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by James Martin Gray
ISAIAH INTRODUCTION TO THE PROHETIC SCRIPTURES
None of the prophets from the time of Solomon to the period when they began to write their prophecies (that is, for two centuries) mention the Messiah or His kingdom. The reason is that during that period the Messiah could not have been the object of hope to either kingdom taken as a whole, because the moral conditions were lacking. The promises respecting him appealed to faith, and the prophets could not speak of future spiritual blessings to those who had no ear to hear. Their mission during that period was to convince the people of sin and seek to bring them to repentance, which was never expressed in any national sense. There were individuals who appreciated the Messianic hope, as our study of the Psalms showed, but this was not true of either Kingdom as such.
WHY PROPHECY CAME TO BE WRITTEN
It was about the eighth or ninth century before Christ when the prophets began to record their prophecies. Before that time, God was present with His people in the theocratic sense, and communicated His will to them as need existed, by means of the Shekinah (Exodus 25:22 ), and the words spoken by the prophets (Deuteronomy 18:18-22 ). These spoken words were for that time and generation in which the prophets lived, and were not necessary to be written. When, however, this necessity arose, it spoke of the future withdrawal of God’s presence and the consequent cessation of prophetic utterances. This meant in turn, a delay or postponement of the Messianic kingdom (compare Amos 8:11-12 and Lamentations 2:9 ). The prophets’ words now were preserved for future generations because it became evident that both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were to be scattered, in punishment for their sins.
THE MISSION OF WRITTEN PROPHECY
Written prophecy, therefore, had a twofold mission, one for the immediate present, and the other the remote future. The written messages revolve around three points: (1) The temporal and spiritual blessings which God would give Israel and Judah, if faithful; (2) the judgments that would fall upon them if unfaithful; and (3) the renewed grace to them when they should be come penitent. There is variety in the detail with which the prophets write, but their points of agreement are as follows: (1) A day of retribution is coming on Judah and Israel, the end of which will bring repentance and prepare the way for the Messianic kingdom. While these judgments will affect Israel and .Judah chiefly, yet they will fall also on the Gentile nations of the whole earth; (2) the tribes of Israel and Judah will be regathered to their own land, and a remnant purified by discipline will form the nucleus of the restored nation, where God will again dwell in temporal and spiritual blessing; and (3) this restored nation will be the germ of the Messianic kingdom extending over the whole earth.
WHY THE GENTILES ARE ADDRESSED
But written prophecy embraces God’s words to Gentile peoples also. These words could not in the nature of the case always have been spoken to them, and even so, those peoples have long since ceased to exist as peoples.
Why, then, written and preserved? Not simply that we of these latter days may see their fulfillment, and thus have our faith confirmed, for this fulfillment cannot in many cases be proved because of our historical ignorance. They were written rather because the purpose of God in the Jews as a people, both as wanderers and when restored and dwelling in their own land, brings them into continued relations to other peoples, and especially to those dwelling immediately around them. And although the earlier peoples, as Edom and Moab, Syria and Egypt, may cease to exist, yet other peoples arise and the same relations in substance continue. As His own chosen nation, through whom He will reveal Himself to the nations, the Jews hold through all time an official position and have a sacred character, and in the day of their restoration and of the judgment of the nations, the great question will be, how far have the other nations regarded them as His people, and so treated them?
For the substance of the above, indebtedness is acknowledged to Andrews’ “God’s Revelation of Himself to Man.”
1. Indicate the period marked by the absence of written prophecies in Judah and Israel.
2. Why was this true?
3. At about what period did written prophecy begin?
4. Prior to that time, how had God communicated with His people?
5. Was the change from spoken to written prophecy a hopeful one?
6. State the twofold mission of written prophecy.
7. Around what three points does written prophecy revolve?
8. On what three things do the prophets all agree?
9. Why were the prophecies concerning the Gentile nations recorded?
10. What kind of a position and character do the Jews hold through all time with reference to the Gentile nations?
11. What will be the great criterion of judgment upon the Gentile nations in the day of the restoration of Israel?
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26