Saturday, November 24, 2007
Friday, November 23, 2007
Day After Thanksgiving Friday Humor
Thursday, November 22, 2007
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Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Ask yourself this simply question:
From whence human dignity?Is not some notion of human rights based on a concept of human dignity, and further a dignity somehow higher than the rest of the universe? If humanity is simply the end result of purely natural processes how can there be any humanity dignity at all? Are we not then reduced to just the latest version of the living machine?
What happens when we strip humanity of it's dignity? Is it not fair to say that the Nazis viewed the Jews without dignity? Likewise did not many in the chattel slave trade (as opposed to the mere owners, many of whom treated their slaves with a great deal, though still limited, amount of dignity) view blacks without dignity?
Clearly without some concept of human dignity, atrocity results.
It was argued recently at a dinner table conversation in my home that absent some sense of human specialness - a sense that can ONLY arise if we are understood to be created by something higher, somehow, even if not in strictly biblical terms, must ultimately force one to adopt nihilism
Nihilism (from the Latin nihil, nothing) is a philosophical position, sometimes called an anti-philosophy, which argues that the world, especially past and current human existence, is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. Nihilists generally assert some or all of the following:Creationism can be considered many things, but it cannot be argued to be a threat to human rights. Pure evolutionary thought, which mandates the absence of a creator, removes any concept of human specialness. Forget human specialness, life itself, in any form, lacks any sense of dignity in a purely evolutionary mindset. Without that sense of dignity, morality must breakdown.
- there is no reasonable proof of the existence of a higher ruler or creator,
- a "true morality" does not exist, and
- secular ethics are impossible;
therefore, life has no truth, and no action can be preferable to any other.
Absent some sense of human specialness,we have no authority with which to establish a moral system. Without that authority, any moral system is indeed arbitrary and therefore indefensible. Chaos reigns.
This declaration out of Europe is non-sensical on the most fundamental levels, for by it they destroy their own authority.
I suggest we not follow it.
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Tuesday, November 20, 2007
What Leaders Learn
That's because the goal in studying systems theory is to encourage pastors that by working on themselves, they can improve the functionality of the system as a whole. If a congregation is an emotional system in which all the parts exert influence...then any one part that is functioning in a better more balanced way will influence the whole towards balance. Part of the challenge is that when a leader starts functioning better (say for instance, setting boundaries so that he has a healthy balance of family time and church time.... or perhaps exerting a little more self discipline in time management, which decreases the kind of "available at the drop of the hat" time that was there before.... ), there's always pushback because the change affects other people. It may challenge them to take more responsibility for their role in the system. It may force them to deal with some of their own anxieties that they didn't want to deal with. But in the long run, somebody is going to have their feathers ruffled...and they're going to take it back to the leader. [emphasis added]Russ goes on to talk about the necessity to build a bit of a thick skin to deal with "the pushback," but it is that part I highlighted that really intrigues me.
Let me give you, my clerical readership, some insight into being a lay leader. I cannot tell you how many pastors I have had give me extended and detailed analysis of my failures as a lay leader - they are numerous, and much of the advice I have gotten is good. But there is a rub - it is a very one way conversation, when it ought to be a negotiation.
I am not talking about one of those "Well, you said about me so I'm going to say about you conversations." I'm talking about the kind of conversation that is a attempt to subtly veil a "my way or the highway" thing. The kind of conversation that is essentially, "I'm the pastor, this is my style, you have to fit in with it."
Politics are politics, but that is something else. Here's the basic rule, it's not your church. As a lay leader, it's not my church either. It's not about my style or your style, it's about figuring out - TOGETHER - what God has in mind, and then doing it - TOGETHER.
How often I hear pastors discuss "their ministry" and treat the church as if it is an extension of themselves. Now, lay leadership has a great tendency to the same problem, which in the end is my point - it is that whole speck and plank thing.
The pastors that have offered me advice that worked are the ones that come to me first confessionally - the ones where we made it our goal to make the church better, and held each other accountable in that effort.
I know there are many lay leader out there with agendas and issues from hell. My suggestion, ignore them. But don't punish the ones that are trying just because they make you a bit uncomfortable, just because they challenge and stretch and question.
