When Manasses set up a carved image in the house of the Lord, (2 Chronicles 33:5, 6, 7) and built altars in the two courts of the house, to all the host of Heaven, and used enchantments and witchcraft, and familiar spirits, and for his great wickedness was invaded by the army of Asserhadon King of Assyria, and carried captive to Babylon; the book of the Law was lost till the eighteenth year of his grandson Josiah.
Then Hilkiah (2 Chronicles 34) the High Priest, upon repairing the Temple, found it there: and the King lamented that their fathers had not done after the words of the book, and commanded that it should be read to the people, and caused the people to renew the holy covenant with God. This is the book of the Law now extant.
When Shishak (2 Chronicles 12:2, 3, 4, 8, 9. & 15:3, 5, 6) came out of Egypt and spoiled the temple, and brought Judah into subjection to the monarchy of Egypt, (which was in the fifth year of Rehoboam) the Jews continued under great trouble for about twenty years; being without the true God, and without a teaching Priest, and with Law: and in those times there was no peace to him that went out, nor to him that came in, but great vexations were upon all the inhabitants of the countries, and nation was destroyed of nation, and city of city, for God did vex them with all adversity.
But when Shishak(2 Chronicles 14:1, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12) was dead, and Egypt fell into troubles, Judah had quiet ten years; and in that time Asa built fenced cities in Judah, and got up an army of 580,000 men, with which, in the 15th year of his reign, he met and overcame Zerah the Ethiopian, who had conquered Egypt and Lybia, and Troglodytica, and came out with an army of 1,000,000 Lybians and Ethiopians, to recover the countries conquered by Sesac. And after this victory Asa(2 Chronicles 15:3, 12, 13, 16, 18) dethroned his mother for idolatry, and he renewed the Altar, and brought new vessels of gold and silver into the Temple, and he and the people entered into a new covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers, upon pain of death to those who worshiped other Gods; and his son Jehosaphat took away the high places, and in the third year of his reign sent some of his Princes, and of the Priests and Levites, to teach in the cities of Judah, and taught the people. This is that book of the Law which was afterwards lost in the reign of Manasses, and found again in the reign of Josiah, and therefore it was written before the third year of Jehosaphat.
The same book of the Law was preserved and handed down to posterity by the Samaritans, and therefore was received by the ten Tribes before their captivity. For when the ten Tribes(2 Kings 17:27, 28, 32, 33) were captivated, a Priest of the captivity was sent back to Bethel, by order of the King of Assyria, to instruct the new inhabitants of Samaria, in the manner of the God of the land; and the Samaritans had the Pentateuch from this Priest, as containing the law or manner of the God of the land, which he was to teach them. For they persevered(2 Kings 17:34, 41) in the religion which he taught them, joining with it the worship of their own Gods; and by persevering in what they had been taught, they preserved this book of their Law in the original character of the Hebrews, while the two Tribes, after their return from Babylon, changed the character to that of the Chaldees, which they had learned at Babylon.
And since the Pentateuch was received as the book of the Law, both by the two Tribes and by the ten Tribes, it follows that they received it before they became divided into two Kingdoms. For after the division, they received not laws from one another, but continued at variance. Judah could not reclaim Israel from the sin of Jeroboam, and Israel could not bring Judah to it. The Pentateuch therefore was the book of the Law in the days of David and Solomon. The affairs of the Tabernacle and Temple were ordered by David and Solomon, according to the Law of this book; and David in the 78th Psalm, admonishing the people to give ear to the Law of God, means the Law of this book. For in describing how their forefathers kept it not, he quotes many historical things out of the books of Exodus and Numbers.
The race of the Kings of Edom, before there reigned any King over Israel, is set down in the book of Genesis; (Genesis 36:31) and therefore that book was not written entirely in the form now extant, before the reign of Saul. The writer set down the race of those Kings till his own time, and therefore wrote before David conquered Edom. The Pentateuch is composed of the Law and the history of God’s people together; and the history hath been collected from several books, such as were the history of the Creation composed by Moses, Genesis 2:4; the book of the generations of Adam, Genesis 5:1; and the book of the wars of the Lord, Numbers 21:14. This book of wars contained what was done at the Red Sea, and in the journeying of Israel through the Wilderness, and therefore was begun by Moses. And Joshua might carry it on to the conquest of Canaan. For Joshua wrote some things in the book of the Law of God, Joshua 24:26, and therefore might write his own wars in the book of wars, those being the principal wars of God. These were public books, and therefore not written without the authority of Moses and Joshua. And Samuel had leisure in the reign of Saul, to put them into the form of the books of Moses and Joshua now extant, inserting into the book of Genesis, the race of the Kings of Edom, until there reigned a King in Israel.
