In the next two passages, xvii. 12-14, xviii., Isaiah appears to return to his favourite theme of the sure destruction of the Assyrians, though they are not mentioned by name. In xvii. 12-14 their hosts are compared to the noise of many waters, while in xviii. their doom is announced by the prophet in answer to an embassy sent by the Ethiopians, who were alarmed at the prospect of an invasion by the Assyrians, doubtless under Sennacherib.
Ch. xix. Oracle concerning Egypt. For Egypt the prophet announces a doom of civil war, oppression at the hands of a hard master, and public and private distress which will issue in despair, vv. 1-17. In their terror, however, the Egyptians will cry to Jehovah, who will reveal Himself to them and be in consequence honoured and worshipped on Egyptian soil. Then a triple alliance will be formed between Egypt, Assyria and Israel, and they shall all be Jehovah's people, vv. 18-25.
The dream of such an alliance is very attractive and not too bold for so original a thinker as Isaiah. But the passage is beset by difficulties. The attitude to Egypt appears to be much friendlier in vv. 18-25 than in vv. 1-17; and it seems quite impossible to find within Isaiah's age a place for five (=several?) Hebrew-speaking cities in Egypt, v. 18, whereas such a reference would excellently fit the later post-exilic time when there were extensive Jewish colonies in Egypt. If the city specially mentioned at the end of the verse be, as it seems to be, either Sun-city (Heliopolis) or Lion-city (Leontopolis) then it would not be unnatural to find, in the next verse, with its worship of Jehovah upon Egyptian soil, a reference to the founding of a temple at Leontopolis by Onias in 160 B.C. In that case, Assyria in v. 23 stands, as occasionally elsewhere, for Syria, from which Israel had suffered more severely during the second century B.C. than the earlier Israel from Assyria; and the dream of Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, united in the worship of the true God, would be just as striking and generous in the second century as in the eighth. At first, v. 19 seems to tell powerfully in favour of the Isaianic authorship, as the massebah (pillar) here regarded as innocent was proscribed a century after Isaiah by the Deuteronomic law (Deut. xii. 3). But the Egyptian Jews may not have been so stringent as the Palestinian, or we may even suppose that the "pillar" has here nothing to do with worship, but stands, for some other purpose, on the boundary line. There is no adequate reason, however, why vv. 1-17, or at least vv. 1-15, should not be assigned to Isaiah.
In ch. xx. (711 B.C., cf. v. 1, capture of Ashdod) Isaiah indicates in symbolic prophecy—which, however, was not fulfilled—that the people of Egypt and Ethiopia would be deported by the Assyrians. The prophet's object was to dissuade the people of Judah from the Egyptian alliance which they were contemplating.
The theme of xxi. 1-10 is the same as that of xiii., xiv.—the impending fate of Babylon—and the passages may be almost contemporary. Warriors of Elam and Media are sent against Babylon, and the issue is awaited with tremulous excitement, till at last the watchman proclaims the welcome news, "Babylon is fallen, is fallen." The importance here aligned to Babylon and her fall, the express mention of Elam and Media, v. 2, as her assailants, and the description of Jehovah's people as "threshed" point unmistakably to the last years of the exile, after the rise of Cyrus in 549, and before the fall of Babylon in 538, so that the passage cannot be from Isaiah. With this seems to go the next little enigmatic oracle concerning Edom, xxi. 11, 12, whose fate, as affected by the fall of Babylon, is as yet uncertain. The desert tribes, xxi. 13-17, will also be affected by the general upheaval and be driven from the regular caravan routes.
Ch. xxii. is the only chapter in this division (xiii.-xxiii.) which is not concerned with foreign nations. It probably owes its place here to its peculiar superscription which conforms to the other superscription in xiii.-xxiii. In this chapter the prophet laments and very sternly rebukes the frivolity of the people of Jerusalem—whether shortly before the invasion of Sennacherib or after his retreat, it is hard to say. Trusting in their armour and fortifications they give the rein to their appetites, but he solemnly declares that their sin will be punished with death.
Unique among the oracles of Isaiah are the two pieces, xxii. 15-18 and 19-25, which deal with persons. Shebna, one of the court officials and probably a foreigner, is threatened with exile and the consequent loss of his office: probably he championed the policy of an Egyptian alliance. His place will be taken, according to Isaiah, by Eliakim, who, curiously enough, is threatened in his turn. Probably vv. 19-23 are an adaptation of 2 Kings xviii. 18, where Eliakim is holding an office here held by Shebna, while Shebna is only a scribe.
A prophetic lament over Tyre (xxiii.) concludes the oracles dealing with the foreign peoples. The glad ancient merchant city will be brought to silence, vv. 1-14, though after seventy years she is to be revived, and the proceeds of her traffic are to be enjoyed by the people of Jerusalem, vv. 15-18. There was a siege of Tyre during Isaiah's time, but it is probably not that which is celebrated here, as the poem lacks the nobility and grandeur of the prophet's style. If the oracle is held to imply the conquest of Tyre, it would require to be brought down to the time of Alexander the Great; but it may well be only an anticipatory lament and therefore earlier, contemporary perhaps with a similar oracle of Ezekiel concerning the siege of Tyre (Ez. xxvi.-xxviii.) Verses 15-18 are clearly dependent on Jeremiah's view of the duration of the Chaldean oppression (Jer. xxv. 11, xxix. 10); and the whole chapter may be exilic.
Chs. xxiv.-xxvii. Late prophecy concerning the glorious issue of some world-catastrophe.
This section is very peculiar, obscure, and in the Old Testament altogether unique. Contemporary historical facts are seen now in the lurid light of fear, more often in the more brilliant light of eschatological hopes. In ch. xxiv. a great catastrophe is impending. The world is weary, and joy has vanished. The city (Jerusalem?) is desolate. Something has happened to revive Jewish hopes and kindle high expectations as to the issue of the coming calamity, but in the immediate future new woes are impending—the earth will reel; on that day, however, Jehovah will suddenly punish the powers supernatural and terrestrial, and come down to reign in glory on Mount Zion. Then (xxv.) follows an enthusiastic song of praise, because a certain strong city (unnamed) has been laid low. A great banquet is prepared on Zion for all the sorrow-ridden nations of the world—emblem of their reception into the Kingdom of God—tears are wiped from every eye, and, with their reproach removed, the Jews praise their God for the victory. Another song of praise follows in xxvi. 1-xxvii. 1 for the power with which Jehovah has defended His own city, and laid her proud rival low. The wicked will not learn from the divine judgments; but, while they are destroyed, not only do Jehovah's own people increase, but their dead are restored to life, to participate in His glorious kingdom; and the dragon is smitten. Then follows xxvii. 2-6, a song of the vineyard-counterpart to v. l-7—which praises Jehovah's care for Judah, with whom He is angry no more. Her rival shall become a desolation, but she herself shall be forgiven and re-established, if only she remove all signs of heathen worship, and from the ends of the earth her exiled sons shall gather to worship at Jerusalem.
The origin of this piece is wrapped in obscurity; and it would seem that the author, for some reason, deliberately concealed the historical situation. It is not even certain that the piece is a unity: the song, e.g., in xxv. 1-5 interrupts the description of judgment, and the connection is occasionally loose. There is no clue to what is meant by the strong city which is to be overthrown. It is plain, however, that the writer lived in Palestine, doubtless in or near Jerusalem, xxv. 6, 7, at a time when the Jews were scattered throughout many lands, xxiv. 14-16, xxvii. 12, 13, and when there were at least three great world powers, xxvii. 1. This could hardly have been earlier than the end of the Persian period, and probably the tidings that rang from the isles of the sea, xxiv. 14, 15, were those of the victorious advance of Alexander the Great. No earlier date would suit the theological implications of the passage: e.g. the judgment upon the hosts of heaven, xxiv. 21, 22 (cf. Dan. xi.), the resurrection from the dead, xxvi. 19, the banquet of the nations on Zion, xxv. 6. The style of the passage is nearly as peculiar as its thought, it abounds in assonance and alliteration. It is assigned by some to the close of the second century B.C.; but, in any case, it can hardly be earlier than the later half of the fourth century B.C., and may well express the wild expectations to which disappointed Jewish hearts were lifted by the conquests of Alexander.
Chs. xxviii.-xxxiii. Prophecies concerning Judah and Jerusalem
We now return to the undoubted prophecies of Isaiah. This group begins with a woe, xxviii. 1-4, pronounced not long before the fall of Samaria in 721 B.C., ending in two verses, 5, 6, presenting another outlook, apparently by a later hand. In vv. 7-22, probably about the time of the Egyptian alliance, Judah is also threatened for the drunkenness of her leaders, and for the false confidence which leads the people scornfully to close their ears to prophetic instruction. The interesting little section which follows, vv. 23-29, shows how the farmer adapts his methods to the particular work he has to do. The connection, however, is anything but obvious: it may be intended as a reminder to the sceptics of Judah that the divine penalties, though slow, v. 19, are sure; or it may be meant to suggest that God's judgments are tempered with mercy. To the same period belongs the prophecy of the distress that is to be inflicted on Ariel, i.e. Jerusalem, by "a great multitude of all the nations," clearly Sennacherib's army, xxix. 1-15; but in a prophecy, probably much later, which is dramatically appended to it, a promise of redemption and restoration is held out, xxix. 16-24.
In xxx., xxxi., also before the invasion of Sennacherib, the prophet denounces the folly of trusting the impotent aid of Egypt, when their real strength lay in quietly trusting their God: for Jehovah will smite the Assyrian with a mysterious blow and defend his dear Jerusalem. Though such promises undoubtedly fall within the range of Isaiah's message, the ideas and the general tone of xxx. 18-26 are sufficient to place that passage almost certainly in the post-exilic period. Against the background of calamity in the two preceding chapters, xxxii. 1-8 throws up a picture—whether from Isaiah's or a later hand—of the Messianic age, when rulers would be just and character transformed. The imminent desolation of Jerusalem, with which the women are threatened, is again immediately contrasted with the fruitfulness and security of the land, when the spirit will be poured out from on high, xxxii. 9-20.
This group is closed by a song of triumph (xxxiii.) over the prospective annihilation of the foreign foes who have crushed Israel, by the glorious God who defends Jerusalem. There is much in the passage, especially towards the end, vv. 19-21, which looks as if the Assyrians were the enemy, and the prophecy, like most of those in this group, fell shortly before Sennacherib's invasion. But, besides lacking the vigour of Isaiah's acknowledged prophecies, the passage contains ideas which are hardly his: e.g. the sinners in Zion, v. 14, are not to be destroyed but forgiven, v. 24. The allusion to the king in v. 17, if the text is correct, helps us little, as the king may be Jehovah. There is a growing conviction that the passage is post-exilic, some scholars even bringing it down to the Maccabean times, about 163 B.C.
