The centuries covered by the progress and development of the plan of redemption are marked off in Scripture into three great divisions.
The first is designated as the patriarchal dispensation, covering the time from Adam to Moses, a period of about two thousand five hundred years.
The second is known as the Mosaic dispensation, extending from Moses to the first advent, or about one thousand five hundred years.
The third is called the Christian dispensation, which began at the first advent, and is to continue to the close of time, or to the second coming of our Lord.
It is now our purpose to trace the presence and operation of the prophetic gift through these three dispensations. Naturally, the logical place to start is at the beginning of the race, which is the beginning of the patriarchal dispensation. Patriarch, says one writer, is the name generally applied to the men of whose lives a record is preserved, before the time of Moses. It is applied more particularly to the great fathers of the Jewish race, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and to the sons of the last. The title is once given to David. Acts 2:29.
By the patriarchal system is meant the order of society which grew naturally out of the family before nations with ordered government arose. The patriarchal dispensation refers to the fellowship with God vouchsafed to men before the choice of Israel.The Temple Dictionary of the Bible, Ewing and Thomson, art., Patriarch, p. 565. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd.; New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1910.
Except in the Bible, no writings or records of any kind produced by the men who were in communication with God during the patriarchal age have been preserved. The information we have regarding the work of the gospel and the lives of God's people in that long period of time has come to us only through the Bible, or through the subsequent writings of the spirit of
prophecy. From these sources we learn that instruction and guidance were given to each generation from Adam down to the time of Moses.
While yet in Eden, before they were sent forth, Adam and Eve were given the cheering assurance that the Lord had made provision for their return to their lost Paradise home. How fully this provision may have been explained in the garden has not been disclosed. But in the brief statement they heard the Lord make to Satan, there was enough to assure them that they were not to be utterly abandoned by the Lord; that Satan was not to have undisputed control over them and their lost dominion; and that ultimately Christ, the Seed of the woman, would be triumphant in the great conflict.
With this comforting information and hope, our first parents went forth from the presence of God and their heavenly associates. They were now in the enemy's landin the dominion Satan had wrested from them, and in which he had established his kingdom of rebellion. Here they were to witness the cruel outworking of sin. Yet through the long dark night of the reign of sin there would be shining clear rays from the world of light from which they had been expelled. There was to be manifested in their behalf the mighty power of God, redeeming them from the power of sin. Thus they were prisoners of hope. Zech. 9:12.
The purpose of God for their redemption they had heard declared in Eden, and, now outside its gates, they must have it clearly, fully, and promptly set forth. This was imperative if they were to start right and keep right. Surely the Lord would cause them to understand His great plan of salvation. He would not leave them in the enemy's land in ignorance, uncertainty, and peril, without communicating with them.
An abundance of evidence indicates that the Lord began at once to unfold to this sorrowing pair His plan to redeem them, to bring them back to the beautiful Edenic home they had lost. How was this instruction given? The relation to their Creator
was entirely changed. Consider the situation. They could no longer see Him face to face, nor have open communion with Him. Are we not driven to the conclusion that then, in their time of great need, the Lord began to make Himself and His purposes known through the divinely appointed gift of prophecy? Was it not at that time that the prophetic gift was graciously imparted to the human family? This appears evident from the following inspired statement by Zacharias at the birth of his son, John the Baptist: Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David; as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began: that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; that He would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life. Luke 1:67-75.
This inspired statement definitely locates the beginning of the manifestation of the prophetic gift, for it states that the purpose of the Lord to redeem man was made known as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began. The following comment is illuminating and most helpful:
Thus were revealed to Adam important events in the history of mankind, from the time when the divine sentence was pronounced in Eden, to the Flood, and onward to the first advent of the Son of God. He was shown that while the sacrifice of Christ would be of sufficient value to save the whole world, many would choose a life of sin rather than of repentance and obedience.Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 67.
It is evident that the revelation of the gospel, which Adam began to perceive in the garden, must continue with increasing fullness and clarity after Adam and Eve were separated from the immediate presence of their Creator.
It was the Son of God that gave to our first parents the promise of redemption. It was He who revealed Himself to the patriarchs. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses understood the gospel. They looked for salvation through man's Substitute and Surety. These holy men of old held communion with the Saviour who was to come to our world in human flesh.Id., p. 366.
