In these introductory remarks Edwards summarizes his sense of what God intends for his church in the latter days, showing from many parts of Scripture that God is planning to bring great revival and growth to his church, subsequent to a season of united and earnest prayer on the part of his people.
In this chapter we have a prophecy of a future glorious advancement of the church of God; wherein it is evident that something further is intended than ever was fulfilled to the Jewish nation under the Old Testament. For here are plain prophecies of such things as never were fulfilled before the coming of the Messiah: particularly, what is said in the two last verses in the chapter, of many people and strong nations worshiping and seeking the true God; and of so great an accession of Gentile nations to the church of God that by far the greater part of the visible worshipers should consist of this new accession, so that they should be to the other as ten to one—certain number for an uncertain. There never happened anything, from the time of the prophet Zechariah to the coming of Christ, to answer this prophecy: and it can have no fulfillment but either, in the calling of the Gentiles, in and after the days of the apostles; or, in the future glorious enlargement of the church of God in the latter ages of the world, so often foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament, and by the prophet Zechariah in particular, in the latter part of his prophecy. It is most probably that what the Spirit of God has chiefly respect to is that last and greatest enlargement and most glorious advancement of the church of God on earth; in the benefits of which especially the Jewish nation were to have a share, a very eminent and distinguished share.
There is great agreement between what is here said and other prophecies that must manifestly have respect to the church’s latter-day glory: “The Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee: and the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see; all they gather themselves together, they come to thee” (Isa. 60:2–4). That whole chapter, beyond all dispute, has respect to the most glorious state of the church of God on earth. “Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? Shall a nation be born at once?” (Isa. 66:8). “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her” (Isa. 66:10). “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream” (Isa. 66:12). “But in the last day it shall come to pass that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills, and people shall flow unto it; and many nations shall come, andsay, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob. And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Mic. 4:1–3). So also Isaiah 2 at the beginning. There has been nothing yet brought to pass, in any measure, to answer these prophecies. And as the prophecy in my text, and the following verse, agrees with them, so there is reason to think it has a respect to the same times. And indeed there is a remarkable agreement in the description given throughout the chapter, with the representations made of those times elsewhere in the prophets.
So that however the prophet, in some parts of this chapter, may have respect to future smiles of heaven on the Jewish nation, lately returned from the Babylonish captivity, and resettled in the land of Canaan, in a great increase of their numbers and wealth, and the return of more captives from Chaldea and other countries, yet the Spirit of God has doubtless respect to things far greater than these, and of which these were but faint resemblances. We find it common in the prophecies of the Old Testament that when the prophets are speaking of divine favors and blessings on the Jews, attending or following their return from the Babylonish captivity, the Spirit of God takes occasion from thence to speak of the incomparably greater blessings on the church that shall attend and follow her deliverance from the spiritual or mystical Babylon, of which those were a type; and then speaks almost wholly of these latter and vastly greater things, so as to seem to forget the former.
And whereas the prophet, in this chapter, speaks of God bringing his people again from the east and west to Jerusalem (Zech. 8:7–8) and multitudes of all nations taking hold of the skirts of the Jews; so far as this means literally the nation of the posterity of Jacob, it cannot chiefly respect any return of the Jews from Babylon and other countries, in those ancient times before Christ; for no such things attended any such return. It must therefore have respect to the great calling and gathering of the Jews into the fold of Christ, and their being received to the blessings of his kingdom, after the fall of antichrist, or the destruction of his mystical Babylon.
