|Vol. I, No. 7
Tishry 5604 October 1843
Consolation of Israel.
Guardian of an only people, look down, we beseech Thee, from thy everlasting abode on those who fear thy name and hope for thy salvation. How long; O Lord, shall thy inheritance linger in the stranger's land? how long shall thy servants be subject to those who acknowledge not thy law? how long shall be desolate the land of promise, and waste the cities of Judea? Build, O build the walls of Jerusalem! raise up, O raise up the foundation of thy sacred house, where all Israel may assemble as one man, to adore Thee before the eyes of all the nations, that thy name may be glorified, and thy kingdom be acknowledged by all that have breath, and Thou be called One, as thou art truly the One Creator, the One Redeemer, even from the beginning until the sun shall shine no more, and this creation have vanished away and been renewed by thy will. Amen!
Isaiah, in his fortieth chapter, thus announces the consolation of Israel:
נחמו נחמו עמי יאמר אלהיכם: דברו על לב ירושלים וקראו אליה כי מלאה צבאה כי נרצה עונה כי לקחה מיד ה' כפלים בכל חטאתיה׃
"Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, will say your God. Speak consolation unto the heart of Jerusalem; and call unto her, that her appointed time is fulfilled, that her iniquity is atoned for, because she hath received from the hand of the Lord twofold for all her sins."
Let us endeavour to trace out the probable meaning of the prophet by these words. In every discussion it is first requisite to find out the persons of whom the discourse is, and secondly, what it is that is announced; since it is evident that if we do not know of whom and of what we speak, we can never arrive at a satisfactory and intelligible understanding on any subject.—Isaiah was, as we all know, an Israelite, living in a community of Israelites; his residence was at Jerusalem, near the palace of the kings of Judah, in whose times he lived. He worshipped and spoke in the name of the everlasting God, the acknowledged Divinity of Israel—He who was, who is, and who will be, and announced his message in conformity to the law which was looked upon as the code delivered unto his compatriots as a special gift of Heaven. When the prophet now says: "Comfort ye, my people," he speaks as the messenger of the God whom we just mentioned, that some persons, be they who they may, are to speak words of comfort to the people of whom the prophet himself was one, since these only can be understood from the context under the term "My people," that is, the people of God. But to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding of the idea, he enlarges and amplifies the preceding word "people," by adding, "Speak consolation unto the heart of Jerusalem." Now, where was Jerusalem? evidently in Palestine. What is likely to be personified by it, since the prophet did naturally not mean so many streets and houses composing a city? evidently the persons who lived within these streets and houses composing the outward Jerusalem. Who, again, were they who lived in these streets and houses when Isaiah spoke? the descendants of Jacob whom the Lord had called Israel and Jeshurun, a people yet in existence at this very day, under the name of Jews, Israelites, or Hebrews. If Isaiah had meant to convey any other nation, he would have defined it by some other name than Jerusalem, for fear of being misunderstood ; but in this instance the prophecy appears so distinct; so free from ambiguity, that a common, sense view can only detect the people spoken of among the inhabitants of the actual Jerusalem in the days of the prophet, who were, as all the world knows, no other than the predecessors of the modern Jews.—We know well enough that persons who arc not: descended from the stock of Israel have alleged that the text alludes to a spiritual Jerusalem, and a spiritual people of God ; but with all their ingenuity they must at last admit, that "my people" is defined by the usual application it receives in other parts of scripture, and that "Jerusalem" is to be explained by the same holy standard.
