From this summary it sufficiently appears that the object of Matthew in chap. i. and ii. was by no means of an historical, but rather of a doctrinal nature; and since this is the case, all the objections fall to the ground, which Sieffert, solely by disregarding this object of the writer, has lately drawn from these [Pg 508] chapters against the genuineness of Matthew's Gospel. And if we apply this to the question before us, it follows that the section ii.1-12 must likewise have an Old Testament foundation. That this foundation can, in the first instance, be sought for only in the prophecy of Micah, becomes evident from the circumstance, that Bethlehem is, in ver.1, mentioned as Christ's birth-place. If we now take into consideration the fact that the Evangelist does not mention at all that the parents of Jesus formerly resided at Nazareth, just because it had no reference to any prophecy of the Old Testament (it is merely by designating, in the account of the birth of Jesus, Bethlehem as the place of His parents, that he intimates that that which had been previously reported had happened in a different place), -- and that, on the other hand, he mentions the residence of the Holy Family at Nazareth, after their return from Egypt, evidently for the sole purpose of bringing it into connection with a prophecy, -- it becomes quite evident that it is not from any historical interest that this circumstance, which was known to all his readers, is mentioned. To this it may be further added, that the account given in vers.1-6, especially the communication of the answer of the Sanhedrim to the question of Herod, would, according to the proved object and aim of Matthew, stand altogether without a purpose, unless he had considered the answer of the Doctors as being in harmony with the truth, and hence as superseding his usual formula, [Greek: hina plerothe]. In order to show how much Matthew was guided by a regard to the Old Testament, and how frequently, at the same time, he contented himself with a mere allusion, supposing his readers to be acquainted with the Old Testament -- as is quite evident from vers.20 and 23 -- we must further consider the second Old Testament reference which he has in view in vers.1-12. The passages to which he refers are Ps. lxxii.10: "The kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts;" and Is. lx.6: "All they from Sheba shall come, they shall bring gold and incense, and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord." The representation, in these and other similar passages, is, in the first instance, a figurative one. Gifts are in the East a sign of allegiance. The fundamental thought is this: "The most distant, the wealthiest, and the most powerful nations of the earth shall do homage to the Messiah, and consecrate to Him themselves and all that they have." But that which is [Pg 509] prophesied by a figurative representation in these Old Testament passages began to be fulfilled by the symbolical action of the Magi, by which the image was represented externally; for the gold, incense, and myrrh which they consecrated to the new-born King of the Jews symbolized the homage which they offered to Him; and these gifts are certainly expressly mentioned by Matthew for this reason, that they occur in the Old Testament passages. As this event formed, in one respect, the beginning of the fulfilment, so, in another, it formed a new prophecy by deeds, -- the type of a new, greater, and more proper fulfilment. The Apostles considered these Magi as the types and representatives of the whole mass of heathen nations who were, at a subsequent period, to do homage to the Messiah. They were the ambassadors, as it were, of the heathen world, to greet the new-born King, just as the shepherds, whom God Himself had chosen, were the deputies of the Jews. In my work on Balaam, pp.480-482, I have proved that, even with these references, the contents of the passage are not yet exhausted, -- that there still remains a prominent point, viz., the star which the Magi saw, and that this refers to Balaam's prophecy of the star proceeding from Jacob.
