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The Prophets

Introducing the Hebrew Prophets

  • The “Prophets” (Nevi’im) in the Tanakh is divided by “Former” (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) and “Latter” (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi).
  • The division between Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel) and the 12 Minor Prophets in the Christian Old Testament is based on book length.
  • Hebrew terms: nabi’ (prophet, speaker, herald), roeh (diviner, seer, one who sees), or hozeh (seer, one who sees).
  • Prophecy, divination, and ecstatic behaviour was a wider phenomenon in the ANE and often connected to temple cults or royal courts.
  • Hebrew prophets did not primarily predict the future, but acted as Yahweh’s spokespersons to call Israel and Judah back to covenant faithfulness in specific historical contexts.

Amos

  • Amos of Tekoa was a shepherd and took care of sycamore trees (1:1; 7:14). He ministered during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel and, though was from the south, directed his message to northern Israel.
  • Amos condemns the mistreatment of the poor during the long reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BCE) and calls for social justice.
  • In the brilliant rhetorical introduction, Amos gets the intended audience on side by condemning other nations for crimes against humanity, only to turn around to condemn social inequality in northern Israel (1:3-2:8).
Hosea
  • Hosea, the son of Beeri, was from northern Israel and ministered in the time of kings Uzziah, Jothan, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah and king Jeroboam II of Israel (1:1).
  • Hosea marries either a promiscuous woman or a prostitute named Gomer to symbolize Israel’s faithlessness to Yahweh in her devotion to Baal and gives his children symbolic names including Jezreel (recalls Jehu’s massacre in the Jezreel valley), Lo-ruhamah (“not loved”), and Lo-ammi (“not my people”).

Isaiah

  • Traditionally attributed to the eighth century BCE prophet Isaiah son of Amoz, a royal advisor during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (1:1).
  • Chapters 1-39 urges Judah to remain steadfast against the Assyrian threat; the efforts of Israel and Syria to force Judah in a coalition against Assyria provide the context for the “Immanuel” oracle (7:14). An apocalyptic section (ch. 24-27) may be an addition.
  • Second Isaiah (chapters 40-54) stresses Yahweh’s exclusive sovereignty over world affairs and comforts the exiles about a second exodus through the “anointed” Cyrus the Great.
  • Third Isaiah (chapters 56-66) is a collection of post-exilic oracles that looks back on the ruins of Jerusalem (58:12; 61:4; 63:18; 64:9-10) and predicts its restoration including those traditionally excluded (e.g. eunuchs and foreigners).
  • The messianic oracles (Isaiah 9:1-7; 11; 61:1-3) and Servant Songs (Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; 53) were influential on early Christians.

Jeremiah

  • Jeremiah, son of the priest Hilkiah, had a ministry that spanned the reigns of Josiah, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah of Judah (1:1-3).
  • Jeremiah was set apart from birth and called as a young man to be  a prophet to the nations (1:4-10) and was not permitted to get married or have children (7:1-3). He is called the “weeping prophet” due to the extreme heartache he felt over his message and being persecuted as a traitor (e.g. imprisonments, abuse, deportations).
  • He urged the people to not count on divine protection based on their election and temple if they are not obedient to the covenant (7:1-15). He eventually insists that divine punishment is inevitable and that they must surrender to Babylon.
  • There is some textual variations and differences in length between the Septuagint and Masoretic versions of the text of Jeremiah.

Ezekiel

  • Ezekiel was a Zadokite priest from Jerusalem exiled to Babylon in 598 BCE and called to be a prophet in the fifth year of the exile of king Jehoiachin (1:2).
  • Ezekiel repudiates the idea of generational guilt, insisting that each one is punished for his or her transgressions and repentance is always available (3:16-27).
  • Ezekiel performs extreme symbolic acts as pointing to judgment (e.g. laying on his side for 390 days, cooking food over manure, attacking the hairs from his shaven beard, and leaving his deceased wife unmourned).
  • Ezekiel is famous for vivid imagery: the divine chariot throne, the nation’s adultery, the resurrection of dry bones, the defeat of “Gog and Magog,” and the fantastical proportions of the new temple.

Post-Exilic Prophets

  • Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
  • They generally deal with either the disillusionment of the returning exiles to the Persian province of Yehud, the encouragement to rebuild the Jerusalem temple, or the expectations of a yet future eschatological judgment and restoration.
  • Daniel is in the Writings in the Jewish canon. Most scholars believe the book was composed in the Hellenistic period around the crisis of Antiochus IV desecrating the temple (167-164 BCE). It hopes for divine intervention to vindicate a human-like figure (i.e. saints of Israel or their angelic or messianic representative) over beasts (i.e. imperial powers).

 

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