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Monday, November 19, 2007
Does Preaching Work?
- Holy moments
I agree with Dan very much in his basic assertion here. Preaching, absent the proper communal context if just more words, more noise, more entertainment. I do; however want to quibble with Dan on a couple of details. Consider this pullquote:
This is not to denigrate the spoken word at all, but in an age where nearly everyone in the America has easy access to the Bible, I suspect the person who best exemplifies discipleship and growth is the one who reads the Scriptures, believes them, and goes out and does them without a second thought.Dan is, I think here being overly simplistic. Much mischief has been done in Christ's name because someone "just read Scripture and did it." It is too easy to confuse our own urgings with those of the Holy Spirit, and when we read about so-and-so smoting someone else, we find ourselves following that example. NOT a smart idea.
Teaching is necessary to the proper consumption and understanding of scripture, Holy Spirit inspired and directed teaching, but teaching nonetheless. This is a key function for the pulpit.
Dan also neglects the necessity of leadership in formulation of context. His qualitative discussion of that context is great, but how do we get there? Leadership matters; leadership establishes the context and preaching is a valuable tool in establishing leadership.
The problem lies not in teaching itself, but in what we expect of, and how we apologize for preaching. I agree it is not the directly transformative tool we often hear it described as, but it is important and it does matter.
Would that more preachers understood its proper use.
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Sunday, November 18, 2007
Sermons and Lessons
Samuel Rolles Driver, Regius professor of Hebrew and canon of Christ church, Oxford, England, 1883-1914; born Southampton, October 2, 1846; educated at Winchester College; New College, Oxford; fellow of New College, 1870-83; tutor of New College, 1875-83; member of Old Testament Revision Committee, 1876-84; D.Litt., Dublin, 1892; D.D., Glasgow, 1901; Aberdeen, 1906; D.Litt., Cambridge, 1905; fellow of the British Academy, 1902; author of “A Treatise on the Use of the Tenses in Hebrew,” “Isaiah, His Life and Times,” “Notes on the Hebrew Text of the Books of Samuel,” “An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament,” “Sermons on Subjects Connected with the Old Testament,” commentaries on the books of the Bible, etc.
“Attend unto me, 0 my people; and give ear unto me, 0 my nation; for a law shall go forth from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the peoples. “ - Isaiah 51:4.
The prophets are at once the most brilliant product of the genius of Israel, and a unique phenomenon in history. The “prophet” is one who speaks on behalf of or for another; this is the sense which the word had among the Greeks, who used it spe¬cially of one who interpreted the obscure utterances of a deity; and it is the sense which the word bears in the Old Testament in the Book of Exodus (7:1,2), for example, Aaron, speaking to the people in Moses’ name, is called his “prophet.” The prophet is one who speaks for God, comes forward in His name and declares His will or HM purpose to His people. The prophets are at one in declaring their firm and unwavering belief that they are the organs and instruments of the Most High, and that their utterances about Him come at His prompting, and are invested with His authority. The phrases which they habitually use are, “Thus saith Jehovah,” “Hear ye Jehovah‘s word.” While we can not doubt the inspiration of the prophets, we must be careful not to think of their Inspira¬tion too mechanically. Especially, we must not think of God as dictating to the prophets the very words which they are to use. In all inspiration there are two factors, a human as well as a divine factor. The divine thought, implanted (as we may suppose) by an extraordinary quickening and exaltation of his natural faculties in the prophet’s soul, takes there the shape which the prophet’s own individuality impresses upon it; he speaks “for” God, but he throws the thought which he expresses into his own words and literary form; the phraseology, the rhetoric, the poetry, the imagery, and also the feelings and the emo¬tions (which are sometimes very palpable) are his own; it is these personal characteristics which impart to the writings of each individual prophet their own distinctive character. And in estimating the writings of the prophets, and comparing them with one another, account must always be taken of this varying human element, which, in a greater or less degree, is invariably present in them.
