the continuity of true faith refused to be longer bound up with the continuity of the nation. Still indeed the New-Testament idea of a purely spiritual kingdom of God, in this world but not of it, is beyond the prophet's horizon, and he can think of no other vindication of the divine purpose than that the true Israel shall be gathered again from its dispersion. But the condition of this restoration is now changed. To gather the dispersed implies a call of God to individuals, and in the restored Israel the covenant of Yahweh shall not be merely with the nation but with man one by one, and “they shall no more teach everyone his neighbour saying, Know the Lord, for all shall know Me from the least of them even to the greatest of them” (xxxi. 33 seq.). In a word, when the nation is dissolved into its individual elements the continuity and ultimate victory of true faith depends on the relation of Yahweh to individual souls, out of which the new state shall be built up (Jer iii. 14).
Thus, for the first time in the world's history, the ultimate problem of faith is based on the relation of God to the individual believer; and this problem Jeremiah is compelled to face mainly in relation to his own personality, to assure himself that his own faith is a true possession and lifts him above all the calamities that assail him, in spite of the hopeless ruin of his nation. The struggle is a sore one; his very life is bitter to him; and yet he emerges victorious. To know that God is with him is enough though all else fail him. Now as soon as the relation of God to a single soul has thus been set free from all earthly conditions the work of prophecy is really complete, for what God has done for one soul He can do for all, but only by speaking to each believer as directly as He does to Jeremiah. Henceforth revelation is not a word to the nation spoken through an individual, but a word spoken to one which is equally valid for every one who receives it with like faith. The New Testament joins on not to the post-exile prophets, who are only faint echoes of earlier seers, but to Jeremiah's great idea of the new covenant in which God's law is written on the individual heart, and the community of faith is the fellowship of all to whom He has thus spoken. The prophets of the restoration are only the last waves beating on the shore after the storm which destroyed the old nation, but created in its room a fellowship of spiritual religion, had passed over; they resemble the old prophets in the same imperfect way in which the restored community of Jerusalem resembled a real nation. It was only in so far as the community of faith still possessed certain external features of nationality that post-exile prophecy was possible at all, and very soon the care of the national or quasi-national aspects of religion passed altogether out of their hands into those of the scribes, of whom Ezekiel was the first father, and whose Torah was not the living word of prophecy but the Pentateuchal code. From the time of Jeremiah downwards the perennial interest of Old-Testament thought lies in the working out of the problems of personal religion and of the idea of a spiritual fellowship of faith transcending all national limitation; and these are the motives not only of the lyrics of the Psalter but of the greater theodiceas of Isa. xl.-lxvi. and of the book of Job. The theodicea of the prophets is national; they see Yahweh's righteousness working itself out with unmistakable clearness in the present, and know that all that He brings upon Israel is manifestly just; but from the days of Jeremiah the fortunes of Israel as a nation are no longer the one thing which religion has to explain; the greater question arises of a theory of the divine purpose which shall justify the ways of God with individual men or with His “righteous servant”—that is, with the ideal community of true faith as distinct from the natural Israel.
It will be evident even from this rapid sketch, necessarily confined to a few of the most cardinal points, that Hebrew prophecy is not a thing that can be defined and reduced to a formula, but was a living institution which can only be understood by studying its growth and observing its connexion with the historical movements with which its various manifestations were bound up. Throughout the great age of prophecy the most obvious formal character that distinguished it was that the prophet did not speak in his own name but in the name of Yahweh. But the claim to speak in the name of God is one which has often been made—and made sincerely—by others than the prophets of Israel, and which is susceptible of a great variety of meanings, according to the idea of God and His relation to man which is presupposed. Every early religion seeks to realize such an intercourse with the object of worship as shall be two-sided; when the worshipper approaches the deity he desires to have an answer assuring him of acceptance and divine aid. The revelation thus looked for may be found in natural omens, in the priestly lot or some similar sacral oracle, or, finally, in the words of a seer who is held to be in closer contact with the deity than common men. Broadly speaking these methods of revelation are found in all ancient religions, but no other religion presents anything precisely analogous to prophecy. It is true that the prophets absorbed the old seers, and that the Israelites, as we see in the case of the asses of Kish, went to their seers on the same kind of occasions as sent heathen nations to seers or diviners. There is sufficient evidence that down to the last age of the Judaean monarchy practices not essentially different from divination were current in all classes of society, and were often in the hands of men who claimed to speak as prophets in the name of Yahweh. But the great prophets disallowed this claim, and the distinction which they draw between true prophecy and divination is recognized not only in the prophetical law of Deuteronomy but in earlier parts of the Pentateuch and historical books. “There is no augury in Jacob and no divination in Israel; in due time it is told to Jacob and to Israel what God doth work” (Num. xxiii. 23). The seer, in the sense in which all antiquity believed in seers, is simply a man who sees what others cannot see, no matter whether the thing seen be of public or of mere private interest; but the prophet is an organ of Yahweh's kingship over His people—he sees and tells so much of the secret purpose of Yahweh as is needful for His people to know. We have already seen how Amos and Hosea put this (supra, p. 2011), and it does not appear that they were introducing a conception of prophecy formally novel—the new thing was their conception of Yahweh's purpose. And so too with the following great prophets; the important thing in their work was not their moral earnestness and not their specific predictions of future events, but the clearness of spiritual insight with which they read the spiritual significance of the signs of the time and interpreted the movements of history as proofs of Yahweh's actual moral sovereignty exercised over Israel. So long as the great problems of religion could be envisaged as problems of the relation of Yahweh to Israel as a nation the prophets continued to speak and to bring forth new truths; but the ultimate result was that it became apparent that the idea of moral government involved the destruction of Israel, and then the function of prophecy was gone because it was essentially national in its objects. But meantime the relation of God to the prophet had acquired an independent significance; the inner life of Isaiah during the long years when his teaching seemed lost, or of Jeremiah through the whole course of his seemingly fruitless ministry, was rich in experiences of faith triumphing over temptations and trials, of personal converse with God sustaining the soul in the face of difficulties hopeless to the eye of sense, which formed the pattern of a new and higher stage of religion in which the relation of the individual soul to God should be set free from those limitations which had been imposed by the conception that the primary subject of religion is the nation. But the religion of the Old Testament did not become merely individualistic in becoming individual, and now the problem was to realize a new conception of the society of faith, the true Israel, the collective servant of Yahweh—in a word to form the idea of a spiritual commonwealth and to show how it was possible for faith to hold fast, in spite of all seeming contradiction, to the truth that Yahweh had chosen for himself a spiritual people, every member of which was in truth the object of His saving and unfailing love, and which should ultimately in very deed inherit that glory of which the carnal Israel was unworthy. This is the post-prophetic problem
- One might say from the days of Habakkuk.