Book 4 - Chapter 3: Of the Doctrine of Grace from Abraham to Moses - by Herman WitsiusThe Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Herman Witsius
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Herman Witsius (1636-1708)
Arguably known for the best work on Covenant Theology in print (at least in the top 5).
Herman Witsius (1636-1708) was Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Franeker, Utrecht, and Leyden. A brilliant and devout student, he was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew by the age of fifteen, when he entered the University of Utrecht. He was ordained at twenty-one and served in several pastorates, filling both the pulpit and the academic chair over the course of his life.
This, his magnum opus, is a reflection of some of the most fruitful and mature thinking on federal theology during the seventeenth century, and still holds a preeminent place in our own day.
Chapter III: Of the Doctrine of Grace from Abraham to Moses
I. WE are now got to the days of Abraham, to whom, as God revealed himself at sundry times and in divers manners, so, lest our present work should exceed all proper bounds, we shall only briefly confider the principal heads: and, first, treat of the appearances made to Abraham, and then of the covenant solemnly entered into, and frequently renewed, between God and him. For both these contribute to set the doctrine of the church, during that period, in a clearer light.
II. The Scriptures testify that God appeared eight times to Abraham. 1. At Ur of the Chaldees, when he commanded him to leave his country and kindred, and go elsewhere. Gen. 12:1, compared with Acts 7:2. 2. Near Sichem, at the oak of Mamre, Gen. 12:6, 7. 3. In Bethel, Gen. 13:3, 4. 4. When he promised him a son and heir, Gen. 15:1. 5. When he gave him circumcision, Gen. 17:1. 6. When he entertained him as his guest, Gen. 18:1. 7. When he approved Sarah’s proposal to cast out Hagar and Ishmael, Gen. 21:12. 8. When he commanded him to offer up Isaac in sacrifice, Gen. 22:1.
III. There was, in these appearances, such an evident manifestation of the divine majesty made to the conviction of conscience, that the godly could as easily distinguish them from the delusions of evil spirits, as a sober man can distinguish sleeping and waking. But the Scripture does not always determine in what form God appeared to Abraham. It is however clear, that sometimes it was in a human form, by way of prelude, it seems, and symbol of the future incarnation. Nor are they mistaken who imagine that, generally, it was the Son of God who appeared to Abraham, as he did afterwards to the other patriarchs, and to Moses. To which may be referred, John 8:56, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad.” He saw that day in the promise of the seed—in illustrious appearances—in Isaac, the type and pledge of the Messiah, who was to come—and, in fine, by faith, the property of which is to exhibit things future, as if they were present; in all these things he had a prospect of the incarnation of the Son of God.
IV. Among the other appearances, that mentioned, Gen. 18:1, is very eminent. Where it is said, that Jehovah appeared unto Abraham, and ver. 2. and immediately subjoined, that he saw three men; whence the pious ancients concluded, that the adorable Trinity appeared to Abraham in a visible form. Ambrose, in Proœmio in lib. ii. de Spiritu Sancto, speaks thus: “But Abraham was not ignorant of the Holy Spirit. He really saw three, and adored one; because one Lord, one God, and one Spirit. And, therefore, there was an unity of honour, because an unity of power.” Augustine, lib. ii. de Trinit. c. 11, 12, also lib. iii. contra Maximinum, c. 26, is more full on this head. With whom agrees Paschasius the Roman deacon, lib. i. de Spir. Sancto, c. 5; and others cited by Forbes, Instruct. Hist. Theol. lib. i. c. 14. See Christiani Schotani Bibliotheca, in Hist. Abrahami, p. 155. Seq. Musculus, though of a different opinion, yet, in his commentaries writes: “This passage was usually quoted in the church, when the mystery of the sacred Trinity and Unity was treated of. Munster, after reciting the words of Aben Ezra, who in vain attacks the doctrine of the Christians, adds, “This is certain, that Abraham saw three, and addressed himself to one, ‘O my Lord, if I have found favour in thine eyes,’ whatever the Jews may idly talk to the contrary. Had not Abraham acknowledged that mystery, he would have said, My Lords, if I have found favour in your eyes, &c. The prophets represent a plurality of persons in God, &c. Fagius insinuates, that it is a common argument of our divines, when he says, our authors infer the mystery of the Trinity from the appearance of angels. Though Martyr is of the same opinion with Musculus, yet he thinks he should not conceal, that both the ancient Latin and Greek Fathers usually produced this passage in proof of the Trinity, and adds, that the inculcating these things is not altogether unpleasant to godly persons.
V. We indeed acknowledge, that the church has stronger arguments, whereby to establish this fundamental article of our faith; yet, we imagine, the pious zeal of the fathers in this subject, is on no account to be exploded. The text affords them wherewith to defend themselves. And why shall we so far gratify our adversaries, as to go about to overturn no contemptible reasons for the truth? First, we are to observe, that after Moses had said, ver. 1, and Jehovah appeared to him, he immediately adds, ver. 2, and he lift up his eyes, and looked, and lo, three men stood by him. Which words really seem to contain the explication of the manner in which God appeared to Abraham. Nor should it be thought unsuitable, that even the Father and the Holy Spirit appeared in human form; for Isaiah saw the whole Trinity, like a king sitting on a throne. This vision is actually explained of the Son, John 12:41, and also of the Holy Ghost, Acts 28:25; and, I imagine, none should exclude the Father. Daniel also saw the Ancient of Days sitting on a throne, and another, like the Son of man, who came to him, Dan. 7:9, 13; which interpreters commonly explain of the Father and Son, and, as I think, not improperly.
