Lecture 1: Prophets and Prophecy
Lecture 2: The Book of Isaiah
Lecture 3: The Book of Jeremiah and Lamentations
Lecture 4: The Book of Ezekiel
After reading the lecture you should:
- Understand the origin of prophetism in Israel
- Understand how the prophets fit into God’s unfolding purpose
- Understand the calling and commission of the prophets of God
- Understand the major issues and themes of Old Testament Prophetic literature
Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. Isaiah 1:4.
“Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day. Nehemiah 9:32
The Prophets: Overview – 13mins
TaNaK – 13mins
The Job of a Prophet – dr R Pratt – 13mins
Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/
- Introduction to and overview of the Prophetic literature with specific attention to prophecy in the Ancient Near East, prophecy in Israel, Apocalypti.
- Literature, the message of the prophets, and promise and fulfilment
“What is a prophet in the Bible?”
Answer: In a general sense, a prophet is a person who speaks God’s truth to others. The English word prophet comes from the Greek word prophetes, which can mean “one who speaks forth” or “advocate.” Prophets are also called “seers,” because of their spiritual insight or their ability to “see” the future.
In the Bible, prophets often had both a teaching and revelatory role, declaring God’s truth on contemporary issues while also revealing details about the future. Isaiah’s ministry, for example, touched on both the present and the future. He preached boldly against the corruption of his day (Isaiah 1:4) and delivered grand visions of the future of Israel (Isaiah 25:8).
Prophets had the task of faithfully speaking God’s Word to the people. They were instrumental in guiding the nation of Israel and establishing the church. God’s household is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).
More than 133 named prophets are mentioned in the Bible, including 16 women. In addition, numerous others prophesied, such as the 70 elders of Israel (Numbers 11:25) and the 100 prophets rescued by Obadiah (1 Kings 18:4). The first named prophet in the Bible is Abraham. In Genesis 20:7 God spoke to Abimelech in dream, saying, “Now then, return [Abraham’s] wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you will live.” God had revealed Himself to Abraham on numerous occasions.
Jacob and Joseph, descendants of Abraham, both had dreams regarding the future that could be categorized as prophetic. Moses was called a “man of God” and was considered a great prophet (Deuteronomy 34:10). Joshua and many of the judges served as prophets, with the last judge, Samuel, hearing the voice of God as a young boy (1 Samuel 3:4). He would later anoint David, who served as both king and prophet in Israel.
The time of Elijah and Elisha was marked by a high level of prophetic activity. In fact, a school for prophets thrived during their lifetimes (see 1 Kings 20:35). Both Elijah and Elisha performed many miracles as well.
In the New Testament, John the Baptist foretold the Messiah (Matthew 3:1). Jesus Himself came as prophet, priest, king, and Messiah, fulfilling many of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.
The early church also included prophets. For example, Ananias was given a prophecy about the apostle Paul’s future (Acts 9:10–18). Acts 21:9 mentions four daughters of Philip who could prophesy. Prophecy is listed as a spiritual gift in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. In the end times, two “witnesses” will prophesy from Jerusalem (Revelation 11).
Usually, the prophets God sends are despised and their message unheeded. Isaiah described his nation as a “rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction. They say to the seers, ‘See no more visions!’ and to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions’” (Isaiah 30:9–10). Jesus lamented that Jerusalem had killed the prophets God sent to them (Luke 13:34).
Of course, not everyone who “speaks forth” a message is actually a prophet of God. The Bible warns against false prophets who claim to speak for God but who actually deceive the people they purport to inform. King Ahab kept 400 such false prophets in his employ to tell him what he wanted to hear (2 Chronicles 18:4; cf. 2 Timothy 4:3). In the New Testament we have many warnings against false prophets. Jesus taught, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). He later noted that, in the end times, “false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). Revelation speaks of a false prophet who will arise in the Tribulation and deceive people around the world (Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). To avoid being led astray, we must always “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1).
A true prophet of God will be committed to speaking God’s truth. He or she will never contradict God’s revealed Word. A true prophet will say, with the prophet Micaiah just before his fateful confrontation with Ahab, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what my God says” (2 Chronicles 18:13).
“What was a prophet in the Old Testament?”
Answer: A prophet in the Old Testament was someone who was used by God to communicate His message to the world. Prophets were also called “seers” because they could “see,” spiritually speaking, as God gave them insight (1 Samuel 9:9). The prophets can be divided into the “writing prophets” such as Isaiah, Daniel, Amos, and Malachi; and the “non-writing prophets” such as Gad (1 Samuel 22:5), Nathan (1 Chronicles 17:1), and Elijah (1 Kings 18:36). There are also some anonymous prophets in the Old Testament, such as the unnamed prophet in Judges 6:7–10.
The prophets came from a variety of backgrounds, spoke to different audiences, possessed unique styles, and used assorted methods. Most of the Old Testament prophets’ messages concerned the people of Israel; if other nations were mentioned in the oracles, it was usually in connection to those nations’ dealings with Israel. Most prophets of God were men, but the Old Testament also mentions prophetesses such as Miriam (Exodus 15:20, ESV), Deborah (Judges 4:4, ESV), and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14, ESV). All prophets shared some characteristics that made their ministries “prophetic.”
A prophet was called by God to be a prophet. Isaiah and Ezekiel were given visions of God’s glory (Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1). God told Jeremiah that he had been picked out prior even to his birth: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, / before you were born I set you apart; / I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). A common description of the source of the message is that “the word of the Lord came” to the prophet (Jeremiah 1:2; Ezekiel 1:3; Hosea 1:1; Joel 1:1; Jonah 1:1; Micah 1:1; Zephaniah 1:1; Haggai 1:1; Zechariah 1:1). Another description is that the prophet received an “oracle,” that is, a special revelation from God (Isaiah 13:1; Habakkuk 1:1; Numbers 24:16, ESV).
A prophet was required to deliver God’s message accurately. The prophet Micaiah put it well: “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell [the king] only what the Lord tells me” (1 Kings 22:14). Those who, like Jeremiah, tried to keep silent found they could not (Jeremiah 20:9). Those who, like Jonah, tried to avoid their responsibility were corrected (Jonah 1:3–4). Others, like the unnamed prophet from Judah who directly disobeyed the divine command, lost their lives (1 Kings 13:15–24).
A prophet sometimes had a unique appearance. Elijah was known for wearing “a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist” (2 Kings 1:8). Elijah’s mantle that he left for Elisha was also seen as a symbol of the prophetic office (2 Kings 2:13–14). God told Ezekiel to shave his head and beard (Ezekiel 5:1). Other prophets were set apart in other ways: Jeremiah, for example, was told he could not marry (Jeremiah 16:2); Hosea was told to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2). All prophets were recognized as those through whom God spoke (even if their message was not welcome).
A prophet often led a hard life. Isaiah was sent to a people “ever hearing, but never understanding” (Isaiah 6:9), and (according to tradition) he was eventually murdered for his efforts. Ezekiel ministered to “a rebellious people” (Ezekiel 12:2). The queen of Israel sought to take Elijah’s life (1 Kings 19:2). Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern, where he “sank down into the mud” (Jeremiah 38:6). Jesus spoke of Jerusalem as those “who kill the prophets and stone those sent” to them (Luke 13:34), and, speaking to the Jewish leaders of his day, Stephen asked this condemning question: “Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?” (Acts 7:52).
Often, a prophet in the Old Testament predicted the future. Sometimes, the prophecies concerned events that were soon to happen; for example, Joseph predicted seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine in Egypt, events that occurred within the next fourteen years (Genesis 41:25–36). Many other prophets foresaw things in the distant future; for example, many of Daniel’s and Zechariah’s prophecies concern the second coming of Christ and other end-times events (Daniel 12:1; Zechariah 12:10).
The Old Testament also mentions false prophets. These were liars who claimed to speak for God but were intent upon deceiving the people or serving their own interests. Ahab had nearly four hundred such false prophets in his employ (1 Kings 22:6, 23). Nehemiah’s work was opposed by several false prophets and one false prophetess (Nehemiah 6:14). The test of a prophet was 100 percent accuracy in what he said (Deuteronomy 18:22). If a prophet’s predictions did not come true, then he could not have been speaking for God, since God never lies (Numbers 23:19).
The role of Old Testament prophet reached its consummation in the person of John the Baptist, who was predicted in Malachi 4:5 (cf. Luke 7:26–27); and in Jesus Christ, who was the Prophet “like Moses” predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15 (cf. Acts 3:22).
“What is prophecy? What does it mean to prophesy?”
Answer: To prophesy is simply to speak prophecy. Prophecy is the noun, and prophesy is the verb. Prophecy at its most basic definition is “a message from God.” So, to prophesy is to proclaim a message from God. The one who does this is, therefore, a prophet. Although foretelling is often associated with prophecy, revealing the future is not a necessary element of prophecy; however, since only God knows the future, any authoritative word about the future must of necessity be a prophecy, that is, a message from God.
In the Old Testament, there were prophets who simply spoke their divine messages to a king or to the people (e.g., Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, and Elisha). Later, there came a series of “writing prophets” whose messages are preserved in Scripture (e.g., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, and Malachi). Quite often the prophets would preface their utterances with words such as “thus saith the Lord” (KJV) or “this is what the Lord says” (NIV). The point is that God had communicated something to the prophets, and they were speaking directly for Him. “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
According to Deuteronomy 13, there are two signs of a true prophet. First, he must not direct people to follow other gods. Second, whenever the prophet says something about future events, those events must come to pass. If the prophet promotes the worship of false gods, or if his predictions fail to come to pass, then he is a false prophet.
God would often give the prophet a message about something that would happen in the short term, to give him credibility on the more long-term message. For instance, Jeremiah told the leaders of Judah that the nation would be conquered by Babylon. But another “prophet,” a charlatan named Hananiah, stood up and said the Lord had given him a different message, proving that Jeremiah was not a true prophet. Jeremiah told Hananiah that within a year he, Hananiah, would be dead, and within the year he died (Jeremiah 28). The fact that Jeremiah could so accurately predict the future should have given his other words more credibility.
In the New Testament, John the Baptist proclaims that the Kingdom of God and the Messiah are on the scene, and he identifies Jesus as that Messiah. John is often called the last of the Old Testament prophets. In the rest of the New Testament, prophets are not mentioned very much. It seems that apostles fulfilled the prophetic role, as they spoke directly and authoritatively for God, and their words are preserved today in Scripture. Ephesians 2:20 lists the apostles and prophets as being the foundation of the church, with Jesus Christ being the cornerstone. Obviously, before the canon of Scripture was complete, God may have communicated directly to people on a more regular basis. Prophecy is listed as one of the gifts of the Spirit (see Romans 12:6–8).
