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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27

Lecture IV. Miscellaneous Passages

page 27

Lecture IV. Miscellaneous Passages.

I Shall proceed now to an examination of the miscellaneous passages which are supposed to be prophecies concerning Christ, but which really arc references to passing or impending national and political events. In Genesis xlix. 10, we read:—

"The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be."

I shall not dwell long on this: the only wonder is that it should ever have been cited as a prophecy concerning Christ, more than 1600 years before he came. The passage itself, though put into the mouth of Jacob, had, in all probability, no existence till many centuries after Jacob's day,—till, in fact," Judah" had become a power under David; and then it expressed the fervid or defiant hope of the rising tribe. The word "Shiloh" points out, not a person, but a place, and the correct translation probably is, not "until Shiloh come," but until he (i.e. Judah) come to Shiloh. The very same words are used in 1 Samuel iv. 12: of one who" came to Shiloh." The reference to Shiloh is obvious. It was a sacred city of Israel, whom Judah envied; and the poet predicts that Judah shall yet possess it. Or "Shiloh," as the symbol of rest (with which word it is connected), may stand for the culmination of Judah's triumphs. Anyhow, it is to Judah that the "gathering of the people" is to be, and Judah is personified and glorified all through. A comparison of this "blessing" by Jacob with the "blessing" by Moses (Deut. xxxiii. 7) brings out this meaning in a striking manner. Moses is made to beg for Judah that" his people" may be brought to him, i.e., that this tribe may occupy the first place and be, in fact, the ruling power. In both cases it is perfectly obvious that the reference is to the political fortunes of a tribe, and not to the spiritual reign of a Messiah. Applied to Christ, the prophecy is not only inappropriate but untrue, for the sceptre did depart from Judah before Christ came: it ceased in fact nearly 600 years before he came. But the application to Christ can best be shewn to be inadmissible by applying my favourite test,—by reading what comes before and goes after. Listen then to the whole passage:—

" Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up. He stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until he come to Shiloh; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine; ho washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk."

page 28

Who would apply the last half of the prediction to Christ? But the language might very well serve as a description of a jubilant and successful tribe

In Deuteronomy xviii. 15, we have a passage that is quoted in the New Testament in one place, and believed to be referred to in another The passage is:—

" The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken."

This verse, Peter quotes in Acts iii. 22, applying it to Christ; and, in John v. 40, Christ himself, without quoting any particular passage, refers to Moses who "wrote," he says, of him. Now, to begin with, it is, one may say, absolutely certain that Moses did not write the Book of Deuteronomy at all. If Christ thought he did, he only shared the general tradition of his day; but the facts are irresistible, and it is no longer possible to believe that Moses wrote the words before us But, whoever wrote the passage, it cannot be applied to Christ. It is part of a message from Jehovah to the children of Israel, and it must be taken as a whole. The occasion was the remembrance of the shrinking of the people before Sinai, when they entreated that God would not speak by thunder and lightning, but through Moses: and it is upon that, that Moses is told to promise them a prophet "from among their brethren" like himself. What an utterly inappropriate thing it would have been to have promised them a prophet in 1000 years! The whole point of it lies in having the prophet now or soon They trembled at the thunder and lightning of Sinai, they begged for the voice of a man and not the thunder of a God; and what they ask is promised them But the special use of this prophet is explicitly stated. In the land to which they are going there are "abominations,"—cruel sacrifices, divinations, enchanters, witches, charmers, spirit mediums, (verses 9-12) But they must not hearken to these, for God will raise them up a true prophet, to whom alone they must listen.

The time and circumstances then are fixed, and the prophet like unto Moses, that shall be raised up "from among" them, is to be useful to the very persons addressed But a succession of prophets is indicated, for the chapter goes on to distinguish between the good and the bad, the false and the true prophets, and a test is given whereby the true prophet can be known; and then the next chapter still further clinches the reference to the time of the speaker by dwelling upon the entrance of the Jews into the promised land. Besides, Christ was not a prophet" like unto" Moses: lie was utterly unlike him; so unlike him that the Gospels contrast them again and again: so unlike him that in every point and on every ground the prophecy fails to be at all related to Christ, unless, indeed, we" spiritualize" the local promise, and see in Christ, what indeed we well may see, the culmination of the prophetic office in him; but that does not any more make the passage in Deuteronomy a prophecy of him.

A passage in Jeremiah xxxi. 15, is quoted in Matthew ii. 17-18, page 29 as having been fulfilled by the weeping of the Jewish mothers for their young children, slain by Herod. The passage in Jeremiah is;—

"Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard iu Bamah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Kahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not."

And in Matthew it says that the weeping of the Hebrew mothers in the time of Christ fulfilled that. But the verse is a statement of fact and not a prediction; and what does the following verse in Jeremiah say? It says that God consoled the mourners, by saying," Refrain from weeping . . for they shall come a; rain from the enemy . . and there is hope that thy children shall come again to their own border:"—a perfectly monstrous reply if we think of the weeping of the Hebrew mothers for their dead children, but an equally rational reply if we think of what is clearly meant—the weeping of Hebrew mothers for then children gone into captivity. The taking of that passage out of its connection and its application to the time of Christ cannot be defended for a moment, while its reference to an ancient raid upon Judah is as obvious. The "Rahel" (or Rachel) of the passage is doubtless the wife of Jacob and the mother of Benjamin, the founder of the tribe to whom Ramah belonged. She is here poetically represented as weeping for her afflicted descendants, more than a thousand years after her death.

