It is not a matter of chance that, whilst the blossom of prophetism appeared as early as Samuel, the canonical prophetism took its rise at a much later date. Nor is it the result of accident, that we do not possess any written prophecies, either by Elijah, who, at the transfiguration of the Lord, appeared as the representative of all the Old Testament prophets, or by Elisha. Nor is it merely accidental that, at the time of Uzziah, there appears all at once, and simultaneously, a whole series of prophets. All these things are connected with the circumstance, that it was only at that time that great events for the Covenant-people were in preparation, -- that, only then, those catastrophes were impending which were to be brought about by the Asiatic kingdoms, and which kept equal pace with the sin of Israel, the measure of which was being more and more filled up. Canonical prophecy is closely linked with these catastrophes. It is called to disclose to the Church the meaning of these judgments, and, thereby, to secure to them their effects in all time coming. The Messianic predictions uttered by the prophets are likewise closely connected with the announcement of these judgments. Whilst false security was shaken by the threatenings, despondency -- which is as [Pg 163] hostile to true conversion -- was prevented by pointing to the future coming of the Saviour.
The prophets do not deliver the Messianic prediction in its whole compass, any more than do the writers of the Messianic Psalms. On the contrary, it is always only certain individual aspects which they exhibit. The writers of the Messianic Psalms take up those features which presented points of contact with their own lives and their own experiences, or at least the circumstances of their times. This is quite in keeping with the more subjective origin of Psalm-poetry. Thus David describes the suffering Messiah surrounded by powerful enemies, and who, after severe struggles, at length obtains victory and dominion. To Solomon, He appears as the Ruler of a great and peaceful kingdom, and he beholds the most distant nations reverentially offering presents to Him and doing Him allegiance. But the Prophets, in pointing out this or that feature, are not so much guided by their own experience, disposition of mind, and peculiar circumstances, as by the wants of those whom they are addressing, and by the effect which they are anxious to produce on them. When they have to do with pusillanimity, desponding at the sight of the heathen world as it seems to be all-powerful, -- they then represent the Messiah as the invincible conqueror of the heathen world, who shall subject the whole earth to the kingdom of God. When they have to deal with pride, trusting in imaginary prerogatives of the Covenant-people, and boldly challenging the judgments of God upon the heathen, -- they then represent the Messiah as Him who shall make a great separation among the Covenant-people themselves, and who shall be a consolation to the godly, while He brings inexorable judgments upon the wicked when they have to do with those who mourn in Zion, who through the inflicted judgments of the Lord have been brought to a deep sorrow on account of their sins, -- they then represent the Messiah as Him who shall one day take away the sins of the land, who is to bear their griefs and carry their sorrows. Now, as canonical prophecy extends over several centuries, during which circumstances, wants, and dispositions the most diverse, must have taken place, and as the Messianic prophecy is in harmony with these, it displayed, more and more fully, its riches, and did so in a manner far more effective and vivid than it could possibly have [Pg 164] done had it been proclaimed in the form of a discussion or treatise. As the Messiah was thus represented from the most various points of view, and in the way of direct perception, and divine confidence, -- as He was thus everywhere pointed out as the end of the development. He could not but become more and more the soul of the nation's life.
In the Messianic announcements by the prophets, no such gradual progress in clearness and distinctness can be traced, as in those of the Pentateuch. The assertion that there existed with them at first, only a general hope of better times, unconnected with any person, rests on the unfounded hypothesis that Joel is the oldest among all the prophets, -- and at the same time on the erroneous assumption that he was ignorant of a personal Messiah, -- and, further, on the incorrect supposition that the prophets, who write only what presents itself immediately to their view, have not in their creed all that they omit to say. It is, moreover, opposed by the prospect of a personal Messiah held out in the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the Song of Solomon. How very slender is the ground for inferring that, because many essential points are not touched upon by Hosea, Joel, and Amos, they, therefore, did not know them, is shown by the fact that neither do several among the later prophets -- as Jeremiah and Ezekiel -- touch upon them, although the previous more distinct prophecies of Isaiah were certainly known and acknowledged by them. We must never forget that it is from above that each of the prophets received his share of the prophetic spirit, and that this depended partly upon the measure of his receptivity, which might have been greater with the former than with the latter prophets, -- and, partly, upon the wants and capacities of those for whom the prophecy was destined.
A central position, as regards the Messianic predictions, is occupied by Isaiah. Even his Messianic prophecies, however, when viewed detached and isolated, bear the character of onesidedness. He nowhere gives us a complete image of the Messiah. But, whilst the other prophets were permitted to give only single disclosures, he gives us, in the whole body of his Messianic prophecies, the materials for a full and entire image, although not the image itself. The Fathers of the Church have, therefore, rightly designated him as the Evangelist among the prophets. But the transition to him from the Psalms and [Pg 165] the Song of Solomon could not be Immediate. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah form, as it were, the connecting links. Proceeding from the Messianic promise, in the shape which it had received at the time of David and Solomon, they give it a standing in the prophetic message, and infuse into it new life by means of the connection into which it is brought by them, and supplement it by adding single new features.
It is our intention to give an exposition of the Messianic passages in the prophets, according to their chronological order. In placing Hosea at the head, we follow the example of those who collected the Canon, and who, regarding not so much the succession of years as that of the governments, may have assigned the first place to Hosea, because he is the most important among the prophets at the time of Jeroboam in Israel, and of Uzziah in Judah, or because he really appeared first, and the prophecy in chap. i.-iii. is the beginning of written prophecies. The latter supposition most naturally suggests itself; the analogies are in its favour, and no decisive argument has been brought forward against it.