The PROPHETS STORY
Convinced People who Could or Would Not Be Intimidated or Silenced.
Chronology of Writing Prophets.
Isaiah I, II, III. 738-520 B.C.
Jeremiah: 626 B.C.
Lamentations: 587 B.C.
Baruch: 6th to 1st C. B.C.
Ezechiel: 593-571 B.C.
Daniel: 167-164 B.C.
Amos: 783-743 B.C.
Hosea: 734-732 B.C.
Micah: 721 B.C.
Zephaniah: 640-609 B.C.
Nahum: 612 B.C.
Habakkuk: 597 B.C.
Haggai: 520-515 B.C.
Zechariah: 520-515 B.C.
Malachi: 516 (445) B.C.
Obadiah: ? - 425 B.C.
Joel: 400 B.C. (115-50 B.C.)
Jonah: 5th century B.C.
Introduction to the Prophets.
In English, when the word “ prophet” is used, people immediately think of foretelling the future. In Hebrew and in the Biblical literature, there are two different words used for a prophet.
One of these words is “nabi.” This refers primarily to a person who is appointed 0r driven by an inner compulsion to speak out and correct the immoral actions of leaders and people. All the prophets of the Old Testament fulfilled this “moralist” function.
The moralist prophets saw how the leaders and the people were slipping farther and farther from the path of faith and holiness. They were not sure they could stop the backsliding, but they felt they had to try. This compulsion led them to speak and act even if it meant physical or mental suffering, imprisonment, exile, or even death.
The other word for prophet “hozeh” is often translated as “seer.” This refers to the fact that the person looks at the present conditions, looks to their outcomes in the future, and then predicts what is going to happen as a result. Most of the time the predictions are dire punishments for the sinful lives that are being led.
Many of the prophets’ predictions did not require any special revelation. It just meant these people were alert to the actions and the natural consequences that would follow. In today’s world, the prophet would be rather superfluous since we have the news commentators and analysts on radio and television, and in the newspapers and magazines. Events are reported around the world within minutes after they take place. All through the day and at set times each network has its special “newscasters.” They are to look over the events of the day and comment on them and tell what will happen as a result, in the future. In this sense, the prophets were much like our present day news analysts and commentators. The Old Testament prophets didn’t have the speed of television or radio, and so they went from place to place delivering their message.
The writing prophets were the men who carried on the work of seer or adviser, and either wrote their notes down or had someone else who wrote for them or afterwards, as a memory of them. Some of the prophetic writings could easily be called “memoirs of a preacher.”
“Major” and “Minor” Prophets.
The prophets are divided into “major” and “minor.” In general, this division refers to the amount of writing or the size of the book that has been handed down to us - not quality of the writing.
There are four major prophets, although Isaiah is now divided into at least three different periods of time, and three different writers referred to as Isaiah I, II, III. The four major prophets are: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezechiel and Daniel. The minor prophets are 12, again depending on how Baruch, the secretary of Jeremiah, is considered.
In general, according to the assessment of history and especially the critique of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament, the prophets were not obeyed and finally the dire results they predicted did actually come.
Samuel certainly served as a prophet for the last days before the kingdom was inaugurated and during the first days of the kingdom. Nathan is called a prophet, but he was more of a personal adviser to David and Solomon. The first men who are really called prophets are Elijah and Elisha. By that time, about 850 B.C., there were also “schools of prophets.” These were probably groups of people who were trained in seeing the events and giving an interpretation in keeping with the demands of the law.
Elijah was fearless, outspoken and constantly passed judgment against the failures of the kings, priests and leaders of society. He was hated by them but was too powerful or too well liked by the people to be persecuted or threatened. Elisha was just as perceptive, but he was a more timid person and serious threats worried him.
We pick up the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17 - 2 Kings 2. This story begins suddenly in the reign of Ahab in the first half of the 9th Century B.C. It is conjectured that the story of Elijah was preserved in a separate writing and was inserted at this part of Kings. At the least, Elijah drew attention to himself from the very start.
Elijah was told by Yahweh to go east of the Jordan and live there. Ravens brought him food, morning and evening. He used water from a stream. The stream dried up so he went into town and met a widow who was preparing a last meal for herself and her son. Then they will lie down and die. Elijah told her to share it with him, and she would never lack the food for another meal. Elijah was right.
Matters took a turn for the worse. This widow’s only son got sick and died. The widow was quite upset and blamed Elijah. He told her not to worry. He went to the boy’s room and restored him to life. Then the widow was convinced that Elijah was really a man of God.
Several years went by. The land had been without water for a long time and everyone was on short rations or starving. Ahab, the king, had been looking for Elijah and could never catch him. Now Elijah went to meet King Ahab. He told him there was to be a showdown on top of Mt. Carmel. Ahab was to bring all of Israel to the top of Carmel along with the four hundred prophets of the Baalim who ate at Jezabel’s table.
When all were gathered on top of Carmel, Elijah started the showdown. He told the people that it was time to decide who was the more powerful God, Yahweh or the Baalim. The 400 priests were to prepare an altar and a victim. Then they were to call on their gods to send down fire from the heavens to consume the victim.
All was done and the priests began their chants. They sang and prayed till noon and nothing happened. Elijah mocked them and said they should shout louder because their gods were asleep or hard of hearing. The priests went into a frenzy, shouted and slashed their bodies, but no fire came.
Finally, Elijah took over. He built an altar of 12 stones to indicate the twelve tribes of Israel. Then Elijah called on Yahweh, and fire came down from heaven and consumed the victim, the altar, and the water in the trough around the altar. Then Elijah told them to grab the prophets of the false gods and get rid of them. The people turned into a real mob and slaughtered the false prophets. The rains came and the drought was over.
Elijah accompanied Ahab back to the palace. Ahab told Jezabel what had happened and she told Elijah his life was all but over. She would see to it. Elijah was afraid and took off for the hills. He was upset and told Yahweh he was ready to quit. An angel of Yahweh brought him some baked wheat cakes and water and Elijah ate. Then he was told to eat again and set out for Mt. Horeb. On the strength of the food he walked forty days and forty nights and reached the mountain of God.
Elijah then saw Yahweh. There was a mighty wind, but Yahweh was not in it. There was an earthquake, but Yahweh was not in it. There was a fire, but Yahweh was not in the fire. Then came a gentle breeze and Yahweh was in the middle of it. The lesson was clear. Elijah was to present a God who was gentle and kind, not harsh and destructive.
Then Elijah anointed Jehu as the new king and picked Elisha as his own companion and successor. The fortunes of the Israelites rose and fell and Ahab and Jezabel were still in power. Ahab saw a beautiful vineyard and wanted it. It belonged to a man named Naboth and he refused to give his family inheritance to the king. The king went home and was disconsolate because of the refusal.
He told Jezabel about the vineyard and that Naboth refused to give it to him. She thought Ahab was missing a couple of main parts. All he had to do was take the vineyard. So Jezabel sent some of her men to Naboth’s town. They accused him of cursing God and he was stoned to death. Ahab learned of Naboth’s death and he went down and took possession of the vineyard.
Elijah arrived. He told Ahab how despicable his actions were and promised that the dogs would lick his blood right where they had licked the blood of Naboth. Elijah really laid on with the threats and scared Ahab so that he truly repented of all his evil deeds and treachery. Yahweh forgave him and said he would carry out the punishment on his successors.
Finally, Ahab was killed in battle. The story went on. The important part for our understanding was the perversity of the leaders, and the failure of the people to obey Yahweh and his prophets. The king even consulted Beelzebub, the leader of the pagan idols. Elijah intervenes.
Ahaziah was so angry he sent a captain and fifty soldiers to arrest the prophet. Elijah met the soldiers and commanded fire to come down from heaven and destroy them. Ahaziah sent another fifty soldiers and they had the same sad ending. Finally, a third captain and fifty more appeared, and the captain fell on his knees and pleaded for his life. Elijah went back with him to the king and told the king that he would die in bed. Thus ended the reign of Ahaziah.