But if it be established that the view of the prophecy under consideration, which the Evangelist reports as that of the Sanhedrim, must, at the same time, be considered as his own, we must also suppose that the quotation, even in its particulars, is approved by him, and that the view which was first advanced by Jerome ("I believe that he wished to exhibit the negligence of the scribes and priests, and wrote it down as it had been spoken by them"), and recently by Paulus, cannot be made use of in order to justify the deviations, -- if any should indeed be found. In order to ascertain this, we must examine more closely the quotation in its relation to the original text of the passage, Matt. ii.6: [Greek: Kai su Bethleem, ge Iouda oudamos elachiste ei en tois hegemosin Iouda. ek sou gar exeleusetai hegoumenos, hostis poimanei ton laon mou, ton Israel.] The first thing which demands our attention is [Greek: ge Iouda] for the Ephratah of the original. The reason of this deviation is to be sought for in the circumstance, that the place appears as Bethlehem Judah in 1 Sam. xvii.12, where it is mentioned with a reference to David. The deviation at the beginning has, accordingly, the same purpose [Pg 510] as that at the close. As regards the grammatical exposition of [Greek: ge Iouda], it stands for: Bethlehem situated in the land of Judah, -- a short mode of expression which is common in geographical and other similar designations, just as in the Old Testament also we find [Hebrew: bit-lHM ihvdh], for: Bethlehem situated in the land of Judah. The assertion of many interpreters, that [Greek: ge] has here the signification "town," is as objectionable as the attempt to change the text, made by Fritzsche, who advances nothing on the whole verse that can stand examination. The Evangelist here as little follows the LXX. as he does the Hebrew text. The former has here: [Greek: kai su Bethleema, oikos Ephratha] (thus without an article. Cod. Vatic.). Fritzsche thinks that [Greek: oikos] had been brought into the text from the margin. But the translator evidently considered "Ephratah" to be the proper name of Caleb's wife (1 Chron. ii.19, 50, iv.4), from whom others also, e.g., Adrichomius (compare Bachiene ii.2, Sec.190), derived the name of the place, and did nothing else than express more definitely, by the subjoined [Greek: oikos], the relation of dependence which, as he supposed, was indicated by the Genitive. The apparent contradiction, that the prophet calls Bethlehem small, whereas the Evangelist speaks of it as by no means small, has already been so satisfactorily explained by ancient and modern interpreters (compare, e.g., Euthymius Zigabenus l. c. p.59: "Although in appearance thou art small, yet, truly, thou art by no means the least among the principalities of the tribe of Judah;" Michaelis: "Micah, looking to the outward condition, calls it small; Matthew, looking to the birth of the Messiah, calls it by no means small, inasmuch as, by that birth, that town was in a wonderful manner adorned and exalted"), that we need not dwell upon it. We only remark, that the supposition of Paulus, that the members of the Sanhedrim understood the verse interrogatively -- "Art thou, perhaps, too small," etc. -- receives no confirmation from the passage in Pirke Eliezer, c.3, which he quotes in favour of it, but which he saw only in the Latin translation of Wetzstein; for, in the original text, the verse is quoted in literal agreement with the Hebrew original; compare Eisenmenger, i. p.316. A comparison with the Chaldee, who with similar liberty paraphrases, "Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, shalt soon be numbered," clearly shows that the deviation has arisen rather from an endeavour to express the sense more [Pg 511] clearly and definitely. On such deviations, Calvin strikingly remarks: "Let the reader always attend to the purpose for which the Evangelists quote Scripture passages, that they may not scrupulously insist upon single words, but be satisfied with this, -- that the Scriptures are never distorted by them to a different sense." -- Micah introduces Bethlehem in the person of its representative; but this figure Matthew has dropped at the beginning. Instead of the Masculine [Hebrew: ceir] he puts the Feminine [Greek: elachiste]; and, on the other hand, he renders [Hebrew: balpi] by [Greek: en tois hegemosi], which, in a way not to be mistaken, suggests this representation. Fritzsche announces himself as the man who would heal this f[oe]dum sol[oe]cismum which had not hitherto been remarked by any one. He proposes to read: [Greek: Kai su Bethleem tes Ioudaias oudamos elachiste ei en tois hegemosin Iouda], -- "and thou Bethlehem, by no means the smallest part of the land of Judah, art," etc. But altogether apart from the arbitrary change of [Greek: ge Iouda], -- which certainly no one could ever have been tempted to put for the more simple [Greek: tes Ioudaias], -- the personification could even then not have been maintained, and the f[oe]dus sol[oe]cismus would still remain. Even although the [Greek elachiste] be understood in accordance with the "elegantissimus Graecorum usus," Bethlehem must, after all, be treated as a thing -- as a town. Nor is the case much improved by the assistance which Fritzsche immediately afterwards endeavours to give to the text: [Greek: kai su Bethleem, ge Iouda, oudamos elachiste ei en tais hegemosin Iouda], "among the principal towns of the families in Judea." Is there an instance in which [Greek: hai hegemones] means the "principal towns?" Moreover, the relation of [Greek: hegemosin] to the subsequent [Greek: hegoumenos], which requires the Masculine, has been overlooked. -- Micah personifies Bethlehem from the outset. Matthew first introduces Bethlehem as a town, but afterwards passes to the personification by speaking of the [Greek: hegemones]; instead of the tribes. For this he had a special reason in the regard to the subsequent [Greek: hegoumenos]. Bethlehem, although outwardly small, is, notwithstanding, when regarded from a higher point of view, even in the present by no means small among the leaders of Judah, for, from it, in the future, the great leader of Judah shall proceed. This relation, which is so evident, must the rather be assumed, that in Micah also a contrast occurs which, as to the sense, is altogether similar. It serves, at the [Pg 512] same time, for a proof against the assumption that the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in the Aramean language, -- a view which is, generally, opposed also by the free handling of the Old Testament text in the whole quotation. The inconsistency in the use of the personification is, further, the more easy of explanation, since it is altogether of an ideal character, and, substantially, person and town are not distinguished. -- The last words in Micah, "And His goings forth," etc., have been omitted by Matthew, because they were not needed for his purpose, which was to show that, according to the prophecies of the Old Testament, the Messiah was to be born at Bethlehem. On the other hand, the [Hebrew: biwral] of Micah is paraphrased by: [Greek: hostis poimanei ton laon mou, ton Israel]. These words refer to 2 Sam. v.2: "And the Lord says to thee, Thou shalt feed My people Israel, and thou shalt be a prince over Israel." They point out the typical relation between the first David who was born at Bethlehem, and the second David, the Messiah.
With respect to the relation betwixt prophecy and its fulfilment, we must here still make a general remark. It is everywhere evident (compare the remarks on Zech. ix.9), that the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament forms a secondary purpose of the events of the New Testament, but that in none of the latter this fulfilment is the sole object. Every one, on the contrary, has its significance apart from the prophecy; and it is by this significance that prophecy and history are equally governed. This general remark is here also confirmed. The birth of Christ at Bethlehem testified, in one respect, for the divine origin of the prophecy of the Old Testament, and, in another, that Jesus is the Christ. But its main object, altogether independent of this, was to represent, outwardly also, the descent of Christ from David. This was recognised by the Jews even, at the time of Christ, as appears from the addition [Greek: hopou en Dabid], John vii.42. Of the two seats of the Davidic family, viz., Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the former is chosen, partly, because, from its external littleness, it was, generally, very suitable for prefiguring the lowliness of the Messiah at the outset -- a circumstance which is expressly pointed out by the prophet himself -- and partly, because it was peculiar to the family of David during its obscurity; whilst Jerusalem, on the contrary, belonged to their regal condition, -- and the Messiah [Pg 513] was to be born in the fallen tabernacle of David, to be a rod from the cut off stem of Jesse, Is. xi.1. That this reference also was in the view of the prophet, seems to be evident from a comparison of iii.12, and iv.8, 9, 14. At all events he considered the family of David as having altogether sunk at the time of the Messiah's appearing. The very threatenings in chap. i.-iii. imply the destruction of the Davidic kingdom. This meets us, very distinctly, in chap. iv.
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Ver.2. "Therefore will He give them up until the time that she who is hearing hath brought forth; and then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the sons of Israel."
