And he cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus said the LORD; Behold, a child shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense on you, and men's bones shall be burnt on you.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Thus saith the Lord.—This is one of those rather unfrequent prophecies found in Holy Scripture, which, not content to foreshadow the future in general outline, descend to striking particularity of detail. It has been indeed suggested that the words. “Josiah by name” are a marginal gloss which has crept into the text, or the insertion of the chronicler writing after the event, and not a part of the original prophetic utterance. The latter supposition is in itself not unlikely. But the mention of the name in prediction is exemplified in the well-known reference to Cyrus in Isaiah 44:28; and in this instance, as perhaps also in that, the name is significant (for Josiah means “one healed” or “helped by Jehovah”), and is not, therefore, a mere artificial detail. The particularity of prediction, which is on all hands recognised as exceptional, will be credible or incredible to us, according to the view which we take of the nature of prophetic prediction. If we resolve it into the intuitive sagacity of an inspired mind forecasting the future, because it sees more clearly than ordinary minds the germs of that future in the present, the particularity must seem incredible. If, on the other hand, we believe it to be the supernatural gift of a power to enter, in some measure, into “the mind of God,” in whose fore- knowledge all the future is already seen and ordained, then it will be to us simply unusual, but in no sense incredible, that from time to time foreknowledge of details, as well as generalities, should be granted. It is beyond controversy that the latter view is the one put forward in Holy Scripture, both in the Old Testament and in the New. Prophecy is, indeed, something higher and greater than supernatural prediction; but it claims to include such prediction, both as a test of mission from God, and as a necessary part of its revelation of the dispensations of God. On the fulfilment of this prediction, see 2Kings 23:15-20.1 Kings 13:2. He cried against the altar — And consequently against all the worship performed at it. O altar, altar — He directs his speech against the altar, because the following signs were to be wrought upon it. Behold, a child shall be born, &c. — This prophecy is the more wonderful, because it foretels of what family the child should spring, and what should be his name; and in the accomplishment of it we see the absolute certainty of God’s providence and foreknowledge, even in the most contingent things. For the particulars here mentioned, namely, the having a child, and the giving it this name, were in themselves things as uncertain, dependent on man’s will, and contingent as any events can be: and yet God exactly foretold them, and they came to pass accordingly. God therefore can foresee how the will of man, and of numbers of men, whose wills are dependant on each other, will be influenced in all possible circumstances, and that for ages to come; or, he can certainly and effectually, and yet without infringing or violating man’s liberty, overrule his will which way he pleaseth; otherwise it was possible this prediction might have been false, which it would be blasphemy to assert. Upon it shall he offer the priests — The meaning is not that he should offer or burn the priests alive, but that he should slay the priests of the high places, and then burn their bones, as he did the bones of those that had been buried, and thereby should defile this altar. How bold was the man that durst thus attack the king in his pride, and interrupt the solemnity in which he gloried! Those who are sent on God’s errand, must not fear the faces of men. Although it was so many ages ere this prophecy was to be fulfilled, the time is spoken of as sure and nigh at hand. For a thousand years are with God as one day.
Behold, a child shall be born … Josiah by name—This is one of the most remarkable prophecies recorded in the Scriptures; and, in its clearness, circumstantial minuteness, and exact prediction of an event that took place three hundred sixty years later, it stands in striking contrast to the obscure and ambiguous oracles of the heathen. Being publicly uttered, it must have been well known to the people; and every Jew who lived at the accomplishment of the event must have been convinced of the truth of a religion connected with such a prophecy as this. A present sign was given of the remote event predicted, in a visible fissure being miraculously made on the altar. Incensed at the man's license of speech, Jeroboam stretched out his hand and ordered his attendants to seize the bold intruder. That moment the king's arm became stiff and motionless, and the altar split asunder, so that the fire and ashes fell on the floor. Overawed by the effects of his impiety, Jeroboam besought the prophet's prayer. His request was acceded to, and the hand was restored to its healthy state. Jeroboam was artful, and invited the prophet to the royal table, not to do him honor or show his gratitude for the restoration of his hand, but to win, by his courtesy and liberal hospitality, a person whom he could not crush by his power. But the prophet informed him of a divine injunction expressly prohibiting him from all social intercourse with any in the place, as well as from returning the same way. The prohibition not to eat or drink in Beth-el was because all the people had become apostates from the true religion, and the reason he was not allowed to return the same way was lest he should be recognized by any whom he had seen in going.He cried against the altar; and consequently, against all that worship, which is oft signified by the name of the altar. See Isaiah 19:19 1 Corinthians 9:13 Hebrews 7:13 13:10. O altar, altar; he directs his speech to the altar, partly because the following signs were wrought upon it, and partly to signify that Jeroboam would no more regard his words than the altar did, and yet they should take effect.
