Copyright
Rose E Selfe.

The Work of the prophets online

. (page 7 of 10)
Online LibraryRose E SelfeThe Work of the prophets → online text (page 7 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and completed by the year 515 B.C. Then
we hear of no prophet for perhaps fifty years,
when we come to Malachi) the prophet who gives
his name to the last book in the Old Testament.
We know nothing about him personally, and
cannot be quite sure of the exact date when he
lived. But from his book we learn something of
the state of the Jews about half a century after
the rebuilding of the temple. They had been
disappointed in their hopes that their Persian
masters might be overcome by some stronger
power, and that they would become once more an
independent nation under their own king. Many
of them seem to have lost their faith in God's
justice and love. The Temple services were not
neglected, but the sacrifices were not offered with
real devotion, and the law was not faithfully obeyed.



142 The Work of the Prophets

Malachi begins his prophecy by reminding
them of God's love, and of their ingratitude (i. 2,
6 ; ii. 10)

" I have loved you, saith the Lord. ... A son honoureth his
father, and a servant his master : if then I be a father, where is My
honour ? and if a master, where is My fear ? . . . Have we not all
one Father ? hath not one God created us ? "

Malachi specially rebukes the priests, the sons
of Levi, who ought to have been the true messen-
gers of God, to teach and guide the people.
Instead of that, they had wearied of His service,
and there had been no pure worship at His altar.
Malachi even tells them that the Gentiles, whom
the Jews always despised, are more truly God's
worshippers than they are (i. 1 1 )

" For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the
same, My name is great among the Gentiles ; and in every place
incense is offered unto My name, and a pure offering ; for My name
is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts."

These words shew us that already many outside
the Jewish nation had begun to know and worship
the true God. And we should remember this
verse of Malachi, because it is an encouragement
to look forward to the time when from farthest



Malachi the Messenger 143

east to farthest west God's name shall be great,
and pure worship shall be offered to Him.

To those who thought God had forgotten
them, or that He was not the just God about
whom they had been taught, Malachi promises a
solemn Coming of the Lord (iii. i)

" The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple :
. . . but who may abide the day of His coming ? and who shall
stand when He appeareth ? "

He will appear as a God of judgment, and He
will witness against all wrong-doing, all selfishness
and untruth and cruelty towards the poor and
weak.

Those who fear God are not forgotten. Their
names are written in a " book of remembrance "
before the Lord. The solemn Coming will not
be terrible to them (iv. 2)

" Unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness
arise with healing in His wings ; and ye shall go forth, and gambol
as calves of the stall."

Is not this a beautiful picture of a summer
sunrise, after the darkness of night, to those



144 The Work of the Prophets

who have perhaps passed the hours in sadness
or anxiety ? " The full bright burst of summer
morn " comes with hope and healing, and we can
go forth afresh to our day's work, as the animals
troop joyously out of the dark stall into the sunny
pastures.

If the Jews were to find the Lord's Coming a
glad day, they must remember all the statutes and
judgments which God had given them by Moses.
Before that day, Malachi tells them, Elijah the
prophet will come to prepare the way of the Lord.
It was a belief among the Jews that Elijah, the
faithful prophet of the true religion, whose end
had been unlike that of other men, would one day
come back to earth again. And when the true
Sun of Righteousness arose, bringing life and
healing to men, though Elijah did not return,
John the Baptist was sent " to prepare the way of
the Lord."

Malachi's prophecy ends here. He is the last
of the fourteen prophets, from Amos onwards,
whose writings we have been considering. In
his picture you will see that he is looking back




MALACHI



Malachi the Messenger 145

at all the prophets who had gone before him.
With one hand he points forward to John the
Baptist (St. Matt. xi. 14)

" If ye will receive it, this is Elijah, which was for to come."

With the other hand Malachi directs attention
to his prophetic scroll, on which are written two
Hebrew words, meaning " The Law of Moses."
The morning star shining above him is a symbol
of the Baptist, who will precede the rising of the
Sun of Righteousness. Malachi is represented
as an old man leaning on a staff, because he is
nearly the last of the prophets. Indeed, because
his book is found at the very end of the Old
Testament, people have thought that there have
been no prophetic writings since his time. This
is a mistake ; we have still to read of three more
prophets who give their names to books of the
Bible.



