The First Occurrence of Words, Expressions, and Utterances are Generally Essential to their Interpretation.
This is a law we have long since noticed, and have never yet found it to fail. The first occurrence of a Word, or an Expression, or an Utterance is the key to its subsequent usage and meaning; or at least a guide as to the essential point connected with it.
We propose to consider this Law as illustrated in these three classes:—
1. Prophet.—The first occurrence of the word Prophet is in Genesis 20:7, and is used by God to Abimelech king of Gerar, of Abraham—
"Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet and he shall pray for thee."
This first occurrence of the word shows that it is used in a very different sense from that in which we use it to-day.
Of course, even apart from this, our present usage is of no account in determining the Biblical usage.
We use it of one whose sole mission is to foretell future events.
But, here, it is used in connection with Abraham, who foretold nothing; and of whose prophecies, as such, we have neither mention, allusion, or record.
The only thing associated with the prophet, in Abraham, here, is prayer!
This first occurrence, therefore, speaks to us if we have ears to hear; and, being so contrary to our current usage, tells us to search further and see what it teaches us in connection with its other occurrences.
We soon learn from Exodus 7:1 that the same God calls Aaron, Moses' "prophet." This takes us a step
further; and leads to another question: How could one man be another man's "prophet"? The answer is found in Exodus 4:16, where God, referring to the same matter, says of Aaron, to Moses, "He shall be thy spokesman."
Here, then, we learn that the essential interpretation of the word "prophet" is spokesman. So that the prophet was one who spoke FOR God, whether by way of Exhortation, Instruction, Reproof, Warning, Correction, Reprobation, or Judgment. Foretelling was only a very small part of his duties.
There was "no prophet greater than John the Baptist" (Matt 11:9-11). He prophesied that Christ should baptize with pneuma hagion, but where are his prophecies, as we understand the word, to-day? Not one is recorded. But he was God's spokesman, prepared, equipped, and sent forth by God to prepare the way of the Messiah (Luke 1:13-17,76-79).
The prophet, therefore, was essentially God's spokesman; and his sole mission was to speak only those words which were given him to speak.
In this sense Moses was the great prophet typical of the Lord Jesus. Seven times in the closing words of Exodus we find the refrain associating Moses' words and deeds with his obedience, "as the Lord commanded Moses" (Exo 40:19,21,23,25,27,29,32).
Even so the Lord Jesus was "the prophet like unto Moses." Why? Not because of His foretelling future events, but because "He whom God sent speaketh the words of God" (John 3:34. Compare John 3:32, 7:16,26,28, 15:15, etc.).
For the same reason "prophets" were bestowed upon the Church at the beginning (Eph 4:11); "for [proV, pros] the perfecting of the Saints with a view to [eiV, eis] the work of the ministry for [eiV, eis] the building up of the body of Christ." (See pages 53,54.) This was the special object of the New Testament prophetic ministry (compare Ephesians 2:20; Romans 16:26,
"prophetic writings," 2 Peter 1:19, "the prophetic* word").
* In both these passages the Greek has the adjective, not the noun.
The work of these prophets was specially connected with the making known the "Mystery" or the great secret, which had been "hid in God." (See p. 257)
It is a great mistake to suppose that Ephesians 2:20 refers to the Old Testament Prophets; and that the Church is built upon them! There is abundant evidence as to the New Testament order of Prophets; and that they were charged with quite a different mission, though they were God's spokesmen: Barnabas (Acts 4:36), Stephen (Acts 6:10,15), Agabus (Acts 11:28, 21:10), Silvanus, Silas, and Judas (Acts 15:32), Manaen and Lucius of Cyrene (Acts 13:1), Timothy (1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 3:17), the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9), and others, unnamed (Acts 8:17, 10:44-46, 19:6).
The Exhortations addressed to and connected with the prophets are also special. "Despise not prophesyings" shows that the word "spirit" in the preceding clause refers to the spiritual gift of prophesying (1 Thess 5:20); and "Quench not the spirit" means, Do not stifle or suppress such spiritual gifts in others.