I may now pass on to illustrate some of the principal ways in which the activity of the prophets displayed itself. And, firstly, notice briefly the part which the prophets played as statesmen. Jehovah was the national God of Israel; Church and State were closely allied; and the truest interests of the one were also the interests of the other. The prophets possest an insight and independence which fitted them, in an exceptional degree, to be the political advisers of their nation. They saw more clearly than their contemporaries the bearing upon Israel of the movements and tendencies operative about them; they interpreted beforehand the signs of the times, and warned their countrymen how to face the future. In earlier times they are influential in setting up or dethroning dynasties; at a later time they stand beside the king to admonish or advise. Saul, the first king of Israel, was appointed through the instrumentality of a prophet; Samuel saw that the time had come when Israel needed the unifying and consolidating influences which in those days could be wielded only by a monarch; he anointed Saul and instructed him how to act. Jeroboam was encouraged to assume the leader¬ship of the Ten Tribes by the prophet Ahijah. Jehu, again, who overthrew the dynasty of Omri, was anointed at the instance of Elijah and Elisha. But we can study the political action of the prophets more distinctly in the case of those whose writings remain to wit¬ness to it. These prophets attack the popular statesmanship of the day; they unmask the fallacies underlying it, and expose its shortsightedness. They also denounce the national sins and shortcomings, showing how they must inevitably end in national disaster. Thus Amos sees society in the northern kingdom, in spite of the brilliancy and long prosperity of Jeroboam’s reign, morally vitiated and corrupt; the nobles of Samaria, so far from evincing anxiety for the public weal, “put far the evil day,” and are abandoned to self-indulgence and luxury; he sees only too truly what will happen when the Assyrian draws near; ruin and exile will be his nation‘s doom. The event proved signally the accuracy of his forecasts. Within sixteen years the inhabitants of the northeastern districts were transported by Tiglath-pileser to Assyria; within thirty years the northern kingdom had ceased to exist.
Isaiah, a little later, displays conspicuously the qualities of a clear-sighted and consistent statesman. The age was one in which the danger that threatened Judah was entanglement with foreign powers; and Isaiah lays down the principles by which her actions should be guided. In the panic caused by the Syro-Ephraitish invasion (Is. 7:2) Isaiah alone retained his calmness, and estimated the danger at its just proportions. At that time he discountenanced the application to Assyria for help, for he foresaw the complications that would in all probability result from it; when, however, Ahaz had taken this step and the Assyrian protectorate had been actually accepted by Judah, he acquiesces, and all his efforts are directed toward averting a rupture. From the first he saw the hollowness of Egyptian promises; again and again he keenly satirizes the folly of trusting to them; and it was doubtless owing chiefly to his in¬fluence that the alliance with Egypt was deferred for so many years. In the end, however, in 700 B.C., the party opposed to him prevailed; and Judah, relying upon Egypt and other neighbors, revolted from Assyria. The sequel showed the soundness of Isaiah’s judgment. As before, whenever it came to a contest of strength, the help of Egypt was of no avail, and Jerusalem was only saved from destruction by an occurrence which could not have been calculated upon, and which was the termination of a crisis, that, so far as we can judge, would not have arisen at all had Isaiah’s counsels been listened to in the first in stance.
To pass now to a second aspect of the prophet’s work: The prophets were the teachers of a pure and spiritual religion, and of an elevated morality. Their teaching on these subjects has now become so completely part of the common stock of Christian theology and ethics, that we do not always remember how much of it is due, in the first instance, to the initiative. We may be better able to appreciate this if we view them historically. Amos and Hosea. the two earliest prophets whose writings have been preserved to us, lived in the early and middle part of the eighth century B.C.; and when these prophets wrote, the greater part of the Old Testament was still unwritten; if we bear this fact in mind we shall perhaps be in a better position to realize the originality and creative power of the great prophets. The foundations of Israel’s religion had indeed been laid in the distant past. The earlier parts of the historical books, which are the work of men of prophetical spirit, had shown generally that Jehovah was a God of righteousness Himself, who loved righteousness in men; and history had produced many examples of men who had striven to rule their lives accordingly; but the great prophets who followed developed both theology and ethics in many directions, and gave them new and important practical applications. Nathan, we remember, rebuked David fearlessly for his great sin. Elijah was the champion alike of religion and morality; he fought, and fought successfully, the great battle of Jehovah against Baal; and he pro¬nounced sentence upon Ahab and Jezebel for the mock trial and murder of Naboth.
