Part 3 The Eternal Issues


Chapter 25.

Old Testament Shadows

We have mentioned it as an apparent contradiction to our view of the limited range of the Old Testament future, that the belief of the people plainly went beyond it. Not only does the epistle to the Hebrews tell us that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob confessed themselves pilgrims upon earth, and looked for a "heavenly country"; but also the very word used by our Lord for hell — Gehenna — seems to have been in use among the people before our Lord's time in that very way.* This implies a knowledge apparently in opposition to the statements of the last chapters. But any one need only read carefully the first half of the book of Genesis, to be quite clear at least as to Abraham that there is no promise at all of heaven to him recorded there. How then did he obtain the assurance of there being in store for him "a heavenly country"?

{* It is used in the Targum of Jonathan, and in the Mishna, as well as commonly by the Jewish doctors since. It is not used in the Septuagint, save once gaienna in Joshua 18:1.6, for the literal "valley of Hinnom."}

One of two things, could alone be supposed. There was either an unrecorded promise; or else he must have been given to see very plainly the typical character of things which we know were types of the very truths which the New Testament shows us he had received. Abraham's call to Canaan was the perfect symbol of our "heavenly calling," but how he could have understood it so, we may be at a loss to comprehend. Yet some things there were that might have aided greatly in this.

Man had been shut out of Paradise two thousand years before, and Revelation ends with the picture of another Paradise, heavenly, not earthly, into which those that have "washed their robes" in the blood of the Lamb shall be admitted. No one doubts, save an infidel, that here again the first garden of God was a type of the other. Had the secret then been shut up those two thousand years, — absolutely shut up — that there was in it some such meaning?

Our suppositions in such a matter may not possess much value; but we are seeking to account in this way for a fact at least not to be denied, of Abraham's having a knowledge of that which certainly does not appear upon the face of the inspired record. And, our attention being turned to this, we cannot but notice how much the divine way was in those early days to teach by type and figure. Did Abel know nothing of the significance of that "more excellent sacrifice" which by faith he offered? And if the "seed of the woman" spoke, as we know it did speak, of a deliverer to come, it spoke still in the language of type of the bruising of the serpent's head. In Abraham's vision it was a figure spoke, though with some interpretation (Gen. 15). So Jacob's ladder; and still more the mysterious night-wrestling, with its consequence of a halting thigh. Joseph's dreams still exemplify this way of the divine teaching: and so the dreams which he interprets. In these and similar instances we find not merely the use of type and figure, but of these as things whose significance was known to the people in whose time they happened. They show us that these were the language of the day, certainly not wholly unintelligible when first uttered, however much the full mystery waited for revelation, when the appointed time should be come.

Still more would this be so as the word of God grew gradually to its full proportion, and the meaning of the law came to be unfolded by the prophets, partial though the unfolding were. And though the people were indeed blind and carnal, even this would not hinder the attainment of a certain body of truth as orthodoxy, while the point and power of it as bearing practically upon themselves might be denied. Such exactly was the later Pharisaism which carried with it the mass of the people. And such, in the history of the Christian church, was the Nicene orthodoxy.

We may thus account then for a knowledge in Israel beyond the apparent measure of the revelation that had been made to them. We have only to suppose (what is otherwise indicated also) that the great system of types which their law embodied was not wholly unknown to them; and while the ministry of death and condemnation was allowed to have its full effect, and the consistency of purpose was maintained throughout, the light was allowed in another way to shine, even if dimly, through the wonderful imagery in the midst of which they moved.

This was surely divine wisdom. But let us seek to realize a little how far beyond the usual thought of it, this typical character of the Old Testament books extends.

All must of course admit (who are not infidels) the figurative nature of the tabernacle and temple service. Priest, altar, sacrifice and sanctuary we must allow to have their inner meaning, for the New Testament so reads them all. But the New Testament finds such also in far other things: in the details of Israel's history, their Passover and Red Sea deliverance, the manna, the water from the rock. "All these things," says the apostle, "happened unto them for ensamples (literally, types), and are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world (or ages) are come" (1 Cor. 10:11). But this typical teaching is not even confined to Israel's history: we have similar explanations as to Adam and his wife (Rom. 5, Eph. 5), the flood and the ark (1 Peter Melchizedek (Heb. 7), Abraham's wives and sons (Gal 4), with more than a hint as to the offering up of Isaac (Gal. 3:16, 17). Thus the history itself (while of course true and divine) is typical and prophetic also.

