THE SECOND grand division of the Hebrew Scriptures, according to the divine canon, is called The Prophets, or preferably The Spokesmen. Of the eight scrolls the first half are called The Former Prophets and the last four The Latter Prophets, supposedly because Zechariah hints at this division (Zech.1:4). The eighth book, the last of the Latter Prophets, contains a collection of all the twelve minor prophets from Hosea to Malachi.
The prophet was Gods spokesman. He not only foretold the future, according to the popular idea, but he told the present before Him, as it were, as Aaron spoke before Moses when he went into Pharaohs presence (Ex.4:16; 7:1). The whole history of Israel in the land is dominated by the succession of prophets whom Yahweh sent to them in the midst of their continual failure. This is what distinguishes their history from that of every other nation. This is why the book of Kings, which is so often supposed to be simple historical annals of the times, is included among the books of the Prophets.
THE FORMER PROPHETS
The Former Prophets consist of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. We cannot press too strongly the fact that these belong among the prophecies. They foretell nothing, it is true, yet the histories they contain all revolve about the man of God who was the one link which still united them to Him. Very little will we get if we read these to increase our knowledge of ancient history, or the annals of Hebrew nation. But if we fix our hearts on the fact that Yahweh is here displaying Himself in their various vicissitudes, and that He deals with them through His spokesmen, the narrative takes on life and meaning.
This is the first title which is also the name of its author. Let us not attempt to think that this is all which the title conveys, for it is quite possible for a name to have significance. Indeed, in Joshuas case this is most evident. His name originally was Hoshea, meaning Be-ing-safe. When He returned from spying the land, he showed his faith in Yahweh by urging all the people to go up and possess it, in spite of their own weakness and the adverse report of most of the other spies. He gloried in Yahweh, as his Saviour, hence his name was changed from Hoshea to Joshua, more literally Will-be-ing-salvation, and this is the lesson of the book. It is Yahweh who saves His people from their enemies and is giving them the promised allotment in the land. He wishes them to know, not only salvation, but their Saviour Himself.
It is instructive to note that the first of the Latter Prophets, Isaiah, is practically the same in meaningWill-be-ing-salvation. Its burden is the future counterpart of Joshua, when Yahweh once more visits His people Israel and restores them to their land and blesses them through the Saviour Whom they once despised.
The first of the Minor Prophets also has a part of this title. Hosea means be-ing-safe.
Thus we have the great thought of Yahwehs salvation prominently presented to us in the Prophets. The first of each group is named with the name that is above every name, for Isaiah, and especially Joshua, had the same name as the One Whom Joshua typified and Isaiah foretold. His name in Hebrew would be Yahweh-Hoshea, Jehoshua, or Joshua, which, in Greek, is Jesus.
It is difficult to get a good English word to do duty for this Hebrew title. Perhaps Rulers comes closer to its meaning than Judges. When things went wrong, as they often did, then Yahweh raised up someone to set them right again. Then he ruled the people in the absence of a king. Yahweh Himself, was their King, but they failed to realize His presence and protection until He sent some evil upon them. Then He sent deliverance by one of His rulers, and, at the same time, restored them, in a measure, to Himself.
Although modern Hebrew Bibles recognize the division of Samuel into First and Second Samuel in their headings, just as they add our chapters and verses in the margin, they make no division in the text itself. In the beautiful copy of Ginsburgs Massoretic text before me as I write, Second Samuel begins on the same line on which First Samuel ends. They should never have been divided. Substantively, Samuel is one book. It was probably first divided by the Greek translators because they could not get it all on one roll of papyrus. But it was probably never divided in a Hebrew Bible until the publication of the first edition of the Rabbinic Bible in Venice in 1516-17.
Samuel means Placed- or Named-by-Subjector, His mother asked for him, but the Hebrew denotes Place or Name. The whole history turns upon the rejection of Yahweh as King and the request that He would give them a king like the other nations. He gave them Saul in His displeasure and took him away in His wrath. And then He gives them another king, not tall and regal in outward appearance, to please the people, but a man after His own heart. David, the Beloved, the type of the promised Messiah, is the answer to Samuel.
Like Samuel, this book must not be divided into two parts. There is some question whether we should not include the name of David in the title, for the book opens with And King David. David, indeed, is through with his career, but all the kings which follow are measured by their failure to come up to his standard.
The failure and declension which marks all of the Former Prophets comes to a climax at the close of this book.
THE LATTER PROPHETS
How different are the Latter Prophets from the Former! There defection and apostasy increase until all seems lost. The Latter Prophets reveal Yahwehs ample provision for His erring people. They may fail but He remains true. Indeed, their unfaithfulness is necessary to reveal His faithfulness. Fact gives place to faith. The present appeals to the future. The failure of the nation is pressed home and due judgment is meted out, yet all is radiant with the coming glory which Messiah alone can bring. The old covenant, dependent on their conduct, is displaced by the new, which depends solely on Yahwehs faithfulness.
O that we may learn the lesson which the Latter Prophets inculcate! How little would we trust in man and his very best endeavors! How much we would make of God and His Word! The history of the chosen people, as recorded for us in the Former Prophets is a continuous downgrade movement. Failure, declension, division, defectionuntil the shekinah glory withdraws, the kingdom is given to the nations and the people are led into captivity. The Latter Prophets reverse all this. Beginning with Messiahs glorious return, the nation is restored to its land, the sovereignty of the whole earth becomes theirs and the glory of Yahweh hovers over their capital.
