on Habakkuk 2 :1
I will stand upon my watch - The prophets are always represented as watchmen, watching constantly for the comfort, safety, and welfare of the people; and watching also to receive information from the Lord: for the prophetic influence was not always with them, but was granted only at particular times, according to the will of God. When, in doubtful cases, they wished to know what God was about to do with the country, they retired from society and gave themselves to meditation and prayer, waiting thus upon God to hear what he would say In them.
What he will say unto me - בי bi, In me - in my understanding and heart.
And what I shall answer when I am reproved - What I shall say to God in behalf of the people; and what the Lord shall command me to say to the people. Some translate, "And what he will answer for my conviction." Or, "what shall be answered to my pleading."
on Habakkuk 2 :1
'For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth;' Notes, Isaiah 21:6; compare Isaiah 21:8, Isaiah 21:11; Micah 7:4; compare Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 3:17; Ezekiel 33:7. In these passages, the idea is that of one who is stationed on an elevated post of observation, who can look over a large region of country, and give timely warning of the approach of an enemy.
The general idea of prophecy which is presented in these passages, is that of a scene which is made to pass before the mind like a picture, or a landscape, where the mind contemplates a panoramic view of objects around it, or in the distance; where, as in a landscape, objects may appear to be grouped together, or lying near together, which may be in fact separated a considerable distance. The prophets described those objects which were presented to their minds as they "appeared" to them, or as they seem to be drawn on the picture which was before them. They had, undoubtedly, an intelligent consciousness of what they were describing; they were not mad, like the priestesses of Apollo; they had a clear view of the vision, and described it as it appeared to them. Let this idea be kept in mind, that the prophets saw in vision; that probably the mode in which they contemplated objects was somewhat in the manner of a landscape as it passes before the mind, and much light and beauty will be cast on many of the prophecies which now seem to be obscure.
III. From the view which has now been taken of the nature of prophecy, some important remarks may be made, throwing additional light on the subject.
(1) It is not to be expected that the prophets would describe what they saw in all their connections and relations; see Hengstenberg, in Bib. Repos. ii. p. 148. They would present what they saw as we describe what we witness in a landscape. Objects which appear to be near, may be in fact separated by a considerable interval. Objects on the mountainside may seem to lie close to each other, between which there may be a deep ravine, or a flowery vale. In describing or painting it, we describe or paint the points that appear; but the ravine and the vale cannot be painted. They are not seen. So in a prophecy, distant events may appear to lie near to each other, and may be so described, while "between" them there may be events happy or adverse, of long continuance and of great importance.
(2) Some single view of a future event may attract the attention and engross the mind of the prophet. A multitude of comparatively unimportant objects may pass unnoticed, while there may be one single absorbing view that shall seize upon, and occupy all the attention. Thus, in the prophecies which relate to the Messiah. Scarcely any one of the prophets gives any connected or complete view of his entire life and character. It is some single view of him, or some single event in his life, that occupies the mind. Thus, at one time his birth is described; at another his kingdom; at another his divine nature; at another his sufferings; at another his resurrection; at another his glory. "The prophetic view is made up, not of one of these predictions, but of all combined;" as the life of Jesus is not that which is contained in one of the evangelists, but in all combined. Illustrations of this remark might be drawn in abundance from the prophecies of Isaiah. Thus, in Isaiah 2:4, he sees the Messiah as the Prince of Peace, as diffusing universal concord among all the nations, and putting an end to war.
In Isaiah 6:1-5, compare John 12:41, he sees him as the Lord of glory, sitting on a throne, and filling the temple. In Isaiah 7:14, he sees him as a child, the son of a virgin. In Isaiah 9:1-2, he sees him as having reached manhood, and having entered on his ministry, in the land of Galilee where he began to preach. In Isaiah 9:6-7, he sees him as the exalted Prince, the Ruler, the mighty God, the Father of eternity. In Isaiah 11 he sees him as the descendant of Jesse - a tender sprout springing up from the stump of an ancient decayed tree. In Isaiah 25:8, he sees him as destroying death, and introducing immortality; compare 1 Corinthians 15:54. In Isaiah 35:1-10 the happy effects of his reign are seen; in Isaiah 53:1-12 he views him as a suffering Messiah, and contemplates the deep sorrows which he would endure when he should die to make atonement for the sins of the world. Thus, in all the prophets, we have one view presented at one time, and another at another; and the entire prediction is made up of all these when they are combined into one.
