Day 23

The Major Prophets - cont.

Lamentations

It is not certain who wrote Lamentations, but ancient Jewish and Christian tradition ascribe it to Jeremiah. He is named in the opening sentence of the Septuagint, which reads: ‘And it happened, after Israel was taken captive and Jerusalem was laid waste, Jeremiah sat weeping and gave this lament over Jerusalem…’ There are five laments recorded as poetry in five chapters. Each lament has twenty two verses reflecting the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, except the third, which has sixty-six verses (3 x 22). The first four laments are acrostics with each of the twenty-two verses, or triplets of twenty-two in the third chapter, beginning with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The first lament is over Jerusalem’s misery and desolation. She was once a prosperous and vibrant city but is now laid waste and desolate. The second lament reflects God’s anger against His people, the destruction of Jerusalem and the scoffing by Israel’s enemies. The third speaks of Judah’s affliction reflected in the words of an individual, his recognition of God’s love and faithfulness, but a desire for God to avenge his enemies. The fourth lament expresses a contrast between the city’s former glory and the suffering of her people through God’s judgement. The final lament is an appeal to God not to forget Judah despite her sin and the consequences of it, and to restore her to her former glory, unless He has utterly rejected her and is angry beyond measure.

Ezekiel

Ezekiel was training to be a priest and was in his mid-twenties when, in 597 B.C., Jehoiachin surrendered Jerusalem to the Babylonian army. Ten thousand men of Judah were taken into exile, joining those who had previously been exiled during his father Jehoiakim’s reign. Amongst the ten thousand was Ezekiel. Nearly five years later, at the age of thirty, God called him into service as a prophet. Ezekiel prophesied to the Jews in captivity in Babylon from around 593 to 570 B.C., Now referring to them as Israel. He was contemporary with Daniel and, like Daniel, some of his prophecies had significant eschatological content.

Ezekiel’s calling

[1-3] Whilst among the exiles by the Chebar River, Ezekiel has a vision of the throne of God and is called to be a prophet to God’s rebellious people. God refers to Ezekiel as ‘son of man’, a title He repeatedly uses. Ezekiel is taken in the Spirit to be amongst the exiles at Tel Abib where he stays for seven days, after which he is told by God he is to be a watchman for all Israel. He is to give them a warning of accountability for their brothers’ sins, and is then confined to a house and made dumb until required to prophesy.

Israel’s sin and the departure of God’s glory from the temple

[4-12] In chapters 4 and 5, Ezekiel is required to enact the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. He is to make a representation of Jerusalem under siege, spend 390 days on his left side for Israel’s sins and 40 days on his right side for Judah’s sins, survive on a meagre ration of defiled grain and water, shave his head, signifying his sharing of Jerusalem’s disgrace, and burn his hair, tossing it away until only a remnant remains. These symbolic acts, witnessed by the people, are to be a vivid lesson to them. This enacted prophecy is followed in chapters 6 and 7 by the prophecy in words, foretelling the doom and destruction of Jerusalem. About a year later, related in chapters 8 to 11, Ezekiel is carried in a vision to Jerusalem and set beside the temple at the north gate of the inner court. What he is then shown is a fourfold view of sins: an image set up at the north gate of the temple; the elders secretly practising animal worship, each having a shrine of his own idol; the women mourning a god Tammuz; and twenty-five men turning their backs on God to worship the sun. The people think that God does not see all they are doing. They are of course wrong and judgement is administered before Ezekiel’s eyes. He cries out to God, fearing all Israel will be slain, but he is told all those who grieve and lament over the detestable things done in Israel will be spared. Then Ezekiel again sees a vision of the throne of God, but now the glory of God departs from the temple. A judgement is then pronounced on the leaders of the people, and a promise is given concerning the return of the remnant of Israel. The people are still not listening, so in chapter 12 we hear how Ezekiel is told to enact the final stage of the exile from Jerusalem. The enacting is not just of the exile in general, but focuses on the flight of Zedekiah. He gathers together the bare necessities for escape and breaks through the mud brick wall at night. When the people ask Ezekiel what he is doing, he gives an explanation to them just as God had instructed him. They seem to think this will be a long way off in the future, but are told this exile is imminent.