Regarding the beginning of the operation of the prophetic gift and its continuity, the following statement, though brief, is very clear:
It is the voice of Christ that speaks through patriarchs and prophets, from the days of Adam even to the closing scenes of time [Italics mine].The Desire of Ages, p. 799.
This harmonizes exactly with the inspired declaration of the apostle Peter that it was the Spirit of Christ in the prophets of old that testified concerning the plan of salvation, of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 1 Peter 1:10, 11.
Let us now trace briefly this early line of communication between God and man.
The knowledge and observance of the sacrificial system by Abel is evidence that there must have been revealed to him the death of the Son of God for the sins of the human race. Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering. By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. Gen. 4: 4; Heb. 11:4.
What this excellent sacrifice offered by Abel meant to him is beautifully presented in the following statement:
Abel grasped the great principles of redemption. He saw himself a sinner, and he saw sin, and its penalty death, standing between his soul and communion with God. He brought the slain victim, the sacrificed
life, thus acknowledging the claims of the law that had been transgressed. Through the shed blood he looked to the future sacrifice, Christ dying on the cross of Calvary; and trusting in the atonement that was there to be made, he had the witness that he was righteous, and his offering accepted.Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 72.
Enoch was one of the great characters of the patriarchal dispensation. All the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years. Gen. 5:23. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. Heb. 11:5.
That to Enoch was imparted the prophetic gift is revealed by the apostle Jude: Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all. Jude 14, 15.
The fullness of the revelation given to Enoch is indicated thus by another:
He [Enoch] was one of the holy line, the preservers of the true faith, the progenitors of the promised Seed. In prophetic vision he was instructed concerning the death of Christ, and was shown His coming in glory, attended by all the holy angels, to ransom His people from the grave. God revealed to Enoch His purpose to destroy the world by a flood, and He also opened more fully to him the plan of redemption. By the spirit of prophecy He carried him down through the generations that should live after the Flood, and showed him the great events connected with the second coming of Christ and the end of the world.Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 84, 85.
Noah was another great patriarch with whom God communicated through the prophetic gift.
By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. Heb. 11:7.
Amid the prevailing corruption, Methuselah, Noah, and many others, labored to keep alive the knowledge of the true God, and to stay the tide
of moral evil. A hundred and twenty years before the Flood, the Lord by a holy angel declared to Noah His purpose, and directed him to build an ark. Noah stood like a rock amid the tempest. Surrounded by popular contempt and ridicule, he distinguished himself by his holy integrity and unwavering faithfulness. A power attended his words; for it was the voice of God to man through His servant. Connection with God made him strong in the strength of infinite power, while for one hundred and twenty years his solemn voice fell upon the ears of that generation in regard to events, which, so far as human wisdom could judge, were impossible.Id., pp. 92, 96.
Noah is classed in Holy Writ with two other great prophets of a later time: Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it [the land], as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness. Ezek. 14: 20.
Abraham's association and communion with the Lord were so intimate and unbroken that he was called the Friend of God. James 2:23. In rebuking a king who was about to do Abraham a great wrong, the Lord said: He is a prophet. Gen. 20:7. Upon Abraham was bestowed the prophetic gift. We should especially observe how this gift operated:
The word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. Gen. 15:1.
When the destruction of Sodom had been determined, the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do ? Gen. 18:17. The divine attitude has ever been: Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets. Amos 3:7. So it was that Abraham had honored God, and the Lord honored him, taking him into His counsels, and revealing to him His purposes.Id., p. 139.
Throughout the long, eventful career of this great man, God communicated His will to Abraham, and gave him a distinct knowledge of the requirements of His law, and of the salvation that would be accomplished through Christ . And to this
was added the assurance, precious above every other to the inheritor of faith, that of his line the Redeemer of the world should come: In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.Id., p. 125.
Although Isaac was one of the patriarchs, but little is revealed regarding his life. There is enough, however, to show that God communicated with him as He had with his forefathers. The Lord appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for My servant Abraham's sake. Gen. 26:24.
Thus Isaac is clearly another in the line of instrumentalities through whom God revealed His will and purpose.
To Jacob were given many revelations through the divinely appointed prophetic channel. Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran . And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed. Gen. 28:10-13. As to the significance of this experience, we read:
Up to the time of man's rebellion against the government of God, there had been free communion between God and man. But the sin of Adam and Eve separated earth from heaven, so that man could not have communion with his Maker. Yet the world was not left in solitary hopelessness. The ladder represents Jesus, the appointed medium of communication . All this was revealed to Jacob in his dream. Although his mind at once grasped a part of the revelation, its great and mysterious truths were the study of his lifetime, and unfolded to his understanding more and more.Id., p. 184.