The book of the Judges is a continued history of the Judges down to the death of Sampson, and therefore was compiled after his death, out of the Acts of the Judges. Several things in this book are said to be done when there was no King in Israel, Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25; and therefore this book was written after the beginning of the reign of Saul. When it was written, the Jebusites dwelt in Jerusalem, Judges 1:21; and therefore it was written before the eighth year of David, 2 Samuel 5:8, and 1 Chronicles 11:6. The books of Moses, Joshua, and Judges, contain one continued history, down from the Creation to the death of Sampson. Where the Pentateuch ends, the book of Joshua begins; and where the book of Joshua ends, the book of Judges begins. Therefore all these books have been composed out of the writings of Moses, Joshua, and other records, by one and the same hand, after the beginning of the reign of Saul, and before the eighth year of David. And Samuel was a sacred writer, 1 Samuel 10:25; acquainted with the history of Moses and the Judges, 1 Samuel 12:8, 9, 10, 11, 12; and had leisure in the reign of Saul, and sufficient authority to compose these books. He was a Prophet, and judged Israel all the days of his life, and was in the greatest esteem with the people; and the Law by which he was to judge the people was not to be published by less authority than his own, the Law-maker being not inferior to the judge. And the book of Jasher, which is quoted in the book of Joshua, Joshua 10:13; was in being at the death of Saul, 2 Samuel 1. 18.
At the dedication of the Temple of Solomon, when the Ark was brought into the most holy place, there was nothing in it but the two tables, 1 Kings 8:9; and therefore when the Philistines took the Ark, they took out of it the book of the Law, and the golden pot of Manna, and Aaron’s Rod. And this and other losses in the desolation of Israel, by the conquering Philistines, might give occasion to Samuel, after some respite from those enemies, to recollect the scattered writings of Moses and Joshua, and the records of the Patriarchs and Judges, and compose them in the form now extant.
The book of Ruth is a history of things done in the days of the Judges, and may be looked upon as an addition to the book of the Judges, written by the same author, and at the same time. For it was written after the birth of David, Ruth 4:17, 22; and not long after, because the history of Boaz and Ruth, the great grandfather and great grandmother of David, and that of their contemporaries, could not well be remembered above two or three generations. And since this book derives the genealogy of David from Boaz and Ruth, and omits David’s elder brothers and his sons; it was written in honor of David, after he was anointed King by Samuel, and before he had children in Hebron, and by consequence in the reign of Saul.
It proceeds not to the history of David, and therefore seems to have been written presently after he was anointed.
They judge well who ascribe to Samuel the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. Samuel is also reputed the author of the first book of Samuel, till the time of his death. The two books of Samuel cite no authors, and therefore seem to be originals. They begin with his genealogy, birth and education, and might be written partly in his life-time by himself, or his disciples the Prophets at Naioth in Ramah, 1 Samuel 19:18, 19, 20; and partly after his death by the same disciples.
The books of the Kings cite other authors, as the book of the Acts of Solomon, the book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, and the book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah. The books of the Chronicles cite the book of Samuel the Seer, the book of Nathan the Prophet, and the book of Gad the Seer, for the Acts of David; the book of Nathan the Prophet, the Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and the visions of Iddo the Seer, for the Acts of Solomon; the book of Shemajah the Prophet, and the book of Iddo the Seer concerning genealogies, for the Acts of Rehoboam and Abijah; the book of the Kings of Judah and Israel for the Acts of Asa, Joash, Amaziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, and Josiah; the book of Hanani the Seer, for the Acts of Jehosaphat; and the visions of Isaiah for the Acts of Uzziah and Hezekiah.
These books were therefore collected out of the historical writings of the ancient Seers and Prophets. And because the books of the Kings and Chronicles quote one another, they were written at one and the same time. And this time was after the return from the Babylonian captivity, because they bring down the history of Judah, and the genealogies of the Kings of Judah, and of the High Priests, to that captivity. The book of Ezra was originally a part of the book of Chronicles, and has been divided from it.
For it begins with the two last verses of the books of Chronicles, and the first book of Esdras begins with the two last chapters thereof. Ezra was therefore the compiler of the books of Kings and Chronicles, and brought down the history to his own time. He was a ready Scribe in the Law of God; and for assisting him in this work Nehemias founded a library, and gathered together the Acts of the Kings and the Prophets, and of David, and the Epistles of the Kings concerning the holy gifts, 2 Maccab. 2:13.
By the Acts of David I understand here the two books of Samuel, or at the least the second book. Out of the Acts of the Kings, written from time to time by the prophets, he composed the books of the Kings of Judah and Israel, the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah, and the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. And in doing this he joined those Acts together, in due order of time, copying the very words of the authors, as is manifest from hence, that the books of the Kings and Chronicles frequently agree with one another in words for many sentences together. Where they agree in sense, there they agree in words also. So the Prophecies of Isaiah, written at several times, he has collected into one body. And the like he did for those of Jeremiah, and the rest of the Prophets, down to the days of the second Temple. The book of Jonah is the history of Jonah written by another hand. The book of Daniel is a collection of papers written at several times. The six last chapters contain Prophecies written at several times by Daniel himself; the six first are a collection of historical papers written by others. The fourth chapter is a decree of Nebuchadnezzar. The first chapter was written after Daniel’s death: for the author saith, that Daniel continued to the first year of Cyrus; that is, to his first year over the Persians and Medes, and the third year over Babylon. And, for the same reason, the fifth and sixth chapters were also written after his death. For they end with these words: So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of the Persian.