A series of oracles explaining divine judgement

[13-24] In chapter 13, false prophets who prophesy peace when there will be none are condemned, as are the prophetesses who make magic charms and ensnare the people. In chapter 14, the idolaters are condemned. It would seem that they think the few righteous among them will be their saving, but God declares that even if Noah, Daniel or Job were here, they would be able to save only themselves. A parable of the vine, an oft-used symbol of Israel, is given in chapter 15. By now the vine has lost its ability to produce fruit and is useless for anything else. In chapter 16 we have a lengthy allegory of Jerusalem as the unfaithful wife. First seen as a wayward foundling, when she is old enough she is married and love lavished on her. She becomes great and glorious but breaks her marriage covenant and prostitutes herself in the most despicable way with the foreign nations around her. Her husband has been forgotten and she will be punished. God will deal with Israel as she deserves, but in time He will remember the covenant of her youth. A new and everlasting covenant will be established and atonement made for all she has done, but she will remember and be ashamed. In chapter 17, God gives Ezekiel a parable of two eagles to relate to the people. He is then to give an explanation of it. The first eagle is Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who took King Jehoiachin captive. The seed he plants is the vassal king Zedekiah, but Zedekiah soon turns to the second eagle, Egypt, for help. That help doesn’t materialise and the Babylonians return to destroy Jerusalem. (This prophecy comes true within three to four years.) But God will take a shoot from the top of a cedar, the line of Judah’s kings, which will take root and flourish. It was a commonly held belief that a son bore the sins of his father. In chapter 18, God makes it plain that each is accountable for his own sins. If a man lives a righteous life, then he will live. If he has a son who leads a sinful life, then that son will die for his sins. But if a sinful man has a son who leads a righteous life, then this son will live; he is not held to account for the sins of his father. Furthermore, God wants everyone to live. If a sinful man repents and turns away from his sins, then he too will live. In chapter 19, a lament is given concerning three kings of Judah. The first is Jehoahaz, who was captured and taken to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho; the second is Jehoiachin, who was king when Ezekiel was taken into captivity; and the third is a prediction of Zedekiah’s rebellion and the fall of Jerusalem. We come to chapter 20 and it is now August of 591 B.C. Some elders of Israel come to Ezekiel to enquire of the Lord, but God doesn’t allow their enquiry and Ezekiel is told to judge them. He recalls Israel’s rebellious history and God’s judgement on them, then speaks of restoration. As we move into chapter 21, a prophecy is given of the coming judgement, with Nebuchadnezzar being God’s instrument of that judgement, when Babylon will destroy both Jerusalem and Ammon. Jerusalem is the specific object of scorn in chapter 22. The people are guilty in every imaginable and detestable way, involving every section of society. There is no one innocent to be found, so they will be consumed by God’s fiery anger. In chapter 23 we have a parable of two sisters: Oholah represents Samaria, capital of the northern kingdom, and Oholibah represents Jerusalem. Both sisters become common whores whose whoredom really started in Egypt. Their lust for their lovers (pagan gods) turns from Egypt to Assyria with unquenchable thirst, and their acts of whoredom seem to have no bounds. Oholibah is now outdoing her sister and lusting after Babylon. She will share in her sister’s fate when she is put to shame and destroyed by her latest lover. It is now January of 588 B.C., the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem. In chapter 24, Jerusalem is likened to a rusty cooking pot put on the fire. Its contents will be consumed, then the empty pot itself put to the fire. Then, Ezekiel’s wife, the delight of his eyes, dies. God gives Ezekiel instruction on how he is to mourn, which is how the people will mourn when the news of the loss of Jerusalem reaches them.

Oracles of judgement against foreign nations

[25-32] These oracles form a division between Ezekiel’s prophecies prior to and following the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. The first four nations prophesied against are Israel’s oldest enemies: Ammon, Moab and Edom, who will be overrun by the people from the east, and Philistia, whose hostility continues towards the Israelites until Nebuchadnezzar deports them. Tyre and Sidon are next to be the subjects of Ezekiel’s prophecies. Both are sea ports, the greater of the two being Tyre, and both are to fall to Nebuchadnezzar’s army. Chapters 29 to 32 are devoted to prophecies against Egypt. Some of these prophecies can be accurately dated and do not all occur chronologically. Together they depict the fall of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar. Words are spoken against a proud and arrogant pharaoh. Egypt will be destroyed and laid waste for a long period of time, after which she will become a nation again, but will be weak and no longer have her former confidence. Her destruction is brought about by Nebuchadnezzar following a hard campaign against Tyre for which he seemed to get no reward. However, in his defeat of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar gets his reward by taking Egypt’s wealth.