Of great interest today is whether or not the gift of prophecy continues or if it ceased when the foundational period of the church was complete. First Corinthians 12—14 is the longest New Testament passage relating to prophecy. The church at Corinth was misusing this gift as well as the gift of tongues. One problem they had was that, when the believers gathered, too many prophets were speaking, and they were interrupting each other to boot. Paul says that at most two or three prophets should speak, and they should do so one at a time. Others should carefully consider or evaluate what the prophet says (1 Corinthians 14:29–31). Perhaps the best understanding is that some people in Corinth thought they are getting a word directly from God, but they could have been wrong; therefore, they needed to submit their prophecies to the judgment of the church. As in the Old Testament, if a New Testament prophecy was contrary to sound doctrine, then the prophecy was to be rejected.
The instruction in 1 Corinthians 14 also suggests that a person should be cautious in speaking for God if the revelation is extra-biblical. Bearing a “message from God” does not automatically place one in a position of authority. The potential prophet should humbly submit his or her message to the leaders of the church for confirmation. Paul’s directive suggests that the gift of prophecy was already beginning to wane as an authoritative gift at the time 1 Corinthians was written.
A preacher or pastor today fulfills a prophetic role to the extent that he proclaims and explains the written Word of God. However, pastors are never called “prophets” in the New Testament. The pastor can confidently say, “Thus saith the Lord,” if he follows it up with chapter and verse. Unfortunately, some pastors assume a prophetic mantle and make pronouncements that are not from God but from their own imaginations.
“What are the Major Prophets and Minor Prophets?”
Answer: The terms Major Prophets and Minor Prophets are simply a way to divide the Old Testament prophetic books. The Major Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The Minor Prophets are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The Minor Prophets are also sometimes called The Twelve.
The Major Prophets are described as “major” because their books are longer and the content has broad, even global implications. The Minor Prophets are described as “minor” because their books are shorter (although Hosea and Zechariah are almost as long as Daniel) and the content is more narrowly focused. That does not mean the Minor Prophets are any less inspired than the Major Prophets. It is simply a matter of God choosing to reveal more to the Major Prophets than He did to the Minor Prophets.
Both the Major and Minor Prophets are usually among the least popular books of the Bible for Christians to read. This is understandable with the often unusual prophetic language and the seemingly constant warnings and condemnations recorded in the prophecies. Still, there is much valuable content to be studied in the Major and Minor Prophets. We read of Christ’s birth in Isaiah and Micah. We learn of Christ’s atoning sacrifice in Isaiah. We read of Christ’s return in Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. We learn of God’s holiness, wrath, grace, and mercy in all of the Major and Minor Prophets. For that, they are most worthy of our attention and study.
“How many prophets are in the Bible (here the focus is the Old Testament)?”
Answer: A prophet in the Bible was someone who revealed God’s messages to others. Some, like Moses, heard directly from God and passed on the words through writing or speech. Some, like Joseph and Daniel, interpreted the dreams and/or visions of others. The messages could be prophecies of the future, messages for the listener, or warnings for others. The life of a godly prophet was never an easy one (see Acts 7:52). Here is a list of prophets found in the Bible:
Prophets in the Old Testament
• Noah: Noah was a prophet in that God spoke to him about the future and he possibly preached judgment against others. Genesis 7:1–4; 8:16–17, 21–22; and 9:1–16 record times when God spoke to Noah directly. Hebrews 11:7 is sometimes interpreted to mean that God told Noah to preach against the evil people he lived near, but the words “by his faith he condemned the world” can also mean that Noah’s faith was an example of how they should have acted and proof that faith was possible.
• Abraham: God spoke to Abraham several times. Many of their conversations were filled with instruction, but God also gave Abraham glimpses of the future. In fact, in their first meeting, God started by telling Abram to leave his country and travel to a new place (Genesis 12:1) and then went straight into a blessing that doubled as a prophecy of the future (Genesis 12:2–3).
• Jacob: In Genesis 28:10–22, Jacob had his dream of the stairway to heaven and a reiteration of God’s promise to his father Abraham. In Genesis 49, Jacob gave an accurate prophecy of the future of his sons’ descendants.
• Joseph: In our first introduction to Joseph, in Genesis 37:3–11, he related two dreams he’d had—prophecies that he would one day rule over his brothers and parents. His dreams incensed his brothers so much they sold him into slavery, which eventually led him to such a high political position they had to beg him for food, thus fulfilling his dream. Before Joseph reached that position, however, he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker (Genesis 40) and then Pharaoh’s own dream (Genesis 41:1–40).
• Moses: Much of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are filled with God’s messages to and through Moses. They begin in Exodus 3 when God called Moses from the burning bush to return to Egypt to speak judgment against the Pharaoh and rescue the Israelites. Moses’ prophecies include both rebuke against the Israelites and predictions of the future. God spoke more to Moses than anyone else in the Bible.
• Aaron: When Moses complained that he wasn’t a good public speaker, God made his brother, Aaron, his mouthpiece. In Exodus 7:1–7, Aaron began his career as God’s prophet, rebuking and giving warnings to others.
• Miriam: In Exodus 15:20 Moses’ sister, Miriam, is identified as a prophet. We don’t know specifically what message God gave her, apart from the song she sings in verse 21. In Numbers 12, however, we find neither her nor Aaron’s judgment was always informed by God’s guidance.
• The seventy elders of Israel: Although God had provided the Israelites with manna and water, they demanded meat, as well. God promised to oblige. In preparation, Moses ordered seventy elders to the tent of meeting, and the Holy Spirit temporarily endowed them with the ability to prophesy (Numbers 11:25).
• Eldad and Medad: Eldad and Medad were two of the seventy elders, but for an unknown reason they stayed in the camp and did not go to the tent of meeting. The Holy Spirit found them, anyway, and they prophesied for a short time (Numbers 11:26).
• Balaam: Balaam has the distinction of being a true prophet who was also an evil man. The king of Moab tried to bribe him to curse Israel. Balaam tried, but his fear of God, his integrity as a prophet, and his stubborn donkey overcame his greed (Numbers 22–24). The sin of Balaam is warned against in Jude 1:11.
• Elihu: Job’s less-than-supportive three friends are well known, but mid-way through their counsel, Elihu arrived. His long message (Job 32–35) condemned the other three friends, confronted Job about his lack of trust in God, and reminded them all that God is just.
• Joshua: When Moses died, Joshua took command of the Israelites’ campaign into the Promised Land. In Joshua 1:1–9, God gave him encouragement for the hard task ahead and a promise of success. He also gave Joshua a warning to obey the law God had given Moses.
• Deborah: Deborah is the only recorded female judge of Israel, and Judges 4:4 indicates she was a prophetess, as well. In Judges 4:6–7, Deborah either passed on God’s message to the military commander Barak or enforced it; in Judges 4:9, she related a prophecy of future events.
• Gideon: Gideon was one of the Bible’s least willing prophets. Throughout Judges 6–8, God led Gideon to take a small army and destroy the oppressive Midianites and Amalekites. It’s unclear if Gideon was the prophet who relayed God’s promise in Judges 6:8–10.
• Samuel: Samuel received his first message from God in 1 Samuel 3:4 when he was a small boy. He spent his life as God’s messenger; two of his most significant acts were anointing Saul (1 Samuel 9) and David (1 Samuel 1:13) to be king. Samuel’s words of God’s wisdom to Saul went mostly unheeded, and Samuel even returned from the grave to announce God’s punishment for Saul’s disobedience (1 Samuel 28:15–19).
• A procession of prophets: Shortly after Saul’s anointing as king, he met with seventy prophets and joined them (1 Samuel 10:10).
• King Saul: Samuel gave Saul specific instructions right after Samuel anointed him to be king. In the process of heeding Samuel’s directions, Saul met with a group of prophets and prophesied with them (1 Samuel 10:10).
• Gad: While being chased by Saul, David and a group of followers hid in a stronghold. Gad the prophet sent him a word from God as to what he was to do next (1 Samuel 22:5).
• Nathan: Nathan seems to have been David’s primary link to God’s words. In 2 Samuel 7:4–17, Nathan told David that Solomon would build the temple. In 2 Samuel 12:1–15, Nathan rebuked David for committing adultery with Bathsheba and killing her husband.
• David: In the time of the kings, God tended to speak to the king through prophets, rather than directly as He had with Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Deborah, and Gideon. David must have received some kind of message from God, however, as so many of his psalms prophesy the coming of Jesus (Psalm 8; 22; 110).
• Asaph: Asaph was one of the worship leaders appointed by King David. He was a Levite and a prolific writer—many of the psalms were written either by him or by the guild he inspired. His songs were sung along with David’s at the time of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:30).
• Tabernacle musicians: First Chronicles 25:1–7 lists the musicians whom David commissioned to perform before the tabernacle and identifies them as prophets. They include Heman, the grandson of Samuel; Jeduthun; and Asaph, as well as their sons.
• Writers of the Psalms: Many of the psalms besides those directly identified as having been written by David refer to the coming Christ, including Psalms 2, 18, 89 (by Ethan the Ezrahite), 132, and many others.
• King Solomon: In 1 Kings 3, God asked Solomon in a dream if there was anything Solomon would like from Him. Solomon chose wisdom.
• Agur: Agur, the son of Jekeh, is cited as the author of Proverbs 30. Nothing else is known about him.
• Ahijah: Unfortunately, Solomon didn’t always use his wisdom. He married too many women and was drawn into worshiping their gods. In 1 Kings 11:29–39, Ahijah told Jeroboam that he would take command of ten of the tribes of Israel after Solomon died. Several years later, Ahijah told Jeroboam’s wife that, because of Jeroboam’s sin against God, not only would their son die, but Jeroboam’s entire line would be cut off (1 Kings 14:1–18).
• Iddo: Iddo the prophet is mentioned several times, and at least one passage suggests he at one point had his own book, but not much is recorded in the Bible about him. Iddo predicted the rise of Jeroboam (2 Chronicles 9:29) and wrote a record of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 12:15) and Abijah (2 Chronicles 13:27).
• Shemaiah: After the ten northern tribes followed Jeroboam, Solomon’s son Rehoboam prepared the southern tribes for battle. God sent Shemaiah to tell them to return home (1 Kings 12:22).
• Azariah: Several Azariahs are mentioned in the Bible, including a long-lived king of Judah (2 Kings 15), but only one is specifically called a prophet. He gave God’s warning to King Asa, encouraging him to rid the nation of Judah of idols (2 Chronicles 15:1–7).
• Hanani: Although King Asa trusted God, he also bribed the king of Syria to break his pact with King Baasha of Israel. Hanani told Asa that God would have destroyed Syria’s king for him if he’d followed the Lord. Asa responded by putting Hanani in stocks in prison and taking out his anger on some of his people (2 Chronicles 16:7–10).
