From Whitla’s introduction to Isaac Newton, Observations Upon The Prophecies Of Daniel and The Apocalypse Of St. John – Back to Table of Contents of the Introduction
THE following brief study of the nature and functions of Prophecy is necessarily more or less incomplete, as the main object before us is to clear the way for the better understanding of the predictions contained in the book of Daniel.
The common view, not only the view of the man in the street, but often that also of the man in the pew, is that Prophecy is mainly a matter of the foretelling of events. If you take this narrow view you are liable to find yourself confusing Prophecy with soothsaying, divination, and fortune-telling and the various methods of prying into the future which are forbidden by the law of Moses, and which history proves were practised by the heathen peoples from the earliest times. The Bible tells us also that these practices were resorted to by the Israelites themselves.
We need not pause to speculate about the possibility of a faculty being possessed by some aberrantly-developed individuals, or mediums, by means of which they can foretell future events. If such a power exists and it is more than doubtful it is something very different, being condemned by that very law which was the governing principle in the conduct and life of every true prophet in the Old Testament record, save perhaps Balaam.
“There shall not be found among you any one that useth divination “; and then follows the denunciation of six other special methods of spying into the unknown future.
Primarily the prophet’s function was to instruct the people by revealing God’s law to them, to unfold the meaning of His Kingdom, and His dealings with them, and
45 especially to warn them of the results of disobedience and idolatry. The mere prediction or foretelling of events still in the future, and of stating when these events would occur, must be regarded as of great, but yet of less, importance than the revelation of Himself and of His Kingdom.
The first cardinal point in the study of Prophecy is to grasp that the prophetic office was confined or limited to the Hebrews. These were a chosen race, an elect people, a pure Theocracy a state or nation with God Himself as their ruler or head. There is no instance in the Bible of a prophet being sent to the heathen world with a message save in the case of Jonah. Many predictions occur about the fate of heathen nations, but these always had close relationship with the destinies of Israel, and they never were propagated as a gospel to those nations. Daniel had his visions and wrote his prophecies in Babylon, the then home of the Jews.
We may regard the entire machinery of Prophecy contained in the Oracles of God as a mighty organ with the pipes as the long succession of men from Enoch to Malachi, and onwards to John of Patmos. God stretches forth His hand, from time to time, and touches the keyboard when the mighty diapason rolls out with the thunder of Sinai, unfolding the Law, or the plaintive notes of Jeremiah bewail the sins and desolations of His people. Anon come pealing forth stern notes of anger, or trumpet tones of warning; but ever in the interludes He plays on those keys which breathe sweet symphonies of hope and comfort predicting the coming of a Messiah and swelling into the triumphant promises of a return of His chosen people to the cherished land that He had sworn to be the heritage of their ancestors and their descendants for ever.
I employ this figure not as a mere poetic flourish, but because my study of Prophecy has convinced me that the prophets were the mere mouthpieces of God’s revelation and that in many cases, especially in their remote prophecies, they had little or possibly no understanding of the real meaning of the message delivered through them, as we observe in some of Daniel’s visions. They spake as the Holy Spirit breathed upon them in sleep, in dreams, or visions of the night, or, as in the wakeful hours He played upon His chosen instrument. The communication was, however, always accompanied by an unmistakable sensation which convinced the prophet that God had spoken to him directly and given him the command immediately to arise and proclaim the message which he had received.