Day 22

The Major Prophets

[Isaiah to Daniel]

Isaiah

Isaiah prophesied to the Jews in Judea concerning Judah and Jerusalem during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah, around 740 to 700 B.C. He is spoken of as the Messianic prophet because of the number of times his prophecies refer to the coming Messiah.

Judgement

[1-39]

Messages of rebuke and promise

[1-5] Judah is God’s people, but they are riddled with physical and spiritual sin; corruption and sin have become a way of life to them. Sacrifices and prayers are now meaningless to the extent that God has come to hate them, but continues to encourage repentance. There will come a time of restoration when all will again look to God. When the Day of the Lord comes there will be a judgement of Jerusalem and Judah. Disaster will come upon the wicked, but it will be well with the righteous and that day will be beautiful and glorious for the remnant in Zion. Isaiah sings a song of a vineyard that was nurtured with love, but yielded only sour grapes. The owner of the vineyard is God, and the vineyard is Israel. This song is followed by woes against all the wrongs committed by the ‘sour grapes’ who will eventually go into exile.

Isaiah’s calling

[6] Isaiah is having a vision of the throne of God when he is called to be His prophet to the people, to encourage them to return to God and to warn them of the consequences of not doing so.

Prophecies occasioned by the Syrian and Israelite threat against Judah  

[7-12] King Ahaz of Judah defies God and is attacked by Syria and Israel. Isaiah is sent to Ahaz with a message from God not to fear the threat against Judah by the alliance. Ahaz is invited to ask for anything he would consider to be a sign to show the message really is from God, but he refuses. Nevertheless, he is given a sign, which is the prophecy: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. However, instead of relying on God, Ahaz turns to Assyria. Isaiah’s baby sons’ names form part of the prophecy that tells of Assyria dealing with the north, then advancing into Judah until Jerusalem herself is surrounded. The prophecy now sweeps us into the future and the birth of the Messiah, then switches back to the present with Israel condemned for her arrogance and rebellion. Assyria is used as God’s instrument of judgement and the invasion begins in the north. Many Israelites are taken captive, but Assyria herself will in time be judged. Yet the prophecy tells of a remnant who will return to their land. We read of the future again and the coming king from David’s family who will establish the perfect kingdom on a God-centred earth. In that day there will be songs of joy for the people’s deliverance.

Judgement on the nations

[13-23] God warns the surrounding nations that judgement is also in store for them. Included in this prophecy of judgement are Babylon (here we read an account of Satan’s fall), Assyria, Philistia, Maob, Aram, Cush (Ethiopia), Egypt, Edom and Tyre. Jerusalem’s destruction is also prophesied.

Final judgement and victory

[24-27] The time will come when the whole world and everyone in it will be judged, but there will be deliverance and blessing for the faithful. Praise will be given for the Lord’s sovereign care; Israel’s enemies will have been punished and her remnant restored.

Six woes

[28-33] Six woes are now pronounced, five on the unfaithful in Israel and one on Assyria: to Samaria (Ephraim) and to Judah’s leaders who mislead the people; to Jerusalem who will be besieged, then reprieved; to those who foolishly rely on a foreign alliance; to an obstinate nation; to those who turn to Egypt instead of God; and to Assyria. Yet all the while there is hope for those trusting in God.

More prophecies of judgement and promise

[34-35] Destruction will come to all the nations, avenging God’s people to whom blessings will be restored.

An historical transition from the Assyrian threat to the Babylonian exile  

[36-39] We now return to contemporary events. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, besieges Jerusalem, but Isaiah encourages Hezekiah not to surrender. The angel of the Lord intervenes and saves Jerusalem, killing 185,000 soldiers in one night. Sennacherib withdraws the next day and returns to Nineva. Hezekiah becomes ill and is near to death when he calls out to God in prayer, to which God responds by extending his life by fifteen years. When Merodachbaladan, son of Baladan and king of Babylon, hears that Hezekiah had been sick and recovered, he sends gifts celebrating his recovery. In an act of pride, Hezekiah foolishly shows the messengers all the treasures in his palace and storehouses. Isaiah is told of this, then in response predicts the Jews’ exile to Babylon.

The book of comfort

[40-66] The second part of Isaiah’s book, chapters 40 to 66, begins Comfort, comfort my people and is sometimes referred to as ‘The book of comfort’.

