In his dying hour (Gen. xlviii.) the patriarch Jacob, after an earthly pilgrimage of a hundred and forty-seven years, recalls these blessed visions of his God: —
"And Jacob said to Joseph, God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me."
And again, blessing the children of Joseph, he says: —
"God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads."
But it was not merely to the chosen father of the chosen nation that this pitying Friend and Saviour appeared. When the poor, passionate, desperate slave-girl Hagar was wandering in the wilderness, struggling with the pride and passion of her unsubdued nature, he who follows the one wandering sheep appeared and spoke to her (Gen. xvi.). He reproved her passionate impatience; he counseled submission; he promised his protection and care to the son that should be born of her and the race that should spring from her. Wild and turbulent that race of men should be; and yet there was to be a Saviour, a Care-taker, a Shepherd for them. "And she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me; for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?"
Afterwards, when the fiery, indomitable passions of the slave-woman again break forth and threaten the peace of the home, and she is sent forth into the wilderness, the Good Shepherd again appears to her. Thus is the story told (Gen. xxi.): —
"And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs, and she went and sat down a good way off, for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And God heard the voice of the lad, and the angel of the Lord called to Hagar out of heaven, saying, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not. God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, hold him in thy hand, for I will make of him a great nation. And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water."
Thus did he declare himself the Care-taker and Saviour not of the Jews merely, but of the Gentiles. It was he who afterwards declared that he was the living bread which came down from heaven, which he gave for the life of the WHOLE WORLD.
Afterwards, in the history of Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, we read of a divine Being who talked with him in a visible intimacy: —
"And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and Jehovah talked with Moses. And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose up and worshiped, each man in his tent door. And Jehovah spake unto Moses, face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend."
Some record of this strange conversation is given. Moses was a man of wonderful soul, in whom was the divine yearning; he longed to know more and more of his God, and at last beseeches to have the full beatific vision of the divine nature in its glory; but the answer is: "Thou canst not see my face [in its divine glory], for there shall no man see me and live." That overpowering vision was not for flesh and blood; it would dissolve the frail bonds of mortality and set the soul free, and Moses must yet live, and labor, and suffer.
What an affecting light this interview of Moses sheds on that scene in the New Testament, where, just before his crucifixion, the disciples see their Master in the glory of the heavenly world, and with him Moses and Elijah, "who spake with him of his decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem," – Moses, who had been taught by the divine Word in the wilderness how to organize all that system of forms and sacrifices which were to foreshadow and prepare the way for the great Sacrifice – the great Revealer of God to man. We see these noble souls, the two grandest prophets of the Old Testament, in communion with our Lord about that last and final sacrifice which was to fulfill and bring to an end all others.
A little later on, in the Old Testament history, we come to a time recorded in the Book of Judges when the chosen people, settled in the land of Canaan, sunk in worldliness and sin, have forgotten the Lord Jehovah, and as a punishment are left to be bitterly oppressed and harassed by the savage tribes in their neighborhood. The nation was in danger of extinction. The stock from which was to come prophets and apostles, the writers of the Bible which we now read, from which was to come our Lord Jesus Christ, was in danger of being trampled out under the heel of barbarous heathen tribes. It was a crisis needing a deliverer. Physical strength, brute force, was the law of the day, and a deliverer was to be given who could overcome force by superior force.
Again the mysterious stranger appears; we have the account in Judges xiii.
A pious old couple who have lived childless hitherto receive an angelic visitor who announces to them the birth of a deliverer. And the woman came and told her husband, saying, "A man of God came unto me, and his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible; but I asked him not whence he was, neither told he me his name." This man, she goes on to say, had promised a son to them who should deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines. Manoah then prays to God to grant another interview with the heavenly messenger.
The prayer is heard; the divine Man again appears to them and gives directions for the care of the future child, – directions requiring the most perfect temperance and purity on the part of both mother and child. The rest of the story is better given in the quaint and beautiful words of the Bible: —
"And Manoah said to the angel of Jehovah, I pray thee let us detain thee till we shall have made ready a kid for thee. And the angel of Jehovah said to Manoah, Though thou detain me I will not eat of thy bread; and if thou wilt offer a burnt offering thou must offer it unto Jehovah. For Manoah knew not that he was an angel of Jehovah. And Manoah said, What is thy name? that when thy sayings come to pass we may do thee honor. And the angel of the Lord said unto him, Why askest thou my name, seeing that it is secret? So Manoah took a kid with a meat offering and offered it upon a rock to the Lord; and the angel did wonderously, and Manoah and his wife looked on. For it came to pass, when the flame went up to heaven from off the altar, that the angel of Jehovah ascended in the flame on the altar, and Manoah and his wife fell on their faces on the ground. And Manoah said, We shall surely die, for we have seen God."