When we come to the prophets whose writings have been preserved to us, we find that, while, of course, there are many fundamental truths, which are proclaimed by all alike, there is mostly some particular principle upon which each lays stress. Amos, for instance, the first of these prophets, shows remarkable originality and breadth of view. He opens his book with a survey of the nations around Israel; and fastening upon some offense against common humanity of which each has been guilty, declares the judgment impending upon it. But he does not end there; Israel and Judah are included in his count, “because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for the sake of a pair of shoes.” He thus transcends the limits of Jewish particularism; he teaches the impartiality with which Jehovah views all nations, and shows, in opposition to what was the current belief at the time, that He demands of Israel, His chosen and privileged people, precisely the same standard of equity and right which He exacts of other nations. Hosea, the prophet of religious emotion, lays stress upon the love with which Jehovah regards Israel; and while reproaching Israel for the imperfect manner in which His love was requited by it, deduces the lesson that the individual Israelite who seeks to participate in God ‘s love must show love, on his own part, to his brother man. Isaiah is filled with the sense of the majesty of Israel’s God; alike in nature and in history he sees Jehovah reveal Himself in grandeur; the whole earth is full of His glory; and his description of Jehovah seated upon His heavenly throne, or of the “day” on which He will manifest Himself against all that is “proud and lofty,” or the imposing imagery under which he represents Him as striking down the hosts of Assyria (Is. 30:27-32), are sufficient evidence how fitted his genius was to conceive and express this aspect of the divine nature. The author of the discourses of Deuteronomy, who was a prophet intermediate in time be¬tween Isaiah and Jeremiah, and who in some respects developed the teaching of Hosea, insists with that warmth and persuasive eloquence which is peculiarly his own upon the sole divinity of Jehovah, as opposed to the inroads which heathenism was at the time making into Judah; lie insists that Jehovah is the only God, a pure and spiritual being, who has loved Israel and is worthy to receive Israel ‘s undivided love in return; Israel is to be a holy nation; its members are never to forget that they are the servants of a holy and loving God, and love is to be the guiding principle of their conduct, whether toward God or man. Jeremiah deplores the abandonment of Jehovah by His people for “other gods,” and seeks to recall Judah to a sense of the claims which Jehovah has upon its reverence and love. The great prophet of the Exile, the author of chapters 40-66 of Isaiah, when his contemporaries doubted Jehovah’s power to bring home His people from Babylon, preaches in language more exalted and impressive than is to be found in any other part of the Bible the transcendence, the omnipotence, the infinitude of Israel’s God, the first and the last, the creator and sustainer of the universe, the incomparable One, who stands nevertheless in intimate relation with the earth, whose throne is indeed the heavens, but who dwells also with the humble and contrite heart; who has, moreover, His purposes of salvation, which, tho they are directed with special affection toward Israel, compre¬hend within their ultimate scope all the kindreds of the earth. Isaiah can depict, in unrivaled imagery, the majesty of Jehovah; but the great prophet of the Exile stands alone in the splendid comprehensiveness with which he proclaims the immensity of the divine nature and the boundlessness of its operation. And so we see how each prophet dwells upon and develops some particular aspect of truth, partly such as his own character and genius were adapted to apprehend, partly such as was fitted to meet the needs of the age in which he wrote.
Ethically, the prophets play largely the role of what we should call social reformers. They attack the abuses always conspicuous in an Eastern aristocracy; they assert with an earnestness and eloquence, which can never lose their spell, the claims of honesty, justice, philanthropy, and mercy. Certainly, the most ancient Hebrew legislation known to us, the Decalog and the Book.of the Covenant (Ex. 20:23) fully recognize such claims. But the prophets develop and apply to new situa¬tions the principles implied in the old legislation, and reaffirm them with fresh energy.. Listen thus to Amos: “Forasmuch, therefore, as ye trample upon the poor, and take exactions from him of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink the wine thereof” (Amos 5:11). “Seek good and not evil, that ye may live; and so Jehovah, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye say. Hate the evil and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate” - the place where justice was ad¬ministered—’ ‘it may be that Jehovah, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” (Amos 5:14, 15). Micah and other prophets speak similarly: Isaiah, for instance (ch. 5), inveighs at length against the sins of a selfish and debased aristocracy, and shows how they were working their natural effects by disintegrating and weakening the national character. Nor must I omit to notice here the wonderful spiritualization of (chiefly) the old legislation of the “Book of the Covenant” in Deuteronomy, in which civil and ceremonial statutes are made the expression of a great and moral and spiritual ideal, which is designed to comprehend and govern the entire life of the community.
