George Ophoff was Professor of Old Testament Studies in the Protestant Reformed Seminary in its early days. Reprinted here, in edited form, are articles which Ophoff wrote at that time for the Standard Bearer.

We have seen that the shadows of the old dispensation were indeed accompanied by Messianic revelations—that is, by the spoken word, describing the very objects and events that were prefigured by the shadows. There are two questions which may now be raised. Was it but an enlightened few who were expecting Him who would demolish the head of the serpent, or was the advent of the man of Jehovah an event to which the believers in general were looking forward? Another question is whether or not the believers of the old covenant were empowered to detect in the shadows any reference to the one whose coming had been announced.

Old Testament believers’ comprehension of Messianic prophecies

Our answer to the first question may be brief. Although the Scriptures nowhere explicitly state that the expectation of the promised Shiloh was the portion of the believers in general, yet it must not be supposed that it was but a select few who received the grace necessary to enable them to glory in the triumph of truth and of righteousness over the forces of sin. Common to all believers is a thirst for righteousness and a desire to be delivered from the body of this death. The divine announcement “I will set enmity,” and “It shall bruise thy head,” was, we may feel assured, heavenly music in the ears of every saint of the old covenant. This and similar announcements must be regarded as so many lifelines thrown out, which those who realized that they were lying in the midst of death eagerly grasped. The faith of such personages as Eve, Noah, the patriarchs, and Moses did not differ, essentially, from the faith of the believers in general. As these prayed, praised, hoped, rejoiced, and struggled, so did they all. They were all looking for a city which hath foundations whose maker and builder is God. And such words of Jehovah as “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be”—such words became the property of the church and served as a course of comfort to every saint.

Old Testament believers’ ability to link prophecy and symbol

The other question was whether the believers of the old covenant were wont to read in the shadows any reference to Him whose coming they were expecting. To confine ourselves to the rite of expiatory sacrifice, did the believers regard this rite as a prophetic symbol of the sufferings and death of Him upon whom they were focusing their hopes? In answering this question we shall set out by stating the three rudiments of the Jehovah religion thus far brought into relief. They are: 1) Our help standeth in the name of Jehovah; 2) There can be no remission of sins without the shedding of blood; 3) The Man of Jehovah, the Shiloh, will prevail over the malice of the serpent. The question is, whether the ancient believer regarded the sacrificial victim as a prophetic symbol of the sufferings and death of the Messiah. In other words, was the believer of the old covenant taught to associate the shedding of blood with the promised Shiloh? Was he made to see that, according to the arrangement of God, the Man of Jehovah must bear the iniquities of His people?

It is a fact that in the very first revelation made unto man concerning the Messiah is found a reference to His sufferings. It was asserted that the serpent should bruise the heel of the seed. Then, too, the book of psalms are interspersed with lively descriptions of the ill treatment afforded Him by the antagonist. Psalm 22 is exclusively Messianic. The distress to which the poet in this lyric gives expression shall also be the portion of the Messiah. “Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help. Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death” (Ps. 22:11-15). Some of the details of the psalm are applicable to Christ only. “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (vv. 16, 17).

With respect to such Scriptures the question arises whether the poet was aware of the fact that he was being used by the Spirit to describe the sufferings of Him whose kingdom Jehovah would establish forever. It cannot be otherwise than that the poet knew that his utterances applied to this particular offspring of his. David was aware of the spiritual and moral ties binding him to the promised seed. The promised Shiloh was to be a man according to God’s heart, devoted to the cause of Jehovah, dreaded and hated therefore by the antagonists of God. Ordinarily the experiences of one follower of Christ are the experiences of every follower. They all share a common lot in this world, Christ and His body. The lyric poet, stationing himself upon his own experiences, beheld from this elevation the suffering Christ placed within his range of vision by Jehovah. At the dawn of grace it had been revealed to the church that the serpent would bruise the heel of the seed. This became the favorite theme of the prophets of Jehovah.

It had also been revealed unto the woman that her seed should bruise the head of the serpent. This, too, was a theme which the prophets of the Lord delighted to elucidate. Prompted by the Spirit they often engaged in depicting the triumph of the Messiah. “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh…. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath…. Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Ps. 2:1-9). “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies…. The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. He shall judge among the nations, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries” (Ps. 110:1-6). “And he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked” (Isaiah 11:4).

