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$ 7. THE CHARACTER AND NATURE OF PROPHECY.
1. The words prophet and prophecy are used in the Bible in a larger sense than they are commonly with us. We have attachec, in common usage, to the word prophet, the idea simply of one who foretells future events, nooguins from noópnuu to speak before, to foretell. To a correct understanding of the prophetic functions, and of the writings of the prophets, however, it is necessary to bear in remembrance that the office of foretelling future events comprised but a small portion of their public duties. They were the messengers of God to his people and to the world; they were appointed to make known his will; to denounce his judgments; to rebuke the crimes of rulers and people; to instruct in the doctrines of religion; and generally to do whatever was needful in order effectually to promulgate the will of God. The prophet was, therefore, a man who was commissioned to teach and rebuke kings and nations, as well as to predict future events. With the idea of a prophet there is necessarily connected the idea that he spoke not his own thoughts, but that what he uttered was received directly from God in one of the modes in which that will was made known. He was God's embassador to men; and of course was a man who was raised up or designated by God himself. He was not trained for this office, since a man could not be trained for inspiration; though it was a matter of fact that several of the prophets were taken from the “school of the prophets," or from among the “ sons of the prophets." 1 Kings xx. 35. . 2 Kings ii. 3, 5, 7, 15. iv. 1. 38. v. 22. vi. i. Yet the choice from among them of any one to perform the functions of the prophet under divine inspiration, seems to have been incidental, and not in a uniform mode. A large part of the prophets had no connexion with those schools. Those schools were doubtless usually under the direction of some inspired man, and were probably designed to train those educated there for the functions of public teachers, or for the stations of learning under the theocracy; but they could not have been regarded as intended to train for that office which depended wholly on the direct inspiration of God.
The word rendered prophet, x Nabi, is derived from a Naba, not used in Kal, which is probably, according to Gesenius, the same as a Nabăng-the » Ayin being softened into Aleph X-and which means to bo up, to boil forth, as a fountain; hence to pour forth words as they do who speak with fervour of mind, or under divine inspiration. The word, therefore, properly means, to speak under a peculiar fervour, animation, inspiration of mind produced by a divine influence; to speak, either in foretelling future events, or denouncing the judgments of God when the mind was full, and when the excited and agitated spirit of the prophet poured forth words as water is driven from the fountain.
But the word also denotes all the forms or modes in which the prophet communicated the will of God, or discharged the functiona of the prophetic office. Hence it is used to denote, (1) the predicting of future events (see Taylor's Heb. Con. or Cruden); (2) to speak in
the name of God, or as his messenger, and by his authority, Ex. Vs 1. iv. 16; (3) to chant or sing sacred praises to God while under a divine influence-1 Sam. x. 11. xix. 20, 1. Chrcn. xxv. 2, 3—because this was often done by the inspired prophets; (4) to rave, as e. g. to utter the frantic ravings of the prophets of Baal, 1 Kings xviii. 29. 1 Sam. xviii. 10. This latter meaning is in accordance with the customs among the heathen, where the prophet or the prophetess professed to be full of the divine influence, and where that influence was manifested by writhings and contortions of the body, or by a pretended suspension of the powers of conscious agency, and the manifestation of conduct not a little resembling the ravings of delirium. Hence the Greeks applied the word uartis, mantis (from pairoual to be mad, to rave, to be delirious) to the frenzied manner of the soothsayers, prophetic oracles, &c. It is possible that the true prophets, occasionally, under the power of inspiration, exhibited similar agitations and spasmodic affections of the body (comp. Num. xxiv. 4. Ezek. i. 28. Dan. x. 8–10. 1 Sam. xix. 24. Jer. xx. 7), and that this was imitated by the false prophets. The two main ideas in the word prophecy relate. (a) to the prediction of future events, and (b) to declaring the will of God, denouncing vengeance, threatening punishment, reproving the wicked, &c., under the influence of inspiration, or by a divine impulse.
