Israel - It's Past, Present and Future - Dr. H.M. Ohmann (1928-2006)
7. PROPHECY REGARDING ISRAEL'S FUTURE: MOSES, JOEL, AMOS< TO THE MAIN INDEX >
We shall learn now what O.T. Prophecy tells us about the future of Israel. At the same time we'll have the opportunity to make references to the viewpoints of Premillennialism and Dispensationalism, as outlined in the previous articles. For the texts we are going to discuss are put in our way by, among others, the authors in those circles in their efforts to defend their standpoint. On the other hand, the present writer considers them to be valuable instances in Holy Scripture with regard to the view that we have to take. We shall keep in mind that in O.T. Prophecy judgment and restoration always go together.
For the prophecy concerned, we can go further back than the time of the prophets whose writings are preserved in the Bible, those who successively appear in the time of the kings. Prophecy about Israel's future we meet already in Deuteronomy. Maybe some readers are surprised to hear this. Was the exile already prophesied in the book of Deuteronomy? Some 800 years before it became fact? Is that possible?
Yes, indeed, I answer. And first I point to Deut. 4:27-31, where Exile and Restoration are predicted as if it were something to be inferred from an accepted law of nature; anyway, a thing to be expected. The time will come that the LORD will scatter his people among the nations, "andyou will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you." Worst of all, however, is that Israel is going to serve the idols out there. But didn't we read in vs. 25 that, by making a graven image in the form of anything, they already acted corruptly? So, does it make so much difference whether they are in their homeland or somewhere abroad? Sure, it does. For what they did on their own accord while still in Palesatine, becomes a must in Assyria or Babel. They are compelled by their enemies. Moreover, they themselves may have their doubts, e.g.: What is the use of serving the LORD who had suffered them to be led into captivity? And since peoples in those times were used to practising religion in some form or other, they went the heathen way. However, it was all but satisfactory. How empty it was! Israel felt it deeply. In this way the LORD made
his punishment felt. Not because the LORD has a pleasure in the blow his people suffers, but in order that they might seek Him. And behold, that is what will happen, As if it were bound to happen! In vs. 29 we are assured of that. In their misery they shall remember Him. They shall seek and find. The LORD lets Himself be found by them. In the misery He is close by. Perhaps someone wonders: Is it that easy? It should be borne in mind that the LORD does so for His name's sake. Of His own accord. And we hear Yahweh impress the conditions upon the people: "If you search after Him with all your heart and all your soul."
However, when they are in tribulation, and all these things come upon them in the latter days, and they return to the LORD their God and obey His voice - on that condition then the LORD their God will show Himself a Merciful God. He will not fail them or destroy them but is ready to come to the rescue. Why? On account of that repentance? No, but on account of the covenant with their fathers which He swore to them.
In this passage of Deuteronomy we find outlined long ahead of the facts what will be said by the prophets centuries later. In general lines it is the same; the same basic pattern. Israel may learn that Yahweh's plan will not come to naught.
When you ask me in which time this prophecy was fulfilled, I can point to the exile of the ten tribes in 722 B.C. and of the two tribes in 586 B.C., with this reservation that not each and everyone did come back. I mean, the majority of the ten tribes and a minority of the two tribes did not return. Taking into account what was to happen, we see that it was but a remnant that returned. Not only because of circumstances - which may in part hold good for the ten tribes, but also in the case of the two tribes so many have themselves to blame for it, for preferring a stay in Babel to a taking advantage of the opportunity given in the proclamation of Cyrus.
As for the question whether this prophecy applies to Israel after the exile and to the New Testament era, Prof. G. Ch. Aalders answers in the negative. Only the two mentioned captivities are meant, he says. Prof. Holwerda thinks it is applicable, relevant, to the other exile, after 70 or 135 A.D. as well. I can agree with the latter, as far as it is a return to the LORD rather than to the land that is decisive. In the verses 30 and 31 I do not read of the land in so many words. I do not deny that it may be implied, but it is not the first thing that matters.
Prof. J.F. Walvoord, presenting the contrary view, stresses this point: "Important in this promise of restoration is the first reference to a time of special tribulation in the latter days which will be related to their return to their ancient land. This seems to be a reference to events which are yet future, connected with God's dealings with Israel in the time of trouble preceding the millennial kingdom."
In Deut. 28:62-67 we hear Moses speak in the same vein. Again a return to the land is not mentioned in so many words there. But we do read of it in the first verses of Deut. 30: "And the LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, that you may possess it." Again I ask: To which event does it refer? In my opinion, to the Babylonian exile in the first place. Why so? Well, since the people of Israel is before the gates of the promised land now, about to enter the inheritance, in all likelihood they have understood Moses' words of blessing and curse, of exile and return, as applying to this very land. That is what was within the scope of their imaginative faculty then. We should be aware of that in explaining the Old Testament as often as it speaks of the future: With what ears did the first addresses listen to the Word?