The description of what the Messiah is to bestow upon the Covenant-people begins in this verse, and is carried on through the whole chapter. By [Hebrew: lkN] the close connection of v.1 with vi.9-14 is indicated. Michaelis remarks: "Because this is the counsel of God, first to afflict Zion, on account of her sins, and, afterwards only, to restore her through the Messiah to be born at Bethlehem." In chap. iv.9-14, it is implied that the giving up will not terminate before His birth; in v.1, that it will come to an end with His birth. The whole time described in iv.9-14 is a time of affliction, of giving up Israel to the world's power in a threefold form of its manifestation. In iv.14, however, the affliction has reached its highest point, and the lucid interval, mentioned in vers.12, 13, has fully expired. It is only when we look back to v.1 alone, that the "therefore" with which our verse opens is not explained, inasmuch as there it is said only, that with the Messiah deliverance and salvation would come, but not that the affliction would continue until He should come. -- [Hebrew: ntN] is similarly used in 2 Chron. xxx.7: "And be not ye like your fathers, and like your brethren who trespassed against the Lord God of your fathers; therefore He gave them up to desolation ([Hebrew: vitnM lwmh]), as you see." With respect to the words, "Until the time that she who is bearing hath brought forth," there is an essential difference of opinion as to the explanation of the main point. One class of interpreters -- comprehending Eusebius and Cyril, and by far the greatest number of the ancient Christian expositors; and among the more recent, Rosenmueller, Ewald, Hitzig, Maurer, and Caspari -- understand [Pg 514] by "her who is bearing," the mother of the Messiah. Another class understands thereby the Congregation of Israel. The latter, however, differ from each other as to the signification and import of the figure of the birth. Some -- Abendana, Calvin, and Justi -- suppose the tertium comparationis to be the joy following upon the pain. Others -- Theodoret, Tarnovius ("until Israel, like a fruitful mother, has brought forth a numerous progeny"), Vitringa (in his Commentary on Revel. S.534) -- suppose it to be the great increase. Let us first decide between these two modifications of that view which refers the words to the Congregation of Israel. The former -- the joy following after the pain -- appears to be inadmissible for this single reason, that among the very numerous passages of the Old Testament where the image of a birth is employed, there does not occur even one, in which the joy following after the pain is made prominent, as is the case in the well-known passage in the New Testament. On the contrary, in all the passages which come into consideration on this point, it is rather the pain accompanying the birth which is considered. Thus Mic. iv.10; Is. xxvi.17; Jer. iv.31: "For I hear a voice as of a woman in travail, anguish as of her that bringeth forth her first-born child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, she groaneth, spreadeth her hands: Woe to me, for my soul is wearied, through them that kill;" xxx.6, xlix.24; Hos. xiii.13. To consider the pain alone, however, as the tertium comparationis, is inadmissible, because, in that case, we would obtain the absurd meaning: the suffering shall continue until the suffering cometh. It is likewise impossible to understand the bringing forth as the highest degree of affliction, -- so that the sense would be: the Lord will give them up until the distress reaches its highest point, -- because this meaning could apply only in the event of the lower degrees, the pains before the birth, being also mentioned. They who hold and defend the second modification of this view, can indeed refer to, and quote, a large number of parallel passages -- almost all of them from the second part of Isaiah -- where this image occurs with a similar signification. Thus, e.g.. Is. liv.1: "Shout for joy, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into shouting and exult, thou that didst not travail; for more numerous are the sons of the desolate than the sons of the married wife, saith the Lord;" xlix.21, 22, lxvi.7-9. But we must nevertheless prefer [Pg 515] to this explanation, that which refers the words to the mother of the Messiah, for the following reasons.1. If the words were to be referred to the Congregation of Israel, we should expect the Article before [Hebrew: ivldh]. For the Congregation of Israel is substantially mentioned in what immediately precedes; she is only a personification of those who are to be given up.2. It is true that, frequently, the personification is not consistently carried out; but the circumstance that here, in the same sentence, the children of Israel are spoken of in the plural ("He will give them up"), and that no trace of a personification is found in what follows, but that, on the contrary, the children of Israel are mentioned expressly, makes the pretended personification appear in rather an abrupt manner, so that such an assumption would be admissible in a case of necessity only.3. If referred to the Congregation of Israel, the relation of the Messiah to that great event, and epoch, is not intimated by a single word. Of Him ver.1 speaks, and of Him vers.3-5. How then can it be that in ver.2 there should all at once be a transition to the general Messianic representation? 