In the text we have an account how this future glorious advancement of the church of God should be introduced, namely, by great multitudes in different towns and countries taking up a joint resolution, and coming into an express and visible agreement that they will, by united and extraordinary prayer, seek to God that he would come and manifest himself, and grant the tokens and fruits of his gracious presence. Particularly we may observe:
The duty, with the attendance on which the glorious event foretold shall be brought on, is the duty of prayer. Prayer, some suppose, is here to be taken synechdochically1 for the whole of divine worship, prayer being a principal part of worship in the days of the gospel, when sacrifices are abolished. If so, this is to be understood only as a prophecy of a great revival of religion, and of the true worship of God among his visible people, the accession of others to the church, and turning of multitudes from idolatry to the worship of the true God. But it appears to me reasonable to suppose that something more special is intended, with regard to the duty of prayer; considering that prayer is here expressly and repeatedly mentioned; and also considering how parallel this place is with many other prophecies that speak of an extraordinary spirit of prayer, as preceding and introducing that glorious day of religious revival, and advancement of the church’s peace and prosperity, so often foretold. Add to this, the agreeableness of what is here said, with what is said afterwards by the same prophet, of the pouring out of a spirit of grace and supplication, as that with which this great revival of religion shall begin (cf. Zech. 12:10).
1. That is, as a symbolic element representing the whole—worship—of which it—prayer—is a part.
The good that shall be sought by prayer is God himself. It is said once and again, “They shall go to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts.” This is the good they ask for, and seek by prayer, the Lord of hosts himself. To seek God, as the expression may perhaps be sometimes used in Scripture, may signify no more than seeking the favor or mercy of God. And if it be taken so here, praying before the Lord, and seeking the Lord of hosts, must be synonymous expressions.
And it must be confessed to be a common thing in Scripture to signify the same thing repeatedly, by various expressions of the same import, for the greater emphasis. But certainly the expression of seeking the Lord is very commonly used to signify something more; it implies that God himself is the great good desired and sought after; that the blessings pursued are God’s gracious presence, the blessed manifestations of him, union and intercourse with him; or, in short, God’s manifestation and communications of himself by his Holy Spirit. Thus the psalmist desired God, thirsted after him, and sought him (Ps. 42:2). “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee. My flesh longeth for thee, in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. My soul followeth hard after thee” (Ps. 63:1–2, 8). “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee” (Ps. 73:25). The psalmist earnestly pursued after GOD, his soul thirsted after him, he stretched forth his hands unto him, and so forth (Ps. 143:6). And therefore it is in Scripture the peculiar character of the saints, that they are those who seek GOD: “This is the generation of them that seek him” (Ps. 24:6). “Your heart shall live that seek God” (Ps. 69:32). If the expression in the text [Zech. 8:20–22] be understood agreeably to this sense, then by seeking the Lord of hosts, we must understand a seeking that God who had withdrawn, or as it were hid himself for a long time, would return to his church, and grant the tokens and fruits of his gracious presence, and those blessed communications of his Spirit to his people, and to mankind on earth, which he had often promised, and which his church had long waited for.
And it seems reasonable to understand the phrase, seeking the Lord of hosts, in this sense here; and not as merely signifying the same thing as praying to God: not only because the expression is repeatedly added to praying before the Lord in the text; but also because the phrase, taken in this sense, is exactly agreeable to other parallel prophetic representations. Thus God’s people seeking, by earnest prayer, the promised restoration of the church of God, after the Babylonish captivity, and the great apostasy that occasioned it, is called their SEEKING GOD, and SEARCHING for him; and God’s granting this promised revival and restoration is called his being FOUND of them. “For thus saith the Lord, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon, I will visit you, and perform my good word towards you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye go and call upon me, and I will hearken unto you; and ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart; and I will be found of you, saith the Lord, and I will turn away your captivity” (Jer. 29:10–14). And the prophets, from time to time, represent God, in a low and afflicted state of his church, as being withdrawn, and hiding himself. “Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior” (Isa. 45:15). “I hid me, and was wroth” (Isa. 57:17). And they represent God’s people, while his church is in such a state, before God delivers and restores the same, as seeking him, looking for him, searching and waiting for him, and calling after him. “I will go and return unto my place, till they acknowledge their offense, and seek my face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him” (Hos. 5:15).