• Jehu: The prophet Jehu lived in the time of King Baasha and was Hanani’s son. Jehu announced God’s judgment against Baasha, saying that, because of his sin, the dogs and birds would eat his family’s bodies (1 Kings 16:1–7).
• Elijah: Elijah was probably the most significant prophet who didn’t write his own book. He proclaimed God’s word in the northern kingdom of Israel at the time of the evil King Ahab. It was he who ensured a widow was always supplied with oil and flour (1 Kings 17:8–16), who had a showdown with the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:17–40), and who was strengthened by God’s still voice in his fatigue and depression (2 Kings 2:1–11). At the end of his life, a chariot of fire took him to heaven, and his mantle fell to Elisha as his successor (2 Kings 2:1–12).
• Unnamed Prophet: When the northern kingdom of Israel was threatened by Syria, this prophet assured King Ahab that Israel would triumph with God’s help. Ahab did triumph—twice. But he let Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, live. Another, or perhaps the same, prophet disguised himself as a wounded soldier and prophesied against Ahab for not killing Ben-hadad (1 Kings 20).
• Micaiah: For some reason, the good king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, got along fairly well with the evil king of Israel, Ahab. Ahab invited Jehoshaphat to battle with him against Ramoth-Gilead, and Jehoshaphat agreed—but not before finding a prophet to ask God’s guidance. Ahab had four hundred false prophets who told them God was with them, but Jehoshaphat insisted on a prophet who actually heard from God. Ahab knew of one, but was reluctant to call him, since he never had anything good to say. Micaiah revealed that God had sent a lying spirit to the four hundred prophets in order to lure Ahab to his death. Ahab went to battle anyway and was struck and killed by a random arrow (1 Kings 22:13–28).
• Jahaziel: When threatened by the Moabites and Ammonites, King Jehoshaphat took the unusual step of fasting and calling all Judah to seek help from God. God answered through Jahaziel who prophesied that Judah would destroy its enemies and even gave counsel on how to accomplish the rout (2 Chronicles 20:1–23).
• Eliezer: The usually wise Jehoshaphat joined the evil King Ahaziah of Israel to build some ships. Eliezer confronted Jehoshaphat, saying that, because he had joined with Ahaziah, God would destroy what he had made. The ships were wrecked before they could reach their destination (2 Chronicles 20:35–37).
• Unknown prophets: Various prophets lived during the time of Elijah and Elisha, belonging to the school of prophets. Nothing is known about these prophets except some lived in Bethel (2 Kings 2:3) and some in Jericho (2 Kings 2:5), and they all annoyed Elisha by reminding him that Elijah’s departure was imminent.
• Elisha: Elisha was Elijah’s successor and the second-most important prophet without a book. He spent seven or eight years as Elijah’s apprentice before Elijah was taken to heaven. He then helped wipe out organized Baal worship (2 Kings 10:28), brought a widow’s son back to life (2 Kings 4:18–37), and cured Naaman’s leprosy (2 Kings 5). His power and authority through God was so great that, when a dead man was thrown into Elisha’s grave, the man sprang back to life (2 Kings 13:2–21).
• Zechariah the priest: When King Joash was a baby, he was hidden from his patricidal grandmother, Athaliah, and raised by the priest Jehoiada until the priests could arrange for the queen’s death. Joash began as a very good king but like many others grew to rely on himself too much. Upon Jehoiada’s death, Joash was quickly led to idol worship. When Jehoiada’s son Zechariah confronted Joash and the people, the king ordered him to be stoned (2 Chronicles 24:20–22).
• Jonah: Jonah is best known for the book that bears his name and his great reluctance to go to Nineveh. But he also served as a prophet in Israel in the time of Jeroboam II. Although the king was as evil as any other, God did not yet want Israel to be destroyed. He sent Jonah to Jeroboam and led him to restore a border against their enemies (2 Kings 14:23–27).
• Joel: After Judah’s crops were obliterated by a swarm of locusts, Joel compared the devastation to what God would do if the people didn’t return to Him. Joel also predicted the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Joel 2:28; cf. Acts 2:16–21).
• Amos: Amos was a Judean shepherd who was tasked with prophesying against Israel. His warnings were ignored, and Israel was taken into captivity by Assyria some time later.
• Hosea: God often asked a great deal of His prophets, and Hosea was a prime example. In order to illustrate the unfaithfulness of the northern kingdom of Israel, God had Hosea marry a prostitute who remained unfaithful after they married. To show how God longed to forgive His people, He told Hosea to take Gomer back. In addition to the message to Israel of God’s faithfulness, Hosea includes a prophecy that Gentiles would one day follow God (Hosea 2:23).
• Isaiah: Isaiah holds the record for being the prophet who is most quoted in the New Testament. He was an adviser to King Hezekiah of Judah but also had to walk barefoot and naked for three years as a portent against Egypt and Cush. His book contains prophecies of Jesus and John the Baptist, and Jesus used Isaiah 61:1–2 to begin His ministry in Nazareth. It’s possible that Isaiah was also a priest (Isaiah 6:4).
• Micah: Micah served as a prophet during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah. His message mixed condemnation of sin with the promise of the coming Messiah. His book contains the only mention of Bethlehem as the place of the Messiah’s birth.
• Oded: Although the kings of Judah were generally better than the kings of Israel, there were still some who worshiped idols and even sacrificed their children. When Ahaz did so, God brought the Syrians to punish them. The Syrians killed at least 120,000 and took 200,000 captive. The prophet Oded, on God’s orders, stopped them, telling the invaders they had gone far enough and they should set the captives free and return the spoils, which they did (2 Chronicles 28:1–15).
• Zephaniah: Zephaniah was yet another prophet who warned Judah about their impending doom. He condemned their idolatry in their actions and in their hearts. But he also relayed God’s promise that a remnant would return.
• Nahum: One hundred and fifty years after Jonah, Nineveh was out of second chances. Nahum promised that Assyria’s days were numbered and that Judah would be delivered from their threat.
• Huldah: Huldah was one of a handful of women identified as a prophetess in the Bible. When the priest Hilkiah found the Book of the Law in the temple and took it to King Josiah, the king turned to Huldah to find out what they should do. She affirmed that Judah’s rejection of God meant the nation would be destroyed, but because of Josiah’s penitence it would not be in his time (2 Kings 22:8–20).
• Jeremiah: Jeremiah was one of the last prophets of the Kingdom of Judah and watched helplessly as it was picked apart by the Babylonians. Known as “the weeping prophet” because of how his words from God affected him, Jeremiah also gave the people a word of hope that they would return from captivity in 70 years. His counsel to submit to God’s judgment was ignored, and he was eventually taken to Egypt with the remnant of the royal family (2 Kings 25:26). Jeremiah also wrote the book of Lamentations, a lament for the fall of Jerusalem.
• Uriah: Jeremiah was not completely alone in his thankless job. Uriah also prophesied against the evil in Judah. He was hunted down and killed by King Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:20–23).
• Habakkuk: Habakkuk covered a lot of ground in such a short book. He prophesied Assyria’s fall, the Babylonian exile, and the future victory of the Persians. His prophecies were revealed in the context of a conversation with God, wherein Habakkuk asked God questions, and God responded.
• Obadiah: Like Jonah, the prophet Obadiah had a message for a nation other than Israel or Judah. He prophesied against Edom, the descendants of Jacob’s brother, Esau. Edom effectively disappeared after their removal from Petra in the fifth century BC.
• Daniel: Daniel was one of the first Jews to be taken into exile in Babylon. As part of the royal household, Daniel was trained to be an official in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar got more than he bargained for, however, when he discovered Daniel was not only intelligent, but he could also interpret dreams. Daniel served several generations of leaders including Belshazzar, who saw the writing on the wall, and Darius, who was horrified to discover he’d been tricked into sending Daniel to the lions’ den. In the visions and angelic encounters of Daniel 7–12, Daniel revealed more about the end times than any other book besides Revelation.
• Ezekiel: Ezekiel’s book of prophecy appears somewhat psychedelic, with its strange visions. Ezekiel was a priest exiled to Babylon in the second wave of deportations and relayed God’s judgment to the rebellious people. He also made several prophesies about the future, including the coming of Jesus, the New Jerusalem (Ezekiel 48:30–35), and the millennial kingdom (Ezekiel 44). Ezekiel was one of the few prophets who eagerly spread God’s message no matter what the resistance he encountered—although that may have been because God told him if he didn’t prophesy he would be held accountable for the souls of those he didn’t warn (Ezekiel 33).
• Haggai: Haggai worked with Zechariah and Zerubbabel to get the Jews who had returned from exile back on track. Specifically, he called the people to seriously consider their priorities and get the temple rebuilt.
• Zechariah the prophet: The son of Berechiah, along with the prophet Haggai, encouraged the Jews to finish the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem after the Babylonian Captivity. In a series of eight related visions, Zechariah received a broad-ranging message of God’s plan for the Israelites. Along the way, he spoke quite a bit about the Messiah and the fact that people from all over the world would follow Him.
• Malachi: He was the last prophet to prophecy in Israel until an angel visited Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. As such, Malachi’s message was a call to obedience and a promise of the coming Messiah. Following Malachi’s oracle were 400 years of divine silence.
“What was the school of prophets?”
Answer: The Old Testament mentions a school of prophets in 1 Samuel 19:18–24 and in 2 Kings 2 and 4:38–44 (some translations say “company of prophets” or “sons of the prophets”). Also, the prophet Amos possibly mentions a prophetic school in stating his credentials (or lack thereof) to King Amaziah: “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14).
First Samuel 19 relates an account in which King Saul sends messengers to arrest David. When these men encountered a company of prophets under Samuel’s leadership, the king’s men also prophesied. This happened three times. Saul himself then went, and he, too, prophesied, leading people to ask, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Samuel 19:24), which became a saying in those days.
The “group of prophets” in 1 Samuel 19 was clearly comprised of students of the prophet Samuel. These students were likely Levites who served in roles related to the tabernacle and ceremonial worship. The content of their “prophesies” is not specified. Their messages could have been general teachings from God’s laws in the Books of Moses, or they could have included additional revelation.
In 2 Kings 2 Elijah is traveling with Elisha, and a group of prophets from Bethel tells Elisha that Elijah would be taken from him that day (verse 3). Another group of prophets at Jericho repeats the prophecy (verse 5), and a third group of prophets near the Jordan River also delivers the same message (verse 7). This third group of 50 men may have been a subset of the group of prophets at Jericho. After Elijah was taken up into heaven, Elisha reluctantly sends 50 of these prophets to search for Elijah for three days (verses 15–18).
