The Major Prophets and You
"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.
"Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
"And one cried to another and said: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!'
"And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.
"So I said: 'Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.'
"Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar.
"And he touched my mouth with it, and said: 'Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.'
"Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me'" (Isaiah 6:1-8).
Seeing the power and supremacy of our Creator God helps us to see ourselves in proper perspective. God's forgiveness and help are necessary for us to understand and do our part in God's plan.
"Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure'… Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it."
2 Peter 1:19-21
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
"The prophet Isaiah was contemporary with Hosea. They delivered their prophecies during the reigns of the same four kings of Judah (1:1; Hosea 1:1). Hosea also mentions a king of Israel during Uzziah's reign, perhaps because the primary focus of Hosea is the people of the northern kingdom. Isaiah's message is directed toward Judah and Jerusalem, and those nations that interact with them. Yet sometimes, it should be noted, Jerusalem is a reference to all 12 tribes of Israel, as they were at one time united under it. In any case, although the message was relevant for the people of Isaiah's day, it was also written as a prophecy for theend-time nation of Judah, Israel and the other nations of the world.
"Isaiah's actual calling appears to be recorded in chapter 6, and occurs in the final year of Uzziah's reign. The first five chapters serve as a long introduction to the book. The name 'Isaiah' means 'The Eternal Saves' or 'The Eternal Helps' and the deliverance of Judah and Israel, as well as the gentile nations, is a central theme of the book. Isaiah is called the messianic prophet for an obvious reason—his many wonderful prophecies of the coming Deliverer, the Messiah, and the Messiah's coming reign over all nations. That Messiah would, as all professing Christians understand, be revealed as Jesus Christ. Speaking of Jesus, John 12:41 says that Isaiah 'saw His glory and spoke of Him.' (Isaiah is quoted or referred to 85 times in the New Testament—from 61 separate passages.)
"Isaiah is referred to 13 times as the son of Amoz, which may suggest that his father was a man of some prominence. According to Jewish rabbinic tradition in the Babylonian Talmud, this Amoz was a brother of Judah's King Amaziah. If so, this would make Isaiah first cousin to King Uzziah, and a grandson of King Joash—and thus a man of the palace, being of royal blood. Growing up in such an environment, he would have been familiar with international relations and other affairs of state. According to the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, Isaiah was martyred when King Manasseh, apostate son of Hezekiah, had him fastened between two planks and 'sawn asunder' (to which Hebrews 11:37 appears to refer).
"'Critical' scholarship—that based in the view that the Bible is not the inspired Word of God nor written when it claims to be—has denied Isaiah's authorship of chapters 40-66. Instead it attributes this section to a later unknown author it calls 'Deutero-Isaiah,' i.e., 'Second Isaiah' though not actually named Isaiah. Others have argued for a third author (Trito-Isaiah) for chapters 55-66. The New Testament, however, quotes from all three sections of the book, attributing each quote to the one biblical prophet Isaiah himself (compare Isaiah 1:9 and Romans 9:29; Isaiah 53:1 and Romans 10:16; Isaiah 65:1 and Romans 10:20).
"Why do critics try to post-date Isaiah? Mainly because Isaiah accurately prophesied future events. (For example, Isaiah names the Persian ruler Cyrus 200 years before he came to power, Isaiah 44:28; 45:1.) The critics, you see, have a choice: they must either admit that an overseeing supernatural power and intelligence inspired these prophecies or find some other way to explain them. They have gone with the latter solution—redating the prophecies, moving the date of composition forward a few centuries so that the prophecies appear to have been written after all of the prophesied events had already occurred. This has been true of 'higher criticism' for most prophetic books."
Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward.
"Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.
"Come now, and let us reason together," says the Lord, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.
Many people shall come and say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths." For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
"The Old Testament mentions nine different people named Jeremiah. The man God used to author this book was a priest and one of Israel's greatest prophets. Because of several biographical narratives in the book of Jeremiah, more is known about Jeremiah than any other prophet.
