Israel - It's Past, Present and Future - Dr. H.M. Ohmann (1928-2006)
THE O.T. DANIEL (II) APOCALYPSE:
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Daniel 9:24-27, the passage under consideration, tells us that Daniel's prayer, recorded in the first nineteen verses of the chapter, was heard. And in what a way! Seldom, as far as we know, has a prayer met with a favourable response so soon! Gabriel, the Angel welt-known from the gospel of the birth of our LORD, comes to make this word known and he reaches Daniel about the time of the evening oblation.
There are two significant features here: We see Gabriel now already engaged in the preparation of the coming of the MESSIAH. So we have a prelude here to what it reads in Luke 1 and 2. The indication of time is meaningful as well for this beloved man, dedicated to the temple and its worship. Besides let us not overlook that his prayer came up to the requirements as mentioned in Lord's Day 45 of the Catechism. As for that, it is especially the third reason that matters: It was for the sake of Christ our LORD that his prayer was heard and that the LORD God proceeded to action the way He did.
Before going further into detail I would like to say that in verse 24 we find the answer summarized. Taking it all in all, that is the object which the LORD GOD has in view and which He'll certainly achieve. We read of six results, and these six results comprise two groups of three members each:
1. to finish the transgression
2. to make an end of sins
3. to make reconciliation for iniquity*
4. to bring in everlasting righteousness
5. to seal vision and prophet
6. to anoint a most holy (one or thing)
Furthermore Gabriel tells Daniel that seventy "sevens" are decreed for the purpose of accomplishing these six results. "Sevens" I translate. Neither "weeks"(A.V.) nor "weeks of years" (R.S.V.) works out well if applied to and spread over the span of time to be covered. I am not going to calculate such a "seven". In Daniel the language of Apocalypse is spoken, as in the N.T. Book of Revelation. Rendering the word by "seven" I admit the mystery, but this I prefer to a wriggling of the data into a preconceived scheme that never fits when you take the figures "literally"; this in spite of the many and various attempts made.
The seventy sevens are subdivided into three periods: One of seven, one of sixty-two, and one of just one such "seven". They were decreed by judicial decision. It was God who had decreed this period (these periods) of time for the accomplishment of His redemptive purposes and that's why they are so enlightening with a view to the future of His people Israel. We shall now consider the three periods successively.
First that of the seven sevens. By the number seventy in the beginning of verse 24 we are reminded of the end of verse 2 of this chapter, where we come across the same number: "the number of years which must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem" Reference is made there to Jeremiah 29:10. This very verse is the point of departure of all that is to follow in this chapter; of prayer and answer both. Of the answer as well! "The going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem" is related to the prophecy of Jeremiah and not to the edict of king Cyrus, as exegetes like Young and Keil state it. For by the aforementioned edict the restoration is carried into effect, which is to take place, however, during the sixty-two sevens which are to be distinguished carefully from the preceding seven sevens.
According to Prof. Young the starting point of the 7 and that of the 62 sevens is the same, one would conclude. On page 205 of his book on Daniel he writes: "The violent separation of the two periods is out of harmony with the context". On the other hand we read: "it is best therefore to understand (although I am painfully aware of the difficulties) the text as stating that between the terminus a quo (= point of departure, H.M.O.) and the appearance of an anointed one, a prince, is a period of 69 sevens, which is divided into two periods of unequal length, 7 sevens and 62 sevens. To what then do these two subdivisions have reference? The 7 sevens apparently has reference to the time which should elapse between the issuance of the word and the completion of the city and temple; roughly the end of the period of Ezra and Nehemia. The 62 sevens follows this period. In vs. 25 these 62 sevens are not characterized, but in vs. 26 we are told what will happen after the expiry of the 62 sevens. The 62 sevens therefore have reference to the period which follows the age of Ezra and Nehemia to the time of Christ."
So far Prof. Young. ) for one should like to emphasize that the pointing in the Hebrew text clearly separates the two periods of the 7 and the 62. Moreover, it would be strange that the very period the prophecy of Jeremiah is pointing at, namely, the seventy years of the Babylonian exile, would have been disregarded in this revelation. With Prof. G.C. Aalders I think that the first period of seven "sevens" equals those seventy years. It was those seventy years which had set a Daniel thinking. That term would have expired now, Daniel had figured out. That's why he turned his face to the LORD GOD in prayer and supplications. When his prayer was heard, Daniel was not only permitted to hear about the LORD's decree regarding a distant future, but also to see this decree partially come true, since the anointed one, the prince of verse 25, is his contemporary king Cyrus of Persia. Daniel had lived to see his day and his capture of the Babylonian kingdom.