Chs. xxxiv., xxxv. Prophecy concerning the redemption and return of Israel.
A fitting conclusion to the whole book—ignoring xxxvi.-xxxix., which is an historical appendix—is afforded by the picture of the world-judgment, the redemption of Israel, and the destruction of her enemies in xxxiv., xxxv. Edom is singled out as the special object of Jehovah's vengeance, xxxiv. 5-17; and, in contrast to her desolation, is the blessedness of Israel, returning to her own land across the blossoming wilderness with exceeding joy. Ch. xxxv., at any rate, seems to point to the return of the exiles from Babylon, and ch. xxxiv. may also without violence be fitted into this time. The Jews never forgot or forgave the Edomites for their cruelty on the occasion of the destruction of Jerusalem (Lam. iv. 21ff., Ps. cxxxvii. 7) and the joy of their own redemption would be heightened by the ruin of Edom (Mal. i. 2-5). If, however, xxxiv. 16 implies, as we are not bound to believe, a fixed prophetic canon, the chapters would be very late, falling somewhere within the second century B.C. More probably they were written, like xiii., xiv., towards the end of the exile.
xxxvi.-xxxix. Historical Appendix
Separating the earlier from the later of the two great divisions of the book of Isaiah (i.-xxxv., xl.-lxvi.) stands a purely historical section, practically identical with and probably borrowed from 2 Kings xviii. l3-xx. 19, which finds its place here, no doubt simply because of its connection with the prophet Isaiah. It tells the story of Sennacherib's invasion of Judah, his insulting demands, whether transmitted through the Rabshakeh (xxxvi.) or by letter (xxxvii.), of Hezekiah's terror and Isaiah's divine word of reassurance, and of the ultimate departure of the Assyrian army. Ch. xxxviii. contains Isaiah's prophecy to Hezekiah of his recovery from sickness, with the king's song of gratitude. This is followed by another prophecy of the Babylonian exile, occasioned by an embassy sent to Hezekiah by Merodach Baladan, king of Babylon (xxxix.).
This account omits the very important statement in 2 Kings xviii. 14-16 of the heavy tribute paid by Hezekiah to the King of Assyria, and inserts the psalm of Hezekiah, xxxviii. 9-20, which is no doubt later than the redaction of the book of Kings as it is not found there, and is, in all probability, a post-exilic psalm. It is not certain whether the accounts in xxxvi. 1-xxxvii. 9a and xxxvii. 9b-37 are simply parallel versions of the same incident, or refer to two different campaigns. In the distinctly prophetical portion, xxxvii. 22ff, though there is much that recalls Isaiah, the passage in its present form can hardly be his. Ch. xxxvii. 26, e.g. would be a pertinent appeal to Israel, but hardly to Sennacherib; it rests, no doubt, on the later Isaiah (xl. 28, xlvi. 11). The prophecy of exile to Babylon, xxxix. 6, 7, is not natural at a time when Assyria, not Babylon, was the enemy. Again, xxxvii. 33, which denies that even an arrow would be shot, is hardly reconcilable with Isaiah's prophecy of an arduous siege for the city, xxix. 1-4. Further, the minute prediction that Hezekiah's life would be prolonged for fifteen years is not in the manner of Isaiah, nor indeed of any of the great prophets, whose precise numbers, where they occur, are to be interpreted as round numbers (e.g. seventy years in Jer. xxv. 11, xxix. 10); and the story of the reversal of the shadow on the sun-dial reflects the later conception of the prophet as a miracle-worker (cf. I Kings xiii. 3-6). The section, in its present form, must be post-exilic.
With ch. xl. we pass into a different historical and theological atmosphere from that of the authentic prophecies of Isaiah. The very first word, "Comfort ye," strikes a new note: in the main, the message of Isaiah had been one of judgment. Jerusalem and the cities of Judah are in ruins, xlv. 13. The people are in exile in the land of the Chaldeans, xlvii. 5, 6, from which they are on the point of being delivered, xlviii. 20. The time of her sorrow is all but over, xl. 2; and her redemption is to come through a great warrior who is twice expressly named as Cyrus, xliv. 28, xlv. 1, and occasionally alluded to as a figure almost too familiar to need naming, xli. 25, xlv. 13. He it is who is to overthrow Babylon, xlviii. 14. Such, then, is the situation: the exile is not predicted, it is presupposed, and the oppressor is not Assyria, as in Isaiah's time, but Babylon. Now it is a cardinal, indeed an obvious principle, of prophecy that the prophet addresses himself, at least primarily, to the situation of his own time. Prophecy is a moral, not a magical thing; and nothing would be gained by the delivery of a message over a century and a half before it was needed, to a people to whom it was irrelevant and unintelligible.
The literary style of these chapters also differs widely from that of Isaiah. No doubt there are points of contact, notably in the fondness for the phrase, "the holy One of Israel"—a favourite phrase of Isaiah's and rare elsewhere. The influence of Isaiah is unmistakable, but the differences are no less striking. Isaiah mounts up on wings as an eagle: the later prophet neither mounts nor runs, he walks, xl. 31. He has not the older prophet's majesty; he has a quiet dignity, and his tone is more tender. Nor has he Isaiah's exuberance and fertility of resource: the same thoughts are repeated, though with pleasing and ingenious variations, over and over again. All his characteristic thoughts already appear in the first two chapters: the certainty and joy of Israel's redemption, the omnipotence of Jehovah and the absurdity of idolatry, the call of Cyrus to execute Jehovah's purpose, the ultimate design of that purpose as the bringing of the whole world, through redeemed Israel, to a knowledge of the true God.
The theological ideas of the prophecy are different from those of Isaiah. Unique emphasis is laid on the creative power of Jehovah, and this thought is applied to the case of forlorn Israel with overwhelming effect; for it is none other than the eternal and omnipotent God that is about to reveal Himself as Israel's redeemer, in fulfilment of ancient words of prophecy, xliv. 7, 8. This very attitude to prophecy marks the book as late; it would not be possible in a pre-exilic prophet. But the most original conception of the book is one which finds no parallel whatever in Isaiah, viz. the suffering servant of Jehovah. This servant is the exclusive theme of the four songs, xlii. 1-4, xlix. 1-6, l. 4-9, lii. l3-liii. 12; but more or less he is involved in the whole prophecy. The function of the servant is to give light to the Gentiles—in other words, to bring the world to a knowledge of Jehovah (cf. xlii. 1, xlv. 14).
Who is the servant? The difficulty in answering this question is twofold: (i.) while the servant is often undoubtedly a collective term for the people of Israel, xli. 8, xliv. 1, 2, the descriptions of him, especially in the songs alluded to, are occasionally so intimately personal as to seem to compel an individual interpretation (cf. liii.). But in this connection we have to remember the ease with which the Oriental could personify, and apply even the most personal detail to a collective body. "Grey hairs are upon him," says Hosea, vii. 9, not of a man but of the nation; and Isaiah himself, i. 6, described the body politic as sick from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot (cf. Ezek. xvi., xxiii). Clearly, therefore, individual allusions do not necessarily compel an individual interpretation; and there is no reason in the nature of the case, and still less in the context, to assume a reference to any specific individual. The songs are an integral part of the prophecy: the function of the servant is the same, and the servant must also be the same in both. Indeed one passage in the second song, xlix. 3, expressly identifies the servant with Israel; and in liii., an intensely personal chapter, where the servant, after death, is to rise again and take his place victoriously in the world, the collective interpretation of the servant as Israel, emerging triumphantly from the doom of exile, is natural, if not necessary.
But (ii.) admitting that the servant is everywhere Israel, a new difficulty emerges. The terms in which he is described are often apparently contradictory. At one time he is blind and deaf, xlii. 18, 19; at another he is Jehovah's witness and minister to the blind and deaf, i.e. to the heathen world, xliii. 8-10, xlii. 7. This contrast, which runs through the prophecy, is simply to be explained as a blending of the real and the ideal. The people contemplated are in both cases the same; but, at one time, the prophet contemplates them as they are, unreceptive and irresponsive to their high destiny; at another, he regards them in the light of that destiny—called, through their experience of suffering and redemption, to bring the world to a saving knowledge of the true and only God.
Chapters xl.-xlix. fall somewhere about 540 B.C.-between the decisive victories of Cyrus over the Lydians in 546 (cf. xli. 1-5) and the capture of Babylon in 538. The prophecy opens with a word of consolation. The exile of Judah is all but over, her redemption is very nigh; for the eternal purpose of Jehovah must be fulfilled, xl. 1-11, He is a God whose power and wisdom are beyond all imagining, and He will be the strength of those who put their trust in Him (xl. 12-3l). For He has raised up a great warrior from the north-east (cf. xli. 2, 25), i.e. Cyrus, through whom Israel's happy return to her own land is assured (xli. 1-20). Israel's God is the true God; for He alone foretold this day, as no heathen god could ever have done, xli. 21-29. The mission of His servant Israel is to spread the knowledge of His name throughout the world, and that mission must be fulfilled, xlii. 1-9. Let the world rejoice, then, at the glorious redemption Jehovah has wrought for His people, xlii. 10-17; for their sorrow, xlii. 18-25, and their redemption alike, xliii. 1-7, spring from a deep purpose of love. Israel is now fitted to be Jehovah's witness before the world, for her impending deliverance from Babylon is more marvellous than her ancient deliverance from Egypt, xliii. 8-21. Her grievous sins are freely forgiven, xliii. 22-28, and soon she shall enter upon a new and happy life, xliv. 1-5, for her God, the eternal and the only God, forgives and redeems, xliv. 6-23. [Footnote 1: Between xl. 19 and 20 probably xli. 6, 7 should be inserted.] [Footnote: Ch. xliv. 9-20, though graphic, is diffuse, and interrupts the context: it is probably a later addition.]