"The Hebrew name Jeremiah apparently means 'Exalted of the Eternal' or 'Appointed by the Eternal.' It may relate to the fact that the prophet was one of only a few people whom the Bible reveals to have been sanctified by God before birth for a special purpose—the others being John the Baptist, Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul (Luke 1:13-14; Isaiah 49:1, 5; Galatians 1:15). Jeremiah 1:5 may mean that, like John and Jesus, Jeremiah was chosen even before his conception for his commission.
"Jeremiah's father Hilkiah (1:1) was apparently not the high priest Hilkiah of 2 Kings 22:8. The priests who lived at the priest-city of Anathoth (about 3 miles northeast of Jerusalem) were of the house of Ithamar (compare 1 Kings 2:26) while the high priests, since Zadok, were of the line of Eleazar.
"Jeremiah's ministry began in the 13th year of Josiah (Jeremiah 1:2)—ca. 627 or 626 B.C.—when Zephaniah is also believed to have preached. The book bearing Jeremiah's name relates his words and works during the reigns of the last five kings of Judah—a span of about 40 years—and on into the first years of Judah's Babylonian captivity (verses 1-3). Josiah was a righteous ruler who was apparently close to Jeremiah—the king's great reformation coming five years after Jeremiah's preaching began. Upon Josiah's death, Jeremiah lamented for him (2 Chronicles 35:25). But the mostly superficial benefits of Josiah's reforms were soon replaced by moral and spiritual decay. Following him were four wicked rulers—Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and, finally, Zedekiah, whose reign was ended by Babylon's invasion of Judah.
"'According to the traditional date, the time of [Jeremiah's] call (year 13 of Josiah's reign—Jeremiah 1:2) coincided approximately with the death of the last great Assyrian ruler, Ashurbanipal, an event which signaled the disintegration of the Assyrian empire under whose yoke Judah had served for nearly a century. Against the waning power and influence of the Assyrians, Judah asserted its independence under Josiah' (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 'Jeremiah, Book of'). This was no doubt assisted by the arrival of the Scythians, which soon followed. But following their eventual withdrawal, Judah found itself in a vulnerable position between two powers contending for dominance—Egypt and the Neo-Babylonian Empire—and the latter would emerge supreme.
"Jeremiah was appointed 'a prophet to the nations' (verse 5)—to 'all the kingdoms of the world' (25:26). And chapters 46-51 are directed to various gentile nations. However, 'nations' would seem to refer primarily to the people of Judah and Israel. His preaching was, of course, in large measure directed to the people of Judah where he lived. But Jeremiah also prophesied to the house of Israel—which God had punished and sent into captivity nearly a century before he began preaching. Obviously, then, God's message is for Israel of the end time. Jeremiah wrote of a time of national trouble that is yet ahead for the modern descendants of the lost 10 tribes of Israel. A number of passages in Jeremiah clearly refer to events that will occur just before and after Christ's return at the end of this age.
"One of the greatest values of this book is its universal application in understanding the righteous nature of God and the rebellious nature of man, desperately in need of transformation. According to The Expositor's Bible Commentary, 'Jeremiah preached more about repentance than any other prophet' (introductory notes on Jeremiah). For a time, Jeremiah's message was for the people of his day to repent or else be taken captive by Babylon. Yet, because the response was resentment rather than repentance, God revealed to Jeremiah that Jerusalem's fall and the people's captivity had become the inevitable punishment. Following that revelation, Jeremiah continued to exhort the people to repent, but he also preached that God's will was for them to submit to Babylon—with assurance that, if they did, they would receive mercy. However the populace, especially the authorities, viewed this message as pessimistic, heretical, unpatriotic and even treasonous. As a result, Jeremiah repeatedly suffered rejection, hostility, ridicule, persecution, and threats against his life. For a while he was actually imprisoned.
"Besides this book that bears his name, Jeremiah is also credited with writing the book of Lamentations—a term that has become almost synonymous with the prophet. Indeed, much of the book of Jeremiah can be described as a lament about the people's lack of obedience to God and the tragic fate awaiting them. Based on the prophet, the English language contains the word 'jeremiad,' defined as 'an elaborate and prolonged lamentation or a tale of woe' (American Heritage Dictionary, 1969). That should not be surprising. The Jeremiah of popular imagination is a stern and gloomy doomsayer. But that is an extreme and unfair characterization of the prophet. His messages, which were critical of the people's conduct and warned of punishment, were not his own inventions. Rather, he was conveying God'smessages. Moreover, these messages included the wonderful promise of mercy and deliverance if the people would repent. And Jeremiah 1:10 clearly reveals that his commission was to include positive and negative—constructive and destructive—elements. His book also contains joyous prophecies of the coming Messiah, a new covenant and a blissful new age to come.
