Christ in the Prophets
The origin of the word prophet is somewhat difficult. In the minds of some like Bishop Westcott the whole of the Old Testament is “one vast prophecy.” To rightly understand the writings we must learn the function of the prophet. It is a word that comes from a weakened form of a very old verb, (naveh) and means, “to bubble,” “to gush forth,” and hence man is seen filled, inspired with ecstacy in the message delivered (Proverbs 18:4). In Arabic it comes from a root meaning “to be prominent,” “to announce.” In Assyrian it is from the word “nabu” to announce, from which the word mercury comes, the interpreter of God’s will. So we see a prophet announces God’s will, he speaks for and from God. He is not necessarily one who predicts, but who proclaims. He is one who shares God’s mind and then bears God’s message.
One of the oldest titles given to the prophet is “seer.” That is one who sees things from the viewpoint of God and then tells to the people of his age what he has seen. In the days before Moses whether Enoch or Abraham the ministry of the prophet was preparatory and predictive. From Moses to Samuel it was didactic, by men who lived in communion with God as emergency heralds for dealing with current problems. From Samuel onward a new impetus was given to their ministry with the rise of the school of the prophets. They were protesters against the formalism and the idolatry of the times, and much of their ministry was committed to writing and thus perpetuated prophecy in its most developed form. They were voices for God to edify and to encourage. Far beyond the apostasy they always saw the apocalypse — the unveiling of the Lord Jesus Christ. Beyond the ruin wrought by sin they saw in revelation the redemption and restoration of all things. Beyond the destruction which came upon the nation by reason of its evil doing they saw the great deliverance. Beyond the present failure they saw the future fruitfulness. In a word, beyond the chaos they saw Christ.
In the study of the English Bible oftentimes the prophets are referred to as major and minor indicating degrees in prophecy. Such is not the case in the Hebrew Scriptures and the division of the Canon. The prophets are classified as former and latter prophets. The former included Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. The latter embraced Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve. These men combined the office of preacher, statesman, teacher, herald, reformer, dedicated to the cause of righteousness with insight and foresight in a needy day. Whether we turn to the former or the latter prophets we soon discover that the prophets magnify Christ and promote communion with God. The very first Book, Joshua, nurtures faith in God’s Word and gives to us an insight into the Name of Christ as Saviour. Three books enshrine the name of Jesus; Joshua, Isaiah and Hosea. Whilst Joshua reveals something of the Person of Christ; Isaiah emphasizes His work and Hosea calls attention to His people. How fitting that Matthew, a noted scribe and man of statistics, should give to us a summary of these three books in his introduction to the Messiah of the Jew; “Thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Judges is a divine classic on the sin, sorrow and servitude that follows in doing what is considered right in one’s eyes instead of God’s. In the midst of the lawlessness and licentiousness of the nation saviours are raised up of God to bring salvation to the people and security to the land. In the seven saviours presented in the Book there are traces of Christ who alone can bring deliverance from sin and emancipation from the tyranny and thraldom of the devil.
Leaving the sad record of the Book of Judges we are introduced to God’s emergency man, Samuel, and the kings of Judah and Israel. Here we see the rise, growth and glory, failure and fall, and the final restoration of the Kingdom. The tragedy of Eli, the testimony of the prophets, and the typology of the Kings clearly reveal that failure is stamped upon all until Christ reigns as Prophet, Priest and King. These Books are rich in character study and are like a patch work quilt for beauty, skill and design. Each portrayal of life such as Samuel (heard of God), David (beloved), Jonathan (Gift of the Lord), Elijah and Elisha (my God is Jehovah and my God is salvation) all unite to bear witness to Him whose testimony is the spirit of prophecy (Rev. 19:10).
The Book of Isaiah, the Evangelical Prophet is filled with the person and work of Christ. Not only in the name of Isaiah, (Jehovah is salvation) is Christ richly presented but especially in the Messianic section of the Book (chapters 40-66). Each book consists of three sections of nine chapters. Chapter 53 (with the last three verses of 52), is the middle chapter of the middle book of this great prophetic poem, the heart of the prophetic writings of the Old Testament. And the central verse of this central chapter is the very heart of the evangel of God: “He was wounded for our trangressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.” Nowhere in the Old Testament Scriptures are the sufferings of Christ so vividly delineated as in Isaiah 53.
The prophet Jeremiah (whom God is raising), is strikingly like Christ the Man of Sorrows and of tragic misunderstanding. He was not only a prophet but a priest from birth and his whole life is marked by religious fervor, deep feelings, compassion, loyalty, courage and fidelity to God and man. He wept over his people as Jesus wept over them. His fearless denunciation of sin brought him reproach, pain, prison and the rejection of his brethren. Jeremiah views himself as a lamb or ox brought to the slaughter and in spite of all the suffering that he experienced, as his name suggests he was sustained by God. In the life of Christ nothing could brook the purposes of God and in spite of the opposition, hate and enmity from all quarters He set His face as flint to fulfill the will of God.
The prophet Ezekiel (whom God is strengthening) majestically sets forth Christ as “Son of Man,” the title being used about a hundred times in his Book of forty eight chapters. He was a man abandoned to God and ever at the disposal of his master. As Christ was a sign in His day, so Ezekiel was to his people, and above family, friends and people he set himself to magnify the glory of the Lord. How beautifully his life and labours foreshadow Christ who said: “I came down from Heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me” (John 6:38).
After considering these three mighty servants of God that clearly tell out something of the grace and glory of our Lord we note the books of the Twelve. Well do I recall the day when I sat with a Master in Israel and one by one we discussed the meaning and ministry of these twelve men. In the name Hosea we have “Jesus or Saviour,” Joel, “God’s desire,” Amos, “burden,” Obadiah, “servant of the Lord,” Jonah, “dove,” Micah, “who is like Jehovah,” Nahum, “He is comforted,” Habakkuk, “Embracing or Clinging,” Zephaniah, “Jehovah is hidden,” Haggai, “My festal or Holiday,” Zechariah, “He whom Jehovah remembers,” and Malachi, “My Messenger.” All reveal something of the person and work of that Prophet of whom Moses spoke (Acts 3:22). While Micah has shown us the lowly birth of Christ; Hosea has hinted at His journey to Egypt and return; Isaiah has made mention of His growing up as a “tender plant,” Jonah has vividly personified His resurrection, and men like Nahum, Habakkuk, Obadiah and Joel tell out His character. It is left to Zechariah to present Christ as the prophet of coming glory. Here in this book Christ is seen in His ministry, His crucifixion, His smiting by God, His coming again, His glorious appearing, His recognition by Israel, His destruction by the enemy, His reign over the earth, His priestly-kingly rule in the re-built temple, and in the divine centre and circumference—the metropolis of all the earth, Jerusalem. Truly these men of God all unite to present Christ as all in all, and may it lead us as His children to worship the King, God over all blessed forever, Amen.