VI. Moreover, we find that Abraham addresses these three, as if they were one; saying in the singular number: “O my Lord, if I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away from thy servant.” He was accustomed, perhaps, to see God in a like form, or was instructed in that matter by the Holy Spirit; and therefore in the Trinity he immediately observed an Unity: for what some object, that Abraham addressed himself to one of the three, because, by his more august appearance, he discovered himself to be the Lord of the others, is saying a thing without proof, and beside the text. Nay, the words of the patriarch are so put together, that they not only express a civil and common respect, but a religious homage. For, he uses the appellation Adonai with kametz under the letter nun, which being thus pointed, (unless, perhaps, on account of the accent, patach may be changed into kametz), is among the epithets of the Supreme Being, as the orthodox agree. Nor is it any objection, that he entertained them as men; for, seeing they behaved themselves as such, he was unwilling to deny the duties of humanity, due to the person they sustained. But it was something above common civility, that while they were eating, he himself should stand by them as a servant under the tree, ver. 8.
VII. It is added, that when three men appeared to Abraham, one of them is constantly called Jehovah, ver. 13, 17, 20, &c. and the others, angels, Gen. 19:1, sent by Jehovah to destroy Sodom, ver. 13. Because the name, angel, cannot agree to the Father, who is never sent; but may to the Son and Holy Spirit, who are sent by the Father. Augustine says well, lib. ii. de Trinit. c. 13: “Though I do not recollect that the Holy Spirit is any where called an angel, yet it may be gathered from his office. For, of him it is said, ‘he will annunciate or declare unto you things to come:’ and certainly angel is interpreted messenger: but we very evidently read concerning our Lord Jesus Christ in the prophet, that he is called the Angel of the Covenant, though both the Holy Spirit and the Son of God is God and Lord of angels.” Nor does Epiphanius differ in his sentiments, in Ancorato, §, 70. “for, as the Son is the angel of the covenant, so also the Holy Spirit.” But that those angels, which Lot saw, were not ministering spirits, may be gathered from the religious honour which he paid them, Gen. 19:18, 19, &c. And the answer, full of authority and divine majesty, they gave, ver. 21. What some pretend that, in the mean time, a third person intervened, who had remained with Abraham, and to whom these words are to be applied, is what is not in the text; nor do I see how it can be proved.
VIII. It does not militate against this interpretation, that these angels are expressly distinguished from Jehovah, ver. 13. They are, indeed, distinguished from Jehovah the Father, not essentially, as we have shown, but hypostatically or personally. Nor is it below the dignity of an increated angel to say, אוכל לעשות דבר לא, “I shall not be able to do any thing, till thou be come thither,” ver. 22; because that was said on the supposition of a gracious decree and a promise already made to Lot. And this expression should be compared with John 5:13, 29. And lastly Heb. 13:2, is but foolishly objected, for the apostle there recommends hospitality on this account, namely, that “some have entertained angels unawares;” whereas, if God himself had been entertained, that consideration should rather have been urged. But it is not for us to prescribe to the Holy Spirit, what arguments or expressions he is to make use of. If the apostle had thought fit to say, that Jehovah himself was entertained, he might certainly have done it, seeing Moses expressly asserts it. And now when he speaks of angels, he in like manner imitates Moses, who declares that angels turned in to Lot. But seeing the term angel signifies diverse things, and may be applied both to an increated and to a created angel; therefore, from the bare appellation angel, it cannot be proved that the discourse only regards created angels. Moreover, when he says that some entertained angels unawares, he again has an eye to Lot, who, inviting them to come under his roof, imagined they were some honourable guests, till, from their talk, or by the inspiration of the Spirit, he understood who they really were. Nor is it any objection, that the apostle says in the plural number, that some entertained angels. For an enallage or change of number is frequent in such ways of speaking; and it is probable, that what happened to Lot happened also to many others. And now let it be sufficient to have said these things, in favour of the explication of the ancients, and of other very excellent divines of the reformed church. Nor do I imagine that equitable judges will blame me, for having attempted to show that those pious and learned men neither spoke inconsiderately, nor, by their arguments, did any prejudice to the good cause they undertook to maintain. But should any one think otherwise, it is not our province to contend with him; we shall use much stronger arguments than these with such a person.
IX. Let us now consider that covenant which God entered into with Abraham. Paul says, that its commencement was four hundred and thirty years before the giving of the law. Gal. 3:17. As chronologers vary in their calculations, so it is a matter of dispute among them, from what period to begin these years; the difficulty of finding the truth being such, that Scaliger declared it to be unsurmountable. What seems to come nearest, Fridericus Spanhemius in Introduct. Chronologica ad Hist. V. T. has ingeniously, as is his manner, explained. Whole calculation is thus; from the 75th* year of Abraham, in which he came out of Charan, Gen. 12:4, to the birth of Isaac in the hundredth year of his father, are 25 years. From the birth of Isaac to that of Jacob, who was born in Isaac’s 60th year, Gen. 25:26, and 15 years before the death of Abraham, Gen. 25:7, 8, are 60 years. From that period to the going down of Jacob into Egypt, in the 39th year of Joseph, or about nine years after his exaltation in Egypt, Gen. 41:46, are 130 years. Gen. 47:9. The years from Abraham’s entering Canaan, to the going down of Jacob to Egypt, come to be 215. And then the years of the dwelling or bondage of the Israelites in Egypt, were as many, or 215 years; and are thus calculated. Joseph died in the 110th year of his age, Gen. 50:26; from which if you subtract 39, which was his age at the time of Jacob’s descent, there will remain 70 years. From the death of Joseph are to be reckoned about 65 years down to the birth of Moses, the grandson of Kohath, who went down very young with his father Levi into Egypt, Gen. 46:11, and begat Amram the father of Moses, when upwards of 60 years old; but Amram, when he was 70, begat Moses, who was younger than Aaron. Exod. 6:17, 19. From the birth of Moses to the bringing the people out of Egypt, are 80 years: and thus the years of their continuing in Egypt, amount to 215. Which, if added to as many years from Abraham’s going out of Charan to his going down into Egypt, we have a period of 430 years. And by so many years did the federal promise, made to Abraham, go before the giving of the law.
