Page images
PDF
EPUB

given to the chapter does not upon the whole agree well with the context both before and after it, and with the style and ideas of the whole book, in numerous parts of which the figurative is strained nearly as much as is required by this interpretation. Whereas, if the passage be considered to relate to Christ, it is torn from the context, and the writer is made to introduce a new subject without giving any notice, and to return as abruptly to his usual one. Bishop Lowth warns us, at ch. xlii., that the writer is now about to speak of the Messiah ;* but the writer is surely little obliged to the Bishop for making him incoherent without necessity. The Bishop informs us also that the Messiah is often spoken of in this book under the name of Jacob or Israel ; o but that these names mean here something quite different from what they usually do in the Old Testament, viz. the Jewish nation, is an unnatural and unsupported hypothesis. It is true that some of the Rabbis interpreted this chapter as relating to the Messiah, in the same manner as they did many other parts of Scripture; for which practice they are blamed as fanciful and extravagant by the best modern critics. But some of the most learned and judicious among them, including Kimchi and Aben Esra, and the generality of the Jews, understood the chapter

* Lowth on Isaiah, notes on ch. xlii. + Ibid. notes on ch. lii.

| Aben Esra. Sunt haud pauci magistrorum nostrorum qui hoc segmentum de Messiâ interpretentur, propterea quidem quod majores nostri beatæ memoriæ, dicant Messiam natum esse, quo tempore destructa est domus sanctuarii, sed dein catenis vinctum. Rosenm. Scholia in Es.

Sed constat evangeliorum scriptores ex singulari quâdam scripta sacra interpretandi ratione, quæ tunc inter Judæos recepta esset, multa prophetarum aliorumque scriptorum Hebræorum loca de Messiâ interpretatos esse, quæ a scriptorum consilio de aliis personis agerent. Ibid. addit. in cap. xlii.

s

to relate only to their own nation.* Origen tells us, that when he argued with some Jews in favour of Jesus, from the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, one of them replied “ that the words did not mean one man, but one people, the Jews, who were smitten of God, and dispersed among the Gentiles for their conversion.” He admits, also, that the Jews of his time were accustomed to deride the Christians, as not understanding the sense of the Scriptures on which they pretended to build so much.

Some parts of the chapter cannot apply to Jesus, for he did not see his seed, nor prolong his days. The passages, “he bare the sin of many,” and “the Lord laid upon him the iniquities of us all," require, for their application to Jesus, the doctrine of the atonement. The supposed types of the paschal and sacrificial lambs having laid the foundation for that doctrine, it may easily be imagined, that the desire to find in every verse of this chapter an application to Christ contributed to strengthen

it.

The book of Isaiah was a favourite one amongst the Jews, from the beauty of its imagery and the grandeur of its views concerning their nation, which it represents as destined to a splendid revival, and to be the instrument for spreading the knowledge of God through many nations. Such views were not unnatural to an imaginative and patriotic Jew in the days of Cyrus, when the

* Rosenm. in Es. liii. † Kennicott, Diss. Gen. 80.

| The paschal lamb was killed merely for a commemorative feast, and not properly sacrificed; but in many of the sacrifices, and, amongst others, those of sin-offerings, lambs were used. Lev. v. 6. In the New Testament, Christ is likened to both. 1 Cor. v. 7: “For even Christ our passover is slain for us." 1 Pet. i. 18, 19: “Being redeemed ... with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” John i. 29: “Behold the lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.”

Jews had been brought freely into contact with other nations, and when the view of the established idolatries around them had contributed to exalt their reverence for their own ancient creed. In the natural order of things, some prophecies have a tendency to fulfil themselves ; the spirit and aim of favourite writings impress themselves upon the readers; and thus the sublime and enthusiastic tone of this book of Isaiah was caught up by Jesus, and contributed to suggest to him the ideas of his Messiahship and of the kingdom of heaven. The book contains a mixture of temporal and spiritual views; the Jews are to become a great nation, and to spread God's word among the Gentiles. Jesus, accordingly, claimed the joint character of king and prophet. The Christ was to be both king of Israel, and a light of the world. It was only when he had been put to death, and some time had elapsed without his re-appearing in his kingly character, that his disciples began to represent him chiefly as a spiritual prince. They, too, drew largely from the book of Isaiah, and rested upon it their main arguments from prophecy. So prominent a place, indeed, do the language and spirit of this book seem to have held in the minds of both Jesus and his disciples, that it might be considered as not the least among the causes of the establishment of Christianity. But when the divine authority of Jesus had come to be acknowledged as independent and incontestable, the matter was reversed, and Christianity was held to be the cause of the book. Instead of admitting the natural order of things—that Jesus had imbibed the views of a book which he had read--it was supposed that the author of the book had, by means of a divine spirit of foresight, anticipated the views of Jesus.

Paley* cites the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah as “the

* Evid. Part II. ch. i.

clearest and strongest” prophecy of the Old Testament; and argues on the improbability that the personage alluded to could mean a nation. But he omits to inform his readers that the Jewish nation had been repeatedly introduced as one man, Jacob; and, indeed, makes no comparison of the chapter with the context; so that his arguments must necessarily mislead a reader who has not previously studied the whole book of Isaiah.

261

CHAPTER XIV.

ON THE PROPHECIES OF DANIEL.

In the eighth chapter of Daniel there is an Vision of account of a vision of a ram with two horns, the ram

and goat. which was smitten by a he-goat, having a notable horn between his eyes, which horn being broken, four other notable horns came up, toward the four winds of heaven. The chapter itself informs us that by this was meant, the conquest of the kings or kingdoms of Media and Persia by the king of Grecia; the first great horn being the first king, viz. Alexander the Great, and the four notable horns after him four kingdoms which “shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power;" i. e. plainly the four Macedonian monarchies of Thrace, Macedon, Syria, and Egypt.

So far the vision is clear, and commentators The little agree. But Daniel sees coming out of the four horn. notable horns, a little horn, which plays a very conspicuous part; and to determine who the little horn is, forms the great problem of the book of Daniel Josephus understood it to mean Antiochus Epiphanes; according to Jerome, it was Antiochus as a type of Anti-christ; Sir Isaac Newton thought that it meant the Romans; Bishop Newton, that it meant first the Romans, and afterwards the popes.

The matter is so far important, that on the ineaning of the little horn depends mainly the prophetic character of the book of Daniel; i. e. whether it really contains the description of any events which happened after the time when it was written; and also whether the writers

« PreviousContinue »