It was time for Elijah to call it quits and hand over his powers to a successor. The man closest to him was Elisha. He was a fearful sort and definitely did not want Elijah to leave. Finally, Elijah told him that he was going to leave and Elisha was to make his final request. Elisha asked for a double share of the spirit of Elijah. Elijah told him that that was a little hard to come by but if Elisha saw him when he leaves, it meant that his request has been granted.
A chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire came down. Elijah stepped in and was whisked off. His cloak fell off and floated to earth. Elisha was disgusted. He picked up Elijah's cloak and started for the river. He threw the cloak down in disgust and the waters divided as they had for Elijah. The other prophets saw what happened and realized that Elisha now had the powers of Elijah.
Elisha started off his career with a couple of flashy deeds. There was a town whose source of water had turned bad. Elisha made a little concoction, threw it in the river, and the waters are cleaned up. Then as he walked along, some little boys come out of the town to make fun of him. Their mocking cries rang out: “Go on, Baldy! Go on, Baldy!” Elisha cursed them in the name of Yahweh and two she-bears came out and took care of the boys.
Elisha then performed a series of very unusual deeds. In fact, there is almost a bizarre twist to each one. Perhaps, this was his way of turning attention to Yahweh and morally good lives.
Reference to New Testament: The reader will note that there is a close parallel to several of the deeds that Jesus performed in the Gospel stories.
Then there was Naaman, the Aramean, an army captain. He had leprosy. He went to see Elisha. Elisha told him to bathe seven times in the Jordan and he would be cured. Naaman scoffed. He said their waters at home were as good as the Jordan. He could bathe there. He was going off in a huff when his servants said, “You can't lose. If he had told you to do something difficult you would have done it immediately. So go bathe in the Jordan and see what happens.” Of course, he was cured of the leprosy.
Naaman was truly humbled and praised Yahweh to Elisha. He wanted to make a big offering, but Elisha took nothing. Elisha’s servant thought this was rather foolish. So he ran after Naaman and told him that Elisha had changed his mind. The servant received a big reward. He was feeling quite smug until Elisha told him he knew all about the deceit, and now the leprosy of Naaman would afflict him and his family for generations to come.
Another time, they were cutting wood near a stream. The other man missed his stroke, broke his axe, and the metal head fell in the water. The man was distraught. Elisha put a stick in the water. The metal axehead floated up and attached itself to the stick. The man took it from the water and had his axe.
Elisha died and was buried. Even after his death he continued his work. Some people were carrying a dead man out for burial. They saw a band of Moabites coming, so they threw the body into the tomb of Elisha and ran away. As soon as the corpse touched the bones of Elisha the man came to life and stood up.
THE WRITING PROPHETS
ISAIAH: 738 to 520 B.C.
Moral Uprightness Based on Personal Conviction.
The writing of the book of Isaiah actually spans at least two centuries and possibly more. Keep in mind as the interpretations are made.
At one time, the whole writing of Isaiah was considered a literary unit produced at the same period of time. This created many a headache for the interpreters. Now we can see that there are at least three major parts to the written work.
Chapters 1-35 are referred to as Isaiah I and this would be the original man of this name. He lived and worked in the last third of the 8th century B.C. from 738 to 700 B.C.
Chapters 36-39 would be an historical interlude that ties Isaiah I and II together.
Chapters 40-55 are Isaiah II. It comes from a prophet in the exile around 587 to 539 B.C.
Chapters 56-66 are Isaiah III from the post-exilic period after 538 B.C.
ISAIAH 1 - Chapters 1-35.
Advisor of Kings and Leaders: Describe fully - in a Practical Way.
The theme of the teachings and writings of the original prophet Isaiah is stated in 1:27-28. This reads: “Zion shall be redeemed by justice and her repentant children by integrity. Rebels and sinners will all be destroyed and those who abandon Yahweh will be lost.”
Zion was the name used for Jerusalem. By 750 B.C., the people had failed Yahweh miserably. They were being threatened by the Assyrian armies. In 722 B.C. the northern kingdom, known as Israel, was destroyed and the remnant carried into captivity.
Their redemption with Yahweh would come about only if there was a change of heart and they show true “sedeqah” or “holiness and honesty” in their lives. If they persisted in their wayward lives, they would be totally destroyed and absorbed into the pagan nations around them.
In chapter 2, Isaiah called the people away from warfare and fighting to peace, prosperity, and productive lives. But the people continued the stupid submission to idols. The prophet described what happened in chapter 2. These people took a piece of dead wood. They carved and painted the wood. They made it look like a man. Then they stood it on a pedestal and bowed before it. From a piece of wood that had no life, they asked for life, success, health and prosperity.
Chapter 3 gives a detailed list of the crimes and the stupidity of what was being done. An error in our society today that is akin to these mistakes, is the worship of the almighty dollar. Money is necessary to buy food, clothing, and pay bills. But money of itself is a lifeless piece of paper. Yet people cheat, lie, steal, and kill to get more money. Isaiah said the people of his time were fools because of their conduct, and he would say the same of the people of our day.
Isaiah had a special pitch for the women in society at that time. He told how they talked clothes and perfumes, jewelry, and all the other passing things. These would all be taken away and they would grub in the dirt just to stay alive.
Chapter 5 gives us the famous Song of the Vineyard. The prophet described Israel as a vineyard. He told how the ground was prepared, the vines were planted and cared for, and the rains came. The vinedresser was Yahweh. He waited for his vineyard to produce grapes but all he could harvest were sour grapes or grapes shriveled like raisins. Then Isaiah asked what would Yahweh do. He would tear down these vines and destroy this vineyard because it was worthless.
New Testament References:
In the Gospel according to John (chapter 10), Jesus used this same figure of speech. He said “I am the Vinestock and you are the branches. Every branch that remains united to me will produce fruit. The Father will prune and cut off the branches that do not produce so that the harvest may be even greater and sweeter.”
Chapter 5 also continued with a list of “Woes” against the people for specific failures. This list is very much akin to the famous sermon of Woes against the Jewish leaders in the time of Jesus.
There are seven of these famous “woes” in Matthew, chapter 23.
Isaiah chapter 7:14-16 is the statement about the newly-married girl who was with child and would soon give birth. The child’s name was “Immanu-el.” “God-with-us.”
New Testament Reference:
This description was used by Matthew to describe the role of Mary and Jesus in the fulfillment of the plan of salvation.
Isaiah chapter 11 is very important because it describes for us the “Ruah-Yahweh,” the “breath of Yahweh.” This is a term that is found in the creation story in Genesis. Man is described as a lump of clay. Then Yahweh breathes into him the “breath of life” and the lump of clay becomes a “living being.” Isaiah now tells us what is contained in this “Breath of Yahweh (1:2-3). The breath is WISDOM, INSIGHT, COUNSEL, POWER, KNOWLEDGE and REVERENCE or RESPECT FOR YAHWEH. It is important to understand the depth of meaning of all these qualities of the BREATH (or SPIRIT) of YAHWEH.
WISDOM is the ability of a leader to make wise judgments in the events of daily life.
INSIGHT is shrewdness in looking into the hidden or full meanings of all actions and events.
COUNSEL is a decisiveness and resoluteness in all actions.
POWER is the strength to carry out all the resolutions.
KNOWLEDGE is the recognition of the true and lasting value of each action.
REVERENCE or RESPECT is a sense of family loyalty, a sense of the brotherhood of man in the fatherhood of God.
New Testament Reference;
As Jesus was about to leave his followers, he tells them that he is sending his “SPIRIT.” This spirit, which is called the HOLY SPIRIT in the New Testament, is the breath of the new creation that is to be carried by the followers of Jesus into the world roundabout.
ISAIAH II. Chapters 40-55.
Counselor and Reformer: Full Significance of Authority and Obedience.
We continue with the story of the prophets in what is known as Isaiah II. This goes from chapters 40 to 55 in our present written account. It is often called the BOOK of CONSOLATION because of the opening lines of Chapter 40. This section contains the famous “SERVANT SONGS.” These songs are found in: 42:1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12.