The deliverance of Israel is to be effected through Cyrus, who is honoured with the high titles, "Shepherd and Messiah of Jehovah," xlv. 1, and assured by him of a triumphant career, for Israel and the true religion's sake, xliv. 24-xlv. 8. Those who are surprised at Jehovah's call of the foreign Cyrus are sternly reminded that Jehovah is sovereign and can call whom He will, xlv. 9-13, and the ultimate object of His call is that through the redemption of Israel, which he is commissioned to effect, all men shall be saved, and the worship of Jehovah established throughout the whole world, xlv. 14-25. In xlvi. the impotence of the Babylonian gods to save themselves when the city is taken by Cyrus is contrasted with the incomparable power of Jehovah as shown in history, and in His foreknowledge of the future, and made the basis of a warning to Israel to cast away despondency. Then follows a song of triumph over Babylon, the proud and luxurious, whose doom all her magic and astrology cannot avert (xlvii.). Ch. xlviii. strikes in places a different note from that of the previous chapters. They are a message of comfort; and, where the people are censured, it is for lack of faith and responsiveness. In this chapter, on the other hand, the tone is in places stern, almost harsh, and the people are even charged with idolatry. Probably an original prophecy of Deutero-Isaiah has been worked over by a post-exilic hand. This chapter is in the nature of a summary. It emphasizes Jehovah's fore-knowledge as witnessed by the ancient prophecies and their fulfilment in the coming deeds of Cyrus; and the section fittingly closes with a ringing appeal to Israel to go forth out of Babylon. [Footnote 1: Ch. xlviii. 22 is probably borrowed from lvii. 21, where it is in place, to divide xl.-lxvi. into three equal parts.]
Chapters xlix.-lv. presuppose the same general situation as xl.-xlviii.; but whereas the earlier chapters deal incidentally with the victories of Cyrus and the folly of idolatry, xlix.-lv. concentrate attention severely upon Israel herself, which is often addressed as Zion. The group begins with the second of the "servant" songs, xlix. 1-6, its theme being Israel's divine call, through suffering and redemption, to bring the whole world to the true religion. In earnest and beautiful language Israel is assured of restoration and a happy return to her own land, of the rebuilding of her ruins, and the increase of her population; and no power can undo this marvellous deliverance, for Jehovah, despite His people's slender faith, is omnipotent, xlix. 7-l. 3. In l. 4-9 the servant tells of the sufferings which his fidelity brought him, and his confidence in Jehovah's power to save and vindicate him. The glorious salvation is near and sure; let Israel but trust in her omnipotent God and cast away all fear of man, li. 1-16. Bitter has been Jerusalem's sorrow, but now she may break forth into joy, for messengers are speeding with good tidings of her redemption, li. l7-lii. 12. The fourth and last song of the servant, lii. l3-liii. 12, celebrates the strange and unparalleled sufferings which he bore for the world's sake-his death, resurrection, and the consequent triumph and vindication of his cause. In fine contrast to the sufferings of the servant acquainted with grief is the joy that follows in ch. liv.—joy in the vision of the restored, populous and glorious city, or rather in the everlasting love of God by which that redemption is inspired. Nothing remains but for the people to lay hold, in faith, of the salvation which is so nigh, and which is so high above all human expectation (lv.). [Footnote 1: Ch. 1. 10, 11 are apparently late.] [Footnote 2: From liv. 17 and on we hear of the "servants of Jehovah," not as in xl.-liii., of the servant.]
The problem of the origin and date of this section is one of the most obscure and intricate in the Old Testament. The general similarity of the tone to that of xl.-lv. is unmistakable. There is the same assurance of redemption, the same brilliant pictures of restoration. But, apart from the fact that, on the whole, the style of lvi.-lxvi. seems less original and powerful, the situation presupposed is distinctly different. In xl.-lv., Israel, though occasionally regarded as unworthy, is treated as an ideal whole, whereas in lvi.-lxvi. there are two opposed classes within Israel itself (cf. lvii. 3ff., 15ff.). One of these classes is guilty of superstitious and idolatrous rites, lvii. 3ff., lxv. 3, 4, lxvi. 17, whereas in xl.-lv. the Babylonians were the idolaters, xlvi. 1. Again, the kind of idolatry of which Israel is guilty is not Babylonian, but that indigenous to Palestine, and it is described in terms which sometimes sound like an echo of pre-exilic prophecy, lvii. 5, 7 (Hos. iv. 13)—so much so indeed that some have regarded these passages as pre-exilic.
The spiritual leaders of the people are false to their high trust, lvi. 10-12. This last passage implies a religious community more or less definitely organized—a situation which would suit post-exilic times, but hardly the exile; and this presumption is borne out by many other hints. The temple exists, lvi. 7, lx. 7, 13, but religion is at a low ebb. Fast days are kept in a mechanical spirit, and are marred by disgraceful conduct (lviii.). Judah suffers from raids, lxii. 8, Jerusalem is unhappy, lxv. 19, her walls are not yet built, lx, 10. The gloomy situation explains the passionate appeal of lxiii. 7-lxiv. to God to interpose—an appeal utterly unlike the serene assurance of xl.-lv.: it explains, too, why threat and promise here alternate regularly, while there the predominant note was one of consolation.
In its general temper and background, though not in its style, the chapters forcibly recall Malachi. There is the same condemnation of the spiritual leaders (lvi. 10-12; Mal. i. ii.), the same emphasis on the fatherhood of God (lxiii. 16, lxiv. 8; Mal. i. 6, ii. 10, iii. 17), the same interest in the institutions of Judaism (lvi.), the same depressed and hopeless mood to combat. From lx. 10 (lxii. 6?) it may be inferred that the book falls before the building of the walls by Nehemiah—probably somewhere between 460 and 450 B.C. This conclusion, of course, is very far from certain; it is not even certain that the chapters constitute a unity. Various scholars isolate certain sections, assigning, e.g., lxiii.-lxvi. to a period much later than lvi.-lxii., others regarding xlix.-lxii. as written by the same author as xl.-xlviii., but later and other different conditions, others referring lvi.-lxii. to a pupil of Deutero-Isaiah, who wrote not long after 520 (cf. Hag., Zech.).
To complicate matters, the text of certain passages of crucial importance seems to be in need of emendation (cf. lxiii. 18); and it is practically certain that there are later interpolations. One can see how intricate the problem becomes, if Marti is right in denying so important a passage as lxiv. 10-12 to the author of the rest of the chapter, and assigning it to Maccabean times. But, though there are undoubted difficulties in the way, it seems not impossible to regard lvi.-lxvi. as, in the main, a unity, and its author as a contemporary of Malachi. In that case, the superstitious and idolatrous people, whose presence is at first sight so surprising in the post-exilic community, would be the descendants of the Jews who had not been carried into exile, and who, being but superficially touched, if at all, by the reformation of Josiah, would perpetuate ancient idolatrous practices into the post-exilic period.
This prophecy begins with a word of assurance to the proselytes and eunuchs that, if they faithfully observe the Sabbath, they will not be excluded from participation in the temple worship, lvi. 1-8. But the general situation (in Judah) is deplorable. The spiritual leaders of the community are indolent and fond of pleasure, men of no conscience or ideal (cf. Mal. ii.), with the result that the truly godly are crushed out, lvi. 9-lvii. 2, and the old immoral idolatry is rampant, lvii. 3-13. The sinners will therefore be punished, but the godly whom they have persecuted will be comforted and saved, lvii. 14-21. The people, who have been zealously keeping fast-days, are surprised and vexed that Jehovah has not yet honoured their fidelity by sending happier times: the prophet replies that the real demands of Jehovah are not exhausted by ceremonial, but lie rather in the fulfilment of moral duty, and especially in the duty of practical love to the needy (lviii.). It is not the impotence of Jehovah, but the manifold sins of the people, that have kept back the day of salvation, lix. 1-15; but He will one day appear to punish His adversaries and redeem the penitent and faithful, lix. 16-21. Then the city of Jerusalem shall be glorious: her scattered children shall stream back to her, her walls shall be rebuilt by the gifts of the heathen nations, and she shall be mistress of the world, enjoying peace and light and prosperity (lx.). Again the good news is proclaimed: the Jews shall be, as it were, the priests of Jehovah for the whole world, Jerusalem shall be secure and fair and populous (lxi., lxii.). But if Judah is thus to prosper, her enemies must be destroyed, and their destruction is described in lxiii. 1-6, a unique and powerful song of vengeance. [Footnote 1: The enemy is not Edom alone. Instead of "from Edom and Bozrah" in lxiii. 1a should be read, "Who is this that comes stained with red, with garments redder than a vine-dresser's?"]
A very striking contrast to all this dream of victory and blessedness is presented by lxiii. 7-lxiv. 12, in which the people sorrowfully remind themselves of the brilliant far-off days of the Exodus when the Spirit was with them—the Spirit whom sin has now driven away—and passionately pray that Jehovah, in His fatherly pity, would mightily interpose to save them. The devotees of superstitious cults are threatened with destruction, lxv. 1-7, while brilliant promises are held out to the faithful—long and happy life in a world transformed, lxv. 8-25. Again destruction is predicted for those who, while practising superstitious rites, are yet eager to build a temple to Jehovah to rival the existing one in Jerusalem; while the faithful are comforted with the prospect of victory, increase of population and resources, and the perpetuity of their race (lxvi.). [Footnote 1: Professor G. A. Smith refers this prayer to the period of disillusion after the return and before the new religious impulse given by Haggai and Zechariah—about 525 B.C. ]
The interest of the book of Jeremiah is unique. On the one hand, it is our most reliable and elaborate source for the long period of history which it covers; on the other, it presents us with prophecy in its most intensely human phase, manifesting itself through a strangely attractive personality that was subject to like doubts and passions with ourselves. At his call, in 626 B.C., he was young and inexperienced, i. 6, so that he cannot have been born earlier than 650. The political and religious atmosphere of his ministry was alike depressing. When it began, the Scythians were overrunning Western Asia, and Judah was the vassal of Assyria, as she continued to be till the fall of Nineveh in 606 B.C. Josiah, in whose reign Jeremiah began his ministry, was a good king; but the idolatries of his grandfather Manasseh had only too surely left their mark, and the reformation which was inaugurated on the basis of Deuteronomy (621) had produced little permanent result. Idolatry and immorality of all kinds continued to be the order of the day, vii. 9 (about 608). The inner corruption found its counterpart in political disaster. The death of Josiah in 609 at Megiddo, when he took the field, probably as the vassal of Assyria, against the king of Egypt, was a staggering blow to the hopes of the reformers, and formed a powerful argument in the hands of the sceptics. The vassalage of Assyria was exchanged for the vassalage of Egypt, and that, in four years, for the vassalage of Babylonia, whose supremacy over Western Asia was assured by her victory on the epoch-making field of Carchemish (605).
