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Session 8: Prophets & Prophecy Part 2

Aims

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

  • decribe the different parts of the book of Isaiah and demonstrate an understanding of their main themes

  • describe Ezekiel's visions and their significance

  • consider the place of Isaiah in the Babylonian age

.

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

"Micah, eighth-century southern prophet and contemporary of Isaiah, is discussed. Structurally, the book of Micah alternates three prophecies of doom and destruction and three prophecies of hope and restoration. Micah attacks the doctrine of the inviolability of Zion and employs the literary form of a covenant lawsuit (or riv) in his denunciation of the nation. Several short prophetic books are also discussed: Zephaniah; the Book of Nahum, depicting the downfall of Assyria and distinguished for its vivid poetic style; and the book of Habbakuk, which contains philosophical musings on God’s behavior. The final part of the lecture turns to the lengthy book of Jeremiah. A prophet at the time of the destruction and exile, Jeremiah predicted an end to the exile after 70 years and a new covenant that would be inscribed on the hearts of the nation." (Hayes, Intro to Lecutre 18)

Jeremiah

Jeremiah is often considered to be a 'prophet of doom', yet there are also some lovely moments of consolation and hope in the book.  Perhaps the best known and most often quoted verse is 29:11 'For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.' 

 

Jeremiah stands in strong opposition to an idea called the ‘royal temple ideology of Jerusalem’.  Isaiah’s prophecy about the Assyrians withdrawing from Jerusalem seems to have encouraged the view that Zion was inviolable – it could not be captured and the temple would never fall.

This ideology, fostered by the King and temple Priests, claimed that the God of Israel had made promises to the temple and the monarchy that meant it (and they) were somehow exempt from all the curses of the law and God’s judgement.  Jeremiah’s theology is in clear opposition to this idea and articulates a sustained challenge to the royal-temple ideology, dismissing the notion of immunity from judgement.  History showed that indeed Jeremiah was correct and Jerusalem was certainly not immune to judgement (Birch et al, 2005, p.340-41).

If Isaiah is a prophet who focuses on the unconditional covenant with David, Jeremiah stands as the prophet of the deuteronomic responsibility - and a corrective to the ida that the temple guarantees the safety of the city.  For Jeremiah, that idea leads to all sorts of corrupt practices.  In ch 7:1-13 Jeremiah goes so far as to describe this sort of Zion theology as ‘the lie’!

The text goes on to offer a critique of Judahite life and how it might be reformed as people take responsibility  for the way they live.

 

Two files giving a short summary of the book of Jeremiah, its structure and key themes can be found in the Resources Section.

Isaiah

Although some scholars still hold to the idea of a single writer of the the book of Isaiah, as noted earlier, most scholars now believe it to have been written by three different people at different times in Israel's history, responding to differing crises. These are known as:

 

- First Isaiah or Proto Isaiah

- Second Isaiah or Deutero Isaiah

- Third Isaiah or Tritto Isaiah

 

It is worth remembering that, like the Pentateuch, the number of authors makes no difference to the value of the book or the truths it is telling us. The multiple author theory however does shed light on some of the passages of the book in a new and helpful way. You can find a quick summary of the two theories in the Resources Section.

Exercise

 

Look up and make a note of the dates the different parts of Isaiah might have been written and the crises to which they were responding.

Ezekiel

None of the prophetic witness in the OT is as dramatic or disturbing as that of Ezekiel.  Modern psychologists may diagnose him with post-traumatic stress disorder.  He uses his body in a bizzare ways in street theatre and hurls invectives at his people to shock them out of their complacency.  A powerful and creative communicator, he delivers an urgent, no holds-barred message.  He comes across as a somewhat tortured soul, trying to bring the message of Yahweh to a people in captivity where there are restricted means keeping the laws of the Covenant (addressing ritual impurity, offering sacrifices, celebrating traditional feasts and fasts, which would have included reading of the Torah). 

 

Ezekiel was among the first deportation to Babylon and in 597 and speaks from the diaspora beginning in 593.  The people have profaned the covenant and been faithless to Yahweh.  They have ignored his holiness and his mercy and the result is disaster - Ezekiel's message is scathing and powerful.  He rages at the people for their lack of faithfulness to God, even from the early days of the Covenant.  The language he uses is full of brutal, sexual imagery – this is not for the fainthearted or sensitive!

Download a summary of Ezekiel and how his message might be applied today from the Resources Section.

Spotlight on Doctrine

In the Nicene Creed we are reminded that God has 'spoken through the prophets'. The phrases we say at the beginning of the both the Apostles and Nicene Creeds also remind us of something the Hebrew Prophets spoke out against - worshipping other gods.  There is only one God, Jahweh. The hope of restoration and renewal is also picked up in the final phrases of the creeds, in the ultimate restoration and renewal of all things when God returns as judge as well the resurrection to eternal life.

Spotlight on Spirituality

As we noted in the last session, the message of the prophets is at the heart of liberation theology and spiritualities that have social justice and care for the 'poor, the orphan and the widow' at their core. They also form part of the basis for spritualities that place imporatance on a 'rule of life', to help live out the prophet's exhortations to live in a godly way rather than following after wordly things or placing our hope in external things like the temple. Monastic spiritualities such as Dominican and Ingatian as well as Celtic spiritualities are good examples of this.

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

Listen especially to the words of the new testament reading and the sermon this week.  Where do you hear some of the message of the prophets being echoed?

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

Resources

Deutero-Isaiah

Jeremiah

Structure of Isaiah

Jeremiah

Ezekiel