The deliverance and restoration of Israel

[40-48] Isaiah has a message of comfort for the people now in captivity in Babylon: God will come as promised; He is the sovereign Lord who never stops caring for His people; He is forthright in dealing with the nations, but always loving and caring to His own, and they should not be afraid; He will bring salvation to all mankind through Israel. A song of praise is now offered. However, Israel has not been the servant God intended her to be and she is blind and deaf to the signs and messages given her. Despite this, and the punishment the people must suffer, He will always be with them, is eager to forgive all their sins and will restore them. Cyrus will be God’s instrument to begin this process. He will defeat Babylon and will give Israel their first opportunity to return to Jerusalem. The restoration of the remnant will then follow in two phases.

God’s servant and the redemption of God’s people

[49-55] We are now given a prophecy of Jesus Christ, called as the servant of the Lord, rejected by the Jews and to be a light to the Gentiles. Despite this rejection, God’s people will be preserved and gathered again, though God declares Israel’s problems were solely due to her own iniquities. (At this point we are given some details of Jesus’ suffering under interrogation by the Romans (50:6).) The remnant of Israel are to take comfort from their distant history, for they have the glorious prospect of being restored, and the cup of the Lord’s wrath they had tasted will be tasted by their enemies. A prophecy is given of Jesus’ suffering, his rejection, crucifixion and resurrection to glory as intercessor for us all. Then God’s people will be able to forget the shame of their past when, with compassion, He brings about the future glory of Zion. All people of all nations will be invited to call on the Lord, while He is still near and can still be found, to share in His everlasting covenant. None will be excluded from the love of God and salvation if they follow and obey Him. The remaining chapters speak of Israel’s shame and her glory, but the first few verses of chapter 56, vs 1 to 8, seem best attached to the end of chapter 55: God’s salvation will be available to all who hold fast to the covenant, even those considered by others to be least worthy.

The wicked of Israel are condemned

[56:9 to 57:21] God’s condemnation is specific and disturbing, yet interlaced with love and compassion. The nation has embraced pagan gods and their rituals, including child sacrifice; their observance of fasting is a mockery to God; they are riddled with sin and their very lifestyle is sinful.

Irreverent fasting

[58] Israel’s fasting has become superficial and has lost sight of its true purpose. If they return to fasting as it should be, and take a delight in the Sabbath, then once again they will find joy in the Lord.

Israel’s shame; Israel’s glory

[59-62] Israel’s iniquities are great and separate her from God. Only confession can pave the way for redemption. Redemption will be available to all through the Redeemer in time to come, when there will be a new and everlasting covenant. We now have a vision of Israel’s glory and rich splendour when God delivers her from her lowly state. The year of the Lord’s favour (quoted by Jesus when handed a scroll of Isaiah to read in the synagogue) and the day of vengeance will come; then Israel will be called ‘priests of the Lord’.

A vision of the avenger and Isaiah’s prayer

[63-64] A vision of Christ as the avenger is described, followed by a prayer offered by Isaiah, recalling God’s love for Israel through the ages and crying out for their divine deliverance.

God’s response

[65-66] Finally, we have God’s response: Judgement and salvation and a new heaven and a new earth, not just for Israel, but for all nations.

Jeremiah

Jeremiah prophesied primarily to Jews in Judah, but also to those in captivity during the reigns of kings Josiah to Zedekiah of Judah, around 627 to 585 B.C. He is often called the ‘weeping prophet’ because of his situation and two references to weeping, one his own and the other in the Septuagint introduction to Lamentations. The book of Jeremiah mixes prophecy and historical narrative, but not all in chronological order. The following is in the order presented in the Bible.

Jeremiah’s calling

[1] God speaks to Jeremiah, calling him to service and telling him the nature and difficulty of His message to the people, but at the same time giving him Encouragement.

Israel’s sin and its consequences

[2-6] Jeremiah’s first message to all Israel is to remind them of their original state, and how they have turned to sin and forsaken God. He tells Israel of their greatest sin, unfaithfulness to God through their consistent worship of pagan gods, which are many, and appeals to them to return to their God. He then focuses his message on Judah, warning them that the consequence of ignoring his plea will be an invasion from the north, first of the land of Judah, then the city of Jerusalem. An attempt is made to find an example of truth and justice among the people, but none is found and punishment is inevitable. All warnings have been ignored. Consequently, His people will be left to suffer the invading army with Jerusalem coming under siege.

