STUDY SIX: THE PROPHETS – PART 3

© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2017

A. EZEKIEL

[from about 600BC onwards, in Babylon, against the southern kingdom]

Ezekiel was carried off with the ‘elite’ in the first major deportation from Jerusalem to Babylon in 597BC. He prophesied in Babylon against the sins of Jerusalem and Judah, where the majority of the people still lived, and against the surrounding nations. The years of his ministry extended beyond the final fall of Jerusalem in 587BC.

Ezekiel is a little known book. The complex vision of chapter one tends to put people off. However this book is rich with the glory of God and focused on the honour of God’s holy name. It is a full-on exposure of idolatry, confronting the people of Israel with their persistent and ‘detestable’ allegiance to idols; it also confronts the nations with incontestable evidence that the Lord is God. The over-riding and repeated theme is that God’s purpose in what is going to happen, both in judgment and in renewal, is ‘that they will know that I am God’. This purpose is stated at least 68 times in the first thirty-nine chapters. This purpose embraces both the Jews and the nations. The God of Ezekiel is not interested in Israel alone, but in all the nations of the world.

A.1 Contents of Ezekiel

Prophecies against Jerusalem and Judah [Israel] 1-24 [God’s judgment on their idolatry]
The call of Ezekiel 1-3
Prophetic mimes about the siege of Jerusalem 4-5
Prophecies against idolatry 6-9 [but also scattered through 1-39)
Against Israel’s leaders 11 (also scattered in other chapters)
Against Jerusalem 12-24

Prophecies of judgment concerning the nations 25-32, 35 [because of what they did to Israel, and their pride]
Against surrounding tribes (Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia) 25
Against Tyre 26-28
Against Egypt 29-32
Against Edom 35

Prophecies of the restoration and hope 33-48 [the promise of new life]
The watchman 33
The shepherds of Israel and the Shepherd 34
Restoration and a new heart 36
Valley of dry bones and a new covenant 37
One nation, one king, the everlasting presence of God 37
Destruction of Israel’s enemy, and Israel’s return 38-39
The new temple and the new order 40-48

A.2 Main points of Ezekiel’s message

Reflection and response: The following are the main concerns of the prophecy. Look up some of the references in each section to get a feel of God’s heart. Discuss these and note comments below.

God is a God of indescribable glory [1:1-28; 3:23; 8:1-4; 9.3; 10:1-22; 11:22-24; 44:4]

 

 

 

Judgment comes because of the persistent idolatry of God’s people [5:11; 6:4-6,9; 7:20; 8:5-18; 14:3-8;
Ch 16; 23:7-8,15-18, 27,30-31; Ch 23] Note that idolatry is symbolized by ‘adultery’ and ‘prostitution’. Note the graphic symbolism in 16 & 23.

 

 

 

God’s judgment comes, and the restoration comes, so that they (both Jews and the nations) will know that he is God. This is mentioned at least 68 times in the first 39 chapters. [5:13; 6:7,10,13,14; 24:24;39:7]

 

 

 

 

Promises of renewal, in terms of:
1] Return to the land, new spirit, new heart [11:17-20; 36:24-38]

 

2] Everlasting covenant of peace, atonement [16:60-63; 34:25-31; 37:36]

 

3] Repentance and return [20:39b-44]

 

4] God will seek for his sheep and rescue them [34:11-16]

 

5] The Shepherd, God’s servant David [34:23-24]

 

6] One nation, one Davidic king [37:15-27]

 

7] Rebuilding of temple, reallocation of land [40-48]

 

 

A.3 Ezekiel’s Visions
Perhaps more than any other prophet Ezekiel was given his message in the form of visions. There is not time to investigate these in this introductory study. His visions are:

The Wheels, the Living Creatures and the Figure on the Throne [Ch 1]
The Hand with the Scroll [Ch 2:9 – 3:15]
The Temple [Ch 8]
The Man with the writing kit [Ch 9]
The Departing Glory [Ch.10]
The Eagle and the Vine [Ch 17]
The Dry Bones that Lived [37]
The Temple Measured [40-42]
The River flowing from the Temple [47]
The Trees beside the River [47:7ff]

A.4 Ezekiel’s Mimes
At times Ezekiel was commanded by God to act out the message in a mime. Again, space does not permit a study of these mimes and the message they communicated:

The 390 Days Siege [Ch 4-5]
Eating the Barley Cake [Ch 4-5]
Shaving his head and hair [4-5]
Ezekiel packs his bags [12:1-16]
Ezekiel trembles [12:18ff]
Ezekiel groans [21:6ff]
The Road and Signpost [21:19ff]
The Cooking Pot [24:3ff]
Ezekiel does not mourn his wife’s death [24:15ff]
The Two Sticks [37:16ff]

 

A.5 Understanding Ezekiel’s prophecies of restoration
The prophecy of Ezekiel includes much imagery – both in visions described by Ezekiel and symbolic actions which the Lord instructed him to perform. Because of this use of symbols and images there is significant disagreement about the interpretation of some sections of this prophecy.

