|Topical Bible Study||April 1953|
Know Your Bible—Part IV
Prophecies of the Old Testament
FORECASTS of coming events are to be found in practically every book of the Bible. They are all more or less historical, which is true of the books we will discuss in this article—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. However, the major portion of these books (with the exception of Lamentations) is prophetic in nature, forecasting the overthrow of the national polity of Israel in 606 B.C.; the First and Second advents of the Messiah; and the rich blessings of peace, health, and life which will be assured to all people as a result of the establishment of the Messianic kingdom.
Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, all of whom were kings of Judah. (Isa. 1:1) In the opening chapter he forecasts the downfall of the nation because of its sin. “Ah sinful nation,” he writes, “a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.”—vs. 4
In colorful and forceful language, Isaiah describes the coming desolation of the nation and of the land saying, “Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.”—vss. 7,8
The nation of Israel was to be overthrown and taken into captivity because of its sins, but even in forecasting this, Isaiah reveals that the mercy of the Lord would be extended to the nation if they repented and turned from their evil ways. “Wash you,” writes the prophet, “make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”—vss.16,17
Isaiah, speaking for the Lord, then extends an invitation. “Come” and “reason together, … though your sins be as scarlet, … they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”—vss. 18-20
Isaiah’s prophecy is concerned with much more than the punishments of the Lord which were soon to be visited upon that one small nation in his day. Intertwined with references to the calamities soon to be experienced by his people, the prophet forecasts major events in the outworking of the Divine plan, some of which were thousands of years in the future from his day.
For example, in chapter one he tells of the punishments which were soon to come upon Israel; then, as if to give assurance that this did not mean that God’s purpose in the earth had failed, in the next chapter he prophesies the ultimate and glorious triumph of the Divine plan and of righteousness saying:
“It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain [kingdom] of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”—Isa. 2:2-4
The Kingdom and Restoration Theme
The prophecy just quoted is a remarkable one. Its beauty and forcefulness are enhanced when we keep in mind, as we pointed out in the opening article of this series, that like all the other prophecies of the Bible it is related to the one great theme which the Lord is presenting—human redemption and restoration through the agencies of the Messianic kingdom. Seen in this light, the ‘last days’ here referred to are simply the closing days of the reign of sin and death, and the time when the Lord intervenes in the affairs of men through the setting up of his long-promised kingdom.
In the prophecy of Isaiah, there is much said about Messiah’s kingdom and the preparatory work of the Lord leading up to its full establishment. In chapter 9, verses 6 and 7, is a prophecy of the birth of the One who was to be the king in that kingdom. It reads, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end. … The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”
Describing further the glorious qualifications of this coming judge and king of earth, Isaiah writes:
“The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth.”—Isa. 11:2-4
Depicting the life-giving blessings of Messiah’s kingdom, Isaiah writes:
“The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. … And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”—Isa. 35:5,6,10
The Death of Jesus
Isaiah foretold the death of Jesus as well as his birth and the glories of his kingdom. Jesus’ death was a necessary part of the Divine plan in order that the dying human race might be redeemed from death. Jesus took the sinner’s place in death. This is the burden of Isaiah’s prophecy as recorded in chapter 53, from which we quote:
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: … Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. … He made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; … It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, … and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.”—vss. 3-11
The ‘pleasure’ of the Lord referred to in this passage is the Divine purpose, as stated to Abraham, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 22:18) It is through the death of Jesus as the Redeemer that these promised blessings of life will be made available to the people, and that time will be during the thousand years of his kingdom.
Jesus was “cut off out of the land of the living,” and “who shall declare his generation?” writes the prophet. (Isa. 53:8) Nevertheless ‘he shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied.’ (vs. 11) This will be during the thousand years of his reign, for then the entire human race will be awakened from the sleep of death and given an opportunity to secure everlasting life through Jesus. All who accept will be his ‘seed,’ his children, for he will be their father, or life-giver.
In addition to its many prophecies and promises pertaining to the Divine arrangements for the ultimate restoration of the human race to harmony with God and to life, the Book of Isaiah also contains comforting assurances of God’s protecting care over his servants at the present time. One of these reads, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: … Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.”—Isa. 26:3,4
The Book of Jeremiah
The Book of Jeremiah is the next in the Old Testament collection of inspired writings. It takes its name from the prophet who wrote it. All the prophets were used by the Lord in addressing messages directly to the nation of Israel, reprimanding the people for their sins, and forecasting punishments if they did not repent and reform. There is much in the Book of Jeremiah along this line.