Prof. Walvoord can partly agree with me. He writes: "The second dispersion is the subject of prophecy by Moses in Deuteronomy 28: 62-65 and is mentioned in Deut. 30: 1-3." I for one do not like his speaking of a second dispersion, however. In this manner of speaking it is implied that there had been a dispersion ahead of it and in the framework of Premilleniailism the going down of father Jacob must have been meant by it. However, that was not a dispersion at all, but rather a following of God's call. Prof. Walvoord sees a still greater prospect held out here when he writes on pages 73-74: "The third and final dispersion began in A.D. 70 ... From this dispersion, Israel has begun to return in the twentieth century, as witnessed in the establishment of the nation Israel. Two million of these people are now established in their ancient land. The present regathering being witnessed by our generation is the largest movement of the people of Israel since the days of Moses, and may be understood to be the beginning of that which will be completed subsequent to the second coming of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom on earth ... This regathering is connected with the return of Christ mentioned in Deuteronomy 30..3 and involves the restoration and regathering of all the children of Israel scattered over the face of the earth including righteous Israelites who have died and gone to heaven. As stated in Deut. 30:4: 'if any of thine outcasts be in the uttermost parts of heaven, from thence will Jehovah thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee'."
Perhaps you are astonished at such an exegesis, which deems the being taken up in heaven of those who have passed away and the second coming of Christ to be spoken of here. So am I. Are we to read such things in our text? Suffice it to quote D. Allis (page 313): "The words 'I will, return and gather you' (Deut 30:3) are treated as an express prediction of, the second advent (by premillennianists). Yet it is a well-known fact that ' return and do something' is frequently in Scripture an idiom for 'do it again'." So it is a matter of Hebrew idiom and the reader is given a striking example of how necessary it is for theologians to study and know this language thoroughly so as not to draw wrong conclusions!! The same holds good for the use Walvoord makes of the word "heaven" in vs. 4 of ch. 30, by which obviously the points of the compass are meant rather than the place to which the soul is taken up after death.
In summary, what is said in these passages of Deuteronomy may be applied to the Israel(ites) of all centuries, as far as this 'is the basis on which the LORD Yahweh has dealt with Abraham and Moses and will continue to deal with their seed throughout their generations, without regard to their being Jew or Greek.
What is to take place in the future is further unfolded by the prophets, among whom Joel comes first in point of time. In ch. 2 and 3 he speaks of "the Day of the LORD", a well-known expression in the prophets; in ch. 2 he speaks especially of that which precedes it. For prophesying and dreaming dreams implies that the end has not come yet. This prophecy, which is famous for the fact that the descent of the Holy Spirit is announced here in such a clear way as well as the portents accompanying it in the heavens and on earth, speaks not only of a day striking fear into man but filling with gladness as well, since "it shall come to pass that all who call upon the name of the LORD shall be delivered."
Whom is it meant for, you wonder. In reply I say: First of all for Israel. It is they who are the addresses. Let us not spiritualize too soon. This promise will come true for Judah when it turns to the LORD with sincere repentance. When it will be fulfilled to the Gentiles then it will anyway be via Israel. That is why we find added those words: "for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape." N.B.: It was Joel's contemporaries in the late 9th century B.C. who were privileged to hear the message from his mouth and who were supposed to understand. Mount Zion and Jerusalem are references to the place where the people can meet the LORD. The calling upon the LORD's name ought to be done at the place designated for it. "The Church should have an address," we were accustomed to say in the days following the Liberation, and especially in sermons on Pentecost it was brought out. The calling upon the LORD's name is not a mere cry of distress, some short prayer ("schietgebedje" in Dutch), but rather cultic worship, a worship service.
Well, that is the point at issue now. Not the fact of being an Israelite or an inhabitant of Jerusalem but that of partaking in the public worship of the LORD will be unto salvation.
This way Joel is simultaneously drawing a narrower and a wider circle. Narrower, since not somebody's being a pure-bred Israelite but his invocation of the LORD's name is decisive. And Yahweh Himself shall take care that there are such in the Day of the LORD: "and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls". Wider, for so the door is opened to the congregation of the new dispensation of Acts 2: "every one whom the Lord our God calls to Him." First the Jew, then the Greek, both admitted on the same conditions.