Examples of this prophetic power in action and teaching, etc., are seen in Acts 5:4, 13:2, 21:1-14; 1 Corinthians 14:24, 25; 1 Timothy 1:18, 4:1.
Thus, the first occurrence of the word "prophet" leads us into all this line of teaching, and shows us that the Preposition pro (pro), before, is not used with regard to time, but to manner; not to speaking beforehand, or telling-before, but telling forth.
Moreover, we may note there was no place for the ministry of prophets till the priests had failed in their mission, which was to teach the Word of God. When the priests became absorbed in their ritual, then God raised up prophets as His spokesmen. Hence a prophet was known as a "Man of God" (see below).
2. "Hallelujah."—This Hebrew word occurs twenty-eight times, and is eleven times transliterated "Hallelujah," or, according to the Greek spelling in the New Testament, "Alleluia"; and is nineteen times translated, "Praise ye the Lord."
But our question now is to ask, Where is the first occurrence of this word? and by it to discover not merely the meaning of the word, but its significance and interpretation.
It is found first at the end of Psalm 104; and, its position there leaves us in no doubt as to its true interpretation. It is associated with praise for deliverance from, and for the destruction of, enemies—
"Let sinners be consumed out of the earth,
And let the wicked be no more.
Bless Jehovah, O my soul,
Hallelujah" (Psa 104:35).
Its first occurrence in the New Testament is in precisely the same connection (Rev 19:1,3):—
Salvation, and glory and honour, and power
Unto the Lord our God.
For true and righteous are His judgments:
For He hath judged the great whore which did corrupt the earth with her fornication,
And hath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand.
And again they said HALLELUJAH."
The word is thus associated with the thought of judgment: not necessarily every time; for praise must be rendered for many things: but this is its first great theme.
This thought will not be repugnant to those who "rightly divide the Word of truth," and understand such "praise." Though it is out of harmony in this Dispensation of grace, it is quite in keeping with the past Dispensation of works and the coming Dispensation of Judgment. (See pages 110,111.)
3. "Selah."—The first occurrence of this word furnishes us with the key to its meaning.
All explanations of it which have been given, and have been derived from sources outside the Word of God, are worthless. They are only what men have thought; and have never risen above musical notation.
No meaning has hitherto been suggested that is worthy of the dignity of the Inspired Word; or that is connected with the truth, teaching, or subject-matter of the Scriptures.
Some have said that it always marks the end of a Strophe; others that it marks the beginning. Both are wrong, being only a part of the truth; and, as is so often the case in other departments of Bible study, when a part is put for the whole the result is error instead of truth.
The word Selah may be derived from one of two roots: either from hlafsaf (salah), to pause, and, though this may well apply to the pausing of the heart and mind to dwell on the words of God, yet man seems unable to rise above the thought of the musical instruments pausing, while the voices go on. On the other hand, some derive it from llasaf (salal), to lift up; but they limit this to lifting up the voices in song, and do not rise to the lifting up the voices in song, and do not rise to the lifting up of the heart.
The word Selah occurs seventy-four times in the Old Testament: seventy-one times in the Book of Psalms and three times in the Prophecy of Habakkuk.
Of these it occurs several times in the middle of a verse; which is a proof that it need neither commence nor end a Paragraph or Strophe.
The key will be furnished by its first occurrence, in Psalm 3, where it occurs three times—
Between verses 2 and 3.
Between verses 4 and 5.
Between Psalms 3 and 4.
Here, it will be seen that the word is used as a connecting link, calling our attention to what has been said, and bidding us to associate it with what immediately follows.
This may be for various purposes:
It may be by way of contrast.
It may be by way of further explanation.
It may be to mark a cause, or an effect; or,
It may be at the end of a Psalm, in which case it connects the two Psalms and tells us that they relate to the same authorship, or have the same subject-matter.
In this first occurrence (Psa 3) we have three of these usages.
The first Selah (between verses 2 and 3) contrasts what the many said of David:
"There is no help for him in God,"
with what David could say to the LORD:
"But Thou, O Jehovah, art a shield for me."
