And it shall be, that I shall afterwards pour my Spirit upon all flesh, and prophesy shall your sons and your daughters and your old men shall dreams dream, and your young men shall visions see. We mentioned in our last lecture why the Prophet now at length speaks of the spiritual grace of God, having before spoken of earthly blessings. The order may seem indeed irregular; but it can be easily accounted for. The Prophet said first that God, being reconciled to the people, would openly manifest this by external proofs, by restoring abundance of wine and corn; for the almost wearing out of the people by famine and want, being the evidence of God's vengeance, the Prophet made the testimony of reconciliation to be in tokens of a contrary kind. But as the restoration of the Church consists not either in the fruitfulness of the land, or in the abundance of provisions, the Prophet now raises higher the thoughts of the godly, and makes them to look for the spiritual grace of God: hence he says, I shall afterwards pour my Spirit upon all flesh
The Prophet, no doubt, promises here something greater than what the fathers under the Law had experienced. The gift of the Spirit, we know, was enjoyed even by the ancients; but the Prophet promises not what the faithful had before found; but, as we have said, something greater: and this may easily be gathered from the word here used, |pour out;| for sphk shephek means not to distill, but to pour forth in great abundance; and God did not pour out his Holy Spirit so abundantly and so largely under the law as after the manifestation of Christ. Since, then, the gift of the Spirit was more copiously given to the Church after the advent of Christ, the Prophet uses here an unwonted expression -- that God would pour out his Spirit.
Another circumstance is added, upon all flesh. Though the Prophets, as we know, had formerly their colleges, yet they were but few in number. As then the gift of prophecy was rare among the Jews, the Prophets in order to show that God would deal more bountifully to his new Church when restored, says, that he would pour out his Spirit upon all flesh. He then intimates that all in common would be partakers of the gift of the Spirit, and of its rich abundance, while under the law a few had but a sparing taste of it. We now then perceive the design of the Prophet; it was to make a manifest difference between the state of the ancient people and the state of the new Church, of the restoration of which he now speaks. The comparison is, that God would not only endow a few with his Spirit, but the whole mass of the people, and then that he would enrich his faithful with all kinds of gifts, so that the Spirit would seem to be poured forth in full abundance: I will then pour out my Spirit upon all flesh. We hence learn how absurdly the Greek interpreter has rendered this, |I will pour out from my Spirit:| for he diminishes this promise by saying, |From my Spirit,| as though God promised here some small portion of his Spirit; while, on the contrary the Prophet speaks of abundance, and intended to express it.
It follows, Prophesy shall your sons and your daughters. The Prophet now proceeds to explain what he had said, unfolding at large what he meant by the expression, |upon all flesh,| which was this, -- that the whole people would prophesy, or that the gift of prophecy would be common and prevail every where among all the Jews, in a new and unusual manner. The ancients had also Prophets though in number few; but now the Prophet extends this gift and favor to all orders: Prophesy then shall your sons and your daughters, he says, so that he does not exclude women.
He afterwards mentions two kinds of prophesying, Your old men shall dreams dream, and your young men shall visions see. |Young men| mean literally |chosen,| vchvrym bechurim: but as in middle age strength prevails most in man, those who possess vigor and judgment, and as yet retain their strength, are called |chosen:| hence by |chosen| he means those of mature age. When God manifested himself to the Prophets, it was usually done, we know, by dreams and visions, as it is said in Numbers 12: this was, as we may say, the ordinary method. The Prophet now refers to these two modes of communication, and says, that the gift of prophecy would be common to men and women, to the old and those of middle age. We now perceive the import of this verse. There is then no difference between dreams and visions, only the Prophet mentions these two kinds, that readers might better understand, that what the Prophet had stated before generally would be common to all.