Prof. Young on his side takes and has to take - a different view. Once the statement is made that "the going forth of a word" refers to Cyrus' decree; consequently the anointed one cannot be Cyrus again. He writes: "in the O.T. kings and priests were anointed, and hence we are to think of one who is, not only a priest (anointed one) but also a king (prince) . . . The fact is that there is only One in history who fully satisfies the two essential requisites of the theocratic king, Jesus, who is the Messiah. He was anointed and appointed a Prince as was required and this in a most perfect manner."
I freely admit that Jesus Christ is THE ANOINTED ONE, in accordance with L.D. 12 of the Catechism. The point at stake, however, is: Is it HE who is meant by "the anointed one" in verse 25? I do not think so. When we take the subdivision of the 70 sevens into three periods and what it says about these periods in full earnest, at the end of the seven sevens the time has not come yet for Christ to appear on earth. Beforehand 62 sevens are still to expire.
The reference therefore is to king Cyrus. He is the anointed one, the prince of vs. 25, although he is a heathen. It is a remarkable fact that there is only one heathen king in all the Bible to whom the expression is applied and that is he (is. 45:1). This on account of the remarkable relation which he sustained to the church, a relation unparalleled in history. King Cyrus, an anointed one, mentioned by his very name a century and a half in advance. A thing never heard of in history. Imagine that we were to hear today the name of the queen (king) of England or the president of the U.S.A. in the year 2100 A.D.! But Cyrus' name, since he was an anointed one, took a key position in the LORD's plan because of the decree he was to issue.
I go on and cast a glance back to vs. 24 and say that during these first seven sevens something of what it says there must have come true. Something of it; so, not the prophecy in its full extent. This anointed one (vs. 25) and THE ANOINTED ONE (vs. 26) - that makes all the difference. Yet, the former has been instrumental in the achievement of Israel's salvation. When he issued his decree, transgression was put away; sin done away; iniquity reconciled. If you ask me whether I can substantiate my statement, I refer to Isaiah 40:2ff. So are the positive results: The blessed condition of being restored to righteousness before God was enjoyed by the returned exiles. Prophecies and visions pertaining to a future restoration of the people were sealed, that is to say, confirmed, accredited: they came true. And as for the anointing of a most holy (one? thing? place?), are we not allowed to think of the altar of burnt offering built by the exiles after their return (Ezra 3:2)?
So during his life Daniel's prayer was heard in that he saw part of the Lord's decree come true. A part! For I must also say: his prayer was not heard yet, or I better say, God's plan was not fulfilled totally. Not seven sevens, however significant a start, but 70 sevens had been determined upon the people and the holy city. So, after the first seven, sixty-three other sevens lay ahead and during sixty-two of them the people had to wait for the second Anointed One of our text, in whom we may see THE MESSIAH.
Sixty-two sevens, that is quite a time. And taking it all in all, nothing very particular happened; I mean, in comparison with the previous 7 and the final one. "The city shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time." And that is all there is. It does not mean that the restoration of the holy city was to take all that time. Yet it did take many many years before this matter was settled. The exiles returned and started building; that is to say, they started building their own panelled houses that they dwelt in themselves, whereas the house of the LORD lay in ruins. So the LORD had His prophets Haggai and Zechariah appear and speak on his behalf against such a mentality. So people came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts their God. So much as far as the temple was concerned.
However, our text speaks of the city, Jerusalem. In Nehemiah 1:3 it reads: "The survivors there in the province, who escaped exile, are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire." So, in the days of Nehemiah the restoration of the city was accomplished. "But in a troubled time," as it says here. Israel had gone already through troublesome times in the days of the last prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, and with the latter the time had come that vision and prophet were sealed up in such a way, that they did not appear anymore. The period of prophecy had come to an end. Not until the revelation of the LORD Jesus Christ, the Chief Prophet, the voice of a prophet would be heard.