Once we see the real relation of the Latter to the Former Prophetsthat they are concerned with the same people and the same land and the same kingdomthen we can see how foolish and wrong it is to leave all the evil to them and try to rob them of the good which Yahweh, their God, has in store for them. The glowing prophecies of future bliss do not belong to the so-called church, as our chapter headings so often inform us. When we thus misapply them, we are robbing not only the nation He chose for His own, but ourselves as well. If His uncovenanted promises to them fail of fulfilment then He, too, is unfaithful and the great lesson of His grace and love, which overrides all their unworthiness, is lost to us.
Strange as it may seem, those Scriptures which are generally misapplied have the plainest directions to guide us. Isaiah prefaces his prophecy with definite indications as to the subject of his vision. He says it concerns Judah and Jerusalem. This is repeated again and again.
It should be a cause of deep humiliation that we need to even consider the question of to whom the Prophets were written. But when our very Bibles are loaded with italics teaching this destructive error, we must stop to point it out.
Opening a Bible at random, we find the following chapter heading for Isaiah 49: Christ, being sent to the Jews, complaineth of them. (5) He is sent to the Gentiles with gracious promises. (13) Gods love is perpetual to His church. Turning to the text we find that the church is Zion, which is one of the hills of Jerusalem. Thus all the headings run: blessing for the church; curses for the Jews. The same will be seen by glancing over the page headings: God expostulateth with His people [the Jews of course]; The church comforted. Thus have we been taught to play fast and loose with Gods holy word. And so confirmed has this habit become that, while most of us have repudiated the perverse system of taking all of blessing for ourselves and leaving all the rest to Israel, we still cling to the notion that any part of the Bible may be applied as it suits us, quite apart from the directions He has given.
We dare not act so in our daily life. A letter addressed to a friend may contain much of mutual interest, but it is a flagrant breach of the law to open and read it and apply it to ourselves as though it was never meant for another.
The law, the prophets and the literature, in common with all Scripture, is profitable for us. But that profit becomes loss the moment we turn it from its plain intention and apply it to ourselves. If we apply any of it let us apply all. If the blessings of the law appeal to us let us remember that accursed is everyone who is not remaining in all things written in the scroll of the law to do them.
Yahweh Himself also appealed to them on this ground when He was about to bring them into the land. And what great nation is there which has statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law that I am putting before you today? (Deut.4:8). The psalmist is most explicit on this point (Psa.147:19,20):
He is telling His words to Jacob,
His statutes and His ordinances to Israel.
He has not done so for any other nation,
And His ordinances, they do not know them at all.
No wonder they spoke of our law (Acts 24:6, John 7:51). This is why they cried out against Peter when he went to Cornelius. This is what urged them to kill Paul when they thought he had brought aliens into the sanctuary.
It was never Gods purpose to confine blessing to the chosen nation, but it surely was His plan to make them its one channel. They mistook their mission sadly, but let us remember that our Lord Himself, Who ever kept the just balance of the truth, compared His kinsmen to children at their Fathers board, but the other nations to puppies who eat the scraps which are cast from the table (Matt.15:26-28).
It is only as we are continually reminded of the dependent, subordinate, beggarly place which the nations then occupied, that we can appreciate the vast chasm which has been bridged to bring us to our present exalted place as the peers of the nation of His choice. Even after Paul, the chosen vessel to bring us blessing, had been called and commissioned, he dispensed the spiritual things of Israel (Rom.15:27), so that the nations were under obligations to repay the debt. Before the present secret economy came into exercise the highest place accorded the nations was the place of a guest (Eph.3:12 not strangers) at Israels table.
Our position in regard to the Hebrew Scriptures is clear. Far from being shunned, they are full of instruction and comfort for us today. But this will come in far greater measure as we see their true scope and acknowledge their proper purpose.
Isaiahs vision includes many nations and cities besides Judah and Jerusalem. There is the burden of Babylon, and of Moab, and of Damascus, and of Egypt, etc. Yet all of these are closely connected with the people and the land of Yahweh. It is not only their blessing he records, but the just judgment for their treatment of Judah and Jerusalem. The only blessing which comes to the nations in Isaiah is that which overflows to them when Judah is blessed in that day of Yahweh. Spiritual blessing as we know today, which arises out of Israels apostasy is absolutely foreign to Isaiah and all the Prophets. It is a secret of which they had not the slightest hint.
Jeremiah, Will-be-exalting, is given the supervision . . . over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up, and to break down, and to destroy, and to demolish, to build, and to plant (Jer.1:10). He prophesied at the time of the carrying away of captive Jerusalem. Like Isaiah, he, too, prophesies against the enemies of Yahwehs people.
Ezekiel means My Steadfast[ness]-is-Subjector. He is the prophet of the captivity, hence his name does not incorporate the covenant title Yahweh, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, but the name, El, the Subjector of all the nations. Hence, too, Ezekiel is called son of humanity or son of Adam as it is in the Hebrew, giving him a relationship to all mankind. All this is a token that Israel has wandered far from their land and their God.
The three Major Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, are a series in point of time, in depth of apostasy and in scope of restoration. Isaiah wrote before the captivity and ended his message in the reign of the good King Hezekiah, who was a one of the finest figures of the sufferings of Messiah in the whole range of revelation. It is fitting that this should be so, for Isaiah speaks of salvation. His future outlook takes in the day of Yahweh, but nothing beyond.
Jeremiah was later than Isaiah and ends his message with the captivity of Zedekiah.
Ezekiel does not begin to speak until after the captivity. His future outlook reaches beyond the thousand years to the irruption of Gog and Magog.
THE MINOR PROPHETS
The twelve Minor Prophets were written on one scroll and reckoned as one book. As their names and order have not been disturbed in our Bibles, we need only point out, as nearly as we can, the significance of their names and the most notable indexes to their place and purpose.