Here the "many" are thus put into contrast with the one; and, while the many knew the Divine being only as "God" (the creator),* David knew Him as "Jehovah," his Covenant God, the God to Whom he stood in a covenant relation.**
* The first occurrence of the word "God," in Genesis 1:1, shows that this is the essence of its meaning.
** This is shown by the first occurrence of Jehovah, in Genesis 2:4, at the commencement of the section (or Toledoth), "the generations of the heavens and the earth," when God (as Jehovah Elohim) comes into Covenant relation with Adam, whom He had created.
The second Selah (between verses 4 and 5) marks and connects the cause and effect. It is a practical exhibition of the truth afterwards revealed in Philippians 4:6, 7.
"Let your requests be made known unto God,
God's peace...shall keep your heart and mind."
This is what David experienced, practically, in that terrible night, in his flight from Jerusalem:
"I cried unto God with my voice,
And He heard me out of His holy hill.
Selah I laid me down and slept; I awaked:
For Jehovah sustained me."
The third Selah (between the two Psalms 3 and 4) connects not merely the two verses (Psa 3:8 and 4:1), but the two Psalms, as such. It tells us that Psalm 4 relates to the same time, and to the same circumstances in David's life: and gives us further details as to what the cry and the prayer was that is referred to in Psalm 3.
Having thus got the key to the usage of the word Selah, which is of far greater importance than its Etymology or Lexical meaning, we can apply it to all its other occurrences.
It is, in fact, another example of our third Canon (page 227), where the Biblical usage of words is
considered as being essential to their correct interpretation.
4. "Jerusalem."—The first occurrence of the word "Jerusalem" is in Judges 1:7, 8. And in one sentence the whole subsequent history of centuries is condensed.
"The children of Judah had fought against Jerusalem, and had taken it, and smitten it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire."
This is in strange contrast with its name:— But it is in accordance with its history.
It has been a history of sieges. Some twenty-seven times has it been besieged, three times has the city, and twice its temple, been destroyed by fire.*
But it is yet to be the centre and symbol of peace. Peace shall be the eternal character and blessedness of Jerusalem, in spite of her past history, as foreshadowed in the first occurrence of the name. (See Psa 122:6-8, 125:5, 128:6; Isa 32:17, 54:12, 60:17, 66:12; Hagg, 2:9.)
5. Numbers.—The Spiritual Significance of numbers is seen in their first occurrence.
One is associated with Deity (Gen 1:3,4). "God is light" (1 John 1:5).
Two is associated with Separation and Division (Gen 1:6-8), though afterwards it is associated with union in testimony (Deut 17:6; Rev 11:3).
Three is associated with resurrection in Genesis 1:9, when the earth rises up out of and above the waters; and fruit arises out of the earth.
Four is associated with the earth when (Gen 1:14-19) the Sun and Moon were established as light-holders, to "give light upon the Earth."
Five is associated with grace, in the gift of life, in the creation of living creatures; and in the production of life out of the waters of the great deep.
Six is associated with the creation of Man (Gen 1:26-31). Man was created on the sixth day; and hence six
is man's "Hall-mark"; and, with its multiples, is stamped upon all that characterizes man as falling short of God; or in opposition to or defiance of God.
Goliath was six cubits high; his spear's head weighed 600 shekels of iron; and he had six pieces of armour enumerated.
Nebuchadnezzar was similarly marked. His image was 60 cubits high, and six cubits wide, while six instruments of music called for its universal worship.
The Beast is marked by the threefold combination of 666 (Rev 13).
Seven is associated with Divine Blessing and Rest (Gen 2:1-3), and is thus the mark of the Spirit of God as "the author and giver of life," and blessing, and rest. Hence it is that this number is so frequent in Scripture, as being the "Hall-mark" of the Spirit's authorship of "the Word of life."
Eight is a new first and, like the Number Three, is associated with newness, especially in resurrection, which took place on "the first day of the week." It first occurs in Genesis 5:4 in the number of the years of Adam, the end of the first man. "The second man" began his resurrection life on the eighth day. Hence the association of the number with resurrection.
