A supernatural communication; applied to single divine revelations and to the entire word of god, Ac 7:38; Ro 3:2; Heb 5:12, etc. It is also spoken of the covering of he ark of the covenant; as if God there sat enthroned, and delivered his oracles, 2Sa 16:23. See MERCY SEAT. In other places, it means the "Holy of Holies" in the temple, where the ark was placed, 1Ki 6:5,16,19; 8:6.
Strikingly unlike the true and living oracles of God were the famous counterfeit oracles of numerous heathen temples. The priests who pretended to convey to applicants the responses of their gods, often gave a reply capable of two opposite interpretations, when neither private information nor their own experience or sagacity gave them the clue to a safe answer. Thus Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, was encouraged to a war, with Rome, by an oracle which was found after his defeat to foretell defeat as much as victory: Aio te, Aeacida, Romanos vincere posse.
In the Old Testament used in every case, except 2Sa 16:23, to denote the most holy place in the temple (1Ki 6:5,19-23; 8:6). In 2Sa 16:23 it means the Word of God. A man inquired "at the oracle of God" by means of the Urim and Thummim in the breastplate on the high priest's ephod. In the New Testament it is used only in the plural, and always denotes the Word of God (Ro 3:2; Heb 5:12, etc.). The Scriptures are called "living oracles" (comp. Heb 4:12) because of their quickening power (Ac 7:38).
It was said of Ahithophel that his counsel was "as if a man had enquired at the oracle of God," or at the 'word' of God. 2Sa 16:23. In all other places in the O.T. the word 'oracle' applies to the holy of holies. It is doubtless so called because God said, "There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel." Ex 25:22. And it was from thence that Moses received many of the laws. 1Ki 6:5-31; 7:49; 8/6/type/emb'>8:6,8; 2Ch 3:16; 4:20; 5:7,9; Ps 28:2.
In the N.T. the word thus translated is ??????; it is applied to the law given to Moses, and committed to Israel; and also to truths revealed in N.T. times. Ac 7:38; Ro 3:2; Heb 5:12; 1Pe 4:11. It signifies 'a message or answer given by God,' and thence the place from which such were given.
In the learned heathen world, Satan had places in imitation of this, at which it was professed that an answer from their gods could be obtained; but the answers were often purposely vague in order that afterwards they could be interpreted differently according as the event turned out. Thus the persons were duped who asked the questions.
ORACLE denotes something delivered by supernatural wisdom; and the term is also used in the Old Testament to signify the most holy place from whence the Lord revealed his will to ancient Israel, 1Ki 6:5,19-21,23. But when the word occurs in the plural number, as it mostly does, it denotes the revelations contained in the sacred writings of which the nation of Israel were the depositories. So Moses is said by Stephen to have received the "lively oracles" to give unto the Israelites. These oracles contained the law, both moral and ceremonial, with all the types and promises relating to the Messiah which are to be found in the writings of Moses. They also contained all the intimations of the divine mind which he was pleased to communicate by means of the succeeding prophets who prophesied beforehand of the coming and of the sufferings of the Messiah with the glory that should follow. The Jews were a highly privileged people in many and various respects, Ro 9:4-5; but the Apostle Paul mentions it as their chief advantage that "unto them were committed the oracles of God," Ro 3:2. "What nation," says Moses, "is there that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?" De 4:8. The psalmist David enumerates their excellent properties under various epithets; such as the law of the Lord, his testimony, his statutes, his commandments, his judgments, &c. Their properties are extolled as perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, and righteous altogether; more to be desired than much fine gold; sweeter than honey and the honey comb. Their salutary effects are all mentioned; such as their converting the soul, making wise the simple, rejoicing the heart, enlightening the eyes; and the keeping of them is connected with a great reward, Psalm 19. The hundred and nineteenth Psalm abounds with praises of the lively oracles, the word of the living God; it abounds with the warmest expressions of love to it, of delight in it, and the most fervent petitions for divine illumination in the knowledge of it. Such was the esteem and veneration which the faithful entertained for the lively oracles under the former dispensation, when they had only Moses and the prophets; how, then, ought they to be prized by Christians, who have also Christ and his Apostles!