Guided thus far by the word of God, are we to stop where the actual explanation stops, and view the rest of it as history simply; or are we to take this explanation rather as the establishment of a principle which is applicable all through the historical books? On the one hand, we must remember that many of the parables given us by our Lord are given without interpretation, and that we are left to find this in the figurative meaning of words elsewhere, and the doctrine of Scripture generally. On the other hand, who could ignore a deeper meaning in such a story as that of Joseph, for which meaning yet no express warrant of inspiration can be produced?

It seems plain then that we are to apply the principle to the history in general. And here what a field of research presents itself, and how marvellously light breaks out in new and unlooked for places in the Old Testament!

From the first Eden, over now six thousand years, we look on to another, brighter and more blessed, God's own Paradise; where the tree of life, in new luxuriance and beauty, hangs its glorious fruitage over the perpetual stream that flows from the throne of God itself. Who can miss the comparison, albeit no doubt there is contrast also, between these two? Who can fail to see that the one is designed to be the shadow of the other; and that the contrast is but to remind us that the first is only the shadow, and cannot be the very image of that before whose transcendent beauty all pictures and forecasts fail? The first scene is the earthly and the fleeting; the second heavenly and eternal. Earth is made the mirror of heaven, as indeed to mortal eyes (it would seem) must be, to convey to us what "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard," but which "God hath (nevertheless) revealed to us by His Spirit."

When we look further at the New Testament vision of the New Jerusalem, we find a new and most interesting link with the Old Testament. Let any one compare that picture of future blessedness with which Ezekiel closes, with this closing scene of our last Apocalypse, and say if the correspondence between the two can possibly be undesigned. The waters flowing from the house of the Lord, in Ezekiel, bring life even into the salt sea; "and by the river upon the bank thereof on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary, and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine" (Ezek. 47:12). Who can refuse the connection with the account in Revelation: "And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (Rev. 22:1, 2).

Yet there are contrasts also between the two descriptions. In the one case there are limits to the blessing which we do not find in the other, as, for instance, the marshy places are yet given to salt (Ezek. 47:11); and the one is connected with an earthly city and a temple, while in the "heavenly Jerusalem." no temple is seen (Rev. 21:22).

Thus here again we find the true characters of Old Testament types. The earthly is the pattern of the heavenly. The law has a shadow of good things to come, but not the very image (Heb. 10:1).

But then this shows us that not only the past history but the prophetic future also contains its types. And that the millennial age, which the prophecy in Ezekiel speaks of is in part at least a picture for earth's inhabitants of things outside of earth. Visible signs of divine power* will bring them face to face as it were with eternal realities. It will be in short, in a very important way, a final dispensation of sight, as those preceding it have been of faith. Introduced by the appearing of Christ, and the manifestation of the risen and perfected sons of God, the reign of righteousness will be maintained by as manifest a display of divine authority. And as on the one hand we have seen in Ezekiel pictured the blessings which reflect the heavenly and eternal ones, so on the other hand does Isaiah show us the shadow of its awful opposite, by which men will be brought as it were face to face with "eternal judgment": —

{*So, Heb. 6:5, miracles are called "powers of the world (or age) to come."}

"And it shall come to pass that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord. And they shall go forth and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh" (Isa. 66:23, 24).

Now these are words in part quoted by our Lord in reference to another judgment, of which the scene in Isaiah is only the earthly type. We shall shortly consider the difference between His words and those of the Old Testament prophet: for there is here (as before in the blessing) a contrast between the Old Testament and the New. But in Isaiah it is evidently an earthly scene, and a literal one:no mere figure, as Mr. Dobney with others supposes, of "the complete triumph of the cause of true religion." The solemn words will not admit of being explained in this way. It would not give them meaning but evacuate it. And yet what is surely a reality is also a symbol too. It is the designed contrast, openly manifested to the eyes of all in that day, with the living water flowing from Jerusalem. There was the symbol of eternal life, and here the shadow of the second death. Each with its tale to tell in the ears of the millennial nations, — this warning, that inviting: God's last appeal to man this side of eternity.

This then finally gives us the Old Testament with some completeness, and in full harmony with itself, and with that later revelation which supplements it, in which both life and incorruption are fully brought to light, and also the second death is seen to be what the first shadows, as it is that to which finally also it gives place. We must not even here, however, expect to have done with figures, for still we see in part and we prophesy in part, and the things with which we have to do are still seen but "through a glass, darkly" — in a riddle or enigma.

But whatever is given by inspiration of God is given for our instruction, and we must patiently and humbly take God's word as He has written it, and see if it deals in "ambiguous metaphors," and whether perhaps we may not find there the truth of which we are in search.