4. The suffix in [Hebrew: aHiv], which refers to the Messiah, requires that He should be indirectly mentioned in what precedes; and such is the case, only when the [Hebrew: ivldh] is she who is to bring forth the Ruler announced in ver.1.5. It appears from the reference to Gen. xxxv., which we have already pointed out and proved, that the prophet has in view one who is to bring forth in Bethlehem. Bethlehem, which had in ancient times already become remarkable by a birth, is in future to be ennobled by another birth, infinitely more important.6. The comparison of Is. vii.14, where likewise the mother of the Messiah is mentioned; compare the remarks on that passage.7, and lastly -- The evident reference of "Until the time that she who is bearing hath brought forth" to "From thee shall come forth," suggests the mother of the Messiah. That she is designated as "she who brings forth," may be explained from the circumstance that she comes into view here in a relation which is altogether one-sided, viz., only as regards the one event of the birth of the Messiah. -- Among the blessings which the Messiah is to confer upon the Congregation of the Lord, there is first of all viewed the fundamental blessing, the condition of all others, viz., the change which He is to effect in the disposition of the Covenant-people. [Pg 516] It is this which, above and before everything else, needs to be changed, if Israel is not any more to be given up; for Israel which is so only by name and in appearance, is the legitimate prey of the world. -- By the Brethren of the Messiah, the members of the Old Covenant-people, His brethren according to the flesh, can alone be understood. There is no Old Testament analogy for referring the expression to the Gentiles. We are led to the reference to Israel by the connection with the first member of the verse. The brethren are such as have become the Messiah's brethren by the circumstance that He has been born of the Bethlehemitish woman "who is to bring forth" (Caspari). We are led to it, further, by v.1, according to which, the Messiah is to be Ruler in Israel; and, still further, by the fundamental passage in Ps. xxii.23: "I will declare Thy name unto my brethren," where, according to the address in ver.24, the brethren are all the descendants of Israel, among whom a great awakening is to be produced. -- The construction of [Hebrew: wvb] with [Hebrew: el] may be explained by the remark of Ewald: "[Hebrew: el] stands in its primary local signification with verbs also, when the thing moves to another thing, and remains upon it." Of a material return the verb [Hebrew: wvb] with [Hebrew: el] is thus used in Prov. xxvi.11, Eccles. i.6; -- of a spiritual return, 2 Chron. xxx.9: [Hebrew: bwvbkM el ihvh] "when ye return to the Lord," properly, "upon the Lord;" and Mal. iii.24 (iv.6): "And he makes return the hearts of the fathers to the sons, [Hebrew: el bniM]," -- which latter passage has a striking resemblance to the one under review. In the latter signification [Hebrew: wvb] must be taken here also. -- By the "sons of Israel," here, as ordinarily, the whole of the Covenant-people are signified, and that by its highest and holiest name. From this holy communion, the wicked -- the souls which, according to the expression of the Lord, are cut off from their people -- are separated and dissevered; compare my commentary on Ps. lxxiii.1. The whole description of the prevailing corruption, and especially vii.1, 2, show us to what an extent this separation existed at the time of the prophet. But, by the Saviour, this separation is to be abolished, and the lost and wandering are to be brought back to the communion of the church, -- a work which, according to Rom. xi., will be perfected in the future only.
Ver.3. "And He stands and feeds in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God; and they dwell, for now shall He be great unto the ends of the earth."
In this verse we are told what the Saviour shall do for awakened and, thus, inwardly united Israel. "He stands," has here not the signification of "He abides," but belongs merely to the graphic description of the habit of the shepherd; compare Is. lxi.5: "And strangers stand and feed your flocks." The shepherd stands, leaning upon his staff, and overlooks the flock. The connection of "He feeds" with "in the strength of the Lord," we cannot better express than Calvin has done in the words: "The word 'to feed' expresses what Christ will be towards His people, i.e., towards the flock committed to Him. He does not exercise dominion in the Church like a formidable tyrant who keeps down his subjects through terror, but He is a Shepherd, and treats His sheep with all the gentleness which they can desire. But, inasmuch as we are surrounded on all sides by enemies, the prophet adds: 'He shall feed in the strength,' etc.; i.e., as much power as there is in God, so much protection there will be in Christ, when it is necessary to defend and protect His Church against enemies. We may learn, then, from this, that we may expect as much of salvation from Christ as there is strength in God." The great King is so closely united to God, that the whole fulness of divine power and majesty belongs to Him. Such attributes are never given to any earthly king. Such a king has, indeed, strength in the Lord, Is. xlv.24; "The Lord giveth strength to His king, and exalteth the horn of His anointed," 1 Sam. ii.10; but the whole strength and majesty of God are not his possession. The passage [Pg 518] in Is. ix.5 (6) is parallel, -- where the Messiah is called [Hebrew: al gbvr], God-hero. -- The "name of God" points to the rich fulness in deeds, by which He has manifested the glory of His nature. The Messiah will be the brightness and image of this His glory, -- a glory which is manifested by acts, and not a glory which is inactive and concealed. "They dwell" forms a contrast to the disquietude and scattering, and we are, therefore, not at liberty to supply "safely" before it. The last words are deprived of their meaning and significance by explanations such as that of Dathe: "His name shall attain to great renown and celebrity." The ground of the present rest and safety of the Congregation of the Lord rather is this, -- that her Head has now extended His dominion beyond the narrow limits of Palestine, over the whole earth; compare iv.3. -- 2 Sam. vii.9 cannot here be compared, as there the name of the Lord is not spoken of as it is here. That the "being great" here implies real dominion (Maurer: auctoritate et potentia valebit), which alone can afford a pledge for the dwelling in safety, is shown also by the fundamental passages Ps. ii.8, lxxii.8; compare Zech. ix.10. In Luke i.32 the passage before us is referred to. The "now" does not by any means form a contrast with a former condition of the Messiah, but with the former condition of the Congregation when she did not enjoy so powerful a Ruler.