CHAPTER XI

PROPHECIES OF THE MESSIAH AND OF THE
DAY OF PENTECOST

IT adds much interest to our readings from the
prophets when we can know something of the
personal life of the writer, and of the history of
the times when he lived and prophesied. But we
.must now speak of two prophets about whom we
know nothing but their message. These are Joel,
and the writer of the last six chapters of the book
of Zechariah. We do not know with any certainty
when these prophecies were written, but it seems
most likely that they belong to a time a good deal
later than the rebuilding of the temple, or even
than the prophecy of Malachi. This Second
Zechariah is of special interest to us, because
some of his prophecies of the Messiah are well

146



Prophecies of the Messiah 147

known to us from quotations in the gospels. In
our Lord's last days several incidents reminded
His disciples of words in the book of Zechariah,
and each fulfilment of prophecy helped to make
more clear to the evangelist that He was indeed
the promised Messiah.

The prophet sees in a vision the righteous
King coming to Jerusalem, and he sees Him
victorious, yet lowly and peaceful

" 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, even upon a colt the
foal of an ass. 1 '

We all remember our Lord's triumphant
entry into Jerusalem, a few days before His
Passion. He was the truly victorious King, yet
He did not ride on a horse, as a victorious general
would have done, but on an ass, which is the
animal still used in the East by peaceful rulers
who are not soldiers. This Second Zechariah,
by his vision of a lowly Messiah, helped to turn
men's minds to the right idea of how the Christ
would appear when He came among men.



148 The Work of the Prophets

There is rather a difficult allegory in this
prophecy, in which the prophet appears as sent by
God to be the shepherd of His people Israel
(chapter xi.). He "feeds the flock," and has
two pastoral staves ; one he calls Beauty, or
Graciousness, and this seems to signify God's
gracious favour towards His people ; the other
he calls Bands, or Union, signifying the union
between the northern and southern tribes. Then
the shepherd wearies of the ungrateful people, and
breaks his staff Beauty, and asks them if they wish
to give him his hire. And the people give him in
payment of his services " thirty pieces of silver."
This is the sum of money which used to be given
to an injured slave. You will remember that Judas
received the same sum in return for his betrayal
of our Lord, and the evangelist remembered the
allegory. The prophet breaks his other staff,
shewing that the people are no longer united.

There are other prophecies in this Second
Zechariah which were all literally fulfilled during
our Lord's Passion. There seems to be a good
shepherd raised up again to feed God's flock.




ZECHARIAH



Prophecies of the Messiah 149

The Lord speaks of Him as "the Man that is
My fellow," and this can hardly refer to any but
One. The prophecy says (xiii. 7)

" Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered."

And again (xii. 10)

"They shall look unto Me whom they have pierced."

And again (xiii. 6)

" What are these wounds in Thine hands ? "

and the answer is

" Those with which I was wounded in the house of My friends."

In the picture you will see the prophet with
the two staves, in priestly head-dress and in
princely robe, as a type of the Good Shepherd,
who was Prophet, Priest, and King. He has cut
asunder the staff called Beauty, and holds the
other staff in his hand. He is casting forth the
thirty pieces of silver.

This prophecy is a difficult one, and there
is much that you could not understand in it.
But God taught His people through this unnamed
prophet what the great prophet of the restoration



150 The Work of the Prophets

had already taught them : the truth that the
Good Shepherd when He came would not be an
earthly king and conqueror, but would suffer and
die for His friends, and Show the glory and
greatness of suffering when it is endured in the
fulfilment of a great purpose, and is the revelation
of God's undying love for His people.