II. In order to obtain a clear idea of the nature of prophecy, it is important to have a correct apprehension of the modes in which God communicated his will to the prophets, or of the manner in which they were influenced, and affected by the prophetic afflatus or inspiration. Of course, all the light which can be obtained on this subject is to be derived from the Scriptures; but the subject is involved still in much obscurity. Perhaps the following will include all the modes in which the will of God was made known to the prophets, or in which they received a knowledge of what they were to communicate to others.
(1.) A direct commission by an audible voice from heaven, spoken in a solemn manner, and in circumstances in which there could be no doubt of the cull. Thus Moses was called by God at the Bush, Ex. iii. 2–6; Isaiah in the temple, Isa. vi. 8, seq.; Samuel by God, 1 Sam. jji. 4, 6, 9, 10; Jeremiah, Jer. i. 4; Ezek. i. 3; and perhaps Joel, i. 1, Amos, i. 1, Jonah, Jon. i. 1, Micah, Mic. i. 1, &c. In these cases, there was no doubt on the mind of the prophet of his call, as it was usually in such circumstances, and probably in such a manner, as to leave the fullest demonstration that it was from God. There is no evidence. however, that the whole message was usually communicated to the mind of the prophet in this manner. Perhaps the first call to the prophetic office was made in this mode, and the nature of the message imparted in the manner that will be specified soon. All that is essential to the correct understanding of this is, that there was a clear designation to the prophetic office.
(2.) The will of God was made known by dreams. Instances of this kind are common in the sacred Scriptures, as one of the earliest modes of communication between God and the soul. The idea seems to be, that the senses were locked up, and that the soul was left free to hold communication with the invisible world, and to receive the ex. pressions of the will of God. The belief that God made known his will in this manner was by no means confined to the Jewish nation. God informed Abimelech in a dream that Sarah was the wife of Abraham, Gen. xx. 3, 6. Joseph was early favoured with prophetic dreams, which were so clear in their signification as to be easily interpretea by his father and brethren, Gen. xxxvii. 4, 5, 6. The butler and baker in Egypt both had dreams predicting their future destiny, Gen. xi. 5; and Plaraoh had a dream of the future condition of Egypt which was interpreted by Joseph, Gen. xli. 7, 25. God spake to Jacob in a dream, Gen. xxxi. 11; and it was in a dream that he made his promise to impart wisdom to Solomon, 1 Kings iii. 5. Nebuchadnezzar had dreams respecting his future destiny, and the kingdoms that should arise after him, Dan. ii. 1,5; and the will of God was made known to Daniel in a dream, Dan. i. 17, vii. 1. God expressly declared that he would make known his will by dreams. Num. xii. 6: “ If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known to him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.” Thus also in Joel il. 28: “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” The false prophets pretended also to have dreams which conveyed to them the will of God. The ancient belief on this subject is expressed in a most sublime manner in the language of Elihu as addressed to Job :
For God speaketh once,
Ch. xxxiii. 14-17.
It is now impossible to determine in what way God thus communicated his will; or how it was known that the thoughts in sleep were communicated by God; or what criterion the prophet or other person had, by which to distinguish these from common dreams. The certainty that they were from God is demonstrated by the fact that the event was accurately fulfilled, as in the case of Joseph, of Pharaoh, ot Nebuchadnezzar, of Daniel. There is no instance in which the will of God seems to have been communicated to Isaiah in this manner; and it is not needful to my purpose to pursue this part of the inquiry any further. The mode in which the will of God was made known to Isaiah was mainly if not entirely by risions, ch. i. 1; and that mode will demand a more full and distinct examination. It may just be remarked here, that no man can demonstrate that God could not convey his will to man in the visions of the night or in dreams; or that he could not then have access to the soul, and give to the mind itself some certain indications by which it might be known that the communication was from him. It is possible that the mode of communicating
the will of God by the dream 01317—hhălom-did not differ essenliails from the mode of the rision—,1717—hhdzon—by causing a vision of the subject as in a landscape to pass before the mind.