Ver.4. "And this (man) is peace. When Asshur comes into our land, and when he treads in our palaces, we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight princes of men. Ver.5. And they feed the land of Asshur with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in its gates; and He protects from Asshur when he comes into our land, and when he treads within our borders."
"And this man (He whose glory has just been described) is peace," -- He bestows that which we have so much needed, and longed for with so much anxiety in these troublous times before His appearing. In a similar manner, and with reference to the passage before us, it is said in Ephes. ii.14: [Greek: autos estin he eirene hemon], compare also Judges vi.24: "And Gideon built an altar there unto the Lord, and called it Jehovah-Peace, [Hebrew: ihvh wlvM]." Abandoning this explanation, which is so natural, Jonathan, Grotius, Rosenmueller, and Winer explain: "And there will be peace to us," -- an interpretation, however, which is inadmissible even on philological grounds, [Hebrew: zh] is nowhere used, either [Pg 519] as Adverb, loci = "here," or as Adverb, temp. = "then." As regards the latter, such passages as Gen. xxxi.41 -- "These are to me twenty years," instead of, "twenty years have now elapsed" -- are, of course, not at all to the purpose. But of such a kind are almost all the examples quoted by Nolde. In Esther ii.13 [Hebrew: bzh] is used. The verb [Hebrew: hcil] in ver.5 is likewise in favour of understanding [Hebrew: zh] personally; compare also Zech. ix.10: "And He shall speak peace unto the nations." -- There can scarcely be any doubt that the words allude to the name of Solomon, and that the Messiah is represented in them as the Antitype of Solomon. Upon this point there is the less room for doubt, because even Solomon himself called the Messiah by his name in the Song of Solomon; and in Is. ix.5 (6) also, He is, with an evident allusion to the name of Solomon, called the Prince of Peace. -- All which follows after these words, to the end of ver.5, is only a particularizing expansion of the words: "And this (man) is peace." Interpreters have almost all agreed, that Asshur, the most dangerous enemy of the Covenant-people at the time of the prophet, stands here as a type of the enemies of the Covenant-people. Even L. Baur has translated: "And though another Asshur," etc., with a reference to the passage in Virgil to which allusion had already been made by Castalio: "Alter erit tum Tiphys et altera quae vehat Argo delectos heroas." That the prophet, however, was fully conscious of his here using Asshur typically, appears from iv.9, 10. For, according to these verses, the first of the three catastrophes which preceded the birth of the Messiah, proceeds from a new phase of the world's power, viz., from the Babylonian empire, the rising of which implies the overthrow of the Assyrian. But the figurative element in the representation goes still farther. From ver.9 ff. -- according to which the Lord makes His people outwardly defenceless, before they become, in Christ, the conquerors of the world -- it is obvious that the spiritual struggle against the world's power is here represented under the image of the outward struggle, carried on with the sword. One might be tempted to confine the thought of the passage to this: "The Messiah affords to His people the same protection and security as would a large number of brave princes with their hosts," inasmuch as the bestowal of these was, under the Old Testament, the ordinary means by which the Lord delivered His people. If, however, the spiritual character [Pg 520] of the struggle only be maintained, there is no sufficient reason for considering the seven and more shepherds and the princes as mere imagery, because, in the kingdom of Christ also, the cause of the kingdom of God is carried on by human instruments, whom He furnishes with His own strength. The words, "This (man) is peace," and "He protects," in ver.5, show indeed with sufficient distinctness, that, in the main, Christ is the only Saviour, -- the shepherds, His instruments only, -- and their world-conquering power, a derived one only. The apparent contradiction of the passage before us to iv.1-3, vii.12 -- according to which the heathen nations shall, in the time of the Messiah, spontaneously press towards the kingdom of God -- is removed by the