There are two levels at which the prophecies of hope and restoration are understood:

[1] A minor fulfillment in the return to Jerusalem after 70 years in captivity in Babylon.

[2] The second level of fulfillment splits into two distinct understandings:

Either [a] The major fulfillment in a return of all living Jews to Jerusalem, followed by the restoration of the Davidic kingdom and the temple worship during what is called the millennial reign of Christ. This assumes that the descriptions of the temple are actual descriptions of an actual future temple.

Or [b] Others believe that the major fulfilment is in the church (comprising both Jews who believe in Christ and Gentiles who believe in Christ); this assumes that the descriptions of the temple are symbolic descriptions of the church, (the spiritual Israel) which is the temple of the living God.

 

B. OBADIAH

[against Edom, date unknown, but most likely after the fall of Jerusalem]

Obadiah joins Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel and Amos in prophesying against Edom, the descendants of Esau. Edom occupied the area to the south of the Dead Sea, and had invaded and attacked Jerusalem several times. Part of the prophet’s complaint against Edom appears to be her attitude to Judah at the time of the latter’s being taken captive to Babylon.

Obadiah’s Message:
[1] God’s judgment on Edom [1-14]
Total destruction will come to Edom from the Lord, because of their arrogance and their violence against Judah, and because they stood aloof when Judah was captured.

[2] The day of the Lord [15-21]
The day of the Lord will be a day of judgment on Edom, a day of judgment on the all nations, and a day of deliverance and holiness on Mount Zion. The Lord’s kingdom will be established.

Discussion points:
In what ways has the Day of the Lord, with its judgment, deliverance and holiness, already come in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

 

 

In what ways is the Day of the Lord, with its judgment, deliverance and holiness, still to come?

 

 

C. DANIEL

[in Babylon – 605BC onwards]

C.1 SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION

Introduction: Daniel was not a traditional prophet, but because he received and recorded prophetic visions he is identified as one of the Biblical prophets. Chapters 1 to 6 record incidents from his personal history, and visions of God’s program for Gentile nations; chapters 7 to 12 record visions of the destiny of Israel, including the impact of the nations on Israel, and the ultimate kingdom of God. Part (2:4b-7:28) is written in Aramaic (the common language), and part in Hebrew (1:1-2:4a, Ch. 8-12). Much of Daniel is highly symbolic, and therefore attracts a wide variety of interpretations. It is important to remember that prophecy often has dual [or multiple] fulfillments – one in immediate or short-term history and one in Christ.


Personal History and Visions of Nations:
God’s servants in Babylon [1]
Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream [2]
The Fiery Furnace [3]
The Second Dream [4]
The Writing on the Wall [5]
The Lion’s Den [6]

Prophetic Visions
The Four Beasts [7]
The Ram and the He Goat [8]
Daniel’s Prayer of Confession [9]
The Seventy Sevens [9]
The Vision of One like a Man [10]
The Kings of the South and North [11 -12]

 

C.2 INCIDENTS FROM DANIEL’S PERSONAL HISTORY

Several of the events recorded in chapters 1-7 have become very familiar to Christians:

C.2.1 The training and selection of god-fearing young men [Chapter 1]
Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, deportees from Jerusalem, were trained by the Babylonians and appointed to high positions in Babylon.

C.2.2 God’s plan for the ages – Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Chapter 2)

Astrologers condemned to death because they cannot tell and interpret the dream [2:1-13]
Daniel and his friends plead with God to intervene; he does [2:14-23]
Daniel tells and interprets the dream [2:24-49]

Traditional conservative Interpretation of this prophetic dream: The statute represents the kingdoms – Babylon (head) –gold, Medo-Persia (chest and arms)-silver, Greece (stomach and thigh) –bronze, Rome (legs and feet) – iron and clay. The rock, Christ, inaugurating the Messianic kingdom, crushes the other kingdoms, and establishes God’s eternal kingdom.

C.2.3 The golden image and fiery furnace (Chapter 3)
Because of their refusal to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are thrown into the fiery furnace. Christ preserves them. Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges the existence and power of God.