(3.) The prophets were brought under such an influence by the divine Spirit as to overpower them, and while in this state the will of God was made known to them. In what way his will was then communicated we may not be able to determine. I speak only of an overpowering influence which gave them such views of God and truth as to weaken their animal frame, and as, in some instances, to produce a state of ecstasy, or a trance, in which the truth was made to pass before them by some direct communication which God had with their minds. In these cases, in some instances at least, the communication with the external world was closed, and God communicated his will immediately and directly. Reference to this is not unfrequently made in the Scriptures, where there was such a powerful divine inluence as to prostrate the frame, and take away the strength of the body. Thus in Ezek. i. 3, “ The hand of JEHOVAH was then upon me.” Cornelius à Lapide remarks on this passage, that the prophets took their station by the side of a river, that in the stillness and delightful scenery around them, they might, through the soft pleasing murmur of the waters, be refreshed, enlivened, and prepared for the divine ecstasies." Bib. Repository, vol. ii. p. 141. It is more natural, however, to suppose that they did not court or solicit these influences, but that they came upon them by surprise. Jer. xx. 7, “Lord, thou hast persuaded me, and I have suffered myself to be persuaded; thou hast been too strong for me, and hast prevailed." This influence is referred to in 1 Sam. xix. 20, " The Spirit of God was upon the messengers [of Saul] and they also prophesied.” In 1 Sam. xix. 24, the power of the prophetic impulse is indicated by the fact that it led Saul to strip off his clothes, probably his robes, and to prophesy in the same manner as Samuel; and in the statement that "he lay dowr naked all that day, and all that night," under the prophetic impulse.
The effect of this strong prophetic impulse on the body and the mind is indicated in the following passages. It is said of Abraham in Gen. xv. 12, when he had a vision, “ Behold terror and great darkness came upon him." It was evinced in a remarkable manner in the case of Baiaam, Num. xxiv. 4, 16. It is said of him, that he saw the vision of the Almighty. falling into a trance (LXX. “ who saw the vision of God év ünvo, in sleep,') but having his eyes open.” He was probably overcome, and fell to the ground, and yet his eyes were open, and in that state he uttered the predictions respecting Israel. The same effect is indicated in regard to John, Rev. i. 17, “ And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead.” So of Ezekiel (ch. i. 28), “And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spoke." And in a more remarkable manner in the case of Daniel (ch. x. 8), “ Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there re mained no strength in me; for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength." And again (cha. viii. 27), "And I Daniel sainted, and was sick certain days." That there was a remarkable agitation of the body, or suspension of its regular functions so as to resemble in some degree the ravings of delirium, is apparent from 2 Kings ix. 11. Jer. xxix. 26. The nature of the strong prophetic impulse is perhaps indicated also in the expression in 2 Pe: i. 21, “Holy men of God spake as they were moved-(gevóuevorborne along, urged, impelled), by the Holy Ghost.”
That it was supposed that the prophetic impulse produced such an effect on the body as is here represented, is well known to have been the opinion of the heathens. The opinion which was held by them on the subject is stated in a beautiful manner by Plato: “ While the mind sheds its light around us, pouring into our souls a meridian splendour, we being in possession of ourselves, are not under a supernatural influence. But after the sun has gone down, as might be expected, an ecstasy, a divine influence, and a frenzy falls upon us. For when the divine light shines, the human goes down; but when the former goes down, the latter rises and comes forth. This is what ordinarily happens in prophecy. Our own mind retires on the advent of the divine Spirit; but after the latter has departed, the former again returns." Quoted in Bib. Repos. vol. ii. p. 163. In the common idea of the Pythia, however, there was the conception of derangement, or raving madness. Thus Lucan:
- Bacchatur demens aliena per antrum
Pharsalia, V. “She madly raves through the cavern, impelled by another's mind with the fillet of the god, and the garland of Phæbus, shaken from her erected hair : she whirls around through the void space of the temple, turning her face in every direction; she scatters the tripods which come in her way, and is agitated with violent commotion, because she is under thy angry influence, O Apollo."
Virgil has given a similar description of a demoniacal possession of this kind :
-Ait: Deus, ecce, Deus! cui talia fanti
In more than human sounds she spoke inspired. Pilt.