But what had been foretold here regarding a troubled time was to continue after the sealing up of the prophecy, in the span of time between Malachi and Christ. I point especially to the period of the Maccabees. As history it is not mentioned in the Canonical books of the O.T. but O.T. prophecy does make a great many references to it. In the very book of Daniel we find them. In such a way that modernist scholars are of the opinion that the man Daniel is supposed to have lived in that time and witnessed all those troubles instead of in the sixth century B.C., as we believe. Of course we do not share that opinion. Yet the care God bestows upon his people Israel, the then church in the time the prophecy was sealed up and had come to an end so far, is striking.
He is the LORD their God unfailing, his judgment everywhere prevailing. The Covenant God did not withdraw from his obligations. The city was built again with squares and moat, notwithstanding the troubled time. Also during the 62 sevens, transgressions were finished, iniquity atoned for, everlasting righteousness brought in and a most holy thing, that is to say to the measure of those times, so the temple or the altar, after having been defiled by the godless Syrians, anointed and dedicated again. So a disconsolate period in several respects. The more so since the living voice (Lat. viva vox) of the prophet was not heard anymore. No fear. Vision and prophecy were sealed. And a future spoken of in prophecy, a future that looked promising, was drawing nigh more and more.
That is the future of the last ---seven".
The decisive period, the crucial era in Israel's life. For now THE ANOINTED ONE has come. Not he who was meant by the words "an anointed one" in vs. 25, that is, king Cyrus, nor any other anointed one of a later time, e.g. a highpriest, like the pious Onias who fell victim to assassination if the history reported in the second book of the Maccabees is trustworthy (2 Macc. 4:23-34). Flavius Josephus tells us otherwise. To such a solution comes he who sees the Jewish history as portrayed in the visions of Daniel wind up in the Maccabean era. And there are a great many exegetes reasoning that way.
However it is very unlikely that, though the Maccabean era is often in the focus in the second half of this book, a figure as insignificant as the highpriests were in those times, would take a key-position in this encompassing vision regarding Israel's future. Therefore I frankly say that the Highpriest of our confession must have been meant here.
Not his coming as such, however, is mentioned now. Apparently there was a more important fact of his life to be recorded. So it reads: "And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off." To understand this sentence in the proper way, namely, in its being intelligible to Daniel, I refer to the prophecy of the servant of the LORD in Is. 53, where it reads in vs. 8: "He was cut off from the land of the living." It was Jesus Christ who was cut off in the most literal sense, being sentenced to die on Calvary's cross in the prime of life.
And then two words follow that are extremely hard to explain. Two words in Hebrew: "we'en lo"; translated: A.V. "but not for himself"; N.A.S.B. and R.S.V. "and shall have nothing"; New English Bible "With no one to take his part." I quote Prof. Young's commentary, page 207: " 'And he has naught' - lit., and there is not to him. These words are exceedingly difficult, but they seem to indicate that all which should properly belong to the Messiah, He does not have when He dies. This is a very forceful way of setting forth His utter rejection, both by God and man. 'We have no king but Caesar', cried the Jews. 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' were the words from the cross. In that hour of blackness He had nothing, nothing but the guilt of sin of all those for whom He died. Utterly forsaken, He was cut off."
His vicarious satisfaction is meant. It was in behalf of the people He died. Not in His own behalf. And that's how we see God's plan come true thoroughly: By his death transgression was finished, sins put to an end, iniquity atoned for, everlasting righteousness brought in.
The angel does not stop, however. He hurries on to a still farther point in the future: "And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary." It is in consequence of the cutting off of the Messiah that the people of a coming prince will do so. The prince is not Antiochus Epiphanes and cannot be, on our standpoint. Nor is it the Antichrist. It seems most likely that the people are the Romans and the prince who is to come is the later emperor Titus Vespasian.