A passage in Zechariah xii. 10, would never have been pressed into service as a messianic prophecy, if it had not been quoted in the Gospels, as fulfilled by Christ. It runs thus:—

"And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn."

The reference to this is in John xix. 37, when, after the record of the piercing of Christ, the passage is added,

"For these things were done that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced."

It looks just as though any phrase that seemed applicable sufficed as a prophecy; though here the passage is not even said to be a prophecy, but is only quoted as an apt saying: but that suggests a great deal as to quotations in general of Old Testament scripture. A reference to the passage in Zechariah, and a mere glance at the context shews its utter irrelevancy as a prophecy concerning Christ. In the first place, it is to be noted that the word "me" and the word "him" refer to the same person: the verse itself shews that. It says," they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him "—plainly it should be "they shall look upon him whom they have pierced, and shall mourn for him." This is the reading of the best manuscripts. The person pierced and the person mourned for are one The reference is to some person of very great political and national importance; for it adds;— page 30 "In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem . . . and the land shall mourn, every family apart,"—a state of things utterly opposed to the reality when Christ was pierced. But the lines that follow make it even ridiculous to apply the statement to Christ: for it says that every one shall mourn for the pierced one,—

"Every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; all the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart."

Need anything be added to shew that the prophecy could not have referred to Christ, and that it is from first to last inapplicable to him? The time indicated is one during which a siege of Jerusalem is going on (verses 2 and 8), the end of it being the destruction of the besiegers (verse 9.) But nothing of the kind happened in the time of Jesus. Then, so far from mourning for him, they execrated him, and, as one has said, "curse him and his followers even to this day." The meaning of the passage probably is that they shall mourn for king Jehoiakim as they had before mourned for king Josiah, who was slain in the valley of Meggidon.

In the passage I quoted just now, John xix. 86, you would notice the statement that certain things were done (to Christ)" that the scripture should be fulfilled,—"A bone of him shall not be broken." This referred to the piercing of Christ's side in place of breaking his legs. But the quotation from the Old Testament is woefully far-fetched; is, in fact, about as bad a case of accommodation as could be found. The passage referred to is in Exodus xii. 40, where the direction is given not to break a bone of the passover lamb. This use of the words" For these things were done that the scripture should be fulfilled" shews how loosely that formula could be used, and out of what unlikely and inappropriate material a prediction, a prophecy, or a promise could be extracted.

In this same book, we have a passage which, in like manner, is quoted, in the New Testament as applicable to Christ. The verso is in Zechariah ix. 9.

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon (o even upon) a colt the foal of an ass."*

The passage in which it is quoted is Matthew xxi. 4-5, where we find a record of Christ's riding into Jerusalem upon an ass, and the usual addition, "All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet." In the Hebrew the "ass" and the "colt the foal of an ass" are one and the same: but the writer in Matthew suspiciously blunders, and lands us in the absurdity of Christ's riding on two animals; for it says:—"And the dis- page 31 ciples brought the ass and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set Jesus thereon." If we turn to the place we shall see that this is another case of arbitrary procedure on the part of the evangelist, in the taking of a scrap from a description of one event and violently applying it to another. The king spoken of in Zechariah is evidently a political king, and one possessed or looked for in the time of Zechariah. That king is utterly unlike Christ. He rides indeed into Jerusalem but that is the whole of the analogy. He is a ruler over vast domains, stretching from sea to sea; and, it immediately adds, the chariot, and the battle horse, and the bow shall be abolished, and the king shall be on peaceful terms with the Gentiles round about; and this is the king that rides into Jerusalem on an ass ! The picture is perfectly consistent and clear, but it is a picture which excludes Christ. It is the picture of a rejoicing people welcoming their peaceful but mighty monarch,—his enemies subdued or reconciled, and his dominion secure from sea to sea. It is worthy of note that in the 72nd Psalm we have a precisely similar description of the Jewish king's happy reign; and that too has been taken as a prophecy concerning Christ; but the inapplicability of it is manifest. The king there described is a political potentate, and phrases can only be applied to Christ by isolating them from their connection or spiritualizing the whole.

I shall quote one more passage from Zechariah. It is in chapter xiii. 7.

"Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered."

This has actually been quoted, not only as a prophecy concerning Christ, but as a proof of his Deity; since God here calls this "man" His "fellow"; although the Hebrew word only means a friend. The passage is quoted in Matthew xxvi. 31.

"Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad."