In 2 Kings 4:38–41 Elisha is in Gilgal during a time of famine. Elisha miraculously changes an inedible stew into a comestible dish for the group of prophets there. Chapter 4 ends with Elisha’s turning 20 loaves of bread into more than enough food for 100 people. Nothing else is mentioned about this school of prophets, though it is clear they lived together in some kind of community and were known as sons of the prophets who worshiped the Lord.
These groups of men were likely leaders among those 7,000 Israelites who had not bowed down to Baal, as God had told Elijah (1 Kings 19:18). There were at least three schools or communities of these prophets and possibly more, consisting of men who were devoted to God and served Him. They followed the teachings of Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha during the time of the prophets and were known as their “students.”
“What are the different forms of biblical literature?”
Answer: One of the most intriguing facts about the Bible is that, while it is God’s communication (Matthew 5:17; Mark 13:31; Luke 1:37; Revelation 22:18-19), human beings were part of the writing process. As Hebrews 1:1 says, “God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways.” The “various ways” include different literary genres. The Bible’s human writers used different forms of literature to communicate different messages at different times.
The Bible contains historical literature (1 and 2 Kings), dramatic literature (Job), legal documents (much of Exodus and Deuteronomy), song lyrics (The Song of Solomon and Psalms), poetry (most of Isaiah), wisdom literature (Proverbs and Ecclesiastes), apocalyptic literature (Revelation and parts of Daniel), short story (Ruth), sermons (as recorded in Acts), speeches and proclamations (like those of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel), prayers (many Psalms), parables (such as those Jesus told), fables (such as Jotham told), and epistles (Ephesians and Romans).
The different genres can overlap. Many of the psalms, for example, are also prayers. Some of the epistles contain poetry. Each type of literature has unique characteristics and should be approached with due consideration. For example, Jotham’s fable (Judges 9:7–15) cannot be interpreted the same way as the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17). Interpreting poetry, with its reliance on metaphor and other poetic devices, is different from interpreting historical narrative. Please see our article on interpreting genres.
Second Peter 1:21 says that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Using today’s terminology, the Bible’s managing editor was the Holy Spirit of God. God put the mark of His authorship on each of the 66 books of the Bible, no matter what the literary genre. God “breathed” the written words (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Because mankind has the ability to understand and appreciate various forms of literature, God used many genres to communicate His Word. The reader of the Bible will discover a common purpose that unifies the parts of the collection. He will discover motifs, foreshadowing, repeated themes, and recurring characters. Through it all, he will find that the Bible is the world’s greatest literary masterpiece—and the very Word of very God.
“How should the different genres of the Bible impact how we interpret the Bible?”
Answer: The Bible is a work of literature. Literature comes in different genres, or categories based on style, and each is read and appreciated differently from another. For example, to confuse a work of science fiction with a medical textbook would cause many problems—they must be understood differently. And both science fiction and a medical text must be understood differently from poetry. Therefore, accurate exegesis and interpretation takes into consideration the purpose and style of a given book or passage of Scripture. In addition, some verses are meant figuratively, and proper discernment of these is enhanced by an understanding of genre. An inability to identify genre can lead to serious misunderstanding of Scripture.
The main genres found in the Bible are these: law, history, wisdom, poetry, narrative, epistles, prophecy and apocalyptic literature. The summary below shows the differences between each genre and how each should be interpreted:
Law: This includes the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. The purpose of law is to express God’s sovereign will concerning government, priestly duties, social responsibilities, etc. Knowledge of Hebrew manners and customs of the time, as well as a knowledge of the covenants, will complement a reading of this material.
History: Stories and epics from the Bible are included in this genre. Almost every book in the Bible contains some history, but Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Acts are predominately history. Knowledge of secular history is crucial, as it dovetails perfectly with biblical history and makes interpretation much more robust.
Wisdom: This is the genre of aphorisms that teach the meaning of life and how to live. Some of the language used in wisdom literature is metaphorical and poetic, and this should be taken into account during analysis. Included are the books of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes.
Poetry: These include books of rhythmic prose, parallelism, and metaphor, such as Song of Solomon, Lamentations and Psalms. We know that many of the psalms were written by David, himself a musician, or David’s worship leader, Asaph. Because poetry does not translate easily, we lose some of the musical “flow” in English. Nevertheless, we find a similar use of idiom, comparison and refrain in this genre as we find in modern music.
Narrative: This genre includes the Gospels, which are biographical narratives about Jesus, and the books of Ruth, Esther, and Jonah. A reader may find bits of other genres within the Gospels, such as parable (Luke 8:1-15) and discourse (Matthew 24). The book of Ruth is a perfect example of a well-crafted short story, amazing in its succinctness and structure.
Epistles: An epistle is a letter, usually in a formal style. There are 21 letters in the New Testament from the apostles to various churches or individuals. These letters have a style very similar to modern letters, with an opening, a greeting, a body, and a closing. The content of the Epistles involves clarification of prior teaching, rebuke, explanation, correction of false teaching and a deeper dive into the teachings of Jesus. The reader would do well to understand the cultural, historical and social situation of the original recipients in order to get the most out of an analysis of these books.
Prophecy and Apocalyptic Literature: The Prophetic writings are the Old Testament books of Isaiah through Malachi, and the New Testament book of Revelation. They include predictions of future events, warnings of coming judgment, and an overview of God’s plan for Israel. Apocalyptic literature is a specific form of prophecy, largely involving symbols and imagery and predicting disaster and destruction. We find this type of language in Daniel (the beasts of chapter 7), Ezekiel (the scroll of chapter 3), Zechariah (the golden lampstand of chapter 4), and Revelation (the four horsemen of chapter 6). The Prophetic and Apocalyptic books are the ones most often subjected to faulty eisegesis and personal interpretation based on emotion or preconceived bias. However, Amos 3:7 tells us, “Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” Therefore, we know that the truth has been told, and it can be known via careful exegesis, a familiarity with the rest of the Bible, and prayerful consideration. Some things will not be made clear to us except in the fullness of time, so it is best not to assume to know everything when it comes to prophetic literature.
An understanding of the genres of Scripture is vital to the Bible student. If the wrong genre is assumed for a passage, it can easily be misunderstood or misconstrued, leading to an incomplete and fallacious understanding of what God desires to communicate. God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33), and He wants us to “correctly [handle] the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Also, God wants us to know His plan for the world and for us as individuals. How fulfilling it is to come to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep” (Ephesians 3:18) is the love of God for us!
After reading through this lecture you should:
- Understand the Book of Isaiah in its place and function within the Biblical canon and history of redemption
- Have an overview of the content of Isaiah 1-39 and Isaiah 40-66
- Know the major themes of Isaiah 1-39 and Isaiah 40-66
- Have a biblical-theological framework for applying this book in the Christian life and ministry
- Understand the theological message of the Book of Isaiah
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8
Overview Part 1 – 8mins
Overview Part 2 – 8mins
Isaiah was a Jewish prophet who lived during the eighth century BC. The Book of Isaiah claims to be written by him, and scholars believe he at least wrote part of it. – 4mins
This lesson wants to provide an introduction to the prophetic book of Isaiah. We want to introduce the historical background, origin, authorship, the historical context, structure, the theological message and specific character and a New Testament perspective on Isaiah.
Isaiah was a Hebrew prophet who was believed to have lived about 700 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Born in Jerusalem, Israel, he was said to have found his calling as a prophet when he saw a vision in the year of King Uzziah’s death. Isaiah prophesized the coming of the Messiah Jesus Christ. He was believed to have written chapters 1-39 in The Book of Isaiah with the balance of the book possibly authored by several other prophets.
Author and Date
Isaiah was called to his prophetic ministry “in the year that King Uzziah died” (6:1), around 740 b.c. He lived long enough to record the death of Sennacherib (37:38), in 681. However, most of the book can be dated only in very general terms because few specific dates are given.
The central theme of the book is God himself, who does all things for his own glory (48:11). Isaiah defines everything else by how it relates to God: is it rightly related to him as the center of all reality (45:22–25)? God’s people find strength only as they rest in the promises of their God (30:15). They find refreshment only as they delight themselves in his word (55:1–2). To serve his cause is their worthy devotion (ch. 62), but to rebel against him is endless death (66:24).
The prophecies of Isaiah took place during the rise of the Assyrian Empire. Assyria posed a great threat to Israel and Judah as well as the entire Near East.
“Who was Isaiah in the Bible?”
Answer: Isaiah, whose name means “Yahweh is salvation,” is best known for writing the book that bears his name in the Old Testament. His writings are especially significant for the prophecies he made about the coming Messiah, hundreds of years before Jesus was born (Isaiah 7:14; 9:1-7, 11:2-4; 53:4-7, 9, 12). Matthew quotes Isaiah when describing John the Baptist’s ministry (Matthew 3:3; Isaiah 40:3), and when Jesus moved to Galilee to start His ministry, Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled (Matthew 4:13-16; Isaiah 9:1-2). Jesus quotes Isaiah’s prophecy when speaking in parables (Isaiah 6:9; Matthew 13:14-15), and the apostle Paul also makes reference to the same prophecy when he is in Rome (Acts 28:26-27). When Jesus reads from Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1-2) in the synagogue at Nazareth, He amazes many of the Jews by claiming the prophecy is fulfilled in Him (Luke 4:16-21). It is also interesting to note that the Gospels quote more from Isaiah’s writings than from any other of the Old Testament prophets.
Little is written about Isaiah the man. We know that he was the son of Amoz and that he married and had sons of his own (Isaiah 1:1; 7:3; 8:3). Though Isaiah’s recognition as a great prophet is indicated in the books of the Kings and Chronicles, it is also probable that he was a priest, as his calling from God took place in the temple (Isaiah 6:4), an area reserved only for priests. The anointing he receives at his calling is similar to that of the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:9; Isaiah 6:7).
Along with his contemporary, the prophet Micah, Isaiah served the southern kingdom of Judah under the reigns of four kings. At the time of Isaiah’s ministry, Judah was a sinful and unjust nation. Nevertheless, Isaiah believed that Judah was God’s chosen nation and they would be vindicated by God. With support from Micah and the godly King Hezekiah, their enemies were held at bay and a revival swept through the nation of Judah (2 Kings 19:32-36; 2 Chronicles 32:20-23). Many commentators describe Isaiah as Judah’s evangelist because he worked tirelessly to turn the people back to God.
There were many highs and lows in Isaiah’s life. His faithfulness to God was rewarded with some amazing miracles. In answer to Isaiah’s prayer, God moved the sun back ten steps as a sign to King Hezekiah that God would add a further 15 years to Hezekiah’s life (2 Kings 20:8-11; 2 Chronicles 32:24). Yet Isaiah spent three years stripped naked and barefoot, in obedience to God, as a “sign and wonder” against the Egyptians (Isaiah 20:2-4). His contemporary, Micah, did likewise (Micah 1:8), though it we are not told for how long.