Now, let us turn to some texts anterior to Isaiah. It was said to Abram (Gen. 12. 2) "And I will make thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make great thy name, and thou shalt be a blessing." Here a nation is spoken of, through the existence of which Abram, as he was then called, should become a blessing to all the families of the earth. And when Abram was yet childless, at an advanced age, we read (Ibid. 15. 2-4): "And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me Thou hast given no seed, and, lo, one born in my house is my heir. And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This one shall not be thy heir; but he that shall come, forth out of thy own bowels shall be thy heir." Again, on another occasion (Ibid. 17. 21): "But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear unto thee at this time in the next year." Ib. 21.12: "For in Isaac shall thy seed be called." To Isaac it was said (Ibid. 24. 3, 4): "Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee and bless thee; for unto thee and unto thy seed I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I swore unto Abraham, thy father; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." When blessing Jacob, his father said (Ib. 28.3, 4): "And God Almighty bless thee and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; and give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee and to thy seed with thee." This blessing was confirmed in a vision immediately after to its recipient when he had left his father's house (1b. 13, 14): "I am the Lord, the God of Abraham, thy father, and the God of Isaac; the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south; and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." Near the close of Jacob's life the promise was repeated in the following words (Ib. 44. 31): "I am the God, the God of thy father, fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will there make of thee a great nation." So far as regards predictions to the three great ancestors of the Jewish race. First Abraham, he had several sons; still the great nation was to be only from Isaac. Next Isaac, he had two sons; yet the blessing of Abraham was only conferred on Jacob. And lastly, Jacob was promised that all his family should be equally included in the peculiar protection of the Deity, and that all should be a blessing to the nations of the earth.—If we now descend to later times, we shall have some more elucidation of the term "my people." We read in Exodus 3.6, when the Lord sent Moses on his first mission: "Moreover, He said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And continues in v. 7: "I have surely seen the affliction of my people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters." As if this were not enough, Moses was soon after told (Ib. 4.22, 23): "And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, my first born; and I have said unto thee, let my son go that he may serve me: and if thou refusest to let him go, behold I will slay thy first born son." Again (Ib. 6.7): " And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be your God." Ib. 7.4: "But Pharaoh will not hearken unto you, and I will lay my hand on Egypt, and bring forth my armies, my people, the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by means of great judgments." When the redemption here indicated had been accomplished, and God wished to manifest his glory, He sent the following promise to the people of Israel: "And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." And when they had sinned and worshipped an idol instead of the eternal glory, we nevertheless read (Ib. 32.14): "And the Lord bethought himself of the evil which He had thought to do unto his people." We could multiply texts to exhibit beyond the remotest doubt that throughout the Bible the same class of persons is designated by the terms "my people," "God's children," as by the other terms, "sons of Israel," "children of Jacob," "Jeshurun," "the children of Abraham," "the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." In interpreting, therefore, any passage in which any of these or similar names are found, we must be convinced from the uniformity of the language of Scripture, that the bodily descendants of Israel are understood, and if the event spoken of be one which was to happen to those who were to come after the speaker's immediate time, we must conclude farther that the prophets or writers of the prediction looked forward to lineal descendants from their own contemporary Israelites, who were then designated also as the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem, these being respectively the names of the country and the capital where these people lived and dwelt. To understand by Jerusalem in the same manner any thing else than the veritable capital of Palestine, would suppose that there were a standard of explanation different from what the contemporaries of the prophets had. Yet if we search the whole Scriptures, we shall not discover a single trace that the people who inhabited Jerusalem ever dreamed that its name imported any thing beyond their own beautiful city; and when, therefore, something was asserted of this name, they naturally could apply it only to the streets and houses which composed their chief city, or to its inhabitants and their descendants.
In this connexion permit me to call your attention to the unfairness of the translators of the Bible in the English language in placing headings over the chapters and pages which are not warranted by the context. Independently of occasional erroneous views of the text which were transfused honestly, we will admit, into their version, though it is singular enough that these errors usually occur where some peculiar doctrine is to be favoured: the learned divines who furnished us with what is styled the common English version undertook, without the remotest shadow of right, to place headings, as they are called, over the commencement of every chapter in the whole Scriptures, which the uninformed are but too apt to take for a translation of a part of the original. Now, the first inspection of the Hebrew Bible presents no superscriptions of the chapters and pages, and this should then satisfy us that the whole of these annotations are without any, even the smallest authority. Yet it is but too true that many an error has been fostered and called into life by these arbitrary annotations of the English translators, who, for reasons best known to themselves, endeavoured to make it appear that the Bible furnished evidence, of one sort or another, for their peculiar religious views. And when any one denies the deduction which the Nazarene world draws from the Bible, because the words of Scripture do not say what is alleged of them: he is referred to the headings, which clearly point out the forced construction. Were it that all our people, men, women, and children, could read the word of God in its original text, this evil would be of small moment; but unfortunately there are thousands who have no knowledge of religion except what they obtain through means of translations furnished by gentiles, a knowledge highly valuable in itself, and in the absence of more accurate information, ardently to be desired: still it may become cause of error, because people so situated have no means of knowing what is purely scriptural and what is not. A translation conducted throughout by Jews, honest and unbiased in favour of one unscriptural system or the other, might in a measure remedy the evil; yet even here there would be room for error, a defect to which our best intended endeavours are constantly exposed. But now no such Jewish Bible in the English language does exist, though it is to be hoped this evil will not be always a reproach to us; yet whilst it exists we must not omit to caution the unwary against the poison which they may insensibly imbibe from a work which ought to present nothing but the unadulterated word of God. Let it then be understood that no notes, marginal references, or head-lines, are part and parcel of Scripture, but merely the additions of uninspired men, which may or may not be true, and can have, therefore, no farther authority than what probability of the context gives them. When we now inspect an English Bible with its notes and headings, it is quite an argument not only in favour of the truth of Nazarene doctrines in general, but also of one or more peculiar sects in particular, for no other reason than that the translators belonged to these divisions, and found it convenient to give strength to their received notions by the aid of forced constructions. We are not going to enter this day upon a review of the English Bible; but merely to state general facts, and we will rest the proof of what we have advanced upon the general notoriety of its truth. But if we discard the superfluous human additions to the Word, even taking the translation as it stands, the unbiased reader will not find the support in favour of doctrines opposed to Judaism for which a biblical warrant is so lately claimed, since the words themselves, as they read in the translation, do not bear the construction which a forced application, such as is presented in the various notes and comments, has given to them.
