together in distinct communities (4 Kings 4:38), and were, no doubt, instructed in the knowledge and interpretation of the Divine law. Subsidiary subjects of instruction were music and sacred poetry (1 Kings 10:5; 4 Kings 3:15; 1 Paralip. 25:3, sq., etc.). In this way, they prepared by recollection, study and prayer to receive from God a call and inspiration, which He often bestowed upon students so instructed, and which were necessary in order that men however well trained might undertake the prophetical ministry.

§ 2. History of the Prophetical Office

1. First Period: Before Samuel. Long centuries before the institution of the monarchy, the sacred records speak of prophets and prophetical utterances among the chosen people. During the Patriarchal Age, however, Abraham, the great ancestor of the Jews, is the only man called a “prophet” in Holy Writ (Gen. 20:7), and outside Divine communications made to individuals by oracles and visions, even the great patriarchs of Israel were inspired to prophesy only upon the occasion of some great event, such for instance as their parting blessing. In Moses, on the contrary, we find the type of the prophet of Jehovah so perfectly realized in his close intimacy with the God of Israel, and in his prophetical utterances, that Jewish tradition has ever considered him as the greatest prophet of the Old Covenant (Deuter. 34:10). Around him, we notice a few persons moved at times by the spirit of prophecy, but as the prophetical gift had been granted to Moses for the fulfilment of his mission as Liberator and Lawgiver of the Jews, it passed to his successor only in so far as Josue needed it to complete the work of Moses by introducing the Hebrews into the Promised Land. At times also, the judges were endowed with the spirit of prophecy (Judges 4:4) for a work similar to that of Moses and Josue, and here and there we even catch a glimpse of a man sent on a special prophetical mission by Jehovah (Judges 6:8; 1 Kings 2:27, sq.) or favored with some Divine communication (Judges 13:2, sq.; 1 Kings 3:1). It remains true, however, that the prophetical order was simply foretold by Moses, and that his prediction was not fulfilled before the time of Samuel (Deuter. 18:15–22; for the interpretation of this passage of Deuteronomy see PELT, Histoire de 1’Ancien Testament, vol. ii, p. 137, footnote 6).

But if Moses did not leave after him an order of men Intended to carry on his prophetical work or discharge the prophetic mission such as it was intrusted to the prophets of later days, he at least had supplied the chosen people with a constant “prophecy” in the law he had given to them (Matt. 11:13). The whole purpose of the Mosaic law was clearly to ward off idolatry from the Jewish nation, to promote an ever-closer intercourse between Israel and Jehovah, and prepare effectively the chosen race for the coming of Him who is the “end of the law,” and these various objects were, as we have seen, the very objects of the prophetical mission. In another sense, the Mosaic law was also a prophecy, to wit, inasmuch as its various elements (priesthood, sacrifices, etc.) were but the figure of those of the Christian dispensation for which they were preordained (see Epistle to the Hebrews, passim).

2. Second Period: From Samuel to the Babylonian Captivity. The introduction of the monarchy into Israel opened a new and particularly critical period in the religious life of the Jews. The establishment of kings among the Jews naturally tended to diminish the feeling of the people that they were a theocratic nation, the peculiar people of Jehovah. In like manner, one may well conceive that Jewish kings would aim at becoming gradually independent of all religious supremacy, and that some of them could prove so entirely unfaithful to the spiritual worship of Jehovah as to use the whole weight of their power in the State in favor of idolatrous religions. Add to these difficulties against the survival of pure monotheism in Israel under the monarchy, the constant proneness of the bulk of the nation to idolatry, and it will be readily seen that the rise of the prophetical order at the beginning of this period was a new means of faithfulness provided by God in view of new dangers. He wished to have henceforth direct and official representatives to plead his cause with the people of His choice, to oppose fearlessly all national tendencies towards idolatry, and to remind at each step, both kings and subjects, of their essential dependence on Him the invisible and supreme Lord of Israel.

This the first prophets of the Royal Period did only by word of mouth, speaking to their own generation of the blessings of various kinds promised by God to his chosen people if faithful; of the manifold punishments that awaited its unfaithfulness; and finally, of God’s renewed favor to those who repent (ANDREWS, God’s Revelations of Himself to Men, p. 86). Several of these prophets limited their action to watching sedulously over the spiritual and religious interests of the nation; others added to this the literary work of theocratic writers of history (cfr. for instance, 1 Paralip. 29:29). It may also be noticed that after the disruption of Solomon’s empire, the oral work seems to have been more active and more effective in the northern, than in the southern, kingdom. This difference is perhaps sufficiently accounted for by the fact, that in the former there were numerous prophetic societies helping on the mission of the prophets; whilst in the latter, individual prophets had to meet almost entirely unseconded, at least equal, if not greater, obstacles (cfr. art. Prophetic Office in Schaff-Herzog, Encyclopædia of Religious Knowledge, vol. iii).

However this may be, it is beyond doubt that the earliest written prophecies, those of Jonas in the kingdom of Israel, and of Joel, and perhaps Abdias, in the kingdom of Juda, are to be placed about the middle of the ninth century B. C. In thus writing down their prophecies, the Divine messengers had naturally among other objects, that of proving to future generations the truth of their predictions (cfr. Isai. 30:8; Jerem. 30:2, 3). If we reckon Baruch with Jeremias as one book, the Old Testament comprises the books of eleven prophets who wrote before the Babylonian exile, three of whom belong to the northern kingdom, namely, Amos, Osee and Jonas; and eight to the southern kingdom, namely, Isaias, Jeremias, Joel, Abdias, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc and Sophonias. Of course, it may readily be admitted, that some literary productions of the Jewish prophets are now lost, as may be inferred from references to older sources, such for instance, as Isai. 2:2–4; Mich. 4:1–4, etc., and that some of those which are still extant present considerable deviations from their original form, as we know is the case with the prophecies of Jeremias.

