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of believers, the remnant according to the election of grace. These were, in fact, from the beginning, the true Israel-the true seed of Abraham-the Jews who were Jews inwardly. In these the continued existence of the Church should be secured and perpetuated; first, within the limits of the outward Israel, and then by the accession of believing Gentiles to the spiritual Israel. When the fulness of time should come for the removal of the temporary and restrictive institutions of the old economy, that change should be so ordered as not only to effect the emancipation of the Church from ceremonial bondage, but at the same time to attest the divine disapprobation of the sins committed by the carnal Israel throughout their history. While these had everything to fear from the approaching change, the spiritual Israel had everything to hope-not only the continued existence of the Church, but its existence under a more spiritual, free, and glorious dispensation, to be ushered in by the appearance of that great Deliverer towards whom the ceremonies of the law all pointed.
From this succinct statement of the Prophet's doctrine, it is easy to account for some peculiarities of form and phraseology, particularly for the constant alternation of encouragement and threatening, and for the twofold sense, or rather application, of the national name--Israel. This latter usage is explained by Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans (ch. ii. 17-29; ix. 6-9; xi. 1-7), where the very same doctrine is propounded in relation to the ancient Church that we have just obtained by a fair induction from Isaiah's later prophecies. There is, in fact, no part of the Old Testament to which the New affords a more decisive key in the shape of an authoritative and inspired interpretation.
Another peculiarity of form, highly important in the exposition of these Prophecies, is the frequent introduction of allusions to particular events in the history of Israel, as examples of the general truths so constantly repeated. The events thus cited are not numerous, but of the greatest magnitude-such as the calling of Abraham, the exodus from Egypt, the destruction of Babylon, the return from exile, and the advent of Messiah. These events have sometimes been confounded by interpreters, and even so far misconceived as to put a new and false face on the whole prediction.
After devoting considerable space to the history of the criticism on these Later Prophecies, proving that they are from the hand of one writer, and that writer Isaiah, Dr. Alexander turns to look at the history of their interpretation, which he does, not through the medium of minute bibliographical and chronological details, but by exhibiting the several theories or schools of exegesis, which, at different times or at the same time, have exerted an important influence upon the interpretation of these chapters.
He notices the opinion generally entertained by the Fathers, and by some modern writers, that these prophecies have reference throughout to the New Dispensation and the Christian Church, including its whole history, with more or less distinctness, from the advent of Christ to the end of the world. The extravagant conclusions often reached under this view, and the general uncertainty thus imparted to
the work of interpretation, eventually led many to reject this theory in favour of its opposite-namely, that the main subject of these chapters must be sought as far as possible before the Advent; and, as a necessary consequence, either in the period of the Babylonian exile, or in that of the Syrian domination, with the periods of re-action that succeeded them respectively, since it was only these that furnished events of sufficient magnitude to be the subjects of such grand predictions.
After both these systems had been pushed to an extreme, it was at length found necessary to devise some method of conciliating and combining them. The first and rudest means employed for this end was to assume arbitrarily a change of subject when it appeared necessary, and to make the prophet skip from Babylon to Rome, and from the Maccabees to Doomsday, as he found convenient.
A more artificial method of combining both hypotheses is that of Grotius, whose interpretation of these prophecies appears to be governed by two maxims: first, that they all relate to subjects and events before the time of Christ; and, secondly, that these are often types of something afterwards developed.