The Messiah will set Himself against the opponents of God. That indicates that He loves truth and righteousness. Such being the case, He will judge the poor with righteousness and argue their case. “And he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth…. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins” (Is. 11:3-5).

Let us say a word about the Scriptures quoted above. It is a well-known fact that the rationalist looks down with disdain upon the God of the Old Testament. This God, so he avers, is a monstrosity, an unnatural production. His opinion is based chiefly on those Scriptures which assert that the Lord’s Anointed shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, that the wicked shall perish, and that the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs. To the believer who has entered into the sanctuary of God, however, these psalms are precious. And that, not because he takes delight in the misery and woe of the wicked as such. Far from that. He knows the sorrow of the apostle Paul—a grief which comes to the surface in the following Scripture: “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:1-3). For another reason are such Scriptures a source of great comfort to him: they assure him that, not the loathsome forces of darkness, but God, light, truth, justice, and righteousness shall gain the ascendancy. The wicked shall perish. (The prophets of that day, we notice, did not suggest that it was the sin of the wicked that Jehovah hated, not the wicked themselves. The latter is a notion of the exponents of the theory of common grace of the twentieth century A.D.)

The theme, then, to which the prophets of the first period of the old dispensation often applied themselves was the struggles or the sufferings and the triumph of the Messiah.

Now, once more the question: Were the prophets of the old covenant wont to associate the blood of the sacrificial victim with the Messiah? Did the church of the old dispensation perceive that the sufferings of the servant of Jehovah, the bruising of His heel, would have atoning value? Did they read in the rite of expiatory sacrifice any reference to the man of Jehovah, whose griefs and triumphs they depicted? Were they able to link together prophecy and symbol? Did they recognize the sacrificial victim as an image or symbol of the suffering Messiah?

Fact is, the only book of the Old Testament which ascribes to the sufferings of the Messiah atoning value is the book of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was the only prophet who asserted that “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed… and the Lord hath laid upon him the iniquities of us all.” In vain do we search the psalms for any such statements. This means that we have no objective proof for asserting that the church in the first periods of the old dispensation associated the shedding of the blood of the sacrificial animal with the suffering Messiah. In other words, there is no objective proof for the assertion that the church in the first epochs ascribed to the sufferings of the Messiah atoning value. The church, then, for at least many centuries, evidently did not detect in the rite of expiatory sacrifice a reference to Christ. It was Isaiah who was taught by the Holy Spirit to link together 1) God, 2) the Servant of Jehovah, and 3) the blood. This, to be sure, may be regarded as the grand triumph of prophecy.

This does not mean, however, that faith in Christ was no requirement in the days of the old covenant. Let us quote from a former article (#4). “The salvation of the elect of God of the old covenant is perplexing to many. Were the devout, so it is asked, capable of looking beyond the lamb to Christ? This, we reply, is a matter of conjecture. Nevertheless, the salvation of the just of the old covenant was altogether permissible. It was a contrite, brokenhearted sinner who cast himself upon the mercy of Jehovah, realizing that the mercy with which he desired to be satisfied was a just, though unmerited, mercy. What was there preventing God from granting such a one the desires of his heart? God could show this one mercy, and pardon his sins. He could do so without lowering Himself in the eyes of His moral creature. For He had taken care to demonstrate unto them that sin somehow must be atoned for and His mercy merited. It was not for nothing that blood played so prominent a part in the typical transactions of the old dispensation…. [By means of the blood, Jehovah] trained His people to expect all from Him—salvation and the means…. Having passed through the course of training insisted upon by Jehovah, the believer of the old covenant perceived that Jehovah alone can save. He saves, however, in conjunction with blood, not the blood of the animal, but the blood which Jehovah would provide. Now, Christ is God and blood, the latter signifying the human nature in which God suffered and died for His own. In fine, the Old Testament believer was empowered to lay hold on that which constitutes the very heart and soul of redemption, Jehovah and blood.”

In this sense did the shadows direct the believer to Christ.