It may be observed also of Isaiah, that in the first part of his prophecy the idea of an exalted or triumphant Messiah is chiefly dwelt upon; in the latter part, he presents more prominently the idea of the suffering Messiah. The reason may have been, that the object in the first part was to console the hearts of the nation under their deep and accumulated calamities, with the assurance that their great Deliverer would come. In the latter part, which may not have been published in his life, the idea of a suffering Messiah is more prominently introduced. This might have been rather designed for posterity than for the generation when Isaiah 54ed; or it may have been designed for the more pious individuals in the nation rather than for the nation at large, and hence, in order to give a full view of the Messiah, he dwelt then on his sufferings and death; see Hengstenberg's Christol. vol. i. pp. 153, 154.
(3) Another peculiarity, which may arise from the nature of prophecy here presented, may have been that the mind of the prophet glanced rapidly from one thing to another. By very slight associations or connections, as they may now appear to us, the mind is carried from one object or event to another; and almost before we are aware of it, the prophet seems to be describing some point that has, as appears to us, scarcely any connection with the one which he had but just before been describing. We are astonished at the transition, and perhaps can by no means ascertain the connection which has subsisted in view of the mind of the prophet, and which has led him to pass from the one to the other. The mental association to us is lost or unseen, and we deem him abrupt, and speak of his rapid transitions, and of the difficulties involved in the doctrine of a double sense. The views which I am here describing may be presented under the idea of what may be called the laws of prophetic suggestion; and perhaps a study of those laws might lead to a removal of most of the difficulties which have been supposed to be connected with the subject of a spiritual meaning, and of the double sense of the prophecies.
In looking over a landscape; in attempting to describe the objects as they lie in view of the eye - if that landscape were not seen by others for whom the description is made - the transitions would seem to be rapid, and the objects might seem to be described in great disorder. It would be difficult to tell why this object was mentioned in connection with that; or by what laws of association the one suggested by the other. A house or tree; a brook, a man, an animal, a valley, a mountain, might all be described, and between them there might be no apparent laws of close connection, and all the real union may be that they lie in the same range, in view of him who contemplates them. The "laws of prophetic suggestion" may appear to be equally slight; and we may not be able to trace them, because we have not the entire view or grouping which was presented to the mind of the prophet. We do not see the associations which in his view connected the one with the other.
To him, there may have been no double sense. He may have described objects singly as they appeared to him. But they may have lain near each other. They may have been so closely grouped that he could not separate them even in the description. The words appropriate to the one may have naturally and easily fallen into the form of appropriate description of the other. And the objects may have been so contiguous, and the transition in the mind of the prophet so rapid, that he may himself have been scarcely conscious of the change, and his narrative may seem to flow on as one continued description. Thus, the object with which he commenced, may have sunk out of view, and the mind be occupied entirely in the contemplation of that which was at first secondary. Such seems to have been, in a remarkable manner, the uniqueness of the mind of Isaiah. Whatever is the object or event with which he commences, the description usually closes with the Messiah. His mind glances rapidly from the object immediately before him, and fixes on that which is more remote, and the first object gradually sinks away; the language rises in dignity and beauty; the mind is full, and the description proceeds with a statement respecting the Prince of Peace. This is not double sense: it is rapid transition under the laws of prophetic suggestion; and though at first some object immediately before the prophet was the subject of his contemplation, yet before he closes, his mind is totally absorbed in some distant event that has been presented, and his language is designedly such as is adapted to that.