This tender, guiding Power, this long-suffering and pitying Saviour of Israel, appears to us in frequent glimpses through the writings of the prophets.
Isaiah says, "In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of his Presence saved them; in his love and his pity he redeemed them, and he bore and carried them all the days of old."
It is this thought that gives an inexpressible pathos to the rejection of Christ by the Jews. St. John begins his gospel by speaking of this divine Word, who was with God in the beginning, and was God; that he was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
This gives an awful, pathetic meaning to those tears which Christ shed over Jerusalem, and to that last yearning farewell to the doomed city: —
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not."
It gives significance to that passage of Revelation where Christ is called "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
Not alone in the four years when he ministered on earth was he the suffering Redeemer; he was always, from the foundation of the world, the devoted sacrifice: bearing on his heart the sinning, suffering, wandering race of man, afflicted in their afflictions, bearing their griefs and carrying their sorrows, the friend of the Jew and the Gentile, the seeker for the outcast, the guide of the wanderer, the defender of the helpless, the consoler of the desolate, the self-devoted offering to and for the sins of the world.
In all these revelations of God, one idea is very precious. He reveals himself not as a fixed Fate – a mighty, crushing, inexorable Power – but as a Being relenting, tender, yearning towards the race of man with infinite tenderness. He suffers himself to be importuned; he hides himself that he may be sought, and, although he is omnipotent, though with one touch he might weaken and paralyze human strength, yet he suffers human arms to detain and human importunity to conquer him, and he blesses the man that will not let him go except he bless. On this scene Charles Wesley has written his beautiful hymn beginning, —
"Come, O thou Traveler unknown."
The struggles, the sorrows, and aspirations of the soul for an unknown Saviour have never been more beautifully told.
CHRIST IN PROPHECY
In the Old Testament Scriptures we have from the beginning of the world an advent dawn – a rose sky of Promise. He is coming, is the mysterious voice that sounds everywhere, in history, in prophecy, in symbol, type, and shadow. It spreads through all races of men; it becomes an earnest aspiration, a sigh, a moan of struggling humanity, crying out for its Unknown God.
In the Garden of Eden came the first oracle, which declared that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. This was an intimation, vague yet distinct, that there should come a Deliverer who should break the power of evil. From that hour every mother had hope, and child-bearing was invested with dignity and blessing. When the mother of all brought the first son into the world, she fondly hoped that she had brought forth the Deliverer, and said, "I have gotten the MAN Jehovah."
Poor mother! destined to a bitter anguish of disappointment! Thousands of years were to pass away before the second Eve should bring forth the MAN Jehovah.
In this earliest period we find in the history of Job the anguish, the perplexities, the despair of the helpless human creature, crushed and bleeding beneath the power of an unknown, mighty Being, whose ways seem cruel and inexplicable, but with whom he feels that expostulation is impossible: —
"Lo, he goeth by me and I see him not; he passeth on also and I perceive him not. Behold, he taketh away, and who can hinder him? who will say unto him, What doest thou? If God will not withdraw his anger, the proud helpers do stoop under him. How then shall I answer him and choose out words to reason with him?"
Job admits that he desires to reason with God to ask some account of his ways. He says: —
"My soul is weary of my life. I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say unto God, Do not condemn me; show me why thou contendest with me. Is it good that thou shouldest oppress, that thou shouldest despise the work of thy hands?"
He then goes through with all the perplexing mysteries of life. He sees the wicked prosperous and successful, and he that had always been devoted to God reduced to the extreme of human misery; he wrestles with the problem; he longs to ask an explanation; but it all comes to one mournful conclusion: —
"He is not a man as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment. Neither is there any daysman [arbiter] between us, that might lay his hand on both of us. Let him take his rod away and let not his fear terrify me. Then would I speak; but it is not so with me."