Words of consolation for Israel

[33-39] In chapter 33, Ezekiel’s mission as watchman over Israel is reiterated. The news that Jerusalem has fallen reaches the exiles in Babylon and the cause of it is explained by Ezekiel. In chapter 34, the shepherds of Israel, the leaders, are condemned for their failure to shepherd the flock. God declares that He will be their shepherd and judge between the good and bad sheep. Here we look forward to the time when one from the line of David will rule over God’s people, bringing peace and prosperity. In chapter 35, there is another prophecy given against Edom, not just for her past, but for her intent to take advantage of Israel’s defeat and take possession of the lands, both of Israel and Judah. Then, in chapter 36, Ezekiel prophesies the restoration of Israel, cleansed of her sins and with a new heart. Chapter 37 is where we read of the valley of dry bones, a vision shown to Ezekiel to represent the restoration of dead Israel. Then Ezekiel is given a practical representation of the two nations using two sticks, one for Israel and the other for Judah. They become one again by the joining of these two sticks. Again, the prophecy looks forward to the new everlasting covenant  with one shepherd from the line of David. The ‘final battle’ is depicted in chapters 38 and 39 as a prophecy against Gog. The symbolism is significant and relevant to near future events of our time, but requires study and interpretation, which aren’t within the remit of this summary. It is a prophecy of war raged against Israel by other nations led by Gog, in which God will intervene and save His people. The war will nevertheless be devastating. The weapons used will become a fuel, and the clean-up process will take many months to complete because of the manner in which the land has become contaminated. Then God’s glory will be displayed among the nations in the restoration of Israel.

Israel’s coming restoration

[40-48] The remaining chapters of Ezekiel are concerned with the Millennium Kingdom. The date of Ezekiel’s vision is given as the 25th year of their exile. Chapters 40 to 42 give the interior and exterior details of the rebuilt temple. The detail is precise, but this is not the temple built when the Jews returned from exile. It is perhaps, then, the Millennium temple. In chapter 43, Ezekiel describes the returning of God’s glory to the temple. His vision is like the previous visions of God’s glory experienced when He came to destroy the city and those by the Chebar River. In chapter 44, the role of the priesthood is to be reinstated, and rules given concerning it. Chapter 45 concerns the division of the land for the sanctuary, the city, and the prince, both for his government of the people and his worship of God. Further instructions for the prince and the people are given in chapter 46. In the first part of chapter 47, Ezekiel is given a vision of a new river of life flowing from the temple. Then the division of the land is given; first, the boundaries, then, in chapter 48, the division by tribe. Then the names of the new city gates are given. There will be three gates in each of the four city walls, each named after a tribe of Israel. Finally, the new city is to be named: ‘The Lord is there.’

Daniel

[Chapters 1, 2, 7-12] Although classed as a major prophet in the Bible, a good proportion of this book contains historic narrative, giving us the only account in the Bible covering the time in exile as well as, albeit by prophecy, the inter testament period. These were covered in the Old Testament history section. Here, following chapter 1, we will just focus on Daniel’s prophecies.

Daniel’s training in Babylon

[1] Daniel was amongst those taken captive when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. Along with three of his companions, Daniel was trained for service to the king. They grew in wisdom and understanding to such an extent that the king judged them to be ten times better in all matters of wisdom and understanding than all the magicians and astrologers in his realm.

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream

[2] Some three years after Daniel and his companions had been taken into captivity, and their training had been completed, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that troubles him, yet he appears to forget its content. He calls on his wise men to tell him what the dream was and then to interpret it, threatening death if they do not, but great rewards if they do. They naturally say the demand is unreasonable, which angers the king and he orders their execution. As they are numbered amongst the wise, this puts Daniel and his companions in danger, so Daniel approaches the king to ask to be given time to divulge and interpret the dream. Following prayer, Daniel is shown the dream in the night and is able to relate it to the king the next day. It was a dream of an image with a head of fine gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron and feet of part iron and part clay. Then a great stone smashed the image and filled the whole earth. Daniel gives its interpretation, which concerns successive kingdoms, or empires, represented in order from the head to the feet. The first, the head of fine gold, is Nebuchadnezzar’s. This is followed by four others, the fourth of which, represented by the feet, will be a divided kingdom, although strong in part (the iron). The stone that destroys the image is God’s everlasting kingdom. Daniel rightly gives credit to God for the interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar rewards him with gifts and promotes him to rule over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon. At Daniel’s request, his three companions are made his deputies.

‘Four beasts’ and ‘the ram and he-goat.’