"Its end shall come with a flood." Whose end? Of the enemy, the invader, so of the Roman army and its emperor? Not likely. It rather refers to Jerusalem, the holy city: the city and sanctuary Daniel prayed for every day on set times, in the upper chamber with the window open toward Jerusalem! The name of the city is not mentioned here. But from the context it easily could be gathered by him. And it is to be supposed that it was a very hard thing to this man to learn that the city he loved, the city he set above his highest joy, was to end up in such a way in a distant future. So, in the ultimate analysis a difficult time lies ahead for his people, for Israel. For him who has set all his hopes on city and sanctuary, those visible, perceptible things every rightminded Jew was attached to, there is hardly any consolation. "And to the end there shall be war, desolations are determined." Israel has not to do with an enemy of flesh and blood; it is not only a passing hostile invasion that is referred to; no, desolations are irrevocably determined by GOD! It is God who is found to fight against His people in that distant future. Knowing this God, we gather that Jerusalem has fully deserved so. That is why the words of vs. 25, "it shall be built again," are not added. A sad development, you say when you look at the outward appearance. That's a view many people take. First of all the Jews themselves.
However, everything has not been said yet. One more verse follows, pertaining at the same time to the very period of the 70th "seven". Though it is mentioned by name only here, it was meant already in verse 26. in the previous article I wrote something about the "Parenthesis Interpretation," which states that an obviously indeterminate period lies between the 69th and 70th seven, the former being named "the Churchage". "When the Church-age will end, and the seventieth week begin is nowhere revealed." Needless to say, we totally disagree with such a view making allowance for such an interruption in what is presented in the vision as a closed unity. So, in vs. 27 it is again the 70th seven that is in the focus.
As for the translation of A.V. and R.S,V., "And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week", Prof. G.C. Aalders prefers to take the word "covenant" as subject of the sentence rather than as an object, as is done by almost all the translations. So we get: "The covenant is to prevail for many for one week". Prof. Aalders is right in suggesting this translation, but the idea is grasped by Prof. Young as well, though he makes the Messiah, the anointed One of vs. 26, the subject. For the Messiah is the logical subject of the passage: "The Messiah will cause to prevail . . . The entire passage is Messianic in nature, and the Messiah is the leading character . . . The writer does not mean that he will make a covenant. The ordinary idiom to express such a thought is 'to cut a covenant', and this idiom is not used here ... In what sense may it be said that the Messiah causes a covenant to prevail for many? The answer to this question is to be found in the fact that the Messiah during His earthly ministry and by means of His active and passive obedience to the Law of God, did fulfill the terms of that covenant which was made in olden times with Abraham and his seed."
Now we understand that it is the Anointed One, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and not e.g. Antiochus Epiphanes or the Roman emperor or even the Antichrist who for half of the week shall cause sacrifice and offering to cease. The latter opinions are held by many scholars having a completely different approach to this part of the Bible. Instead of a confirming of the covenant made in days of old, they think of a pact, a covenant made by some worldly potentate, with actions underhand, he being intended to break it at his earliest convenience. It was because of that breach of the pact concluded, when the enemy showed himself in his true character, that sacrifice and offering was to cease. The reader sees that there is all the difference between this and what Christ has done. When He causes sacrifice and oblation to cease, He himself had to suffer and die for it. The epistle to the Hebrews offers ample elucidation (7:11; 8:13; 9:25, 26; 10:8, 9). "it is true that immediately after Christ's death the sacrifices did not cease. Nevertheless, at his death, the veil of the temple was rent in twain; the way into the Holy of holies was opened, the Gospel was preached, and the sacrifices of the Jews could not longer be regarded as legitimate" (Young).
"And upon the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate." The one who makes desolate must be the Roman army; as for "wing", I prefer the solution of Prof. Aalders, who has it refer to the hurry, the haste with which the Roman army is marching on, like birds on the wing or birds in flight, to the one of Prof. Young, who thinks of the pinnacle of the temple. What about the last words of the text: A.V. "And that determined shall be poured upon the desolate"; R.S.V. "until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator"? The point at issue is: Who or what is meant? The desolator, the Roman general Titus. Those who are in favour say: That is to be expected. The destroyer ought to be destroyed; so the prophecy has a happy end. Justice must take its course! The desolator, however, is in this verse indicated by a different term, so I'm inclined to take sides with those who translate the last word by desolate, having it refer to the ruins of temple and city.
"A happy end?" a reader wonders. For him who has set his heart upon these "outward" things, definitely not. And that is what the majority of the Jewish people has done. But for him who embraces in sincere belief THE ANOINTED ONE, the fulfilment of all the promises made of old, for whose sake Israel was called into existence, there is gladness. The covenant is safeguarded for ever, the new and eternal covenant, the covenant of grace and reconciliation, confirmed with his death and the shedding of his blood. The God of Israel, the LORD of His Church has achieved His goal.