That is to say, the door is opened to the congregation of true Christian believers, all expecting their salvation in Jesus Christ, being washed by His blood, sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit. So, not to the millennium, as Walvoord puts it. I quote (page 125): "The millennial period for both Israel and the Gentiles will also be a time of special ministry of the Holy Spirit." He refers to Is. 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 36:27 and 39:29. I go on quoting: "A number of Scriptures also describe the temple worship which will characterize the millennial kingdom. According to Ezekiel a magnificent temple will be built, and a system of priesthood and memorial sacrifices will be set up. Scholars have not all agreed as to the interpretation of this difficult portion of Ezekiel. Some have felt it impossible to have a system of animal sacrifices subsequent to the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross in the light of N.T. passages stating that the sacrifice of Christ makes other sacrifices unnecessary. Though varied explanations have been given for Ezekiel 40-48, which unfolds these details, no satisfactory explanation has been made other than that it is a description of the millennial worship. In any case, it is clear that the sacrifices are not expiatory, but merely memorials of the one complete sacrifice of Christ ... While problems remain, it seems clear that Israel will have an ordered worship with Jerusalem once again the center of their religious as well as political life." Over against these impossible statements I refer to 0. Allis, who writes on page 135 of his book: "Peter not merely quotes the first verse of the prophecy . . . but he extends it to include the words: 'And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the LORD shall be saved.' This passage certainly applies very definitely to the Church age and describes its most marked characteristic. It does not enter into the details of the mystery. It does not state in so many words that the Gentiles are 'fellow heirs.' In fact Peter concludes his sermon with an appeal to 'all the house of Israel' (vs. 36). But it does declare emphatically that the 'whosoever will' stage of God's dealings with mankind has been reached. It took Peter a long while and required a further special revelation before he fully understood the import of the words which he had quoted from Joel. But the words. themselves are clearly applicable to that mystery Church in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, the nature of which was most fully revealed to and declared by the apostle Paul."
In Joel 3 it is the Day of the LORD itself that is pictured. The contrast between Israel and the peoples is not only a national one. Is not Judah called to repentance? When He is to bring down the peoples to the Valley of Jehoshaphat and enter into judgment with them there, the people of Judah is to appear in court as well, as we learn from vs. 20, where I follow the footnote rather than the text of the R.S.V.
It is the prophet Amos in whose picture of Israel's future the Dynasty of David is given a significant place. I mean: Amos 9: 11f. The promise of restoration is linked up with the House of David in a special way. To the prophet the Dynasty of this king is the bearer of great promises.
"A booth that is fallen", David's house is called. Scholars disagree whether this applies to the days of the prophet, and they wonder whether it holds good for the days of king Joas of Judah (836-797 B.C.) or for the future. I think the latter is preferable. For in later times it came true. Be that as it may, the LORD will raise up this booth, repair its breaches and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old. A memory of days gone by, of the days of the Davidic kingdom - I may say: empire, comprising not only the people of Israel but also other peoples, first and foremost Edom. There we see of how great an importance it was that Israel became a kingdom in the days of Samuel, even an empire under David and Solomon. Now the prophecy can refer not only to Abraham or Moses, but to David's glorious time as well, in which the reign of the Messiah was foreshadowed. In Acts 15, James makes a reference to it, in which 'the language of Amos' prophecy is followed in the main; but instead of the words of Amos, 'that they may possess the remnant of Edom,' we read 'that the residue of men may seek after the LORD.' This represents, it is true, the Septuagint rendering of the Amos passage" (0. Allis, page 146). The Septuagint rendering is a kind of paraphrase of Amos in the spirit of Isaiah 11:10, where the Gentiles, of whom Edom may be regarded as the most recalcitrant, are represented as seeking the LORD. The words of Amos, 11 all the nations upon whom my name is called", clearly imply that Edom and all the Gentiles are to be incorporated with Israel as the people of the Lord.
Hosea was a younger contemporary of Amos. Like the latter, he appeared in Israel. The reader knows that by Israel I mean the kingdom of the ten tribes, which still existed in his days. He was the last of the prophets who had their sphere of action there.
Whether he witnessed the fall of the northern kingdom in the capture of Samaria, we do not know for certain. One may infer it from the heading of the book, ch. 1:1, where even the days of Hezekiah king of Judah are referred to as within the time in which he engaged in his prophetic activity. Since the chronology of Hezekiah presents some problems, we are not going into that now.
However, whether Hosea was a witness or not, as prophet of the LORD he may have prophesied about the captivity of the ten tribes and of the two tribes one and a half century later on as well. Being a prophet of the LORD, he was able, or rather, enabled, to do so. We need not go along with some critical scholars who make statements to the effect that the author of a text such as Hosea 1:11, where the gathering together of the two peoples Israel and Judah is spoken of, must have lived in or after the exile as a contemporary of Ezekiel, who in ch. 37:21 speaks in the same vein. They lift such a verse out of its context, ascribing the verse under consideration to another author, not to Hosea himself, at any rate. Still others have their doubts about verses in which Judah is mentioned with a certain emphasis; e.g. ch. 1:1, where the prophet is dated after kings of Judah rather than after kings of the ten tribes: or 1:11, where the children of Judah are mentioned first, while these scholars consider "the head" whom they shall appoint for themselves, who in ch. 3:5 turns out to be "David their king", to be something mentioned by a Judean prophet rather than by Hosea.