It is in examining a man’s heart that we can learn what kind of a man he is, and Jesus said it is from the overflow of a man’s heart that he speaks (Matthew 12:34). It is from Isaiah’s writings that we learn of his unswerving faithfulness and his complete humility before God. He also had great respect from King Hezekiah’s court and his peers, which was evident in times of crisis. Some of the world’s greatest art works, music and poetry have come from men who walked closely with God, and we can count Isaiah among them. His grasp of the Hebrew language has been likened to that of Shakespeare’s English, as we read in Isaiah some of the most beautiful writings in the Bible. Though the book of Isaiah was written over 2,500 years ago, it is well worth reading through the entire book, because in it we see much wisdom that still applies to our Christian lives today.
It appears that Isaiah was a very private man. When we meet some of today’s renowned speakers face to face, we may be disappointed to find they appear somewhat aloof. However, as with Isaiah, we can learn that their ministry is all about pointing people to God, not to themselves. And despite his reticence, Isaiah’s prominence is in the effect his ministry had on the people. In these last days, we need to make every word we speak count for the kingdom. And from Isaiah’s lifestyle we learn that, when God accomplishes a part of His plan through us, we must ensure that all the glory goes to Him.
In addition, it appears Isaiah’s ministry was characterized by closeness with other godly men, like Micah and King Hezekiah. Going it alone can often leave us vulnerable, but when we are united by God’s Holy Spirit to other members of the body of Christ through fellowship and prayer, our ministry is more effective by virtue of the protection others provide.
Recommended Resource: The Great Lives from God’s Word Series by Chuck Swindoll
Book of Isaiah
Author: Isaiah 1:1 identifies the author of the book of Isaiah as the Prophet Isaiah.
Date of Writing: The book of Isaiah was written between 739 and 681 B.C.
Purpose of Writing: The Prophet Isaiah was primarily called to prophesy to the Kingdom of Judah. Judah was going through times of revival and times of rebellion. Judah was threatened with destruction by Assyria and Egypt, but was spared because of God’s mercy. Isaiah proclaimed a message of repentance from sin and hopeful expectation of God’s deliverance in the future.
Isaiah 6:8, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”
Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Isaiah 9:6, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah 14:12-13, “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.”
Isaiah 53:5-6, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Isaiah 65:25, “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.”
Brief Summary: The book of Isaiah reveals God’s judgment and salvation. God is “holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3), and therefore He cannot allow sin to go unpunished (Isaiah 1:2; 2:11-20; 5:30; 34:1-2; 42:25). Isaiah portrays God’s oncoming judgment as a “consuming fire” (Isaiah 1:31; 30:33).
At the same time, Isaiah understands that God is a God of mercy, grace, and compassion (Isaiah 5:25; 11:16; 14:1-2; 32:2; 40:3; 41:14-16). The nation of Israel (both Judah and Israel) is blind and deaf to God’s commands (Isaiah 6:9-10; 42:7). Judah is compared to a vineyard that should be, and will be, trampled on (Isaiah 5:1-7). Only because of His mercy and His promises to Israel, will God not allow Israel or Judah to be completely destroyed. He will bring restoration, forgiveness, and healing (43:2; 43:16-19; 52:10-12).
More than any other book in the Old Testament, Isaiah focuses on the salvation that will come through the Messiah. The Messiah will one day rule in justice and righteousness (Isaiah 9:7; 32:1). The reign of the Messiah will bring peace and safety to Israel (Isaiah 11:6-9). Through the Messiah, Israel will be a light to all the nations (Isaiah 42:6; 55:4-5). The Messiah’s kingdom on earth (Isaiah chapters 65-66) is the goal toward which all of the book of Isaiah points. It is during the reign of the Messiah that God’s righteousness will be fully revealed to the world.
In a seeming paradox, the book of Isaiah also presents the Messiah as one who will suffer. Isaiah chapter 53 vividly describes the Messiah suffering for sin. It is through His wounds that healing is achieved. It is through His suffering that our iniquities are taken away. This apparent contradiction is solved in the Person of Jesus Christ. In His first advent, Jesus was the suffering servant of Isaiah chapter 53. In His second advent, Jesus will be the conquering and ruling King, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
Foreshadowings: As stated above, chapter 53 of Isaiah describes the coming Messiah and the suffering He would endure in order to pay for our sins. In His sovereignty, God orchestrated every detail of the crucifixion to fulfill every prophecy of this chapter, as well as all other messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The imagery of chapter 53 is poignant and prophetic and contains a complete picture of the Gospel. Jesus was despised and rejected (v. 3; Luke 13:34; John 1:10-11), stricken by God (v.4; Matthew 27:46), and pierced for our transgressions (v. 5; John 19:34; 1 Peter 2:24). By His suffering, He paid the punishment we deserved and became for us the ultimate and perfect sacrifice (v. 5; Hebrews 10:10). Although He was sinless, God laid on Him our sin, and we became God’s righteousness in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Practical Application: The book of Isaiah presents our Savior to us in undeniable detail. He is the only way to heaven, the only means of obtaining the grace of God, the only Way, the only Truth, and the only Life (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Knowing the price Christ paid for us, how can we neglect or reject “so great a salvation”? (Hebrews 2:3). We have only a few, short years on earth to come to Christ and embrace the salvation only He offers. There is no second chance after death, and eternity in hell is a very long time.
Do you know people who claim to be believers in Christ who are two-faced, who are hypocrites? That is perhaps the best summary of how Isaiah viewed the nation of Israel. Israel had an appearance of righteousness, but it was a facade. In the Book of Isaiah, the Prophet Isaiah challenges Israel to obey God with all of their heart, not just on the outside. Isaiah’s desire was that those who heard and read his words would be convicted to turn from wickedness and turn to God for forgiveness and healing.
Recommended Resource: Isaiah, Holman Old Testament Commentary by Trent Butler.
Isaiah 1-39, New International Commentary on the Old Testament by John Oswalt.
Isaiah 40-66, New International Commentary on the Old Testament by John Oswalt
“What are the four Servant Songs in Isaiah?”
Answer: There are four “Servant Songs” of Isaiah that describe the service, suffering, and exaltation of the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah. All four songs show the Messiah to be God’s meek and gentle Servant. He is a royal figure, representing Israel in its ideal form; He is the high priest, atoning for the sins of the world. Isaiah predicts that this Servant of the Lord would deliver the world from the prison of sin. In the royal terminology of the ancient Near East, a servant was a “trusted envoy,” a “confidential representative,” or “one who is chosen.” The Servant Songs are found in Isaiah 42:1–9; Isaiah 49:1–13; Isaiah 50:4–11; and Isaiah 52:13—53:12.
Isaiah initially identifies God’s servant as Israel (41:8; 44:1–2), who serves as God’s witness (43:10) and as a light to the Gentiles. Yet Israel could not fulfil this mission: Israel was deaf, blind (42:19), and in need of God’s forgiveness (44:21–22). Israel failed again and again. By contrast, God’s Servant, the Messiah, faithfully completes all the work He is given to do (cf. Luke 13:32; John 17:4). The Servant of the Lord is God’s faithful and true witness to humanity.
In Acts 3:13 Peter calls Jesus the “servant” of God. That verse says, in part, “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.” Peter’s description of Jesus as a “servant” is accurate for at least four reasons:
1) Jesus always did the will of the Father (John 4:34; 6:38).
2) Jesus never sought to please Himself but always to please the Father (John 5:30).
3) Jesus finished the work that God had sent Him to do (John 17:4).
4) Jesus came to glorify the Father (John 13:31; 17:4).
Additionally, Peter’s reference to Jesus as the “servant of God” would have brought to the minds of his Jewish hearers the passages in Isaiah that describe the Messiah as the “Servant of the Lord.” Here is a brief look at the four Servant Songs in Isaiah:
Isaiah 42:1–9. This first of the four Servant Songs introduces us to the Servant of the LORD:
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope” (verses 1–4).
According to this song, the Servant of the Lord is chosen by God, and God delights in Him. The Servant has the Spirit of God abiding on Him. The first three verses of this passage are specifically applied to Jesus in Matthew 12:18–20.
When Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan, the Spirit of God descended upon Him, and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” This was a divine allusion to Isaiah 42. The clear teaching of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ is the Servant in the Servant Song prophecies.
Isaiah 49:1–13. This second of the four Servant Songs speaks of the Messiah’s work in the world and His success. The Servant’s statement that “before I was born the Lord called me” (verse 1) uses language similar to the call of the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5). The reference in Isaiah 49:2 to the mouth of the Servant of the LORD being “like a sharpened sword” is a prophetic image that crops up several times in the New Testament (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15).
In the second Servant Song, the Messiah displays God’s splendor (verse 3), restores God’s people (verse 6), and is honored in God’s eyes (verse 5). Significantly, the Messiah feels a great loss: “I have labored in vain; / I have spent my strength for nothing at all” (verse 4), yet He receives worldwide acclaim in the end:
“To him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,
to the servant of rulers:
‘Kings will see you and stand up,
princes will see and bow down’” (verse 7).
The Servant of the Lord will oversee the restoration of the land and the establishing of a peaceful kingdom (verses 8–13). The Messiah will be the agent of the Lord’s comfort to His people (verse 13).
In addition to being the One to restore the land of Israel (verse 8), the Messiah is chosen to redeem the Gentiles:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (verse 6).
In this way, God’s salvation is brought to all people. Christ Jesus is “the light of the world” (Luke 2:30–32; John 8:12; 9:5) and the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies. On their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas bring the gospel to the Gentiles in Antioch, and they quote Isaiah 49:6. The response of the Gentiles in Antioch is pure joy: “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:48). In Christ both Jews and Gentiles are made one (Ephesians 2:11–18).
Isaiah 50:4–11. This third Servant Song contrasts Israel’s sin with the Servant’s obedience. We also see that the Messiah will be persecuted yet vindicated. The verses preceding this song (Isaiah 50:1–3) liken Israel to an immoral wife; only God has the power to ransom her back. Starting in verse 4, the Servant responds to the instruction of God. He is not rebellious (verse 5), even when His obedience to God results in suffering:
“I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from mocking and spitting” (verse 6).
The Servant of the Lord expresses His confidence that God will help Him and that He will be found innocent (verses 7–9). In this confidence, the Messiah resolves to see His task to completion, no matter how difficult the road becomes (cf. Luke 9:51).
Some 700 years later, Jesus fulfilled this prophecy, too. Abuse and insults were heaped upon our Lord as He was thrown to the Roman soldiers. His back was beaten, His face was hit, and He was spit upon (see John 19:1–3; Matthew 27:30). The Lord Jesus was obedient unto death (Philippians 2:8), and the Father vindicated His Suffering Servant by resurrecting Him. “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, / I will not be disgraced” (Isaiah 52:7).
