Prophecy: Fulfilled historically or spiritually?

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blhowes

Puritan Board Professor
One of the biggest challenges I find when reading the prophetic books in the OT is to try and figure out whether a prophecy was fulfilled literally in OT times, or if it has a spiritual fulfillment, or some combination of the two.

I was wondering if anybody has any recommendations, preferably online (funds are tight), of sources I can use to help me better understand the OT history from the time the prophets wrote forward? When God pronounces a judgment on Israel, Babylon, or whoever, I'd like to better understand their history so I can see what was fulfilled literally and what wasn't.

Again, I prefer something online, but I'd also be interested in other sources that are worth saving up for.

Thanks,
Bob

[Edited on 3-16-2004 by blhowes]
 

Guest

Puritan Board Freshman
[quote:f843b38155]
One of the biggest challenges I find when reading the prophetic books in the OT is to try and figure out whether a prophecy was fulfilled literally in OT times, or if it has a spiritual fulfillment, or some combination of the two.

[/quote:f843b38155]

Both.

Everytime someone is saved prophecy is fulfilled again.

Most prophecies have multiple fulfillments.

I do not know of any other resources regarding this. Someone else can help you there.

I suggest reading through scriptures, and when you come across a prophecy, write down historically as many times you can think of of its fulfilment. Keep a notebook of these patterns and fulfillments and you will begin to see how God is unfolding redemptive history and building the kingdom of God.

And if you find some that seem not to be fullfilled write them down also. THose you can come back to and meditate on more.

Think about prophecy in terms of realized millenialism.
 

blhowes

Puritan Board Professor
Mark,
Thanks for your response and your advice.

[b:f6026b2fee]Mark wrote:[/b:f6026b2fee]
...when you come across a prophecy, write down historically as many times you can think of of its fulfilment...

Therein lies the problem. Since I'm really am not familiar with the history (other than what you read in Kings, Chronicles, etc), nothing much comes to mind with regard to the historical fulfillment. When God pronounces judgment on Moab, for example, I really don't have much of a feel for those people historically to relate the prophecy to historical events. I usually assume that some of the details happened historically and some didn't, but nailing down which are which would be like flipping a coin. It would be good to improve the odds a bit with a little knowledge.

Bob
 

Guest

Puritan Board Freshman
There ia a good reference called the "Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge" that I find more helpful than a concordance. It cross references scriptures by Place, topic, and theme.

Very useful for the type of research you are trying to do.

A good Bible dictionary for the background on peoples cities and mthologies will also help.

[Edited on 3-16-2004 by Visigoth]
 

blhowes

Puritan Board Professor
[b:947501a196]Mark wrote:[/b:947501a196]
There ia a good reference called the "Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge" that I find more helpful than a concordance. It cross references scriptures by Place, topic, and theme. Very useful for the type of research you are trying to do.

Now that's a good idea. I have it loaded into e-Sword already, but haven't used it yet. I'll have to explore its usefulness.

Bob
 

blhowes

Puritan Board Professor
Paul,
Thanks for the book recommendations. They look like they'd be very interesting reading.

I especially think The Shadow of Christ in The Law of Moses would be fascinating to read. Amazon.com has the table of contents for the book listed, and it looks awesome.

Bob
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Bob:

Some helpful online works are:

[1] The John-Revelation Project on the web site of Knox Seminary provides some good insights into hermeneutics:
http://www.knoxseminary.org/Prospective/Faculty/FacultyForum/JohnRevelationProject/index.html

[2] The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis
http://home.zonnet.nl/chotki/superiority_of_pre.htm

Note that there are one or two liberal comments that should be ignored. But his writing is otherwise faithful to the apostolic and patristic understanding of scripture.


[3] David Chilton's (a) Paradise Restored and (b) Day of Vengence on www.freebooks.com also has some great principles and application. Both are free. Both have introductory sections describing how to interpret prophecy.

Scott

[Edited on 3-17-2004 by Scott]
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Bob:

There are different kinds of prophecy in the Old Testament. The most commonly discussed ones are what some have termed prophecy by words. This is where God verbally says what is going to happen in the future. For example, God provides a verbal message to the prophet Isaiah foretelling that a virgin will be with child. Later, the Virgin Mary did have a child.

In addition to prophecy by words, there are also prophecies by deeds. For example, in Galatians 4, Paul explains the very lives and deeds and Sarah and her children prophesied spiritual realities, including the coming of the New Covenant. The deeds of living and breathing people prophetically represented future spiritual realities.

Sometimes we encounter combinations of the two. For example, there may be a verbal prophecy of an event, like the fall of Babylon. It applies immediately and directly to Babylon. Yet, the event of the fall itself also applies to future judgment of some sort. So, the two are wraped up into one. Scripture has many layers of meaning. I will give an example in the next post.