X. But in this covenant we will consider. 1st. The Stipulations. 2dly. The Promises. Which were, indeed, repeated at various times, and expressed under different heads or articles; but which we shall recite briefly and in order, for the help of the memory.
XI. The Stipulation contains chiefly three precepts. 1st. That of leaving his country, his kindred and father’s house; though he knew not whither God was to bring him. Gen. 12:1. This imports a denial of himself, and of those things which are usually most dear and desirable; and in fine, an universal surrender of himself to God. Compare Psalm 45:11, and Luke. 9:59–62, and Matt. 10:37. 2dly. Of not fearing. Gen. 15:1. By this faith, securely acquiescing in God was enjoined upon him. For fear is opposite to faith. Mark 5:36, and Mark 4:40. 3dly. Of walking before God, and being upright. Gen. 17:1. This is the precept of holiness; which extends not only to the external actions, but also to the inward motions of the soul, believing that all must be done, as in the presence and under the all-seeing eye of God. In those few words, the infinitely wise God has comprehended all the duties incumbent on a religious person towards the Deity.
XII. The Promises, annexed to the stipulation, are of various kinds: some are spiritual, others corporeal. The spiritual are either general and common to all believers, or special and peculiar to Abraham.
XIII. The general promises are these, Gen. 15:1, “I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward,” and Gen. 17:1, 7, “I, who am El Shaddai, God all-sufficient, will be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” In these words God promises, 1st. Protection against every evil, while he calls himself a shield. 2dly. A most eminent reward, and of infinite value, seeing he makes over to him, not only his benefits, in which he is most affluent, but also himself, the fountain of every blessing. In like manner, as Eliphaz says to Job, “the Almighty will be thy most choice gold, וכסף תועפות לך, and silver of strength will be to thee:” תועפות is from עף “he was weary;” it therefore signifies eminently “an exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” 2 Cor. 4:17; which we could not bear, unless we were endowed with new powers. 3dly. The communion and fruition of this all-sufficient God, in grace and glory, in soul and in body. See what we said of the word Shaddai, book iii. chap. i. sect. 2, and of the expression, “to be the God of any one,” ibid. chap. ii. sect. 5. 4thly. The continuance of that favour in the elect seed.
XIV. More especially God promised, first, that Abraham should be the head and honorary father of all believers, who in him as the type of the blessing, were to obtain the blessing. For so the words run, Gen. 12:2, 3, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great, and thou shalt be a blessing——and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” He not only makes the most ample promises of every kind, as well earthly as heavenly, but he likewise promises a new and a great name, that he should be the “father of all believers,” Rom. 4:11, than which scarce a greater can be granted to any mere man. Nay, he declares that he should not only be blessed, but blessing itself; so that all the blessing of God might be seen accumulated on him, and to reside in him, as the fountain and source, but a secondary and less principle; and be the type and exemplar of every blessing. For it is added, “and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” In thee may be simply explained with thee; as it is said, Gal. 3:9. “they which be of faith, are blessed with faithful Abraham.” For ב of the Hebrews is sometimes the same thing as with: as Exod. 8:5, “stretch forth thine hand במטך with thy rod,” and Exod. 15:19, “the horse of Pharaoh went in ברכבו ופרשיו with his chariots and his horsemen into the sea.” But בד, in thee, seems to denote something more: for in Abraham all the nations of the earth are blessed. 1st. Because the Messiah was in his loins, in whom every blessing is contained. 2dly. Because he was the head and prince of God’s covenant, and the pattern of faith and blessing to those who were to come after him.
XV. Paul has given a notable commentary on this place, Gal. 3:6–11, “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye, therefore, that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” The Apostle there supposes, as a thing well known among Christians, that Abraham was the honorary father of all the blessed seed, and consequently that there was no other mean, of obtaining the blessing, that is justification and the favour of God, than that by which Abraham obtained it: but he obtained it by faith. Moreover, seeing it is foretold, that in him all the families of the earth are to be blessed, they must needs be united to him, and be accounted to him, as their spiritual parent. But in order to that union, it is not sufficient that there be even an association with his natural descendents by a communion of ceremonies, or of political laws; but a communion in the same faith is requisite. And seeing this promise extended to all the families of the earth, and consequently even to the Gentiles; the apostle has justly concluded, that the Gentiles also are to be joined to Abraham, by the imitation of his faith, and, by the same faith, become partakers of the same blessing with him.
XVI. Secondly, God especially promised him a seed: which does not signify promiscuously, any one who was to descend from Abraham according to the flesh. For even Ishmael was his seed. Gen. 21:13. And therefore great but carnal promises were also made to him. Gen. 16:10, and Gen. 17:20. But by seed we are to understand, 1st. Isaac, who sprung from a father almost dead, and of a mother barren and past bearing. For “in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Gen. 21:12. Moreover Isaac was not only the stock, but also the type of the Messiah, who was afterwards to be born, and that of a virgin, who was certainly not more, if not less, capable than Sarah to bring forth a seed. And therefore, 2dly, the seed denotes also Christ,* that seed which was formerly promised in paradise, “He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but to thy seed, which is Christ.” Gal. 3:16. Besides, as Isaac was born, not by the virtue or power of the flesh, but of the promise, he is also a type of all believers, who are indebted to the word of the promise of the gospel for their spiritual birth. And 3dly. Believers are also denoted by the seed: “They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are accounted for the seed.” Rom 9:8.
