Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Major Prophets: Isaiah

In our Bible Challenge we are beginning our look at the major prophets.  They are called major because they are long books in comparison to the other prophetic books in the Old Testament.  However, both Isaiah & Jeremiah are certainly major theological work as well.

Remember that the word "prophecy" in Biblical literature doesn't necessarily refer to foretelling the future, but about calling the people of Israel, or the king, or the religious leaders or all three to repent and return to the ways of God.

This post is about the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah is actually not one book, but three.  The three are set far apart both in time and in the events of the history of Israel.

First Isaiah (sometimes just called Isaiah) is chapters 1 - 39.
This was written in Jerusalem during the years from 742 to 701 BC.  The key ideas of the book are that God, who is holy and just, demands that the people be righteous and that they trust in him.  The people will be judged, but a remnant will be preserved and God will raise up a king from the line of David.

First Isaiah took place during the reigns of the kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah.  Isaiah's call story places his call to be a prophet in the year of Uzziah's death.  Uzziah's reign was a time of peace in Israel and because there was peace, it was a time when wealth increased for many of the people of Israel.  That continued during the reign of Jotham, but when Ahaz came to the throne in 735, the Assyrian empire was gaining in power and more and more Assyria exerted power over Israel, even to the point of a temple being built to the Assyrian god in Jerusalem and the king participating in worship and sacrifice (possibly even including his own son) to that god.

The prophet of first Isaiah calls not only the king, but all the people to return to the ways of God, but fears that they will not and that they will be judged.  He holds out hope that after the judgement of God, a remnant of the people will remain and that from that remnant God will raise up a king from the line of David who will rule not only Israel, but the world and will restore them to righteousness.  Many of the writings about that king were believed, after the Babylonian captivity, to refer to king Cyrus of Persia and by the time of Jesus were being read to refer to the Messiah who would one day come to free the people of Israel.

Second Isaiah is chapters 40 - 55.
This was written in Babylon, during the captivity of the people of Israel.  The book was written shortly before 539 BCE, or about 200 years after First Isaiah.  The main concept is that God has forgiven the people and will restore them to their land.  The ministry of the "servant of God" will extend the knowledge of God to all the nations.

Israel had been defeated by King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon in the 570's BC.  The walls of the city of Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, all the leaders who survived, all the priests, anyone who could read or write and anyone with any skill was taken into captivity, leaving behind the poor and subsistence farmers in Israel.  The author of Second Isaiah was among those taken into captivity. 

After the death of King Nebuchadrezzar in 562, the Babylonian empire began to decline and in 539 BCE Babylon surrendered to King Cyrus of Persia.  King Cyrus sponsored the return of the captives to Israel and sent Nehimiah to oversee the rebuilding of the temple and the walls of Jerusalem.

Second Isaiah holds out hope that the people of Israel will be returned to their land and that a servant of God will prepare the way for them and then spread the knowledge of God beyond the people of Israel.  In it's own time the servant of God was taken to by Cyrus of Persia, but by the time of Jesus these verses had also come to be considered to refer to the coming Messiah.

Third Isaiah is chapters 59 - 66.
This is written in Jerusalem after 538 BC, after Cyrus of Persia had conquered Babylon.  The main concept is that God vindicates the righteous and destroys the wicked.

Third Isaiah focuses a good deal on the universal love of God and the forgiveness and grace of God. 

The Bible Challenge reading of Isaiah is:
March 3 - 9 - Isaiah 1 - 18
March 10 - 16 - Isaiah 19 - 40
March 17 - 23 - Isaiah 41 - 58
March 24 & 25 - Isaiah 59 - 66
 


Monday, January 7, 2019

Bible Challenge: The Minor Prophets

The next section of the Bible Challenge has the books called The Minor Prophets.  They are called this not because they are less important, but because they are shorter than the Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah & Lamentations).  These books span a period of about 400 years beginning about 800 years before the birth of Christ.

When we hear the word prophecy we think about people predicting the future.  That is not really what Biblical literature means by prophecy.  In the context of the Bible prophets are people chosen by God to deliver a message to the leaders, the people or both.  Usually this involves telling the king, the religious leaders and/or the people that they have strayed from the ways of God and that they better shape up.  Prophecy usually includes the hope that God will not forsake the people, that God will rescue the people etc.... but that message is in the context of the admonition to shape up and return to the ways of God.

Hosea: This book is basically a rejection of Israel's politics and religious practice.  Hosea appeals to the history of Israel to remind the people that God is their savior and to remind them that faithful love and kindness are the responses that God requires of them.  The book is dated between 750 and 732 BCE.

Joel: This books falls into two sections, the first two chapters, which focus on plague and drought and chapters three and four which focuses on the coming of the Day of the Lord. This book is hard to date, a majority of scholars place it after 515 BCE., but a strong minority place it much earlier, from 837 - 800 BCE.

Amos: This book mostly consists of a series of oracles.  You will find four themes in the book: Judgement; Social Justice; Religious Practice and Ignoring the Word of God.  In all of these areas Amos (and God) find the people wanting.  Internal evidence places this book between 786 and 742 BCE.

Obadiah: Nearly the entirety of the book is oracles against the nation of Edom, a traditional enemy of Israel.  It concludes with a warning of the coming of the Day of the Lord which will include punishment for all nations. The book was written no earlier than 587 BCE and no later than 312 BCE.

Micah: Calls the people out on their rejection of God.  He sees punishment coming.  Sin is the reason for that and the King of Assyria will be the tool God uses.  The book is dated to between 740 and 687 BCE.

Nahum: In this book the prophecy is largely through poetry.  There is only one message to this book, God will execute judgement on Ninevah (the capital of the Assyrian empire). The book is usually dated to between 663 and 612 BCE.

Habakkuk: Some scholars believe that this book in mostly made up of prophecy written for use in worship. Nearly unique in prophetic literature, this book directions questions to God directly and calls God's justice into question. This book is very hard to date, but it is usually placed between 626 BCE and the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 BCE.

Zephaniah:  Written at a time of great political turmoil, the book's dominant theme is the coming of the Day of the Lord, when God will punish both the nations who are enemies of Israel and the people of Israel themselves and will purify the nation. This book is dated to between 640 and 609 BCE.

Haggai: Haggai was one of the people responsible for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem following the captivity of much of the nation of Israel in Babylon.  This book is an effort encourage the people in that effort. The book is dated to between 521 and 486 BCE.

Zechariah: This is actually two different books, probably by two different authors.  Chapters 1 to 8 are the first part, the second is chapters 9 - 14.  It is difficult to precisely date either part, but in and around the end of the Babylonian captivity, around 500 BCE seems likely.

Malachi: Malachi is directed at the priests and it calls them to reform and return to the true worship of God. It is dated to after 515 BCE.