When but a lad, Joseph was given prophetic dreams regarding future events in the history of his father's family. (See Gen.
37:5-10.) Later, while being unjustly held in an Egyptian prison, the providence of God led the king of Egypt to call upon Joseph to interpret dreams that greatly troubled him. Before the king related his dreams, Joseph directed his mind to the true God, as the One from whom the wisdom must come to make known the meaning of the dream. He said: It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace. Gen. 41:16.
The interpretation was so clear and convincing that the king acknowledged that Joseph was a man in whom the Spirit of God is. Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath showed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art. Gen. 41:38, 39. Concerning Joseph's place in the line of human agents through whom God spoke in ancient times, this has been written:
Called from a dungeon, a servant of captives, a prey of ingratitude and malice, Joseph proved true to his allegiance to the God of heaven. And all Egypt marveled at the wisdom of the man whom God instructed.Testimonies for the Church, Vol. VI, p. 219.
With the death of Joseph the patriarchal dispensation is brought to a close. There are many subsequent statements in the Scriptures regarding it, but no other extended, connected account is given.
The record of that period covering the first two thousand five hundred years of the world's history is very brief and fragmentary. However, the information given is of inestimable value to the human family. It reveals and explains some of the greatest events in the history of our world. Without this inspired record, the origin of the world, of man, and of sin would remain dark, baffling mysteries. But, thank God, they have been made luminous through divine revelation.
It should be clearly observed that the most vital fact in this account of patriarchal affairs is the bestowal and gracious operation of the prophetic gift. That was of more value to the welfare of the men and women of that dispensation than anything else
that was done for them. That gift restored and maintained communication between God and man. Through that channel the Lord talked with men, revealing to them the things they needed to know in order that their lives might be made gloriously triumphant. Those who responded wholeheartedly to the instruction given were victorious in the great conflict with the archenemy who assailed them. Once more we quote a helpful word:
Notwithstanding the prevailing iniquity, there was a line of holy men who, elevated and ennobled by communion with God, lived as in the companionship of heaven. They were men of massive intellect, of wonderful attainments. They had a great and holy mission,to develop a character of righteousness, to teach a lesson of godliness, not only to the men of their time, but for future generations. Only a few of the most prominent are mentioned in the Scriptures; but all through the ages, God had faithful witnesses, truehearted worshipers.Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 84.
Only a few, as this statement declares, of the most prominent are mentioned in the Scriptures. The prophetic gift was as clearly imparted, and as prominent and active during the patriarchal dispensation, as it was in the Mosaic dispensation that immediately followed. The patriarchal age was the beginning of man's career after his separation from God. The battle between Christ and Satan for the domination of the human family was initiated, and must have been as intensive and determined as it has ever been. Satan's influence and power were tremendous, for the degradation of the race was so swift and complete that in a comparatively short time after the fall, the whole race, with the exception of eight persons, was justly swept from the face of the earth. In this first contest for the control of man, Christ left nothing undone to instruct, warn, influence, and save the race He had brought into existence by creative power.
The testimony assembled in this study leads, therefore, to the irresistible conclusion that the prophetic gift was imparted to Adam without delay after he and his companion were sent
forth from the Garden of Eden. Through this gracious provision, Adam was kept in communication with God, and the gift was manifested just as effectively throughout the patriarchal period as it has been at any subsequent time. The evidence shows that the prophetic gift was used as fully and as widely as was necessary to meet the situation as it then existed.
What a wonderful blessing this abiding gift was to the people of that dispensation! But more, what an inestimable blessing its service in that age has been to all succeeding generations!
From the established fact that the prophetic gift is the method chosen by the Lord to make known the gospel message to mankind, it is evident that its operation must parallel the gospel movement from its beginning to its close.
As religion is the binding together of God and man, there must not only be the approach of man to God in adoration and worship, but also the approach of God to man, making known His will.The Temple Dictionary of the Bible, Ewing and Thomson, art., Prophet, Prophecy, p. 624.
Or, as stated by another writer whose words are appropriate:
The prophet was the mouthpiece of God, His ambassador to man, informing
him what the divine will was in cases not met by the morality of