There was no strong ruler upon the throne of Judah during the years preceding the exile. Jehoahaz, the successor of Josiah, deposed by the Egyptians and exiled after a three months' reign, xxii. 10-12, was succeeded by the rapacious Jehoiakim (608-597), who cared nothing for the warning words of Jeremiah (xxxvi.), and his successor Jehoiachin, who was exiled to Babylon after a three months' reign, was followed by the weak and vacillating Zedekiah, who reigned from 597 to 586, when Jerusalem was taken and the monarchy perished. The priests and prophets were no more faithful to their high office than the kings. The prophets were superficial men who did not realize how deep and grievous was the hurt of the people, xxiii. 9-40, and who imagined that the catastrophe, if it came, would speedily be reversed, xxviii.; and the priests reposed a stubborn confidence in the inviolability of the temple (xxvi.) and the punctiliousness of their offerings, vii. 21, 22.
Jeremiah, though he came of a priestly family, knew very well that there was no salvation in ritual. He saw that the root of the evil was in the heart, which was "deceitful above all things and desperately sick," xvii. 9, and that no reformation was possible till the heart itself was changed. It was for this reason that he called upon the people to circumcise their heart, iv. 4, and to search for Jehovah with all their heart, xxix. 13.
It would be interesting to know what was Jeremiah's attitude to the law-book discovered and published in 621, but unfortunately the problems that gather round the authenticity of the text of Jeremiah are so vexatious that we cannot say with certainty. On the one hand, we know that, though at that time a prophet of five years' standing, he was not consulted on the discovery of the book (2 Kings xxii. 14); on the other hand, xi. 1-14 explicitly connects him with an itinerant mission throughout the province of Judah for the purpose of inculcating the teaching of "the words of this covenant," which can only be the book of Deuteronomy. But there is fairly good reason for supposing that this passage, which is diffuse, and very unlike the poems that follow it, vv. 15, 16, 18-20, is one of the many later scribal additions to the book. Even if Jeremiah did support the Deuteronomic movement, he must have felt, in the words of Darmesteter, that "it is easier to reform the cult than the soul," and that the real solution would never be found in the statutes of a law-book, but only in the law written upon the heart, xxxi. 31-33. Here again, this great prophecy of the law written upon the heart, has been denied to Jeremiah—by Duhm, for example: but at any rate, it is conceived in the spirit of the prophet.
It is unfortunate that some of the noblest utterances on religion in the book of Jeremiah have been, for reasons more or less convincing, denied to him: e.g. the great passage which looks out upon a time when the dearest material symbols of the ancient religion would no longer be necessary; days would come when men would never think of the ark of the covenant, and never miss it, iii. 16. But even if it could be proved that these words were not Jeremiah's, it was a sound instinct that placed them in his book. He certainly did not regard sacrifice as essential to the true religion, or as possessing any specially divine sanction, vii. 22, and the thinker who could utter such a word as vii. 22 is surely on the verge of a purely spiritual conception of religion, if indeed he does not stand already within it. If the temple is not indispensable, vii. 4, neither could the ark be.
This severely spiritual conception of religion is but the outcome of the intensely personal religious experience of the prophet. There is no other prophet whose intercourse with the divine spirit is so dramatically portrayed, or into the depths of whose heart we can so clearly see. He speaks to God with a directness and familiarity that are startling, "Why hast Thou become to me as a treacherous brook, as waters that are not sure?" xv. 18. He has little of the serene majesty of Isaiah whose eyes had seen the king. His tender heart, ix. 1, is vexed and torn till he curses not only his enemies, xi. 20ff., but the day on which he was born, xx. 14-18. He did not choose his profession, he recoiled from it; but he was thrust into the arena of public life by an impulse which he could not resist. The word, which he would fain have hidden in his heart, was like a burning fire shut up in his bones, and it leaped into speech of flame, xx. 9.
As a poet, Jeremiah is one of the greatest. He knows the human heart to its depths, and he possesses a power of remarkably terse and vivid expression. Nothing could be more weird than this picture of the utter desolation of war;—
I beheld the earth, And lo! it was waste and void. I looked to the sky, And lo! its light was gone. I beheld the mountains, And lo! they trembled. And all the hills Swayed to and fro. I beheld (the earth) And lo! there was no man, And all the birds of the heaven Had fled. iv. 23-25.
A world without the birds would be no world to Jeremiah. Of singular power and beauty is the lament which Jeremiah puts into the mouths of the women:—
Death is come up at our windows, He has entered our palaces, Cutting off the children from the streets And the youths from the squares.
Then the figure changes to Death as a reaper:—
There fall the corpses of men Upon the face of the field, Like sheaves behind the reaper Which none gathers up. ix. 21, 22.
The book appropriately opens with the call of Jeremiah, and represents him as divinely preordained to his great and cheerless task before his birth. In two visions he sees prefigured the coming doom (i.) and the prophecies that immediately follow, though but loosely connected, appear to come from an early stage of his ministry, and to be elicited, in part, by the inroads of the Scythians—the enemy from the north.
False to the love she bore Jehovah in the olden time, Israel has turned for help to Egypt, to Assyria, and to the impotent Baals with their licentious worship, ii, 1-iii. 5; butif in her despair and misery she yet turns with a penitent heart to Jehovah, the prophet assures her of His readiness to receive her, iii. 19-iv. 4. The rest of ch. iv. contains several poems of remarkable power. The Scythians are coming swiftly from the north, and Jeremiah's patriotic soul is deeply moved. He sees the desolation they will work, and counsels the people to gather in the fortified cities. The scene changes in v. and vi. to the capital, where Jeremiah's tender and unsuspecting heart has been harrowed by the lack of public and private conscience; and again the land is threatened with invasion from the swift wild Scythian hordes. [Footnote 1: Ch. iii. 6-18 contains much that is altogether worthy of Jeremiah, especially the great conception in v. 16 of a religion which can dispense with its most cherished material symbols. It interrupts the connection, however, between vv. 5 and 19, and curiously regards Israel as the northern kingdom, distinct from Judah, whereas in the surrounding context, ii. 3, iii. 23, Israel stands for Judah. The difference is suspicious. Again, v. 18 would appear to presuppose that Judah is in exile or on the verge of it, which would make the passage among the latest in the book. If it is Jeremiah's, it must be much later than its context.]
The following chapter (vii.) introduces us to the reign of Jehoiakim. The prophet strenuously combats the confidence falsely reposed in the temple and the ritual: the former is but a den of robbers, the latter had never been commanded by Jehovah, and neither will save them. With sorrowful eyes Jeremiah sees the coming disaster, and he sings of it in elegies unspeakably touching (viii.-x.: cf. viii. 18-22, ix. 21, 22). [Footnote 1: The scene in ch. vii. is very similar to, if not identical with that in ch. xxvi., which is expressly assigned to the beginning of Jehoiakim's reign (608).] [Footnote 2: Ch. ix. 22 is directly continued by x. 17. Of the three passages intervening, ix. 23, 24 (the true and false objects of confidence) and ix. 25, 26 (punishment of those uncircumcised in heart or flesh) are both in the spirit of Jeremiah, but they cannot belong to this context. Ch. x. 1-16, on the other hand, can hardly be Jeremiah's. Its theme is the impotence of idols and the omnipotence of Jehovah—a favourite theme of Deutero-Isaiah (cf. Is. xl.), and it is elaborated in the spirit of Is. xliv. 9-20. The warning not to fear the idols is much more natural if addressed to an exilic audience than to Jeremiah's contemporaries. It may be taken for granted that the passage is later than Jeremiah.]
In ch. xi. Jeremiah is divinely impelled to undertake an itinerant mission throughout Judah in support of the Deuteronomic legislation, but he is warned that, for their disobedience, the people will be overtaken by disaster, which he must not intercede to avert, xi. 1-17. A cruel conspiracy formed against him by his own townsmen raises perplexities in his mind touching the moral order, but he is reminded that still harder things are in store, xi. l8-xii. 6. Then follows a poem, xii. 7-13, lamenting the desolation of the land, though who the aggressors are it is hard to say; but, in vv. 14-17, a passage possibly much later, there is an ultimate possibility of restoration both for Judah and her ravaged neighbours, if they adopt the religion of Judah. In ch. xiii. which possibly belongs to Jehoiachin's short reign, 597 B.C. (cf. v. 18 with 2 Kings xxiv. 8), the utter and incurable corruption of the people is symbolically indicated to Jeremiah, who announces the speedy fall of the throne and the sorrows of exile.
The elements that make up chs. xiv.-xvii. are very loosely connected. Generally speaking, the situation of the people is desperate. The doom—already inaugurated in the form of a drought-is hastening on; no excuse will be accepted and no intercession can avail. In a bold and striking poem, xv. 10-21, Jeremiah complains of his bitter and lonely fate, and is reassured of the divine support. In view of the impending misery he is forbidden to marry, and more and more he is thrown back upon Jehovah as his absolute and only hope. [Footnote 1: Ch. xvii. 19-27 is almost certainly post-exilic, and probably belongs to Nehemiah's time (about 450). Jeremiah nowhere else emphasizes the Sabbath, and it would be very unlike him to represent the future prosperity of Judah as conditional upon the people's observance of a single law, especially one not distinctively ethical. Such emphasis on the Sabbath suggests the post-exilic church (cf. Neh. xiii.; Is. lviii.).]
Chs. xviii.-xx. A chance sight of a potter refashioning a spoiled vessel suggests to Jeremiah the conditional nature of prophecy. But as Judah remains obstinate, the threat must be irretrievably fulfilled. The proclamation of this truth in the temple court led to his imprisonment. On his release he distinctly and deliberately announces the exile to Babylon, and then breaks out into a passionate cry, which rings with an almost unparalleled sincerity, over the misery of his life, especially of that prophetic life to which he had been mysteriously but irresistibly impelled.
Ch. xxi. 1-10, one of the latest pieces in the book, contains Jeremiah's answer to the question of Zedekiah relative to the issue of the siege of Jerusalem, which had already begun (588). Then follow two sections, one dealing with kings, xxi. 11-xxiii. 8, the other with prophets, xxiii. 9-40. The former, after an introduction which emphasizes the specific functions of the king, deals successively with Jehoahaz (=Shallum), Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin, Jehoiakim's oppressive methods being pointedly contrasted with the beneficent regime of his father Josiah; and against the present incompetence of the rulers and misery of the monarchy is thrown up a picture of the true king and the Messianic days, xxiii. 5-8. The latter section, xxiii. 9-40, denounces the prophets for their immorality, their easy optimism and their lack of independence.