[7-8] Belshazzar has succeeded Nebuchadnezzar as king of Babylon. It is during the first year of Belshazzar’s reign that Daniel has a vision of four beasts. The first is like a lion with eagle’s wings, the second like a bear, the third like a leopard with four wings and four heads, and the fourth, so terrible that Daniel is unable to give a name to it, has iron teeth and ten horns. An account is given of the vision, which represents four empires succeeding one another, followed by the annihilation of the dominion of the fourth beast, which is then replaced by the kingdom of God. Daniel is greatly troubled by his vision and its interpretation, which he keeps to himself until his book is written. Two years later Daniel has another vision, this time concerning a ram and a goat. First, the ram appears with two horns having much power, but is struck down by the goat, which initially has one horn, but the one horn is then replaced by four. These four are then replaced by a single horn that has great power and prevails against many countries and stands up against the prince of host (a reference to God), with the sanctuary eventually being defiled and remaining in this condition for 2,300 days. The angel Gabriel is sent to Daniel to give him an understanding of this vision and awakes him from a sleep to interpret it. The ram with its two horns signifies the kings of Media and Persia, the goat the king of Greece, and the great horn Alexander the Great. The four horns are four kingdoms that rise up out of the Grecian empire on the death of Alexander, and the little horn is Antiochus Epiphanes, a fierce king who is described by his craft, cunning, power and might, and by the destruction he will inflict. He is a type of the antichrist who will eventually be crushed by God. Daniel is assured the 2,300 days are true and he is instructed not to repeat the vision to any person other than his own people, because of the length of time before its manifestation. The vision and its interpretation so affect Daniel that he is ill for a few days. When he recovers and relates the vision to some of his own people, none can understand it.

Daniel’s vision of the seventy weeks

[9] Many years later Babylon is invaded by Darius the Mede. During the first year of Darius’ reign, Daniel reads Jeremiah (25:12 and 29:10) and realises the seventy years of Israel’s exile are nearly complete and prays concerning it. During his lengthy prayer, the angel Gabriel comes and gives Daniel a prophecy involving seventy weeks, which are seventy weeks of 360-day years representing Israel’s destiny. Verse 24 gives the scope of the prophecy, seventy weeks. Verse 25 gives the first sixty-nine weeks and is the period between Artaxerxes’ decree to rebuild Jerusalem in 445 B.C. [Neh 2:5–8] and Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem in 32 A.D. [Matt 21:1–9]. Verse 26 speaks of a period of unknown length between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks during which the Messiah is executed, Jerusalem is destroyed and the Diaspora follows. (Today’s times are in this gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week.) Verse 27 speaks of the seventieth week during which there will be a covenant enforced, but it will be interrupted halfway through when sacrifices and oblations will cease and an abomination will desolate the Holy Place [Matt 24:15]. Then the great tribulation will begin [Matt 24:21], which precedes the Messiah’s second coming at the end of the seventieth week.

The ‘silent’ years

[10-11:35] Daniel has a vision of a man told to us in chapter 10. It is the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia, and Daniel has been fasting for three weeks. The man has come to give Daniel a revelation recorded in the next chapter, but first tells of the spiritual battle between those protecting God’s people and those determined to destroy them. The revelation foretells history during the inter-testament period and tells of the struggle for power between the kings north and south of Judea, with Judea stuck in the middle. (A full account is given in the section ‘The “Silent” Years’). The purpose of this prophecy is the climax in 11:31 when armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. They will then set up the abomination that causes desolation. The ‘abomination that causes desolation’ is a pivotal event in eschatology, the end times, and is referred to by Jesus [Matt 24:15].

The end times

[11:36-12:13] The previous verses in chapter 11 deal with prophecy that is already history. From verse 36, although still referring to Antiochus Epiphanes, the prophecy leaps forwards to the ‘end times’ and the coming antichrist. He will exalt himself above all, including God, and will prosper until the indignation (the great tribulation). He will have no regard for anything, whether it be of God or not. A new god will be honoured with those supporting him receiving their reward, including land. At the time of the end, the antichrist will come under attack from the ‘king of the south’ and then the ‘king of the north’. The king of the north continues south through Israel defeating all in his path with only Edom, Moab and Ammon (modern- day Jordan) not being taken. However, when he heads back northwards into Israel, he shall come to his end, and none shall help him. There is now a time of great trouble, such as has never been seen before, from which only the people whose name is found written in the ‘book of life’ will be saved. There will be a resurrection of many, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will turn many to righteousness. Daniel is instructed to close and seal his book until knowledge has been increased. He questions how long it will be to the end of these things. He is told it will be three and a half years, but Daniel doesn’t understand all that is being said to him. He now asks, what shall be the end of these things? Daniel is told, from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away and the abomination that maketh desolation is set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. He is then told, Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days. The book finishes with the words, But go thy way until the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.   Note: The reader is unlikely to get a full understanding of the ‘end times’ from this précis, or from the full text of Daniel alone. It will require a study to achieve this, either from a Bible study group or personal study using commentaries.
30-Day Reading Plan This is a 30-day reading plan based on an average of 15 minutes per session - a total read time of 7½ hours. The actual read times vary from 12 to 20 minutes to accommodate for practical read session end points. If the reading times don’t suit you, then simply go at your own pace and note where you finished. Please select your reading day below
New Testament History Books -
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The Prophets -
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