A child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; which being done above three hundred years after this prophecy, plainly shows the absolute certainty of God’s providence and foreknowledge, even in the most contingent things. For this was in itself uncertain, and wholly depended upon man’s will, both as to the having of a child, and as to the giving it this name. Therefore God can certainly and effectually overrule man’s will which way he pleaseth; or else it was possible that this prediction should have been false, which is blasphemous to imagine.
Upon thee shall he offer the priests; synecdoehically, the bones of the priests, 2 Kings 23:15,16, whereby the altar should be defiled.
and said, O altar, altar; addressing himself not to Jeroboam, but the altar, thereby reproving his stupidity, the altar being as ready to hear as he; and because that was what moved the indignation of the Lord; and the word is repeated, to show the vehemency of the prophet's spirit, and his zeal against it; though the Jews commonly say it respects both altars, that at Dan, as well as this at Bethel:
thus saith the Lord, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; who was not born until three hundred years after this, according to the Jewish writers (a): but it is generally reckoned to be more, even three hundred and fifty or three hundred and sixty years; this is a clear proof of the prescience, predetermination, and providence of God with respect to future events, contingent ones, such as depend upon the will of men; for what more so than giving a name to a child?
upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men's bones shall be burnt upon thee; all which was fulfilled by Josiah, 2 Kings 23:15, it may be read, "the bones of a man", which the Jews understand of Jeroboam; but may only signify that, instead of the bones of beasts, which were burnt on it, the bones of men should be burnt, and even of the priests themselves; a glaring proof this of the truth of prophecy, and of divine revelation.And he cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the LORD; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men's bones shall be burnt upon thee.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)2. he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord] The Hebrew is the same as in the preceding verse. Render therefore (with R.V.) ‘by the word.’ The meaning is that both the journey from Judah and the prophecy were in consequence of divine instruction.
Josiah by name] The history of the fulfilment of this prophecy is in 2 Kings 23:15-16. Between the accession of Jeroboam and the accession of Josiah was an interval of about 330 years. Hence as the name of the king who should execute the threatened vengeance is mentioned, this prophecy is remarkable among the predictions of the Old Testament. There is nothing with which it can be compared except the prophecy concerning Cyrus in Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1, nor is it according to the manner of scriptural prophecies to be precise about details such as this. Hence some have thought that this verse and also other parts of the story of this chapter were brought into their present form at a later date than Jeroboam. The story of the appearance of the prophet and of his prediction were known from the first, but the details here given were inserted when the prediction was accomplished. There is certainly in 1 Kings 13:32 a notice of the ‘cities of Samaria’ which confirms this opinion. Jeroboam’s capital was Shechem, and Samaria was not built, nor any district so called, till the reign of Omri the father of Ahab (1 Kings 16:24). Again, it is unlike the rest of the narrative of the Books of Kings that no name should be given to either of the prophets who play such a part in the story. It seems therefore probable that the chapter is taken from some other source than that which supplied what has gone before and what follows it. If this be so, we need not be surprised at what was noticed on the previous verse, that Jeroboam’s action in approaching the altar seems noted as impious while Solomon’s sacrifices are accepted. The compiler of the Books of Kings gathered his material from various sources, and did his work after Josiah was dead. There is no difficulty in understanding how by that time the story as he has given it had been put on record, and as he wished to place Jeroboam’s sin in a strong light all through his history, the events here recorded were exceedingly appropriate for incorporation in his narrative.
upon thee shall he offer the priests] The verb is that which is usually rendered sacrifice, and it is better (with R.V.) so to translate it. Josephus states specifically ‘upon thee shall he sacrifice the false priests which shall be at that time’. Not only was the king to defile the altar by casting upon it the bones of the dead, but his righteous vengeance was to fall also upon the idolatrous priests then living, and they were to be slain by him before the altars at which they ministered.
