In considering Micah 5:2 within its context for a Christmas edition of our church newsletter, I’ve been rummaging around for my favorite quotes on the prophetic perspective/prophetic idiom – that method of the prophets whereby they describe eschatological events in the language of their own day. Note that while prophetic foreshortening is also an important hermeneutical principle for understanding multiple fulfillments of (seemingly) single OT prophecies, this post focuses on typology.
I’ve decided to post a couple of them here and will perhaps follow up with a few more as I come upon them. If you have any other quotes on this topic you’d like to add, please leave author/source/page-range info in comment box below!
If we observe the way the Latter Prophets use the various great moments of past salvation history as the pattern of the future coming of God’s kingdom, there can be little argument about the proposition that they see a future stage that recapitulates their history…. It is also a truism that the prophetic eschatology has at least two perspectives: the one is the more immediate view that applies to the destruction and exile followed by the release from that exile and return to the land. The other perspective is of the more distant view of the Day of the Lord when God finally acts in a way that has ultimate significance for the coming of the kingdom of God. Although there are many prophetic oracles in which it is not clear that any such distinction is being made by the prophet, in hindsight we are able to see that the partial fulfilment of prophecy brought about by the return from exile can be regarded as foreshadowing the ultimate fufilment. The post-exilic prophets perform the important task of showing that this distinction of the partial and the perfect fulfilments is real. For them, whatever the benefits of the return, the kingdom is yet to come.
Graeme Goldsworthy, Christ-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles (IVP, 2012), 134-135.
The typological way of understanding God’s past acts in history as sneak previews of coming events was not invented by Jesus during his earthly ministry, or by his apostles and the other New Testament authors. Nor did it originate with Jewish rabbis in the centuries between the completion of the Old Testament and the arrival of Christ. Through the writings of the Major and Minor Prophets, God had already been teaching Israel to conceive of the promised salvation to come in the shape of what he had done in the past – yet much more magnificent.
Dennis E. Johnson, Walking with Jesus Through His Word: Discovering Christ in All the Scriptures (P&R, 2015), 67.
The great principles and realities of theocratic life were embodied in external form. This was the only way to clothe the essence of the theocracy in a way that the Israelites could grasp. In order to keep the future eschatological picture in touch with Israel’s religion these forms had to be maintained. The prophets had to give the essence in particular forms. Eschatological revelation is presented in the language of the Mosaic institutions. The New Testament first transposes it into a new key. Here in the New Testament it is spiritualized. In the Old Testament it is expressed in terms of perfection of the forms of Israel’s theocracy.
Geerhardus Vos, The Eschatology of the Old Testament (P&R, 2001), 118.
The two topics with which we have to deal may be called the doctrine of the judgment and that of the restoration. In order to justify the characterization of these as eschatology, we should sharply mark what is the specific difference of eschatology from the Biblical standpoint. In the abstract it might seem more appropriate to fit in the crises described by the prophets with the general up-and-downward movement of history, each one being co-ordinated with preceding and following events. But this would miss the very point of the eschatological peculiarity. This consists in that the crises described are not ordinary upheavals, but such as lead to an abiding order of things, in which the prophetic vision comes to rest. Finality and consummation form the specific difference of prophetic, as of all other Biblical eschatology. The judgment predicted is the judgment, and the restoration is the restoration, of the end.
One other peculiarity to be noted is really a consequence of the one just stated. Whenever the prophets speak in terms of judgment, immediately the vision of the state of glory obtrudes itself upon their view, and they concatenate the two in a way altogether regardless of chronological interludes. Isaiah couples with the defeat of the Assyrians under Sennacherib the unequaled pictures of the glory of the end, and the impression might be created that the latter was just waiting for the former, to make its immediate appearance. The vision ‘hastens’ under their eye. The philosophy of this foreshortening of the beyond-prospect is one of the most difficult things in the interpretation of prophecy in the Old Testament and New Testament alike. We cannot here further dwell upon it.
Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Banner of Truth, 2000), 289-90.
The prophets clothed their thoughts in forms derived from the dispensation to which they belonged, i.e., from the life, constitution, and history of their own people. In view of this fact the question naturally arses as to whether the form was essential, so that the prophecy was destined to be fulfilled in the exact terms in which it was uttered. While it was but natural that prophecies referring to the near future should be realized in all particulars, it is by no means self-evident that this should also be the case with prophecies that point to some future dispensation. The presumption is that, after the forms of life have undergone radical changes, no more can be expected than a realization of the essential central idea. In fact, the New Testament clearly proves that a literal fulfilment is not to be expected in all cases, and that in some important prophecies the dispensational form must be stripped off. Hence it is precarious to assume that a prophecy is not fufilled as long as the outer details are not realized. Cf. Isa. 11:10-16; Joel 3:18-21; Micah 5:5-8; Zech. 12:11-14; Amos 9:11, 12, Acts 15:15-17.
Under the guise of the Holy Spirit, the prophets occasionally transcended their historical and dispensational limitations, and spoke in forms that pointed to a more spiritual dispensation in the future. In such cases the prophetic horizon was enlarged, they sensed something of the passing character of the old forms, and gave ideal descriptions of the blessings of the New Testament Church. This feature is more common in the later than in the earlier prophets. Cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Mal. 1:11.
Louis Berkhof, Principles of Biblical Interpretation (Sacred Hermeneutics) (Baker Books, 1950), 151-152.
[W]hat is revealed in Israel’s history is not in itself the reality of the kingdom to which it points. It never could be, because the redemptive event in the exodus fro Egypt cannot remove the real cause of the alienation of people from God. In like manner the sacrificial system instituted at Sinai is illustrative of the reality, but “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). The prophetic view of salvation and the kingdom is that of the true goal being reached. Even though they couch their message in the terminology of Israel’s past history, the prophets portray the future not as another shadow of things to come, but as the solid reality.
Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Eerdmans, 2000), 108.
In the divine structuring of redemptive history the old covenant was designed to relate to the new covenant as anticipatory prototype to the later ultimate reality. Israel’s restoration from Babylonian exile is an instance of this. Like their exodus from Egypt, it was arranged by the Lord of history and redemptive revelation as an instructive model of the messianic salvation. Reflecting this typological structure of the history, the language of prophecy portrayed the coming new covenant salvation history under the figure of its old covenant prototypes. The prophets spoke of the messianic kingdom in parables, parables drawn from the Lord’s grand historical parable, which was old covenant Israel.
Meredith G. Kline, Glory in Our Midst: A Biblical-Theological Reading of Zechariah’s Night Visions (Two Age Press, 2001), 34. Note: I don’t want to type it all out, but Kline also addresses this in Kingdom Prologue, Ch. 3.II.D.1, a section entitled “Covenantal and Dispensational Hermeneutics.” It is pgs. 340-341 in my edition (Two Age Press, 2000).
R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)