XVII. Here we have a difficulty to be resolved, which, it seems, cannot well be omitted. Seeing the word seed sometimes denotes, not only but also chiefly, a multitude of men; and especially as it was promised to Abraham, that his seed should be as the dust of the earth, and since it has just been shown that, by the promised seed of Abraham, both Isaac and all believers are to be understood; how then could the apostle insist on the singular number, in order from thence to make out, that by the seed we are to understand Christ? and which seems to be the less cogent, because the sacred writers of the Old Testament, when treating of men, never use the word זרע, in the plural number. This difficulty appeared so great to Jerome, that not knowing how to untie the knot, he ventured, though not with sufficient piety, to cut it asunder. He observes that Paul only made use of this argument with the dull and stupid Galatians, which he knew would not, in other respects, be approved by the prudent and the learned, and therefore forewarned the prudent reader of this, when he said, Brethren, I speak after the manner of men. Jerome’s words are as follows: whence it is evident that the apostle performed what he had promised, and did not make use of abstruse meanings, but such as daily occur and are common, and which (had he not premised after the manner of men) might displease the prudent. But this is giving up the cause to those who despise and ridicule the Scripture. The apostle certainly, by the expression mentioned by Jerome, was far from intimating that, by abusing the stupidity of the Galatians, he would argue less accurately and solidly. This is highly unworthy the gravity of an apostle, and the unsearchable wisdom of the Spirit of God, by whose inspiration he wrote these things. Nor was this epistle written only for the dull and stupid Galatians if we may call them so, but also for the whole church, to be a directory of faith. He intimated only this, that he was to draw a similitude from human things, in order to explain things divine, and thus compare great things with small.
XVIII. And, indeed, as all other things, so these also appear to me to have been most wisely observed by the apostle. It is certain that the term seed, often signifies a multitude, but it is a multitude collectively taken and united in one; at least with regard to the first stock or origin. When he speaks of the seed of Abraham, as the seed of the promise ὧ ἐπήγγελται, which he had promised, to which the same blessings are to flow from the same fountain, it must be considered as one body. If I mistake not, when the apostle says, the promises were made to Abraham and to his seed, he points to the formula of the covenant, which we have, Gen. 17:7, “I will be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.” On this occasion the apostle declares, that seeing all the families of the earth were, in their proper time, to become partakers of this blessing, it was necessary they should be accounted to the seed of Abraham, and united to him in one body; and as he speaks, Eph. 1:10, “gathered together in one in Christ.” But this is not done by circumcision, or the other Jewish ceremonies. For besides that the promise was made to Abraham, while he was yet uncircumcised, and 430 years before the giving of the law; these ceremonies are the middle wall of partition, which separate the Israelites from the Gentiles, and therefore cannot be the band of union. But this incorporation or coalition is effected by the Spirit of faith, which indissolubly unites believers to Christ the head, who is the principal seed, and with one another mutually: and thus they all form together one spiritual seed of Abraham, a whole Christ, with his mystical body. For here, we take the word Christ in the same sense, as 1 Cor. 12:12. Seeing therefore, as is evident, the promises were made to the spiritual seed of Abraham alone, exclusive of all others; but that spiritual seed ought to have also the same spiritual stock and origin, it must needs form one mystical body, whose head undoubtedly is Christ, from whom all the other members have the honour to be called. Well therefore did the apostle urge, that by the appellation seed, an union was intended, not precisely of person, but of some mystical body, united by faith under the head Christ. See on this place, Drusius, Cameron, Gomarus, Diodati, and others, who explain it of Christ and his mystical body.
XIX. But we are not to overlook a notable diversity of expression, that occurs here. God several times repeats to Abraham, “in thee והתברכו shall be blessed all families of the earth,” Gen. 12:3 and Gen. 18:18. But of the seed of Abraham it is said, “and in him shall all nations of the earth והתברכו bless themselves,” Gen. 22:18, which is repeated, Gen. 26:4, of the seed of Isaac. But surely, we are one way blessed in Abraham, and another in his seed, Christ. In Abraham, as the type and exemplar; in Christ, as the meritorious cause and real bestower of the blessing, Eph. 1:3. We are not only blessed, but also bless ourselves in Christ, acknowledging and praising him, as the fountain and source of the blessing flowing down to us: “אשד המתברך בארץ יתברך באלהי אמן that he who blesseth himself in the earth, shall bless himself in the God of truth,”* Isa. 65:16.
XX. The corporeal or external promises made to Abraham, are chiefly three. 1. The multiplication of his seed by Isaac, Gen. 13:16; 15:5; 17:2; and 22:16. 2. The inheritance of the land of Canaan, Gen. 12:7; 13:15; 15:17; and 17:7; which was fulfilled in the twelve tribes of Israel, especially under David and Solomon; and afterwards, during the second temple, when all Palestine and Idumea were conquered and subdued by the Jews. 3. The deliverance from the Egyptian bondage, Gen 15:13, 14. But we are to observe, that these external promises were types of spiritual and heavenly things. For, the multiplication of the carnal seed denoted the great number of spiritual children, both from among the Jews and the Gentiles, that was to be brought to the faith, Rev. 7:9. And Canaan was a pledge of heaven; and the deliverance from Egypt, signified the deliverance of the church from sin, from the world, the devil and Babylon.
XXI. But we ought not to omit the fundamental doctrine of justification by faith alone, which, at that time, was very much illustrated by the example of Abraham, and the divine declaration concerning him. For, thus it is said, “Abraham believed in Jehovah, and he counted it to him for righteousness,” Gen. 15:6. This testimony is the more to be observed, because the apostle frequently uses it, in order to assert his righteousness of faith, Rom. 4:3, Gal. 3:6.
