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The present Volume, though it contains the Works of These Prophets, is yet considerably smaller in size than the preceding Volumes; but the last will more than compensate for this deficiency.
The two first Prophets, Habakkuk and Zephaniah, lived before the Captivity; and the other, Haggai began his prophetic office about sixteen years after the return of the great body of the people from Babylon by the permission given them by King Cyrus.
It is commonly thought that Habbakuk prophesied after Zephaniah, though placed before him in our Bibles. The reign of Jehoiakin is assigned as his age, about 608 years before Christ, while Zephaniah performed his office in the reign of Josiah, about 30 years earlier. Like the other prophets he is mainly engaged in reproving the extreme wickedness of the people, on account of which he denounces on them the judgments of God, while he gives occasional intimations of a better state of things, and affords some glimpses of the blessings of the gospel.
In the first Chapter he begins with a complaint as to the oppression which he witnessed, foretells the dreadful invasion of the Chaldeans, describes the severity which would be exercised by them, and appeals to God on the subject. In the second he waits for an answer, receives it, and predicts the downfal of the Chaldeans, and refers to blessings in reserve for God’s people. The third contains what is called the “Prayer of Habakkuk,” an ode of a singular character, in which he briefly describes, for the encouragement of the faithful, the past interpositions of God on behalf of his people, and concludes with expressing a full and joyful confidence in God, notwithstanding’ the evils which were coming on the nation.
“The style of Habakkuk,” Says Bishop Lowth, “is poetical, especially in his Ode, which may justly be deemed one of the most complete of its kind.” 11 Poeticus est Habbaccuci stylus; sed maxime in Oda, quae inter absolutissimas in eo genere merito numerari potest—Proel, 21. And in describing the character of this ode he says—“The Prophet indeed embellishes the whole of this poem with a magnificence equal to its commencement, selecting from so great an abundance of wonderful events the grandest, and setting them forth in the most splendid dress, by images and figures, and the most elevated diction; the high sublimity of which he augments and enhances by the elegance of a remarkable conclusion: so that hardly any thing of this kind would be more beautiful or more perfect than this poem, were it not for one or two spots of obscurity which are to be found in it, occasioned, as it seems, by its ancientness.” 22 Equidem totum hunc locum pari qua ingressus est magnificentia exornat vates; ex tanta rerum admirandarum copia nobilissima quaeque seligens, eaque coloribus splendidissimis, imaginibus, figuris, dictione elatissima illustrans; quorum summam sublimitatem cumulat et commendat singu-laris clausulae elegantia: ita ut, nisi una atque altera ei insideret obscuri-tatis nebula vetustate, ut videtur, inducta, vix quidquam hoc poemate in suo genere extaret luculentius aut perfectius.—Proel. 28.
Zephaniah was in part contemporary with Jeremiah, that is, during the former portion of the reign of Josiah. He foretells the Fall Of Nineveh, (Zephaniah 2:13,) and mentions “the remnant of Baal,” (Zephaniah 1:4,) two things which prove that he prophesied during the former half of that king’s reign; for Nineveh was destroyed about the sixteenth year of his reign, and it was after that time that the worship of Baal was demolished by that king.
The sins of The Jews and their approaching judgments occupy the first Chapter. The second contains an exhortation to Repentance, encouraged by a promise of protection during the evils that God would bring on neighboring nations. In the third the Prophet particularizes the sins of Jerusalem, announces its punishment, and then refers to the future blessings which God would freely confer on His Church.
The style of Zephaniah has been represented as being in some parts prosaic; and Lowth says that “he seems to possess nothing remarkable or superior in the arrangement of his matter or in the elegance of his diction.” 33 Is nihil videtur hahere singulare aut eximium, in dispositione rerum, vel colore dictionis.—Proel, 21. But it is Henderson’s opinion that “many of the censures that have been passed on his language are either without foundation or much exaggerated.” He appears to be as poetic in his ideas as most of the Prophets, and in the manner in which he arranges them, though he deals not much in parallelisms, which constitute a prominent feature in Hebrew poetry.
The matters handled by the Prophet are said by Marckius to be “most worthy of God, whether we regard His serious reproofs or His severe threatenings, or His kind warnings, or His gracious promises, which especially appertain to the dispensation of the New Testament. In all these particulars he not only agrees with the other prophets, but also adopts their expressions.” 44 Est vaticiniorum ejus argumentum Deo dignissimum, sive serias ejus redargutiones, sive severas comminationes, sive amicas monitiones, sive blandas promissiones, ad gratiam N. T. quam maxime protensas, spectemus. In quabus omnibus non tantum quoad rem consentientes alios habet vates, sed et phrases adhibuit—Anal. Tseph. Exeg. He then gives the following examples:—
It does not appear at what time Haggai returned from exile, though probably at the first return of the Jews under Zerubbabel,
before Christ 536. But he did not commence his prophetic office till about sixteen years after; and he delivered what his
Book contains in the space of three months. His messages, which are five,
I. Haggai 1:1-11.
II. Haggai 1:12-15.
III. Haggai 2:1-9.
IV. Haggai 2:10-19.
V. Haggai 2:20-23. are very short; and hence some have concluded that they are but summaries of what he had delivered.
Much of this Book is historical, interspersed with what is conveyed in a poetic style. The Prophet, in the first Chapter, remonstrates with the people, who were very attentive to their own private concerns, but neglected to build the Lord’s Temple; he refers to the judgments with which they had been visited on this account, encourages them to undertake the work, and promises them the favor of God; and then he tells us of his success. In the second Chapter he removes an apparent ground of discouragement, the temple then in building being not so splendid as the former, and promises an additional glory to it, evidently referring to the Gospel times. He then warns them against relaxing in their work and thinking it enough merely to offer sacrifices, assures them of God’s blessing, and concludes with a special promise to Zerubbabel.
What Lowth says of this Prophet’s style, that “it is altogether prosaic,” is not strictly true; for there are some parts highly poetical. See Haggai 1:6, and from 8 to 11 inclusive. “The style of Haggai,” observes Henderson, “is not distinguished by any peculiar excellence; yet he is not destitute of pathos and vehemence, when reproving his countrymen for their negligence, exhorting them to the performance of duty.”
Though in some instances our Commentator may not give the precise import of a passage, yet he never advances but what is consistent with Divine Truth, and always useful and practical, and often what betokens a profound acquaintance with the operations of the human mind under the various trials and temptations which we meet with in this life; so that the observations made are ever interesting and instructive. Calvin never deduces from a passage what is in itself erroneous or unsound, though in all cases he may not deduce what the text may legitimately warrant. There is, therefore, nothing dangerous in what he advances, though it. may not be included in the passage explained. But for the most part his application of doctrine is what may be fully justified, and is often very striking, and calculated to instruct and edify.
Some may think that our Author does not always give that full range of meaning to the promises and predictions which he explains. A reason for this may probably be found in the fact, that most of the Commentators who had preceded him had indulged in very great extravagancies on the subject; and a reaction generally drives men to an opposite extreme. But it is very seldom that Calvin can be justly charged with a fault of this kind; for, entertaining the profoundest veneration for the Word of God, he strictly followed what he conceived the words imported, and what he apprehended to be the general drift of a passage. Possibly, in the estimation of those who possess a very vivid imagination, he may be thought to have kept too closely to what the text and the context require; but in explaining the Divine Oracles, nothing is more to be avoided than to let loose the imagination, and nothing is more necessary than to possess a sound judgment, and to exercise it in the fear of God, and with prayer for His guidance and direction.
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