Messages given at the temple gate

[7-10] Jeremiah stands at the temple gate and warns the people concerning their hypocritical worship, telling them it amounts to a false religion and is worthless. He points to the destruction of Shiloh (where the tabernacle was first established) as an example of how the temple is not necessarily safe just because it’s the temple. Furthermore, God declares their places of pagan worship will become known as the ‘Valley of Slaughter’, because their dead will be buried there until the place becomes filled with their bones. The religious leaders are no better, having deceived the people by their own sin and driven by self interest. Jeremiah laments over the sin of his people and the coming judgement, then admonishes them for their love of idols. He warns of the coming destruction, but also prays for God’s wrath to come.

A broken covenant

[11-13] Jeremiah is told to remind Judah of their covenant with God, given at Sinai and still existing, a covenant they have persistently broken with their sin and idol worship. God tells Jeremiah not to pray for Judah now as He will not listen to such prayers. God lets Jeremiah know that the men of Anathoth, Jeremiah’s hometown, plot to kill him because of his prophecies, but tells him that He will punish them and not even a remnant will survive. Jeremiah questions God, asking why the wicked always seem to prosper. God tells him that this is the way of the world, and there is worse to come, but He will punish the wicked and restore the repentant. Jeremiah is given instructions concerning a linen belt, but doesn’t realise he is enacting a parable. God explains to Jeremiah that the belt put around his waist is like the nation Israel bound to Himself, but like the belt that rots, she will become completely useless because she has not listened to Him. God tells Jeremiah to give the people another prophecy concerning the fate of Judah and Jerusalem. Jeremiah pleads with the people to pay attention, not to be arrogant, and to give glory to God before He brings judgement. If they do not listen, he will weep bitterly because they will be taken captive.

A drought

[14-15] There is a severe drought and the people plead to God, having been duped by false prophets into believing God will listen to them and save them from it. Jeremiah’s prayers for the people are to no avail and he is filled with self-pity, but God encourages him and renews his confidence as His spokesman.

Disaster and comfort

[16-17:18] God forbids Jeremiah to marry because of the disaster that will come upon the land. He is also forbidden to take part in any mourning for the dead or to associate with the people, as His blessing, love and pity have been withdrawn from them. Even so, God still speaks of a time of restoration.

The Sabbath

[17:19-27] Judah’s sin is great, but God still offers an alternative to judgement if they will only return to Him. Jeremiah is to remind them of their failure to keep the Sabbath, symptomatic of their disobedience, and tells them how they might be restored as God’s people if they would only again hallow the Sabbath.

Lessons from the potter’s house

[18-19] Jeremiah is sent by God to a potter’s house where the potter is seen discarding an unsatisfactory pot, then proceeding to make a new one to his satisfaction. This, God explains, is how Israel is to Him; He will discard and re-mould as He sees fit, according to their faithlessness. The people again plot against Jeremiah, but this time Jeremiah prays for their punishment. God now instructs the prophet to purchase a clay jug from the potter and take some elders to the Valley of Ben Hinnom. There he is to prophesy concerning the disaster to come upon Judah, then smash the clay jug as a symbol of Judah’s destruction.

Jeremiah and Pashur

[20:1-6] When Jeremiah returns to the temple and continues to prophesy, the priest Pashur has him put in the stocks. The next day, when Pashur releases Jeremiah, he foretells Pashur and his family’s exile and death in Babylon.

Jeremiah complains to God

[20:7-18] Jeremiah’s situation is causing him considerable distress, so much so that he complains to God. He was chosen to give God’s message to Judah, but everyone is against him to the extent that he doesn’t want to give the message, yet the need burns within him. His distress is so great that he wishes he had never been born. No reaction from God is given.

Condemnation of kings, prophets and people

[21-24] It is now close to the time of Judah’s exile. Zedekiah turns to Jeremiah hoping for some word that God will save them, but there are no words of comfort forthcoming, only a prophecy of Zedekiah’s defeat. Jeremiah also prophesies judgement against three evil kings of Judah: Jehoahaz (Shallum), Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin. (These three preceded Zedekiah.) The leaders are rebuked for their misrule, but the return of a remnant is spoken of, not just for this present time, but also for the distant future when Jesus will sit on David’s throne. False prophets are now singled out and their judgement foretold. These are prophets who speak prophecies and oracles as if they were sent by God, but were not. God shows Jeremiah two baskets of figs. One contains very good figs, representing the good exiled from Judah whom God will restore after the exile. The other contains poor figs, too poor to be eaten, representing those who will not return from the exile.