XXII. The faith of Abraham had, for its general object, all the promises made to him. “He gave glory to God, and was fully persuaded, that what he had promised he was able also to perform,” Rom. 4:20, 21. He therefore believed, and, by faith, embraced the promises of the heavenly and eternal blessing, of the birth of a son from his barren wife, of the multiplication of his seed, both the spiritual and carnal, of the calling of the Gentiles, &c. But more especially, he believed that promise, whereby God engaged to be “his shield and exceeding great reward,” Gen. 15:1. That is, he relied on God, as the averter of every evil, and the bestower of every good. But in a most especial manner, he believed the promise concerning that seed, who was to be the repository and the cause of the blessing; and he expected that the Son of God would manifest himself in the flesh, which he would assume from his posterity, and thus his faith was in Christ, for “he rejoiced to see Christ’s day, and he saw it and was glad,” John 8:56.
XXIII. But this faith, this believing, was imputed unto him for righteousness. Not that the faith of Abraham was, by a gracious estimation, accounted by God in the room of perfect obedience, which the covenant of works required: but that by his faith, he laid hold on, and spiritually united or appropriated to himself, the promised seed, by virtue of which union, all the righteousness of that seed was reputed to be his righteousness. Thus in the book of God’s accounts, the great blessings of God are written on one page, as so many talents bestowed on men; and the sins of men, not rendering to God the thanks due for so great benefits, as so many debts: and, lastly, the condemnatory sentence, by which they are declared guilty of eternal death. But as man’s own righteousness could not stand on the other page, the satisfaction and merits of Christ for the elect are inscribed, and likewise their faith, as the gratuitous gift of God, and that by which the elect are united to Christ, and become partakers of all his righteousness. And thus upon balancing the account from their faith, it appears that all their debts are cancelled, and that they have sufficient to give them a right to eternal life. Thus faith is imputed for righteousness. See what we have considered at large, book iii. chap. 8, sect. 42.
XXIV. The promises made to the father, and especially that concerning the seed, in which all nations of the earth were to bless themselves, were not only confirmed to Isaac the son of Abraham, Gen. 26:4. but also the doctrine of gratuitous reprobation and most free election, was evidently published in the oracle concerning his sons, Jacob and Esau. For Jehovah said to Rebecca, when with twins, “Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people, and the elder shall serve the younger, Gen. 25:23.
XXV. We find in Scripture, that this prophecy was two ways fulfilled, the one historically, the other mystically; both regarding as well the stocks themselves, as the nations, which were to arise from them. As to the stock and heads of the nations, the elder served the younger, that is, Jacob appeared more worthy than Esau. 1. In respect of the birthright, which Esau sold. 2. Of the inheritance of the land of Canaan, from which Esau was excluded, as Ishmael, and the other children of Abraham, had been formerly. 3. Of communion in the covenant of God, which Esau, by his profaneness, had forfeited. If we consider the nations, they were often at war, and there was a time, when the Edomites seemed to prevail over the Israelites, “Edom pursued his brother with the sword, and cast off all pity,” Amos 1:11. see Numb. 20:18, 19. But at last the Israelites proved conquerors, when David put garrisons throughout all Edom, and the Edomites became David’s servants, 2 Sam. 8:14. And they continued so, until the reign of Joram, under which they again shook off the yoke, 2 Kings 8:20, according to the prophecy of Isaac, Gen. 27:40. But afterwards, under the second temple, they were again conquered, and entirely subjected to the Israelites. See Joseph. Antiq. Lib. xiii. c. 17.
XXVI. But these things had likewise a further prospect; for, as the inheritance of the land of Canaan was a type of the heavenly inheritance, and the national covenant included the spiritual covenant of grace; so also the exclusion from the national covenant and typical inheritance, was a sign of the exclusion from the covenant of grace and the heavenly inheritance. So that Esau and Jacob are here instances of the most free reprobation, and gratuitous election of God. And that this was the mystical sense of this prophecy, the apostle shows Rom. 9:10, and following verses.
XXVII. God renewed the same promises made to the father and grandfather to Jacob. Gen. 28:13–15. Though Jacob declared his twelve sons, the patriarchs, to be the heirs of these promises; yet, by the inspiration of the Spirit of God, he gave the tribe of Judah such prerogative above the rest, that not only kings, but also the prince of kings, even the Messiah, was to descend from it, Gen. 49:10, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a law-giver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” On which place we have illustrious commentaries by the most excellent persons, which we judge foreign to our purpose here to rehearse. The plain meaning seems to us to be this. It is foretold concerning Judah, that his tribe should very much excel all the rest, both with respect to the ornament of the sceptre and the supreme government, and the seat of religion, the temple and schools, where מחרקקים, the most famous doctors of the law, were to reside. It is also foretold, that שילה, Shiloh, shall come from this tribe. This world I translate, the quieter or peace-maker, saviour, from the root שלה, to be quiet and safe. As the Hebrew שלו, and Latin salvus, agree to it both in sound and sense. This is doubtless the Messiah, to whom is promised the gathering, or obedience of the people who were to believe in him, and submit to his precepts. The event ratified this explication. For in very many things the tribe of Judah had the pre-eminence above the others: from that the royal family arose; there, for a long time, was the seat both of empire and religion, and lastly, from the term Judah, the whole nation of Israel had its name. It is also evident and well known that “our Lord sprang out of Judah,” Heb. 7:14, about the time of whose birth, according to the intention of the oracle, the sceptre gradually departed, 1. When Judea was subdued by the victorious arms of Pompey, and Jerusalem taken. 2. When Herod the Idumean was raised to the throne. 3. When Judea was reduced to a Roman province, and annexed to Syria. 4, and lastly. When the city and temple, and the whole Jewish polity were destroyed and overturned by Vespasian. While in the mean time many nations flocked with emulation, from all parts of the world, to the standard of salvation, which was then erected, and gave up their names to Christ.
