It is clear that there was an appropriate and recognized style of prophetic address, and of the introduction to special prophetic utterances.
By attending to this we shall read the prophetic books to an advantage that cannot be realized by submitting, without thought, to the superficial guidance of chapter-beginning and chapter-ending. These will be found of little use in helping us to distinguish separate and distinct prophecies.
In JEREMIAH, the formulae are generally "The word of the LORD came", "Thus saith the LORD", or "The word that came".
In EZEKIEL, the call is to the prophet as "son of man", (*1) and the formula is "the word of the LORD came", many times repeated.
In the Minor (or Shorter) Prophets, it is "The word of the LORD by", "Hear the word that the LORD hath spoken", or "The burden of the word of the LORD".
In ISAIAH, the prophetic utterances have two distinct forms. As to Israel, the chosen People, they open with "Listen", "Awake", "Ho", "Arise, shine", "Behold"; while in the case of the surrounding nations it was a series of "Burdens" or "Woes"; as well as to Ephraim (28), and to the rebellious sons who go down to Egypt, to the "Assyrian", &c. See the Structures on pp. 930, 1015, and 1104.
An illustrative example of the usefulness of noting these formulae is furnished by Isa. 34 and 35. Most Commentators make chapter 35 commence a new prophecy, and thus entirely obscure the great issue of the prophecy, which begins in ch. 34:1 with the Call :-- "COME NEAR, YE NATIONS, to hear; and HEARKEN, ye peoples : let the earth HEAR", &c.
The Call is to witness Jehovah's JUDGMENT ON EDOM (in ch. 34), which issues in the salvation of ISRAEL (in ch. 35).
Thus the prophecy is seen to have no break, but forms one complete and comprehensive whole, embracing these two great parts of one subject.
In ch. 34 we have the desolation of Edom : wild beasts celebrate the discomfiture of its inhabitants : then, in ch. 35, the wilderness and solitary place are seen to be glad; and, as it were, in sympathy with Divine judgment, the desert rejoices and blossoms as the rose (35:1, 2).
In the result, ch. 35 shows that the People of Jehovah enjoy the inheritance of the Edomites. Not only are their enemies gone, but so are the wild beasts which were at once the evidences and tokens of their judgment. It will have become the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; no lion shall be there, but the redeemed shall walk there (35:8, 9).
But all the beauty of this wonderful transition is lost, when chapter 35 is made the beginning of a new and distinct prophecy; and, more that this, the difficulty is created by the Hebrew suffix "for them", in 35:1. Not knowing what to do with it, the Revisers solve the difficulty by simply omitting these two words "for them"; and this in the absence of any manuscript authority, and without giving in the margin even the slightest hint that they have entirely ignored the Hebrew suffix in the verb susum (i.e. the final "m").
The two chapters (34 and 35) form a comprehensive message, a matter of world concern : for it combined an implied vindication of the righteousness of God, and a confirmation of His promise to save His People Israel with an everlasting salvation.
A failure to recognize the formula of Isaiah's prophetic utterance led, first, to a misapplication of the chapter, and then to an unjustifiable disregard of the pronominal suffix.
This typical case of confusion, resulting primarily from an unfortunate
arrangement in chapter-division, suggests the great importance of care
being exercised in a correct individualizing of the prophecies of Holy