Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

10 August 2010

Preparing for the Prophets

About fifteen years ago I was the co-leader of a Bible study group for the very first time.  One of the things we did that year was an overview of the Bible.  While the other leader (my minister, who was teaching me the craft of leading Bible studies) and I were planning these sessions I remember declaring, "I will do ANY section of the Bible for these studies but please don't make me do the Prophets." 

The troubles I have grappling with this section of the Bible are not new!  In just over a month's time I will be up to the Prophets (major and minor) with the Bible reading plan I have been using this year.  In order to finally have some success understanding in this part of the Bible, I have done some preparatory work.  Actually understanding the context of these books is likely going to be a key ingredient to understanding!!  Should have done this years ago!!  So below, some basic contextual information for each of the Prophets, major and minor, with thanks largely to The Lion Handbook to the Bible.

First though, some key dates.
The schism between Judah (the Southern Kingdom) and Israel (the Northern Kingdom) - 922BC
Israel carried off into exile to Assyria - 722BC
First deportation of Judah to Babylon - 597BC
Second deportation of Judah to Babylon - 586BC
Edict of return by Judah to Jerusalem - 538BC

with a message to - Judah
during the reigns of - Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah
when - 740 -700BC
Summary of message - Isaiah speaks to the nation under the threat of Assyrian invasion, preaching of God's righteousness, warning of the judgment on sin and comforting his people with the knowledge of God's love, His longing to forgive and telling of all the glories in store for those who remain faithful.

with a message to - Judah
during the reigns of - Josiah through to Zedekiah
when - 627 - 580BC
Summary of message - Jeremiah speaks to Jerusalem as they face the Babylonian invasion, warning them of the coming disaster and appealing to them to turn back to God.

Not one of the prophets, but a book found in their midst.  Probably written by Jeremiah.  The first four poems are written by an eye witness to the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian army in 587BC.  The laments express a grief not simply over the suffering and humiliation of his people but over something far deeper and far worse, that God has rejected His people because of their sin.

with a message to - Judah
during - the period of exile
when - 593 -570BC
Summary of message - Ezekiel inspires the Judean exiles in the plains of Babylonia.  He sees God in all his awesome majesty, all seeing and all knowing and people's sin in all its blackness.  He carries the weight of one who must give warning to the individual concerning the danger of sin or else be held accountable - that we have individual accountability before God.

with a message to - Judah
during - the period of exile
when - 605 -530BC
Summary of message - Daniel serves God before the kings of Babylon and records a series of visions of future events.

with a message to - Israel
during the reigns of - Jereboam II until just before the fall of Israel to Assyria
when - 760 -730BC
Summary of message - Hosea expresses God's love to his faithless pople.  What Israel's idolatry means to God - how He continues to love and long for His people to return to Him - Hosea learns through bitter personal experience, as his own wife betrays and deserts him.

with a message to - Judah
during the reign of and when - unknown.  Dates range from the 8th century BC through to the 4th century BC, which is quite a range!
Summary of message - Joel picks up the theme of "the day of the Lord" when God will finally judge the world and its people.  It is a message of devastation and new life - a timeless message for all generations.

with a message to - Israel (Interestingly Amos was from Judah but sent by God to speak to Israel)
during the reigns of - Jereboam II until the fall to Assyria
when -  760BC
Summary of message -  Amos denounces the social and religious corruption present in Israel and warns of God's impending judgment.

with a message to - Edom
when - 500BC
Summary of message - Obadiah prophesies against Edom's pride.  Edom regards its strongholds as invincible.  Obadiah foretells the return of Israel to possess a greatly extended land including Edom.  (The Edomites are the descendants of Esau.)

with a message to -  Ninevah (in Assyria)
when - possibly 770BC
Summary of message - Jonah takes God's message to Ninevah and records the city's reprieve.