However, to speak the way Hosea does about Judah is not a sort of Judean chauvinism. Although we cannot say it with one hundred percent certainty, it is the general opinion that Hosea must have been a citizen of the northern kingdom. He was more intimately acquainted with circumstances there; that is to say: he was well-informed about their sin and their suffering under it. It seriously affected his married life!
I hardly need tell you that his marriage, as well as his married life, had to be a depiction, an impersonation of the covenant which the LORD GOD had with His people, comprising both Israel and Judah. The reader will observe that we take the history of the first three chapters literally, as something that actually has taken place in the prophet's life. So, not as something seen in a dream or a vision, however much we may find it difficult to understand why YAHWEH ever could give such a command to his prophet, who in his life and conduct had to set an example for his hearers.
Right! You may think it hard and difficult and inconceivable. And you should, since it is inconceivable, namely, under normal conditions. But circumstances were not normal anymore; not in accordance with the norm, the standards set by the LORD. As a husband loves his lawful wife, as Hosea loved his wife Gomer, so YAHWEH once had loved His people. From days of old! But faithful as the LORD had been in bygone times towards His people, His beloved one, the people had not answered His faithfulness and love. His people were the ten tribes, Israel of Hosea's days. God had not forsaken His people. Up to the last days of its being an independent kingdom the LORD had tried what He could to win His people over to His side by sending His prophets. That I express myself this way is because God's people had taken sides with the Ba'al, the abominable Canaanite idol, Israel's paramour.
Now Hosea is set the task by the LORD to depict this relation, which had become an abuse, on the stage of real life. He had to go and take to himself not a professional prostitute but rather a wanton girl, prone to go that way by nature; a coquette, one that superficial men easily fall in love with. On the behest of the LORD, Hosea had to behave like such a man so as to experience what the LORD had experienced for such a long time already in the covenant. For it concerned His people, His beloved, His wife. And the LORD had shown mercy and love toward her, but He could not possibly continue to do so, now that it was answered in such an awful way. It is the ten tribes that are in the focus here, for in vs. 7 an exception is made with regard to Judah.
So much the more we are surprised that to the people of Israel, that is, the ten tribes, which were next to being given up, such a prospect is held out: "Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered" (vs. 10).
Now I do not jump to Romans 9:25, 26, where our verses are quoted. First we ought to consider them in the framework or the time in which they were spoken, so as to listen to them with the ears of those who were then the hearers. Since it concerns the ten tribes, we ask: Whatever became of the ten tribes? Where are they? Sorry to say, we cannot give an answer. We do not know. We go on reading vs. 10: "and in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people', it shall be said to them, 'Sons of the living God'." We wonder: Where is that place?
Dr. C. vanLeeuwen (1) deems it probable that Jizre'el, the very place where the judgment had been passed on Israel, was meant here. So does the Rev. J.R. Wiskerke. (2) Prof. Dr. J. Ridderbos applies it to the land Canaan generally. But then some questions arise. In order that the words may be fulfilled at the place concerned, the people of the ten tribes are supposed to be still there. But that has not come true. In 722 B.C. they were led into captivity, for no improvement had set in so far. So they were treated by the LORD as ' not my people'. Or, and that is an other presupposition, the people are supposed to have come back to their old country after having been in exile. However, this has not come true either. If such a condition had to be met, our prophecy would not have been fulfilled at all. Supposing that the only way in which a prophecy could be fulfilled would be in the sense which the audience of a prophet attached to it, we would have an instance of an unfulfilled prophecy here. Let us not be too hasty in jumping to this conclusion. It would be grist to the mill of Prof. Walvoord, who from this and such like prophecies infers: "The meaning is that they will be gathered to their land and that God will not allow a single Israelite to remain in dispersion. This has never been fulfilled by any previous gathering." (3)
Let us first be careful in reading the text. Prof. C. vanGelderen points out that with the words "in the place where it was said to them", we should not stick to one particular fact. He is in favour of explaining the sentence as "at any place or every place where it was said" and to let it refer not to Jizre'el or Cannaan but to any place to which they would have been led captive. But who is he who will say those words to them during the exile? Who else but the LORD, YAHWEH? Not by the mouth of his prophet Hosea now, as He had done before, but by the circumstances they were in, bearing witness to their not being His people anymore and their not obtaining pity anymore. At all those places they will be called "Sons of the Living God". When we come to think of it we perceive how God's revelation in the O.T. is deepened here!