The prophet Joel tells us nothing of the
coming Messiah, but one of his prophecies was
wonderfully fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost after
our Lord's Ascension. This short book is very
interesting to read, and not so difficult to under-
stand as many of the others. It begins with a




very striking description of a great plague of



The Prophet of Pentecost 151

locusts which had come upon the land. These
creatures, when they come in great swarms into
a country, do terrible damage to fields and crops.
They are a large kind of grasshopper, and the
whirring of their wings makes a sound like the
rattle of hail or the crackling of bush on fire.
Wherever they go they devour every blade of
grass and every green thing. You should read
the description of this terrible plague in the
second chapter of Joel. If you read it aloud, it
sounds like the description of a destroying
army.

This calamity was not the only one that had
fallen upon the land. There had been a great
drought also, and this makes the shrubs and
grass catch fire in hot countries. So that men
and beasts alike had been suffering greatly when
Joel utters his prophecy. Like other prophets,
he sees in these troubles the judgment of God.
But a sterner punishment than these natural
calamities will fall upon the people, unless they
turn to Him with all their heart. And this Joel
bids them do, in words which are very familiar



152 The Work of the Prophets

to us, because they are often read as the opening
sentence in our Morning Service

" Rend your heart and not your garments,
And turn unto the Lord^your God :
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness,
And repenteth Him of the evil."

It is an old message which the prophets are
ever repeating, that the turning to God must be
of the heart. No outward sign of mourning for
sin, such as rending their clothes in token of
sorrow, is enough. There were to be the outward
signs too, the weeping and fasting, but the religion
must be inward and spiritual. Then the Lord
will shew that " He is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness." The
prophet foresees that after true repentance on the
part of the people, the troubles will pass by, and
plenty and prosperity will take the place of scarcity
and suffering. Besides these earthly blessings,
which the prophet knows so truly to be God's
own gifts, spiritual blessings are promised

" I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh ;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,




Photo.}



[Alinari.



JOEL.

(From the Fresco by Michelangelo?)



The Prophet of Pentecost 153

Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions :
And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids
will I pour out My Spirit."

This promise Joel understands to refer to the
Jewish nation only. But, even so, it is a wonderful
picture to have before our minds, of a whole
people, old and young, men and women, rich and
poor, masters and servants, filled with God's Spirit,
and able to utter His messages in their daily life
and conversation. When the Spirit was poured
out upon the first Christian disciples on the Day
of Pentecost, St. Peter knew that the prophecy of
Joel was being fulfilled. But he did not yet know
that the promise of the Spirit was to all people,
not to the Jews only. That lesson he learned
later on. We are familiar with the thought that
all these promises belong to us, as well as to the
people to whom the prophets were first sent. It
was the great mission of Israel to be the bearer
of true religion to all the world ; and in the
fulness of time it was from Palestine that the
glad tidings came which told us that we were
fellow-heirs with the Jews of God's promises.



154 The Work of the Prophets

The later part of Joel's book speaks of a great
Day of the Lord, when the nations should be
judged, and only Judah should be saved. The
width of God's love, including all the great human
family, was not revealed to Joel. But the prophet
has an unshaken faith that all things come from
God's hand, troubles as well as prosperity ; that
He will bless those who turn to Him with heart-
felt repentance, both with earthly and with spiritual
blessings ; that He will cleanse them from all
their sins, and that He is a refuge and stronghold
to His people. And these are lessons which we
all may learn from the Book of Joel.



CHAPTER XII

JONAH THE MISSIONARY

WE must now consider a book among the prophets
which is different from any of the earlier books, in
this, that it is a story about a prophet, and not
written by the prophet himself. It is as truly
inspired by God as any other prophetic writing,
but it may be an allegory or parable rather than a
story of what actually happened. You know how
very common it is in eastern countries for teachers
to use stories or parables to convey the lessons
they want their disciples to learn. Our Lord Him-
self continually taught by allegories and parables.
In our readings from the prophets we have
again and again found that the messages were
sent to them in some outward form ; they are
bidden to do some symbolic act, or they are



156 The Work of the Prophets

taught some truth by a vision, which they describe
as if they had actually seen it with their bodily
eyes. The writer of the Book of Jonah describes
the prophet as having passed through various
experiences, which God had prepared for him,
and by these experiences having been taught by
God great spiritual truths. Whether the events
actually happened or not does not affect the truth
and deep meaning of the story. It would be well
to go through the story first, and then to consider
the meaning of the allegory.