The prophet said that Jerusalem had fulfilled the time of punishment for the sins of rebellion. Now those sins would be atoned for, forgiven, and the people could start a new life. To understand the full implication of these words and their message, it is necessary to remember two terms of those days: forerunner and shepherd.
THE FORERUNNER: There were not many regular roads leading to the small towns and villages. When an important person was coming, messengers were sent to the neighboring towns to get their road crews into action. They were to level off the hills, fill in the valleys, and remove obstacles so that the sedan chair and the carriers could come through easily and in a dignified fashion.
Reference to New Testament:
John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus. John knew that Jesus was coming soon and he wanted the people to prepare the road for Him. John was talking about their hearts or consciences. They were to show “METANOIA,” (Greek word) for a complete change of attitude and conduct, and become the loyal followers of Yahweh waiting for the coming of Jesus, his special messenger.
SHEPHERD: In Isaiah 40:11, the prophet described Yahweh as a shepherd and the people were his flock. He took care of them with all the tenderness and concern of a true shepherd.
Reference to New Testament:
In John. chapter 10, Jesus applied this shepherd figure to himself in every detail. This image was so important to the first Christians that the terms "Shepherd" and "flock" were used as the principal description of Christian groups and still are, today. In fact, the word "PASTOR" is the Latin word for shepherd.
The rest of Isaiah chapter 40 is used to describe Yahweh in his relation to the whole universe but especially to people. The same verb, “Bara,” is used for the action of Yahweh. (Is. 40:26,28). It is the word used in Genesis 1:1. Our English translation is "create" and theologians have said it means to “produce something from nothing.” Thus they use the word “create” with this meaning. Then they get into a hassle about creation and evolution.
The writers of the Old Testament had no concern for the way in which things came to be. They knew they all came from God. The important thing for them was “WHY” they came to be. The word “BARA” means “TO BEGET A SON or A CHILD.” The Biblical writers wanted to tell us WHY all things were made and how they are related to God. All things are to manifest the fatherhood of God by establishing the true family of mankind or the brotherhood of mankind.
Then Isaiah II went on to talk of the special mission of Israel as the chosen servant of Yahweh. Their role as a people was to keep alive the expectation of Yahweh's plan to lead all creation to himself. To bring this out, we have the FOUR SONGS about a SPECIAL SERVANT, mentioned above. Is this a reference to a special person who is to come? Is it a reference to the Chosen People and their mission from the time of Moses?
The period of time was about 539 B.C. Cyrus, the king of the Persians, had defeated the Babylonians. He had a new policy for captive people. Rather than keep them all in one place and control them like a herd of cattle, Cyrus told all of them they may return to their homelands. They could live and work there and prosper. Cyrus figured they would work a lot harder and produce more in their homelands and he would be able to make more for his own people through taxes and tithes.
The FIRST SONG about the Servant is chapter Isaiah 42:1-9. It is a description of a leader who was going to carry out the work of Yahweh with his people, and through them reach the whole world.
Reflection by Author of this Commentary:
To me, these Servant Songs are much like the words civil rights leaders use today. Their message is paraphrased as having a dream that, one day, we will see all the injustices removed, and all people will live in freedom and dignity and harmony in the brotherhood of man.
This prophet who was responsible for the ideas of Isaiah II was a man with a dream. That dream was of a leader who will serve Yahweh perfectly and lead the people to do the same. All the people who listened to him will share in the joy and peace and victory of Yahweh.
This first Servant Song stresses the kindness and concern of this leader. He would not be a rabble-rouser, but a person who went about giving a helping hand to everyone in need.
The SECOND SERVANT SONG, Isaiah 49:1-6, stresses that this plan of peace and salvation is not to stop with one nation. Yahweh’s plan is to be offered to ALL NATIONS, to the whole world. All who accept will share in the greatness and riches of Yahweh.
The THIRD SERVANT SONG, Isaiah 50:4-9, stresses how perfectly this person will cooperate with every detail of the plan.
Reference to the New Testament:
The best description of the fulfillment of this Song in the life of Jesus is found in Matthew 11:28-30. “Come to me all you who labor and are overburdened and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me for I am gentle and easily approached. You will find rest for your spirits, for my yoke is tailored to the needs of each person and therefore the burden can be carried.”
Again, the image must be understood. A yoke was a heavy piece of wood fitted to the necks of two oxen. It was held in place by straps or ropes. The yoke kept the necks and heads of the oxen bent low and then they could be controlled and made to work.
Now Jesus says he is “yoked” as a team with each person. His yoke is perfectly adapted to each person and therefore because of teamwork with Jesus all the work of life will be accomplished and give real happiness.
The FOURTH SERVANT SONG, Isaiah chapter 52:13-53:12, is the most mysterious as it appears in the Old Testament times. This song talks about some terrible SUFFERING that the Servant undergoes. The suffering is not for himself but for others. He is taking on the burden of other people and suffering vicariously.
What this section meant to the remnant of the Chosen People in the time of Cyrus, in Persia, and Palestine in 538 B.C. is hard to say.
Application to New Testament:
Jesus and the first Christians saw this fourth song fulfilled to the letter in the sufferings and death of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. The first followers of Jesus saw their mission in life to bring the victory of these sufferings and death to all peoples and all nations in the world. This was salvation, and would bring the whole of creation to the fulfillment of its purpose. This is the picture of Isaiah II and the Servant Songs as they are understood in the light of the Gospels, the lives of Jesus and the first followers.
ISAIAH III. Chapters 56-66.
This third part of Isaiah is dated from the return to Palestine after the Babylonian Captivity. The remnant of the people were allowed to go back to Palestine and live on their own, but still subject to the Persian rule. Some of the people refused to leave. They were established in Persia and did not want to uproot themselves, make the long and painful trek to Palestine, and then try to start over again.
This was undoubtedly a very trying time for all the people involved. There is a likeness to the people who followed Moses from the slavery of Egypt. They had left Egypt with visions of freedom and prosperity and then came into contact with the harsh realities of the desert.
These people had been slaves in Babylon and were now meeting the hardships of pilgrims in the desert. They had left a known way of life for an unknown dream. Some of them had married among the pagans and they had to leave these wives or husbands behind. Some had picked up the Persian superstitions and beliefs about the pagan idols and the foreign cults. Now all of these attachments had to be broken and they were to become the REMNANT of the People of Yahweh.
The prophet tried to lift their spirits from the harsh realities of the present by an appeal to great glories of the future. Chapter 61, verses 1-2 , are extremely important ideas”
“The spirit of Yahweh has been given to me,
for Yahweh has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring GOOD NEWS (Gospel)
to the poor (Anawim),
To bind up the hearts that are broken,
To proclaim freedom for captives,
Freedom for those in prison,
To proclaim the Jubilee Year of the Lord,
A day of atonement for our God.”
The Jubilee year took its name from the Ram’s Horn (Yobel) which was used to announce its beginning.
Reference to New Testament:
Jesus and his first followers saw these fulfilled in his work. This was certainly the heart of the “Good News” as proclaimed by Jesus and his first followers. In fact, this title was chosen by the writers as the description of the lives of Jesus. Each gospel is called ‘THE GOOD NEWS” according to a particular person and community.
This section of Isaiah has many passages which describe and condemn idolatry and idolatrous practices in detail. Many scholars think that this last section of Isaiah actually extends over a much longer period and the final editing comes from the Apocalyptic period in the time of Antiochus the Terrible, 167-164 B.C.
This concludes the notes on the Book of Isaiah. As you can see, they span a long period of time from the original prophet in 738 B.C. to the time of Daniel in the reign of Antiochus the Terrible in 167 B.C.
Reference to the New Testament: The first followers of Jesus saw much to point out in reference to the life and teachings of Jesus and their own mission in the world of the Romans and Greeks.
JEREMIAH. 626-587 B.C.
"Responsibility - Reward - Conscience."
Jeremiah lived in the most trying times of the Old Testament period. He was in Jerusalem during the last forty years of Judah’s independent existence. In 722 B.C. the northern Kingdom, known as Israel, had been destroyed and carried away by the Assyrian armies.