Isaiah 52:13—53:12. This climactic fourth Servant Song describes the suffering and triumph of the Servant of the LORD. It is also one of the most detailed passages in the Old Testament concerning the death and resurrection of the Messiah.
The song begins with a promise that the Servant will be exalted (Isaiah 52:13), but then immediately turns to a description of extreme violence:
“His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness” (Isaiah 52:14).
The Messiah will be “despised and rejected by mankind” (Isaiah 53:3). When He is brutally punished, people will assume that He is being afflicted by God (verse 4). But the fourth Servant Song makes it clear why He endures such persecution:
“He was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed” (verse 5).
It is our iniquity being placed on Him that explains His suffering (verse 6). Verse 7 predicts that the Messiah will be silent before His accusers (cf. Matthew 27:14). Verse 9 says that, although the Servant of the Lord is innocent, He will die with the wicked and be “with the rich in his death.”
Isaiah 53:10 tells us why the Servant dies:
“It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and…the Lord makes his life an offering for sin.”
This is the substitutionary atonement. His life for ours. The death of the Messiah accomplished the will of God concerning our salvation.
Immediately following the prophecy of the Servant’s death, Isaiah makes a startling prophecy of the Servant’s victory:
“[The Lord] will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied. . . .
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong” (verses 10–12).
So, in the fourth Servant Song, death is not the end for the Servant. After He suffers, He will “see the light of life.” He will “divide the spoils.” His days will be prolonged. What we have here is a prophecy of the resurrection of Christ.
The whole of Isaiah 53 is a poignant and prophetic picture of the gospel. Jesus was despised and rejected by men (Luke 13:34; John 1:10–11); He was stricken by God (Matthew 27:46) and pierced for our transgressions (John 19:34; 1 Peter 2:24). By His suffering, Jesus received the punishment we deserved and became for us the ultimate and perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10). Although His Son was sinless, God laid on Him our sin, and we became God’s righteousness in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus was silent in front of His accusers (Matthew 27:12, 14; 1 Peter 2:23). Jesus was crucified between two thieves yet buried in a rich man’s tomb (Matthew 27:38, 57–60). In the Suffering Servant’s humiliation and final exaltation, He reconciles humanity with God (Matthew 8:17; Acts 8:30–35; Romans 10:15–17; 15:21; 1 Peter 2:24–25).
As the Ethiopian eunuch is traveling home in his chariot, he is reading from one of the Servant Songs (Acts 8:32–33). The eunuch was unsure of whom Isaiah was speaking—was it the prophet himself, or another man? Philip the evangelist had the privilege of using Isaiah 53 to point the Ethiopian to Christ: “Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Without a doubt, the four Servant Songs in Isaiah are about Jesus. Our Lord is the theme of Scripture.
Recommended Resource: Isaiah, Holman Old Testament Commentary by Trent Butler
“What is the meaning of ‘here am I; send me’ in Isaiah 6:8?”
Answer: Isaiah 6 describes how the prophet Isaiah, through a vision from the Lord, begins his ministry for God. In the vision, the Lord asks, ““Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8a). Isaiah’s response was to volunteer for service: “Here am I; send me” (verse 8b, KJV).
After a 52-year reign of relative peace, King Uzziah of Judah died of leprosy in 739 BC (2 Chronicles 26:16–23), the same year Isaiah began his prophetic ministry. In a vision Isaiah saw the Lord, “high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). The Lord had a message to deliver to the nation of Judah, and He expresses His desire for a messenger in verse 8. Isaiah’s exclamation “Here am I; send me” marked the very beginning of his ministry; the priest was now a prophet, and the Lord’s message for Judah eventually became the book of Isaiah.
Before Isaiah could say, “Here am I; send me,” he had a problem that had to be addressed. Isaiah 6:5 describes how Isaiah was made aware of his own unworthiness: “Woe to me! . . . I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Standing in the Lord’s presence, Isaiah is made painfully aware of his sin, and he is broken about it in the same way as were Job (Job 42:6) and Peter (Luke 5:8) when they were confronted with the presence of the Lord. God was preparing Isaiah for his cleansing and commission.
After Isaiah acknowledges his sin, a seraph takes a burning piece of coal from the altar, touches Isaiah’s lips with it, and says, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7). Some details are important here: Isaiah could not remove his own guilt, the atonement is made possible by the altar—the place of sacrifice—and the purification is specifically applied to the point of Isaiah’s sin—his lips—making Isaiah acceptable as a minister of God’s words.
It is only after Isaiah is cleansed of his sin that he says, “Here am I; send me.” Prior to that point, he saw himself as an unworthy messenger; once he was forgiven, he immediately desired to serve the Lord in whatever way possible. The Lord asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”—He wants willing volunteers in His service—and a grateful and enthusiastic Isaiah doesn’t hesitate in taking the opportunity: “Here am I; send me.” And for the rest of his life, Isaiah serves the God who had forgiven and saved him.
Recommended Resource: Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper
After reading through this lecture you should:
- Understand the Books of Jeremiah and Lamentations in its place and function within the Biblical canon and history of redemption
- Have an overview of the content of Books of Jeremiah and Lamentations
- Know the major themes of Books of Jeremiah and Lamentations
- Have a biblical-theological framework for applying this book in the Christian life and ministry
- Understand the theological message of the Book of Jeremiah Books of Jeremiah and Lamentations
“They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you” (Jer. 1:17-19).
Why The Book of Jeremiah is so Important – 7mins
Overview: Jeremiah – 7mins
What Is Unique About the Book of Jeremiah? – 3mins
God Provides Jeremiahs Call – 22mins
Overview: Lamentations – 7mins
Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/ unless otherwise stated.
The Book of Jeremiah reflects the ever-worsening situation Jeremiah encountered. At various times, he had the unenviable tasks of challenging the religious hypocrisy, economic dishonesty and oppressive practices of Judah’s leaders and those who followed them. Jeremiah was the voice of warning, the watchman who brings attention to hard truths that others would rather ignore.
Thus says the Lord concerning the house of the king of Judah…I will make you a desert, an uninhabited city. I will prepare destroyers against you….And many nations will pass by this city, and all of them will say one to another, “Why has the Lord dealt in this way with that great city?” And they will answer, “Because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord their God.” (Jer. 22:6-8)
He was the pessimist, who was in reality the realist. He was dismissed and ridiculed by false prophets who insisted that God would never let the city of Jerusalem fall to an invader.
Jeremiah’s persistence in delivering his unwelcome message over four decades is remarkable. He simply would not quit what seemed like an impossible assignment. How many of us would have walked away from such a situation? But one of the striking things about Jeremiah was his tenacious faithfulness in carrying out God’s instructions in the face of unrelenting opposition and harsh criticism. While he has often been called the “weeping prophet” because he mourned the sins of his people and grieved his own lack of success in turning them back to Yahweh, Jeremiah never flinched in his confidence that God, who placed him where he was, would vindicate the truth of his message. The prophet could be faithful to his unwanted call because God had promised to be faithful to him. He served with God’s promise in his pocket: “They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you” (Jer. 1:17-19).
In 605, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked Jerusalem and carried off 10,000 of the most able Jews (including Ezekiel and Daniel). At that point, Jeremiah’s role was expanded to bring God’s word to the Jews in exile (chapter 29). Among the captured Jews were false prophets who assured the exiles that Babylon’s days were numbered and God would never allow Jerusalem to be captured. Jeremiah warned the exiles that they would be in Babylon for seventy years. Instead of acting on false hopes, the Jews there were to settle down in the land, build houses, plant gardens, marry off their children — and stop listening to the false prophets.
Meanwhile, the remaining inhabitants of Judah continued to refuse God’s message. In 586 the Babylonians returned, sacked Jerusalem, pulled down its walls, destroyed its temple stone by stone, and carried off the remaining able-bodied people as captives. Once more, Jeremiah’s role changed (chapters 40-45). God kept him in the destroyed city, now governed briefly by Gedaliah, to encourage the new ruler and help the people understand what had happened and how they were to go forward amid the destruction. Yet once more, despite his plea that they would hear God’s message, they put their faith in an unfortunate military alliance with Egypt that Babylon quickly defeated. Jeremiah was taken to Egypt where he died. To the end, the prophet had to endure the rulers’ stubborn refusal to heed God’s messages and the ruinous outcomes that resulted. Prophets and workplace Christians alike may discover they do not have the ability to overcome every evil. Sometimes success means doing what you know is right even when everything turns out against you.
The final chapters (46-52) deal principally with the judgment God will bring upon all nations, not merely Judah. While God used Babylon against Judah, Babylon would not escape punishment either.
We cannot read Jeremiah without a vivid awareness of the disastrous results of the persistent faithlessness of Judah’s leaders — the kings, the priests and the prophets. Their short-sightedness and willingness to believe the lies they told one another led to the complete destruction of the nation and its capital, Jerusalem. The work God gives us to do is serious business. Failing to follow God’s word in our work can inflict serious damage on ourselves and those around us. Leading the people of Israel was the job of the king, priests and prophets. The national catastrophe that soon engulfed Israel was the direct result of their poor decisions and failure to perform their duties under the Covenant.
The book of Lamentations is book of sorrowful songs or poems. The name implies that the topic is expressing grief over something (to lament). Jeremiah, also known as the “weeping prophet” writes this after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. It was written soon after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.; he was an eyewitness. He predicted this destruction (as did others), watched it take place, and now in this book he is sadly reflecting on it. Key personalities are the prophet Jeremiah and the people of Jerusalem.
Its purpose was to express despair and teach God’s people that disobedience to the Lord results in immense suffering and distress. Jeremiah pours out his emotions in compassion, and empathy for God’s nation, as he watches them inhabit a foreign land.
• In chapter 1, Jeremiah mourns for Jerusalem and Judea as it lays in ruin by the raid and destruction of Babylon, “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! She has become like a widow who was once great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a forced laborer!” (1:1).
• Chapter 2, He described the anger of the Lord who brought judgment to the wicked land (as God had warned), “In fierce anger He has cut off all the strength of Israel; He has drawn back His right hand from before the enemy…” (2:3).
• Chapter 3, we see Jeremiah expressing his troubled spirit and suffering in gloom. He too is afflicted, as his homeland has been pillaged. On the other hand, he reminds us in verses 19-23, that God is faithful and will restore and bring His promise to pass, “The LORD’S loving-kindness indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail” (3:22).
• Finally, in chapter 4, we read that God has brought justice and ruled mightily. During the siege, the city of Jerusalem suffered incredibly. Starvation was so bad and widespread that the Israelites resorted to eating their own children. The nation was warned about their sin and disobedience and the penalty of the coming judgment of God, and in verse 11 we read, “The LORD has accomplished His wrath..”.