And when God, in answer to their prayers and succeeding their endeavors, delivers, restores, and advances his church, according to his promise, then he is said to answer, and come, and say, Here am I, and to show himself; and they are said to find him, and see him plainly. “Then shalt thou cry, and ye shall say, Here I am” (Isa. 58:9). “I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain” (Isa. 45:19). “The Lord will wipe away the tears from off all faces, and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off the earth. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God, we have waited for him, and he will save us: This is the Lord, we have waited for him; we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isa. 25:8–9); together with the next chapter (Isa. 26:8–9), we have waited for thee; “the desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee. With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early.
For when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” “Therefore my people shall know my name; therefore they shall know in that day, that I am he that doth speak: behold, it is I. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation, that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice, together they shall sing; for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion” (Isa. 52:6–8).
We may observe who they are that shall be united in thus seeking the Lord of hosts: the inhabitants of many cities, and of many countries, yea, many people, and strong nations, great multitudes in different parts of the world shall conspire in this business. From the representation made in the prophecy, it appears rational to suppose that it will be fulfilled something after this manner: There shall be given much of a spirit of prayer to God’s people, in many places, disposing them to come into an express agreement, unitedly to pray to God in an extraordinary manner that he would appear for the help of his church, and in mercy to mankind, and pour out his Spirit, revive his work, and advance his spiritual kingdom in the world, as he has promised. This disposition to prayer, and union in it, will gradually spread more and more, and increase to greater degrees; with which at length will gradually be introduced a revival of religion, and a disposition to greater engagedness in the worship and service of God, amongst his professing people. This being observed, will be the means of awakening others, making them sensible of the wants of their souls, and exciting in them a great concern for their spiritual and everlasting good, and putting them upon earnestly crying to God for spiritual mercies, and disposing them to join in that extraordinary seeking and serving of God.
In this manner religion shall be propagated, till the awakening reaches those that are in the highest stations, and till whole nations be awakened, and there be at length an accession of many of the chief nations of the world to the church of God. Thus after the inhabitants of many cities of Israel, or of God’s professing people, have taken up and pursued a joint resolution, to go and pray before the Lord, and seek the Lord of hosts, others shall be drawn to worship and serve him with them; till at length many people and strong nations shall join themselves to them; and there shall, in process of time, be a vast accession to the church, so that it shall be ten times as large as it was before; yea, at length, all nations shall be converted unto God. Thus “ten men shall take hold, out of all the languages of the nations, of the skirt of him that is a Jew” (in the sense of the apostle, Rom. 2:28–29) “saying, We will go with you; for we have heard, that God is with you” (Zech. 8:23). And thus shall be fulfilled Psalm 65:2, “O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.”
We may observe the mode of their union in this duty. It is a visible union, an union by explicit agreement, a joint resolution declared by one to another, being first proposed by some, and readily and expressly followed by others. The inhabitants of one city shall apply themselves to the inhabitants of another, saying, Let us go, etc. Those to whom the motion is made, shall comply with it, the proposal shall take with many, it shall be a prevailing, spreading thing; one shall follow another’s example, one and another shall say, I will go also. Some suppose that the words, I will go also, are to be taken as the words of him that makes the proposal; as much as to say, I do not propose that to you which I am not willing to do myself. I desire you to go, and am ready to go with you. But this is to suppose no more to be expressed in these latter words than was expressed before in the proposal itself; for these words, let us go, signify as much. It seems to me much more natural, to understand these latter words as importing the consent of those to whom the proposal is made, or the reply of one and another that falls in with it.
This is much more agreeable to the plain design of the text, which is to represent the concurrence of great numbers in this affair; and more agreeable to the representation made in the next verse, of one following another, many taking hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew.