Jonah, the son of Amittai, had prophesied
in the reign of Jeroboam II., the prosperous
and successful king of Northern Israel, of whom
we heard in the Book of Amos. Jonah had
predicted that the king would largely extend
the borders of his kingdom, which, as you
know, came to pass. This is all we know of the
facts of his life. But our present book, which
bears his name, and of which he is the hero, was
probably written some centuries later, indeed,
after all the other books which we have been
considering.



Jonah the Missionary 157

The story begins with a command from God
to Jonah to go to Nineveh (the capital city of the
Assyrians) and to cry against it, on account of the
wickedness of the inhabitants. Jonah refuses to
obey the command. He flees in quite an opposite
direction. Instead of going east to Nineveh, he
goes west to Joppa, a port on the seashore, to take
ship to Tarshish in Spain, hoping thus to get away
from the presence of the Lord. Why is he unwill-
ing to take God's message to the heathen city ? It
seems from what he says later in the story that,
knowing how gracious and forgiving the Lord
was, he feared that the Ninevites would repent,
and that God would forgive them, and that they
would not be destroyed. Jonah thought that
the Jews only were loved by God, and he was
jealous when he thought of the heathen nation
receiving grace and mercy from Him. After the
prophet has embarked, the Lord sends a great
storm, " so that the ship was like to be broken."
The sailors think that this storm must be on
account of some one on board, and they cast
lots, and the lot falls upon the Hebrew passenger.



158 The Work of the Prophets

Jonah quite believes that this misfortune has
come upon them for his-sake, and asks the sailors
to throw him into the sea, and thus to save them-
selves. This they are unwilling to do, and row
hard to get back to the land. But the storm
grows worse and worse. So they throw Jonah
into the sea, "and the sea ceased from her
raging."

You must read the whole story for yourselves.
Jonah began to learn his lesson from the generosity
of the sailors who, though they were heathens, yet
were anxious to save the life of this Hebrew prophet,
though they knew that he had sinned, and disobeyed
the command of his God. Jonah was not drowned.
He had more to learn yet. God " prepared a great
fish to swallow up Jonah." And after three days
and three nights the fish cast Jonah out upon the
dry land.

Then the Lord commanded Jonah a second
time to go to Nineveh and preach to the city.
This time the prophet obeyed, having learnt how
impossible it is to escape from God's commands.
Nineveh was a splendid city, with fine buildings



Jonah the Missionary 159

and gardens, and artificial water, with walls so
broad that two chariots could roll abreast on
them. And beyond the walls there stretched
miles and miles of suburbs, all filled with
people. It took three days' journey on foot
to go right through the city. Jonah walked for
a day, and cried,

" Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown."

And then the story says that the people repented
at God's message of judgment, and the king gave
command that every one in the city, and even the
cattle, should fast, and be clothed in sackcloth to
shew their repentance. And God heard their
prayers and cries, and forgave them.

And this " displeased Jonah exceedingly." He
felt that what he had feared had come to pass.
These heathen were to be forgiven and spared,
and treated just like God's own people. He was
jealous and angry, and saw no advantage in being
a Jew, if the heathen Assyrians were to be treated
in just the same way. Then the Lord taught him
by another miracle. As He had prepared the great



160 The Work of the Prophets

fish to save him from the sea, so He now " pre-
pared a gourd," which shaded Jonah from the
blazing sun. The prophet made himself a booth
of poles and leaves. This gourd is a wild vine,
with broad leaves, which grows very rapidly.
Jonah enjoyed the refreshment of the gourd,
but God " prepared a worm, and it smote the
gourd, that it withered." And then the prophet
was exposed to the heat of the sun, and a sultry
east wind, and in his suffering he longed to die.

" And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the
gourd ? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.
And the Lord said, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which
thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow ; which came up in a
night, and perished in a night : and should not I have pity on
Nineveh, that great city ; wherein are more than sixscore thousand
persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left
hand j and also much cattle " ?