Judah had been warned by men of Yahweh that the same fate was in store for them, but the leaders and the people paid little or no attention to the warnings. Jeremiah rose up to try to avert the final disaster. He told us his primary dilemma. He knew that when he went out to preach doom and destruction, he would be mistreated and perhaps even killed. Jeremiah tried to keep quiet but the evils of the people, the dangers that faced the nation, and the insult to Yahweh from the conduct of the people, simply could not be overlooked. He had to speak out, regardless of consequences.
Jeremiah said that the Old Covenant would be destroyed because of the failures of the leaders and the people. However, a “NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT” would be struck between Yahweh and the House of Israel when the time was ripe. This Covenant would be written on the hearts of people rather than on stone. This Covenant would be fulfilled through a deep sense of individual and personal responsibility. This Covenant would be universal and offered to all nations. In some way, this Covenant would be a new creation far greater than the first creation. (Jer. 31:31-34)
This was the major contribution of Jeremiah to the message of the Old Testament. What he understood of his teaching is far from clear. He was totally convinced that Yahweh would achieve his goals with mankind, and this would happen through the cooperation of the Chosen People. Yet at the same time, he foresaw and predicted the destruction of the kingdom, the city, the Temple and all that remained of the people. Only a remnant would survive. How this would happen and how it would achieve his dreams, he did not know or foresee.
Reference to New Testament:
The most important part of the message of Jeremiah is a positive note that would be fulfilled in Jesus and his followers. In the Gospel stories, Jesus clearly pointed out that he is fulfilling these promises made by Jeremiah. The Eucharistic Cup is the "Cup of Friendship" offered at the end of the Passover Meal. Previously, it had commemorated the Passover Lamb and the deliverance of Israel from the slavery of Egypt. Now, this last banquet is sealed in the blood of Jesus himself. This sharing of the cup was to be the sign of unity and community of the followers of Christ until the end of time. The unity is to grow ever deeper and spread to all nations of all times. In this fashion the new and everlasting covenant would be established.
Jeremiah 1:4-10 is a description of the work that lay before him. The writer seemed to indicate that Jeremiah was aware of his intense feelings and attitudes already as a young child. His words would offer little consolation. He would be predicting dire punishment and destruction because of infidelity, especially of the leaders.
Chapters 2-6 describe in strong and poetic terms how shameful was the apostasy of the people. They had seen and been told about the dangers of the fertility cults and the following of all the revolting practices. They knew that these were explicitly condemned and yet the fertility cults became the center of life in Jerusalem itself.
In chapter 7 and the following, Jeremiah pointed out some of their false security. They looked at the Temple. This was the House of Yahweh. In the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant. Nothing evil could come to them as long as the Temple was standing.
Jeremiah says the Temple was a holy building but they have made it a den of thieves. The time was coming when this temple would be a shambles, totally desecrated by the enemies. Jeremiah emphasized that the Temple was pleasing to Yahweh only if the people who entered it were leading lives pleasing to Him.
This was blasphemy and lies in the eyes of the leaders and the people, and they attacked Jeremiah. Identically the same thing would happen to Jesus a few centuries later and for exactly the same reason. As Jeremiah (and Jesus said), Yahweh does not need or want buildings. He wants people with hearts that are turned completely toward him and lives that spread goodness to the world.
The people appeal to their wealth and prosperity. If they were so displeasing to Yahweh, would they have all these riches? Jeremiah tells them the time was coming when they would have nothing. There were some natural disasters such as droughts, floods, insects, crop failures and the like. Jeremiah said all these should remind you how dependent you are on Yahweh, how easily all your so-called wealth could disappear.
The people laughed and abused Jeremiah still more. They claimed he was a pessimist who begrudged people any prosperity or happiness.
Then the false prophets rose up. These were men who took advantage of the times and the unpopularity of Jeremiah to promote themselves. They told the people what they wanted to hear. They laughed at Jeremiah and mocked his message of doom and destruction. Naturally, the people listened to the false prophets and quoted them against Jeremiah.
As the reader follows the story of Jeremiah, he/she must remember the sequence of the times. The story was drawing closer and closer to 588 B.C. and the final battle and defeat. The neo-Babylonians had become all powerful. They had overpowered the might of the Assyrians and were out to conquer the whole world. They did not look on the Israelites as some formidable enemy. They had a tract of land which was important for the travel to Egypt and so they would gather up the people of Judah and slaughter them or make them slaves.
In the end, some of the people fled to Egypt in the hope of escaping the Babylonian armies but the military machine kept right on coming. Jeremiah was complete in his depiction. He said that the enemies were displeasing to Yahweh too and they, in turn, would be overthrown by others.
When word of this preaching got to the authorities of the enemies, Jeremiah also suffered from them. Finally the destruction of Jerusalem came and the small remnant that still lived is carried off into captivity and exile.
There is much more to say about the preaching and teaching of Jeremiah. It has all been written in various books already. Here are just a couple more notes that will be helpful.
The Book of Deuteronomy is a description of the Torah. It was called “The Second Law” when first translated into Greek. However, it is really an editing of the Torah that came from the time and disciples of Jeremiah. It was looking at the Torah, not at the time of its foundation, but at the time of its seeming demise.
Secondly, we have the collection of LAMENTATIONS that goes back to the time of Jeremiah. They are SONGS of SADNESS at the sinfulness and failure of the people as they fell into idolatry and deserted Yahweh.
Finally, there is BARUCH. He was a sort of secretary to Jeremiah. There are literary questions as to the origin of the book and its relation to Jeremiah. These will have to be read in their entirety to fill out the picture.
LAMENTATIONS: Culpable Loss of Former Greatness.
This collection of Lamentations is attributed to Jeremiah in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) and the Latin Vulgate. This attribution is based on the statement in 2 Chr. 35:25 and the content of the Lamentations. However, it's hard to imagine Jeremiah saying that the voice of the prophets has been silenced (2:9). It is also difficult to think of Jeremiah as praising Zedekiah (4:20) or putting his trust in the help of the Egyptians (4:17).
These five poems are “acrostics.” So each successive stanza or verse begins with a word that starts with the next letter of the alphabet. This word is usually the key idea of the verse or stanza. Chapters 1,2 and 4 are in the form of a dirge for the dead. Chapter 3 is an individual lamentation. Chapter 5 is a collective lamentation. If we hold with the attribution to Jeremiah as the source, then they were written in Palestine after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.
However, there is a strong argument for Lamentations coming from the time of Daniel. 167-164 B.C. The event being commemorated is the placing of the Abominable Idol in the Holy of Holies by Antiochus IV or Antiochus the Terrible. Either event would be seen as a national tragedy, but I lean toward the origin in the time of Daniel.
||All you who pass by the way look and see:
Is any sorrow like the sorrow that afflicts me,
with which Yahweh has struck me
on the day of his burning anger?
||All who pass your way
clap their hands at the sight:
they whistle and shake their heads
over the daughter of Jerusalem.
"Was this the loveliest of all.
This, the joy of the whole world?"
||He has broken my teeth with gravel.
He has given me ashes for food.
My soul is shut out from peace:
I have forgotten happiness.
And now I say: My strength is gone,
That hope which came from Yahweh.
||Yahweh is good to those who trust him.
to the soul that searches for him.
It is good to wait in silence
for Yahweh to save.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
from youth onwards.
||The crimes of the daughter of my people
have outdone the sins of Sodom.
4:8. (Compared to a mummy)
Now with faces darker than blackness itself
They move unrecognizable through the streets.
The skin is shrunken against their bones.
Dry as a stick.
||We hold out our hands to Egypt,
or to Assyria, just to get enough bread.
5:21. Make us come back to you, Yahweh,
and we will come back.
Renew our days as in times past,
unless you have utterly rejected us,
in an anger that knows no limit.
These are a few of the verses I would recall as I think of the Lamentations. However, I see something new each time I read slowly through all the book. The ideas could be applied over and over again to any nation that had deserted the path of moral integrity.
False God: Goals that Turn Out Empty, Frustrating, Useless.
Baruch was a sort of secretary to Jeremiah. This book seems to be a summary of basic ideas that have been presented in earlier books.