Scott

[Edited on 3-17-2004 by Scott]
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
I thought it might be helpful to look at a specific New Testament example as well. Let's look at Matthew 2:15, which reads: "So [Joseph] got up, took the child [Jesus] and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called my son .'" On the surface, it could appear that Matthew was quoting a prophecy of the Messiah. He is not.

Matthew's quote refers to Hosea 11:1. Hosea 11:1-2 reads: "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me." Notice that in Hosea 11:1 the "son" being called out of Egypt is the nation of Israel, not the Messiah. Further, Hosea 11:1 is not a prophecy or prediction. It refers to something that happened in Israel's past (before the time of Hosea). It describes God's great and mighty work of delivering Israel from the bondage and slavery to Egypt. This mighty deed was called the Exodus. Matthew applies Hosea's comment on the Exodus to Jesus, who "fulfills" it.

If you examine Matthew closely you will see that he draws an extensive parallel between the life of Israel as a nation and the life of Christ. The very action and events of Israel prefigured Christ - a prophecy by deed so to speak. The calling out of Egypt is just one aspect of that. Other aspects seen in Matthew are:


· Israel experienced the loss of her infant children due the order of wicked Pharaoh that male infants be executed. Trying to kill Jesus, Herod ordered the death of all male infants.

· Israel crossed the Red Sea. Ex. 14. Jesus is baptized. Mat. 3:1ff. (see also 1 Cor. 10:1-2,which expressly connects the crossing of the Red Sea with baptism).

· After crossing the Red Sea, Israel enters the wilderness for 40 years of temptation. After his baptism, Jesus immediately retreats to the wilderness for 40 days and is tempted by Satan.

· Israel's first temptation involves Israel grumbling against God for food. Exodus 16. Jesus' first temptation involves Satan's challenge to have the fasting Jesus change stones into bread to satisfy His hunger. Jesus quotes Deut. 8:3, an Old Testament passage involving Israel's first temptation: "Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." Deut. 8:2-3.

· Israel's second temptation involves Israel putting the Lord to the test during their wilderness journey, at Massah, where Israel grumbled for water which God later gave them out of a stone. Exodus 17. Jesus quotes Deut. 6:16, which involves Israel's temptation at Massah: "Do not test the Lord your God as you did at Massah."

· Israel's third temptation involves idolatry, the golden calf. Exodus 32. Jesus' third temptation involves idolatry: worship of Satan. Jesus quotes an Old Testament passage referencing Israel's wilderness temptations.

· Israel fails every test. As a consequence God's curse fell on Israel: ". . . God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert." 1 Cor.10:5. Jesus succeeded at every test. As a consequence, God blessed Him and angels came and ministered to Him. Matt. 4:11.

Hope this is helpful.

Scott
 

blhowes

Puritan Board Professor
Scott,
Thanks so much for your posts. They sure are helpful and very interesting.

I haven't had a chance to look at the second link or the two books yet, but the link to the John-Revelation project looks like it'll be interesting to read. I especially thought that the information in part 3 (?) was fascinating where he compared verses in John with corresponding verses in Revelation.

I was wondering if you or others had any thoughts about the Babylonina captivity and how it relates to NT events. I'm reading through the book of Jeremiah and the more I read it, the more it reminds me of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Jeremiah had told the Jews that Jerusalem was going to be attacked, burned with fire, etc. by the Babylonians. The way of deliverance was to leave Jerusalem and submit to the Babylonians.

I know there's a lot of controversy about the Olivet discourse, but in many ways the Babylonian captivity reminds me of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Jesus taught them that when they saw the abomination of desolation, to flee Judah and head for the mountains. This is interpretted differently by different people, but, from what I remember from reading parts of Josephus' accounts of the war, there was a lull in the action when many Christians heeded Jesus' words to flee, inspite of the fact that many false prophets were telling the people not to leave, but to go to the temple area where God would bring the deliverance from the enemy. Those who heeded Jesus' word and left, were delivered. Others who didn't heed Jesus' warning, stayed and were slaughtered when the Romans attacked again.

Bob

[Edited on 3-17-2004 by blhowes]
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
One of the things interesting to redemptive history is that patterns emerge. These patterns provide indications and suggestions about higher spiritual meanings. One example is the Virgin Birth.

The story of Jesus' birth follows a common pattern developed in the Old Testament. There are numerous stories that include all or nearly all of these elements: (1) a barren woman, (2) who receives an announcement from a godly messenger that she will bear a child, (3) she does bear a child and the child is a savior, and (4) the mother responds in praise. These women include Sarah, Hannah, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah's wife, and Elizabeth.