The Babylonian Exile

[25-29] Jeremiah reminds the people he has been prophesying to them for twenty-three years, but they have not listened. Consequently, God is going to use Nebuchadnezzar, who He refers to as His servant, to conquer Judah and take the people into captivity in Babylon for seventy years.   God now tells Jeremiah to take His cup of wrath to the nations, to be a symbol of God’s judgement on them. Jeremiah is to announce that divine judgement. Judah is to be judged first; then a list of other nations to be judged is given, beginning with Egypt and ending with Babylon (Sheshach is the place referred to, but is a Hebrew cryptogram for Babylon). Now, early in Jehoiakim’s reign, when God had instructed Jeremiah to preach in the temple courtyard, not omitting a single word He had given him, the people turn against Jeremiah. They seize him with the intent to kill him, saying his prophecy is against the city and warrants his execution. Some speak in support of Jeremiah, pointing out that Micah had prophesied against Jerusalem in the time of King Hezekiah, but he had not been put to death. Ahikam, a court official, also supports Jeremiah and so he is spared. The Babylonians have now taken some of Judah captive and placed Zedekiah on the throne as a vassal king. Jeremiah is instructed by God to walk the streets wearing a wooden yoke as a symbol of submission, and to tell the people not to resist the Babylonians. He is also to warn them against listening to prophets who tell them otherwise, as these prophets are not from God. One of the false prophets is Hananiah whose prophecy directly contradicts Jeremiah’s. Hananiah even takes the wooden yoke from Jeremiah and breaks it in front of the people in symbolic support of his own prophecy. Jeremiah later tells Hananiah that he will die that very year for his false prophecies, which he does. Jeremiah sends a letter to the first exiles in Babylon, encouraging them to settle and live normal lives. They are to build houses, eat of the produce of the land, have sons and daughters, give their sons and daughters in marriage and to multiply, not decrease. They are not to listen to false prophets, as God is going to restore them to Judah in seventy years. Shemaiah then sends a letter from Babylon to Zephaniah opposing Jeremiah, but Zephaniah shows Jeremiah the letter. Jeremiah sends another message to the exiles, telling them that because Zephaniah is a false prophet God will punish him, and he will not have any descendants surviving to see the restoration.

Promises of restoration

[30-33] At this point, God tells Jeremiah to write all the words He has given him. Then we have the statement: For, lo, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the Lord: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it. God’s message of restoration follows with His declaration of a new covenant (31:31–34), quoted in its entirety in Hebrews 8:8–12. When Jerusalem is under siege and Jeremiah is confined to the courtyard in the royal palace, he receives a word from God that he must buy a field from his cousin when asked to. He is to draw up the title deeds, properly witnessed and sealed, and place it in an earthen vessel for safekeeping. This Jeremiah does, but is puzzled by it and so asks God in prayer why this had to be done. God tells Jeremiah that the deed represents the assurance that He will restore His people to the land, when they will again prosper and buy and sell property. God then speaks further to Jeremiah, reasserting His promise of restoration, both for these times and for the time when Jesus will sit on David’s throne.

A warning to Zedekiah

[34] Jeremiah warns Zedekiah that Jerusalem is soon to be taken and that it is his destiny to be taken captive. Perhaps hoping for a reprieve, Zedekiah orders that all slaves should be freed according to God’s law. The order is obeyed, but only for a time, as those freed are soon brought back into slavery, evoking God’s condemnation of their masters as law-breakers.

The Rechabites

[35] Looking back in time to the earlier siege of Jerusalem, Jeremiah is told to summon the Rechabites to a temple side room to be given wine to drink. When offered the wine, the Rechabites refuse it, referring to a command of their forefather Jonadab to live as nomads, not to plant fields and not to drink wine. It was fear of invading armies, Chaldean and Syrian, that had brought them to Jerusalem. Here, their obedience to the command of their forefathers puts Judah to shame for their lack of obedience to God, and the Rechabites are rewarded with a promise of survival.