Yet these words might be added by the collector of the papers, whom I take to be Ezra.
The Psalms composed by Moses, David, and others, seem to have been also collected by Ezra into one volume. I reckon him the collector, because in this collection I meet with Psalms as late as the Babylonian captivity, but with none later.
After these things Antiochus Epiphanes spoiled the Temple, commanded the Jews to forsake the Law upon pain of death, and caused the sacred books to be burnt wherever they could be found: and in these troubles the book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel was entirely lost. But upon recovering from this oppression, Judas Maccabaeus gathered together all those writings that were to be met with, 2 Maccab. 2:14; and in reducing them into order, part of the Prophecies of Isaiah, or some other Prophet, have been added to the end of the Prophecies of Zechariah; and the book of Ezra has been separated from the book of Chronicles, and set together in two different orders; in one order in the book of Ezra, received into the Canon, and in another order in the first book of Esdras. After the Roman captivity, the Jews for preserving their traditions, put them in writing in their Talmud; and for preserving their scriptures, agreed upon an Edition, and pointed it, and counted the letters of every sort in every book: and by preserving only this Edition, the ancienter various lections, except what can be discovered by means of the Septuagint Version, are now lost; and such marginal notes, or other corruptions, as by the errors of the transcribers, before this Edition was made, had crept into the text, are now scarce to be corrected.
The Jews before the Roman captivity, distinguished the sacred books into the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa, or holy writings; and read only the Law and the Prophets in their Synagogues. And Christ and his Apostles laid the stress of religion upon the Law and the Prophets, Matthew 7:12; 22:4; Luke 16:16, 29, 31; 24:44; Acts 24:14; 26:22; Romans 3:21. By the Hagiographa they meant the historical books called Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, the book of Job, the Psalms, the books of Solomon, and the Lamentations. The Samaritans read only the Pentateuch: and when Jehosaphat sent men to teach in the cities, they had with them only the book of the Law; for the Prophecies now extant were then written. And upon the return from the Babylonian captivity, Ezra read only the book of the Law to the people, from morning to noon, on the first day of the seventh month; and from day to day in the feast of Tabernacles; for he had not yet collected the writings of the Prophets into the volume now extant; but instituted the reading of them after the collection was made. By reading the Law and the Prophets in the Synagogues, those books have been kept freer from corruption than the Hagiographa.
In the infancy of the nation of Israel, when God had given them a Law, and made a covenant with them to be their God if they would keep his commandments, he sent Prophets to them to reclaim them, as often as they revolted to the worship of other Gods: and upon their returning to him, they sometimes renewed the covenant which they had broken. These Prophets he continued to send till the days of Ezra: but after their Prophecies were read in the Synagogues, those Prophecies were thought sufficient. For if the people would not hear Moses and the old Prophets, they would hear no new ones, no not tho they should rise from the dead.
At length when a new truth was to be preached to the Gentiles, namely, that Jesus was the Christ. God sent new Prophets and Teachers: but after their writings were also received and read in the Synagogues of the Christians, Prophecy ceased a second time. We have Moses, the Prophets, and Apostles, and the words of Christ himself; and if we will not hear them, we shall be more inexcusable than the Jews. For the Prophets and Apostles have foretold, that as Israel often revolted and brake the covenant, and upon repentance renewed it; so there should be a falling away among the Christians, soon after the days of the Apostles; and that in the latter days God would destroy the impenitent revolters, and make a new covenant with his people. And the giving ear to the Prophets is a fundamental character of the true Church. For God has so ordered the Prophecies that in the latter days the wise may understand, but the wicked shall do wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand, Daniel 12:9, 10.
The authority of Emperors, Kings, and Princes, is human. The authority of Councils, Synods, Bishops, and Presbyters, is human. The authority of the Prophets is divine, and comprehends the sum of religion, reckoning Moses and the Apostles among the Prophets; and if an Angel from Heaven preach any other gospel than what they have delivered, let him be accursed. Their writings contain the covenant between God and his people, with instructions for keeping this covenant; instances of God’s judgments upon them that break it: and predictions of things to come. While the people of God keep the covenant, they continue to be his people: when they break it they cease to be his people or church, and become the Synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not. And no power on earth is authorized to alter this covenant.
The predictions of things to come relate to the state of the Church in all ages: and amongst the old Prophets, Daniel is most distinct in order of time, and easiest to be understood: and therefore in those things which relate to the last times, he must be made the key to the rest.