C.2.4 The second dream: the king's humiliation and restoration (Chapter 4)
This chapter is an official document of Babylon - it is the story of the conversion of the king himself.

C.2.5 Belshazzar's feast and the writing on the wall (Chapter 5)
Between chapters 4 and 5 around 20 years have passed. Nebuchanezzar has been succeeded by Belshazzar. Handwriting which only Daniel can read appears on the wall, telling of the fall of the king; almost immediately the Persians invaded and took over the empire. This event took place in the year 539BC.

C.2.6 The lions’ den (Chapter 6)
Because of his continuance in prayer to God, Daniel is thrown into the lions’ den; God preserves him. Darius decrees that people must fear and reverence the living, eternal God of Daniel.

 

C.3 PROPHETIC VISIONS OF DANIEL (7-12)
The visions in Chapters 7 and 8 occurred during the rule of Belshazzar [Chapter 5].

C.3.1 Vision of four beasts - the succession of empires (Chapter 7)
Traditional conservative interpretation: The four beasts from the sea: Lion with wings - Babylon; bear with ribs – Medo-Persia; the winged leopard - Greece; the terrible beast- Rome;10 horns -10 kingdoms tracing their origin to Rome; the little horn - the antichrist (in its ultimate fulfillment). [Note similarities to Ch 2, and to Revelation.]

C.3.2 Vision of the ram and goat - Greek conquest of Persia (Chapter 8)
[Historical notes:

When Alexander the Great died [323BC], his extensive Grecian empire was divided among four of his generals.

In 167BC, Antiochus Epiphanes (a powerful successor of Seleucus, one of these four generals), defiled the temple by building an altar to Zeus on top of the temple altar, and made the practice of Judaism a capital offence – possessing the sacred scriptures, circumcision, Sabbath keeping, the strict food laws, Jewish temple rituals, and all practice of Judaism were banned; many Jews chose to be killed rather than submit.]

C.3.3 Prayer of confession (Chapter 9:1-19)
Daniel prays on behalf of the Jews. His prayer contains:

acknowledgement of God’s mercy,
acknowledgement of national sinfulness,
acknowledgement of God’s justice,
and a plea that God will turn away his anger.

C.3.4 The seventy ‘sevens’ (Chapter 9:24-27) [Described as the most difficult passage to interpret; there is great difference of opinion about both the Hebrew grammar and the different manuscripts available.]

[1] The immediate partial, historical fulfillment: this message is a response to Daniel’s prayer: that, yes, the seventy years are up, the judgment of God on their sin has been completed, and God will restore Jerusalem.

[2] The long term Christ-centred fulfillment (in which the 70 years becomes 70 ‘sevens’ – that is 490 years [whether actual years or symbolic years is debated]:

The first seven sevens: the 49 years from the return to Jerusalem to the rebuilding of the city and walls

The next sixty-two sevens: 434 years up till the ministry of Christ, the Messiah.

The last ‘seven’ years: the years of Christ’s [the Anointed One’s] ministry: with his death as the central fact by which he brings sacrifice and offering to an end. The destruction of Jerusalem by Rome is also included in this period.

[Note: Those who hold to the Premillennial/dispensational interpretation include the death of Christ in the ‘62 weeks’; and also insert the church age in a parenthesis between the 62 years and the final seven years, believing that the final ‘week’ of years is yet to come, during which the tribulation of Revelation will occur.]

C.3.5 Final vision of the future (Chapter 10-12)

Vision of one who looked like a man [Ch 10]

The kings of the north [the Seleucids in Syria] and the kings of the south [the Ptolemies in Egypt]; a king of the north [Antiochus Epiphanes] desecrated the Temple (see above) and killed many faithful Jews [Ch 11:1-12:4]. Along the way the prophecy of Antiochus Epiphanes merges into a prophecy of the Antichrist.

12:5-13: Daniel is refused insight into the meaning of the very last things, but is assured that he himself is secure, and all those who endure to the end are blessed. [Note: numbers in this section of Daniel are symbolic.]

 

D. HAGGAI

[about 520BC in Jerusalem]

Haggai prophesied in the second year of Darius, king of Persia: 520BC. Jewish exiles had been back in Jerusalem for 17 years. After building the temple foundations they had become discouraged by the smallness of this temple compared to Solomon’s temple, and by opposition from surrounding peoples [Ezra 1-4]. The temple is still in ruins, and Haggai brings four messages from the Lord.