A third mode of reconciling these two theories of interpretation is the one pursued by Lowth, and still more successfully by Hengstenberg. It rests upon the supposition that the nearer and the more remote realization of the same prophetic picture might be presented to the prophet simultaneously or in immediate succession; so that, for example, the deliverance from Babylon by Cyrus insensibly merges into a greater deliverance from sin and ruin by Christ. The principle assumed in this ingenious doctrine is esteemed by our author to be as just as it is beautiful, and of the highest practical importance in interpretation. The only objection he finds to its general application in the case before us is, that it concedes the constant reference to Babylon throughout this book, and only seeks to reconcile this fundamental fact with the wider application of the prophecies. It still remains to be considered, therefore, whether any general hypothesis or scheme can be constructed, which, without giving undue prominence to any of the topics introduced, without restricting general expressions to specific objects, without assuming harsh transitions, needless double senses, or imaginary typical relations, shall do justice to the unity and homogeneousness of the composition, and satisfactorily reconcile the largeness and variety of its design with the particular allusions and predictions which can only be eliminated from it by a forced and artificial exegesis. Such an hypothesis, as our author thinks, is that of which, as propounded by him, we have already given an account, and which is assumed as the basis of his exposition. It supposes the main subject of these prophecies, or rather of this prophecy, to be the Church or people of God, considered in its members and in its head, in its design, its origin, its progress, its vicissitudes, its consummation, in its various relations to God and to the world, both as a field of battle and a field of labour-an enemy's country to be conquered, and an inheritance to be secured. After strongly enforcing this view, and anticipating the objections to which it may seem open, Professor Alexander reverts with marked disapprobation
disapprobation to the hypothesis assumed by Cocceius and others, who appear to recognise in these later prophecies specific periods and events in the history of the Christian Church. This hypothesis is now very generally exploded, having been brought into discredit by the practical refutation afforded by the view of such writers as Cocceius, and, less frequently, Vitringa, seeking the fulfilment of grand prophecies in the petty squabbles of the Dutch church and republic.
A very different fate has been experienced by the ancient and still current doctrine, that the main subject of these prophecies throughout is the restoration from the Babylonish exile. While this hypothesis has been assumed as undeniable by many Christian writers, it affords the whole foundation of the modern neological criticism and exegesis. It is worth while, therefore, to examine somewhat closely the pretensions of this theory to general reception.
In the first place, let it be observed how seldom, after all, the book mentions Babylon, the Exile, or the Restoration. This remark is made in reference to those cases only where these subjects are expressly mentioned, i. e., either named totidem verbis, or described in terms which will apply to nothing else. An exact enumeration of such cases, made for the first time, might surprise one whose previous impressions had been all derived from the sweeping declarations of interpreters and critics. It is true the cases may be vastly multiplied by taking into the account all the indirect allusions which these writers are accustomed to assume, i. e., by applying to the Exile all the places and particular expressions which admit by possibility of such an application. Having first inferred from the explicit prophecies respecting Babylon, that this is the great subject of the book, it is perfectly easy to apply to this same subject hundreds of phrases in themselves indefinite, and wholly dependent for specific meaning upon some hypothesis like that in question.
The necessary tendency of such a method to excess, is illustrated by the gradual advances of the later German writers in the specific explanation of these chapters. Where Rosenmüller and Gesenius were contented to find general poetical descriptions of the Exile and the Restoration, Hitzig detects precise chronological allusions to particular campaigns and battles in the progress of Cyrus; and this again is pushed so far by Hendewerk and Knobel, that they sometimes find more striking and minute coincidences between this Hebrew writer and Herodotus or Xenophon, than any of the old-fashioned orthodox writers ever dreamed of finding between him and the New Testament. To hear these writers talk of the battle of Pasargada, the defeat of Neriglassar, the first and second attack on Babylonia, the taking of Sardis, &c. &c., we might fancy ourselves listening to Eusebius or Cocceius, with a simple substitution of profane for sacred history.
The fallacy of this mode of interpretation lies in the fact that the indefinite expressions thus applied to one event or series of events, might just as naturally be applied to others, if these others were first fixed upon as being the main subject of the whole composition. Thus, all admit that there are frequent allusions in these later chapters to
the exodus from Egypt. Now if any interpreter should be intrepid and absurd enough to argue that they must have been composed by Moses, and that the great deliverance then wrought must be the subject of the whole book, whatever difficulties, and however insurmountable, this doctrine might encounter in a different direction, it could find none in adapting what is said of crossing seas and rivers, opening fountains, journeys through the desert, subjugation of enemies, rest in the promised land, &c. &c., to the original exodus, with far less violence than to the restoration from captivity. It is equally true, but in a less degree, that Grotius, who refers some portions of this book to the period of the Maccabees, is perfectly successful, after having once assumed this as the subject, in accommodating to it many of the very same expressions which another class of writers no less confidently claim as clear allusions to the Babylonian exile.