It is particularly in connection with the prophets of the Royal Period, that critics of our century have affirmed the existence of an antagonism on the part of these messengers of Jehovah to the Jewish law and priesthood. The prophets, we are told, are exclusively concerned with the moral and spiritual duties of Jehovah’s worship, and are in opposition to the priests and the ritual enactments of the written law. Hence it is inferred that the legislation of the Pentateuch did not exist in the days of those prophets and that the Jewish hierarchy did not attain to full power until prophecy ceased.

All this, however, seems very much at variance with the facts of the case. The prophets of the royal period presuppose the existence of a law and of a covenant like that described in the Pentateuch (cfr. Amos 3:2; Joel 1:9, sq.; Osee 9:3, 15, etc.); they know of a ritual complied with by their contemporaries and they object to this compliance only in so far as the people remain satisfied with a mere observance of outward rites without regard for the fulfilment of higher moral and spiritual duties (Isai. 1:11, sq., etc.). In like manner, the prophets know of the Jewish priests of their time as the ministers of Jehovah, and as intercessors in behalf of the people (Joel 1:9, 13, 14; 2:15–17). True it is, sometimes priests of Juda are rebuked for their sins, but so are also the prophets unfaithful to their calling (Isai. 28:7), and if the priesthood of the northern kingdom is upbraided by Osee, it is because of its non-Levitical origin and calf-worship.

Thus, then, the attitude of the prophets towards the Jewish law and priesthood is perfectly in harmony with the exalted character of their calling; they must promote in Israel that inward piety which seems to have ever been greatly wanting in the Jewish nation, raise the standard of morality as high as possible and spare no one, high or low, in their censures of evil. Nor is their attitude less easily understood with regard to idolatry and “calf-worship.” Naturally enough they were the deadly opponents of idolatrous worship, and when we bear in mind the most severe enactments of the Mosaic law against idolaters (cfr. Exod. 22:20; Deut. 18:20, etc.), it is not difficult to understand that extreme measures, like those of Elias against the false prophets for instance, must have appeared to them as the fulfilment of a duty. The conduct of some early prophets of the northern kingdom regarding the “calf-worship” introduced by Jeroboam can be justified still more easily; we have no record of opposition by these prophets to calf-worship in Israel; if, in reality, they raised none, it may be supposed that they thought it better to make all their efforts bear on the destruction of Baal worship, which had already become the official Worship of the northern kingdom, and which, if not soon overthrown, threatened with permanent extinction the religion of Jehovah in Israel (cfr. CHARLES ELLIOTT, Old Testament Prophecy, p. 152, sq.; p. 144, sq.).

3. The Prophets of the Captivity and the Restoration. With the Babylonian captivity opened for the Jews a new era fraught with new and special dangers for the religion of Jehovah among the chosen people. It is only natural, therefore, to find that the mission intrusted to Ezechiel and Daniel, the two great prophets of the exile, exhibited special features worthy of notice.

Ezechiel had been carried to Babylon at the same time as King Jechonias, in 598 B. C., that is, ten years before the destruction of Jerusalem. His mission during this short period was to prepare his fellow-captives for the near coming but unexpected ruin of the Holy City; and after this event had taken place according to his prediction, he had to make the most of his influence as a recognized prophet of Jehovah, to comfort the Jews, to prevent them from considering the victory of the Babylonians over God’s chosen people as a victory of heathenism over the true theocracy. Heathenism, with all its actual might and glory, was doomed to destruction, and the people of Jehovah would be restored to the Holy Land.

Daniel also had the mission of comforting the exiled Jews and of strengthening them in their faith, but this he did not so much by his exhortations as by the whole tenor of his life. He was an exemplar of holy living, of perfect faithfulness to Jehovah in the very midst of the seductions of a corrupt and heathen court; his miracles and prophecies, and more particularly the wonders granted to him for his own preservation, were to all the Jews manifest proofs that Jehovah had not forsaken His people, but rather watched lovingly over them in the land of exile. But besides this indirect mission to his own, Daniel had a direct one to the heathen. It was given him to prove to them that Jehovah is the sole God deserving worship, because He alone revealed the most hidden secrets (Daniel 2), inflicted exemplary punishments on those who opposed His designs (4; 5), protected against all harm His faithful worshippers (3) and was the sole living God, all the others being lifeless idols utterly unable even to defend themselves against assailants (14).

After the return from the exile, the main object of Aggeus, Zacharias and Malachias, the prophets of the time of the restoration, was “to remove the hindrances among the people to the fulfilment of God’s promises, and to direct their eyes to the dawning of the Messianic salvation” (CHAS. ELLIOTT, p. 185). The last of these prophets, who is also the last of the prophets of the Old Testament, is especially remarkable for the clearness of his predictions concerning the work, the sacrifice and the person of the Messias, so that the Old Testament prophecy may be said to close with the announcement of the Lord whom the Jews sought and of the Angel of the Covenant whom they desired (Malach. 3:1).








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