Chapter 6 is purportedly a letter of Jeremiah to the Jews who were being led into the neo-Babylonian captivity. The basic theme is found in 6:5-6: “Be on your guard. Do not imitate the foreigners. Do not fear their gods, as you see their worshippers flocking before and behind them. Instead, say in your
hearts, ‘Master, it is you that we have to worship. For my angel is with you and your lives will be in his care’.” A refrain is repeated over and over again in 6:14,22, 28, 38, 44, 51, 56, 64, 68, 71. This refrain is “From this it is evident they are not gods. Do not be afraid of them.”
The conclusion is in 6:72: “Better then, a virtuous man who has no idols; disgrace will never come near him.” The goal: be a just person.
EZECHIEL. 593-571 B.C.
Personal Responsibility Gives the Living Spirit to a People.
In 2:1, Ezechiel was addressed as “SON OF MAN.” This title would be repeated again and again. Its purpose was to stress the distance between God and man. In Daniel 7:13, this same phrase became a description of the Messiah who was to come and would stress his mysterious greatness.
(See New Testament Application for “Son of Man” in Old Testament commentary on Daniel.)
Ezechiel was an enlightening teacher and, at the same time, the starting point of a whole new type of literature. It is called “APOCALYPTIC” which means “REVELATORY.” The stress was on the revelation about the future that was yet to come, rather than on the present and its relation to the past.
The previous prophets had all been in Israel or Judah, and were trying to get the people to shape up and worship Yahweh with lives that befitted him. Now there was no Promised Land or Chosen People. The remnant was down in the Neo-Babylonian Captivity.
Ezechiel was taken with the first wave of captives in 597 B.C. When they arrived in the foreign land, the people were asking why this had happened to them. They could not see that any of this was their fault. They were sure that Yahweh would see their plight and restore them to their former glory.
Ezechiel spent his time and efforts trying to convince the exiles that this punishment was their own fault. Yahweh was displeased with them for their immoral conduct and violation of His Covenant. They would not be delivered from exile until they had repented and atoned for their sins. Because this conversion was not going to take place quickly, Ezechiel turned his attention to the future.
This was the beginning of the Apocalyptic outlook. The notion of SEER now became the principal aspect of Ezechiel's work and this would continue on to the coming of Jesus and the fulfillment.
ROLE and RESPONSIBILITY of the PROPHET. EZK: 3:16-21
This is a clear and detailed description of the role and responsibility of the prophet. Yahweh stressed that the prophet has the obligation to tell all the people, just and sinners, about their obligations. Then the responsibility of remaining upright, or converting and becoming upright, rested on the shoulders of each person. However, if the prophet failed to do his job, the failure of the people would be put at his door and he would be punished for it.
This is the clearest description of the role of prophet that has been given so far. The notion of the personal responsibility of the prophet is clearly stated.
INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY. Ezk:18:1-22.
Now this notion of the responsibility of each individual was really explained and stressed. Until this time, the emphasis was on the people of Yahweh. It is true, the individual was responsible, but the stress was on the membership in the people of Yahweh. Now, that people had been destroyed. The small remnant was all that remained. Each individual would have to answer for him/herself. They could and should help each other, but in the final analysis, the individual was responsible for his/her conduct.
In 18:21-23, Ezechiel stressed that Yahweh did not take delight in the punishment of the sinner. He was not some kind of ogre going around spying on people and hoping to catch them in some transgression so that he could denounce them. Rather, Yahweh wanted the people to lead lives that were holy and pleasing to him, and to enjoy themselves fully. If the person failed, he wanted that person to repent and be restored to favor.
Chapter 34 develops many of the details of Yahweh as shepherd of his people. He would lead them to salvation. We each must become a shepherd for others, especially the leaders.
DANIEL. 167-164 B.C.
The Son of Man Is a Glorious King.
With Daniel we come to the last of the major prophets. His name means “God is my Judge.” This was a good name for the young man because of the nature of his teachings. He was in the Greek period when wisdom or knowledge was worshipped. Daniel contrasted the wisdom that came from Yahweh with the so-called wisdom of the gods.
The Apocalyptic literature abounds in Daniel, and the reader should go back to Ezechiel and read the summary of this style again.
The actual text of Daniel is a mixture. Chapters 1:1-2:4 are written in Hebrew. Chapters 2:5-7:28 are written in Aramaic. Chapters 8-12 are written in Hebrew. Chapters 13-14 are written in Greek.
As we begin to read about the fulfillment of this whole plan of salvation, we find that Daniel had more influence than any other writer of the Old Testament.
Reference to the New Testament
It is true that Daniel was the closest in time among the prophets, but it's also true that his phrases were used most often in the actual teaching of Jesus.
First, these are the key notions in the chapters of Daniel.
Dan.1:1-20: True Wisdom.
Dan.2:1-49: True Wisdom - Kingship.
Dan.3:1-97: True Wisdom - Worship.
Dan.4:1-34: Without Wisdom = no man.
Dan.5:1-6:1:Without wisdom = no kingship.
Dan.6:2-29: Fidelity of God: delivers from death.
Dan.7:1-28: Chaos - Ancient of Days - Son of Man.
Dan.8:1-27: Persia and Greece.
Dan.9:1-27: Seventy weeks.
Dan.10-12: Michael, one of leading princes.
Dan.13:1-64: Just woman saved.
Dan.14:1-42: Idols destroyed.
Daniel 1:1-21. Food for the Hebrews.
This is the story of the four Hebrew boys who were brought into the service of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. The neo-Babylonians were out to establish a world empire. As the nations were conquered, the king ordered his chief servant to pick out some of the more intelligent boys for his special service. Four Hebrew boys were selected when Judah was conquered, and Daniel was one of the four. He was noted for his ability to speak, to interpret dreams, and to speak wisely. The king was pleased and ordered that the boys be fed from the royal table.
Daniel was opposed to this source for his food since all of it was first offered to the idols. Daniel asked the man in charge to give them a vegetarian diet. The servant was scared but agreed to the ten day test that Daniel suggested. At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his three companions looked better than any of the other young men. So Daniel won this point on the food, and his wisdom far outshone anything that the other young men could offer.
Nebuchadnezzar Dreams. Daniel:2:1-49.
The people of these times and places attached a great importance to dreams and their meaning in daily life. Nebuchadnezzar had a series of dreams and he was really upset.
He called in all of his interpreters and told them they must first tell him the dream and then what it means. The interpreters were upset. No king had ever made such a request before. But the king was adamant. He was sure that if they could tell him the dream first, then their interpretation would be true. The interpreters said this was impossible and the king got angry and decreed their deaths.
Daniel found out about this decree, and he and his three companions offered special prayers to Yahweh for help. Then Daniel asked to be taken to the king. He stressed that his knowledge came from Yahweh and then he told the king the dream.
The dream: There was a statue of great brightness and terrifying to behold. The head was of gold, the chest and arms were of silver, the torso was bronze, the legs of iron, and the feet were part iron and part ceramic. While the king was watching, a stone suddenly broke loose by its own power and hit the statue on the feet and shattered them. Then the whole statue crashed to the ground, broke into a fine dust - like chaff - and the wind blew it all away. Then this stone grew into a mountain that filled the whole earth.
Now the meaning: King Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold. The other parts of the statue were the various kings and kingdoms that would succeed him. Then would come the kingdom set up by the God of heaven. This kingdom would crush and remove all other kingdoms and fill the whole earth.
King Nebuchadnezzar was overcome with Daniel. He commanded that Daniel be put in charge of all his interpreters and wise men and gave him loads of presents.
The Furnace of Fire. Daniel 3:1-100.
Then the king had a golden statue made and this was to be carried around to be worshipped. Anyone who did not bow down before the statue would be burned to death.
Three friends of Daniel refused to bow before the statue. They were reported to the king. He had a special furnace heated, and the three young men were tossed into the fire. The flames were so hot that they consumed the men who were putting the three Hebrews in the fire.
