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Prophecy in the early church fathers
January 28, 2020
Perhaps the greatest contribution the early church fathers make to us is their understanding of prophecy. Here are examples from Justin Martyr.
"Let us see if this people [the Christians] are the heir, or the former [Old Testament Israel], and whether the covenant belongs to us or to them. Hear now what the Scripture says concerning the people: Isaac prayed for Rebecca his wife because she was barren. She conceived. Rebecca went out to inquire of the Lord, and the Lord said to her, "Two nations are in your womb and two peoples in your belly. The one shall surpass the other, and the elder shall serve the younger" [Gen. 25:23]. You [Trypho, a Jew with whom Justin was arguing] ought to understand who was Isaac, who Rebecca, and concerning what persons he declared that this people should be greater than that.
"In another prophecy Jacob speaks more clearly to his son Joseph, saying, '... Bring your sons to me that I may bless them.' He brought Manasseh and Ephraim, desiring that Manasseh should be blessed because he was the elder. ... But Jacob saw in spirit the type of the people to arise afterwards. And what does it say? Jacob changed the direction of his hands and laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, the second and younger, and blessed him. Joseph said to Jacob, 'Transfer your right hand to the head of Manasseh, for he is my firstborn son.' Jacob said, 'I know it, my son, I know it; but the elder shall serve the younger, yet he also shall be blessed' [Gen. 48:11-19].
You see on whom he laid [his hands], that this people [Christians] should be first and heir of the covenant. If then, still further, the same thing was intimated through Abraham, we reach the completion of our knowledge. What, then, says God to Abraham? 'Because you have believed, it is imputed to your for righteousness. Behold, I have made you the father of those nations who believe in the Lord while in uncircumcision'" [Gen. 15:6; 17:5; Rom. 4:3; from Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 13].
The point I am hoping you will see is how the early churches were quick to spot prophecy even in the stories of the Old Testament. They remind me of Paul in Galatians 4, where he compares Sarah and Hagai to the Old and New Covenants.
The next one is my favorite, but you have to understand that Joshua in Hebrew and Jesus in Greek are the same name. You can see his connection in the King James of Hebrews 4:8, where we read "If Jesus had given them rest, [God] would not have spoken of another day." More modern translations translate the Greek "Iesous" there to Joshua, but by doing so we miss the connection between the Greek "Iesous" and the Hebrew "Yehoshua."
To put it succinctly: Joshua and Jesus are the same name, just in two different languages.
Think of that when you read Justin's description of the war with Amalek found in Exodus 17.
"When the people," I replied, "waged war with Amalek, and the son of Nun, by name Jesus [i.e. Joshua], led the fight, Moses himself prayed to God, stretching out both hands. Hur and Aaron supported his hands during the whole day, so that they might not hang down when he got wearied. Fir if he gave up any part of this sign, which was an imitation of the cross, the people were beaten ... but if he remained in this form, Amalek was proportionally defeated. He who prevailed prevailed by the cross, for it was not because Moses prayed that the people were stronger, but because, while one who bore the name of Jesus was in the forefront of the battle, he himself made the sign of the cross" [Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 90].
I wanted to get these two prophecies from the Old Testament out to you quickly, as I have to leave for a meeting shortly. More prophecies next time.
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