In ch. xxiv., which falls in Zedekiah's reign, after the first deportation (about 596 B.C.), it is symbolically suggested to Jeremiah that the exiles are much better than those who were allowed to remain in the land, and their ultimate fate would be infinitely happier. The battle of Carchemish in 605 showed that Babylonian supremacy was ultimately inevitable; to this year belongs ch. xxv., in which Jeremiah definitely announces the duration of the exile as seventy years. Many lands beside Judah would be included in the doom, and finally Babylon itself would be punished.
Chs. i.-xxv. represent in the main the words of Jeremiah; we now come to a group of narratives by Baruch, xxvi.-xxix. Ch. xxvi. relates how a courageous sermon of Jeremiah's (608 B.C.) provoked the hostility of the professional clergy, and nearly cost him his life. Chs. xxvii.-xxix. show how the calm wisdom of Jeremiah met the ambitions and hopes cherished by his countrymen at home and in exile during the reign of Zedekiah. In view of a coalition that was forming against Babylon in Western Asia, he announces that the supremacy of Nebuchadrezzar is divinely ordained, and any such coalition is doomed to failure (xxvii.). That supremacy will last for many a day; and a strange fate overtakes the shallow prophet who supposes that it will be over in two years (xxviii.). The exiles are therefore advised by Jeremiah in a letter to settle down contentedly in their adopted land, though the letter naturally rouses the resentment and opposition of the superficial prophets among the exiles (xxix.). [Footnote 1: In ch. xxvii. 1, for "Jehoiakim" read "Zedekiah," cf. vv. 3, 12. ]
The next four chapters, xxx.-xxxiii., are full of promise: they look out upon the restoration, in which, despite the seeming hopelessness of the prospect, Jeremiah never ceased to believe. It is a voice from the dark days of the siege of Jerusalem, 587 (xxxii. 1ff.); but the present sorrow is to be followed by a period of joy, when the city will be rebuilt, and the mighty love of Jehovah will express itself in the restoration not only of Judah but of Israel, a love to which there will be a glad spontaneous response from men who have the divine law written in their hearts. This prophecy of the new covenant is one of the noblest and most daring conceptions in the Old Testament, very naturally appropriated by our Lord and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (xxx., xxxi.). So confident was Jeremiah in the divine assurance that Palestine would one day be freed from the Babylonian yoke that, even during the siege of the city, he purchased fields belonging to a kinsman, and took measures to preserve the title deeds (xxxii.). Ch. xxxiii. still further confirms the assurance of restoration.
There can be no doubt that Jeremiah both believed in and announced the restoration: the very straightforward story in ch. xxxii., which, by the way, throws considerable light on the psychology of prophecy, is proof enough of that. But there can be equally little doubt that the section xxx.-xxxiii. did not come, as it stands, from the hand of Jeremiah. Many verses have no doubt been needlessly suspected: the attitude to northern Israel in ch. xxxi., especially vv. 4, 5, practically forbids a reference of these verses to post-exilic times. But xxxi. 7-l4—the glad return—is exactly in the spirit of Deutero-Isaiah, and appears to be dependent upon him. Whatever doubt, however, may be attached to these sections, it is practically certain that the concluding section, xxxiii. 14-26, which has a special word of promise, not only for the house of David, but for the Levitical priests, is not Jeremiah's. The verses are wanting in the Septuagint, and so were not in the Hebrew copy from which that translation was made; but more fatal still to their authenticity is their attitude to the priests and offerings. The religion advocated by Jeremiah was a purely spiritual one, which could dispense with temple and sacrifice (ch. vii.). "To the false prophets," as Robertson Smith has said, "and the people who followed them, the ark, the temple, the holy vessels, were all in all. To Jeremiah they were less than nothing, and their restoration was no part of his hope of salvation." It is very significant in this connection that the Septuagint omits the restoration of the holy vessels in xxvii. 22.
From the ideal pictures of the last group, ch. xxxiv. flings us back into the stern reality. The city and the king alike are doomed, and their fate is thoroughly justified by the treachery displayed towards the Hebrew slaves, who were compelled by their masters to return to the bondage from which, in the stress of siege, they had emancipated them.
The next chapter, xxxv., carries us back to the reign of Jehoiakim, and, in an interesting and important passage, contrasts the faithfulness of the Rechabites to the commands of their ancestor Jonathan with the popular disregard of Jehovah.
The long section which follows (xxxvi.-xlv.) is almost purely historical. It comes in the main from Baruch, but it has been expanded here and there by subsequent writers; e.g. xxxix. 4-13 is not found in the Septuagint; the importance of Jeremiah is heightened in this passage by his being the object of the special care of Nebuchadrezzar, vv. 11ff., whereas in all probability his fate was decided, not by the king, but by his officers (ci. 3, 13, 14). But after making every deduction, these chapters remain as a historical source of the first rank. The section begins by revealing the reckless impiety of Jehoiakim in burning the prophecies of Jeremiah in 605 B.C., but the other chapters gather round the siege of Jerusalem, eighteen years later, and the events that followed it. They describe the cruel and successive imprisonments of the prophet for his fearless and seemingly unpatriotic proclamation of the Babylonian triumph, the pitiful vacillation of the king, the final capture of the city, the appointment of Gedaliah as governor of Judah, his assassination and the attempt to avenge it, the consequent departure of many Jews to Egypt against the advice of Jeremiah, who was forced to accompany them, the prophet's denunciation of the idolatry practised in Egypt and announcement of the conquest of that land by Nebuchadrezzar. The section closes (xlv.) with a word of meagre consolation to Baruch, whose courage was giving way beneath the strain of the times.
The interest attaching to the oracles against the foreign nations (xlvi.-li.) is not very great, as, for good reasons, the authenticity of much—some say all—of the section may be disputed, and with the exception of the oracle against Egypt, they are lacking, as a whole, not only in distinctness of situation, but also in that emotion and originality so characteristic of Jeremiah.
The whole group (except the oracle against Elam, xlix. 34-39, which is expressly assigned to Zedekiah's reign) is suggested by reflection on the decisive influence which the battle of Carchemish was bound to have on the fortunes of Western Asia, xlvi. 2. Nebuchadrezzar is alluded to, either expressly, xlix. 30, or figuratively, xlviii. 40, as the instrument of the divine vengeance. In the Septuagint, this group of oracles appears between xxv. 13 and xxv. 15, a chapter likewise assigned to the year of the battle of Carchemish, xxv. 1. Ch. xlvi. contains two oracles against Egypt, the first of which, at least vv. 1-12, is graphic and powerful, and the second, vv. 13-26, announces the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadrezzar, which took place in 568 B.C. The vengeance upon Egypt, v. 10, in which the writer evidently exults, may be vengeance for the defeat of Josiah at Megiddo. A certain vigour also characterizes the oracle against the Philistines (xlvii.), and the conception of the enemy "out of the north," v. 2, is a familiar one in Jeremiah. [Footnote 1: Ch. xlvi. 27, 28, hardly in place here, were borrowed from xxx. 10f. and doubtless added later.]
Even if, however, these oracles could be rescued for Jeremiah, those that follow are, in all probability, nothing but later literary compilations resting upon a close study of the earlier prophetical literature. The oracle against Moab (xlviii.) besides being unpardonably diffuse, is essentially an imitation of the old oracle preserved in Isaiah xv., xvi. The oracle against Ammon, xlix. 1-6, is followed by another against Edom, vv. 7-22, which again borrows very largely from Obadiah. Doom is further pronounced on Damascus, vv. 23-27, Kedar and Hazor, vv. 28-33, and, about seven years later, on Elam, vv. 34-39. It is not, indeed, impossible that Jeremiah should have uttered a prophetic word concerning at least some of these nations—witness his reply to the ambassadors of the neighbouring kings in ch. xxvii.—though the relevance of Elam in such a connection is hard to see; but it is very improbable that a writer and thinker so independent as Jeremiah should have borrowed in the wholesale fashion which characterizes the bulk of this group of oracles. The oracle against Egypt might be his, not impossibly the oracle against the Philistines also; but the group as a whole, consisting of seven oracles—omitting the oracle against Elam, which, by its date, falls outside—appears to be a later artificial composition, utilizing the more familiar names in xxv. 19-26, and expanding the hint in vv. 15-17 that the nations would be compelled to drink of the cup of the fury of Jehovah.
The climax of the foreign oracles is that against Babylon (l.-li. 58). This prophecy is written with great vigour and intensity and characterized by a tone of triumphant scorn. A nation from the north, l. 3, explicitly designated as the Medes, li. 11, is to assail Babylon and reduce her to a desolation. Jehovah's people are urged to leave the doomed city; with sins forgiven they will be led back by Jehovah to their own land, and the poet contemplates with glowing satisfaction the day when Babylon the destroyer will be herself destroyed.
This oracle purports to be a message which Jeremiah sent with an officer Seraiah, who accompanied King Zedekiah to Babylon (li. 59). There is no probability, however, that the oracle was written by Jeremiah. Doubtless the prophet foretold the destruction of Babylon, xxv. 10, but his attitude to that great power in this oracle is altogether different from what we know it to have been, judging by other authentic oracles of this period (xxvii.-xxix.). There he counsels patience—it is the false prophets who hope for a speedy deliverance—here there is an eager expectancy which amounts to impatience. But the contents of the oracle show that it cannot belong to the year to which it is assigned. The temple is already destroyed, l. 28, li. 11, so that the exile is presupposed, and indeed the Medes are definitely named as the executors of vengeance upon Babylon. All this carries us down to the conquests of Cyrus and the close of the exile, indeed to the time of Isaiah xl.-lv. The oracle bears a striking resemblance both in spirit and expression to Isaiah xiii., and might well come from the same time (about 540). It may, however, be later. Not only is it diffuse in expression and slipshod in arrangement, but it borrows extensively from other exilic or post-exilic parts of the book of Jeremiah (cf. li. 15-19 with x. 12-16, l. 44-46 with xlix. 19-21), late exilic parts of Isaiah (cf. Jer. l. 39ff, with Isa. xiii. 19-22), and from Ezekiel (cf. Jer. li. 25 with Ezek. xxxv. 3). Besides, the author appears to have no clear conception of the actual situation, as he seems to regard Israel and Judah as living side by side in Babylon, l. 4, 33. In all probability the oracle against Babylon is a post-exilic production inspired by the yearning to see the ancient oppressors not only humbled, but destroyed.
