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VINE'S TOPICAL COMMENTARY PROPHECY
By W. E. Vine C. F. HOGG
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 W. E. Vine Copyright Ltd. of Bath, England
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSECTION 1
PROPHECY Prophetic Utterances
This first article fitly introduces many key topics about prophecy that will be very beneficial to the reader in better understanding the nature and role of prophecy. The prophets did not obtain a general sense of what they were to say, mastering their subject and expressing it at their will, like a modern-day preacher; their statements were so under divine influence that the forms of expression which their communications took were the outcome of the action of the Holy Ghost. These messages fit into two basic categories: foretelling ("the things that will take place") and forth telling ("the things one needs to change right now").
The mission of the prophet was to speak in the name of the Lord. The message consisted in uttering the mind of God. "With the idea of a prophet there was this necessarily attached, that he spoke, not his own words, but those which he had directly received" (Gesenius' Hebrew Lexicon). Thus when Moses argued his inability to reason with Pharaoh God said, "Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet" (Exod. 7:1), that is to say, Aaron would utter the word of God on Moses' behalf. The nature of prophecy in this respect applies to all the prophets of Scripture whether in the period covered by the Old Testament or in apostolic times.
"No prophecy is of private interpretation." This is explained, firstly, by the statement that "no prophecy ever came by the will of man." That prophecy was not of private interpretation means, then, that it did not originate in the will of the prophet. On the contrary, secondly, it was given by God; "men spake from God." Then as to the divine action in and through the prophets, "they were moved (lit., borne along) by the Holy Ghost." Accordingly, not only did prophecy not originate in the will of the prophet, but neither did he put his own construction upon the message he was to communicate. Both origin and control lay with God. The prophets did not obtain a general sense of what they were to say, mastering their subject and expressing it at their will; their statements were so under divine influence that the forms of expression which their communications took were the outcome of the action of the Holy Ghost.
Exemplified in Balaam's Case
In this connection the case of Balaam is instructive. Despite his desires to the contrary, the Lord compelled him to declare messages exactly as he gave them. Balaam himself said, "I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more" (Num. 22:18), and again, later, "Have I now any power at all to speak anything? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak" (22:38). On the next occasion it says, "The Lord put a word in Balaam's mouth, and said, ..." (23:5). Again, replying to Balak's remonstrance he says, "Must I not take heed to speak that which the Lord putteth in my mouth?" (23:12). The next record is that "the Lord put a word in his mouth, and said, ..." (v. 16). Finally, when Balak's anger is kindled because of his utterances, Balaam says, "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; but what the Lord speaketh that will I speak" (24:13).
All this shows clearly that the Spirit of God determined, in the case of a prophet, not only the form of his prophecy but the very words. Even if Scripture were silent on the point it would be a perfectly reasonable conclusion that what was thus true of the spoken prophecy was likewise true of the written Scriptures. The statement of the apostle Peter quoted above is authoritative on the subject.
The language of their messages was thus inspired, and if this was true in the case of the spoken words, it was at least equally possible in the case of written words. That it was so with the former is indicated in several passages of Scripture. For instance, concerning the prophesying of the seventy elders with Moses, the narrative states that "When the Spirit rested upon them they prophesied, but they did so no more" (Num. 11:25). That is, the Spirit was speaking by them. They were not simply interpreting a divine message imparted to them. While they were under the power of the Spirit their words were not their own as on ordinary occasions; they were the words of God. Their utterances were not the outcome of their own volition. Not that the prophets were carried into an ecstatic condition of mind, rendering them incapable of entering intelligently into the meaning of their words. They did not speak apart from their understanding though they did not comprehend fully the purpose or complete application of their message.
As to predictive prophecy, the accuracy of Bible predictions affords a striking evidence of its divine inspiration. Many attempts have been made to eliminate as far as possible this predictive element. The whole character of these predictions, however, and especially in regard to Messianic prophecy, presents such "marvelous unity, self-consistency and comprehensiveness" as bears witness against all such efforts. The words of Professor Flint in this respect are worth quoting: "This broad, general fact-this vast and strange correlation of correspondence-cannot be in the least affected by questions of the 'higher criticism' as to the authorship, time, origination and mode of composition of the various books of the Old Testament.... Answer all these questions in the way which the boldest and most rationalistic criticism of Germany or Holland ventures to suggest; accept in every properly critical question the conclusions of the most advanced critical schools, and what will follow? Merely this, that those who do so will have, in various respects, to alter their views as to the manner and method in which the ideal of the Messiah's person, work, and kingdom was, point by point, line by line, evolved and elaborated. There will not, however, be a single Messianic word or sentence, not a single line or feature the fewer in the Old Testament."
