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The knowledge of the laws of figures is as necessary to the just interpretation of language as the knowledge is of the literal meaning of words, or the rules of grammar. They are the vehicle of the thoughts which those who employ them aim to express; and not to understand the principle on which they are used, is to lose not only much of the beauty with which they invest the objects to which they are applied, and the distinctness with which they set them forth, but often the whole meaning which it is their office to convey, and pervert them to the expression of a wholly different and false sense. This is pre-eminently true of the Scriptures, in which they are more frequently used than in any other writings. They are not only important auxiliaries in determining the sense, and raising it to a clear certainty, but they present it, in most instances, with a beauty and power to which untropical language is wholly inadequate. No tolerable understanding of the language of the prophecies, especially of the Old Testament as those of Isaiah, Jeremiah, most of those of Ezekiel, and, with the exception of parts of Daniel and Zechariah, all the other prophets—is possible, without a knowledge of the principles on which their figures are used; while of a large share of their predictions, a true explanation of the figures is an exposition of their whole meaning, and sets it forth with a beauty and force that are seen in no other method of interpretation. This is exemplified in the following exposition of the figures of Isaiah, chapter xiii.:



The preceding visions relate almost exclusively to the Israelites, and foreshow judgments that were to be inflicted on them. A new series commences in the thirteenth chapter, in which the devastation of several countries, and overthrow of capitals whose population were to be the enemies of Judah, are foretold. The first announces the conquest and desolation of Babylon, and was written probably one hundred and twenty or thirty years before that city became, by the destruction of Nineveh and the fall of the Assyrian power, the capital of the east.

1. Metonymy of sentence for the vision in which it was heard. “The sentence of Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amos saw," v. 1. The word translated sentence, though often sigufying an announcement or oracle, sometimes denotes a burden, and seems to be used only as the name of prophecies that foreshow calamities. It is on that account supposed by some to be employed by a metaphor to indicate that that is the character of the predictions to which it is prefixed. It seems improbable, how'ever, as there is but a slight analogy between a burden imposed on a human being or a beast, and a catastrophe by which a great city is reduced to ruin, or a country to desolation. The one is proportioned in some measure to the strength of the agent that is to bear it. The other overwhelms and destroys. It is probably, therefore, used by metonymy for the vision in which it was heard. If such is not its meaning, the verb “saw” must be used by a metaphor, as there are no indications that the prophet actually beheld the scenes he describes. The prediction was communicated to him by a voice, not by a visible exhibition, as in a symbolic revelation. It was given in a vision or trance, nevertheless, in which he beheld the signals of God's presence, and was made conscious that it proceeded from him; and it is in that relation doubtless that he represents himself as having seen it. The verb therefore is used literally.


2. Apostrophe. “Upon a lofty mountain erect the standard ; raise the voice to them ; wave the hand, that they may enter the gates of the princes," v. 2. This was uttered by Jehovah ; but was not a command to the prophet, as the verbs are in the plural. Some suppose it to have been addressed to angelic beings, others to the captive Jews, and others still to the population or soldiery of Media and Persia. It was not the office, however, of any of those to erect a signal for the collection of an army, or to summon them to invade Babylon and conquer its metropolis. That was the prerogative of the monarchs of Media and Persia; and it was they therefore who were called by the Almighty to gather their forces, and prepare to enter the gates of the Babylonian dynasty. It is a figure therefore of unusual dignity, bears the stamp of the Supreme who uttered it, and is appropriate only to him. The kings and hosts of the earth are under his dominion, and he has but to decree the punishment of his enemies by them, and they fulfil his will.

3. Hypocatastasis. God next addresses the prophet, and explains the foregoing command as addressed to those whom he had appointed to be the instruments of his vengeance. “I have given command to my consecrated, and I have called my mighty ones for my wrath, my exulters in pride," v. 3. The acts of commanding and calling are here substituted for analogous acts of providence by which the Median princes were led to attempt the conquest of Babylon. This figure also is peculiarly appropriate to the majesty of God, and indicates the absoluteness of his dominion over the agents he was to employ, and the certainty that his purposes were to be accomplished. Yet, this style, so immeasurably above the conceptions of men, and exclusively suitable to the Almighty, some modern neologians regard as a proof that the prediction was not the work of inspiration, but forged by some pseudoIsaiah of a later age than the prophet. The Median princes are called consecrated, to denote that they were chosen and designated to be the executors of God's will.

4. Hypocatastasis. The prophet next speaks and describes what he heard. “A sound of a multitude in the mountains as of much people! A sound of the tumult of kingdoms, of nations gathered! Je hovah of hosts mustering a host of battle!" v. 4.

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