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Session 7: Prophets & Prophecy Part 1

Aims

By the end of this session you should be able to: 

  • demonstrate an understanding of the nature of prophecy in its OT context

  • identify key literary features of prophetic texts of different genres

  • identify the key messages and theologies of at least two prophets

  • consider how prophets approach social justice

  • describe some historical, social and political aspects of OT prophecy

  • demonstrate an initial understanding of some prophetic theologies

  • explain the prophetic response to the exile

.

Prayer

Blessed are you Lord our God,

for you come to us and seek to make your home in us.

As we study now, let our eyes and our ears be open to you

let our hearts find their rest and their joy in you

that we may grow in grace and live to your glory.

Blessed are you, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

Amen.

Introduction

Key Prophets

The Literary Prophets, to which we now turn, began with Amos and Hosea in the 8th Century and ended with Malachi in the 5th Century BCE.  They responded to urgent crises in the  life of ancient Israel: (1) the fall of the Israel (Northern Kingdom) to Assyria, (2) the fall of Judah (Southern Kingdom) to Babylon, (3) the exile itself and (4) the restoration after the exile.

You will note that Isaiah has been split into three parts here and we will explore this further later on.  Before we begin to look at the first of the Literary (or Latter) Prophets it is important to note one more thing.  Prophecy was not a purely Israelite phenomenon.  It was widespread throughout the ANE although the forms varied.  A major historical source of information on ANE prophecy is the Archives of Mari on the Euphrates in Northern Mesopotamia.  Prophets were both male and female and often called 'ecstatics' or 'answerer'. They received messages in visions, dreams, revelations and temples. Their messages dealt mainly with the affairs of the King, assuring of success or warning of danger, proclaiming neglect and reminding the King of his obligation to see that justice is done.  We will see all this is true of the Old Testament prophets too.

What do you think of when you hear the word 'prophecy'?  Most likely it has something to do with foretelling future events and probably the foretelling of the coming of Jesus. However, as Arnold notes:

“We use the English term in a variety of ways but seldom with the same meaning it has in the OT … in the OT prophets were perceived primarily as speaking on behalf of God.  A prophet was a spokesperson for God's message which occasionally related to the future but not always.  As you will see, the basic content of the OT books of prophecy is not primarily about future events” (2014, p309).

This is a very different way of understanding prophecy, it is more about forth-telling than foretelling.  Although we can now understand some of the passages as foretelling the coming of Jesus, the Hebrew prophets in their time interpreted the events of their day in the light of God's Covenant with them.  The purpose of prophecy was to inspire the people to faithful observance of the Covenant in the present day and any foretelling was about the immediate future as a response to the present situation.  The goal was to assert what was wrong now and what to do about it in order to avoid calamity in the future (Hayes, 2012, p238).  Other passages about the future were to bring hope and consolation, as we will shall see in parts of Jeremiah, Hosea and the latter part of Isaiah in particular.

We can see this clearly in some of the prophets we have already encountered in the Deuteronomistic History.  Think about Samuel and Nathan for example, as well as Elijah and Elisha.  These are known as the Former or Non-literary prophets (ie they didn't write their prophecies down). 

Amos

According to Kaufman, the book of Amos is ‘A vehement denunciation of the moral decay and social injustice of the period.’ (Kaufman, 1972, p347).  This is one of the key themes of the Hebrew prophets.  The message of Amos would have come as shock to his audience.  They were used to hearing other nations condemned by God but not themselves.  Download a short summary of the messages of the Pre-Exilic prophets of the Southern Kingdom in the Resources section.

 

Exercise

 

Make a note of the structure of the book of Amos.

 

Who was he?  What was his message? How did he get his message across? What did you think about him?  How might you apply the themes of his message today?

 

Post some of your thoughts on the discussion forum.

Hosea

The book of Hosea has been translated onto the screen in a very romantic way by movie makers.  In truth however, the book is far from romantic.  Feminist theologians have pointed out that the portrayal of women in the book is extremely problematic, not to mention the image of God battering Israel as a husband might batter an unfaithful wife (Newsome et al, pp304 -205). This is also true of some of the passages in the book of Jeremiah.  The close connection with the theology of the DH however is very clear, especially in Chapter 4:1-3 which echoes the Decalogue.  But Hosea also draws on the Davidic Covenant in his proclamation that God will never abandon Israel no matter how unfaithful she may be.

 

Exercise

 

Make a note of the structure of the book of Hosea.

 

Who was he?  What was his message? How did he get his message across? What did you think about him? How might you apply the themes of his message today?

 

Post some of your thoughts on the discussion forum.

 

Spotlight on Doctrine

In the mid to late 20th Century a new kind of theology appeared known as Liberation Theology.  Developed largely in South America by peoples in an oppressive situation the theology was grounded in the themes of the book of Exodus as they were taken up by the prophets.  Download and read the document in the Resources section: 'Liberation and Prophets' by Francisan teacher and Priest Richard Rohr for further reflection on this.

Spotlight on Spirituality

The author of the document mentioned above bases his spirituatlity on that of St Francis who was himself very much concerned with the issues that the Hebrew Prophets spoke so powerfully about.  There are many other spiritualities which have this kind of theology at their heart.  Can you name some?

Reflect

Spend some time prayerfully thinking about what you have discovered in this session. What are the most significant things for you? How might you use what you have learned in your own faith journey? Write this down in your learning journal and be prepared to share it at the next Study Day.

Prayer

Blessed are you, Lord our God, all things come from you:

from you come our life, this world and all that we have and are.

Teach us to love and respect your creation and give glory to you.

Blessed are you, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Amen

To Do in Church This Week

Look this week particularly at your noticeboards and pew sheets as well as listening to the intercessions.  If Amos came to visit your church, do you think he would he be pleased with what he saw or might you find yourselves on the sharp side of is tongue?!

Share some of what you have found on the discussion board in the Forum.

Resources

Pre-Exilic Prophets of the Southern Kingdom

Prophecy in Ancient Israel

- Peterson

Liberation &

Prophets

- Rohr