In the divine instructions to Israel concerning the prophets who were to be raised up for them, God said, "I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto My words which he shall speak in My name, I will require it of him. But the prophet, which shall speak a word presumptuously in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die" (Deut. 18:18-20). It will be observed that the Lord speaks of "the words" not as so many statements, but as the separate words which constitute the statements. The utterances were to be given word for word. Obviously a prophet had the power of uttering fresh communications carrying with them the authority of divine law, and which, if put on record, would become part of Holy Scripture. The authority of the written Word is unquestionable with Israel. It was always accepted among the Jews that the appeal to that Word was final.
A striking passage in Jeremiah which illustrates the divine inspiration of the words of Scripture is the narrative which tells of the roll of the book which the prophet was commissioned to write. "This word came unto Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah even unto this day." The prophet uses Baruch as his amanuensis: "Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord, which he had spoken unto him, upon a roll of a book. And Jeremiah commanded Baruch, saying, 'I am shut up; I cannot go unto the house of the Lord: therefore go thou, and read in the roll, which thou hast written from my mouth, the words of the Lord in the ears of the people ...' And Baruch, the son of Neriah, did according to all that Jeremiah the prophet commanded him, reading in the book the words of the Lord in the Lord's house" (Jer. 36:2-8).
Nothing could be clearer than this, as confirmation of what has been said above, that while the faculties and intelligent cooperation of a prophet were not ruled out, yet the words he was to record were arranged for by God. In confirmation of this, in verse 10, what has been spoken of as "the words of the Lord" are said to be "the words of Jeremiah." And, further still, there follows in the same chapter the statement by Baruch as to how the writing was produced. In reply to the question asked by the princes, "How didst thou write all these words at his mouth?" he says, "He pronounced all these words unto me with his mouth, and I wrote them with ink in the book" (vv. 17, 18). Thus emphasis throughout the whole passage is laid upon the words. Moreover, this does not refer to what the prophet had just written, it consists of all the prophecies uttered by him up to that time concerning Israel and other nations (see v. 3).
This is substantiated by what Jeremiah says at the very beginning of his prophecies. In stating how the word of the Lord came to him at the first, making known to him that he was to be His messenger, he states that the Lord said to him: "Behold, I have put My words in thy mouth; see, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, and to destroy and to overthrow; to build, and to plant" (chap. 1:9, 10).
After the king had burned the roll, "the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, Take again another roll, and write in it all the former words that were in the first roll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah hath burned.... Then took Jeremiah another roll, and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah; who wrote therein from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire, and there were added besides unto them many like words" (vv. 27-32). Clearly there was to be no deviation in phraseology from the former record; the records of the burnt roll were to be repeated verbatim, though other words were added. The Spirit of God who had been the author in the first case came to the prophet's aid in the rewriting. In view of Peter's testimony that "men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit," we are safe in taking this example of Jeremiah's case as illustrative of the other writings of Scripture.
Again, when God is speaking to the prophet Zechariah concerning his former messages to the nations He speaks of the Law and "the words which the Lord of Hosts had sent by His Spirit by the hand of the former prophets" (Zech. 7:12). Thus the messages of the prophets were verbally inspired. Compare with this the exhortation of the apostle Peter that his readers "should remember the words which were spoken of before by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles" (2 Pet. 3:2). Jude similarly lays stress upon the words spoken by the apostles (Jude 17).
Chapter TwoSECTION 2
PROPHECIES OF MESSIAH
Isaiah 49-57: Prophecies, Promises, Warnings
In this large section of Isaiah, we see nine total prophecies given and delineated. In chapter 49, we see the first subject: Jehovah as Servant. This chapter to the end of chapter 57 consists of nine prophecies.