The prophets are again the warm and earnest advocates of a spiritual service of God. The Jews were too often apt to become for¬malists in their religious observances: they thought that if they were sufficiently frequent
in their attendance at the temple, and in offering sacrifices, it was of little moment what their conduct in other respects might be; they were secure of Jehovah‘s favor. The prophets, on the contrary, teach that God requires the service of the heart. Of their memorable declarations on this subject, I can now only remind you of two. Amos, addressing the Israelites who thronged the great sanctuary at Bethel, and maintained there a splendid ceremonial, cries out, in Jehovah’s name: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Yea, tho ye offer me your burnt offerings and meal offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy lyres. But let judgment roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:21-24). And so, again, in the dark days of Manasseh, when heathen rites made their way into Judah, and it was asked by many what offerings might be of sufficient value to propitiate the Deity:
And bow myself before the high God?
Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings,
With calves of a year old I
Will Jehovah be pleased with thousands of rams,
Or with ten thousands of rivers of Oil?
Shall I give my first-born for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
Micah answers by setting forth an ideal of religion which has never been surpassed:
And what doth Jehovah require of thee,
But to do justly, and to love mercy,
And to walk humbly with thy God
As their writings sufficiently show, the prophets were primarily the teachers of their own generation. It is the political mistakes, the social abuses, the religious and moral shortcomings of their own age which they set themselves to correct. It was their own contemporaries whom they sought in the first instance to recall to a high ideal of faith and practice. To be sure, they assert principles of universal validity, and capable, therefore, of application in new and altered circumstances; but the special forms which these principles assume in their hands show that the aim which they had in view is to meet the needs of their own time. Prophecy subserved moral purposes; and its primary motive was the practical guidance, in life and thought, of those among whom the prophet lived. This fact affords us a criterion for estimating the temporal predictions of the prophets. The prophets unquestionably possest the gift of uttering temporal predictions, which were truly fulfilled, in accordance with their expectations; but these predictions relate to the immediate or proximate future; and they are given for the warning or encouragement of the people, as the case may be, in the particular circumstances in which they are situated at the time; they stand consequently in a direct relation to the age in which the prophets themselves lived.
I have already noticed how Amos’ predictions of the end of the northern kingdom were fulfilled. I can now only notice besides the brilliant series of predictions in which Isaiah foretold alike the siege of Jerusalem and the fate of the besiegers. All, so far as we can see, was calm on the political horizon, when, in the summer of B.C. 702, Isaiah amazed the people of Jerusalem by this startling announcement: “Ah! Arid, Arid, the city where David encamped, add ye a year to the [current] year; let the feasts run their round; then will I distress Arid, and there shall be mourning and lamentation. And I will camp against thee round about, and will lay siege against thee with a fort, and I will raise siege works against thee. . . . But the multitude of thy foes shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the terrible ones as the chaff that passeth away; yea, it shall be at an in¬stant suddenly” (Isaiah 29:1-5). The people only stared at the prophet in blank incredulity (ver. 9, B. V. margin). But the event showed that he had seen truly. Next year, Judah and many of its neighbors revolted from the Assyrians; Sennacherib started to quell the rebellion; and as he drew nearer and nearer to Jerusalem, Isaiah accompanied his movements with a whole series of prophecies, all describing, under varying imagery, a sudden and mysterious disaster which would disperse his forces and release Judah from her peril. Thus, in chapter 10, he imagines Sennacherib drawing nearer and nearer to Jerusalem from the north, until at last at Nob, a height about a mile north of the city, he swings his hand audaciously at the temple hill; the prize seems already within his grasp; when his army, figured as a huge forest, is mown down suddenly by an unseen hand: “Behold! the Lord. Jehovah of hosts, will lop the boughs with terror: and the high ones of stature will be hewn down, and the lofty will be brought low, and he will strike down the thickets of the forest with iron, and Lebanon will fall by a mighty one” (Is. 10 : 33, 34). And a little later, perhaps when the troops of Sennacherib were massing close at hand in the Philistine ter¬ritory, he paints the splendid scene: “The nations make an uproar like the roaring of many waters, but he will rebuke them, and they shall flee far off; and they shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like the whirling dust before the storm. At eventide behold confusion; before the morning, he is not” (Is. 17 : 13, 14). And still later, when to human eyes it nust have seemed that the toils had finally closed about the city: “At the noise of the tumult the peoples are fled; at the lifting up of thyself the nations are scattered” (Is. 33 : 3). And, as we know from the historical books, the army of Sennacherib was, in fact, when the doom of the city was to all appearance sealed, cut off unexpectedly by what must in reality have been a pestilence, while pressing on into Egypt. It would not be difficult to adduce other examples of the remarkable prevision possest by the prophets; but I must pass on.