XXVIII. It will not be improper to inquire into the blessing of the tribe of Naphtali; to see whether we may not possibly find something even there concerning Christ, Gen. 49:21. נפתלי אילה שלוחה הנותן אמרי שפר, “Naphtali is a hind let loose, he giveth gooly words:” for so the passage is commonly rendered. What the Jewish as well as Christian interpreters intended thereby we leave others to find out. In words so very obscure, we apprehend that he who conjectures best is the best interpreter. Jerome, after premising some things, says, it is better, that “we refer the whole to the doctrine which our Saviour taught, for the most part, in the lot of Naphtali;” but he does not properly show how the words can be applied to that. Let us attempt it. We suppose that a part of Galilee fell to the lot of Naphtali; to which belonged the lake of Gennesaret, and in the neighbouring territory Capernaum stood; as Lightfoot proves, Centuria chorographica, Matthæo præmissa, c. 71 and 80; and as appears from Matt. 4:13. where it is said to be “a town on the sea-coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Naphtali; that is, in that part of Naphtali bordering on Zabulon. In that town Christ dwelt, and first preached the gospel, as he likewise did in the adjacent country, according to Isaiah’s prophecy, there quoted by Matthew. And thither a great multitude came from their habitations, quitted their occupations, and flocked with the greatest ardour to hear Christ preach. Let us now see whether that truth be not justly signified by this prophecy of Jacob. “A hind let loose,” of what can this be a more proper emblem, than of some multitude running with the greatest eagerness of mind, to some place or other; especially, where they find fountains of living water to quench their parching thirst: as it is not unusual with the Holy Spirit to compare believers to hinds. See Cant. 2:7, Heb. 3:19, Isa. 35:6. And the Naphtalites may be called a hind let loose, because they were formerly engaged in other pursuits, which could not quench their thirst; but now being stirred up by the gospel, which is the publication of liberty, and breaking through the entanglements of worldly pursuits, they flocked to the Lord Jesus. But by him, “who giveth goodly words,” who can more properly be understood than Christ, into whose “lips grace is poured,” Psa. 45:2, whose “mouth is most sweet,” Cant. 5:16; whose “gracious words,” that is almost literally אמרי שפר, astonished the hearers, Luke 4:22. Moreover it often happens, that in Hebrew the absolute state is put for the constructed; as Buxtorf proves by several examples Grammat. lib. ii. c. 4. So that nothing hinders our construing the words thus: “Naphtali is אילה הנותן, a hind of him that giveth goodly words,” that is, devoted to the most lovely Jesus, and hanging on his gracious liPsa. What favours this interpretation is, that the two hemisticks do not otherwise appear to be well connected; it not being the property of a hind to give goodly words. But if we construe them as I have said, nothing is forced into the text, nothing mean and low is expressed by the prophecy, nothing devised inconsistent with the genius of the Hebrew language; but every word has a signification, both proper and highly emphatical: and seeing they undoubtedly set forth the blessing of Naphtalites, why should we not rather think of some spiritual privilege they had by the Messiah, than of some external and momentary blessing under Barak and Deborah, in which Naphtali had nothing distinguishing above Zabulon? Nor is it so certain that the Naphtalites, as some would gather from this place, were more eloquent than the other Israelites. On the contrary, the people of Galilee, a part of which that tribe occupied, were so impure in their language, and rude in their manners, that they were the derision of the inhabitants of Jerusalem: as Buxtorf largely proves, especially of that part of Galilee in which the Naphtalites dwelt, Lex. Talm. voce גליל. But Barak, say they, was a Naphtalite, who, upon the defeat of Sisera, sung together with Deborah that excellent song of triumph, which we still have in the fifth chapter of Judges. As if it could follow, that the Naphtalites studied eloquence of language, from this single instance of a poem, written not by Barak, but by Deborah the prophetess, who was descended not from the tribe of Naphtali, but of Ephraim: as Bochart. Hierozoic. lib. iii. c. 18, has learnedly observed. Masius also, in his commentaries on the book of Judges, chap. 19 No. 35, proves by several arguments, that these things cannot be applied to Barak and Deborah; with whom Rivet on this place agrees. Nor should any scornfully reject this application made to the doctrine of Christ, as if it was a modern invention, because, besides Jerome, the same application is made by Ambrose and Procopius, as quoted by Cornelius a Lapide. To whom may be added Eucherius, bishop of Lyons, and Peter Martyr. And if Isaiah prophesied concerning Christ’s preaching in the country of Naphtali, why may we not allow that Jacob prophesied concerning the same thing, when he foretold the fate of his children?
XXIX. It is not to be doubted, that these articles of the saving doctrine, which were so carefully handed down by the fathers, were not only preserved in Egypt, and inculcated upon their children, by these pious patriarchs; but also that, among the posterity of Lot, of Ishmael, of Esau, and others, as long as the Gentiles were not entirely rejected, the remains of the same truth eminently shone forth, as appears from Job, from his friends, and from Balaam.
XXX. When Job declared his confidence in God, he called him נוצר האדם, the notzer of Adam, the keeper or preserver of men, Job 7:20. Christ uses the same word, when he expresses his solicitous care for his church, Isa. 27:3, אני יהוה נוצרה, “I Jehovah do keep it.” And the elect, whom Christ bears as it were in his eyes and hands, are called נוצרי ישדאל “the preserved and the saved of Israel.” Isa. 49:6. The denomination Nazarene comes nearest to this term in Hebrew, נוצרי, though it was given to Christ because he dwelt at Nazareth, yet we learn from Matthew that it was mystical, and belonged to the fulfillment of some prophecy. Matt. 2:23. Interpreters endeavour to find this prophecy in more places than one. Some have recourse to the Nazarites of the Old Testament. But these are not called נוצרים, with a tzaddi, as the Jews constantly write the name, Nazarene; but נזירים, with a zain. Others observe, that the Messiah is called Isa. 11:1, and Isa. 60:21, נצד, the branch, from which the name of the town Nazareth is likewise derived. But amidst such diversity of opinions, it is astonishing that but very few have recollected this passage of Job, where there is express mention of the Messiah, under the appellation נוצר, Notzer. At least this passage of Job, and that of Isaiah, with which we compared it, are with no less probability applied to this purpose, than any thing else I have met with among interpreters. Job also professes excellent things concerning the person, offices, and benefits of Christ. Job 16:25, seq. but that passage we have already discussed, book iii. chap. ii. sect. 19.