What I have just been saying may appear tiresome and irrelevant to our subject; but you will see the propriety, nay, the necessity thereof, if you merely take in your hands the common version upon any Bible text, and especially upon the one we have taken for to-day's discussion. The heading is in these words: "1. The promulgation of the gospel. 3. The preaching of John Baptist;" and the pages are headed, "The promulgation of the gospel." I refer you to the book itself for the continuation of the contents of the chapter forty of Isaiah according to the Anglican church, and will merely limit myself, for brevity's sake, to the part quoted. Our text is: "Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, will say your God. Speak consolation unto the heart of Jerusalem," &c. But what is understood by the gospel? The annunciation of the creed of the gentile Nazarenes, which took place at the eve of the downfall of our home and temple under the assaults of the Romans.
We have exhibited what is meant by "my people;" they were those who were to be comforted, and no other person or persons can be substituted in their place. Now, if the promulgation of the gospel could be meant, which took place not to the Jews, but to their destroyers, the words ought to have been: "Comfort ye the enemies of my people, will say the God who has rejected Israel," since the downfall of Israel by the building up of the gentile world must presuppose that the former are no longer the peculiar and chosen people. Now the prophet speaks in the future, not as the English version has it, "saith," but "will say your God." It evidently means, now, that the comforting, whatever be understood thereby, was not to take place immediately, but at a distant day, a future at least till after the death of the prophet, for he clearly announced a dispersion of the people of God; at least those whom he called so, and saw the partial fulfillment of the denunciation. To this people, sinning at the time of the prophecy, is applied, at a future period, the name of "my people," and the Deity calls himself in reference to them, "your God." If, now, the heading of the English Bible could be true at all, it would be requisite that the gospel, a term well enough understood by us at the present day, must have been announced to the Israelites at its first promulgation, and as "comfort" is attached to the message, it needs must have been one which the people received as a consolation and happy tidings from their God. But, nothing of the kind do our opponents allege to have occurred, and I refer to them, because our own history is silent on the subject. The followers of the Nazarene say, that he appeared at a period of great distress among those whom Isaiah calls, in the name of God, "my people," that he and his disciples addressed the identical gospel to them upon every possible occasion, and that neither were the Jews comforted by this message, nor were they continued as "God's people," for they rejected the gospel and its adherents, and their national glory was cast down into the dust, and the goodness of God especially bestowed upon the followers of the gospel, which according to the text ought to have been a comfort to the nation of whom Isaiah was one.—But we contend that, unless there be an error in the definition we have given to the words "my people," and "Jerusalem," the heading of the common version is totally erroneous and untenable, and the pretended accomplishment upon foreign nations totally at variance with the evident signification of the very words employed by the translators of the Bible. Yet this is but one of many misstatements and forced constructions which are daily presented to our acceptance; and despite of their palpable weakness great astonishment is manifested that we Jews should be so blinded as not to see what is not to be seen, and to refuse accepting as fact what common sense compels us to say is neither founded in reason nor consonant with Scripture.
The nature of a public address does not permit us to dwell any longer on this part of our subject, and we must turn to the second point of our inquiry: "What is the nature of the announcement which the prophet makes to the people of Israel, whom we have proved to be the intended recipients of the promised blessing?" Let the words speak for themselves. We know that all the threatenings of evil for disobedience unto Israel came through the prophets whom God sent to speak in his name: and now, when a change is announced as impending, the same persons are called upon to speak in a different language; and therefore says the text: When the time shall come for the termination of the sorrows and tribulations which followed each other thick and fast during centuries of transgression, the spirit of God will tell his faithful messengers to speak no longer of woe, and sorrow, and destruction, but to address comfort to the hearts that have mourned so long; to assure them that the punishment was not an evidence of rejection from his grace, but an, earnest that their God was watching their iniquity, and visited them with the rod of correction, in order only that their transgression might be atoned for, agreeably to his attributes of mercy which, whilst guaranteeing leniency and a long withholding of wrath, at the same time warn us not to rely upon long indulgence with the idea of impunity.