*Remarks: 'I to finish the transgression" is not to make it reach its full measure as in Dan. 8:26 but: to make an end of it. No. 5 may mean either: to accredit prophecy, or: to seal it up so that it will no longer appear. No. 6 can refer to Christ (acc. to YOUNG) or the New Testament liturgy which comes instead of the Old Testament one (AALDERS). It is hard to make a decision here. (H.M.O.)
This is the last article of the series. A series which turned out a little different from what the present writer originally intended in so far that only the Old Testament era has been covered. Which era however provided such a wealth of material that I think it is better to leave it at that now. In my speech - I admit - as much attention was paid to what it says in the New Testament and to the subsequent history of the Jewish people. As for the former, the N.T. period, one of my colleagues will take up his pen; as for the latter, I am willing to start another series on the history of the Jewish people since Christ, sooner or later.
In the course of fifteen articles we have been following the Jewish people on its way through history. From the very beginning to the end. What end? The end of the O.T. Revelation. That is the glory of this era that Israel is shone upon by the lamp of God's Revelation; that Israel indeed is God's chosen people, the LORD's beloved. It was called by a very special call. A thing making Israel unique amidst all other peoples. As soon as the calling is answered by the first Israelite, their common ancestor Abraham, a new people appears upon the stage, and in the history of this man and his family the history of Israel is set going. So from the very outset there is a particular thing, namely, that this people is to be and remain a people on certain conditions: faith.
This condition is to last forever. This holds good for the Old Testament as well as for the New, when the Promised Seed has come and the people of Israel as a nation, a separate nation, HAS SERVED ITS TURN, so as to merge into the multitude of nations that are to be called to faith and repentance. Basically this is what I can say about the position of the Jewish people today, if you ask me.
The condition was made in the days of the Patriarchs. Abram's departure from Ur and Haran was an act of faith. This call was perceived in the days of Moses as well; I just remind you of the first commandment and the continuous message of the book of Deuteronomy. It is the requirement God sets in the time of the Judges and the Kings. A judge is a man raised to perform acts of faith in a time of decline, and also in the evaluation of a particular king's reign, faith is the decisive point. Cp. Saul (1 Sam. 15:22, 23) and David (2 Sam. 7). David became the king he was by faith only and the continuation in office of him personally and all his successors was dependent upon his faith.
What jeopardizes the position of Israel and its king is: lack of faith; unbelief; idolatry, which is the contrary of belief. Over and over we saw the people lapse and relapse into that sin. In the time of the Judges, but in the times of the kings as well. Oftentimes the latter promoted this awful sin rather than acting against it.
That is why the LORD simultaneously had his Prophets appear to call people and, if necessary, the king, back from the idols to repentance and faith, warning them in case they did not repent, making them hear God's threat: "therefore my people will go into exile." Seemingly it is of no avail. Although sometimes there is a return to the LORD, on the average the people goes on in the wrong track. Israel hardens its heart. The captivity of the kingdom of the ten tribes did not bring about a change in the course of affairs in the kingdom of the two tribes: Judah, though having such a warning example before its eyes; Judah, that was on the brink of being led into captivity in the days of Sennacherib of Assyria. Assyria disappeared and Babylon rose. It was reserved for Babylon to make Judah's doom an accomplished fact. For seventy years Judah had to stay in Babel. The first big incision in its history: the Exile.
An incision, not an end. The thread of history was not cut off yet. There remained a hope for the future! The exiles were to return to their land to make a fresh start.
The exile, intended as punishment, was also meant as a turning point. Not because of Israel's merits or because the LORD could not do without Israel, but because of the plan God had made in view of the future, comprising Judah-Israel and all the peoples. Which was not something quite new. The LORD had spoken already to Abraham to that effect: "IN YOU ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED." Israel, that ranked first among the nations for a time, is to yield pride of place, in a manner of speaking. For to Israel it does not mean some loss. They are to share the blessing as well, but henceforth they are on a par with all the others.
This promising future is the subject that the prophets dwell on. Prophets sent to testify against present sins are sent to point to a future salvation from sins also.