Here we have in a word the deepest want of humanity: a daysman between the infinite God and finite man; a Mediator who should lay his hand on both of them! And then, in the midst of these yearnings and complainings, the Spirit of God, the Heavenly Comforter, bearing witness with Job's spirit, breaks forth in the prophetic song: —
"I know that my Redeemer liveth
And that he shall stand in the latter days upon the earth.
And though worms destroy this body,
Yet in my flesh shall I see God.
I shall see him for myself and not another.
My reins are consumed with longing for that day."
As time passes we have the history of one man, called from all the races of men to be the ancestor of this Seed. Abraham, called to leave his native land and go forth sojourning as a pilgrim and stranger on earth, receives a celestial visitor who says: "Abraham, I am the Almighty God. Walk before me and be thou perfect." He exacts of Abraham the extremes of devotion – not only to leave his country, kindred, friends, and be a sojourner in a strange land, but to sacrifice the only son of his heart. And Abraham meets the test without a wavering thought; his trust in God is absolute: and in return he receives the promise, "In THY SEED shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." How Abraham looked upon this promise we are told by our Lord himself. The Jews asked him, "Art thou greater than our father Abraham?" And he answered, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day – he saw it, and was glad."
The same promise was repeated to Jacob in the self-same words, when he lay sleeping in the field of Luz and saw the heavenly vision of the Son of man.
From the time of the first announcement to Abraham his descendants became the recipients of a special divine training, in which every event of their history had a forelooking to this great consummation. They were taken into Egypt, and, after long suffering, delivered from a deadly oppression. In the solemn hour of their deliverance the blood of a spotless lamb – "a lamb without blemish" – was to mark the door-posts of each dwelling with a sign of redemption. "Not a bone of him shall be broken," said the ancient command, referring to this typical sacrifice; and when in a later day the Apostle John stood by the cross of Jesus and saw them break the limbs of the other two victims and leave Jesus untouched, he said, "that it might be fulfilled which was commanded, not a bone of Him shall be broken."
The yearly festival which commemorated this deliverance was a yearly prophecy in every Jewish family of the sinless Redeemer whose blood should be their salvation. A solemn ritual was instituted, every part of which was prophetic and symbolic. A high priest chosen from among his brethren, who could be touched with the feelings of their infirmities, was the only one allowed to enter that mysterious Holy of Holies where were the mercy-seat and the cherubim, the throne of the Invisible God. There, for the most part, unbroken stillness and solitude reigned. Only on one memorable day of the year, while all the congregation of Israel lay prostrate in penitence without, this high priest entered for them with the blood of atonement into the innermost presence of the King Invisible. Purified, arrayed in spotless garments, and bearing on his breast – graven on precious gems – the names of the tribes of Israel, he entered there, a yearly symbol and prophecy of the greater High Priest, who should "not by the blood of bulls and of goats, but by his own blood, enter at once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us."
Thus, by a series of symbols and ceremonies which filled the entire life of the Jew, the whole national mind was turned in an attitude of expectancy towards the future Messiah. In the more elevated and spiritual natures – the poets and the prophets – this was continually bursting forth into distinct predictions. Moses says, in his last message to Israel, "A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you from the midst of your brethren like unto me; unto Him shall ye hearken." Our Lord referred to this prophecy when he said to the unbelieving Jews, "Had ye believed Moses ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me."
The promise made at first to Abraham was afterwards repeated not only to Jacob, but long centuries afterward to his descendant, David, in a solemn, prophetic message, relating first to the reign of Solomon, but ending with these words: "And thy house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee. Thy throne shall be established forever." That David understood these words as a promise that the Redeemer should be of his seed is evident from the declaration of St. Peter in Acts ii. 30, where he says that "David being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his loins he would raise up Messiah to sit on his throne, spake thus concerning him."
The Psalms of David are full of heaving, many-colored clouds and mists of poetry, out of which shine here and there glimpses of the mystic future. In the second Psalm we have a majestic drama. The heathen are raging against Jehovah and his anointed Son. They say, Let us break their bands in sunder and cast away their cords. Then the voice of Jehovah is heard in the tumult, saying calmly, "Yet have I set my king on my holy hill of Zion." Then an angelic herald proclaims: —