Here again, no affirmation is made that the passage from Zechariah is a prophecy now to be fulfilled. It only says "for it is written ": but it has been freely taken as a prophecy. Turn to the place and what do you find?—You find a description of a sorrowful time for the nation. Its "shepherd," or leader, is to be struck down, and "in all the land," it says, two thirds shall be cut off and die, and the remaining third shall be purified, and learn to call Jehovah their God. Not a word of this is applicable to Christ, but it is all a part of Zechariah's description of the scene connected with the smiting of the shepherd and the scattering of the sheep. It is simply a description of a terribly destructive invasion, and the scrap of it applied to Christ can only be made applicable by taking it utterly away from its connection. In all probability, the person meant is king Jehoiachin the successor of Jehoiakim above mentioned.

A passage in Hosea xi. 1 is quoted in Matthew ii. 18-16 as fulfilled page 32 by Christ. The passage in Hosea reads—" When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." The passage in Matthew reads:—

"And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and lice into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, ho took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son."

This is a case of direct assertion of prophecy; and a very bad case it is. We have already seen, by proofs that are overwhelming, that the people of Israel were constantly personified, and called the servant or son of God. It is so here. "When Israel was a child," that is—when the people of Israel were in the infancy of their national life," I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt "; and so, according to the record, He did, bringing forth the children of Israel out of Egypt. That the nation is intended is plain from the next verse, where we read that this "child" fell into idolatry, and "sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images." Then it adds,—" He shall not return into the land of Egypt, but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return" (or repent). What is this but an explicit limiting of the picture to the child of God, the people of Israel, called out of Egypt, then fallen into idolatry, and then sent to captivity? And yet Matthew, violently cutting half a dozen words out of their connection, perverts them into a prophecy concerning Christ! I do not wonder that acute persons have been led to say that the story of Christ's being taken into Egypt was itself invented to match the invented prophecy. The case is made more palpably bad by the fact that the verse is not a prediction at all, but an historical statement. It told of something past, not of something to come—" I called my son out of Egypt." But they who read the whole passage will see that the reference to the people Israel is clear. It must be noted, too, that "Ephraim" is also spoken of, and in a similar manner, (verse 8). Using the same beautiful and touching figure, and representing Jehovah as a Father dealing with children, the prophet says, speaking for God," I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms."

A similar passage, similarly treated, is to be found hi Micah v. 2.

"But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."

In Matthew ii. 1-6, we read:—

"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Whore is he that is born Xing of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judiea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the page 33 [unclear: least] among the princes of Juda: for out of then shrill come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel."

Here, the interpretation of the prophecy is attributed to "the chief priests and scribes," which, to say the least of it, is unlikely. In any case, test the passage in Matthew, by an original reading of the passage in Micah. Its application to Christ will then be a burst bubble. The ruler who is to come out of Bethlehem is definitely described (verse 5) as a man who shall deliver the Jews from the Assyrians, and waste the land of Nimrod; and the rest of the chapter is taken up with references to the cutting off of enemies, the destruction of chariots, the throwing down of strongholds, the abolishing of witchcraft, and the smashing of idols: all of which is utterly inapplicable to Christ, and yet it all occurs in the description of the ruler from Bethlehem and the events of his expected reign. The reference to the Assyrians limits and localises the prediction, and makes it inapplicable to Christ, in whose days the Assyrians had ceased to be an independent people.

The last passage I shall refer to is in Malachi iii. 1, which is quoted in Matthew xi. 10, as a prophecy concerning Christ's "messenger," John the Baptist. It reads thus:—

"Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts."

This "messenger" is, in Matthew xi. 10, distinctly said to be John the Baptist. But a reference to the passage in Malachi shews that this "messenger" is to herald in a time altogether different from that occupied by the life of Christ. It is a time of terror that is foretold. The very next verse asks," But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth?""The Lord" will come with swift judgment. That day will" bum as an oven," and the wicked will be like" stubble," in that" great and dreadful day of the Lord:"—all of which does not at all apply either to John the Baptist, to Christ, or to his times. But further; the burden of the chapter is neglected "ordinances," and unpaid "tithes." On account of these, God will judge the people; and, to remind them of these, His "messenger" will come. The end will be accomplished in the purification of "the sons of Levi" (verse 8), that they may attend to the" offering" or ordinances of the temple" as in the days of old," and in the peace and prosperity of the nation, dwelling in its "delightsome land" (verse 11-12). Besides, this "messenger" of the covenant is one in whom the Jews" delight." I need not dwell upon this, to point out the utter inappropriateness of all that to John, to Jesus, or to his times.

Thus, one by one, the broken reeds disappear:—and what then? What good will it do to tell these things? I answer;—Much good. It put you in possession of the truth, and that is always good. It takes away a false buttress to the pernicious dogmas of the infallibility of the Bible and the Deity of Jesus. It helps you to really understand the Old Testament, and that is a great gain: and page 34 finally, it teaches yon to use your reason, to exercise your judgment, to cultivate your independence and freedom.

If these do not appear to you to be good things, I can only express the hope that something may happen to you to compel you to think for yourselves,—to cease to be children and to begin your intellectual lives as self-reliant women and thoughtful men.

* The passage is mistranslated. We should read:—" Thy king cometh to thee (he is just, and hath been saved), lowly and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass." Probably, the person meant is king Hezekiah, who during some part of the Assyrian invasion had been in danger of being captured by Sennacherib.