men’s bones shall be burnt] R.V. shall they burn. There is no gain apparent in departing from the literal rendering of the original.Verse 2. - And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the Lord [This apostrophe of the altar is very striking and significant. It is as if the prophet disdained to notice the royal but self-constituted priest; as if it were useless to appeal to him; as if his person was of little consequence compared with the religious system he was inaugurating, the system of which the altar was the centre and embodiment]; Behold a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name [This particular mention of the Reformer by name was formerly regarded, as by many it is still, as a remarkable instance of prophetic foresight. But the tendency of late, even amongst orthodox theologians, has been to doubt the authenticity of these two words, on the ground that it is unlike Scripture prophecy in general to descend to such details, which rather belong to soothsaying than prediction. Prophecy concerns itself not with names, times, and similar particulars, but with the "progressive development of the kingdom of God in its general features" (Keil). It is not for a moment denied that the prophet could just as easily, speaking "in the word of the Lord," have mentioned the name of Josiah, as the circumstance that a son of the house of David would utterly destroy the worship of calves. But it is alleged that the latter prediction is quite in accordance with Scripture usage, and the former altogether contrarient thereto. The case of Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1), it is true, is an exception to the rule, unless כֹרֶשׁ (which means the sun) is, like Pharaoh and Hadad, a name of office, a title of the Persian kings. The instances of Isaac (Genesis 17:19) and Solomon (1 Chronicles 22:9) are not parallels, as in both these cases the name was highly significant, and each was mentioned, not by way of prophecy, but as a direction to bestow that name on a child shortly about to be born. And it is certainly noticeable - though the argument e silentio is necessarily a precarious one - "that where this narrative is again referred to (2 Kings 23:15-18) there is no allusion to the fact that the man of God had prophesied of Josiah by name" (Rawlinson). On the whole, therefore, it seems probable that the two words יֹאשׁיָּהוּ שְׁמו were no part of the original prophecy, but a marginal note which in course of time found its way accidentally into the text. The idea of Keil, that "Josiah" is mentioned here not as a proper name, but as an appellation, "he whom Jehovah sustains," is hardly worthy of serious consideration. It may be allowed, however, that the meaning of the name affords some slender reason for its mention]; and upon thee shall he offer [lit., sacrifice] the priests of the high places [see on 1 Kings 12:32] that burn incense upon thee, and men's bones [Heb. bones of man, i.e., human bones. Nothing could more completely foreshadow the future desecration of the altar. The presence in the congregation of a living man who had merely touched a dead body and had not been purified, defiled the tabernacle (Numbers 19:13), how much more the dead body itself, burnt on the very altar. The Samaritan who once strewed the temple with human ashes (Jos., Ant. 18:02.2) knew that he took the most effectual way to pollute it] shall be burnt [Heb. shall they burn] upon thee. [For the fulfilment, see 2 Kings 23:20, "At the ground of this judgment, as of the whole theocratic law, lies the jus talionis" (Keil, 1846).] It is worthy of note how completely this brief protest proclaimed to Jeroboam the utter and shameful overthrow, both of his political and religious systems. A child of the rival house of David should stand where he then stood, his successors extinct or powerless to prevent him, and should cover this new cultus with disgrace and contempt. The man of God, he must have felt, has proclaimed in few words the fall of his dynasty, the triumph of his rival, and the failure of all his schemes. Exodus 32:4). That Jeroboam had in his mind not merely the Egyptian Apis-worship generally, but more especially the image-worship which Aaron introduced for the people at Sinai, is evident from the words borrowed from Exodus 32:4, with which he studiously endeavoured to recommend his new form of worship to the people: "Behold, this is thy God, O Israel, who brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." רב־לכם מעלות, it is too much for you to go to Jerusalem; not "let your going suffice," because מן is not to be taken in a partitive sense here, as it is in Exodus 9:28 and Ezekiel 44:6. What Jeroboam meant to say by the words, "Behold thy God," etc., was, "this is no new religion, but this was the form of worship which our fathers used in the desert, with Aaron himself leading the way" (Seb. Schmidt). And whilst the verbal allusion to that event at Sinai plainly shows that this worship was not actual idolatry, i.e., was not a worship of Egyptian idols, from which it is constantly distinguished in our books as well as in Hosea and Amos, but that Jehovah was worshipped under the image of the calves or young oxen; the choice of the places in which the golden calves were set up also shows that Jeroboam desired to adhere as closely as possible to ancient traditions. He did not select his own place of residence, but Bethel and Dan. Bethel, on the southern border of his kingdom, which properly belonged to the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:13 and Joshua 18:22), the present Beitin, had already been consecrated as a divine seat by the vision of Jehovah which the patriarch Jacob received there in a dream (Genesis 28:11, Genesis 28:19), and Jacob gave it the name of Bethel, house of God, and afterwards built an altar there to the Lord (Genesis 35:7). And Jeroboam may easily have fancied, and have tried to persuade others, that Jehovah would reveal Himself to the descendants of Jacob in this sacred place just as well as He had done to their forefather. - Dan, in the northern part of the kingdom, on the one source of the Jordan, formerly called Laish (Judges 18:26.), was also consecrated as a place of worship by the image-worship established there by the Danites, at which even a grandson of Moses had officiated; and regard may also have been had to the convenience of the people, namely, that the tribes living in the north would not have to go a long distance to perform their worship.
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