It would be easy to adduce numerous instances of the operation of this law in Isaiah. For illustration we may refer to the remarkable prophecy in Isaiah 7:14; compare Isaiah 8:8; Isaiah 9:1-7. See the notes on those passages. Indeed, it may be presented, I think, as one of the prominent characteristics of the mind of Isaiah, that in the prophetic visions which he contemplated, the Messiah always occupied some place; that whatever prophetic landscape, so to speak, passed before him, the Messiah was always in some part of it; and that consequently wherever he began his prophetic annunciations, he usually closed with a description of some portion of the doctrines, or the work of the Messiah. It is this law of the mental associations of Isaiah which gives such value to his writings in the minds of all who love the Saviour.
(4) It follows from this view of prophecy, that the prophets would speak of occurrences and events as they appeared to them. They would speak of them as actually present, or as passing before their eyes. They would describe them as being what they had seen, and would thus throw them into the past tense, as we describe what we have seen in a landscape, and speak of what we saw. It would be comparatively infrequent, therefore, that the event would be described as "future." Accordingly, we find that this is the mode actually adopted in the prophets. Thus, in Isaiah 9:6, "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given." Isaiah 42:1, "behold my servant whom I uphold, mine elect in whom my soul delighteth." So in the description of the sufferings of the Messiah: "He is despised." "He hath no form or comeliness,: Isaiah 53:2-3. Thus, in Isaiah 14:1-8, Cyrus is addressed as if he were personally present. Frequently, events are thus described as past, or as events which the prophet had seen in vision. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined," Isaiah 9:2.
So especially in the description of the sufferings of the Messiah: "As many were astonished at thee." "His visage was so marred." "He hath borne our griefs." "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted." "He was taken from prison." "He was cut off out of the land of the living." "He made his grave," etc. etc.; Isaiah 52:14-15; Isaiah 53:4-9. In some cases, also, the prophet seems to have placed himself in vision in the midst of the scenes which he describes, or to have taken, so to speak, a station where he might contemplate a part as past, and a part as yet to come. Thus, in Isaiah 53:1-12 the prophet seems to have his station between the humiliation of the Saviour and his glorification, in which he speaks of his sufferings as past, and his glorification, and the success of the gospel, as yet to come; compare particularly Isaiah 53:9-12. This view of the nature of prophecy would have saved from many erroneous interpretations; and especially would have prevented many of the cavils of skeptics. It is a view which a man would be allowed to take in describing a landscape; and why should it be deemed irrational or absurd in prophecy?
(5) From this view it also follows, that the prophecies are usually to be regarded as seen in space and not in time; or in other words, the time would not be actually and definitely marked. They would describe the order, or the succession of events; but between them there might be a considerable, and an unmeasured interval of time. In illustration of this we may refer to the idea which has been so often presented already - the idea of a landscape. When one is placed in an advantageous position to view a landscape, he can mark distinctly the order of the objects, the succession, the grouping. He can tell what objects appear to him to lie near each other; or what are apparently in juxtaposition. But all who look at such a landscape know very well that there are objects which the eye cannot take in, and which will not be exhibited by any description. For example, hills in the distant view may seem to lie near to each other; one may seem to rise just back of the other, and they may appear to constitute parts of the same mountain range, and yet between them there may be wide and fertile vales, the extent of which the eye cannot measure, and which the mind may be wholly unable to conjecture. It has no means of measuring the distance, and a description of the whole scene as it appeared to the observer would convey no idea of the distance of the intervals. So in the prophecies. Between the events seen in vision there may be long intervals, and the length of those intervals the prophet may have left us no means of determining. He describes the scene as it appeared to him in vision. In a landscape the distance, the length, the nature of these intervals might be determined in one of three ways:
on Habakkuk 2 :1
2:1 Upon my watch - I will stand as a watchman on my watch - tower. He - The Lord. Reproved - Called to give an account of the mysteriousness of providence; either to satisfy doubters, or to silence quarrellers.