And should the people say, "We have suffered more than any other nation, we have been scourged for our faith, scorned for our hopes, spurned because we bore the name of Israel:" they will be referred to their terrible sins, to their stubbornness, which would not listen to all the warnings full of love and compassion which were addressed to them during their days of prosperity, morning and evening, by those whose wisdom and deep insight into futurity proved them to have been inspired by the supreme Wisdom, and armed with fortitude by the power of the Almighty; and they will be told that these messengers they scorned, these prophets they slew, these seers they scourged and cast into loathsome dungeons. Was, it not meet then that similar trials should befall the people whilst they remained rebellious? and what more fining instruments could the Lord choose than the arms of the gentiles, who had not known his name, and had not learned of his law? But with the accomplishment of the deserved retribution, the goodness of the Lord will return and visit Jerusalem with his favour, and its inhabitants and those who sprung from them with his mercy; and this is the comfort which is to be breathed into their hearts, this the trust which is to animate their souls.—And farther says the Spirit: "A voice cries in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make level in the desert a highway for our God."
Needs God a highway for his own purposes? Not He; but they whom He will bring together from the ends of the earth; they will hasten over hills and valleys, through inhabited lands and deserts, over continents and seas, to crowd together into the deserted streets of Jerusalem, into the waste places of Palestine, so that in every city and hamlet of Judea the joyful exclamation will resound: "Here, behold your God!" What does this announcement mean? is it a spiritual thing? a quasi reign of peace? a cessation of strife? the prevalence of liberality? of freedom from religious persecutions from gentile masters? If this had been the intention of the Spirit, He would so have announced it: "Behold, a time will come when you, my people, shall be driven from your land and live strangers in countries not yet known, in islands not yet discovered. You will for many years be hated; your belief in one God will expose you to many persecutions; but you shall not he consumed; for a time will come when no one shall persecute the other for opinion's sake, peace shall be every where prevailing, and you, children of Israel, shall then live among the nations peacefully and securely, you shall have temples everywhere, and be treated as citizens in every country where you may live; you shall forget Jerusalem, and no longer sigh for its desolation, because the whole world shall be your Palestine, every city your Zion, and every synagogue your temple."
We maintain that were the consolation merely this spiritual restoration, the Bible would have so expressed it; the prophets were not so poor in language, nor the Spirit so short in knowledge, but that there were ample means to have declared the future after the manner we have indicated, as easily as the reverse has been done. It is unfortunate for us, that there are men who are ashamed of the singularity of the Jewish belief, as they have received it from their fathers; they fancy that it is not an evidence of enlightenment to look forward to a Jewish country, to be governed by Jewish laws. They believe that they must bring the sacrifice of their hopes of future glory as an acceptable offering to the countries of their sojourning. But how short-sighted are such men! they gain nothing in the esteem of the gentiles by their denial of their hopes in a glorious restoration, and they draw down the wrath of Heaven for their daring unbelief. Do they really think that an enlightened, liberal man, who is no Israelite, does not see that these new doubts, sprung up in the course of a few years of ease, enjoyed in a few countries where not a twentieth part of all Israel resides, are another exemplification of the truth of Moses, who said, "And Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked?" Do they imagine that it is a blessing to collective Israel that they are scattered all over the world, citizens in a few towns, tolerated in a few more, and spurned in nearly every other place of their sojourn? Do they think that for such a purpose God redeemed us from slavery, wrought so many miracles to preserve us amidst persecutions, that at length we might play, so to say, a secondary part in a state of universal peace, an insignificant handful in every spot amidst the peaceful reign, of liberal principles, of a qualified adoption of the law of Moses?
Do they really imagine that the Searcher of hearts sees not the unbelief that is in their spirit, their anxiety to escape from the burthen of religion by their spiritualizing the text of Scripture to suit their notions of truth and futurity? Woe, woe! that such men should be numbered in Israel! woe to the day that they have raised their head in rebellion against the Lord and his anointed! But their counsel cannot prevail! Israel will rise above these doubts and fears; but in the meantime the affections are estranged, and dissentions are sown in the midst of our families, and divisions, fearful and sinful, fill with dismay the lover of his God and of the welfare of his people. Yet the Lord will protect his flock against this danger too. He who arrested the sword when it flashed in the light of the rising sun, and was not sated with slaughter when the moon slowly ascended in the eastern horizon, will in his infinite mercy avert this cup of sorrow from our lips, and suffer not the harmony of Israel to be broken by means of the artful errors which the unthinking wish to propagate.