In this connection I've pointed out the specific way the prophets were used to expressing themselves with regard to the future. A way misunderstood and misinterpreted by dispensationalists and premillennianists. In their opinion a great many prophecies of the O.T. are to be fulfilled yet since they have not been fulfilled; that is to say, not in a strictly literal way, here on earth. Given this viewpoint, we have seen a special dispensation; the Millennial Kingdom, had to be inserted between the first and second return of Christ, during which all the prophecies concerning Israel and the peoples of the O.T. unfulfilled so far were to come true. That the present writer takes another view he expounded at length. I need not go into that again now. Suffice it to point at the first article on Isaiah in the issue of April 19th.
What matters most is that a great many prophecies are to be fulfilled in various stages, as is apparent from what is implied in the contents and from N.T. references, many of them waiting for their fulfilment at the close of the ages. The great future falls within the range of vision of the O.T. prophets, the coming of Christ on earth being one link in the chain of the LORD's deeds. All these things, these good tidings for Zion, are spoken of in a language understandable to the audience of the prophet.
The prophets, do not forget, had to adapt themselves to the mental range of comprehension of the then hearers. The great enemy of the future, be he the Roman or the Antichrist, cannot be portrayed other wise but by Ashshur or Babel. Those who are closer to the elect people are to be featured by Ammonites, Moabites, and the prophecies concerning these vanished peoples have a bearing somehow or other on the Church, which is in the focus. The redemption of Judah from the exile indicates a still greater redemption of a more distant future. And so we saw all sorts of signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, in nature, by which the return of the people was to be intended.
I gave ample examples of pre-exilic prophecy. Turning to post-exilic prophecy, we are curious to know about the new light thrown by the prophecy of this period on what is to happen in times to come, to which Judah has come nearer now. This period is a period of fulfilment of words spoken before on the one hand, and in turn the harbinger of greater glory which is not far on the other hand.
Read e.g. Haggai 2:6, 7 in its context. The prophecy is clearly dated not only by the indication of time in the heading but also by the contents. After having had his prophet encourage Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and Joshua, the highpriest, to keep working on the house of the LORD - though it might be nothing compared to the glory of the former, in their sight - since His Spirit abides among them, we hear the LORD say: "'Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with splendour', says the LORD of hosts . . . The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former."
An encouraging word for the present, which will show fulfilment of former prophecies, but at the same time a word exceeding the boundaries of that time opening a perspective to the end of the ages, as is obvious from Hebr. 12:26ff., where our verse is quoted. What the LORD is intending to do He likes to do thoroughly; so a prospect held out of a kingdom that cannot be shaken is the comfort to Zerubbabel as well as to us. In final analysis the then Jews were making endeavours in view of the great and bright future. It is only for the time being that the Jews were allowed to form "a people to themselves" and to have some thing for themselves. In the same vein we hear the LORD speak in verses 21 and 22.
Here it is the kingdoms of the earth, the heathen nations, featuring the enemy of God's people, who are in the focus. Their defeat usually is part and parcel of O.T. prophecy of the future. For, taking into consideration the time of comparative peace under the Persian kings, you may wonder: What is the use of it? But Zerubbabel, who is given very special attention in the end - will he not be made like a signet ring by the LORD? - has to see beyond the limits of his own time. The LORD's chosen one is representative of the Davidic dynasty, which is given the promise of the son who will sit upon the throne forever.
Although the Messiah is not mentioned here in so many words, the purport of this prophecy is Messianic. The real comfort of those who witnessed the poor start after the return from the exile was that they could bask themselves in the rays of the Messianic future in advance.
For His time is drawing near. You perceive it clearly in the prophecy of Haggai's contemporary and fellow worker, Zechariah. Again we learn, that the brilliant future has commenced in the time he is preaching. "Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you" (1:3). In verse 16 it reads: "I have returned to Jerusalem with compassion; my house shall be built in it." So the people has hearkened to the admonition of 1:3 and fulfilled the conditions. Sincere repentance was the condition; also in this respect, returned Judah lived up to expectations. Unlike to Prof.
Dr. J. Ridderbos and other synodical authors in the time of the Liberation, the word "condition" does not pose any problem to us. It is a key-word in the covenant relationship between the LORD and us. It is He, the Sovereign One, who makes them, and it is out of mere grace that man may fulfil them and remain a trustworthy covenant-partner. Yahweh's tender mercy and election are the source of Judah's repentance. Repentance has a strong emphasis in this book. It is not just that a people has returned from captivity, which straightens things out and can make up for the loss suffered in the past.