Nine occurs first in Leviticus 25:22, and is used of the end of full time. Inasmuch as the fulness of time issues in judgment for good or evil, so nine becomes the symbol or hall-mark of all that stands connected with judgment.
Ten is the great cardinal number, completing one order and commencing a new one. Hence it is used of ordinal perfection, and is so used in its first occurrence in Genesis 24:55.
Twelve is associated with service, rule, and Government. "Twelve years they served" (Gen 14:4). Henceforth we find 12 and its multiples connected with Government both in heaven and on earth. It is the factor in the heavenly Signs, Constellations, and Measurements. It is the factor in all earthly enumerations that have to do with government.*
Thirteen first occurs in Genesis 14:4 also, "Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer and the thirteenth year they
rebelled." So that ever after, in Scripture, the Number 13, and every multiple of it, is associated with rebellion, apostacy, and disintegration.* It is universally a number of evil omen: but those who go back for the origin of anything never go back far enough. They go back, in their own imagination, to the Twelve Apostles and our Lord as making 13; but the first occurrence of the number takes us back to the Divine usage of the Word, Genesis 14:4.
6. The Divine Names and Titles are determined in the same way by their first occurrence.
GOD (Gen 1:1). "In the beginning God created." Hence whenever we meet with the name of God we may always associate with it the thought of the Creator, and its appropriate use by His creatures (see p. 309).
LORD or Jehovah (Gen 2:4) first occurs as the special title used in the first of the Eleven Toledoth or "Generations." It is the Creator standing in Covenant relation, and in communication with those whom He had created.
Most High, or Elyon, occurs first in Genesis 14:18, and is associated with God as being "the possessor of Heaven and Earth." This is the essence of the meaning wherever we afterwards find it; and this will give the Scope of the passage in which we find it.
The same is true not only of separate Words, but of a combination of words in such expressions as "Son of Man," "Man of God," "Day of the Lord," etc.
1. "The Son of Man."*—This expression is first met with in Psalm 8. And if we wish to know what its distinctive significance is we must note its associations.
There we find, from the first and last verses, that it is "the earth" which is in question, and that it is "dominion" in the earth which is the scope of the
Psalm as a whole. It is universal dominion over all the works of God's hands.
This then is the special thought to be borne in mind whenever we subsequently meet with this title.
Not "a son of man," for every mortal being is that, as a descendant of Adam. Ezekiel is constantly so called. "A son of man" is the converse of "a son of God."
There is just the same difference between "a son of God" and "the Son of God" as there is between "a son of Man" and "the Son of Man."
"The Son of Man" is the special title of the Lord Jesus, in connection with His right and title to universal dominion in the earth; and as having had all things placed as a footstool for His feet, when the time comes for Him to exercise that right.
At the present moment, according tot he Divine Counsels "we see NOT YET all things put under Him" (Heb 2:8); but we shall see them in due time, when "He shall come whose right it is" to reign (Isa 32:1; Eze 21:27).
It was as "the Son of Man" that He came unto His own dominion. But His own people "received Him not" (John 1:11), hence His title is associated with His humiliation.
The first New Testament occurrence is full of significance. It is in Matthew 8:20; where we are told that "the Son of Man" had not where to lay His head on that earth which was His by right.
This title, in perfect harmony with that first occurrence, is used eighty times in the four Gospels, not once in the Church Epistles; once in Acts 7:56; once (and then only as a quotation) in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It does not reappear until the Apocalypse, twice (1:13, 14:14). There, at the crisis, when the moment arrives for executing judgment in the earth, He is seen and described as "the Son of Man"; no longer in humiliation, no longer wearing a crown of thorns, but "having on His head a golden crown" (Rev 14:14-16).