When they were in the furnace, everyone could see them walking around and enjoying themselves. However, they did notice that there was a fourth person with them. This was the angel of Yahweh and he kept it nice and cool in the center of the fire. They sang a beautiful song in perfect meter and rhythm while in the furnace.
The king ordered them released. They are not to be bothered again.
The King Goes Mad. Daniel 4:1-34.
The king had another dream. He called Daniel for the interpretation. There was a tree in the middle of the world. It began to grow until it reached the sky. All animals found shelter under it and all creatures found food on it. Then a holy one came down from heaven and had the tree cut down. Only a stump remained and that was bound with hoops of iron and bronze. Then the king went out and lived like an animal.
Daniel was almost afraid to tell the king what his dream meant. The tree was his kingdom. This kingdom was worldwide. But Yahweh would cut him down and the King would go mad and be thrown out of human society to live with the animals. However he would come back and the stump, which was the remnant of his kingdom, would be there for him to pick up again.
The interpretation of Daniel was carried out. The king of Babylon went mad and was thrown out of human society. He recovered, and he was accepted again into his position as king.
The Handwriting on the Wall. Daniel 5.
The King was having a huge banquet. There was a bit of inaccuracy in the names in the story. The king was called Belshazzar here. The point of the story is the same.
After the guests and the king had drunk alcohol, suddenly a hand appeared and began to write on the wall. The interpreters were called in and none of them could tell what it means. Then Daniel was called and he read the words and told their meaning.
The words were: “Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin.” The meaning was: “God has taken your measure as king. You have been weighed on the scale and come up short. Your kingdom shall be divided and given to the Persians.”
That night, Belshazzar is murdered and Darius the Mede takes over.
Daniel in the Lions’ Den! Daniel 6:1-28.
Daniel was becoming too powerful and popular to suit the other servants and interpreters of the royal court. They rigged up a document that stated that anyone who prayed to any God, other than the king, for the next thirty days would be thrown in the lions’ den. The king signed the document. The enemies of Daniel layed in wait.
Daniel heard of the document, but continued his habit of praying to Yahweh, facing Jerusalem. All could see him. He was reported to the king and was thrown into the lions’ den. The king told Daniel that Yahweh would have to save him.
The next morning, the king hurried to the pit. He called to Daniel and Daniel answered in a cheery voice. The king was overcome with joy. Then the accusers and their families were tossed in and the lions devoured them on the fly.
As we continue with the Book of Daniel, we begin the section known as Daniel’s Vision chapters 7-12. Some look on this section as several dreams or visions. Others maintain it is one vision or dream with several interpretations. What you hold on this issue does not make a lot of difference. The important part is the interpretation given and its use in the New Testament literature. especially in the Gospels.
“SON OF MAN” Dan.7:7-13.
There was a terrible storm and out of the waters came the four great beasts. A lion with wings of an eagle; a bear with three ribs in his mouth; a leopard with four wings like those of a bird and four heads; a fourth terrifying beast with large iron teeth and ten horns. The description of this last beast is quite detailed.
Then came the one like a “Son of Man.” He came up to the Ancient of the Days and received supreme power, glory and kingship over all nations. This power would last forever.
New Testament use of term “Son of Man”:
The title "Son of Man" was used by Jesus and the first Christians as the sole designation for him. This was a Daniel phrase and even in Daniel, the prophet was not quite sure what it means.
Jesus often showed an anxiety over his personal identity. He asked the apostles on several occasions, “Who do people think I am?” In fact, the final scene in the Garden of Olives was a struggle over this very question. Jesus almost got to the point of saying “It’s too much!” And then he submitted to the plan, whatever it was. And in his obedience to the plan of God, Jesus became the “Son of Man.”
Here are the passages from the four gospels where the phrase is used. It is highly beneficial to look up each reference.
MARK: 2:10,28; 8:31,38; 9:12,31; 10:33,45; 13:26; 14:21,41,62.
LUKE: 5:24; 6:5,22; 7:34; 9:22,26,36,44,58; 10:22;
11:30; 12:8,10,40; 17:22,30; 18:8,31,38; 19:10;
21:27,36; 22:22,48,67; 23:34,46; 24:7.
MATTHEW: 8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8,32,40;
3:38,41; 16:13,27,28; 17:9,22; 19:28; 20:18,28;
24:27,30,36,37,39,40,44; 25:31; 26:24,46,64.
JOHN: 1:29,51; 3:13,14,17,18; 5:18,27; 6:27,40,53,62; 8:25;
9:35; 12:23,35; 13:3,31; 17:1.
Gabriel Interprets. Daniel 8:1-27.
This vision was about a ram and a he-goat. The he-goat had one large horn in the center of his forehead. He attacked the ram and crushed it. At the height of his victory, the one horn snapped and four great horns sprouted in its place. Then a small horn sprang from one of these four and grew into a mighty horn. It was all powerful and totally destructive. It even attacked God and the people of God. It abolished the perpetual sacrifice and destroyed the temple. This was to take place in 2300 (or 1150) days. This part is quite obscure. The whole picture seems to refer to Medes and Persians, Alexander and the Greeks, and Antiochus IV, the Terrible.
The interpretation sent Daniel to bed sick for several days. There is also the prophecy of the 72 weeks. The picture was definitely a threatening description of what was to take place in that 2nd century B.C. Besides the notion of the Son of Man we also have the introduction of Gabriel as the official interpreter who came from God.
New Testament reference:
Gabriel would be the messenger who approached Zachary, the father of John Baptist; and Mary, the Mother of Jesus; and Joseph, her husband. There is no doubt that the first Christians and the gospel writers saw a connection between this writing of Daniel and the beginnings of the life of Jesus.
These last two stories or chapters are not in the Hebrew text of Daniel. They are only in Greek. However, manuscript evidence tells us that they definitely belong to the writing called Daniel.
This was a great story of a young wife falsely accused of a crime she did not commit. However, the accusers were elders and judges and therefore their word would supercede hers in the courts. She was condemned to die.
At this juncture, a young boy named Daniel, spoke out boldly, “I am innocent of the blood of this woman.” This statement really brought the crowd up short and they asked Daniel what he meant.
He had them gather in session again. He questioned the elders separately. He asked what kind of tree they saw Susanna lying under, sinning with this young man. They had no opportunity to harmonize their answers and so they gave different answers. The Law said any one lie in the evidence destroyed its credibility.
Susanna was freed. Her good name was restored and the shameful elders were put to death. Daniel and his mental acumen were really appreciated by all.
BEL and THE DRAGON. Chapter 14.
This chapter contains two excellent stories of the triumph of good over evil. They are concerned with idols, idolatrous worship, and the deceit of the priests of these idols.
The king was Cyrus, king of Persia. Daniel was a close friend. There was an idol, called Bel. Every day, Bel was given 12 bushels of the best flour, forty sheep, and six measures of wine. Bel, supposedly, consumed it all.
One day, Cyrus asked Daniel why he did not worship Bel with everyone else. Daniel said Bel was just a statue, clay inside and bronze outside. This statue had never eaten anything in his life.
Cyrus was upset and said that if Daniel could not prove his claims, he would die. The priests were glad to prove Daniel wrong. The King had all the food put in front of the statue. Then everyone went out and the king locked the door and sealed it with his own royal seal.
The priests had a secret door right under the table. Daniel had known or suspected this and, with the knowledge of the king, he took special precautions. He spread a very fine ash dust on the floor.
The next day, Cyrus threw the door open with a flourish and all the food was gone. The King was all ready to gloat and Daniel says, “Wait a minute! What are all these footprints doing here?” The king saw them. They led right to the secret door and directly back to the priests’ quarters. So Cyrus had the statue pulverized and the priests put to death.
Then there was this Dragon. The King said to Daniel, “You cannot say this dragon is not alive.”
Daniel said, “I’ll kill this dragon without a sword or stick.” Then he made a special concoction, rolled it into balls, and fed it to the dragon. The dragon swallowed these tar-balls and burst wide open.
King Cyrus was very happy with Daniel but the people were not. They felt the King had been duped by Daniel and they gave the King an alternative. Either hand Daniel over to them, or the King and his family would suffer the consequences. The King was on the spot and he turned Daniel over.