And though, if the words be thus understood, we must suppose an ellipsis in the text, something understood that is not expressed, as if it had been said, those of other cities shall say, I will go also; yet, this is not difficult to be supposed, for such ellipses are very common in Scripture. We have one exactly parallel with it in Jeremiah 3:22: “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we have come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God,” i.e., the backsliding children shall say, “Behold, we come unto thee,” etc. And in Song of Songs 4:16 and 5:1, “Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits. I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse,” i.e., her beloved shall say, “I am come into my garden.” We have the like throughout that song. So “the heavens shall declare his righteousness; for God is Judge himself. Hear, O my people, and I will speak” (Ps. 50:6–7), i.e., the Judge shall say, “Hear, O my people,” etc. So Psalm 132:1–2: The psalms and prophets abound with such figures of speech.
We may observe the manner of prayer agreed on, or the manner in which they agree, to engage in and perform the duty. Let us go SPEEDILY to pray; or, as it is in the margin, Let us go continually. The words literally translated are, Let us go in going. Such an ingemination, or doubling of words, is very common in the Hebrew language, when it is intended that a thing shall be very strongly expressed. It generally implies the superlative degree of a thing; as the holy of holies signifies the most holy. But it commonly denotes, not only the utmost degree of a thing, but also the utmost certainty; as when God said to Abraham, “In multiplying, I will multiply thy seed” (Gen. 22:17), it implies both that God would certainly multiply his seed, and also multiply it exceedingly. So when God said to Adam, “In the day that thou eatest thereof, in dying thou shalt die” (as the words are in the original), it implies, both that he should surely die, and also that he should die most terribly, should utterly perish, and be destroyed to the utmost degree.
In short, as the ingemination of words in the Hebrew generally denotes the strength of expression, so it is used to signify almost all those things that are wont to be signified by the various forms of strong speech in other languages. It signifies not only the utmost degree of a thing, and great certainty; but also the peremptoriness and terribleness of a threatening, the greatness and positiveness of a promise, the strictness of a command, and the earnestness of a request. When God says to Adam, “Dying thou shalt die,” it is equivalent to such strong expressions in English, as, Thou shalt die surely, or indeed; or, Thou shalt die with a witness. So when it is said in the text, “Let us go in going, and pray before the Lord,” the strength of the expression represents the earnestness of those that make the proposal, their great engagedness in the affair. And with respect to the duty proposed, it may be understood to signify that they should be speedy, fervent, and constant in it; or, in one word, that it should be thoroughly performed.
We may learn from the tenor of this prophecy, together with the context, that this union in such prayer is foretold as a becoming and happy thing, what would be acceptable to God, and attended with glorious success. From the whole we may infer that it is a very suitable thing, and well-pleasing to God, for many people, in different parts of the world, by express agreement, to come into a visible union in extraordinary, speedy, fervent, and constant prayer, for those great effusions of the Holy Spirit, which shall bring on that advancement of Christ’s church and kingdom that God has so often promised shall be in the latter ages of the world. And so from hence I would infer the duty of God’s people, proposing a method for such an union as has been spoken of, in extraordinary prayer, for this great mercy.2
1. Peter announced that the “latter days” so often referred to in prophetic literature began with the pouring out of God’s Spirit on the first Pentecost (see Acts 2:14–17). From what you know about the Book of Acts, how can you see that what was prophesied in Zechariah 8:20–22 began to be realized in the period of the early church?
2. Summarize Edwards’s vision for what we should expect to see in the “latter days.” Do you see any evidence that this is presently occurring?
3. Reflect on the church’s role in culture, society, and moral issues over the past couple of generations. Does anything about the current situation of the church in our world suggest, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding (new churches, megachurches, a thriving evangelical subculture, etc.), that God may have withdrawn himself or may be in hiding from his church at this time? In what ways can you see that the church might be ripe for a new season of revival?
4. Edwards’s point, following Zechariah, is that seasons of revival follow seasons of prayer on the part of God’s people. How would you describe the kind of prayer Edwards has in mind? What would that look like in your life? In your church? In the church in America, or in the world?
5. Set some goals for this study of Edwards on prayer and revival. What do you hope to learn? How do you hope to see your work of prayer affected? What would you like to see happen in your church? Among the churches in your community? What would that require of you?