There is a renewed association of Israel as the servant of Jehovah with Christ in the same relation. While Israel is directly addressed in this way in verse 3 in its restored condition, yet in verses 5 and 6 the Servant of the Lord is marked as in distinction from the nation itself, and the statement there, "that thou shouldest be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel," shows that Christ Himself is in view and not here the remnant of the nation. Moreover, verse 6 is quoted in Acts 13:47 as directly applying to Christ, though there in connection with the Gospel. All this is entirely appropriate, inasmuch as Israel could not in its restored state act as the Lord's servant in the earth apart from identification with Christ Himself as their Messiah on the ground of His sacrificial and redemptive work at Calvary.
Since the evangelization of the Gentiles is in view, the message goes forth, "Listen, O isles, unto Me; and hearken, ye peoples, from far" (v. 1), that is, the far distant nations (cp. 42:4, 10:12 and see 5:26). The twofold statement, "the Lord hath called Me from the womb; from the bowels of My mother hath He made mention of My Name," is specifically true of the Lord Jesus (see Matt. 1:21). Moreover, it is noticeable that everywhere else where Israel is thus spoken of, the phrase "from the womb" is used without the addition of the word "mother" (51:2 is not an exception).
The Speaker, as the Servant of Jehovah, now applies a simile and a metaphor to Himself as His Agent in this relationship. The Lord has made His mouth "like a sharp sword," hid in the shadow of His hand, just as a sword is kept in the sheath, ready for use at the appointed time for the purpose of overcoming the enemy. He has made Him "a polished shaft," keeping Him close in His quiver, so that in due time He may pierce the heart. That Christ Himself is in view and that the time is yet future is indicated in chapter 11:4 and 30:30-33 (cp. Hos. 6:5 and Heb. 4:12). The latter passage, together with these, and Revelation 1:16, show how closely identified are the personal word and the spoken word (see also Joel 2:10, 11; 3:16; 2 Thess. 2:8; Ps. 2:5).
In verse 3 Christ identifies Himself with His people Israel, for it is in close association with Him that the restored nation is to become His servant, and it is in Israel that the Lord will yet be glorified on the earth.
In this relationship, and in view of the bitter experiences which will have preceded that time of glory, verse 4 strikes a note almost of despondency, though it is only of a momentary character, and in a certain way it may be referred to Christ in the time of His suffering and rejection by Israel: "But [R.V.] I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent My strength for nought and vanity [i.e., to no purpose]"; but this is not an utterance of unbelief or despair, for immediately the heart expresses the assurance of the truth, "yet surely My judgment is with the Lord, and My recompense with My God."
The service we seek to render often seems to produce little or no result. In addition to ineffectiveness there come circumstances of extreme difficulty and trial, which tend to weigh down the heart. And if Satan could accomplish his purpose, he would use all this to cast us down into despair and if possible cause us to cease from the work and turn back through perplexity and distress. Here then is a passage designed by the Spirit of God to give us to consider all such circumstances in the light of God's all-wise counsels, so that while in the midst of conflict we may be encouraged to share His vision and know that our judgment is with Him, and that with Him is the recompense for our seemingly fruitless work.
The language of verse 5 and what follows is clearly that of the Messiah, who here bears testimony to the object for which He is the Servant of Jehovah, namely, "to bring Jacob again to Him, and that Israel be gathered unto Him" (R.V.). It is Christ alone who will do this, and a still wider purpose is in view in verse 6.
The parenthesis between (note the R.V. brackets) expresses the delight of the Lord Jesus in the Father's approval. His statement "I am honorable in the eyes of the Lord, and My God is become My strength" is introduced by the word "for," which expresses the fact that His work in the restoration of Israel is especially pleasing to the Father. It is clear, too, that His resurrection is in view. In the darkness of Calvary He said "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" He was "crucified through weakness." Now He declares that His God has become His strength. This is to be taken with chapter 52:13, which predicts that the Lord's Servant would be "exalted and extolled and be very high."
The "Yea" at the beginning of verse 6 introduces an extension of the scope of Christ's work of salvation, as well as a confirmation of what has just been stated as to the salvation of Israel. The delighted heart of Jehovah looks on to the worldwide fullness of blessing: "It is too light a thing [or rather it is only a small thing] that Thou shouldest be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give Thee [more expressive than "make Thee"] for a light to the Gentiles, that Thou mayest be My salvation unto the end of the earth."
Excerpted from VINE'S TOPICAL COMMENTARY PROPHECY by W. E. Vine C. F. HOGG Copyright © 2010 by W. E. Vine Copyright Ltd. of Bath, England. Excerpted by permission.
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