Already, however, even in the few quotations which I have given, we may observe a fact which is worthy of our attention. The prophets are nearly always poets; hence, tho they no doubt utter sometimes matter-of-fact predictions, they very frequently clothe the thought which they have to express in an imaginative dress, or develop it with poetic imagery; and this imaginative element in their predictions has often nothing corre¬sponding to it in the fulfillment. Thus Isaiah pictures Sennacherib approaching Jerusalem from the north, and having his army sud¬denly cut off at Nob; but in point of fact, neither of these things happened; he sent Rabshakeh against Jerusalem from Lachish in the southwest, and his army perished in or near Egypt. The essence of Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled; but not the particular form in which its essential idea is exprest. Similarly in chapter 30: the great storm by which he pictures the Assyrian army as dispersed, and the huge funeral pyre which he imagines prepared to receive the Assyrian king and his army, are but poetical figures under which he depicts the completeness of the Assyrians’ ruin; nothing corresponded to them in the fulfillment. We have thus a warning against interpreting the imagery of the prophets too literally.
The last characteristic of the prophets to which I shall be able to refer - their anticipation of an ideal future, of a time when the kingdom of God, unmarred by the presence of sin or trouble, will be established upon earth (or in the broader sense of the expression) of the Messianic age. The representations of this ideal future are poetically conceived, and hence vary often in details; but there are few prophets in whose writings, in one form or another, they do not form a characteristic feature. Thus Hosea closes his prophecy with a beautiful picture of Israel penitent, flourishing and spreading like a fruitful vine under the protecting favor of its God. Isaiah, after his impressive description of the “day” of Jehovah, sweeping away from Judah every object of pride and delight, and leaving the city desolate and empty, goes on abruptly to hold out before his hearers a vision of the new glory which is to follow (Chap. 4): “In that day shall the growth of Jehovah be for beauty and for glory, and the fruit of the land for majesty and adornment, unto the escaped of Israel. And it shall come to pass that he that is left in Zion and that remaineth in Jerusalem shall be called holy, even every one that is written down for life in Jerusalem” (Is. 4 :2, 3). The picture is that of a remnant that will survive the judg¬ment, and under changed and brighter aus¬pices form the nucleus of an ideal community in the future. A new glory and ornament will appear, and take the place of that which has been swept away. The very growth of the land, for those that escape, fostered by Jehovah‘s care, will be clad with preternatural splendor. The inhabitants of Zion will realize the ideal character of the nation; every one of the survivors, “written down for life in Jerusalem’ ‘—i.e., inscribed in the reg¬ister of its living citizens - shall be called “holy” (Ex. 19 : 6). By “life” Isaiah means not life hereafter, but life on earth under new conditions; a glorified life freed from sin and trouble. The community is, moreover, not merely purified morally, provision is also made for its continued safety. It is defended by the protecting presence of Jehovah, described, in imagery suggested by the story of the Exodus, as “a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night”; a pavilion, or canopy, spread out over the whole site of Zion, will shelter it both from the sultry heat and from the violent storms to which an Eastern climate is always exposed. This is a single picture; but it is typical of many which appear in Isaiah, as also in other prophets. What the prophets love to depict, after the troubles of the present are over, is the advent of an age in which the unworthy members of a community having been removed, the survivors, purified and regenerate, realize the ideal holiness of the nation, and inspired by feelings of gratitude and devotion, live a life of ideal felicity in their own land.