But I have already said that this prophecy must be referred to the advent of Christ; for we know that what is here described was not fulfilled until after Christ appeared in the world: and the Prophet now preaches of the new restoration of the Church, which we know, was suspended until the Gospel was proclaimed. Let us now then see whether God, after Christ was revealed, performed what he had spoken by his Prophet. Peter, in Acts 2, says, that this prophecy was fulfilled when the Spirit was sent. But it may be objected, that all were not endued with the gift of prophecy, even when God opened all the treasures of his grace; and Paul says that they were not all prophets even when the Church especially flourished; and experience proves the same. How then could Peter say, that this -- that God would pour out his Spirit upon all flesh, was fulfilled? To give a reply to this is not difficult: let us only remember, that the Prophet speaks comparatively, as the Scripture is wont to do. He affirms not in express terms that all would be partakers of this gift, but that in comparison with the ancient Church, this gift would be as it were common, and that it was so is well known: for if any one compares the ancient Church with that abundance which God vouchsafed to his people after Christ's advent, he will certainly find true what I say -- that the Spirit of God, who was given only to few under the law, was poured out upon all flesh. True then is what the Prophet says, provided this contrast is to be understood -- that God was much more bountiful towards his new Church than formerly towards the fathers: for the Prophets then were not many, but they were many under the gospel.
We must also remember that the Prophet hyperbolically extols the grace of God; for such is our stupidity and dullness, that we can never sufficiently comprehend the grace of God, except it is set forth to us in hyperbolical language; nor is there indeed any excess in the thing itself, if we take a right view of it: but as we hardly understand the hundredth part of God's gifts, when he presents them before our eyes, it was needful to add a commendation, calculated to elevate our thoughts. The spirit of God is then constrained to speak hyperbolically on account of our torpidity or rather carelessness. We need not however to fear, lest our thoughts should go beyond the words; for when God would carry us above the heavens, we can hardly ascend two or three feet.
We now then perceive why the Prophet mentions all flesh without exception: first, there were more Prophets, as I have said, under the gospel than under the law; hence, the comparison is very suitable; -- and, secondly the Prophet speaks not here of the public office of teaching, for he calls those Prophets who had not been called to teach, but who were endued with so much of the light of truth, that they might be compared with the Prophets; and certainly the knowledge which flourished in the primitive Church was such, that the meanest were in many respects equal to the ancient Prophets; for what did God confer on the ancient Prophets except the power of foretelling something to come? It was a special gift, and very limited. Besides these predictions are hardly worthy to be compared with the celestial wisdom made known in the gospel. Faith then after the coming of Christ, if rightly estimated according to its value, far excels the gift of prophecy. And so the Prophet here, not without reason, dignifies with so honorable name those who were private men, and to whom was not intrusted the office of teaching among the people, but who were only illuminated; for their light was much superior to the gift of prophecy in many of those who lived under the law. We now understand what the Prophet means when he makes the Spirit of God to be common, without distinction, to all the godly, so that they possess what excels the gift of prophesying.
Now as to the two kinds of gifts mentioned here, it must be observed, that the Prophet spoke according to what was commonly known among the people: for as the Jews were accustomed to dreams and visions, the Prophet therefore made use of these terms; and this manner of speaking occurs often in the Prophets, and it ought to be borne in mind by us. When they speak of the worship of God, they mention sacrifices, They shall come and bring frankincense and gold; they shall lead camels laden with the wealth of the land.' In short, in their prophecies they raise altars and build a temple: and yet no such things were seen after Christ appeared: for the Gentiles came not to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices; nay, shortly after the temple was destroyed, there was no altar among them, and the whole legal worship ceased. What then is to be understood by such expressions, as -- that people shall come from all places to sacrifice together? Even this -- They set forth under a visible form the spiritual worship of God. It is so in this place; as it was the usual way among the ancients that God manifested himself by dreams and visions to the Prophets, so he says, your old men shall dreams dream, and your young men shall visions see: but the Prophet no doubt sets forth under these forms of speech that light of knowledge in which the new Church excelled after Christ appeared: he indeed compares the light of faith to prophecy, as we have already stated; but he accommodates his manner of speaking or his discourse to the comprehension of his people, for he knew whom he addressed. All the Prophets have followed the same rule; There shall be offered a sacrifice,' says Malachi, from the rising to the setting of the sun.' What is this sacrifice? The Papists take this for the mass; |Then under the kingdom of Christ there is to be some sacrifice; and we do not now offer to God sheep and calves; it therefore follows, that there is to be the sacrifice of bread and wine:| and this is said, as though the Prophet had thus refinedly philosophized on the word, sacrifice, while he was teaching a rude people according to what they could bear. But what he meant was, that the worship of God would be universal among all nations. The same thing is intended by Joel when he says, I shall pour forth my Spirit upon all flesh: your old men shall dreams dream, and your young men shall visions see. We now see the whole meaning of the Prophet. Now it follows --