Topic 5 The Prophets A. Nature of OT Prophecy 1. Prophet • Primarily a “spokesperson for God”: prophet delivers a message from God in and for a particular situation. • Messenger formula: “Thus says the Lord, ...” – often precedes prophetic speech; claims to speak in God’s name. • Prophets and the future • Prediction is not essence of prophecy – many prophetic speeches have nothing to do with predicting future. • Prophets’ predictions are related to past and present. • Prophets do not typically make long-range predictions for benefit of future generations. • Usually make near-term predictions for benefit of immediate audience: • Warn of impending disaster as judgment for sins of nation. • Promise God’s deliverance to give hope in time of oppression. 3. Prophetic literature • Prophets were not primarily writers but preachers. • Messages were preserved, recorded later; prophetic books are sometimes a bit disorganized.
Perennial themes in the prophets • Denounce false worship – worship of foreign gods like Baal; idolatry; etc. • Call for social justice – champion the cause of the powerless who have no voice (poor, orphans, widows, aliens, etc.) • Classification of prophets • Pre-classical prophets (“Former prophets”: Joshua-Kings) • No separate books; their stories are told in historical books. • Nathan – David’s court prophet (2 Sam. 7, 12) • Elijah – opposed Ahab and Jezebel • Contest on Mt. Carmel (1 Kgs. 18) – challenges prophets of Baal to see whose god will answer with fire. • Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kgs. 21) – confronts king Ahab’s crime of executing Naboth and taking his vineyard. • Classical prophets (“Latter prophets”: Isaiah-Malachi) • Major: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel – long books • Minor: Book of 12 (Hosea-Malachi) – short books
Classical prophets of the 8th-century • Amos (760-750 BC) – earliest of classical prophets • Shepherd from Judah – preached to Israel. • Time of prosperity – social injustice. • Impending threat of Assyria – gathering strength and will soon threaten security of whole region. • Passion for social/economic justice; Amos rails against: • Oppression of poor (Amos 2:6-7) • Greed/extravagant luxury (6:4-6) • Bribery in courts (5:10, 11) • Deceitful business practices (8:4-6) • Empty religious ceremonies (5:21-24) • What God really wants is not sacrifice and ceremony but justice and righteousness (5:24; cf. Hos. 6:6; Isa. 1:11-17; Mic. 6:6-8). • Warns of devastating destruction – Assyrian threat is God’s judgment against Israel’s injustice.
Classical prophets of the 8th-century (cont.) • Hosea (750-25 BC) • Northern prophet during Assyrian crisis. • Married a prostitute named Gomer (Hos. 1:2-3) – she was unfaithful, broke his heart; he continued to love, won her back. • Parable of God’s relationship with Israel(2:2-5; 3:1-2) – Israel’s unfaithfulness breaks God’s heart; his discipline seeks to win her back. 3. Micah – another minor prophet who appeared in 8th century 4. Isaiah (742-01 BC) • Advisor to Judean kings during Assyrian crisis. • Call: vision of God in holiness (Isa. 6). • Denounces sins; warns of judgment. • Warns kings to trust God (not armies/alliances) for security. • “Immanuel” sign (7:10-17) – impending royal birth is assurance for King Ahaz during military crisis; reinterpreted in Mt. 1:23 as fulfilled in virgin birth of Jesus (doubtful this is what Isaiah had in mind). • Poems promising “ideal king” (9:2-7; 11:1-9) – his reign of peace will be based on justice/righteousness.
What God Really WantsIn the Words of the 8th-Century Prophets • “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24) • “For I desire steadfastlove and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6) • “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. . . . When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good;seekjustice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:11-17) • "With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
g. Book of Isaiah– longest prophetic book; not all of it goes back to 8th-century prophet Isaiah; 3 mains sections: • ch. 1-39 – Isaiah of Jerusalem –pre-Exilic (742-01) • ch. 40-55 – Deutero-Isaiah – Exile (587-39) • ch. 56-66 –Trito-Isaiah – post-Exilic (539- ) • Jeremiah (627-585 BC) • Prophet to Judah during fall to Babylonia. • Called for repentance – warned of judgment. • “Temple Sermon” (Jer. 7) – warns against “temple superstition;” people thought temple would keep them safe regardless of how they lived; Jeremiah warns that apart from repentance even the temple would be destroyed; authorities took offense, nearly executed Jeremiah. • Saw Babylonia as instrument of God’s judgment – advised surrender. • Was viewed as traitor and persecuted. • Hope for “New Covenant” (31:31-34).
Prophets of the Exile • Ezekiel (593-70 BC) • Preached judgment until 587 – afterwards, hope for restoration. • Vision of throne-chariot of God (Ezek. 1). • Vision of valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37). • Deutero-Isaiah (587-39 BC) • Announces end of Exile – new Exodus (Isa. 40). • King Cyrus of Persia will be liberator (Isa. 45) – Cyrus is even called “messiah” (God’s “anointed”). • Depicts universal God – strong monotheism. • Servant Songs – poems about a mysterious “Suffering Servant,”(42:1–4; 49:1–6; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12). • Charged with bringing light, redemption to the nations. • Suffers innocently for the healing of others. • Is the Servant Israel, a remnant of Israel, or an individual?
Hope for a Messiah Hope for an “ideal king” to restore Israel and rule over Golden Age of peace and justice. (Overall, this is only a minor theme in prophets; becomes more important for Christian readers.) • “Messiah” • Hebrew for “anointed one” – olive oil ceremony designated one chosen by God. • Grew out of royal ideology – each king was a “messiah,” charged with assuring justice, righteousness, and peace. • Prophets • Denounced failures of kings – pursued injustice, unrighteousness. • Depicted future “ideal king” (Isaiah 9, 11, etc.). • “Second Temple” period • Hope for Messiah intensified; promise to David would be fulfilled. • Variety of conceptions developed: political, military, spiritual. • No one expected a suffering and dying Messiah. • New Testament • Jesus is the “Christ” = Greek for “anointed one.” • Jesus fulfills hope for Messiah in unexpected ways; transforms concept.