STUDY FOUR: THE PROPHETS – PART 1

© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2017

[NOTE: the prophetical books are studied in their chronological order as far as reasonably possible]

A. INTRODUCTION TO PROPHECY

The nature of prophecy: the Biblical prophets proclaimed and recorded the word of the Lord. ‘Prophecy’ is far more than predictions of what is going to happen in the future. The prophets’ messages were highly relevant to their present:

They spoke of the nature and character of God.

They reminded the people of what God had done for them in the past,

They forcefully pointed out the wrongness of sin, particularly the sin of idolatry, in which the people were currently engaged, exhorting them to repent and return to the Lord.

They warned of the judgment of God that would fall on them if they rejected God’s command to turn back to him.

In addition to all of this, there is also the long-term predictive element in which they spoke, without realizing it, of the coming of the Messiah, the salvation he would bring, and the new people of God, the church, which would be established by his coming.

Tests of a prophet: God set forth tests by which a true prophet can be identified.

He speaks in conformity with correct doctrine (Deuteronomy 13:1-5)

He lives according to God's Word (Deut 18:9-13)

He speaks in the name of Jehovah (Deut 18:20)

What he predicts comes to pass (Deut 18:22) - only valid if his words are doctrinally sound (Deut. 13:1-5).

 

B. JONAH

[possible date range: 793-753BC; Nineveh, capital of Assyria]

Jonah was sent with God’s message to Nineveh, the capital of the ancient nation of Assyria, before Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom. At the time of Jonah’s preaching the population of Nineveh included 120,000 ‘people who cannot tell their right hand form their left’ [Jonah 4:11], which means that the actual population was far greater. Assyria, a particularly aggressive nation, was an historic enemy of both Israel and Judah, though both at times had been allied with her. A key truth in Jonah is the grace of God.

Contents of Jonah:

[1] Jonah runs away from God’s call [1:1-17]. This chapter records God’s command to Jonah to preach to Nineveh; Jonah’s rebellion; God’s sovereign intervention.

[2] Jonah’s prayer [2:1-10]. Finding himself alive when he had felt for sure that death was upon him, Jonah acknowledged God from inside the fish, and made some sort of commitment to the Lord.

[3] Nineveh repents [3:1-10]. When told again to go and preach to Nineveh, Jonah’s message moved the whole city to repentance, and the predicted judgment was averted.

[4] Jonah complains [4:1-11]. Jonah sat sulking outside the city and complained to the Lord. God rebuked him for his lack of compassion for the people of Nineveh.

Reflection and response: What does this book teach about:
God and the nations

 

 

God’s sovereign control and purpose

 

 

God’s forgiveness and grace

 

 

Jonah and Christ: There are clear references to the prophet Jonah and his mission to Nineveh in the Gospels [Matthew 12:39-41; 16:4; Luke 11:29-32], where Jesus rebukes the people for wanting a sign and for their lack of repentance. In these passages we have both a comparison and a contrast taught between Jonah and Jesus. The comparison: the three days in the belly of the fish parallel the three days in the grave; the contrast: Jesus is ‘much greater’ than Jonah. There is also the contrast between the repentance of Nineveh at the preaching of Jonah, and the Jew’s failure to repent at Christ’s command.

 

C. AMOS

[in the Northern Kingdom: Israel, in the years after 767 BC]

Amos was a farmer from Tekoa, a village about 15klms south of Jerusalem. God sent him to prophesy in the northern kingdom, primarily against the northern kingdom. This fact that he was not a citizen of the northern kingdom formed part of the criticism he suffered from Amaziah in chapter 7.

1 History:
Amos prophesied against the northern kingdom when Jeroboam II was king. He also had messages of judgment against the surrounding nations and Judah.

2 Religion:
Since the time of its first king, Jeroboam I [son of Nebat] the northern kingdom sinned against the Lord by worshipping idols. By the time of Amos and Hosea Israel had plunged even deeper into idolatry and the accompanying ungodly lifestyle in which religious perversions and social injustice prevail.

The darkness and degradation of their religion is summarised in 2 Kings 17:7-17; it included

the erection of altars, high places and religious totems throughout the land;
the worship of idols
adoption of the religious practices of the nations
rejection of God’s decrees and covenant
worship of the stars
burnt sacrifice of sons and daughters
practice of divination
complete dedication to evil.

3 Highlights of Amos’ message

3.1 Preliminary statements of judgment [Ch 1 and 2]

Reflection and response: Identify the causes (whether inhumane actions, social injustice or ‘religious’ sins) of God’s wrath and judgment stated in the verses below:
Judgment on the nations – 1:3;1:6; 1:9; 1:11; 1:13; 2:1

 

 

Judgment on Judah (the southern kingdom) – 2:4

 

 

Judgment on Israel (the northern kingdom) – 2:6-8, 12

 

 

 

3.2 Three messages [Ch 3, 4, 5-6]

Reflection and response: The main points of Amos’ three messages are listed below. Check out the references and add your own comments and insights.
The historic covenant relationship existing between God and Israel [3:2]

 

Israel’s failure to live according to the terms of the covenant:

Social injustice and inequality [3:9,15; 4:1; 5:7, 10-15, 24; 6:4-7, 12]

 

Idolatry and associated practices [3:14; 4:4-5; 5:21-27]

 

Previous minor, temporary judgments that failed to evoke repentance [4:6-11]

 

The imminent, devastating judgment of God [3:3-13; 4:2-3, 12; 5:3, 6-27; 6:8-11, 14]

 

The possibility of repentance and life [5:4-6, 15]

 

 

3.3 Five visions [Ch 7.1 – 9:10]
Amos, like Ezekiel, received a significant part of his message of judgment in vision form. In many the Lord also provided the explanation.