This prophet served Israel just before its government was overthrown and the people taken captive to Babylon. He forecast this tragedy as well as other calamities which were to come upon the nation. Because of the pessimistic nature of much that he wrote, Jeremiah is sometimes referred to as the ‘prophet of doom.’ The name Jeremiah signifies ‘one appointed by the Lord,’ and the Lord’s commission to him is recorded in the first chapter of the book, a portion of which reads:
“The Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.”—vss. 9,10
Jeremiah himself did not do any pulling down or destroying of the nations. Neither did he ‘build’ or ‘plant.’ The reference is to his commission to proclaim the word of the Lord concerning these events, and this he faithfully did. As the commission given to him indicates, his prophecies are not entirely those of doom, for he also foretold restoration, both for Israel and for all mankind.
The nation of Israel was to be taken into captivity to Babylon, and later restored to Palestine. Jeremiah prophesied that subsequent to this the nation would go into a much worse captivity, that the people would be scattered among all nations. But this dispersion would also end, the prophet points out, and the people gathered from among all nations and restored to the promised land. (Jer. 16:12-18) The restoration feature of this prophecy is now being fulfilled.
In chapter 31, Jeremiah presents a more comprehensive prophecy of restoration; one which indicates a complete change in human experience in relation to the laws of God. He declares that a time is coming when it shall no more be said, “The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.”—vss. 29,30
What a drastic change this will mean! In the larger vista of human experience it was Adam who ate the ‘sour grape’ of sin, and as a result the entire human race was plunged into death. But, as Jeremiah points out, this is to be changed. A time is coming when no one will die except for his own willful transgression of Divine law.
As we have seen, the Prophet Isaiah points out to us that the transgressions of the human race were laid upon Jesus. He died for the sins of the world. This is why, when the Lord’s due time comes, every individual member of the human family will be given an opportunity to demonstrate his own desire to obey the law of God, and those who do obey shall live.
Jeremiah mentions a prophecy concerning a “new covenant” which the Lord promises to make “with the house of Judah.” (vs. 31) Other prophecies reveal that eventually Gentiles will also be brought into this ‘covenant.’ It is called a ‘new’ covenant because it will take the place of the old Law Covenant which was made with Israel at Mt. Sinai.
Concerning this New Covenant the Lord says, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; … And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord.”—vss. 33,34
Next comes the Book of Lamentations. This also was written by the Prophet Jeremiah. The book as a whole is what its name implies; that is, a lamenting. The background of the deep sorrow which the writer so feelingly describes was the overthrow of the Jewish kingdom and the fact that the nation had been taken into captivity in Babylon. The book is written by one who speaks with the vividness and intensity of an eyewitness of the misery which he bewails.
Jeremiah was not only a patriot weeping over the ruin of the country; he was also a prophet who had seen all this coming, and had foretold it as inevitable unless the people repented of their sin and turned to the Lord to serve him with their whole heart. While most of the book is an expression of unrestrained grief, the writer does not complain against God, but gives recognition to the fact that the nation was merely experiencing its just punishment for sins.
Speaking representatively for the whole nation, Jeremiah says, “The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandment: hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity.”—Lam. 1:18
Smarting under the crushing blows of just retribution which had come upon the people, Jeremiah nevertheless could see evidences of the Lord’s mercy, so he wrote, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:22,23) Jeremiah understood from his own prophecy that the nation was not to perish completely in Babylon; that there was to be a returning to their own land.
In his deep sorrow, the prophet maintained his trust in the Lord, and recognized that in him was his only source of hope, so he wrote, “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”—vss. 24-26
This is an expression of Jeremiah’s own confidence in the Lord, that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. His words are also an illustration of the manner in which the personal experiences of the writers of the Bible call forth beautiful expressions of devotion which, through the ages, have been rich sources of blessing to all who have put their trust in the Lord and have sought to know and to do his will.
The Book of Ezekiel
The Prophet Ezekiel, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, was one of the so-called major prophets, and wrote the book which bears his name. Chapters 1 to 24 are concerned with the destruction of Jerusalem. Chapters 25 to 32 are prophetic of the destruction of eight foreign nations—Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyrus, Sidon, Assyria, and Egypt. The remainder of the book—chapters 33 to 48—is somewhat more comforting in nature, especially in that these chapters forecast the final deliverance of Israel from her enemies and the restoration of the people to covenant relationship with God.