And there the story ends. But we believe
that Jonah had learnt his lesson. By the acted
parable of the gourd, God taught him His own
width of mercy and loving kindness. Jonah had
done nothing for the gourd ; he had not planted
it, or made it to grow. God had done everything



Jonah the Missionary 161

for the great multitudes of heathen Nineveh, for
the one hundred and twenty thousand young
children and for the innocent cattle. And was
He to let them all go to destruction because
they had not had all the privileges of the Chosen
People. His tender care and love is over all that
He has made.

Now let us consider what is the truth of
which this story is the outward form. It seems
to be this. Israel, like Jonah, had disobeyed God's
commands, and had thought they could live apart
from Him. So God prepared a great trial for
them, and they were carried away captive by
heathen conquerors. Often in the Bible are the
" billows and the waves " of the sea used as an
image of troubles and calamities. And in one of the
prophets (Jer. li. 34) we find Nebuchadnezzar, king
of Babylon, described as "swallowing up" Israel,
and then "casting her out" again, as the "great
fish " cast Jonah out upon the dry land. When
the Israelites were delivered from captivity, they
had not yet learned the lesson which some of the
prophets had taught them, that all nations were

M



1 62 The Work of the Prophets

made by God, and that it was His purpose to
redeem them all. They were inclined to be angry,
like Jonah, that judgment did not fall upon the
heathen. And the writer of this beautiful story
was inspired by God to make known to his
countrymen that the righteous and merciful God
loves and receives all the people whom He has
created. He made all for Himself, and in time
the Jews were to learn, when Christ came, that in
Him there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but that all
nations are one.

This is a beautiful meaning for the story of
Jonah. Perhaps we may feel we do not need to
be taught this lesson ourselves ; but it is well to
be often reminded of God's wide love and com-
passion for all His creatures. And if we have
greater advantages and blessings than other
nations, or other people of our own nation, this
does not mean that God loves us more than them,
but that He expects more from us of goodness
and service.



DANIEL THE RIGHTEOUS

ONE more book is included in the sixteen
prophetical books of the Bible, and to some of
you parts of that book are very well known.
You may have wondered why we have not sooner
considered the prophet Daniel, about whom so
much is told us. But this book, like the Book of
Jonah, was not written by the prophet whose
name it bears. It was written very much later
than any other of the prophecies we have been
considering, about one hundred and sixty years
before Christ.

This was a time of terrible suffering to the Jews.
They had never been freed from heathen con-
querors. After the Persian dominion had ended
they had been subjects of the Macedonian empire,

163



164 The Work of the Prophets

and then of the Ptolemies of Egypt. Under these
last rulers they led a peaceful life. But in 175
B.C. their country passed under the dominion of
Antiochus Epiphanes, a Greek monarch, and then
began a time of persecution and suffering such as
the Jews had never before endured. Antiochus
wanted all his subjects, including the Jews, to
follow Greek customs in everything. He tried
to force them to abandon all their sacred rites and
ceremonies, and to do all kinds of things which
were forbidden by their Law. They were very
brave and faithful, and endured the most dreadful
sufferings sooner than abandon their faith and
religion. Then the deliverance came, through the
family of the Maccabees, a priest called Matta-
thias and his five sons, who loved their country
and their God so much that they rose up and led
a rebellion against their persecutors, and finally
set Judaea free. And it was just at this time, and
to encourage the martyrs and the patriots, that the
Book of Daniel was written.

The stories in the first six chapters are full of
encouragement and teaching. They set before us



Daniel the Righteous 165

Daniel and his three companions, who are said to
be exiles in Babylon, first under Nebuchadnezzar,
then under a king called Belshazzar, and finally
under a Median king called Darius. These
stories, like the story of Jonah, may not be
literally true. That makes no difference to the
value of them. They show us how God helps
and sustains His faithful followers in danger and
temptation how faith in God can keep us brave
and self-controlled, and obedient to His commands,
whatever we may have to suffer. You should
read through these chapters again, which tell
of the four captives refusing all the tempting
food that was offered them, because they knew
it was wrong to take it ; of Daniel going on
regularly with his prayers, in spite of the terrible


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10

Online LibraryRose E SelfeThe Work of the prophets → online text (page 7 of 10)