Author: Jeremiah chapter 1, verse 1 identifies the Prophet Jeremiah as the author of the Book of Jeremiah.
Date of Writing: The Book of Jeremiah was written between 630 and 580 B.C.
Purpose of Writing: The Book of Jeremiah records the final prophecies to Judah, warning of oncoming destruction if the nation does not repent. Jeremiah calls out for the nation to turn back to God. At the same time, Jeremiah recognizes the inevitability of Judah’s destruction due to its unrepentant idolatry and immorality.
Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Jeremiah 29:10-11, “This is what the LORD says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Jeremiah 52:12-13, “On the tenth day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, who served the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the temple of the LORD, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down.”
Brief Summary: The Book of Jeremiah is primarily a message of judgment on Judah for rampant idolatry (Jeremiah 7:30-34; 16:10-13; 22:9; 32:29; 44:2-3). After the death of King Josiah, the last righteous king, the nation of Judah had almost completely abandoned God and His commandments. Jeremiah compares Judah to a prostitute (Jeremiah 2:20; 3:1-3). God had promised that He would judge idolatry most severely (Leviticus 26:31-33; Deuteronomy 28:49-68), and Jeremiah was warning Judah that God’s judgment was at hand. God had delivered Judah from destruction on countless occasions, but His mercy was at its end. Jeremiah records King Nebuchadnezzar conquering Judah and making it subject to him (Jeremiah 24:1). After further rebellion, God brought Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian armies back to destroy and desolate Judah and Jerusalem (Jeremiah chapter 52). Even in this most severe judgment, God promises the restoration of Judah back into the land God has given them (Jeremiah 29:10).
Foreshadowing: Jeremiah 23:5-6 presents a prophecy of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. The prophet describes Him as a Branch from the house of David (v. 5; Matthew 1), the King who would reign in wisdom and righteousness (v. 5, Revelation 11:15). It is Christ who will finally be recognized by Israel as her true Messiah as He provides salvation for His chosen ones (v. 6; Romans 11:26).
Practical Application: The Prophet Jeremiah had a most difficult message to deliver. Jeremiah loved Judah, but he loved God much more. As painful as it was for Jeremiah to deliver a consistent message of judgment to his own people, Jeremiah was obedient to what God told him to do and say. Jeremiah hoped and prayed for mercy from God for Judah, but also trusted that God was good, just, and righteous. We too must obey God, even when it is difficult, recognize God’s will as more important than our own desires, and trust that God, in His infinite wisdom and perfect plan, will bring about the best for His children (Romans 8:28).
Recommended Resource: NIV Application Commentary Jeremiah / Lamentations by J. Andrew Dearman.
Jeremiah, New International Commentary on the Old Testament by J.A. Thompson.
Jeremiah and Lamentations, New American Commentary by F.B. Huey
Author: The Book of Lamentations does not explicitly identify its author. The tradition is that the Prophet Jeremiah wrote Lamentations. This view is highly likely considering the author was a witness of the Babylonians destroying Jerusalem. Jeremiah fits this qualification (2 Chronicles 35:25; 36:21-22).
Date of Writing: The Book of Lamentations was likely written between 586 and 575 B.C., during or soon after Jerusalem’s fall.
Purpose of Writing: As a result of Judah’s continued and unrepentant idolatry, God allowed the Babylonians to besiege, plunder, burn, and destroy the city of Jerusalem. Solomon’s Temple, which had stood for approximately 400 years, was burned to the ground. The Prophet Jeremiah, an eyewitness to these events, wrote the Book of Lamentations as a lament for what occurred to Judah and Jerusalem.
Lamentations 2:17, “The LORD has done what he planned; he has fulfilled his word, which he decreed long ago. He has overthrown you without pity, he has let the enemy gloat over you, he has exalted the horn of your foes.”
Lamentations 3:22-23, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Lamentations 5:19-22, “You, O LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.”
Brief Summary: The Book of Lamentations is divided into five chapters. Each chapter represents a separate poem. In the original Hebrew, the verses are acrostic, each verse starting with a succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the Book of Lamentations, the Prophet Jeremiah understands that the Babylonians were God’s tool for bringing judgment on Jerusalem (Lamentations 1:12-15; 2:1-8; 4:11). Lamentations makes it clear that sin and rebellion were the causes of God’s wrath being poured out (1:8-9; 4:13; 5:16). Lamenting is appropriate in a time of distress, but it should quickly give way to contrition and repentance (Lamentations 3:40-42; 5:21-22).
Foreshadowing: Jeremiah was known as the “weeping prophet” for his deep and abiding passion for his people and their city (Lamentations 3:48-49). This same sorrow over the sins of the people and their rejection of God was expressed by Jesus as He approached Jerusalem and looked ahead to her destruction at the hands of the Romans (Luke 19:41-44). Because of the Jews’ rejection of their Messiah, God used the Roman siege to punish His people. But God takes no joy in having to punish His children and His offer of Jesus Christ as a provision for sin shows His great compassion on His people. One day, because of Christ, God will wipe away all tears (Revelation 7:17).
Practical Application: Even in terrible judgment, God is a God of hope (Lamentations 3:24-25). No matter how far we have gone from Him, we have the hope that we can return to Him and find Him compassionate and forgiving (1 John 1:9). Our God is a loving God (Lamentations 3:22), and because of His great love and compassion, He sent His Son so that we would not perish in our sins, but can live eternally with Him (John 3:16). God’s faithfulness (Lamentations 3:23) and deliverance (Lamentations 3:26) are attributes that give us great hope and comfort. He is not a disinterested, capricious god, but a God who will deliver all those who turn to Him, admit they can do nothing to earn His favor, and call upon the Lord’s mercy so that we will not be consumed (Lamentations 3:22).
Recommended Resource: NIV Application Commentary Jeremiah / Lamentations by J. Andrew Dearman.
Jeremiah and Lamentations, New American Commentary by F.B. Huey
Who wrote the book?
The son of a priest from the small town of Anathoth in Judah, the prophet Jeremiah dictated prophecies from the Lord to his secretary, Baruch. Because of Jeremiah’s lineage, he would have been raised a priest, though no record of his priestly service exists. Instead, God chose this man of undeniable courage to speak to the people of Judah on the Lord’s behalf—even though they would not listen.
Jeremiah was nearly twenty years old when he began to prophesy, and he continued in that office for the rest of his adult life, some forty years or more. Because his message held little weight with the people, Jeremiah’s prophecies reveal a substantial amount of emotional depth—often sorrow over the plight of God’s people or his own troubles (Jeremiah 12:1–4; 15:10).
Where are we?
Jeremiah’s ministry began in 627 BC and ended sometime around 582 BC with his prophecy to the Jews who fled to Egypt (Jeremiah 44:1). For the majority of this time, Jeremiah based his ministry out of Jerusalem. The southern kingdom of Judah fell during Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry (586 BC), having been threatened for many years by outside powers—first Assyria and Egypt and then by their eventual conquerors, Babylon.
Jeremiah found himself addressing a nation hurtling headlong toward judgment from God. The Israelites may have feared the future as the outside powers drew near, but rather than respond with humility and repentance, the people of Judah primarily lived as islands unto themselves, disregarding both the Lord’s commandments and the increasing danger that resulted from their disobedience.
Why is Jeremiah so important?
The prophecies of Jeremiah offer us a unique insight into the mind and heart of one of God’s faithful servants. The book includes numerous personal statements of emotional engagement, painting Jeremiah not merely as a prophet brought on the scene to deliver God’s message but also as a red-blooded human being who felt compassion for his people, desired judgment for evildoers, and was concerned about his own safety as well.
Significantly, the book of Jeremiah also provides us the clearest glimpse of the new covenant God intended to make with His people once Christ came to earth. This new covenant would be the means of restoration for God’s people, as He would put His law within them, writing it on hearts of flesh rather than on tablets of stone. Rather than fostering our relationship with God through a fixed location like a temple, He promised through Jeremiah that His people would know Him directly, a knowledge that comes through the person of His Son, Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 31:31–34; see also Hebrews 8:6).
What’s the big idea?
Because Jeremiah prophesied in the final years of Judah before God’s people were exiled to Babylon, it makes sense that the book’s overarching theme is judgment. Indeed, the first forty-five chapters focus primarily on the judgment coming to Judah because of its disbelief and disobedience. However, an element of grace is also present in these events. The fall of Jerusalem comes nearly nine hundred years after the original covenant between God and the Israelites in the Sinai desert (Exodus 24:1–18). Such an extended period of time witnesses to God’s great patience and mercy, allowing His people the opportunity to turn from their sinful ways—a lifestyle they began not long after they struck the original covenant with God (32:1–35).
How do I apply this?
Seeing God’s patience with His people in the Old Testament reminds us that God has always been and continues to be merciful. That His chosen people routinely ignored the covenant they made with Him for the better part of a millennia without immediate death and destruction should give us hope in our own struggles with living well for God. Though we fail Him, He is patient with us, working in us to bring about the best for our lives.
But the book of Jeremiah also reminds us that an end will certainly come, a truth that should spur us to follow after God wholeheartedly. Will you follow Him?
Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/ unless otherwise stated.
After reading through the lecture Ezekiel you will:
- Understand the Book of Ezekiel in its place and function within the Biblical canon and history of redemption
- Have an overview of the content of Ezekiel
- Know the major themes of Ezekiel
- Have a biblical-theological framework for applying this book in the Christian life and ministry
- Understand the theological message of the Book of Ezekiel
- Work in a responsible manner to teach and preach from the Book of Ezekiel to others the message of God seeking to live in communion with his people.
1And he said to me, “Son of man,a stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ Ezekiel 1:1ff
Overview: Ezekiel 1-33
Overview: Ezekiel 34-48
An overview of the book of Ezekiel
The Book of Ezekiel
In response to the rebellion of Jehoiakim of Judah in 601 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian ruler, besieged Jerusalem. When Jehoiakim’s successor, Jehoiachin, surrendered in 597, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Zedekiah king and deported to Babylon Jehoiachin and the royal family, along with members of the upper class, including Ezekiel the priest. Five years later, as Zedekiah planned his own revolt against Babylon, Ezekiel became the first prophet to be commissioned outside Judah or Israel (chaps. 1–3). Before Jerusalem is destroyed (587 B.C.), Ezekiel is concerned to convince his audience that they are responsible for the punishment of exile and to justify the Lord’s decision to destroy their city and Temple. Later, Ezekiel argues that the Judahites who embrace his preaching are the people whom the Lord has chosen as a new Israel, enlivened by a new heart, imbued with new breath (chaps. 36–37), and restored to a re-created land, Temple, and covenant relationship (chaps. 40–48). Ezekiel is clear on one point: the Lord punishes and restores for one reason—for the sake of his name, in order to demonstrate once and for all that he is Lord.