XXXI. Let us add Elihu’s commendation of the Messiah. Job 33:23, 24: “If there be מלאך, [an angel] a messenger with him, מליץ, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to show unto man his uprightness: then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver [redeem] him from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom.” Elihu here speaks of a man, who was brought by afflictions and disease almost to the gates of death; and shows how he may be saved from death both of soul and body. If Elihu had any knowledge of the Messiah, certainly this was the place to speak concerning him. And since every word is so framed, as to suit none more properly than the Messiah, to whom can they be better applied than to him? Elihu sets forth in a concise manner. I. The excellence of the Messiah. II. His offices. III. His benefits.
XXXII. He proclaims the excellence of the Messiah, calling him אחד מני אלף, one of a thousand. Where thousand is a definite number, put for an indefinite; as if he had said, one above others, let them be ever so many. There are indeed very many who may be called angels and interpreters; and though these names may be given to thousands, yet this person is not to be among the number of a thousand others, because he excels them all in respect of nature, dignity, and efficacy, being אחר, only one, among so many others.
XXXIII. He first set before us, under a general appellation, the offices of the Messiah, and then more particularly explains them. In general he calls him מלאך, an angel, because Christ was sent by the Father, and spoke and acted with men in the Father’s name. In Mal. 3:3, he is called the Angel of the Covenant. Nevertheless, he is so the Angel of Jehovah, that, at the same time, he is himself Jehovah, Zech. 3:1, 2.; in “whom is the name of Jehovah,” Exod. 23:21; and who “is by so much more excellent than all other angels, as he obtained a more excellent name than they,” Heb. 1:4. Christ was called an angel before his incarnation, because he often appeared as angels usually did; and because he then performed those things which depended on his future mission in the flesh.
XXXIV. But then more particularly, his prophetical office is signified when he is called מליץ, interpreter, a teacher, compare Isa. 43:27. namely, because he is המדבר, “he that doth speak,” Isa. 52:6; ὁ λογος του Θεου, the word of God, whose office is to “declare the Father,” John 1:18. Nay, he who speaks plainly, and interprets dark sayings. For this is the meaning of מליצה a clear saying; to which is opposed חידה, a dark saying, Prov. 1:6. Moreover, it belongs to Christ as a prophet, to declare unto man his righteousness, externally by his word, internally by his Spirit, by which we may understand, either the righteousness of God demanding satisfaction for sin, and even chastising his elect on that account, or the righteousness, of Christ himself, or his satisfactory righteousness, which is the only meritorious cause of our salvation; or in a word, the righteousness of man, that is, the practice of faith and repentance. There is none of all these things which Christ does not teach his people.
XXXV. 2dly, The office of redeemer, because to him is ascribed פדעה or פדות, both signifying the same thing, כופר. The former word denotes redemption from guilt, from his obligation to, and from the power of, another; properly, indeed, that which is effected by a price, as Psa. 49:7, where פדיוך and כופר, price of redemption, are joined; improperly, that which is brought about by a greater power, opposed to the power of an unjust detainer, as Deut. 9:26. “פריתה בנדלך,” thou hast redeemed through thy greatness;” that is, as it is explained, Neh. 1:10. “בכחך הגדיל ובידך ההזקה,” by thy great power and by thy strong hand.” Both these ways of redemption are applicable to the Messiah, who, on paying the price, purchases the freedom of his people, and by a strong hand applies it to them. The term כופר generally signifies a price by which any one may be appeased, and the punishment bought off. Christ paid that price, when he gave his “life a ransom for many,” Matt. 20:28.
XXXVI. But interpreters are not agreed, whether those words, deliver or redeem him, are the words of Christ, interceding with the Father; or the words of the Father addressed to Christ. Those who maintain the former, explain them thus: Redeem him, that is, by “thine infinite power deliver him from the evil with which he is pressed down, and which otherwise hangs over him; for I myself have undertaken to satisfy thy justice, and in that satisfaction there is λύτρον, the ransom, which I have found, that is, which I know to be full and complete; or which I have found, that is, have discovered to him for whom I intercede, that he may apprehend it by faith.” Compare Heb. 9:12, “having obtained eternal redemption.” They who choose the latter, think that the meaning of the words is this: “Do thou, O Christ, redeem this wretched man, apply to him the efficacy of thy merits, I have no longer any objection to his happiness; for I have found a ransom, I have considered and weighed the satisfaction thou hast made for man, and have found it to be such as my justice required, that is, highly sufficient.” Whatever way we take the words, they yield a very suitable meaning.
XXXVII. There are two benefits mentioned. 1st, The mercy of God, if there be a messenger (an angel) with him, an interpreter; this is the protasis, or first proposition; and, or then, he is gracious unto him; this is the apodosis, or latter proposition. He shows that it is not otherwise possible for man to obtain mercy of God, unless there be some angel intercessor, who, by his atonement and intercession, may restore him to the favour of God; nay, unless that angel be with him, עליו, by his gracious presence, and by his aid and assistance. For על is often the same as with: as Gen. 18:8, Judges. 3:16, and other places; and here it seems most properly applicable to the man spoken of. If, among the numbers who surround the sick person’s bed, and who can only comfort him in his sickness with medicines, that shall avail him nothing, or entertain him with frivolous, idle discourse, this one of a thousand be present, by his counsel, help, and intercession, the man will then be exceedingly refreshed with the fruits of divine mercy; even deliverance from the pit or corruption, that is, from death, both temporal and eternal.