The locusts – 7:1-3
The fire – 7:4-6
The plumb line – 7:7-9
The basket of fruit – 8:1-14 [note the reference to the coming spiritual famine]
The Lord and the altar – 9:1-10

4 Amos and Amaziah [7:10-17] [reports the conflict between Amos and Amaziah, priest of Bethel].

5 An epilogue of hope and restoration [9:11-15]
Amos looks ahead to a time when the Davidic king will be restored and people from the nations will bear the name of the Lord. This obviously looks beyond a purely physical fulfilment and anticipates the coming of Christ, the great son of David, the eternal King, to whom people from all nations are even now coming in repentance and faith.

 

D. HOSEA

[between 783 and 722BC, in the Northern kingdom: Israel]

1 History:
Hosea 1:1 states that God’s word came to Hosea during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah [kings of Judah] and Jeroboam II [King of Israel]. This dates his ministry between 783BC and 722BC when the northern kingdom fell. During this period Israel [the northern kingdom] experienced a time of shifting allegiances between Assyria and Egypt; the monarchy was corrupt and declining; between the death of Jeroboam II in 746BC and Assyria’s demolition of the kingdom in 722BC six kings rose and fell in rapid succession, at least four of them being assassinated. This history is recorded in 2 Kings 14, 15 and 17.

2 Religion:
Same as for Amos [see above] – gross idolatry, resulting in sinful lifestyle and social injustice.

3 Highlights of Hosea’s message:
Hosea – a picture of the compassion and love of God for His people.

3.1 Hosea’s marriage - a portrayal of God's dealings with Israel (Ch 1-3)
As in other prophets, idolatry is symbolized by adultery. This is vividly portrayed in a real life symbol in the marriage of Hosea to Gomer:

a. Hosea's marriage to Gomer (Ch 1)
b. Restoration through punishment (Ch 2)
c. Restoration of Hosea's marriage (Ch 3)

Reflection and response: Read chapters 1 to 3. In what ways do the items below teach the truth about Israel and God?

The character of the woman Hosea chose as his wife [1:2]

 

The name of Hosea’s son [1:4-5]

 

The name of his daughter [1:6-7]

 

The name of his second son [1:9]

 

Hosea’s reconciliation with Gomer [3:1-5]

 

3.2 Hosea's message - God's judgment and restoration of Israel (Ch 4-14)

a. Israel's sins proclaimed (Ch 4-7) [Note the role of lack of knowledge and acknowledgement of God.]
b. Israel's judgment announced (Ch 8-10)
c. Restoration promised (Ch 11-14)

Reflection and response:
From Chapters 4 to 7 identify the sins exposed by Hosea’s message:
‘Religious’ sins: 4:1b, 6-7,10-16; 5:4-7, 13; 6:4b-7l 7:7, 10-11, 16

 

Social sins: 4:2; 7:1

 

In Chapters 8 to 10 find:
Reasons for the coming judgment:

 

 

Words used to describe the coming judgment:

 

 

The extent of the judgment:

 

 

In Chapters 11 to 14 find:
[1] expression of God’s love, mercy and grace:

 

[2] expressions of hope:

 

[3] what is necessary for restoration to happen:

 

 

E. ISAIAH

[sometime during 767 – 686BC; southern kingdom: Judah]

The prophecy of Isaiah is rich in teaching. His message, as well as warning the people of the impending judgment, confronts them with the nature of the God whom they have forsaken: a God who is above all ‘the Holy One of Israel’, a God so unique, so different from all else that is called ‘god’ that it is impossible to find anything with which to compare him. He is the Sovereign LORD in whose presence all other gods are shown to be powerless, and beside whom even the nations of earth are insignificant, mere drips in a bucket or dust on the scales.

This God is the only God, the only Saviour, yet they have forsaken him. Having forgotten just how unique, how one-of-a-kind, he actually is they naively think that they can engage in syncretistic worship, combing Levitical worship and idolatry, worshipping God and idols at the same time. In their sinfulness they fail to see that the Day of the Lord cannot for them be a day of joy, but will be a day of judgment.

It is not surprising that this book which confronts us with the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man and the just judgment that must fall, should also present to us the Saviour, the One who stands in the midst of this irreconcilable division and bridges the gap between the two, himself absorbing the full impact of the judgment. Here in the prophecy of Isaiah we find some of the most powerful anticipations of the coming and dying of Jesus Christ.