The oracle just discussed is supposed to be an expansion of the message given by Jeremiah, in writing, to Seraiah, li. 60a, when he went with the king to Babylon. But though this narrative, li. 59-64, possibly rests on a basis of fact, it cannot have come, in its present form, from Jeremiah, for it presupposes the preceding oracle against Babylon, which has just been shown not to be authentic.
With the composition of ch. lii., which narrates the capture of Jerusalem and the exile of the people, Jeremiah had nothing whatever to do. The chapter, except vv. 28-30, which is additional, is simply taken bodily from 2 Kings xxiv. 18-xxv. 30, with the omission of the account of the appointment and assassination of Gedaliah (2 Kings xxv. 22-26) as that story had already been fully told in Jeremiah xl.-xliii.
The Greek version of Jeremiah is of more than usual interest and importance. It is about 2,700 words, or one-eighth of the whole, shorter than the Hebrew text, though it has about 100 words or so not found in the Hebrew. The order, too, is occasionally different, notably in the oracles against the foreign nations (xlvi.-li.), which in the Septuagint are placed between xxv. 13 and xxv. 15 (verse 14 being omitted). After making every deduction for the usual number of mistakes due to incompetence and badly written manuscripts, it has to be admitted that, in certain respects, the Greek text is superior to the Hebrew. This is especially plain if we examine its omissions. Considering the later tendency to expand, its relative brevity is a point in its favour; but, when we examine particular cases, the superiority of the Septuagint, with its omissions, is evident at once.
Ch. xxvii., e.g., is considerably longer in the Hebrew than in the Greek text; but the additions in the Hebrew text represent Jeremiah as interested in the temple vessels and prophesying their restoration to the temple when the exile was over, in a way that is utterly unlike what we know of Jeremiah's general attitude to the material symbols of religion. Similarly, xxxiii. 14-26, which promises, among other things, that there would never be lacking a Levitical priest to offer burnt offerings, is wanting in the Septuagint; here again the Greek must be regarded as more truly representing Jeremiah's attitude to sacrifice (vii. 22). It would, of course, be unfair to infer from this that the briefer readings of the Septuagint were invariably superior to the longer readings of the Massoretic text, for it can be shown that the Greek translators often omitted or passed lightly over what they did not understand; nevertheless, their omissions often indicate a better and more original text.
With regard to the oracles against the foreign nations, there can be little doubt that their position in the Hebrew text is to be preferred to that of the Greek. A certain plausibility attaches to the Greek text which places them after xxv. 13, the last clause of which—"that which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations"—is taken as a title; but, besides completely breaking up the surrounding context, whose theme is altogether Judah, the Greek position of the oracles is exceedingly clumsy, preceding as it does the enumeration in xxv. 15-29, which it might indeed follow, but could not reasonably precede. Further the Hebrew arrangement of the oracles within this group is much more probable than the Greek. The former appropriately reserves the oracle against Babylon to the end, the latter places it third, i.e. among the nations which are to be punished by Babylon herself, xxv. 9.
We possess some direct information about the composition of the book of Jeremiah, but the present arrangement is marked by considerable confusion, and can in no case be original. A glance at the contents of consecutive chapters is enough to show that the order is not rigorously chronological. Ch. xxv., e.g., falls in 605 B.C., whereas the preceding chapter is at least eight years later (cf. xxiv. 1, 8). Ch. xxi. 1-10, which reflects the period of the siege of Jerusalem, is one of the latest passages in the book (587 B.C.). There are occasional traces of a topical order: e.g. chs. xviii., xix., give lessons from the potter, xxi. 9-xxiii. 8 is a series of prophecies concerning kings, xxiii. 9-40 another concerning prophets. Chs. xxx.-xxxiii. gather up the prophecies concerning the restoration. Chs. xxxvii.-xliv. constitute a narrative dealing with the siege of the city and events immediately subsequent to it. Here we touch one of the striking peculiarities of the book of Jeremiah that much of it is purely narrative. Again, in the narrative portion, sometimes the prophet speaks himself in the first person, as in the account of his call (i.), sometimes he is spoken of in the third, xxviii. 5.
This suggests that some passages are more directly traceable to Jeremiah than others, and the clue to this fact is to be found in the interesting story told in ch. xxxvi. There we are informed that Jeremiah dictated to his disciple Baruch the scribe the messages of his ministry since his call twenty-one years before. After being read before the public gathering at the temple, and then before the court, they were destroyed by the king, Jehoiakim; but the messages were rewritten by Baruch, and many similar words, we are told, were added, xxxvi. 32. It is clear that the book written by Baruch to Jeremiah's dictation cannot have been very long, as it could be read three times in one day, but it is impossible to say what precisely were its constituent elements. Roughly speaking, they must be confined to chs. i.-xxv., as the following chapters (except xlvi.-li.) are either narrative, like xxvi.-xxix., xxxvii.-xliv., or, if prophetic words of Jeremiah, come from a later date (cf. xxx.-xxxiii., xxxii. 1). But the book cannot have included all of i.-xxv., for, as we have seen, parts of this section are later than 605, when the book was first dictated (cf. xxiv., xxi. 1-10), and some are very late (cf. x. 1-16, exilic at the earliest, and xvii. 19-27, post-exilic). The difficulty of determining the constituents is increased by the fact that several of the chapters are undated (e.g. xiv. 1-xvii. 18). No doubt most of chs. i.-xii. and much of xiii.-xxv. were included within the original book dictated.
It is further important to note that the book was dictated; that is to say, it was not written by Jeremiah's own hand, and it was dictated from memory, though very possibly on the basis of notes. Obviously we cannot in any case have in these few chapters more than a summary of the words spoken during a ministry which at that time had already covered twenty-one years. The strong personal feeling which animates so much of Jeremiah's early prophecies, especially the poetry, we owe directly to his own dictation. The narrative sections, in which he is spoken of in the third person, but most of which obviously came from some one who was thoroughly conversant with the prophet's life, we owe, no doubt, to the faithful Baruch, who clearly held the prophet's words not only in respect, but in reverence, xxxvi. 24. The biography, which, in its earlier chapters, assumes a somewhat annalistic form, xxvi. i, xxviii. i, xxix. i, develops an easy and flowing style when it comes to deal with the siege of Jerusalem (xxxvii.-xliv.). Speaking very generally, the biography covers chs. xxvi.-xlv. (except xxx., xxxi., xxxiii.).
But long after Baruch was in his grave, the book of Jeremiah continued to receive additions. Some of these, from exilic and post-exilic times, we have already seen (of, 1., li.). A relatively large literature grew up around the book of Jeremiah: 2 Chron. xxxvi. 21 even quotes as Jeremiah's a prophecy which does not occur in our canonical book at all. (cf. Lev. xxvi. 34f). Often those who added to the book had no clear imagination of the historical situation whatever; one of them represents Jeremiah as addressing the kings of Judah—as if they had all lived at the same time—on the question of the Sabbath day (xvii. 20, cf. xix. 3). The extent of these additions has already been illustrated by comparison with the Septuagint, and very often the passages which are not supported by the Greek text are historically the least trustworthy, cf. xxxix. 11, 12. These different recensions of the original text attest the wide popularity of the book; an Aramaic gloss in x. 11 shows the liberties which transcribers took with the text, the integrity of which suffered much from its very popularity. The interest of the later scribes was rather in homiletics than in history, and very probably most of the writing that seems tedious and diffuse in the book of Jeremiah is to be set down to the count of these teaching scribes. Jeremiah was a very gifted poet, with unusual powers of emotional expression, and it is greatly to be regretted that his own message has been so inextricably involved in the inferior work of a later age.
To a modern taste, Ezekiel does not appeal anything like so powerfully as Isaiah or Jeremiah. He has neither the majesty of the one nor the tenderness and passion of the other. There is much in him that is fantastic, and much that is ritualistic. His imaginations border sometimes on the grotesque and sometimes on the mechanical. Yet he is a historical figure of the first importance; it was very largely from him that Judaism received the ecclesiastical impulse by which for centuries it was powerfully dominated.
Corrupt as the text is in many places, we have in Ezekiel the rare satisfaction of studying a carefully elaborated prophecy whose authenticity is practically undisputed and indisputable. It is not impossible that there are, as Kraetzschmar maintains, occasional doublets, e.g. ii. 3-7 and in. 4-9; but these in any case are very few and hardly affect the question of authenticity. The order and precision of the priestly mind are reflected in the unusually systematic arrangement of the book. Its general theme might be broadly described as the destruction and the reconstitution of the state, the destruction occupying exactly the first half of the book (i.-xxiv.) and the reconstitution the second half (xxv.-xlviii.).
The following is a sketch of the book. After five years of residence in the land of exile, Ezekiel, through an ecstatic vision in which he beholds a mysterious chariot with God enthroned above it, receives his prophetic call to the "rebellious" exiles (i., ii.), and is equipped for his task with the divine inspiration; that task is partly to reprove, partly to warn (iii.). At once the prophet addresses himself thereto, announcing the siege of Jerusalem and the captivity of Judah—Israel has already been languishing in exile for a century and a half (iv.). The threefold fate of the inhabitants is described (v.), and a stern and speedy fate is foretold for the mountain land of Israel (vi.) and for the people (vii.). How deserved that fate is becomes too pathetically plain in the descriptions of the idolatrous worship with which the temple is desecrated (viii.) and in chastisement for which the inhabitants are slain (ix.) and their city burned (x.). Jehovah solemnly departs from His desecrated temple (xi.). [Footnote 1: For 390 in iv. 5 the Septuagint correctly reads 190, and this includes the forty years of Judah's captivity.]
This general theme of the sin and fate of the city is continued with variations throughout the rest of the first half of the book. The horrors of the siege and exile are symbolically indicated, xii. 1-20, and the false prophets and prophetesses, xiii. 17, are reproved and denounced for encouraging, by their shallow optimism, the unbelief of the people, xii. 21-xiv. 11. For the judgment will assuredly come and no intercession will avail, xiv. 12-23. Israel, in her misery, is like the wood of the vine, unprofitable to begin with, and now, besides, scarred and burnt (xv.); her whole career has been one of consistent infidelity—Israel and Judah alike (xvi.). And her kings are as perfidious as her people-witness Zedekiah's treachery to the king of Babylon (xvii.). But contrary to prevalent opinion, the present generation is not atoning for the sins of the past; every man is free and responsible and is dealt with precisely as he deserves—the soul that sinneth, it shall die (xviii.). Then follows a beautiful elegy over the princes of Judah—Jehoahaz taken captive to Egypt, and Jehoiachin to Babylon (xix.).