No, brethren! the prophets speak of a literal Jerusalem, of bodily assembling of the scattered outcasts of Judah; and they mean these ideas only, or else they would have used different language, which was amply at their command. A spiritual regeneration of the sons of Jacob, and a reign of universal peace (of which more on another occasion) are to a certainty included in the predictions; but this does not say that the accomplishment of these things is not to be effected at the bodily Jerusalem, at the very temple on Moriah, by the very personage whom we hope for, the Messiah David, the son of David ben Yishai from Bethlehem. Ay, we doubt; the day is too far distant for us? we are tired of waiting? But, says Isaiah: "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the breath of the Lord bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the word of our God will stand for ever."
Truly the earth will put on her mantle of green when the early spring wakes nature again into life; the flowers will enamel the meadows, and the blossoms will deck with beauty the trees of the field, when the sun acquires strength in his progress towards summer; but again the storm blows with a hot breath over the landscape, and withered is the grass, and faded is the flower; and man, too, will bloom in infancy, and shoot up into manhood, and bear fruit and prosper in his works; but age creeps over him, his frame sickens, his limbs quiver before the weight of years, and his spirit flies from him, and the sod of the valley covers his frame, and the worm becomes his associate. Yet with all this the WORD of God neither fades nor withers; it sees changes of seasons and of centuries pass along in rapid succession, but it awaits the sure fulfillment which the mind of the Supreme has assigned fur its triumphant establishment, for its indestructible rule over the destinies of man. And has not our history proved to us that God is true and his word abiding for ever? Therefore do we hope, and look forward with prayer and longing to the hour when the glory of God shall appear, and all flesh see that his mouth has spoken it.
Equally erroneous with the spiritualizing of doubting Jews is the view of the Nazarenes who apply the verse "A voice crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord," to the person known in their history as John the Baptist. This is the first time in my lectures that I have ever spoken directly of the characters of the Nazarene faith, but it is unavoidable in our present elucidation of Scripture. He called himself "the voice of one crying in the wilderness," as the Nazarene records say; but this certainly is not a satisfactory fulfillment of the passage under discussion. It is not correct to render the passage "the .voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,'' because קול is the nominative to the verb קורא and therefore means, "A voice crieth in the wilderness;" the objective case follows in the words, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord;" that is, the voice of God, in prophecy, calls out to the, world to make ready a passage for the redeemed and comforted sons of Jerusalem to appear again before their God, to worship Him in their ancient limits as of old; for they only require a highway in the desert to resort to their former dwellingplaces, which are, as the vision continues, to be filled with worshippers, of whom it can be said, "Behold, here is your God." It is evident that with the voice crying in the wilderness there must be a rebuilding of Judea's cities. But was this the case when John appeared, granting there lived such a man? No; soon after the land became a prey to hosts of enemies that broke down the glory of Israel. And since then?—O Jerusalem! Jerusalem! waste are thy palaces, ruined are thy gates, and thy temple is a desolation! Cities of Judah, cities of Judah! your joy is gone! the grass grows in your avenues, and thorns climb over your sunken habitations! Your water-courses are choked by the sand of the desert, and destruction frowns triumphant over your battlements! Sons of Israel; sons of Israel! ye wander in every land, ye are strangers in every clime! ye are a by-word to the gentiles who know not your God! your heart is heavy, and vain now are your breathings for help that has not come. But rouse thee, Jerusalem, Jerusalem! thy God will come in his might! rejoice, ye cities of Judah, for your Restorer has spoken! confide, ye sons of Israel, for your Redeemer comes, his reward is with Him, and his recompense before Him. Long have ye hoped for his coming; long have the wastes desired his salvation; and, behold it has come to pass what He has foretold, and peace dwells within our land, rejoicing and salvation in our palaces.
It is therefore refreshing that in every year, in every land, in every town, they assemble to fast and pray who in their hearts are mourners for Zion; and well do ye act, brothers in exile, brothers in hope, to ask for joy only in the restoration of your holy faith on its ancient foundation, and surely the Lord will reward your confiding trust; and may He give you, and all those who await his coming, glory instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the robe of praise instead of the spirit of heaviness, and may you be called the trees of righteousness, the plantation of the Lord for his glory. Amen.