1 Historical situation:
Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah (Azariah), Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Historical records of this period are found in 2Kings 15-20, 2Chronicles 26-32 and Isaiah 36-39.

During this time:

The northern kingdom, Israel, was demolished by the Assyrians [722BC]
Judah was invaded by Sennacharib, the Assyrian general [701BC]
The inhabitants of Judah became increasingly involved in idolatry and its accompanying sinfulness

2 Highlights of Isaiah:
Isaiah is rich in teaching about God, sin, judgment and salvation. These are all eternal and cosmic issues transcending issues relating to Israel, but drawing illustrations from her failures and her fate. Her unique relationship to God is prophetic of Christ, the one true Servant, and of the church.

Reflection and response:
Read Isaiah 6:1-7. Discuss what this passage teaches about God, sin and salvation.

 

 

 

Read Isaiah 40:12-31: Discuss what this teaches about the nature of God.

 

 

 

 

Read Isaiah 41,43,44,46. How do they contrast God to idols?

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Content of Isaiah [Note: each of the three sections below contains elements of the others]

3.1 Prophetic (1-35)

About Judah and Israel (1-12): The "Day of Jehovah" for Judah (1-6) and Israel (7-12)

The ‘Day of the Lord’ refers to the Day of Judgment. God has a day, a scheduled time of reckoning for sinners. There is a fourfold reference here:

the day of judgment about to come with Assyria’s destruction of Israel.

the day of judgment about to fall on Judah when the Babylonians take her people captive to Babylon [both of these were because of the sin of idolatry – rejection of the true God].

the judgment on sin that fell on Christ, [a ‘Day of the Lord’ in both salvation and judgment].

the final judgment on sin that will fall on the whole world at the end of the age.

There is continual interplay throughout Isaiah between the judgment God would bring on the nation by Assyrians and Babylonians and the judgment to fall on all the earth in the last days.

Reflection and response: Anticipation of the coming of Christ and his kingdom is scattered throughout this section. Look up the following passages; list the description of Jesus Christ or his rule or kingdom; indicate how they are fulfilled by Christ in the New Testament.
2:1-5

 

2:6-22

 

6:1-7 [See John 12:40,41]

 

7:14

 

9:6-7

 

 

11&12

 

 

Against foreign nations and about Judah (13-23)
Speaking of the ten burdens on the nations - The same themes are present as in the earlier passages:

God will use various means to punish sin,
and will judge those nations who are arrogant against His people. 

[Chapter 22 is a prophecy against Jerusalem]

These messages against nine gentile nations are meant to encourage Judah, to show that God will judge Israel's enemies, and that God will reestablish Israel after she has borne her punishment.

On all the earth and on Israel [Judah] (24-35)
Here there is the prediction of the coming desolation and ruin of the whole earth.

24:4 says the whole earth will wither up - even important people will have no escape as no one will be spared from this judgment.

Chapters 25-27, speaking of a time of blessing in the kingdom, are also Messianic in their expectations of the spiritual kingdom and peace which all who trust in Christ enjoy.

Chapters 28-33 speak of woes upon the northern kingdom, southern kingdom and Jerusalem itself, on the obstinacy of the Israelites in making alliances with other nations, of woes upon a specific Egyptian alliance and finally upon those who are the destroyers, and all those who live unrighteously. Yet even here there are expectations of mercy, grace and righteousness in the coming of Christ the King.

The scattered anticipations of Christ’s eternal kingdom are gathered up in 35, where the joy of the redeemed is described when all the effects of Genesis 3 are removed forever.

 

3.2 Historic (36-39)
This historic interlude falls into two sections:

Hezekiah and the Assyrian threat in which God miraculously intervened (36-37).

Hezekiah and Babylonia (38-39): concerns Hezekiah's breach of the covenant when he was delivered from death but then allowed pride to enter his heart. The Babylonian captivity is prophesied in 39:5-8.

 

3.3 Messianic (40-66)
The first portion of Isaiah (1-39) deals with messages of judgment, but is littered with anticipation of the coming of the Christ. This next section predicts, on the physical level, the restoration and deliverance that will come after the predicted captivity, and, on the spiritual level, the salvation procured through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.

[1] The physical, temporal level:
God promises through Isaiah:

Deliverance from Babylon will come for God’s people
Cyrus will be the deliverer
Those delivered will be restored to Jerusalem

[2] The spiritual, eternal level:

Deliverance from sin and judgment will come for people from all nations
The deliverer will be the ‘servant of the Lord’ – that is, Jesus Christ
Those delivered will enjoy God’s uninterrupted blessing for ever.

Prophecies concerning these two distinct levels of fulfillment are mingled throughout these chapters. Indeed some sections have reference to both levels. Also mingled among these prophecies of hope are further messages denouncing the sin of the people, and encouraging the people of Judah to live righteously in the present despite their circumstances and their anticipated exile.

Reflection and response: Read these passages. List what they say about Jesus Christ and his salvation. Discuss their fulfilment in the New Testament
Isaiah 42:1-9

 

 

Isaiah 49:1-7

 

 

Isaiah 50:4-9

 

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

 

 

 

 

Isaiah 61:1-3