Lesson Five – Major Prophets

LESSON 5

MAJOR AND MINOR PROPHETS

INTRODUCTION

This section is called the “writing prophets”. There were many prophets in Israel but not all of their prophecies were recorded.

There are two groups of writing prophets – 4 major and 12 minor, not according to importance but according to length. They normally acted as advisors to the kings although many of them were not favourably received and some were mistreated and even martyred because they spoke the word of God. They ministered at different times during the history of God’s people.

THE MAJOR PROPHETS

  1. ISAIAH

Isaiah is considered to be the greatest of the prophets. His contemporaries were Amos, Hosea and Micah. His ministry began with the death of King Uzziah (Isaiah 6) and continued through the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. He wrote during the stormy period when Assyria was growing more powerful and Israel and Judah were declining. In 721 BC Assyria conquered Israel and Judah became even more vulnerable.

Isaiah was married and had two sons, Shear-Jashub and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, These names had prophetic meanings relating to the circumstances of God’s people. He probably spent most of his life in Jerusalem and had his greatest influence under King Hezekiah. He is also credited with writing a history of the reign of King Uzziah.

“Isaiah” can be divided into two sections – chapters 1-39 and 40-66. The themes are about judgment and salvation. Part one speaks mainly about judgment, both on God’s people and on the nations and part two is about mercy and restoration culminating in the nature and work of the Messiah.

Isaiah’s Messianic prophecies, which occur in both parts of the book but especially in part two contained in five “Servant Songs”, give us a clear picture of the nature and work of the Messiah.

Because of Judah’s stubborn rebellion, judgment was coming in the form of Babylonian conquest but, after a period of exile, God would raise up the Persian king, Cyrus, to release His people and send them home (Isaiah 45).

“The Lord’s kingdom on earth with its righteous rule and its righteous subjects is the goal towards which the book of Isaiah steadily moves. The restored earth and the restored people will then conform to the divine ideal, and all will result in the praise and glory of the Holy One of Israel for what he has accomplished.”  (NIV Study Bible, Zondervan Bible Publishers, copyright 1985, page 1015)

  1. JEREMIAH AND LAMENTATIONS

Jeremiah prophesied during the latter part of Judah’s history, from the reign of Josiah to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. After the fall of Jerusalem, some of the people who were left in Judah fled to Egypt following the murder of Gedaliah, the governor of Judah appointed by King Nebuchadnezzar, taking Jeremiah with them. This is the last we hear of the old prophet.

Jeremiah tells us more about himself than any other prophet. He was a priest from the town of Anathoth of the household of Hilkiah. He may have been a descendant of Abiathar, a priest during the days of Solomon. His ministry was preceded by that of Zephaniah. Habakkuk and possibly Obadiah were contemporaries.

He is known as the “weeping prophet”. He was persecuted and mistreated by the kings who succeeded Josiah because he urged them to submit to Babylon. False prophets contradicted his message and promised the overthrow of Babylon but they were proved wrong when Jerusalem was overrun and burnt and the best of the people taken into captivity.

Jeremiah had many enemies and few friends. He sometimes even felt betrayed by God and voiced his distress to God. Although he was timid and introspective, God reassured him time and again and he remained faithful to his calling and his message.

Like many of the other prophets, Jeremiah’s theme was the judgment of God on His people and on the nations. However, after 70 years in captivity, mercy and covenant faithfulness would triumph over wrath. Beyond judgment would come restoration and renewal. The old covenant would give way to a new one (Jeremiah 31) in which God would write His law on their hearts. The house of David would rule in righteousness and the priests would serve faithfully.

“Lamentations” is a poetic expression of Jeremiah’s grief over the destruction of Jerusalem and the loss of his people.

  1. EZEKIEL

What we know of Ezekiel comes from his writings. He was from a priestly family and was eligible to serve as a priest. He was among the exiles taken to Babylon in 597 BC where he received his calling to be a prophet. He was married and lived in a house in relative freedom.

As a priest-prophet he ministered to the exiles away from the temple with its sacrifices, priestly ministrations and worship rituals. His ministry had much to do with the temple and its ceremonies.

He was a man of broad knowledge of his own national traditions as well as international affairs and history. He was often directed to become personally involved in God’s word by symbolically acting out what God was saying to His people.

One of the great themes of Ezekiel is the sovereignty of God over creation, over people and nations, and over history. God was determined that He would be acknowledged by all people everywhere. The clause, “Then they will know that I am the Lord” occurs 65 times in the book.

Chapters 1-24 teach that He would be revealed in the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple.

Chapters 25-32 teach that the nations would know God through His judgments.

Chapters 33-48 promise that God would be known through the restoration and spiritual; renewal of Israel.

Ezekiel prophesied the fall of Jerusalem and, “once the news was received that Jerusalem had fallen, his message turned to the Lord’s consoling word of hope for His people – they would experience revival, restoration and a glorious future as the redeemed and perfected kingdom of God in the world.” (NIV Study Bible, page 1227).

  1. DANIEL

Both the book itself and Jesus attributed it to Daniel as the author. Daniel was one of the young Jewish princes taken into captivity in Babylon during and early raid of  Nebuchadnezzar on Judah before the fall of Jerusalem. Because of his integrity and faithfulness to God, he and his three compatriots enjoyed the favour of King Nebuchadnezzar and were trained for high positions in the Babylonian government.

The book is made up of historical narrative (chapters 1-6) and apocalyptic (chapters 7-12) which can be defined as symbolic, visionary and prophetic.

Chapters 1-6 describe the events, often miraculous, which resulted in Daniel and his companions’ rise to power in Babylon. As young Jewish princes brought up in the traditions of Judaism, they refused to defile themselves with non-kosher food and the worship of idols. God miraculously intervened and preserved them from the king’s wrath.

Like Joseph, their rise to high positions in the government came in the wake of the interpretation of a dream which could only have been revealed supernaturally. They were rescued by divine intervention from a fiery death and from lions because of their faithfulness to God.

Part one concludes with the fall of Babylon by the invasion of the Medo-Persian army while Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson was holding a drunken party and mocking the God of heaven.

Part two deals with the destiny of the nation of Israel which Daniel saw in a series of dreams and visions and prophecies given to him regarding the destiny of the empires that followed Babylon, emphasizing the sovereignty of God over all the kingdoms of men.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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