A frequent but not a constant figure in these ideal pictures of the future is the ideal king, commonly known as the Messiah (i.e., the “anointed one’ ‘—a term based on the expression “Jehovah’s anointed,” often used in the Old Testament of the Israelitish king). David and Solomon had both left brilliant memories behind them; for centuries the monarchy had been the center and pivot of the State; and so the prophets, especially Isaiah, conceived the portrait of an ideal king, who, in contrast to the imperfect rulers of their own day, would realize the highest possibilities of earthly monarchy, sitting on the throne of David, governing Israel with perfect justice and perfect wisdom, and securing for his subjects perfect peace. As Isaiah had drawn the picture of the ideal king, so the author of Isaiah 40 : 66 draws a picture of the personified genius of the nation - Jehovah’s “servant,” as he is termed. Israel wa’s the prophetic nation; it had received in the past the call to be the witness to God upon earth, and the organ and channel of revelation, but it had only imperfectly fulfilled its destiny; and so, upon the basis of the actual but imperfect Israel, the prophet rises to the conception of the ideal Israel, the Israel true to its destiny; and so vivid is the personification that the figure assumes, in his hands, the features and form of an individual who exhibits in their perfection the typical excellences of the nation, and may, therefore, be not unsuitably described as the personified genius of Israel. In virtue of his prophetic office Jehovah’s “servant” has a mission, not to Israel only, but to the world (Is. 49 : 6); in pursuing his course, he meets contumely, persecution, and even death; but being innocent himself, his sufferings are efficacious for the good of others; finally, as the reward for his obedience, amazing greatness, such as even kings will marvel at (Is. 52 : 14) is in store for him afterward. The character is a wonderful one: it is instinct with singular sweetness, sympathy and tenderness; it is drawn by the prophet with great completeness; and it is introduced by him into his discourse with surprising dramatic force.
There is one more feature in the prophets’ outlook into the future to which I must refer, and that is their catholicity. They look forward to the time when the Gentiles will be admitted to the religious privileges of the chosen people. In the striking prophecy with which his second chapter opens, Isaiah poetically imagines the temple hill elevated so that it may be conspicuous afar, and then he pic¬tures the nations streaming to it as to their spiritual metropolis, eager to listen to the divine instruction proceeding from it; and afterward he views in succession Ethiopia, Egypt, Tyre, and even Assyria, doing homage in the future to Israel‘s God. Jehovah‘s servant, of whom I have just spoken, is also com¬missioned to proclaim the truth possest by Israel to the world: he is equipped as a prophet, with God’s spirit resting upon him; and his work is to “bring forth judgment [i.e., religion] to the nations”; to adopt the fine figure of another passage, he is to be a “light of the Gentiles” (Is. 42:1, 6). It is the same prophet who declares that the temple is to be a “house of prayer for all nations” (Is. 56:7).
These ideals form a striking and most characteristic feature in the writings of the prophets, and the question arises, How are they to be interpreted? What is to be said about their fulfillment? A careful comparison of the prophecies between themselves and with history shows that in interpreting them there are certain principles which must be remembered, if we are to avoid error. There is, of course, no question that the two great ideals I have spoken of, the ideal king and the personified genius of the nation, were fulfilled in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. The two ideals which in the Old Testament are always distinct, were in the end fulfilled in union in Him. On the one hand, lIe is the king, the prince of peace, whose rule over the hearts of men is prefigured by Isaiah in his wonderful picture of the just and perfect administration of the shoot out of the stock of Jesse. On the other hand, as teacher, prophet, example, and sacrifice, He exhibited in their completeness the character which had before been imperfectly realized, whether by individual Israelites, or by the nation collectively: He thus corresponded precisely to the figure which I have called the personified genius of the nation, portrayed by the second Isaiah. But even here, if we look carefully, we shall see exemplified some of those principles of interpretation of prophecy to which I have alluded. In the first place, as I have said before, the prophets were preeminently poets; as poets, and especially as Oriental poets, they are endowed with imagination; they project bold ideals; they paint the future in brilliant colors; but we must beware of looking at details too narrowly, or expecting the fulfillment to be too literal. Secondly, they were seldom able to emancipate themselves entirely from the local and temporal limitations of the age in which they lived; and thirdly, they generally believed that the immediate future would see their ideals realized. Now, it is doubtful if any of their ideals have been realized in the precise form in which they themselves pictured them. Christ did not, and does not, sit upon a literal throne of David, or reign in the actual city of Jerusalem; still less did lie, as Micah expressly says that the ideal ruler of Israel would do (Mic. 5:6), ward off the Assyrian when he invaded their territory; when Christ was born the Assyrian empire had long ceased to be. But, in fact, the kingdom of the prophets is in the fulfillment transformed: the glorified earthly kingdom, with a visible center at Zion, has given place to a spiritual “king¬dom of heaven,” with no local center; and spiritual blessings take the place of the ma¬terial benefits to be conferred by the rule of Isaiah’s or Micah’s ideal king.