He who only sees a people here, will keep harping on the same string: "Tell me, where are the ten tribes?" and he is at a loss. But instead of the people, we hear Hosea in his days already speak of individuals: sons. Not from a dilemma of individualism contra collectivism, but rather to point out that the relationship between God and His people is only shown to full advantage if accepted by each member of the covenant personally. Then it has produced the intended effect. That is what the LORD YAHWEH was after already in the days of the Old Testament. In those sons the people of the ten tribes will be adopted unto grace again. That they are named "sons of the Living God" is said in antithesis to the worship of Ba'al, which Israel indulged itself in during Hosea's days. Do not underrate that Ba'al worship! It had the widest possible appeal in that time. Apart from the sexual aspects, the seductive power of which has been felt in all times and is evident more than ever today, it was the guarantee of everlasting life that made people join his cult. Until they found out to their cost that it was not life at all, but rather death. Israel's God, on the contrary, will be proven to be the God of life or the Living God, which is a favourite expression in Hosea and one that once more opens a perspective to the New Testament. For in the New Testament - over against the Ba'als, paramours of God's faithless wife, his people, Ba'als incapable of satisfying their desires and solving their problems - we see Jesus Christ, "who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection of the dead" (Rom. 1:3, 4). That is what the prophet aims at in our text in the ultimate analysis.
So, for an appropriate exegesis, we need not dwell upon questions such as: Whatever has become of those ten tribes? In itself I can imagine that one is curious about that. But we'll never get an answer, I'm afraid. And if we did, it would not carry us any step further. Theories have been launched. The British-Israel movement stated that the glorious remainder was to be found in the population of Great Britain. Others were so bold as to state that the North American Indians were the offspring. A vivid example of the latter is given in the Book of Mormon, the "bible" of the Mormons. If they were discovered it would be a remnant anyway, I think. Which does not derogate from the beauty of the prophecy, since it is a spiritual Israel, sons of the Living God, that the prophet has in mind and that His God was aiming at from the very outset of history. Taking that into account we see the promise come true, the promise made already to Abram: "Your seed shall be like the sand of the sea". A remnant shall return, which remnant will be multiplied in a wondrous way. We are not going to check it in the way Premillennialism does, but in the way we are taught by Holy Scripture.
In this same vein it will become clear to us that "the people of Judah and the people of Israel shall be gathered together" (ch. 1:11). Again we become aware of the fact that O.T. prophecy is fulfilled in stages. First Hosea indicates a revival within the circle of the ten tribes, be that where it may. But the matter does not rest there. Raised from the dead - and isn't exile a death? - and turning to the LORD, they will turn to their brothers of the two tribes. Already before the latter were led into exile we hear of invitations, sent to the remainder of the ten tribes by kings like Hezekiah and Josiah, to come to Jerusalem and join the celebration of the Passover (2 Chron. 30 and 34; 2 Kings 23). It was the first stage of fulfilment. But also Judah's exile in 586 B.C. and their return in 538 B.C. is prophesied here. And it is not to be wondered at. In the previous article we saw that Moses and Amos already had plainly spoken of that exile. So we need not, with critical scholars, take recourse to interpolators and redactors of later times who inserted their viewpoints into Hosea's book at a later date.
"And they shall appoint for themselves one head", we read. With "head" we have to think of a leader, a chief. A man of the stature of Moses, so a reminiscence of the time of the exodus and the wanderings through the wilderness? Without excluding a man like Moses, it is still better to think of a man like David, the more so since David will be mentioned by name in ch. 3:5 again.
"And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jizre'el." What is meant by the land? The land of the exile? An exegete like Dr. C. vanLeeuwen is not in favour of that. With a reference to Ex. 1:10 he likes to explain it as: to take possession, or a getting hold of the land. The land is Canaan. So what must be meant here is a reconquest of Canaan by the twelve reunited tribes under their newly appointed leader. The decisive battle will take place in the valley of Jizre'el, just as in the days of Barak and Gideon the enemy was struck a heavy, smashing blow there; Jizre'el, once linked up with sentence and condemnation, would stand in the future as a landmark of God's saving acts.