The fact that this title never once occurs in the Epistles that are addressed to churches speaks loudly to those who have ears to hear; for it declares that we, as the members of the Body of Christ, have no more connection
with Him by the title of "the Son of Man," than had the Syro-Phoenician woman with Him as "The Son of David" (Matt 15:21-24). Hence, it follows, that the Church of God must be rightly divided off, and excluded from all portions of those Scriptures where the Lord Jesus bears this title of "the Son of Man." The use of that title is sufficient proof in itself that the Scope of all such passages where it occurs is dominion in the earth; and not glory in the heavens.
2. "The Man of God."—We find this expression used twice of Timothy in the New Testament (1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 3:17). And if we ask for the exact essence and force of the expression; and what is the teaching conveyed in it, we have to ask for its first occurrence.
We find it in Deuteronomy 33:1: "This is the blessing wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death."
This blessing is a great prophecy: and Moses, in this Book, is spoken of as being that Prophet, like unto whom Christ was to be hereafter raised up (Deut 18:15).
This title "Man of God" came to be the popular description or title of the prophet, and we meet with it, as being so used, throughout the historical books of the Old Testament. What this teaches us will be further seen under our next Canon, as to the importance of the place, in Scripture, where we meet with certain expressions, in addition to the first place in which we find it.
3. "The Day of the Lord."—This we have already considered in part, under Part I, section 4 (p. 158). It only remains, here, to show that what we have there said is based upon what we learn from its first occurrence.
We meet with it first in Isaiah 2:11, 12.
"The lofty looks of man shall be humbled,
And the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down,
And the LORD alone shall be exalted in that Day.
For the Day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud," etc.
Here we have the essence of the expression. Whatever may be the marks and accompaniments of that Day; whatever may be its judgments and plagues and terrors, they have all only one twofold object;
The abasement of Man and
The exaltation of God.
This is their object and this is the great and final result.
Now, it is "Man's day" (1 Cor 4:3, margin). Man is judging. But "the Lord's Day" is coming, when He will be the judge. John is carried away by the Spirit and shown the future judgment scenes in the visions which are described in the Apocalypse: so that we can there read about the unveiling and exaltation of Christ, and the abasement of man in that day.
1. The first Utterance of the Old Serpent.
In Genesis 3:1 the Old Serpent is introduced to us as already fallen, and his first words are intended to impress us with the fact that, the special sphere of his activities is not the criminal sphere; not the sphere of immorality; but it is the Religious sphere: it is the sphere which has the Word of God for the great object of attack.
The first utterance of Satan, as the Old Serpent, was to question the truth of the Word of God. "He said unto the woman,
Yea, God hath said ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden,"
It is not certain whether this should be a question or a statement. The woman's answer appears to regard it as a statement, by meeting it with a denial and an explanation.
And the woman said unto the Serpent
"We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden," etc,
But we are concerned now with the subject of Satan's first utterance.
It is about the Word and truth of God. God had spoken. Shall man believe what He has said?
This fact speaks to us if we have ears to hear.
It bids us look for Satan's sphere of influence to-day, not in the Police Courts, but in the Pulpits; not in the Newspapers, but in Sermons; not on the Stage, but in our Universities; not in our streets, but in the Professors' Chairs at our Theological Colleges.
Time was when Infidels carried on a platform campaign of lectures against the Word of God. In our day this has practically ceased. There is no further need for it; the work is more effectually done in the Pulpit by Theological Infidels, who have "turned away their ears from the truth and are turned unto myths" (2 Tim 4:3,4). Treating the Word of God as "unhistorical" and its records as "fables," they teach the myths of men instead of obeying the command to "Preach the word."
This is what we learn from this first utterance of the Old Serpent.
With this we ought to couple
2. The First Ministerial Utterance of the Lord Jesus.
We have it in Matthew 4:4; immediately after His consecration for His office of Prophet.
The Old Serpent comes to the Second man, the last Adam, not in a garden of delights, but in the wilderness. He questions again the truth of God's words, the echo of which, "This is my beloved son," had scarcely died away:—"If thou be the Son of God."
What are the words of the Lord's reply.
"IT IS WRITTEN."
This is the Lord's first ministerial utterance.
Could language tell us more pointedly and plainly that we are again on the same battle-field in which the truth of God's Word is at stake?