XXXVIII. None have occasion to despise these things as if they were modern inventions, for certainly Gregory applies them at large to Christ. “For who,” says he, “is that angel, but he who by the prophet is called the angel of the covenant? For, seeing to evangelize in the Greek signifies to declare as a messenger, our Lord, who delivers his message to us, is called the angel.” He also more clearly observes, “there are who, by angel, understand Christ, the angel of the great council, by whom we are justified;” see, above all, the commentary of Sebastian Schmidius, a divine of Strasburg.
XXXIX. Let us add to these Balaam’s prophecy concerning the Messiah, which he delivered in magnificent language, Numb. 24:15–19: “Balaam, the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open, hath said: he hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the Most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: I shall see him (it) but not now: I shall behold him (it) but not nigh: there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies, and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city.”
XL. The author of this prophecy is Balaam, whom, from an ancient tradition of the Jews, Jerome and Eucherius will have to be the same with Elihu, whose testimony concerning Christ we have just explained. But Frederic Spanheim, the son, in his history of Job, c. 15 § 18, 19, has learnedly shown the sillyness of that tradition, and that there is no resemblance between Elihu and Balaam. Here Balaam mightily extols himself, in order to gain the greater credit and authority to his prophecy; and though it is not without affectation and vain glory that he uttered these haughty encomiums of himself, yet by them God was pleased to ratify what he resolved to teach us by the mouth of the prophet. He calls himself the man whose eyes were open, that is, endowed with prophetic light to discern things which were concealed from others: hearing the words of God, to whom God familiarly imparted his secrets. Knowing the knowledge of the Most High, knowing, from divine revelation, those things which, in other respects, God alone knows. Seeing the vision of the Almighty, like a prophet of the true God, according to Numb. 12:6: “I make myself known unto him in a vision.” Falling into a trance, but having his eyes open, who falls into a sleep, or an ecstasy, and yet has the eyes of his mind open. Whatever be the case as to his other prophecies, it is certainly not to be doubted, but he delivered this prophecy by a divine impulse.
XLI. He premises, that what he had a prospect of in spirit was not nigh: “I see it but not now, I behold it but not nigh.” He gives warning of this beforehand, in order partly to embellish his prophecy, which reached forwards to things so distant; partly to shun envy, and to comfort Balak, whom he endeavoured to gratify as much as he could. However, he also comes up to the style of the holy prophets; who usually refer what they prophesy concerning the Messiah to the latter days.
XLII. But what is the subject of his prophecy? “A star,” says he, “shall come out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.” This might be understood literally, and in a diminutive sense, concerning David, who was, as it were, a kind of light shining in darkness, and who obtained the sceptre of Israel by a series of astonishing providences; who also smote the Moabites, and made them tributary, 2 Sam. 8:2. Hence he says, “Moab is my wash-pot,” Psa. 140:10, that is, does me the offices of the meanest drudgery, is placed at my feet, as a vessel, in which I usually wash them. But these things have a higher view. And David, in this respect, can only be considered as the type of a more excellent person. The star, therefore, and sceptre, signify Christ the Lord, who is both the light of his people, by the demonstration of the truth, and their manifold consolation by his word and Spirit, “the bright and morning star,” Rev. 22:16. and the Sceptred King; King of kings and Lord of Lords, Rev. 19:16. He came out of Jacob and rose out of Israel. For the Lord raised up that prophet. “from the midst of his brethren,” Deut. 18:15; “and the glorious one of Israel shall be of him, and the governor shall proceed from the midst of him,” Jer. 30:21; “who is over all, God blessed for ever; but from the fathers as concerning the flesh,” Rom. 9:5.
XLIII. The works ascribed to him are these two: 1st, The smiting (breaking) of the sides or corners of Moab. That is, the subduing of those who were before sworn enemies to himself and his church. And that two ways, either by grace, when, by his word and Spirit, he subdues them to the obedience of faith, so that they willingly submit to his sceptre, “casting down every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ,” 2 Cor. 10:5. Or, in a way of justice and vengeance, when he subdues the obstinate, and forces them, however unwillingly, to acknowledge his power and supereminence, “breaking them with a rod of iron, dashing them in pieces like a potter’s vessel,” Psa. 2:9. But the Moabites are here mentioned as an instance, because Balaam was at that time principally concerned with them. 2dly, “The destruction of all the children of Seth.” This signifies his triumph over all men, whom he shall subdue to himself, either by his grace or by his righteous vengeance. Because all men in the world are propagated from Seth; while the progeny of Cain, and of the other sons of Adam, perished in the deluge. From Seth, Noah descended, and all mankind from Noah, so that we are all the children of Seth. But we shall all be made subject to Christ, “who shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father: when he shall have put down all rule, and authority, and power,” 1 Cor. 15:24.
XLIV. In the last place, he shows the time and nature of Christ’s kingdom; when Israel shall do valiantly against his enemies, by shaking off the tyrannical yoke of Antiochus and others: when Edom and Seir, a noted mountain of Idumea, shall become the possession of Israel; which happened under the second temple, when the Idumeans were subdued, and submitting to circumcision and the other Jewish rites, were added to the republic of Israel; as not only Josephus, but also Strabo relates, Geogr. lib. xvi. “They joined themselves to the Jews, and had laws in common with them.” When, I say, all these things shall happen, “out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion:” namely, that great ruler, that “mighty one of Jacob,” Isa. 60:16; “whose right it is, and I will give it him,” Ezek. 21:27. “He shall destroy him that remaineth of the city.” He will overthrow the city, and all human power which shall made head against him to the utmost: “For he bringeth down them that dwell on high, the lofty city he layeth it low, he layeth it low, even to the ground, he bringeth it even to the dust. The foot shall tread it down, even the feet of the poor, and the steps of the needy,” Isa. 26:5, 6. And thus we have carried down the doctrine of salvation in one continued series to the times of Moses.