I for one prefer to think of the land of Israel's captivity, since the other viewpoint seems to me untenable. The sound of the word Jizre'el is inauspicious in the ears of Hosea's audience. In ch. 1:5 it was the valley where the bow of Israel was broken. Prof. C. vanGelderen writes that the greatness of that day must imply that Judah's bow will be broken as well. Having made this necessary reference to the time of the prophet, we turn to the future to discover that there are favourable aspects as well. The name Jizre'el, itself sounds promising: "God sows". Vs. 10a pictures the wondrous outcome of God's sowing. Moreover, we see the name Jizre'el mentioned in a context of salvation: the two peoples shall come back from the land of captivity. And you ask me: When did it come true? Has something like that ever happened? And now that it comes to the fulfilment, it is time to turn to the quotation in Romans 9:25, 26. The ten tribes as such have disappeared out of sight. The apostle widens his range of vision to the heathen peoples. Is he permitted to do so? He certainly is, and his train of thought is consistent. For by having become "Lo'ammi", that is, "Not my people", the ten tribes were put on a level with the heathen nations. And their being in the midst of the heathen gave evidence of that awful reality. From that land or those lands the LORD their God, the merciful and faithful One, is going to call them. As for those referred to as "them", to the LORD it does not make any difference whether they were Ephraimites or Zebulonites or Greeks or Romans or Germanic peoples. Basically it is the same. And His miraculous power is glorified. Hosea 1 and 2 did pave, prepare, the way to Romans 9. Unless you fall in with Premillennialism, which likes to make watertight compartments for Israel and the Church, and so on, God having with each of them His untransferable plan. I am referring to the comments made by Prof. Walvoord.
And why could it come true in the days of the apostles? Because it was God who called His people. And God's calling is not a powerless flow of words but an intervention in the course of affairs, bringing about a considerable change. A new people is called into being which in principle is the same people as that of olden times. They are gathered on the same conditions. And they let themselves be gathered. All on account of the merits of Him who in ch. 1:11 was designated as the head to be appointed, with whom we get better acquainted in ch. 3:5: "Afterwards the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, AND DAVID THEIR KING." Since "to seek" in such a context is obviously a religious term, David their king, that is, the David of the future, is put on a par with the LORD GOD Himself. The son is mentioned by the name of His father. Not that another David is to come back. That would have been of little help. But David is mentioned because of the promises made to him by the LORD. It was those that made David's reign worthwhile in view of times to come. The reign of the Messiah, King in the realm of His believers, first the Jew and then the Greek, is prefigured. And YAHWEH's faithfulness is brought out into full relief, since it is the same people that He bestows His care upon. Therefore in all likelihood the woman of ch. 3 is the same as the wife the prophet took to himself in ch. 1 and 2: Gomer bath Diblaim. "And they shall come in fear to the Lord." They stand in awe before Him on account of His Divine majesty and the consciousness of their sins as well as trembling for joy and emotion because it was in such sorrowful and sad circumstances that they were adopted.
1. >BACK<Dr. C. vanLeeuwen, Hosea, in De Predikinq van het Oude Testament.
2. >BACK<Rev. J.R. Wiskerke, Geroppen Volk, p. 138.
3. >BACK< John Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy, pp. 69, 70.
In this article we'll try to say something about the message of him who is known as "the king among the prophets` Isaiah. Since the matter of Israel's future is dealt with at great length by this prophet and because it is not my intention to make this series of articles too extensive, I'll just touch on the main points, and do so by following the summary presented by Dr. P.A. Verhoef in his doctoral dissertation (see the 6th article in this series, Clarion, Feb. 22). If anyone among the subscribers of our magazine is interested in some more details about a specific text and its exegesis, please let him write a letter and let me know so that either in this series or in another I can go further into the matter.
It was radical critics who since the beginning of the previous century drew the attention to the discrepancies existing between the actual fulfilment of a prophecy and the terms in which they were expressed. They arrived or rather jumped to the conclusion that the prophets had been mistaken in their predictions, because what had been predicted should have been fulfilled to the letter, for otherwise they were not fulfilled at all. To the well-known critical O.T. scholar Prof. Kuenen in Leiden, who wrote a book on the Prophets a century ago, in 1875, it was not so much predictions as exhortations that the prophets intended to give. The prophets had a restricted outlook and what happened in the future was beyond their ken. Their words were expressions of that which a certain prophet believed. That is why so many were unfulfilled; and a fulfilment in successive stages, what we call a prophetic perspective, was completely out of the picture, according to those critics. And the New Testament authors were wrong in making references to the O.T. The factor of the INSPIRATION BY THE HOLY SPIRIT was of course left out of consideration.
Chiliastic writers, though we may call them orthodox as far as they are willing to submit themselves to the Bible as the infallible Word of GOD, somehow or other struggle with that which is basically the same question, stressing the fact that so many predictions were not fulfilled (namely, not in a strictly literal sense, which, in their opinion, only deserves to be called fulfilment). They try to get out of the difficulty by positing after the present era a separate dispensation of a millennial kingdom. They project all predictions appertaining to the future of Israel and the Kingdom of God on the "screen" of this dispensation. They therefore regard the majority of predictions as unfulfilled yet. Prof. Walvoord's book gives ample evidence of it. I now point especially to pages 120 - 128. "According to Isaiah 2:1-4, Jerusalem will be the center of the millennial government," he writes. Is. 9:6, 7, the picture of Is. 11, Is. 16:5 and 24:23 are applied to the millennium, not to forget Is. 35.