Jeremiah’s sufferings and persecutions

[36-38] Still looking back to Jehoiakim’s reign, Jeremiah is told to write down everything God had spoken to him concerning Judah. Jeremiah dictates all the words to his scribe Baruch, who writes them on a scroll. The scroll is later first read to all the people, then the officials and finally to King Jehoiakim. However, after each section of the scroll is read to the king, he cuts it off and burns it. The king orders the arrest of Jeremiah and Baruch, but they are in hiding and cannot be found. Jeremiah is told to produce another scroll, exactly as the first, then to give the king a word from God declaring his fate. We now return to the reign of Zedekiah. Zedekiah had not taken any notice of Jeremiah’s words, but now sends for him, asking him to intercede for him in prayer to God. At this time Jeremiah was free to come and go among the people, and the Babylonians had withdrawn from the city because the Egyptian army was marching to support Zedekiah. Jeremiah is instructed by God to tell Zedekiah that the Egyptian army will return home, after which the Babylonians will return and capture Jerusalem. After the Babylonians have withdrawn, Jeremiah attempts to leave the city on business, but is accused of leaving to join the Babylonians and is thrown in prison. Zedekiah sends for Jeremiah and asks privately if there is any word from God, to which Jeremiah tells the king he will be handed over to the king of Babylon. Jeremiah is not sent back to the dungeon, but is confined to the prison courtyard where he will have more freedom. Hearing that Jeremiah was continuing to prophesy, some officials petition the king to have Jeremiah put to death because his words are discouraging the soldiers. Zedekiah does not oppose them and Jeremiah is thrown into acistern where he is left to die. Later, Ebed- Melech, one of the king’s officials, persuades the king it would be wrong to allow Jeremiah to die. He is rescued and returned to the prison courtyard. Zedekiah again asks Jeremiah for a word from God. Jeremiah repeats the prophecy concerning the fall of Jerusalem and the need for Zedekiah not to resist capture. They agree their conversation is to be kept private, and Jeremiah is permitted to remain in the prison courtyard where he stays until the day Jerusalem is captured.

The fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath

[39-45] The Babylonians return to lay siege to Jerusalem, and in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign the city is taken. Zedekiah flees the city, but is captured and taken to Nebuchadnezzar, who slaughters his sons before his eyes and kills all the nobles of Judah. Zedekiah’s eyes are then taken out. He is shackled and taken to Babylon. Nebuzaradan is the commander of the imperial guard and knows of Jeremiah’s prophecies and the reason for Judah’s fate. He finds Jeremiah in chains and releases him, giving him freedom to go wherever he pleases, including the choice of going to Babylon under his care. Jeremiah chooses to go to stay with Gedaliah, whom Nebuchadnezzar had appointed governor over Judah, to be amongst the people left behind. Gedaliah gives assurances to the Jews that they will be safe settling under Babylonian rule, and that they are to live and harvest as normal. Their harvesting is successful, producing an abundance of wine and summer fruit. Gedaliah is told Baalis, king of the Ammonites, is sending Ishmael to kill him, but he doesn’t believe it and even entertains Ishmael and the ten men with him. While they are eating, Ishmael and the ten men get up and kill Gedaliah. They then kill all the Jews with him at Mizpah and all the Babylonian soldiers there. Fearing reprisals, the people prepare to flee to Egypt. In fear of their fate, Jeremiah is petitioned to speak to God so they might know what to do. They declare their willingness to obey God’s command. However, when Jeremiah later tells them they are to stay in Judah and not to go to Egypt, they say it is a lie. They go to Egypt as far as Tahpanhes, taking Jeremiah and Baruch with them. The Jews in Egypt turn to idolatry and ignore pleas from Jeremiah to repent and return to God, sealing their fate, which is that Nebuchadnezzar will overrun Egypt and the Jews will perish by the sword or famine. Only a tiny remnant of refugees will survive. Jeremiah gives a message from God to his scribe, Baruch. If Baruch does not seek anything great for himself, then God will ensure his safety for the rest of his life.

Jeremiah prophesies against the nations

[46-51] Returning to an earlier time, Jeremiah prophesies against Egypt, followed by some words of comfort for Israel. He then prophesies against Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and Hazor, Elam, then Babylon.

The fall of Jerusalem repeated; Jehoiachin’s later release.

[52] Zedekiah rebels against Babylon and enters into an alliance with the king of Egypt, resulting in a siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. This lasts for eighteen months, which causes a great famine in the city. The city is overcome and Zedekiah and his household try to escape, but are captured and taken prisoner. He is made to witness the killing of his sons; then his eyes are gouged out. He is then put in chains and thrown in prison where he stays for the rest of his life. The city is later burned, including the temple. All the temple furniture is taken and the people taken captive in three waves over a period of several years. When Nebuchadnezzar is succeeded by Evilmerodach, Jehoiachin, now about fifty-five years old, is released from prison and made king above the lesser kings in Babylon, a position he holds until his death.
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