"Part of the unfair portrayal of Jeremiah's personality is the picture of a chronically depressed person. Yet while he did suffer frequent melancholy, this was a reflection of the great stress and sacrifices of his life, not of inherent weakness. A prophet's lonely life of being the bearer of bad news was a heavy and depressing burden to bear, especially for one so deeply concerned and tenderhearted as Jeremiah. He felt anger and disgust at the apostasy and idolatry of the people, but he grieved as well, knowing the ominous fate awaiting his beloved countrymen. Added to that, he felt perplexed and humiliated when many years were passing and his prophecies were not materializing.
"Jeremiah is sometimes called the 'weeping prophet' (see 9:1, 10; 13:17; 48:32), but mourning for others over their wickedness and future suffering is a spiritual strength, not a weakness (Ezekiel 9:4; 21:6; Amos 6:6; Matthew 5:4). Other strengths of Jeremiah were his faith in God, devotion to prayer, faithfulness in fulfilling his calling, and unflinching courage in the face of hostility and danger. Jeremiah's life has parallels with the life of Christ, who was a 'Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief' (Isaiah 53:3; Matthew 16:14)…
"Of all the prophetic books, Jeremiah is the longest. It 'is longer than Isaiah or Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets combined are about a third shorter. The claim has been made that it is the longest book in the Bible' (Expositor's). It is also the most complex of the prophetic books. It is not arranged chronologically or topically. That may partly be because Jeremiah was mainly a preacher rather than a writer, who later dictated events and messages after the fact. (Jeremiah dictated much of the book to his secretary Baruch.) As it is, 'the organization of the oracles, prose sermons, and other material is based on content, audience, and connective links' (Nelson Study Bible, introductory notes on Jeremiah)."
Jeremiah 11:21, New Living Translation
The men of Anathoth wanted me dead. They said they would kill me if I did not stop speaking in the Lord's name.
O my soul, my soul! I am pained in my very heart! My heart makes a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because you have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.
"For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.
"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
"Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.
"And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart."
"Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord.
"But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people."
"Recall from 2 Kings 24:10-16 that the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and took away 10,000 captives, including the Jewish king Jehoiachin (or Jeconiah). This was the second Babylonian deportation of the Jews, which took place in 597 B.C. The prophet Ezekiel was among a group of these captives, as the Jewish historian Josephus also relates (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 10, chap. 6, sec. 3). Ezekiel's group was resettled 'by the River Chebar' (1:1), southeast of Babylon. 'Ezekiel 1:1-3 and 3:15 clearly define the place of origin of Ezekiel's ministry as Babylonia, specifically at the site of Tel Aviv located near the Kebar River and the ancient site of Nippur. This 'River' has been identified by many with the naru kabari [or 'grand canal'] (mentioned in two cuneiform texts from Nippur), a canal making a southeasterly loop, connecting at both ends with the Euphrates River' (The Expositor's Bible Commentary,introduction to Ezekiel). During this period the Jews were allowed to live in communities in whatever area of the empire to which they were transported. They seem to have been viewed more as colonists than slaves. Ezekiel himself was married until his wife suddenly died, and he had a house (24:15-18; 3:24; 8:1). Elders of Judah frequently consulted him (8:1; 11:25; 14:1; 20:1; etc.).