There was a lions’ den. The seven inhabitants were accustomed to devour two human bodies and two sheep, each day. Now they were denied food and Daniel was put in their midst.
While this scene was developing in Persia, a prophet named Habakkuk, had been making dinner for some field hands in Judea. An angel of Yahweh appeared and told him to take the lunch to Daniel, in prison, in Babylon. The prophet objected. He did not know of Daniel and did not have the slightest idea where this prison was. So the angel took Habakkuk by the hair of his head and transported him to Daniel in the lions’ den. Daniel thanked the Lord for his dinner.
On the seventh day, King Cyrus came to mourn Daniel. But there was Daniel, hale and hearty, in the midst of his “kittens.” The enemies were quickly rounded up and the lions made a quick meal of them.
Concluding Comment on Literary Form of Daniel.
We still do not understand exactly how to interpret this Apocalyptic literature in Daniel. There is no doubt that the writer intended to present his ideas in a mysterious tone. His intent seems primarily to arouse a holy anxiety or fear which makes the reader more alert to his/her own actions.
Now we continue the “Prophet Story” with the twelve minor prophets. As I said, the distinction between major and minor is not so much quality as quantity of teaching. For the most part, the minor prophets would all be classified as “nebi’im,” or “moral advisers.” This does not mean they were accepted. In fact, some of them were definitely threatened and rejected. I’ll follow the time line again and this will give us the historical background for each of these preachers.
AMOS. 783-743 B.C.
The Worst Kind of Famine - No Words of Wisdom!
Amos, to say the least, was a preacher who knew he would not be liked and did not care. He had a message which his conscience impelled him to preach. Then he would go home to his work. He stressed that he was not an official teacher or preacher.
We are told that Amos was a shepherd taking care of his flocks. He lived in the fields most of the time, and he heard how the leaders and the upper class of society failed against the Law of Yahweh. This was especially true of the practice of the fertility cults by the members of the chosen people.
His general message was that Yahweh had really put up with the failures of the people long enough. He had warned them. He had tried to lead them back. Now he was going to let their enemies take over.
His approach to the women of Jewish society was really insulting. He called them the “cows of Bashan”(4:1). Bashan was an area across the Jordan that was famous for its fat cattle. Amos was quite graphic in his description of what would happen to these pampered women when the enemy took over the cities.
In 8:11, Amos stressed that the worst famine possible would strike them. There would be a “FAMINE FOR THE WORD OF YAHWEH.” The people would finally realize the dire destruction that was taking place. They would want consolation, strength and guidance. But Yahweh would be far from them.
In chapter 7, Amos was invited to leave the country. They told him his speech was crude and he did not deserve to live in educated society. Amos agreed. He was not a professional teacher. He felt this inner urgency to tell the people what was going to happen. He did not expect them to listen to him and correct their lives. However, he had to respond to the promptings of Yahweh. He would finish his message and then he would go back to the sheep. At least the flocks would follow him to healthful pasture.
The prophecy ended on a hopeful note. In time, Yahweh would be faithful to himself and he would establish his people as promised. However, the present sinful generations would not share in the fulfillment.
HOSEA. 734-732 B.C.
Love Must Prove Itself in Action.
Because Amos and Hosea were contemporaries, there is a tendency to compare them. Two men more opposite in temperament and style hardly existed. Amos was blunt, almost crude in his language at times, and seemingly unmoved by any criticism. He had a sense of a job that needed to be done and he was going to do it.
Hosea is presented to us as a very tender-hearted person. He had the same threatening message to give because of the failure of the people against Yahweh. Yet it pained him to have to speak out with such dire threats. He really cringed at the criticisms that were sent his way.
In his presentation, Hosea developed the image of Yahweh as husband and Israel as wife. Yahweh was always faithful but Israel was called from sinfulness to serve Yahweh and constantly fell back into her old ways. The imagery was literally true in that their principal failures were connected with the practice of the fertility cults.
In chapter 4, Hosea explicitly addressed the priests. He stressed that their failures had led to the downfall of the whole people. They were supposed to be guides and leaders, and they had used this power and authority to lead the people into sin and infidelity.
Hosea stressed that Yahweh wanted obedience and lives of justice or holiness rather than burnt-offerings and libations. In 6:5-6, these ideas are stated explicitly: “This love of yours is like a morning cloud, like the dew that quickly disappears... what I want is love, not sacrifices; knowledge of God, not holocausts.”
MICAH. 721. B.C.
Repent - Restore - Be Forgiven - Live Again.
Micah was a Judean from Moresheth, west of Hebron. He worked as prophet under kings Joatham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. This means that he was prior to the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. He was a contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah. His background was peasant and therefore he had much the same attitude toward society as Amos: He was suspicious of city life. His expression was down-to-earth and might even be dubbed crude at times.
We know nothing of his particular life except that we can fit it into the picture of the times just before the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. He was opposed to the moneyed capitalists, the usurers, the swindling tradesmen, families that were fighting constantly, greedy priests and prophets, tyrants and judges always ready to pick up a bribe.
Micah’s formula for the “good life” is “to act in a just manner, to have tender love, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Mic 6:8) That is a good summary of what all the prophets were asking of the people if they want to be pleasing to Yahweh. In fact, these qualities make a good foundation for all society at all times.
The special place for Bethlehem was brought out by Micah and would be his claim to lasting fame in the Gospels. “And you, Bethlehem, Ephratha, small among the clans of Juda, out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel; his origins go back to the days of old.” (see also Gospels of Matthew 2:6 and John 7:42).
The Day of the Lord - A Day of Wrath and Punishment.
The introductory lines of this short booklet say that the prophet worked during the reign of Josiah. This dates him as 640-609 B.C. His attack on foreign manners, the worship of false gods, the rebuke of the court officials, and his silence about the king would all indicate a period before the religious reform of Josiah. Thus he would have been working about 640-630 B.C., just before Jeremiah.
Part of the territory has been seized by Sennacherib. They had come under Assyrian rule, and the lawless reigns of Manasseh and Amon favored religious disorder. Now Assyria was weakening and there was some hope of restoration.
The people had been falsely keyed up over the approach of this day. They expected Yahweh to come suddenly in a blaze of power and glory and pick them out of the hole into which they had crawled by their immoral lives.
Zephaniah put a whole new picture before them. He described the “Day of Yahweh.” The Day of Yahweh was coming but it would be a day of wrath, distress, agony, ruin, devastation, darkness and gloom. There would be a trumpet blast but it would be the battle cry of the enemy.
In Zephaniah 1:3, the prophet described the terrible fate that was in store for the people of Juda in a few short years - the destruction of Jerusalem. We read the somber thoughts of this prophet at the time of overthrow of the people of God.
New Testament reference:
The pessimistic outlook gave rise to the liturgical song used in the Requiem Mass called the “Dies Irae.” The day of Yahweh as a day of wrath was applied to the death of every Christian and to every person in the world. This approach was clearly not the attitude of Jesus in the gospels. However, it has put an abnormal fear in the thought or approach of death and the message of the gospels is ignored.
Matthew 13:41 is a reference to Zephaniah 1:3, where the prophet was describing the terrible fate that was in store for the people of Juda in a few short years. Jesus was explaining the parable of the wheat and the weeds. The parable described the end of the world when the wicked, like the weeds, would be gathered into a pile and burned. The good people, like the wheat, would be gathered into the presence of God to be happy forever.
NAHUM. 612 B.C.
The Enemy Falls to Rise No More.
Nahum is another very short writing with apparently only one purpose: the prophet was intent on showing the terrible destruction that was to come to Niniveh because of its opposition and harm to the people of Yahweh. The prophet did not praise the people of Yahweh but he did condemn the people of Niniveh who were worse.
Nahum would not have been a popular preacher with either group. He did not really say anything flattering about either party. He did stress what the people of Yahweh were supposed to be and how great they could become. But he did not praise them for having attained any of these heights.
Nahum’s stressed the kind of destruction that Niniveh faces. The people of Judah probably took this as some kind of reprieve for themselves but Nahum in no way said it or even hinted at it.
