The first Messianic prediction, which was uttered immediately after the fall of Adam, is also the most indefinite. Opposed to the awful threatening there stands the consolatory promise, that the dominion of sin, and of the evil arising from sin, shall not last for ever, but that the seed of the woman shall, at some future time, overthrow their dreaded conqueror. With the exception of the victory itself, everything is here left undetermined. We are told neither the mode in which it is to be achieved, nor whether it shall be accomplished by some peculiarly gifted race, or family of the progeny of the woman, or by some single individual from among her descendants. There is nothing more than a very slight hint that the latter will be the case.
After the destruction of a whole sinful world, when only Noah with his three sons had been left, the general promise is, to a certain extent, defined. Deliverance is to come from the descendants of Shem; Japhet shall become a partaker of this deliverance; Ham is passed over in silence.
The prophecy becomes still more definite when the Lord begins to prepare the way for the appearance of this deliverance, by separating from the corrupt mass a single individual -- Abraham -- in order to make him the depositary of His revelations. The Lord, moreover, according to the good pleasure of His will, further specifies which of the descendants of Abraham, to the exclusion of all the rest, is to inherit this dignity, with all its accompanying blessings. From among the posterity of Shem, the Lord sets apart first the family of Abraham, then that of [Pg 12] Isaac, and lastly that of Jacob, as the family from which salvation is to come. Yet even these predictions, distinct though they be when compared with those previously uttered, are still very indefinite when compared with those subsequently given, and when seen in the light of the actual fulfilment. Even in these, the blessing only is foretold, but not its author. It still remained a matter of uncertainty whether salvation should be extended to all the other nations of the earth through a single individual, or through an entire people descended from the Patriarchs. The former is obscurely indicated; but the mode in which the blessing was to be imparted was left in darkness.
This obscurity is partially removed by the last Messianic prophecy contained in Gen. xlix.10. After what had previously taken place, we might well expect that the question as to which of Jacob's twelve sons should have the privilege of becoming the source of deliverance to the whole earth, would not be left undetermined; nor could we imagine that Jacob, when, just before his death, and with the spirit of a prophet, he transferred to his sons the promises which had been given to his ancestors and himself, should have passed over in silence the most important part of them. On the contrary, by being transferred to Judah, the promise of the Messiah acquires not only the expected limitation, but an unexpected increase of clearness and precision. Here, for the first time, the person of the Messiah is brought before us; here also the nature of His kingdom is more distinctly pointed out by His being represented as the peaceful one, and the peacemaker who will unite, under His mild sceptre, all the nations of the whole earth. Judah is, in this passage, placed in the centre of the world's history; he shall obtain dominion, and not lose it until it has been realized to its fullest extent by means of the Shiloh descending from him, to whom all the nations of the earth shall render a willing obedience.
The subject-matter of the last four books of the Pentateuch would naturally prevent us from expecting that the Messianic prophecies should occupy so prominent a place in them as they do in Genesis. The object contemplated in these books is rather to prepare effectually the way for the Messiah, by laying the theocratic institutions on a firm foundation, and by establishing the law which is intended to produce the knowledge of sin, and [Pg 13] to settle discipline, and by means of which the image of God is to be impressed on the whole national life. If the hope of the Messiah was to be realized in a proper manner, and to produce its legitimate effect, it was necessary that the people should first be accustomed to this new order of life; that, for the present, their regards should not be too much drawn away from this their proximate and immediate vocation. Yet, even in the last four books there are not wanting allusions to Him who, as the end of the law, was, from the very beginning, to be set before the eyes of the people.
In Num. xxiv.17-19, Balaam beholds an Israelitish kingdom raised absolutely above the kingdoms of the world, extending over the whole earth, and all-powerful; and he sees it in the form of an ideal king, with reference to Jacob's prophecy contained in Gen. xlix.10, according to which the kingdom rising in Judah shall find its full and final realization in the person of one king -- the Messiah.
We have here the future King of the Jews saluted from the midst of the heathen world, corresponding to the salutation of the manifested one by the wise men from the East: compare Matt. ii.1, 2.
From the whole position of Moses in the economy of the revelations of God, it is, a priori, scarcely conceivable that he should have contented himself with communicating a prophecy of the Messiah uttered by a non-Israelite. We expect that, as a prefiguration of the testimony which, in the presence of the chief among the apostles, he bore to the Messiah after He had appeared (compare Matt. xvii.3), he should, on his own behalf, testify his faith in Him, and direct the people to Him. This testimony we have in Deut. xviii.15-19. It is natural that Moses' attestation should have reference to Christ in so far as He is his antitype. He bears witness to Christ as the true Prophet, as the Mediator of the divine revelation -- thus enlarging the slender indications of Christ's prophetical office given in Gen. xlix.10. A new and important feature of Messianic prophecy is here, for the first time, brought forward; and because of this, the character of the prophecy is that of a germ. Behind the person of the future Prophet, which is as yet ideal, the real person of Him who is the Prophet in an absolute sense, is, in the meantime, concealed. It is reserved for the future development [Pg 14] of the prophetic prediction to separate that which is here beheld as still blended in a single picture.
Finally, the doctrine of the Divine Mediator of the unseen God, of the Angel of the Lord, or of the Logos, which forms the theological foundation for the Christology, is already found pervading the Books of Moses.
After this survey, we now proceed to an exposition of the particular passages.