Mary and Jesus are the climax of this pattern and they exceed all of forerunners. Mary is a virgin with child - a natural impossibility. In the past, barren women had become fertile and produced children in the ordinary way. The message Mary receives is greater than the messages received by the earlier women. She is told of the coming work of her son - which far exceeded anything produced by Israel's greatest heroes. Further, as we learn later in the gospels, Mary's child actually does accomplish infinitely more than any of the saviors borne to her predecessors. The earlier children, forerunners of Jesus, achieved mainly earthly successes such as localized military, political, or economic victories, whereas Jesus would actually save His people from sin and then was placed at the right hand of God to rule over all nations with an iron rod (which he is currently doing)! Mary's praise in her Magnificat exceeds those of her forerunners and she will be called blessed by all future generations.

Anyway, I think the existence of similarities and patterns is common in many areas. I have not been able to devote much attention to judgments, but fully expect to find the same thing. In other words, there are a series of judgments in the Old Testament that all point toward something more. God works in patterns to alert us (obscurly and vaguely) to higher truths. I expect all judgments point in some way to the final judgment. Therefore it would not surprise me if the Babylonian judgment is similar to the judgment on Jerusalem, both of which will have some shadowy similarity to the final judgment.

Scott
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Bob:

Another work to read is Augustine's City of God. Here is a great excerpt (from Book 17, Ch. 3) adressing three different types of prophecy. Like other patristics, Augustine understood the layered meaning of scripture. The book is available free online at www.ccel.org. I am sure your local library would have it too.

As a word of background, Augustine (rightly, I think) views heavenly Jerusalem as the organized Christian Church. Eathly Jerusalem refers to Israel's literal capital. You may know this but, if not, it will help understand what he is saying.

"Wherefore just as that divine oracle to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the other prophetic signs or sayings which are given in the earlier sacred writings, so also the other prophecies from this time of the kings pertain partly to the nation of Abraham's flesh, and partly to that seed of his in which all nations are blessed as fellow-heirs of Christ by the New Testament, to the possessing of eternal life and the kingdom of the heavens. Therefore they pertain partly to the bond maid who gendereth to bondage, that is, the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; but partly to the free city of God, that is, the true Jerusalem eternal in the heavens, whose children are all those that live according to God in the earth: but there are some things among them which are understood to pertain to both,-to the bond maid properly, to the free woman figuratively.4
Therefore prophetic utterances of three kinds are to be found; forasmuch as there are some relating to the earthly Jerusalem, some to the heavenly, and some to both. I think it proper to prove what I say by examples. The prophet Nathan was sent to convict king David of heinous sin, and predict to him what future evils should be consequent on it. Who can question that this and the like pertain to the terrestrial city, whether publicly, that is, for the safety or help of the people, or privately, when there are given forth for each one's private good divine utterances whereby something of the future may be known for the use of temporal life? But where we read, "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make for the house of Israel, and for the house of Judah, a new testament: not according to the testament that I settled for their fathers in the day when I laid hold of their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my testament, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the testament that I will make for the house of Israel: after those days, saith the Lord, I will give my laws in their mind, and will write them upon their hearts, and I will see to them; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people;"5 -without doubt this is prophesied to the Jerusalem above, whose reward is God Himself, and whose chief and entire good it is to have Him, and to be His. But this pertains to both, that the city of God is called Jerusalem, and that it is prophesied the house of God shall be in it; and this prophecy seems to be fulfilled when king Solomon builds that most noble temple. For these things both happened in the earthly Jerusalem, as history shows, and were types of the heavenly Jerusalem. And this kind of prophecy, as it were compacted and commingled of both the others in the ancient canonical books, containing historical narratives, is of very great significance, and has exercised and exercises greatly the wits of those who search holy writ. For example, what we read of historically as predicted and fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to, the flesh, we must also inquire the allegorical meaning of, as it is to be fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to faith. And so much is this the case, that some have thought there is nothing in these books either foretold and effected, or effected although not foretold, that does not insinuate something else which is to be referred by figurative signification to the city of God on high, and to her children who are pilgrims in this life. But if this be so, then the utterances of the prophets, or rather the whole of those Scriptures that are reckoned under the title of the Old Testament, will be not of three, but of two different kinds. For there will be nothing there which pertains to the terrestrial Jerusalem only, if whatever is there said and fulfilled of or concerning her signifies something which also refers by allegorical prefiguration to the celestial Jerusalem; but there will be only two kinds one that pertains to the free Jerusalem, the other to both. But just as, I think, they err greatly who are of opinion that none of the records of affairs in that kind of writings mean anything more than that they so happened, so I think those very daring who contend that the whole gist of their contents lies in allegorical significations. Therefore I have said they are threefold, not two-fold. Yet, in holding this opinion, I do not blame those who may be able to draw out of everything there a spiritual meaning, only saving, first of all, the historical truth. For the rest, what believer can doubt that those things are spoken vainly which are such that, whether said to have been done or to be yet to come, they do not beseem either human or divine affairs? Who would not recall these to spiritual understanding if he could, or confess that they should be recalled by him who is able?"
 

cupotea

Puritan Board Junior
[i:d2e8d72688]Biblical Hermeneutics[/i:d2e8d72688] by Milton S. Terry [Academie Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1983] addresses this issue. Terry believes that all prophecy has one fulfillment in that fulfillment means to "fill to the full."

