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true meaning of the figurative language of prophecy. History is but another name for the provi: dence of God : and so far as it can be shown to have been the subject of prophecy, its faithful record should be distinctly and carefully compared with the terms of the prediction. For the best possible method of soberly anticipating events, from the language of those prophecies which are still unfulfilled; is to observe the connexion between the language and the event in those which have already found their fulfilment. It is thus, that in the school of experience, we shall make the nearest possible approaches to a right distinction between what is actually literal, what is merely figurative, and what is specifically symbolical, in the inspired language; which distinction is acknowledged, by all who have attended to the subject, to be the grand desideratum of prophetic interpretation.
It is well observed by Mr. Davison, in his Discourses on the Structure, Use, and Inspiration of Prophecy, that “the rational exposition of it requires that we attend to the seasons and circumstances under which it was given, and endeavour to take some measure of it by its adaptation to them. For it was never given to be an insulated phenomenon, nor merely to demonstrate the prescience of its all-wise Author ; but by him it was ingrafted upon the exigencies of times and persons, and made to serve as a light of direction to the attentive observers of it, before the event had set the seal to its truth.” This is of great importance. I will add only one more preliminary reflection, taken from the same cautious and correct writer.a He says, “ A certain acquaintance with the contents of Scripture must be presumed on the part of my hearers; without which I could not expect the general view proposed to be given, to be admitted as a just and faithful one ; nor is it possible, by quotations made on the moment, to supply the materials for an adequate judgment in this case, which materials can be derived only from the knowledge or examination of the chief document itself---the scripture volume. . Nor is this the only instance wherein our satisfaction, and even our means of judging of the truth or use of revelation, are made to depend upon some personal study of it. There is cause to think, that scepticism itself is often no more than a form of very unreasonable enthusiasm, demanding conviction, without the pains of inquiry.”.
The first revealed characteristic, then, of the Jewish people, concerning which I would invite you to search the Scriptures, is, their separation from all the surrounding nations of the earth. This is directly stated concerning them in the words of our text, which form a part of the celebrated prophecy of Balaam. That false diviner was invited by the king of Moab to come and curse the Israelites, as they passed through his territories. God commanded Balaam not to go ; but he, loving the wages of iniquity, tempted God to give him angry
See note A, in the Appendix. ..
leave to take his own course. He was soon, however, forced to feel and acknowledge, that it is God who made, and who controls man's mouth. He could not speak according to his own will, or the will of his master Balak; but a true prophecy was given to him against his will, and to the disappointment of his covetousness. “He took up his parable and said, Balak, the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east; saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel. How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed ? or how shall I defy whom the Lord hath not defied ? For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him : Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations."
This characteristic of separation has belonged to the Jewish people, in a remarkable 'degree, from the very commencement of their history; and a com-parison of the prophecies that it would be so, with the fact, that hitherto it has been so, is the part of the subject now more immediately to be brought before us.
In tracing the sacred history of the multiplication of the human species on the earth, after the deluge, we find three distinct lines of descent mentioned in the tenth chapter of Genesis ; one from each of the sons of Noah :---1, the line of Japheth ; 2, of Ham; 3, of Shem. Then, after the dispersion of the people from Babel, the generations of Shem are again introduced, and carried down to the family
of Terah. Ham and Japheth are lost sight of in the history for a season, and Shem is taken ; all the other descendants of Shem are lost sight of, and Terah is taken; all the other sons of Terah are lost sight of, and Abraham is taken ; and on him and his posterity, the whole attention of the reader is concentrated.
1. This man was the father of the Hebrews. Here therefore we find the origin of the Jewish nation. The descendants of Abraham were constituted into a distinct people by the word of the divine prediction: God said, I will make of thee a great nation. This is the first prophecy relative to the Jewish nation, distinctly as such. The circumstances in which Abraham stood, at the time when this prophecy was given, should be attentively considered. He was a very old man, long married, and without any family: it had ceased also with Sarah his wife to be after the manner of women. This seemed to present an hindrance to the literal interpretation of the prophecy; and if human arguments, grounded upon probability, had been allowed to have much weight with him, he would, in all likelihood, have had recourse to some other interpretation. He might, perhaps, have supposed that the children of his steward, Eliezer of Damascus, who was then his heir presumptive, were, in the figurative language of prophecy, called his own children: or, in other words, that God did. not mean what he said exactly, but something else ; which something else Abraham was to collect from the words of God, in the most reasonable way he could, without being enthusiastic or presumptuous enough to expect impossibilities. We know, however, that the father of the faithful had recourse to no such evasions. To his everlasting praise, it is recorded of him by the apostle Paul, that “ being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body, now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: he staggered not at the promise (or prophecy) of God, through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that what he had promised, (not what Abraham might choose to understand by it, but what he had promised,) he was able also to perform." The friends and household of Abraham might, indeed, have questioned, at the time, the justice of his literal interpretation of the Lord's prophecy; they might have represented to him, in strong colours, those very considerations which the apostle specifies as naturally occurring under the circumstances of his and Sarah’s case; and we cannot imagine any argument by which he could meet such reasonable opposition to his views, except, simply, an appeal to the terms of the prophecy, taken in their obyious sense. “God hath said it, and I believe what he hath said, simply, because he hath said it. The circumstance of difficulty, or even apparent
b Gen. xii. 2.