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(4) Another question connected with this inquiry, which deserves our attentive consideration, relates to the extent, to which temporal events, and the fates and fortunes of temporal kingdoms are made the subject of ancient prophecy.
If we examine the prophecies of the Old Testament with reference to this point, we shall find that the affairs of temporal kingdoms are made the subject of ancient prophecy, only as far as they fell within the range of Jewish observation, or were connected with the fortunes of the Jewish people. In the revelation, which God made to Abraham with respect to the remote judgment upon Egypt and the Ammonites, (Gen. xv. 14, 16,) and the nearer judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah; it was connected, in the case of the former nation, with their cruelty and oppression towards God's peculiar people; and of the latter, with their great and abandoned wickedness.
In the Mosaic æra, we may observe the like union of the Pagan subject with the more immediate subject of prophecy, in the prophecies which were uttered by Balaam with regard to the Amalekites, the Kenites, and the Assyrians". The destruction, which is denounced by subsequent prophets upon the neighbouring nations, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Edomites, and the Philistines, as well as upon the greater kingdoms of Tyre, of Egypt, of Assyria and Babylon", is expressly declared to be in punishment of their impiety, their idolatry, and their oppression of God's chosen people.
In the same manner, some of the greatest conquerors of antiquity are expressly described as in
5 Comp. Ezek. xxvxxxii.
4 Numbers xxiv. 17–22.
struments in the hand of God, for carrying into effect the purposes of his Almighty will, in connection with his great designs for the salvation of the world. It is the case with Cyrus and with Alexander', who are so clearly and expressly pointed out in prophecy, in connection with this object; and of whom the former, by his conquests, led the way to the return of the Jewish people from their captivity at Babylon; and the latter, to that general dispersion of the Jews in every nation under heaven, by which the knowledge of the one true God was dispersed through the world ; and with it the knowledge of those prophecies which, at the period of our Saviour's coming, had raised so general an expectation of his appearance. like manner, when God employed Sennacherib to punish the rebellion of his chosen people, he expressly mentioned the purpose for which he so employed him; and declared, that, when he had answered the purposes of divine providence, he would be punished in return for his tyranny and cruelty. “Wherefore it shall come to pass, that, when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Sion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the stout heart of the king of Assyria and the glory of his high looks? :" and thus also (Jerem. xxv. 9, xxvii. 6), the Almighty calls Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, his servant, with reference to the judgments, of which he was the instrument in his hand.
It is worthy of observation also, that, out of six several captures of Jerusalem by Shishak, (1 Kings, xiv. 25), the Babylonians, Antiochus, Pompey, Herod and Titus, only two are made distinguished subjects of prophecy; the first and the last. The reason of which is thus assigned by an eminent writer; that “ prophecy was intent only on those two greater judicial visitations of the Hebrew people, in one of which their captivity, in the other their final rejection, were involved; the superior importance of these two visitations, in the scheme of divine government, sufficiently indicating the reason why they are selected for the subjects of a copious prophetic revelation, the former of them in the Old Testament, the second in the New3." And, in like manner, with regard to the prophecy which is contained in the eleventh chapter of the prophet Daniel, relating to the successors of Alexander, it may be observed, that only two of the four sovereigns, amongst whom his dominions were divided, are mentioned in this chapter, namely, the king of the north and the king of the south, by whom are understood the kings of Syria and of Egypt. “ These two kings,” observes Mr William Lowth, “came at length to have the principal share of Alexander's dominions, and make the greatest figure amongst his successors. But the reason why they only are mentioned here, is, because they only were concerned in the affairs of the Jews : Judæa bordering upon each of their dominions; and belonging sometimes to one, sometimes to the other of those princes.” The great empires also, which form the subject of the prophecies of Daniel, were all of them closely connected, either with the fates and fortunes of the Jewish people, or with the future destinies of the Christian Church”.
| Isai. xliv. 28, xlv. 1. Dan. vii, h, viii. 7, 8, xi. 3, 4. 2 Isai. x. 5, 12.
3 Davison on Prophecy, p. 413. 4 Lowth on Dan, xi. 5.
5 “ The reason,” observes Mr W. Lowth, “ why the Spirit of God takes
notice of these monarchies rather than any others, is, because God's people were subjects to these monarchies as they succeeded one another : and in
It is of the utmost importance to keep these observations in view, in forming our estimate of the object and intention with which the fates and fortunes of temporal kingdoms are introduced amongst the higher and more important subjects of ancient prophecy.
(5) Another thing, which ought to be attended to, in considering the subject of ancient prophecy, is—the genius and character of the prophetic style. This is indispensably necessary to the proper interpretation of the Apocalypse, considered as a continuation of the ancient prophecies; and as being designed, both to fill up what was wanting in ancient prophecy, and to carry it on to the close of the divine dispensations. For the prophetic style is not composed of arbitrary symbols, which are adopted without reason, and are uncertain in their application; but, as has been observed by an eminent writer, “ is constructed on such principles as make it the subject of just criticism and rational interpretation.”
The imagery of ancient prophecy consists of symbols, which are taken from the heavenly bodies, as the sun, moon, and stars; or from the rest of the visible works of nature, as animals, mountains, seas, rivers and the like; or from the arts and sciences, customs and practices of men; or, lastly, from the Mosaic economy; as the Temple, the Tabernacle, and other matters contained in the writings of Moses, and
their succession, a line of time is car. ried on to the coming of Christ, who was to appear in the time of the fourth monarchy, and the countries belonging to it were to be the chief seat of Christ's kingdom ; as Mr Mede observes in his
Dissertation on this subject. (Works, pp. 908—910.) Comment. on Daniel, ii. 40.
· Hurd On the Prophecies, Sermon 1x. p. 90; in which the subject of the Prophetic style is investigated.
in the history of the republic and religion of the Jews
The same imagery distinguishes the figurative language of the Apocalypse; except that it is, perhaps, applied in a bolder manner and with a deeper colouring in this last than in the former prophecies*. And this was to be expected from the nature of the subject: because,—the former dispensation being typical of that later one, which was to follow it, and in which the types and shadows of the former dispensation were to have their accomplishment,—we cannot be surprised at finding an uniformity of style and colouring in the prophecies belonging to each dispensation; and that these should rise in sublimity and power, as the prophecy, in which they are found, spoke with greater clearness on those awful and sublime events, which constitute the great subject of prophecy under both dispensations !
(6) Lastly, in applying the prophecies of the Old Testament to the illustration of the Apocalypse, we ought to form a due estimate of the spiritual character of ancient prophecy. This will appear from considering what was the great object of prophecy from the beginning,—which was to prepare mankind for the coming of the promised Redeemer; and from its close connexion with the Jewish dispensation, which itself was only typical of that better dispensation which was to follow it; and of which the ceremonies, the priesthood, and the sacrifices had all of them reference to some fulfilment under the more sublime and spiritual dispensation of the Gospel.
Lancaster's Preliminary Discourse to his Commentary on the Revelation of St John, pp. 4–8.
3 See Hurd On the Prophecies, Ser. mon ix. pp. 113, 114.