The fallacy of such exegetical reasoning may be further exposed by applying the same process to a distinct but analogous case. In the Epistle to the Romans Paul is now almost universally regarded as foretelling the restoration of the Jews to the favour of God. Assuming this to be the theme, not only of those passages in which it is expressly mentioned, but of the whole Epistle, an interpreter of no great ingenuity might go completely through it, putting upon every general expression a specific sense in strict agreement with his foregone conclusion. All that relates to justification might be limited to the Jews of some future day: the glorious truth that there is no condemnation to believers in Christ Jesus, made a specific and conclusive promise to converted Jews; and the precious promise that all things shall work together for good to them that love God, made to mean that all events shall be so ordered as to bring about the future restoration of the Jews. The very absurdity of such conclusions makes them better illustrations of the erroneous principles involved in similar interpretations of the more obscure and less familiar parts of Scripture.
Setting aside the cases which admit of one application as well as another, or of this application only because of a foregone conclusion, the truth of which cannot be determined by expressions deriving their specific meaning from itself, let the reader now enumerate the instances in which the reference to Babylon, the exile, and the restoration, is not only possible, but necessary. He must not be surprised if he discovers as the fruit of his researches, that the Prophet speaks of Babylon less frequently than Egypt; that the ruins, desolations, and oppressions which he mentions in a multitude of places, are no more Babylonian than Egyptian or Roman in the text itself, and only made so by the interest or fancy of some writers, the authority of others, and the easy faith of the remainder.
In opposition to these strained conclusions, it is enough to propound the obvious supposition that the downfall of Babylon is repeatedly mentioned, like the exodus from Egypt, as a great event in the history of Israel, but that the subject of the prophecy is neither the Egyptian nor the Babylonian bondage, nor deliverance from either,
but the whole condition, character, and destiny of Israel as the chosen people, and the church of the Old Testament.
We have thus endeavoured to set forth, as clearly and concisely as possible, the view taken by Dr. Alexander of a subject of no common interest and importance. We are not ourselves wedded to any theory of interpretation that has special reference to these chapters; and without entering into the question more largely than the present occasion allows, we cannot investigate the difficulties which seem to us to be presented not less by the view taken by our author than by those suggested by some of the writers whose opinions he opposes. The test must lie in the application, and is not to be found in any general statement, however able and consistent; but in the interpretation of particular passages of the prophecy. Before any theory is pronounced perfect, it must be seen that all the texts will fall naturally into it without violence or distortion. That interpretation is likely to be the best which is most congruous. A theory which cannot consistently make out the whole of any one passage to be literal, or symbolical, or representative, but which requires one part to be literal, another to be symbolical, another representative, cannot be received with undoubting confidence. If this latitude be allowed, a prophecy may be made to mean almost anything that the interpreter desires. Professor Alexander sees this clearly in respect to other plans of interpretation, but does not seem to be aware that even his own lies, in many parts, dangerously naked to the same objection. It seems to us that in many cases this might have been obviated under his plan, had the necessity for congruity of interpretation been more constantly present to his mind. If an interpreter takes one set of terms in his text to be literal and another symbolical, to suit the exigencies of exposition-he may be right, but he lacks that evidence of congruity, which would have been greatly in his favour; and he cannot speak from authority, but only from the balance of probabilities, as to the superiority of his theory of interpretation over that of another, who in like manner vibrates between the symbolical and the real-although, it may be, the symbolical of the one is the real, and the real the symbolical, of the other.