with a message to - Judah
during the reigns of - Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah
when - 737 - 690BC
Summary of message - Micah denounces Samaria and Jerusalem - the rulers, priests and prophets and also the corruption, dishonesty in business and religious sham present.  God's judgment will fall on Samaria and Jerusalem but Micah sees a glorious future when Jerusalem will become the religious centre of the world and Bethlehem will see the birth to a great David to rule over God's people.

with a message to - Ninevah (in Assyria)
when - 593 -570BC
Summary of message - Nahum prophesies against Ninevah and predicts its destruction.

with a message to - Judah
when - not entirely clear but close to the Babylonian invasion
Summary of message - Habakkuk debates God's justice, battling with the problem that while God's people seem to suffer, the wicked go free.  Current events face him with this problem in a particularly acute form.  God had announced that he will use the Babylonians - a far more wicked nation - to punish his own people.  Habakkuk, a man of faith, questions God.

with a message to - Judah
at the beginning of the reign of - Josiah
when - 627BC
Summary of message - Zephaniah pronounces God's judgment on Judah, prophecying immediately after the reigns of evil Manasseh and Amon and before Josiah launches his great programme of reform in 621BC.

with a message to - Judah
during - the return to Jerusalem after the exile
when - 520BC
Summary of message - Haggai gives encouragement to rebuild the temple - but it has permanant relevance because his concern is not only with the physical rebuilding of the temple but with restoring priorities.

with a message to - Judah
during - the return to Jerusalem after the exile
when - 520 - 518BC
Summary of message - Zechariah presents visions of judgment and glory.  He distils the wisdom of many of the earlier prophets and brings the events of the far future into sharper focus, including references to the Messiah (which are fulfilled in the life of Christ.)

with a message to - Judah
during - the return to Jerusalem after the exile
when - 460 - 430BC
Summary of message - Malachi recalls the people to right priorities, written either just before Nehemiah is made governor or during his absence later on.  Times are tough and the promised prosperity has not been realised.  The people feel let down and are showing an increasingly casual attitude towards worship and to the standards God has set.

[Photo from Microsoft Office Online Clip Art]


Mrs. Edwards said...

I'm not sure I can say what made the difference, but while I used to avoid reading OT prophecy books, now I am drawn to them!

Understanding how the prophets fit in with the history makes a huge difference and this post is a big help there. It was also a huge help to me to read the prophets along side the Biblical history. For example, reading Haggai as I read Ezra and Nehemiah helped connect the prophecy with the people who were receiving the prophecy.

The other big influence on my increased love of the prophets has come from teaching third grade Sunday school. In this curriculum we go through the OT looking for clues that point to Jesus. This really trained me to see every warp and woof of the OT through the lens of "looking for the Messiah."

Another help was a study of the feasts and connecting the feasts with some of the prophecies. Understanding the feast of the booths/tabernacles sheds a lot of light on Haggai/Ezra/Nehemiah and it sheds light on the imagery in the prophets about "streams of water." (Also helps with John 7)

Finally, realizing that so much of the prophets speaks about the hope of the future--the day of the Lord and Christ's reign--helped me understand it better. It was a big revelation to me to discover that Isaiah and Ezekiel both talk a lot about what is still to come and are full of amazing descriptions of the new heaven and the new earth and the return of Christ. Exciting, exciting stuff!!

Thanks for this good summary. I think I'll print it and tuck it in my Bible.

Sarah said...

I'm going to print a copy of this post and keep it near my Bible. Thanks.

Meredith said...

Thanks Amy and Sarah. I too will be putting a copy of this in my Bible. I am feeling optimistic and excited. Having read through Haggai while reading Ezra and Nehemiah, yes, I can see the jigsaw pieces coming together.

The approach of just reading the Bible from beginning to end each year has many merits. Certainly the history books come together just by reading and re-reading them. But the old prophets definitely need some context.

No doubt I will keep you posted as to my progress.

God bless you both in your own Bible reading.