While a great portion of the prophecies of the book had their fulfillment in the ancient past in the experiences of Israel and the Gentile nations with which they were surrounded, Ezekiel records a number of remarkable prophecies of events yet to occur—events associated with the establishment of the kingdom of Christ and his thousand-year reign for the blessing of all the families of the earth.
All of God’s holy prophets were outspoken in their upbraiding of Israel for her sins, and Ezekiel was no exception. In chapter 16 there is a notable example of this, yet withal, a promise of blessings in the resurrection despite the scarlet nature of the people’s sins. This particular oration begins with verse 44.
Here the prophet refers to Israel as a “mother,” having “daughters,” and to certain heathen nations notorious for their wickedness as her “sisters,” who also had daughters. He names Samaria and Sodom, cities which had been destroyed because of their wickedness. Then Ezekiel speaks of the time when all these will return to their “former estate,” including Israel.—vss. 44-55
He thus projects the account far into the future from his day, even to the time of the resurrection of the dead, for it is this that is referred to as a returning to their ‘former estate.’ When that takes place, the prophet points out, the Israelites whom he was addressing—and the whole nation, as a matter of fact—will be ashamed, even more ashamed than the people of those wicked Gentile cities who were so notoriously corrupt.—vss. 54-59
Ezekiel prophesies that the Israelites will then be brought into covenant relationship with the Lord, and that the people of Sodom and Samaria will be brought into that same covenant—that these ‘sisters’ will then be given unto them for ‘daughters.’ (vss. 60-63) It was this and other promises of the Old Testament that gave Jesus the authority for saying that it would be “more tolerable” for Sodom in the day of judgment than for the Israelites who rejected him and his message.—Matt. 10:15
This wonderful prophecy of the future restitution of the Sodomites is only an incidental part of the Book of Ezekiel, used by the prophet to emphasize the great sin of Israel, but it helps to keep before the student this hope-inspiring theme of redemption and restoration which pervades the Bible from beginning to end. To lose sight of this great theme would leave the Bible not much more than a grouping of unrelated writings of ancient poets and religious philosophers.
Zedekiah was the last of the Jewish kings to rule over the nation. He was overthrown and taken captive to Babylon. Ezekiel speaks of this overthrow, and identifies its meaning, saying:
“Thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, Thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him.”—Ezek. 21:25-27
An interesting phrase in this prophecy is, ‘until he come whose right it is.’ This is a reference to the coming and enthronement of Jesus as the rightful king of Israel and of the whole world. God ruled the one little nation of Israel through her successive kings, Zedekiah being the last. Ezekiel is telling us that ‘it shall be no more’; that is, God was not to rule again until the time came for him to reign through Jesus.
This has proved true. The Jewish people, after seventy years of captivity in Babylon, were permitted to return to their own country, but they did not regain their national independence—they never again had a king.
God permitted a certain succession of Gentile nations to police the world, so to speak, during this interim, beginning with Babylon.
Chapters 36 through 39 are a remarkable setting forth of events relating to the regathering of Israel in these last days. Chapter 36 tells of God’s purpose to restore his people to their land, not because they merited such favor, but for his own name’s sake. Chapter 37 describes the reviving of the national hopes of the Jews, likening their former status to a valley of dry bones.
These “bones” come together, are covered with flesh, and finally receive life. Much of this has already been fulfilled in the revival of Israel’s hopes, and their organization as a new State—flesh covering the bones. In due time they will receive life through the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon them.
Chapters 38 and 39 reveal, however, that before this occurs there is to be a vicious attack upon regathered Israel from aggressor forces out of the “north.” (Ezek. 38:15) This, as the prophecy shows, is after Israel is regathered in the land of promise.
The closing verses of chapter 38 and on into 39, reveal that this attack from the north will be repelled, and the aggressors destroyed, not by the Israeli army, but by Divine intervention. This will open the eyes of Gentile nations, as well as the eyes of the Israelites, to behold the glory of the Lord. It will be from this time forward that the kingdom of Christ will take a dominant role in the affairs of the nations, beginning with Israel.Go to Part V