It's a good read and gives much food for thought, if you can find it.
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
"Terry believes that all prophecy has one fulfillment in that fulfillment means to 'fill to the full.'"

The article on pre-critical exegesis may be helpful in understanding whether the above idea is consistent with biblical hermeneutics.

Scott
 

blhowes

Puritan Board Professor
[b:310079ed28]ss385tm wrote:[/b:310079ed28]
Biblical Hermeneutics by Milton S. Terry...addresses this issue. Terry believes that all prophecy has one fulfillment in that fulfillment means to "fill to the full." It's a good read and gives much food for thought, if you can find it.

I found a [u:310079ed28]copy of part of the book [/u:310079ed28] online - enough to wet my interest. Looks like from the table of contents that it has a lot to say about hermeneutics.

[b:310079ed28]Scott wrote:[/b:310079ed28]
[2] The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis
http://home.zonnet.nl/chotki/superiority_of_pre.htm

That was a pretty interesting article. From what you know about David Steinmetz, what does he believe about the creation account in Genesis 1? After quoting Origen:

[quote:310079ed28]
Now what man of intelligence will believe that the first and the second and the third day, and the evening and the morning existed without the sun and moon and stars? And that the first day, if we may so call it, was even without a heaven? And who is so silly as to believe that God, after the manner of a farmer, "planted a paradise eastward in Eden," and set in it a visible and palpable "tree of life," of such a sort that anyone who tasted its fruit with his bodily teeth would gain life; and again that one could partake of "good and evil" by masticating the fruit taken from the tree of that name? And when God is said to "walk in the paradise in the cool of the day" and Adam to hide himself behind a tree, I do not think anyone will doubt that these are figurative expressions which indicate certain mysteries through a semblance of history and not through actual event.
[/quote:310079ed28]

...he goes on to say "What appears to be history may be metaphor or figure instead and the interpreter who confuses metaphor with literal fact is an interpreter who is simply incompetent."

Just wondering what his thoughts are about how God created the world.

I agree that the interpretation of the prophecies shouldn't be limited to just the literal interpretation or only to what the original author had in mind. I think doing that can rob the scriptures of their intended meaning.

Some may say that how a prophecy is fulfilled historically is unimportant compared with its spiritual fulfillment. I think both are important. Looking at its fulfilment historically helps us see how God works in the lives of his people. Sin has its consequences and we can see in the OT consequences for disobeying God and blessings of obeying God. We see God warning a people about the consequences of sin and punishments that will follow, and we see God carrying out those punishments in history.

One of the things that interests me most about understanding the history of the things prophecied is to see how God uses nations to carry out his providential purposes. I am amazed whenever I think back about how God drew me to himself and changed my athiestic heart to a heart that believes. I'm also amazed when I read about how God used nations (ungodly nations at that) in history to carry out his purposes. There are of course blessings to see how a prophecy is fulfilled by Jesus, but its also a blessing to see God providentially working in the affairs of man.

Bob

[Edited on 3-18-2004 by blhowes]
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Bob:

I think Steinmetz followed Origen on that point. I disagree with them (I am a 6 day creationist).

I agree with you that both literal and spiritual meanings are curcial. The apostles and patristics saw the literal, or original understanding, as foundational. It was the foundation on which the spiritual meanings were built. You can't have the latter without the former.

Henri de Lubac makes this point extensively in his Medieval Exegesis (2 volumes).

Scott
 

blhowes

Puritan Board Professor
[b:0569715221]Scott wrote:[/b:0569715221]
I disagree with them (I am a 6 day creationist).

That's good to hear. I had to pause when I read Origen's words "Now what man of intelligence will believe that the first and the second and the third day...". I don't particularly consider myself to be a "man of intelligence" (compared to some), so I guess its ok to believe in the 6-day creation.

Bob
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Origen was an oddball. He castrated himself, for example.

Anyway, the Gensis passage has always been an issue to some degree in the church, although the majority view has historically been 6 day creationism. Some orthodox churchmen did follow Origen, however.

Scott
 
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