remark, that we have here before us two different streams which may as well flow together in prophecy as they do in history. The zeal with which the nations press towards the kingdom is, in part, greatly called forth by the fact, that, in attacking the kingdom of Christ, they have experienced its world-conquering power. The circumstance that the words, "This (man) is peace," stand at the beginning, proves that the main idea is the security of the kingdom of God against all hostile attacks. For the like reason it is, towards the end, resumed in the words, "And He protects," etc. But this affords no reason for saying, with Caspari: "It forms part of the defence, it is indeed its consummation, that the war is carried into Asshur." In the first hemistich of ver.5, it is intimated rather, that, in the time of the Messiah, the positions of the world and of the people of God are changed, -- that the latter becomes world-conquering; and for this reason, every thought of their own insecurity must so much the rather disappear. "The land of Nimrod" is, according to Gen. x.11, Asshur. The "gates" are those of the cities and fortresses, corresponding with, "When he treads in our palaces," in ver.4. It weakens the sense to think of the gates of the country, as such, i.e., the borders. The attack, on the contrary, is directed against, and strikes the real centre of the seat of the world's power, just as, formerly, the stroke was always directed against Zion.
With regard to the remaining part of the chapter, we content ourselves with a mere statement of the contents. The Congregation of the Lord shall, at that time, not only be lovely and refreshing, ver.6 (7), (this is the constant signification of the [Pg 521] image of the dew, compare Ps. cx.3, cxxxiii.3, lxxii.6; the relative pronoun [Hebrew: awr] must be referred to the grass, mentioned immediately before; that which the dew descending from heaven is to the grass, Israel will, in his heavenly mission, be to the heathen world), but at the same time fearful and irresistible, vers.7, 8 (8, 9); the latter of these qualities shall show itself not only as a curse in the case of obstinate despisers, but also as a blessing in the case of those who are estranged from the kingdom of God, through ignorance only. Resuming then the last words of ver.8 (9), "All thine enemies shall be cut off," the prophet declares that before this word shall be fulfilled, the destructive activity of the Lord will be manifested in Israel itself. He will cut off by His judgments, and by the catastrophes described in iv.9-14, everything in which, in the present, they placed a carnal confidence, everything by which they became externally strong and powerful (Caspari: "A cutting off, in the first instance, of all wherewith elsewhere enemies are commonly cut off"), and so likewise all idolatry, to which the Chaldean catastrophe already put a violent end. It is only of such a termination by force, and not of a purely inward effect of the "gentle power of the Spirit then poured out upon them," that the words here, as well as in reference to the horses, etc., permit us to think. The two kinds of objects of false confidence are then, in conclusion, in ver.13 (14) once more summed up, -- when the cities, just as in ver.10 (11), come into view as fortresses only. If thus the path be cleared and prepared for the Lord, He will, on behalf of His people, execute vengeance upon the heathen world.
Footnote 1: After the example of Hofmann, Caspari gives this exposition: "And the remnant of His brethren, viz., the inhabitants of Judah, shall return from the captivity to Canaan, along with the sons of Israel, i.e., the ten tribes." But the return from the captivity never appears in the prophets, as a work of the Messiah. It has here taken place long before His appearing: chap. iv.10, iv.11-14 supposes it to have taken place, and Zion to be in existence. The "brethren of the Messiah" can neither be the inhabitants of Judah especially, nor the sons of Israel, the ten tribes, unless the antithesis to Judah be distinctly expressed. It is absurd to suppose that the ten tribes should appear as those chiefly who are to be redeemed. [Hebrew: wvb], which means "to return," cannot be used simply of a return to the country, while [Hebrew: wvb] with [Hebrew: el] can, according to the usus loquendi, be understood only in the sense of "to return to," etc., etc.