HABAKKUK. 597 B.C.
A Bad Person Is Punished - But the Punisher Is Worse.
Habakkuk is a short anomaly for those times. The prophet questioned Yahweh in the same way that Job will question him later on. At first, he seemed almost too forward or brazen in his questioning. However, by this literary technique, the prophet stressed the justice and the mercy of Yahweh. Yahweh was always ready to forgive and to help but the first step had to be taken by the seeker. Yahweh’s gifts were not handouts. They must be earned or deserved.
There are five warnings, “Woes” directed to the oppressors.
WOE to the people who amass wealth that belongs to someone else.
WOE to the people who use others for their own selfish purposes.
WOE to people who found a fortune or fame on the blood of others through cruelty and violence.
WOE to those who are a source of scandal to others by their words or conduct.
WOE to the idolaters who worship the things that man has made from wood and stone.
Habakkuk ended on a note of hope with a beautiful liturgical song. The prophet described the great power and might which Yahweh had shown in the past. The description was such that it almost made a person fear and tremble. Then it ended in the calm expectation of joy and peace that would come from Yahweh for the people who obeyed his Law.
Keep in mind that the first siege of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. was taking place at the time of this writing or preaching. The terrible destruction that was to culminate a few years later was already under way. People who listened to the prophets and the Law of Yahweh would get great consolation even in the midst of their danger.
New Testament reference:
The five-fold "Woe" to the oppressors would be used by Jesus in his condemnation of the Jewish leaders of his times.
HAGGAI: 520-515 B.C.
New Glory Will Come to this Temple.
We are now at the beginning of the post-exilic times. The remnant of Jerusalem had been hauled down to Babylon in 587 B.C. They had been a truly downcast people because all their glory was gone and they were a mere handful of slaves once again. They had started by blaming others and then had to face their own failures.
In 538 B.C., Cyrus and the Persians took over the neo-Babylonian empire. Cyrus was convinced that it was foolish to keep all these captured people in one spot as slaves. There was not enough work for them to do and they had to be fed if any profit would come. So Cyrus decided to send them to their home countries. They would go as subject people but they could live and work in their own lands.
This remnant was a rather sad lot. Some of them had intermarried with the pagans. They were neither Jew nor pagan. Many of them did not want to leave their wives and children and go back to a questionable future. Others wanted to go but they wanted to take their pagan families with them.
Finally, a group of the exiles left for Jerusalem. It was a long and difficult journey. They were discouraged. Then they arrived in Jerusalem. Most of these people had not been here before. They were born in captivity or they were very young when they left Jerusalem. They had heard all the “glowing” accounts of the City of David, the Temple of Yahweh, and the great feasts. They were expecting to see all this glory at journey’s end. Instead they walked into a heap of rubble. Nothing had been done to restore the city or the Temple since the destruction in 587. That was more than a half century ago.
In 520 B.C., Haggai rose up to set these people in motion. They would never become the people of Yahweh unless they revived their hope and began to rebuild the city and the Temple. The Temple was necessary if they were going to restore a strong religious life expressed in a living liturgy.
Haggai’s prophecy could in no way be called even a booklet. It is a mere two pages and its whole burden was to get the people moving to rebuild the Temple. As they started, many of the people had visions of glory in mind. As they worked, this glory became a reality of unceasing and unrequited toll. Haggai spent his whole time urging them to move. Even though their final result would not be as great as the former structure, it would become the House of the Lord.
ZECHARIAH. 520-515 B.C.
Your King Comes - Glorious - Victorious - on a Donkey!
Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai and had much the same purpose in life as did Haggai. The prophecy is divided into two distinct parts: chapters 1-8 and 9-14. There is no doubt about the authenticity and authorship of this first section. However, the second section refers to a much later time and could hardly have been put in its final form until after the rule of Alexander.
One theory, which I like, is that the first part of the writing was already in existence. Then later teachers from the time of the Greeks attached the second part to this earlier work.
Zechariah was talking about ideas and events of his time. Chapter 7 is a brief survey of the history of the chosen people. Chapter 8 is a look forward as to what is to come.
Chapter 9:9 reads, “Rejoice heart and soul, Daughter of Sion! Shout with gladness, daughter of Jerusalem! For behold, your King comes to you, victorious and triumphant, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Chapter 12:10 reads “Over the House of David and over the citizens of Jerusalem I will pour out a SPIRIT of kindness and prayer. They will look on the one whom they have pierced. They will mourn for him as an only son, and weep for him as people weep for a first-born child.”
New Testament reference:
These passages describe the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem at the beginning of his passion, death, and resurrection. Jesus would give the Holy Spirit after he was gone.
Again, it is very important to mention that the prophet in these times did not necessarily think or know about Jesus and the fulfillment. As history unfolded, Jesus and his followers saw how they were putting the ideas into effect.
MALACHI. 445 B.C.
Measure a Messenger by His Message.
The name of this short writing is interesting. As stated here, it means “my messenger.” If it is spelled, “Malachiah,” it means “messenger of Yahweh.” The point that was being stressed in either spelling was that there was a special message at hand.
There are two basic messages or themes in the writing. The prophet stressed the failures of the priests and people in their religious duties (1:6-2:9, 3:6-12). Then he talked of the scandals in the mixed marriages and divorces (2:10-16).
The very end of the book talked about the return of Elijah before the day of fulfillment comes.
New Testament reference:
The return of Elijah had become an important and popular notion in the time of Jesus. He gave it a completely new interpretation by saying that John the Baptist was the return of Elijah. The prophecy meant a person with Elijah’s spirit would come. The Baptist certainly qualified.
OBADIAH. ??- 425 B.C.
The Life of Crime Destroys the Criminal.
Obadiah is a short writing -- 21 verses in all. Because of its shortness, it is difficult to place the work with any accuracy. It seems to be a call for the punishment of Edom for all the harm these descendants of Esau had done to the Israelites.
It is definitely an appeal for national vengeance. It is also a tribute to the exacting justice of Yahweh. It clearly fits into one aspect of the prophetic movement, and was considered important enough to keep in the sacred collection.
JOEL, 400 B.C.; 115-50 B.C.
Youth Supplies Enthusiasm - Age Offers Experience.
The prophecy of Joel comes in two parts. The first dates about 400 B.C. It points out that there is no king, public worship is all-important, and earlier prophets are cited. The second part is about the coming of the Spirit of Yahweh on all people in the future.
We also meet the Valley of Jehoshaphat: the valley in which Yahweh would pass judgment on all peoples. Joel talked about this valley in reference to the restoration of the Chosen People.
Joel stressed that the “old people will dream dreams and the young people will see visions.” This is in perfect keeping with the psychology of people. Older people tend to look back and draw lessons or conclusions from their past experience. Young people have to look forward and think about what is still to come because their lives lie in the future.
All the natural process is enhanced by the “spirit” or “breath” of Yahweh.
JONAH. 450 B.C.
Sincere Repentance Is Always Accepted.
The writing of Jonah is one of the best known in works of art and sculpture. Jonah received a call from Yahweh that he was to rise and go to Ninive and tell the people that they were going to be annihilated because of their sinful ways. Jonah knew this would be a very difficult mission.
He went down to the docks and took passage on a ship going in the opposite direction. While he was at sea a terrible storm arose and the sailors were afraid for their lives. They were all praying to their gods and they saw Jonah sleeping comfortably in his bunk.
He told them what had happened and he was the one to be punished. So they threw Jonah overboard in the raging sea. The storm subsided and a large fish came up and swallowed Jonah. Then, as the fish swam back to the home shore, Yahweh touched its mouth and the fish burped Jonah on the beach that he had left.
A second time, Yahweh told Jonah to get moving to Niniveh. The Ninivites listened to Jonah, saw the wisdom of his words, and they repented and were forgiven.
This did not please Jonah - at all. He complained bitterly to Yahweh. He said he knew that Yahweh was an all merciful God. If people repented, they would be forgiven and totally restored. Jonah did not like this conduct because he figured the people would laugh at him.
Yahweh stressed that he was not a God of vengeance, but a God of mercy and love.