For then the misery would have begun all over again. There runs a continuous thread of repentance throughout this book from the beginning to the end, in which the future holiness of the people is prophesied (ch. 14:20, 21). This thread comes to light in 1:3; in ch. 7, about the genuine fasting; in ch. 8, about Jerusalem, which is not only to be rebuilt but will be named "a faithful city", which is more! And it comes to light in a moving way in ch. 12:10f., not to forget the prophecy of the fountain in the first verses of ch. 13, opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.
Every one who is concerned about the future of Israel, should have these passages at heart. They still hold good for present-day Israel that has returned to its homeland now. For more than twenty-five years they have lived again in their "own" (?) territory. But what about repentance to the LORD YAHWEH, the GOD of the fathers?
In line with that which the prophets before the exile pointed out, we learn from Zechariah and Haggai that the burden of sin is the big issue in the life of a people that pretends to be God's people. And in that time Israel was. You see the prophets concerned about Israel's sin, because their Sender was. But sin will be taken away, so He has his prophets proclaim. Not only from the people but also from priesthood, up to and including the highpriest.
The latter is shown to us in an impressive way in the vision of ch. 3, standing before the angel of the LORD, clothed with filthy garments, with Satan close by, at his right hand, seizing the opportunity to accuse him. Satan's accusation is dismissed and Satan rebuked. Which is eloquent of the justification of the sinner before God for Christ's sake, as professed by the Church in LORD's Day 23 H.C. Even a highpriest is to be acquitted. For Israel's God is to make a clean sweep of sin, so as to be unfindable henceforth. Wickedness is removed from Canaan and taken to Shinar, Babel.
Reason the more for the exiles staying behind to flee from this land of the north (2:6) and to join the exiles already returned. "Escape to Zion, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon." For now, on the basis of the remission of sins, positive work can be done in the land. Especially because the LORD will dwell in their midst. Not only in the temple but all over, throughout Judah and Jerusalem. The city is the same and yet it is different; it shall be inhabited as villages without walls. Also the inhabitants are the same and yet different, namely, a populace rendering true judgments, showing kindness and mercy each to his brother. In 8:4 the happiness of the future is portrayed in an unequalled and yet simple way in a wording speaking for itself.
The post-exilic situation is also mirrored in that a line to the Messiah is drawn not so much from Zerubbabel, of the house of David, as from Joshua. To be sure, Zerubbabel is given an important place: "His hands have laid the foundation of the house; his hands shall also complete it." Right, but the kingship was not restored after the exile, unlike the priesthood. The crown will be set upon the head of Joshua the highpriest. We are not going further into details now as to the questions raised by Zech. 6:12ff. when compared to 4:9. In the future the Branch is to combine both the offices, first of priest and then of king, in his person.
A thought already revealed in Psalm 110 is taken up again. In the later chapters of this book we may repeatedly cast a glance at the great Highpriest of the future, according to various moments and aspects of his office: one riding on an ass; king of peace; the Shepherd despised by his people; the one pierced by the people but later on mourned for. The LORD will for his sake save the flock of his people (9:16), and the victory over all the enemies will be gained.
Malachi, finally, the last of the series, is the prophet called to prepare the way for the coming of the LORD, in whom we may recognize the Priest and King of Zechariah. So we hear him speak of judgment day: "Behold, the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all the evildoers will be stubble," both Israelites and non-Israelites. "But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings," among whom are non-Israelites as well as Israelites.
A word of promise. A word of threat. That is how the Old Testament ends. With those last words we will finish our series. It is the best thing we can say in summary after now having dealt with Israel for a long time. Out of mere grace - that is the origin - this people, born from a wonder, was set a task in history, in the history of God's salvation, a salvation to be brought about by a Son of this very people, though He was and is first of all Son of God. If He is in the focus we are not so easily inclined to go astray on the ways of Premillennianism, for example. Or of those who are interested in the lot of this people because of purely human and cultural reasons (M. Dimont). Israel has served its turn. The N.T. Church has to take over. It is not something to boast of. A warning example is held out to us, as we learn in Romans 11. But a thing to be thankful for it is and remains on account of the work and the office of Him who is and remains Son of God and Son of man, which means concretely: Son of Abraham.