Haggai’s messages:

[1] A message to Zerubbabel and Joshua [1:1-15]
A simple message to the Prince and the Priest: Build the Lord’s house. The reason you and the people are suffering poverty and hunger is that you have put your own needs before God. The message was passed on and work on the temple recommenced.

[2] A word of encouragement [2:1-9]
A month after the building recommencement Haggai brought a word of encouragement from the Lord: Be strong…and work. I am with you…I covenanted with you… my Spirit remains with you…do not fear. In response to their despondence about the smallness of the temple he points them ahead to a more glorious temple – beyond the physical temple to the spiritual temple of the Lord into which both Jew and Gentile believers are being built in Christ Jesus [Ephesians 2:16-22].

[3] The promise of blessing [2:10-19]
Haggai reminds the people of the poor harvest they experienced while God’s house lay in ruins, and stated that from the time they recommenced building God would bless them.

[4] A message for Zerubbabel [2:20-23[
Zerubbabel, a prince in the line of King David, is assured that God has chosen him. The words Haggai spoke to him, however, look beyond him to Jesus Christ and his kingdom.

Reflection and response: Comment on the significance of Haggai’s use of the following names of God:
‘the LORD Almighty’ (= the LORD of hosts) [14 times] 1:2,5,7,9,14; 2:4,6,7,8,9,11,23:

 

 

‘the LORD their God’ [3 times] 1:12,12,14:

 

 

E. ZECHARIAH

[in Jerusalem, joined Haggai two months after Haggai’s first message]

Zechariah, commencing his ministry two months after Haggai’s first message, also encouraged the people to get on with the rebuilding of the temple, and looked beyond this reconstruction to God’s long term purpose that would be fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah.

Zechariah’s Messages:

[1] A reminder of the past [1:1-6]
Don’t be like your forefathers who disregarded the word of the Lord.

[2] Eight visions [1:7-6:8]
By this series of visions Zechariah encourages the people to get on with rebuilding the temple, but also teaches them of the long-term purpose of God.

1:7-17: the man among the myrtle trees
1:18-21: four horns and four craftsmen
2:1-13: the man with the measuring line
3:1-10: Joshua, the high priest
4:1-14: the gold lampstand and the two olive trees
5:1-4: the flying scroll
5:5-11: the woman in a basket
6:1-8: four chariots

[3] Joshua crowned as high priest [6:9-15].
This is prophetic of Jesus Christ and his spiritual kingdom.

[4] A question answered [7:1-8:23]
A question about legalistic, ritual fasting is answered by a call to true, obedient spirituality, and the promise that fasting will be replaced by joyous feasting. This is also prophetic of Jesus Christ and his salvation.

[5] Anticipations of Christ [9:1-14:21]
Although having immediate relevance to the people in Jerusalem at the time, these messages also point clearly forward to Christ:

Reflection and response: By studying the Zechariah text and the New Testament text, comment on the fulfilment of these texts in Jesus Christ.
Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 21:4-5; John 12:15

 

Zechariah 9:10b; Luke 2:14; Ephesians 2:13-17

 

Zechariah 10:2b-3; 11:4-14; John 10:11-16

 

Zechariah 10:4a; Matthew 21:42; Ephesians 2:20

 

Zechariah 11:12-13; Matthew 26:14-16; 27:1-10

 

Zechariah 12:10; John 19:34-37; Revelation 1:7

 

Zechariah 13:1; 1John 1:7; 1Corinthians 6:11

 

Zechariah 13:7; Matthew 26:31; John 16:32

 

Zechariah 13:9b; Acts 2:21; Romans 9:25,26;10:13; 1Peter 2:10

 

Zechariah 14:5b; 1Thess 3:13; 4:14

 

Zechariah 14:6-7; John 8:12; Revelation 21:23-24

 

Zechariah 14:8; John 4:13,14; 7:37,38; Revelation 22:1-2

 

Zechariah 14:9; Ephesians 4:4-6; Philippians 2:9-11

 

F. MALACHI

[in Jerusalem, sometime between 500 – 450BC]

Malachi, preaching sometime after the temple was rebuilt, calls the Jew’s back to a right relationship with God, warns of impending judgment, and encourages people of genuine faith. Many of his charges against the Jews are the same things that Nehemiah wanted corrected.

Malachi’s messages:

[1] Israel’s sins [1:1-2:17]

Research: Read chapters 1 and 2 and list the sins identified by Malachi

 

 

[2] Judgment and blessing [3:1-4:6]
While having immediate relevance to the people of the time, Malachi also predicts the coming of John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the church.