Our point of view, Dr. Verhoef says, not only excludes the possibility of error on the part of the prophets, but also implies that the predictions of the O.T. are to be interpreted in the light of the truth of Scripture as a whole. Furthermore: WHEN is a prediction fulfilled? Can the fulfilment take place, is it to come about, just once, or can it extend over consecutive events? We cannot make a general rule here. Each prediction must separately be investigated on its own merits.
There are in the book of Isaiah a number of special predictions, the majority of which have been obviously fulfilled (ch. 7:14-16; 8:14; 10:12, 25; 17:14; 28:4; 37:7), whereas the fulfilment of others cannot be determined with certainty because of uncertain factors like dates (ch. 16:14; 21:16; 23:15; 32:10) or because of the scant knowledge we have of the historical facts to which the predictions relate (like ch. 7:8b; 21:16). We freely admit our ignorance. So we come across the question of the "unfulfilledness" of all such predictions. Our respect for the authority of God's Word forbids us to decide arbitrarily in the last case on the "unfulfilledness" of such prediction. To our knowledge they have not been fulfilled. And again what do we mean by "fulfilled"? Fulfilled to the letter in the very time the prophet and his hearers lived? Or in a more figurative way since the prophecy had a wider scope?
Several predictions were expressed by Isaiah as the result of and with regard to the historical situation of his time. I think of prophecies against the heathen nations, first and foremost Assyria. The historical situation in the time of Isaiah was mainly determined by the renewed activity of the Assyrians in the west. Prophecy, being topical and concrete, does not avoid the concrete situation; on the contrary, it is put into the forefront. Critical scholars used to distinguish between prophecies in which Isaiah was sympathetic with Assyria and others, of later date, in which he took another stand. But this is not putting the question in the right way. It is not the prophet's sympathy which is decisive, but the message he was given from the LORD GOD. For God's sake he had to announce Assyria as the rod of punishment of the LORD, namely as often as Israel had clearly deserved to be punished. On the other hand, and not necessarily at a later time, there were prophecies in which the judgment of the LORD was pronounced over this world power, over the power of Assyria that had been a tool, an instrument, in His hands before.
The salvation predicted to Israel was to come true quite soon. An example is given in the Syro-Ephraimite war, in the prophecy of ch. 7 of the young woman that was to conceive and bear a son and call his name Immanuel. That sign of salvation was to take place that very time; otherwise it did not make sense to the unbelieving king Ahaz who was to be rebuked and admonished by it. That this prophecy has an unmistakable plus with regard to the complete fulfilment we learn from Matthew 1:23. We'll discuss that later on. So beside the forecast of imminent danger there is the prophecy of the God who comes to the rescue; the God who calls Assyria to a halt. Ch. 10:32; or vs. 17, "The light of Israel will become a fire and his Holy One a flame; and it will burn and devour his thorns and briers in one day." In the same vein is spoken in ch. 29, where Jerusalem is represented as Ariel, that is: the hearth of God, where the altar-fire was kept burning to maintain the covenant relationship between God and the people; which didn't take away that in case of disobedience the city itself might be set ablaze and burnt, whereas on the other hand the enemy, by whom the LORD had His city burnt or besieged, could be burnt by the first coming out of Jerusalem. So the prophet can speak of salvation in view of his own time and we know of many such prophecies that have come true.
However, there are also prophecies of punishment and doom, e.g. Is. 32:9-14, regarding which we may wonder whether and, if so, when those have been fulfilled. I pointed already at the view that in various periods the prophet held radically altered views on the Assyrian world power. During the first period of his activity, he is then thought to have hailed Assyria as a friend, but later the true character of this world power, which was inimical to God, supposedly penetrated the consciousness of the prophet with the result that he pronounced judgment on Assyria from that moment on. Not Isaiah's mood or view was decisive, but the LORD's counsel. However when salvation was granted in his own time, why didn't the prophecy of judgment come true that very time in exactly the same way? Why was not Jerusalem destroyed by the Assyrian as foretold in Ch. 32?
To understand this we should take into consideration the conditional character of the announcement of judgment, through which the judgment after penitence and conversion could be raised. The possibility of repentance is left open to the people: When they call upon the LORD He certainly will hear, and forgive their trespasses. There is forgiveness with Him, that He may be feared. A Holy God can burn and purify. As in the previous articles we see how important a factor the conditions of the covenant are. As soon as we think them away, we go astray. Isaiah clearly points out that THE CONDITION par excellence is: FAITH. Ch. 7:9; 30:15.
On the other hand, the complete fulfilment - in so far as it represented a basic feature in the threat of the judgment - did, in accordance with the perspective character of the predictions, nevertheless eventually come about. The suspension of the sentence of judgment is actually complete in and with regard to the concrete situation. But this does not exclude the possibility that the judgment - in connection with the continued threat - may again become relevant and eventually find its full realization.
