The Hebrew Prophets expected An Atonement

‘We may refer to the fact that there have been expectations widely cherished that an atonement would be made for sin expectations founded on what were regarded as Divine predictions. At this stage of the argument it would not be logical to assume that the predictions in the Old Testament are really of Divine origin; nor, in the view in which I propose to consider them, would it be necessary to assume that they had such an origin; but they may be referred to as showing what, for some reasons, however it may be explained, have been the anticipation, in the mind of man on the subject. We may, therefore, in this view of the case, and at this point in the argument, look at the Hebrew prophets, not as acknowledged prophets, but as men giving utterance to an expectation, laid somehow in the nature of man, that there would be in future times such an interposition in behalf of our world as would be implied in the work of the atonement.

The fact here referred to is this: That there existed from time to time in Judea a remarkable class or succession of men, known by the appellation of ‘prophets,’ who undoubtedly entertained the belief that an atonement for sin would be made at some future time, and who proclaimed this as the foundation of an extensive national hope and belief. The peculiarity in the case was, that it was not a single man who did this under the influence of high poetic feeling, as Virgil may have done, but that these men appeared sometimes in groups and sometimes in succession; that their appearing was not the result of any system of education and was not regulated in any precise order; that they did not always, or even commonly, spring out of the established order of the priesthood; that they had as prophets nothing to do in offering the sacrifices which typified all atonement; that they were of different ranks of society, now springing up in the lowest grades of social life and employment, and now in the most elevated; that their predictions were sometimes in prose and sometimes in song; that they were all men of eminent moral worth, men who gave evidence that they walked with God, men who, from some cause, had an insight into the Divine purposes and counsels which was not vouchsafed to the community at large. Besides these traits which characterized them as all order of men, there are three other things to be noticed as bearing on the point before us. (a.) The first is, that they all claimed to have been sent from God, and to speak in the name of God. (b.) The second is, that they founded their predictions on that fact, and never assumed that they were the utterances of their own genius. (c.) The third thing is, that these utterances were undoubtedly made before the appearing of Jesus of Nazareth on the earth, and, consequently, before any claim was set up by his followers that he had died to make an expiation for the sins of men.

The burden of their message, as I shall now show, was, that there would be in some future time a deliverer from sin; that one would come who would be a voluntary sacrifice for the transgressions of the world; that by the sacrifice which he would make he would supersede all the sacrifices which were then appointed to be made; that he would introduce a new economy, under which men would be pardoned, purified, and saved; that by his substituted sufferings, his sorrows and his death, the malady of sin would be healed.

The predictions on this subject may be arranged in two classes: such as express an anticipation in general that a remarkable personage or deliverer would come; and such as describe his work as making a sacrifice or expiation for sin.

Of the former class are such statements as the following. “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” (Get). xlix. 10.) “And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord.” (Isa. lix. 20.) “And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come.” (Haggai ii. 7.) “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me; and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. iii. 1.) “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stein of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots; and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (Isa. xi. 2.) “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. Know, therefore, and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem, unto the Messiah the Prince, shall be seventy weeks, and threescore and two weeks.” Dan. ix. 24, 25.

These passages illustrate the undoubted fact that among the Hebrew people there was a class of men, claiming to be sent from God, who announced that a remarkable personage would appear in some future time, under the general character of a deliverer; and they furnish at the same time a reason for what is as undoubted a fact that this expectation obtained a general prevalence among their countrymen.

The other class of passages pertains more definitely to the point now before us. They are such as served to excite the expectation that the personage would be a sufferer; that his life would be cut off by violence and injustice; and that somehow by his sufferings and death he would lay the foundation for the pardon of sin.

The passages now referred to are such as the following: “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, BUT NOT FOR HIMSELF.” (Dan. ix. 26.) “In the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.” (Dan. ix. 27.) “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people, and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness.” (Dan. ix. 24.) “And in this mountain [in Jerusalem] shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And in this mountain he will destroy the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces.” (Isa. xxv. 6, 7, 8.) “He [the Messiah] is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” “He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities.” “The chastisement of our peace,” that is, the chastisement by which our peace is effected, “was upon him.” “With his stripes we are healed.” “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” “He was cut off out of the land of the living.” For the transgression of my people was he stricken.” “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for him.” “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities.” “He bare the sin of many.” Isa. liii. 3-11.

In reference to these texts of Scripture as bearing on the point before us, two remarks may be made:(a.) If they are admitted to be a Divine communication, they settle the point that there was a well-founded presumption that an arrangement would be made for an atonement. They show that the prevailing expectation that an atonement would be made was more than a presumption founded on the analogies of nature. They explain how the anticipation sprung up in the human mind, and they justify all the expectations of an atonement that were ever cherished in the world. They serve, too, to explain how it was that sacrifices considered as types were kept up so long and with so much interest in Judea, and how the Hebrew people were cheered with the hope that a period would arrive when the necessity of sacrifices would cease and their painful and expensive offerings would come to an end.

(b.) If they are not regarded as a Divine communication, then the fact that they were uttered must be explained in some other way. That such utterances were made, and that they became a permanent record, stimulating the hopes of men and laying the foundation of a widely-cherished expectation, is all undoubted fact; and the only question, so far as pertains to the point now before us, is, how they are to be accounted for, or what is their origin. If not of Divine origin, they must either have been suggested by some instinctive feeling of the soul, or by some observed analogies of nature, or by some prevailing belief in regard to the character of God, or by some floating fragmentary tradition; and in either case they would illustrate and confirm the position now before us, that there was some ground or reason for supposing that God would interpose in behalf of mankind, or that some arrangement would be made for removing the evils of sin. All these things combined–the fact that there was a general expectation in the world that a deliverer would come; the fact that there are remedial arrangements for the removal of physical evils; the fact that dangers are often prevented or removed by personal sacrifices; and the fact that there were expectations and announcements, claiming to be of Divine origin, that an atonement would be made–may be regarded as demonstrating the probability that an arrangement would be made to meet the evils of sin and to remove the difficulties in the way of pardon.’

Source: Albert Barnes, The Atonement (1860), Chapter 5: Probabilities that an Atonement will be provided In the Divine Government, or Grounds of Presumption that Some Arrangement will be made to Meet and Remove the Difficulties in the Way of Pardon, IV., p. 149-155 (emphasis mine).


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