Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, until the Messiah, the Prince, there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of distress.
I. THE STATE OF MIND DEMANDED FROM THE STUDENT OF PROPHECY,
1. A certain temper. "Know and understand." The angel anticipates difficulties of interpretation. A skilled and spiritual mind necessary. So also industry, pains, care. The worst temper would be the proud, self-sufficient, and dogmatic. Compare words of Jesus, "Whoso readeth, let him understand;" "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
2. Spiritual insight. "The going forth of the word to restore." Whose?
(1) God's. To see a truth like this demands insight of a spiritual kind. The sovereign word of the Eternal King!
(2) But given through the edict of Cyrus.
II. THE CHRONOLOGY OF THE PASSAGE. We might study separately the prophecy, and then the fulfilment in history. But take them together - study the prophecy in the light of its historical development. But consider the kind of agreement we may expect between the prediction and the history. No greater than the circumstances admit of. Chronological exactness is only to be looked for when the event is defined and limited to some moment in time. But some events develop slowly; e.g. the restoration of a city, the confirmation of a covenant. If events are not defined, prophecy must be indefinite. We suggest the following outline for the preacher, to make all clear (for detail, see the histories, secular and sacred):
1. Before the time-section of four hundred and ninety years. Eighty years from the time of Daniel's prayer to "the restoration," the moment whence the four hundred and ninety are to be reckoned. Here the principal events are: Jerusalem a desolation; the first migration at the decree of Cyrus; the building of the temple only; interruption; Joshua and Zerubbabel; finished in eighteen years, B.C. 534-516. Then fifty-eight years, of which history is silent. The temple standing, but no wall; no city.
2. Commencement of the four hundred and ninety ( B.C. 457). The coming of Ezra, the restoration and rebuilding of the city. "From the going forth of the word to restore," etc.
3. The forty-nine years. "Hebdomads seven and," etc. These are made up thus: Ezra at work alone about twelve or thirteen years; first visit of Nehemiah about twelve years; Nehemiah's return to Persia, and second visit to the time of Joiada becoming high priest (his father, Eliashib, died in B.C. 413), about nineteen or twenty years. This accounts for forty-five out of the forty-nine. The other four may be reckoned to the death of Nehemiah, but the date of his death is lost.
4. The four hundred and thirty-four year's. "Hebdomads sixty and two? This period extends to the baptism of Jesus; i.e. to the public manifestation of "Messiah-Prince." This could be none other than the Redeemer. (Prove this in detail.)
5. The seven years. Three and a half to the Crucifixion; three and a half to establishment of Christianity and the Church.
III. THE ARGUMENT FROM CHRONOLOGY FOR THE DIVINITY OF THE GOSPEL.
1. Its place. Strange that both sceptic and Christian should object to this kind of evidence. The sceptic: "Faith cannot depend on chronology." The Christian: "Questions of events and times do not become the spiritually minded." But the evidences for revelation are not all of one kind, nor all for the same class of mind (see Hengstenberg's 'Christology,' vol. 3:199, Clark's edit.).
2. its value. On this we had better quote Preiswerk: "We ought not, considering the uncertainty of ancient chronology, to lay much stress in calculating the exact year. For, though the calculation be very successful, yet so soon as another interpreter follows, another chronological system, what has been so laboriously reared up is apparently thrown down. But if we grant, from the outset, that ancient chronology is uncertain, and be content to point out a general coincidence of the historical with the prophetical time; if we show that possibly even a minute coincidence took place, and at least that no one can prove the contrary, we shall have done enough to prove the truth of the ancient prophecy, and our work cannot be overthrown by others."
3. Its availability; i.e. to ordinary readers of Scripture. Before Christ, the Jews knew about when to reckon from, and so when to expect Messiah. And now, though learned chronological arguments may not be within reach of the many, yet plain people may come to that simple knowledge of history which shall teach that prophecy has been fulfilled in Christ. - R.
Even in troublous times.
I. THIS IS TRUE OF INDIVIDUALS. This world is the house of discipline in which Christians are broken to the Divine service by severe management. There are seasons which in a peculiar sense are "troublous times." And it is in such seasons more than any other that they grow in grace, and thus prepare to carry up the walls of the Heavenly Jerusalem, or to enlarge the Church triumphant. Their choicest experiences are obtained, and their selected graces are acquired, in times of trouble. Afflictions are the rod which chastises them to duty — the furnace in which the gold is purified from the dross.
II. THE WALLS OF JERUSALEM GENERALLY ARE BUILT UP IN TROUBLOUS TIMES. In such times the greatest advances have been made in the interests of the Church. Illustrate from the history of the Church from the time when the foundation was laid in the promise of the woman's seed. To the civilised world at large these are troublous times. While the enemy are vapouring and raging; while, leagued against all morality and religion, they are bearing away the ancient landmarks of society; while the apostles of infidelity are fast proselyting the world, and a third part of men are gone after Baal — even in such times the walls of Jerusalem are rising. Things are likely to continue the same in our day. Let not troublous times stagger the faith of Christians. Let us not be terrified "as though some strange thing happened to us." We have company enough in these matter. From the days of Adam all the saints have had to encounter similar trials.
(E. D. Griffin, D.D.)
(Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)
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