The third cycle (xx.-xxiv.) is, in the main, a repetition of the second. From the very day of her election, Israel has been unfaithful, giving herself over to idolatry, immorality, and the profanation of the Sabbath (xx.). But the devouring fire will consume, and the sharp sword of Nebuchadrezzar will be drawn, first against Jerusalem, and then against Ammon (xxi.). The corruption of Jerusalem is utter and absolute—princes, priests, prophets, and people (xxii.); and this corruption has characterized her from the very beginning—Samaria and Jerusalem, the northern and southern kingdoms alike (xxiii.). So the end has come: the filth and rust of the empty caldron—symbolic of Jerusalem after the first deportation in 597 B.C.—will be purged away by a yet fiercer fire. The besieged city is at length captured, and, like the prophet's wife, it perishes unmourned (xxiv.).
The ministry of judgment, so far as it concerns Jerusalem, is now over, and Ezekiel is free to turn to the more congenial task of consolation and promise. But a negative condition of the restoration of Israel is the removal of impediments to her welfare, and next to her own sins her enemies are the greatest obstacle to her restoration; it is with them, therefore, that the following prophecies are concerned.
The seven oracles in chs. xxv.-xxxii. (587-586 B.C., cf. xxvi. 1, except xxix. 17-21 in 570 B.C.) are directed against Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia (xxv.), Tyre, xxvi. 1-xxviii. 19, Sidon, xxviii. 20-26, and Egypt (xxix.-xxxii.). Tyre and Egypt receive elaborate attention; the other peoples are dismissed with comparatively brief notice. The general reason assigned for the destruction of the smaller peoples in xxv. is their vengeful attitude to Israel. Ammon in particular is singled out for her malicious joy over the destruction of the temple and her mockery of the captive Jews. The destruction of these people is no doubt to be brought about indirectly, if not directly, as in the case of Tyre, xxvi. 7, and Egypt, xxix. 19, by Nebuchadrezzar. The oracle against Tyre is one of Ezekiel's most brilliant compositions. The glorious city is to be stormed and destroyed by Nebuchadrezzar (xxvi.), and her fall is celebrated in a splendid dirge, in which she is compared to a noble merchant ship wrecked by a furious storm upon the high seas (xxvii.); her proud prince will be humbled to the ground (xxviii.). Egypt is similarly threatened with a desolating invasion at the hands of Nebuchadrezzar; the conquest of that country is to be his recompense for his failure, contrary to Ezekiel's expectations, to capture Tyre (xxix.). The day of Jehovah draws nigh upon Egypt (xxx.); like a proud cedar she will be felled by the hand of Nebuchadrezzar (xxxi.), and her fall is celebrated in two dirges—one in which Pharaoh is compared to a crocodile; the other, weird and striking, describes the arrival of the slain Egyptians in the world below (xxxii.).
With the disappearance of Israel's enemies, one of the great obstacles to her restoration has been removed; but the greatest obstacle is in Israel herself. She has been stiff-necked and rebellious: now that the prophet's words have proved true, each individual for himself must give heed to his warning voice, not merely consulting him, but obeying him (xxxiii.). Then Jehovah will manifest His grace in many ways. He will send them an ideal king, unlike the mercenary rulers of the past, who had plundered the flock (xxxiv.). He will destroy the unbrotherly Edomites (xxxv.) and bless His people Israel with the peaceful possession of a fruitful land, and with the better blessing of the new heart (xxxvi.). Finally, He will wake the people, who are now as good as dead, to a new life, and unite the long sundered Israel and Judah under one sceptre for ever (xxxvii.). In the final assault which will be made against His people by the mysterious hordes of Gog from the north, He will preserve them from danger, and multitudes of the assailants will fall and be buried in the land of Israel (xxxviii., xxxix.). [Footnote: In xxxiii. 21 the twelfth year should be the eleventh (cf. xxvi. 1). The news of the fall of Jerusalem would not take over a year to travel to Babylon.]
Probably the book originally ended here: but from Ezekiel's point of view, the remaining chapters (xl.-xlviii.) are thoroughly integral to it, if indeed they be not its climax. The people are now redeemed and restored to their own land: the problem is, how shall they maintain the proper relations between themselves and their God? The unorganized community must become a church, and an elaborate organization is provided for it. The temple, with its buildings, is therefore first minutely described, as that is to be the earthly residence of the people's God; then the rights and duties of the priests are strictly regulated: and lastly the holy land is so redistributed among the tribes that the temple is practically in the centre.
Chs. xl.-xliii. embrace the description and measurement of the temple, with its courts, gateways, chambers, decorations, priests' rooms and altar. When all is ready, Jehovah solemnly enters, xliii. 1-12, by the gate from which Ezekiel had in vision seen Him leave almost nineteen years before, x. 19. The sanctity of the temple where Jehovah is henceforth to dwell must be scrupulously maintained, and this is secured by the regulations in xliv.-xlvi. The menial services of the sanctuary, which were formerly performed by foreigners, are to be henceforth performed by Levites. Then follow regulations determining the duties and revenues of the priests, the territory to be occupied by them, also by the Levites, the city and the prince; the religious duties of the prince, and the rite of atonement for the temple. The whole description is a striking counterpart to the earlier vision of the desecration of the temple (viii.). The last section (xlvii., xlviii.) deals with the land which in these latter days is to share the redemption of the people. The barren ground near the Dead Sea is to be made fertile, and the waters of that sea sweet, by a stream issuing from underneath the temple. The land will be redistributed, seven tribes north and five south of the temple, and the city will bear the name "Jehovah is there"—symbolic of the abiding presence of the people's God.
Whatever be the precise meaning of the much disputed "thirtieth year" in i. 1, Ezekiel was born probably about or not long before the time Jeremiah began his ministry in 626 B.C. As a young man, he must have heard Jeremiah preach, and this, coupled with the fact that some of Jeremiah's prophecies were in circulation about eight years before Ezekiel went into exile (605-597) explains the profound influence which the older prophet plainly exercised upon the younger. With Jehoiachin and the aristocracy, Ezekiel was taken in 597 to Babylon, where he lived with his wife, xxiv. 16, among the Jewish colony on the banks of the Chebar, one of the canals tributary to the Euphrates, i. 3.
Never had a prophet been more necessary. The people left behind in the land were thoroughly depraved, xxxiii. 25ff., the exiles were not much better, xiv. 3ff.—they are a rebellious house, ii. 6; and even worse than they are the exiles who came with the second deportation in 586, xiv. 22. Idolatry of many kinds had been practised (viii.); and now that the penalty was being paid in exile, the people were helpless, xxxvii. 11. For six years and a half—till the city fell—Ezekiel's ministry was one of reproof; after that, of consolation. The prophet becomes a pastor. His ministry lasted at least twenty-two years, the last dated prophecy being in 570 (xxix. 17); for thirteen years before the writing of chs. xl.-xlviii. in 572 B.C. there is no dated prophecy, xxxii. 1, 17, so that this sketch of ecclesiastical organization, pathetic as embodying an old man's hope for the future, stands among his most mature and deliberate work. His absolute candour is strikingly shown by his refusal to cancel his original prophecy of the capture of Tyre by Nebuchadrezzar, xxvi. 7, 8, which had not been fulfilled; he simply appends another oracle and allows the two to stand side by side, xxix. 17-20.
It is obvious that in Ezekiel prophecy has travelled far from the methods, expressions and hopes that had characterized it in the days of Amos and Isaiah, or even of Ezekiel's immediate predecessor and contemporary, Jeremiah. In these books there are visions, such as those of Amos, vii. 1, viii. 1, ix. 1, and symbolic acts like that of Isaiah, xx. 2, walking barefoot; but there such things are only occasional, here they abound. Their interpretation, too, is beset by much uncertainty. Some maintain that the symbolic actions, unless when they are obviously impossible, were really performed; others regard them simply as part of the imaginative mechanism of the book. The dumbness, e.g., with which Ezekiel was afflicted for a period, iii. 26, xxiv. 27, xxxiii. 22, and which has been interpreted as "a sense of restraint and defeat," may very well have been real, and connected, as has been recently supposed, with certain pathological conditions; but it is hardly to be believed that he lay on one side for 190 days (iv. 5). Again, though the curious action representing the threefold fate of the inhabitants of the city in ch. v. is somewhat grotesque, it is not absolutely impossible; but it is difficult to see how the command to eat bread and drink water "with trembling" can be taken literally, xii. 18. As the first symbolic action in the book—the eating of the roll, iii. 1-3—must be interpreted figuratively, it would seem not unfair to apply this principle to all such actions. It is even applied by Reuss to the very circumstantial story of the death of the prophet's wife, xxiv. 15ff., which he characterizes as an "easily deciphered hieroglyph." [Footnote 1: So the Septuagint.]
Again, in spite of their highly elaborated detail, the visions appeal, and are intended to appeal, rather to the mind than to the eye. Such a vision as that of the divine chariot in ch. i. could not be transferred to canvas; and if it could, the effect would be anything but impressive. Regarded, however, as a creation of the intellectual imagination, suggesting as it does certain attributes of God, and clothing them with a mysterious and indefinable majesty, it is not without an impressiveness of its own.
A similar sense of unreality has been held to pervade the speeches. It has been asserted that they are simply artificial compositions, never addressed and not capable of being addressed to any audience of living men. Certainly one can hardly conceive of the last chapters, with their minute description of the temple buildings, officers and ceremonies, as forming part of a public address; and some even of the earlier chapters, e.g. xvi., xxiii., do not suggest that living contact with an audience which invests the earlier prophets with their perennial dramatic interest. At the same time, to regard him simply as an author and in no sense as a public man would undoubtedly be to do him less than justice, cf. xi. 25. He was in any case a pastor—a new office in Israel, to which he was led by his overwhelming sense of the indefeasible importance of the individual (iii. 18ff., xviii., xxxiii.). But—especially in his earlier ministry, till the fall of the city—he was prophet as well as pastor, with a public message of condemnation very much like that of his predecessors. His reputation as a prophet naturally rose with the corroboration which his words had received from the fall of the city, xxxiii. 30, but even before this it must have been high, as we find him frequently consulted, viii. 1, xiv. 1, xx. 1; and though behind the real audience he addresses, we often cannot help feeling that his words have in view that larger Israel of which the exiles form a part (cf. vi.), the chapters, as they now stand, are no doubt in most cases expansions of actual addresses. This view is strengthened by the precision of the numerous chronological notices, cf. viii. 1.