So, again, it is clear that the prophets greatly foreshorten the future. Under the strain and anxiety of a great national crisis, they idealize the age which is to begin when it is past; they picture it as marked by the reign of goodness and felicity. We have seen one of Isaiah’s visions of this golden future. The great prophet of the Exile pictures in even more dazzling colors the splendor of the restored Jerusalem, the perfections of its in¬habitants; the profound impression that it would make upon the world, the deference and respect which would be paid to it by all nations. But neither of these visions was realized as the prophet saw it. Jerusalem was, indeed, delivered from the Assyrian, and the exiles did return to Palestine; thus far both prophets foretold truly, but no great national reformation, no great national exaltation, followed either one event or the other. The prophets did not realize the complexity of human nature, or the force of evil habit upon it; they did not perceive how gradual all moral change must be; they did not understand what centuries must elapse, and what new and varied influences must be brought to bear upon human character, before the conditions of a perfect social state could be even approximately satisfied.
Their visions are great ones; no more ennobling and inspiring ideals of the possibilities of human life, or of the destinies of human society, are to be found in all literature. But they must be read and interpreted as ideals. The imaginative garb in which the prophets set forth the future must be recognized; it must be recognized that they are largely not predictions of fact, and that in the form in which they are set forth they contain many details which have not been realized in the past, and can not be realized in the future. I say can not be realized in the future, because the circumstances under which alone their realization was possible have passed away arid can not be reproduced. Whatever the future course of history may be, it is contrary to the fundamental teaching of the New Testament to suppose, for instance, that Israel should ever become the priestly caste, with the Gentiles standing toward it in the subordinate position of laity, or that Jerusalem should become the actual and visible religious center of the world, to be visited, week by week, and month by month, by pilgrims from all nations, to observe the Jewish feasts of the Sabbath and the new moon (Is. 59:6; 66:23; cf. Zech. 14:16, 17). But the most catholic of the prophets, are unable entirely to rise above the national and religious limita¬tions of their age, or to avoid conceiving the future under the time-honored forms of their own dispensation.
When, however, due allowance has been made for the imaginative language employed often by the prophets, and for the national and temporal limitations which thus cling to them, their visions of the future are seen to be vivid and true expressions of the real purposes of God toward man. When, to the great majority of those who were to witness it, the return of a few thousand Jews to Palestine must have seemed an event of abso¬lute indifference, the prophet of the Exile affirmed that it was fraught with the world¬wide consequences for the spiritual future of mankind. Again, the event showed that he saw truly. The return to Palestine prevented the Jews from being lost among the nations, as their brethren of the ten tribes had been lost. Israel returned, and resumed its na¬tional life and organization; and so, when the fullness of time had come, the transformation of the old Jewish religion into a form adapted for other nations was found to be possible, and the faith of Christ was diffused among the Gentiles by the agency of the apostles. The consummation to which the prophets had often pointed was thus inaugurated; and the words of the passage which I have chosen for my text, as marking one of the culminating points of Old Testament prophecy, were fulfilled: Jehovah‘s “teaching” had gone forth, and He had made His “judgment” - i.e. His religion - ”to rest for a light of the peoples.”
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