Not that all the "problems" are solved now. Dr. Verhoef points at e.g. ch. 7:18, but we have a trustworthy guideline to go by now. In the predictions concerning other heathen nations serious problems are posed. They have never been fulfilled in a strictly literal sense. And the nations do not exist anymore!! But that does not induce us to try to find a way out by supposing a millennial kingdom in which Moab and Ammon and all the others are to be called into existence again.
For what I remarked about the strictly literal fulfilment is not sufficient ground for regarding the predictions as therefore unfulfilled. We should not forget that the prophecies against the heathen nations were primarily meant for the nation of the covenant and therefore find their essential fulfilment as soon as the purpose with the latter has been accomplished. Seemingly this is an easy way out. I freely admit that formerly I myself took such a sceptical view of it. Yet we have here a solution worthy of the name. The prophecy oftentimes does not come true in one single occurrence in a strictly literal way, but in more events in various stages. Nay more, a strictly literal fulfilment is in most cases impossible (ch. 13:19f.; 14:9ff.). The predictions found their realization in consecutive happenings; then the heathen nations symbolize forces antagonistic to God, so that these predictions also show features which typically point to the end of time. So you can find the judgment on Babel, Moab and Edom in so many words placed in connection with the Last Judgment! In so far they contain elements which have not yet been fulfilled. Take also into account the style of the hyperbole or prophetical exaggeration. As I said, a literal fulfilment in that case is impossible.
The predictions in which certain heathen nations were included in God's bestowal of mercy, e.g. Egypt in ch. 19:18 - 25 and Tyre in ch. 23:15 - 18, in the first place concern the salvation under the New Covenant, but they also have a direct meaning in certain facts which can be regarded even under the Old Covenant as partial fulfilment.
Returning to the theme of the predictions of judgment and their fulfilment, we have to pay special attention to how they can go together with the promises of a (final) restoration. Do the predictions of judgment reach necessarily further than the time Isaiah aimed at? I can say: they do, and point at the fact that the danger imminent in the days of king Hezekiah was graciously averted by the LORD, in that the then enemy Assyria was struck a heavy blow. But it was not averted anymore when a century later the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezar laid siege to Jerusalem and captured the city and destroyed it. Moreover, we see the Day of the LORD at the close of the ages come into the picture in the Book of Isaiah, as with other prophets. So, the prophecy has a wide scope.
The LORD first promised to protect Jerusalem. And He did so for the time being. Yet when the people continues its sinful and idolatrous course, the LORD regrets, or repents - and we should take the word in full earnest and He has the disaster come, because the people does not repent (anyway, the bulk of the people). It is led into captivity. But now it is the prophecy concerning the remnant, the rest that will return, that becomes significant. They were symbolized in Isaiah's little son She'ar Jashub. And its existence was witnessed in the act of that young woman who became pregnant and dared call her son: Immanuel. The promise of restoration is the reverse of the prediction of judgment. The LORD will make his promises made of old come true to the remnant, representing the whole. A remnant will return after the exile. And what is more: a remnant shall return to the LORD. On the one hand we think: Alas, but a remnant. On the other hand we are happy: Yet a remnant! The future looks promising.
And among the remnant even the ten tribes or the northern kingdom was represented (is. 28:5). It has come true (Ezra 6:17; Luke 2:36). The predicted salvation apparently had been meant for those who escaped (Joel 2:32; Is. 42-4). The promises of return clearly relate to the return from the Assyrian Babylonian exile. And they reach further. It is not the return to their homeland that matters first of all, but their spiritual return to the LORD. The promises of an inward renewal was directly fulfilled in corresponding facts within the framework of the Old Testament, facts which relate especially to the various reform movements before and after the exile, but so much the more in the renewal which arose through Christ's expiatory sacrafice.
For, although I do not go further into the matter right now, we should not forget the predictions which in a narrower or broader sense relate to the work of the Messiah.
What again strikes us is that in all the messianic predictions the promise is strongly connected with Israel and that the portrayal exhibits an unmistakable Old Testament colouring. This fact is also of importance for the history of fulfilment. The various aspects of the Messianic prophecy should first of all have a real meaning for the national life of Israel. Never overlook: What did the Messiah mean to Israel in those times? The people of Israel, the first hearers, were the first ones concerned. And then you see those wonderful prophecies of Is. 7, 9, and 11 and others reach beyond the boundaries of the Old Covenant and relate intrinsically to the facts of the New Covenant. And for the MESSIAH's sake the working of the Holy Spirit comes into the picture. The great variety of features in the portrayal of the Messiah and His kingdom are by the New Testament concentrated on the focal point of Christ's person and work.
Isn't that the crowning piece on the work of Isaiah, this blessed one among the prophets?