"It is written." What was written? What can be written but words? How can it be possible to have writing apart from words?
And yet there are those that tell us that the Bible "contains the Word of God," but that it "is not the Word
of God." That its thoughts are inspired, but not its words. But again we ask, How can thoughts be written down without words? It is by words, and only by words that thoughts can be made known.
When Milton dictated his poems to his amanuensis, did he communicate his thoughts and leave his words to the choice of another? Are not the actual words, and even the spelling and rhythm of them, vital to the whole matter? Are not the choice of the words and the scanning of their syllables the very essence of what made the result Milton's, and not that of his amanuensis?
"IT IS WRITTEN."
This is an utterance which settles such questions for ever; and closes the mouth of Satan and all "his ministers" (2 Cor 11:15).
At least, it closed the mouth of Satan; though men's mouths will be open and vent their blasphemies until they are closed in judgment.
Three times did the Lord Jesus use that first utterance, "It is written," and three times did He utter no other than the words written, until He dismissed the Old Serpent with the rebuke: "Get thee hence, Satan."
Is it not as significant as it is remarkable, that when the Lord delivered up His trust, having finished the work which was given Him to do, He again, three times, referred to God's Word written, in John 17:
"Thy word is truth" (v 17).
"I have given them Thy Word" (v 14).
"I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest me" (v 8)?
Does not this fact speak to us? Surely the fact that the Lord's ministry began and ended with a three-fold reference to the Word of God emphatically assures us that—
THE BEGINNING AND END OF ALL MINISTRY IS THE WORD OF GOD.
3. The first utterance of the Lord as the Son of Man.
This also is important, as distinct from this first official and ministerial utterance.
He must have spoken from the time that all children speak. But not one syllable has the Holy Spirit written down until twelve years had passed by; and then, not another until eighteen years later.
Only one utterance of the Lord Jesus through all those thirty years of His earthly life as the Son of Man.
It was this:
"Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" (Luke 2:49).
It was in the form of a question which Joseph and Mary could neither understand—nor answer.
It was a rebuke; for Mary had spoken of "thy father and I." The Lord speaks of "I" and "My Father."
No utterance could have more fully, completely or beautifully summed up His whole mission—which had been, centuries before, written "in the Volume of the Book," concerning Him (Psa 40:7; Heb 10:7).
"Lo I come to do Thy will, O my God."
And, when we compare with this His last recorded utterance as the Son of Man, no language can describe its fulness of meaning, its significance, and its importance:
"It is finished."
What was finished? The Father's business which He came to be about!
4. The First Questions in the Old and New Testaments.
We have already seen (page 315) that the words of the Old Serpent in Genesis 3:1 are, probably, not to be regarded as a question.
In that case the first question in the Old Testament is put by Jehovah Elohim to the lost sinner (Gen 3:9)—
"Where art thou?"
This question reveals to Adam his lost and ruined condition; and makes way for the promise of the needed Saviour which is given in verse 15.
Then the first question in the New Testament (Matt 2:2) is put by those who are seeking that Saviour—
"Where is He?"
In these two questions we have the object of the two Testaments. The Old, which ministers law and condemnation, is intended to convict the sinner of his sin and to show him his need; the New, which ministers grace, is intended to bring peace and blessing in the gift of the Saviour whom God has provided, anointed, given, and sent.
"Where is He?" Where is that Saviour who has been promised? Where is the Saviour of whom I, as a lost sinner, have discovered my need?
5. The Holy Spirit's first Interpretation of Prophecy.
The first interpretation of a prophecy written in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New must furnish us with a key to the interpretation and understanding of all other prophecies.
It occurs in Matthew 1:22, 23, and the way in which the Holy Spirit, who inspired it through Isaiah, records his own fulfillment of it by Matthew must needs be full of instruction.
We have gone into this very fully in our work on Number in Scripture, so that it is not necessary to repeat it here. We only recommend the study of this first example of interpretation as being a guide to the way in which we should approach the interpretation of other prophecies.