"The book of Ezekiel begins with an account of the prophet's calling, which occurred 'in the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month' (1:1). This date is equated in verse 2 with 'the fifth day of the month…in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin's captivity.' Since the captivity began in 597 B.C., the fifth year would have been 593. Some understand the 30th year to be counted from Josiah's renewal of the covenant between God and Judah in the 18th year of his reign, 623-622 B.C. (see 2 Chronicles 34:8, 29-33). However, there is nothing to hint at such a connection, and the covenant had long since been trampled upon in the 16 years since Josiah's death. A more reasonable conclusion is that the 30th year refers to Ezekiel's age, especially when we consider that he was a priest (Ezekiel 1:3). Since a man entered into priestly service at the age of 30 (Numbers 4:3, 23, 30, 39, 43; 1 Chronicles 23:3), God may have elected to start using him as a prophet at this critical age, perhaps highlighting the priestly aspect of Ezekiel's commission. It is interesting to note that if he were 30 years old at this point, Ezekiel would have been born at the time of Josiah's covenant renewal.
"There is a strong emphasis on chronology throughout the book of Ezekiel. It contains 13 prophecies dated from the time Jeconiah was taken into exile—the first in 593, the last in 571 (thus spanning 22 years). Four periods are specified: the first five years, 593-588 B.C. (1:1-25:17); the next two years, 587-585 B.C., surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in 586 (26:1-29:16; 30:20-39:29); 12 years later, 573 B.C. (40:1-48:35); and a final message against Egypt two years after that, 571 B.C. (29:17-30:19).
"Ezekiel's commission was to serve as a 'watchman' for God's people—a sentry who warned of impending danger (see Ezekiel 3; 33). As we will see, his messages were meant in large part for the 'house of Israel,' even though the northern 10 tribes had been taken into captivity about 130 years earlier (3:1, 4, 3, 7, 17; 33:7, 10, 11, 20). In fact, the phrase 'house of Israel' occurs 78 times (plus 'house of Jacob' one time) in this book while 'house of Judah' occurs only 5 times. In some cases, the name Israel is used to designate Judah—but there are numerous instances where it is clear that the northern tribes are meant. Since God would never be a century late in delivering a warning message, it seems clear that He must have inspired significant portions of the book primarily for the end-time descendants of Israel. However, some of the specific prophecies were meant for Ezekiel's time, and some others are dual—meant for Ezekiel's day and the end time. The spiritually deteriorating conditions in Judah were a type of the end-time decline of modern Israelite nations, and the approaching destruction and captivity of Judah was a type of what would happen to the nations of Israel—especially the descendants of Joseph—just prior to Christ's return.
"In the setting in which Ezekiel found himself, he taught, comforted and encouraged the Jews who were with him in exile. As part of his watchman responsibility, he was also to relay to them God's warnings of Jerusalem's coming destruction due to the sins of the Jewish people. And he proved faithful in delivering these important messages, even acting out various judgments or prophecies at God's direction to make the point clear. At the same time, as we've seen, the prophet Jeremiah was giving a similar warning 600 miles away in Jerusalem to the Jews who were living there. Interestingly, both Ezekiel and Jeremiah were priests called to a prophetic office. A comparative study of their messages provides a clear picture of how much God warned the Jews to repent before their nation was destroyed in 586 B.C. Indeed, we've seen that Jeremiah sent messages to the exiles in Babylon (see Jeremiah 29-30). Perhaps some of Ezekiel's prophecies were likewise proclaimed to the Jews of Judah—by letter or just through the reporting of others. Of course, as with those of Jeremiah, many of Ezekiel's prophecies were, as already noted, recorded principally for posterity's sake—with many having dual or even exclusive application to events far in the future.
"One of the recurrent themes in Ezekiel's prophecies is that God is sovereign and people will ultimately learn that lesson. The phrase 'Then they will know that I am the Lord' occurs no less than 65 times in the book. Jerusalem is the focal point of Ezekiel's prophecies. He begins with what was to occur to Jerusalem in his day and then moves on to the events prophesied for the end of the age. (He closes the book with a wonderful vision of conditions that will exist after the return of Christ.) Yet throughout the first 34 chapters, Ezekiel moves back and forth between prophecies for his own day and the end time—many of the historical events foretold serving as types of what is to come in the end time.
"Ezekiel's name means 'God Is Strong' (compare Ezekiel 3:14), 'God Strengthens' (compare Ezekiel 30:25; 34:16) or 'May God Strengthen.' As the book opens, we see how God strengthened him with powerful visions so he could perform the job he was called to do."
"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.
"Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.
"Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand.
"Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul."
"Therefore prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God: "Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it," says the Lord.'"