Among the Heathen the term oracle is usually taken to signify an answer, generally couched in very dark and ambiguous terms, supposed to be given by demons of old, either by the mouths of their idols, or by those of their priests, to the people, who consulted them on things to come. Oracle is also used for the demon who gave the answer, and the place where it was given. Seneca defines oracles to be enunciations by the mouths of men of the will of the gods; and Cicero simply calls them, deorum oratio, the language of the gods. Among the Pagans they were held in high estimation; and they were consulted on a variety of occasions pertaining to national enterprises and private life. When they made peace or war, enacted laws, reformed states, or changed the constitution, they had in all these cases recourse to the oracle by public authority. Also, in private life, if a man wished to marry, if he proposed to take a journey, or to engage in any business of importance, he repaired to the oracle for counsel. Mankind have had always a propensity to explore futurity; and conceiving that future events were known to their gods, who possessed the gift of prophecy, they sought information and advice from the oracles, which, in their opinion, were supernatural and divine communications. The institution of oracles seemed to gratify the prevalent curiosity of mankind, and proved a source of immense wealth, as well as authority and influence, to those who had the command of them. Accordingly, every nation, in which idolatry has subsisted, had its oracles, by means of which imposture practised on superstition and credulity. The principal oracles of antiquity are, that of Abae, mentioned by Herodotus; that of Amphiaraus, at Oropus in Macedonia; that of the Branchidae at Didymeum: that of the camps at Lacedaemon; that of Dodona; that of Jupiter Ammon; that of Nabarca in the country of the Anariaci, near the Caspian Sea; that of Trophonius, mentioned by Herodotus; that of Chrysopolis; that of Claros, in Ionia; that of Amphilochus at Mallos; that of Petarea; that of Pella in Macedonia; that of Phaselides in Cilicia; that of Sinope in Paphlagonia; that of Orpheus's head at Lesbos, mentioned by Philostratus. But of all oracles, the oracle of Apollo Pythius at Delphi was the most celebrated: this was consulted in the dernier resort by most of the princes of those ages.
Most of the Pagan deities had their appropriate oracles. Apollo had the greatest number: such as those of Claros, of the Branchidae, of the suburbs of Daphne at Antioch, of Delos, of Argos, of Troas, AEolis, &c, of Baiae in Italy, and others in Cilicia, in Egypt, in the Alps, in Thrace, at Corinth, in Arcadia, in Laconia, and in many other places enumerated by Van Dale. Jupiter, beside that of Dodona and some others, the honour of which he shared with Apollo, had one in Boeotia under the name of Jupiter the Thunderer, and another in Elis, one at Thebes and at Meroe, one near Antioch, and several others. AEsculapius was consulted in Cilicia, at Apollonia, in the isle of Cos, at Epidaurus, Pergamos, Rome, and elsewhere. Mercury had oracles at Patras, upon Harmon, and in other places; Mars, in Thrace, Egypt and elsewhere; Hercules, at Cadiz, Athens, in Egypt, at Tivoli, in Mesopotamia, where he issued his oracles by dreams, whence he was called Somnialis. Isis, Osiris, and Serapis delivered in like manner their oracles by dreams, as we learn from Pausanias, Tacitus, Arrian, and other writers; that of Amphilochus was also delivered by dreams; the ox Apis had also his oracle in Egypt. The gods, called Cabiri, had their oracle in Boeotia. Diana, the sister of Apollo, had several oracles in Egypt, Cilicia, Ephesus, &c. Those of fortune at Praeneste, and of the lots at Antium are well known. The fountains also delivered oracles, for to each of them a divinity was ascribed: such was the fountain of Castalia at Delphi, another of the same name in the suburbs of Antioch, and the prophetic fountain near the temple of Ceres in Achaia. Juno had several oracles: one near Corinth, one at Nysa, and others at different places. Latona had one at Butis in Egypt; Leucothea had one in Colchis; Memnon in Egypt; Machaon at Gerania in Laconia; Minerva had one in Egypt, in Spain, upon mount AEtna, at Mycenae and Colchis, and in other places. Those of Neptune were at Delphos, at Calauria, near Neocesarea, and elsewhere. The nymphs had theirs in the cave of Corycia. Pan had several, the most famous of which was that in Arcadia. That of the Palici was in Sicily. Pluto had one at Nysa. Saturn had oracles in several places, but the most famous were those of Cumae in Italy, and of Alexandria in Egypt. Those of Venus were dispersed in several places, at Gaza, upon Mount Libanus, at Paphos, in Cyprus, &c. Serapis had one at Alexandria, consulted by Vespasian. Venus Aphacite had one at Aphaca between Heliopolis and Byblus. Geryon, the three-headed monster slain by Hercules, had an oracle in Italy near Padua, consulted by Tiberius; that of Hercules was at Tivoli, and was given by lots, like those of Praeneste and Antium. The demi-gods and heroes had likewise their oracles, such were those of Castor and Pollux at Lacedaemon, of Amphiaraus, of Mopsus in Cilicia, of Ulysses, Amphilochus, Sarpedon in Troas, Hermione in Macedonia, Pasiphae in Laconia, Chalcas in Italy, Aristaeus in Boeotia, Autolycus at Sinope, Phryxus among the Colchi, Zamolxis among the Getae, Hephaestion the minion of Alexander, and Antinous, &c.
The responses of oracles were delivered in a variety of ways: at Delphi, they interpreted and put into verse what the priestess pronounced in the time of her furor. Mr. Bayle observes that at first this oracle gave its answers in verse; and that it fell at length to prose, upon the people's beginning to laugh at the poorness of its versification. The Epicureans made this the subject o