There is another important aspect in which the contrast between Ezekiel and the pre-exilic prophets is very great: viz. in his attitude to ritual. Every one of them had expressed in emphatic language the relative, if not the absolute, indifference of ritual to true religion (Amos v. 25, Hos. vi. 6, Isa. i. 11ff., Mic. vi. 6-8). No one had expressed himself in language more strong and unmistakable than Ezekiel's contemporary, Jeremiah. Yet Ezekiel himself devotes no less than nine chapters to a detailed programme for the ecclesiastical organization of the state after the return from exile (xl.-xlviii.). With some justice Lucien Gautier has called him the "clerical" prophet, and Duhm goes so far as to say that he annihilated spontaneous and ethical religion. This, as we shall see, is a grave exaggeration; but there can be no doubt that in Ezekiel the centre of gravity of prophecy has shifted. He threw ritual into a prominence which, in prophecy, it had never had before, and which, from his day on, it successfully maintained (cf. Hag., Zech., Mal.).
It is difficult to estimate justly the importance to Hebrew religion of the new turn given to it by Ezekiel: it seems to be, and in reality it is, a descent from the more purely spiritual and ethical conception of the earlier prophets. But two things have to be remembered (1) that, for the situation contemplated by Ezekiel, such a programme as that which he drew up was a practical religious necessity. The spiritual atmosphere in which Jeremiah drew his breath so freely was too rare for the average Israelite. Religious conceptions had to be expressed in material symbols. The land and the temple had been profaned by sin (viii.); after the return, their holiness must be secured and guaranteed, and Ezekiel's legislation makes the necessary provision by translating that idea into specific and concrete applications.
But (2) though ritual interests are very prominent towards the close of the book, they do not by any means exhaust the religious interests of Ezekiel. If not very frequently, at any rate very deliberately and emphatically, he asserts the ethical elements that are inseparable from true religion and the moral responsibility of the individual (iii., xviii., xxxiii.). Indeed, the background of xl.-xlviii. is a people redeemed from their sin. The worshippers are the redeemed; and even in this almost exclusively ritual section ethical interests are not forgotten, xlv. 9ff. In interpreting the mind of the man who sketched this priestly legislation, it is surely unfair to ignore those profound and noble utterances touching the necessity of the new heart, xviii. 31, xxxvi. 26, and the new spirit, xi. 19, utterances which have the ring of some of the greatest words of Jeremiah.
It must be admitted, however, that Ezekiel did not fully realize the implications of these profound words: he at once proceeds to apply them in a somewhat mechanical way, which suggests that his religion is a thing of "statutes and judgments," if it is also a thing of the spirit, xxxvi. 27 (cf. xx. 11, 13), and this tendency to a mechanical view of things is characteristic of the prophet. Even in the great chapter asserting the responsibility of the individual (xviii.) something of this tendency appears in the isolation of the various periods of the individual life from each other. It shows itself again in his description of the river that issues from under the threshold of the temple, xlvii. 3-6. His imagination, which was considerably influenced by Babylonian art, is undisciplined. Images are worked out with a detail artistically unnecessary, and aesthetically sometimes offensive (xvi., xxiii.). On the other hand the book is not destitute of noble and chastened imaginations. The weird fate of Egypt in the underworld, xxxii. 17-32, the glory of Tyre and the horror which her fate elicits (xxvii.) are described with great power. Nothing could be more impressive than the vision of the valley of dry bones—the fearful solitude and the mysterious resurrection (xxxvii.). Ezekiel's imaginative power perhaps reaches its climax in his vision of the destruction of Jerusalem and her idolatrous people. On the judgment day we see the corpses of the sinners, slain by supernatural executioners, lying silently in the temple court, the prophet prostrate and sorrowful, and the angel departing with glowing coals to set fire to the guilty city, ix. i-x. 7.
The two chief elements in later Judaism practically owe their origin to Ezekiel, viz. apocalypse and legalism. The former finds expression in chs. xxxviii, xxxix., where, preliminary to Israel's restoration, Gog of the land of Magog—an ideal, rather than, like the Assyrians or Babylonians, an historical enemy of Israel—is to be destroyed. We have already seen how prominent the legalistic interest is in xl.-xlviii., but it is also apparent elsewhere. Ezekiel, e.g., lays unusual stress upon the institution of the Sabbath, and counts its profanation one of the gravest of the national sins, xx. 12, xxii. 8, xxiii. 38. The priestly interests of Ezekiel are easily explained by his early environment. He belonged by birth to the Jerusalem priesthood, i. 3, xliv. 15, and he received his early training under the prophetico-priestly impulse of the Deuteronomic reformation.
From the critical standpoint, the book of Ezekiel is of the highest importance. Chs. xl.-xlviii. fall midway between the simpler legislation of Deuteronomy, and the very elaborate legislation of the priestly parts of the Pentateuch. This is especially plain in the laws affecting the priests and the Levites.
In Deuteronomy no distinction is made between them; there the phrase is, "the priests the Levites" (Deut. xviii. 1); in the priestly code (cf. Num. iii., iv., v.) they are very sharply distinguished, the Levites being reserved for the more menial work of the sanctuary. Now the origin of this distinction can be traced to Ezekiel, according to whom the Levites were the priests who had been degraded from their priestly office, because they had ministered in idolatrous worship at the high places, xliv. 6ff., whereas the priests were the Zadokites who had ministered only at Jerusalem. The natural inference is that, at least in this respect, the priestly legislation of the Pentateuch is later than Ezekiel. A close study of chs. xl.-xlviii. enables us to extend this inference. Between Ezekiel and that legislation there are serious differences (cf. xlvi. 13, Exod. xxix. 38, Num. xxviii. 4), which, as early as the beginning of the Christian era, gave much perplexity to Jewish scholars. "According to the traditional view," as Reuss has said, "Ezekiel would be reforming, not Israel, but Moses, the man of God, and the mouth of Jehovah Himself." We have no alternative, then, but to suppose that Ezekiel is earlier than the priestly legislation of the Pentateuch, and that this sketch in xl.-xlviii. prepared the way for it.
In Ezekiel the older prophetic conception of God has undergone a change. It has become more transcendental, with the result that the love of God is overshadowed by His holiness. It is of His grace, no doubt, that the people are ultimately saved; but, according to Ezekiel, He is prompted to His redemptive work not so much out of pity for the fallen people, xxxvi. 22, but rather "for His name's sake," xx. 44—that name which has been profaned by Israel in the sight of the heathen, xx. 14. The goal of history is, in Ezekiel's ever-recurring phrase, that men may "know that I am Jehovah." Corresponding to this transcendental view of God is his view of man as frail and weak—over and over again Ezekiel is addressed as "child of man"—and history has only too faithfully exhibited that inherent and all but ineradicable weakness. While other prophets, like Hosea and Jeremiah, had seen in the earlier years of Israel's history, a dawn which bore the promise of a beautiful day, to Ezekiel that history has from the very beginning been one unbroken record of apostasy (xvi., xxiii.). On the other hand, Ezekiel laid a wholesome, if perhaps exaggerated, emphasis on the possibility of human freedom. A man's destiny, he maintained, was not irretrievably determined either by hereditary influences, xviii. 2ff., or by his own past, xxxiii. 10f. Further, Jeremiah had felt, if he had not said, that the individual, not the nation, is the real unit in religion: to Ezekiel belongs the merit of supplementing this conception by that other, that religion implies fellowship, and that individuals find their truest religious life only when united in the kingdom of God (xl.-xlviii.).
The book of Hosea divides naturally into two parts: i.-iii. and iv.-xiv., the former relatively clear and connected, the latter unusually disjointed and obscure. The difference is so unmistakable that i.-iii. have usually been assigned to the period before the death of Jeroboam II, and iv.-xiv. to the anarchic period which succeeded. Certainly Hosea's prophetic career began before the end of Jeroboam's reign, as he predicts the fall of the reigning dynasty, i. 4, which practically ended with Jeroboam's death. But i.-iii. seem to be the result of long and agonized meditation on the meaning of his wedded life: it was not at once that he discovered Gomer to be an unfaithful wife, i. 2, and it must have been later still that he learned to interpret the impulse which led him to her and threw such sorrow about his life, as a word of the Lord, i. 2. These chapters were probably therefore written late, though the experiences they record were early. [Footnote 1: Zechariah his son reigned for only six months.]
Of the date, generally speaking, of iv.-xiv. there can be no doubt: they reflect but too faithfully the confusion of the times that followed Jeroboam's death. It is a period of hopeless anarchy. Moral law is set at defiance, and society, from one end to the other, is in confusion, iv. 1, 2, vii. 1. The court is corrupt, conspiracies are rife, kings are assassinated, vii. 3-7, x. 15. We are irresistibly reminded of the rapid succession of kings that followed Jeroboam—Zechariah his son, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, Pekah. Gilead, however, is still part of the northern kingdom, vi. 8, xii. 11, so that the deportation effected by Tiglath Pileser in 734 B.C. has not yet taken place (2 Kings xv. 29). Further, there is no mention of the combination of Israel and Aram against Judah; and, as Hosea was a very close observer of the political situation, his silence on this point may be assumed to imply that his prophecies fall earlier than 735. The date of his prophetic career may safely be set about 743-736 B.C. In chs. i. and iii. Hosea reads the experiences of his wedded life as a symbol of Jehovah's experience with Israel. Gomer bore him three children, to whom he gave names symbolic of the impending fate of Israel, i. 1-9. The faithless Gomer abandons Hosea for a paramour, but he is moved by his love for her to buy her out of the degradation into which she has fallen, and takes earnest measures to wean her to a better mind. All this Hosea learns to interpret as symbolic of the divine love for Israel, which refuses to be defeated, but will seek to recover the people, though it be through the stern discipline of exile (iii.). Ch. ii. elaborates the idea, suggested by these chapters, of Israel's adultery, i.e. of her unfaithfulness to Jehovah, of the fate to which it will bring her, and of her redemption from that fate by the love of her God. [Footnote 1: Chs. i. 10-ii. 1 interrupts the stern context with an outlook on the Messianic days, considers Judah as well as Israel, presupposes the exile of Judah, and anticipates ii. 21-23. It can hardly therefore be Hosea's; nor can i. 7, which is quite irrelevant and appears to be an allusion to the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib in 701 B.C.] [Footnote 2: It is much more satisfactory to interpret i., iii. as a real experience of Hosea, and not simply as an allegory. If it be objected, on the one hand, that the names of the last two children are not probable names, it may be urged, on the other, that Gomer seems to be an actual name, for which no plausible allegorical meaning has been suggested.]