Ezekiel’s symbolic actions or performances foreshadow the inevitable destruction of Jerusalem (4:1–5:4; 12:1–20; 24:15–24). The closely related judgment oracles are directed against increasingly larger groups: the inhabitants of Jerusalem (5:5–17); refugees who have fled into the mountains (6:1–14); Judah’s total population, “the four corners of the land” (7:1–27). Particularly chilling is Ez 8–11, the prophet’s vision of the violent injustice and idolatrous worship that fills Jerusalem. When Ezekiel protests the Lord’s order to slaughter Jerusalem’s wicked inhabitants, the Lord refuses to relent; the Lord’s glory leaves the Temple, affirming his judgment on Jerusalem (11:22–25), whom Ezekiel portrays as a promiscuous woman, rebel from the beginning, more violent and sinful than Sodom (chap. 16). Appeals for a speedy end to the exile on the basis of a past relationship with the Lord or of Jerusalem’s privileged status are futile gestures.
Ezekiel uses stereotypic oracles against the nations (chaps. 25–32) to claim universal sovereignty for Israel’s God, to exemplify the consequences of arrogant national pride, and to set the stage for Israel’s restoration. In order to demonstrate to all the nations that “I am the Lord,” God becomes Israel’s just shepherd (34:15) under whose rule a restored people (37:1–14) enjoy prosperity in a restored land. God again acts “for the sake of my name” when the mysterious forces of Gog attack Israel (chaps. 38–39). Their defeat is prelude to Ezekiel’s vision of a new Israel whose source of life and prosperity is a well-ordered cult in a new Temple, where the divine glory again dwells (chaps. 40–48).
The Book of Ezekiel has the following divisions:
I. Call of the Prophet (1:1–3:27)
II. Before the Siege of Jerusalem (4:1–24:27)
III. Prophecies Against Foreign Nations (25:1–32:32)
IV. Hope for the Future (33:1–39:29)
Book of Ezekiel
Author: The Prophet Ezekiel is the author of the Book (Ezekiel 1:3). He was a contemporary of both Jeremiah and Daniel.
Date of Writing: The Book of Ezekiel was likely written between 593 and 565 B.C. during the Babylonian captivity of the Jews.
Purpose of Writing: Ezekiel ministered to his generation who were both exceedingly sinful and thoroughly hopeless. By means of his prophetic ministry he attempted to bring them to immediate repentance and to confidence in the distant future. He taught that: (1) God works through human messengers; (2) Even in defeat and despair God’s people need to affirm God’s sovereignty; (3) God’s Word never fails; (4) God is present and can be worshiped anywhere; (5) People must obey God if they expect to receive blessings; and (6) God’s Kingdom will come.
Ezekiel 2:3-6, “He said: ’son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says.” And whether they listen or fail to listen – for they are a rebellious house – they will know that a prophet has been among them.'”
Ezekiel 18:4, “For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son – both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.”
Ezekiel 28:12-14, “‘You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones.”
Ezekiel 33:11, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?'”
Ezekiel 48:35, “And the name of the city from that time on will be: THE LORD IS THERE.”
Brief Summary: How can you cope with a world gone astray? Ezekiel, destined to begin his life’s ministry as a priest at age thirty, was uprooted from his homeland and marched off to Babylon at age of twenty-five. For five years he languished in despair. At age thirty a majestic vision of Yahweh’s glory captivated his being in Babylon. The priest/prophet discovered God was not confined to the narrow strictures of Ezekiel’s native land. Instead, He is a universal God who commands and controls persons and nations. In Babylon, God imparted to Ezekiel His Word for the people. His call experience transformed Ezekiel. He became avidly devoted to God’s Word. He realized he had nothing personally to assist the captives in their bitter situation, but he was convinced God’s Word spoke to their condition and could give them victory in it. Ezekiel used various methods to convey God’s Word to his people. He used art in drawing a depiction of Jerusalem, symbolic actions and unusual conduct to secure attention. He cut his hair and beard to demonstrate what God would do to Jerusalem and its inhabitants.
Ezekiel’s book can be divided into four sections:
Chapters 1-24: prophecies on the ruin of Jerusalem
Chapters 25-32: prophecies of God’s judgment on nearby nations
Chapter 33: a last call for repentance to Israel
Chapters 34-48: prophecies concerning the future restoration of Israel
Foreshadowings: Ezekiel 34 is the chapter wherein God denounces the leaders of Israel as false shepherds for their poor care of His people. Instead of caring for the sheep of Israel, they cared for themselves. They ate well, were well-clothed and well-cared for by the very people they had been placed over (Ezekiel 34:1-3). By contrast, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep and who protects them from the wolves who would destroy the flock (John 10:11-12). Verse 4 of chapter 34 describes people whom the shepherds failed to minister to as weak, sick, injured and lost. Jesus is the Great Physician who heals our spiritual wounds (Isaiah 53:5) by His death on the cross. He is the one who seeks and saves that which is lost (Luke 19:10).
Practical Application: The Book of Ezekiel calls us to join in a fresh and living encounter with the God of Abraham, Moses and the prophets. We must be overcomers or we will be overcome. Ezekiel challenged us to experience a life changing vision of God’s power, knowledge, eternal presence and holiness; to let God direct us; to comprehend the depth of and commitment to evil that lodges in each human heart; to recognize that God holds His servants responsible for warning wicked men of their peril; to experience a living relationship with Jesus Christ, who said that the new covenant is to be found in His blood.
Recommended Resource: Ezekiel NIV Application Commentary by Iain Duguid.
Ezekiel 1-24, New International Commentary on the Old Testament by Daniel Block.
Ezekiel 25-48, New International Commentary on the Old Testament by Daniel Block
“Who was Ezekiel in the Bible?”
Answer: Ezekiel, whose name means “strengthened by God,” grew up in Jerusalem, served as a priest in the temple and was among the second group of captives taken to Babylon along with King Jehoiachin. While in Babylon he became a prophet of God; he is the author of the Old Testament book that bears his name. Ezekiel’s ministry began with condemnation and judgment of the nation Judah. After the destruction of Jerusalem, Ezekiel’s prophecies speak of hope for the future. Ezekiel wanted to help the people learn from their failures. He announced impending judgment upon the nations that surrounded Judah and reestablished hope for the restoration of Israel. His vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37) pictures new life being breathed into the nation, which will occur in the Millennial Reign of Christ on earth.
Ezekiel’s first vision was of God’s throne and included the four living creatures and whirling wheels. Ezekiel also had detailed visions of a new temple (Ezekiel 40–43), a restored Jerusalem (Ezekiel 48:30–35), the millennium (chapter 44), and the land in which God’s people will reside (Ezekiel 47:13–23). Israel and Judah will once again be restored to unity from the ends of the earth as God’s glory also returns and God dwells among His people. These beautiful visions of Ezekiel concern both the immediate and the long-term plans of God. Ezekiel delivered God’s messages with straightforward language that everyone could understand, whether they listened or not (Ezekiel 2:7). Ezekiel himself received a warning from God that, if he did not faithfully warn of the punishment for not following God, he would be held accountable for the blood of those who died in their sins (Ezekiel 33:8–9). He did not hesitate in his mission and steadfastly followed God’s instructions. Ezekiel had a passionate view of judgment and hope, and he reflected God’s own sorrow over the people’s sins.
The prophet experienced considerable opposition during his own lifetime, yet he doggedly expressed God’s desire that the wicked not die but turn from their wicked ways and live. His periodic speechlessness during his early years was broken when God empowered him to speak, and his tongue was loosened to speak the longest passage of sustained hope in the Bible. The burning, chopping, and scattering of his hair represented the fall of Jerusalem and the bringing back of God’s remnant (chapter 5). The hopeful words climax in the promise of everlasting possession of the land, an everlasting Davidic prince, an everlasting covenant, and an everlasting sanctuary in Israel (Ezekiel 11:16-21). He leaps ahead to a time after Israel has been restored to the mysterious invasion from the north that will be brought by Yahweh against Israel, but then will be utterly defeated. This demonstrates that no enemy nation will ever invade the Holy Land again with success, and the glory of the God of Israel returns, entering through the east gate of the temple Ezekiel envisions.
Ezekiel has shown all Christians that we are to be obedient to God’s call on our lives. God told Ezekiel to groan with a broken heart and bitter grief for the coming judgment, and through his dramatic book, Ezekiel is telling us the very same thing. This judgment is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord! We, too, can warn others and share with them the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Recommended Resource: The Great Lives from God’s Word Series by Chuck Swindoll
“Why is Ezekiel called son of man if it is a title for Jesus?”
Answer: The term son of man is used variously in Scripture. Jesus is indeed referred to as the Son of Man in the New Testament—88 times, to be exact. The term son of man is also found in the Old Testament. The prophet Ezekiel is called “son of man” over 90 times. Thus, both Jesus and Ezekiel can rightly be called “son of man”; but there is something unique about the way the title is applied to Christ.
In the gospels, Jesus often refers to Himself as the Son of Man (e.g., Matthew 16:27; Mark 14:21; Luke 7:34; John 3:13). Jesus’ use of this title links Him to Daniel 7:13–14, a passage describing the coming Messiah: “There before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. . . . He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” The teachers of the Law during Jesus’ time on earth would have readily understood Jesus’ meaning when He applied the title Son of Man to Himself. Jesus’ use of the phrase points to His exalted state as a person of the Godhead and the fact that He will fulfil Daniel’s prophecy.
Further, only in the gospels do we find the term son of man associated with the definite article, the. Jesus always called Himself “the Son of Man,” as in the only one there is. In using the definite article, Jesus contrasts Himself with other personalities in the Bible associated with the same term. Ezekiel is never called “the son of man”; he is always just a “son of man,” as in one among many.
Son of man is a rather common term in the Bible, and it simply means “man.” It emphasizes the humanity of a person. In the case of Ezekiel, who was often referred to as “son of man” (e.g., Ezekiel 2:1; 3:1; 4:1; 5:1), God probably chose this manner of direct address to point up the contrast between the human condition of Ezekiel and the transcendent majesty of God. In the first chapter of his book, Ezekiel relates a vision he had of God’s glory—a scene full of wheels and eyes and storms and fire and strange angelic creatures. In the first verse of the next chapter, God addresses Ezekiel as “son of man.” The prophet could not help but realize his own human frailty and limitations in the face of God’s unsurpassable glory. God is God, and Ezekiel is but a “son of man.”
In Jesus’ case, the application of the title Son of Man also highlights the humanity of Christ. The difference is that He is the Son of Man; that is, He is the epitome of humanity. Jesus is the Sinless One, humanity perfected, the one to finally reconcile God and man.
Recommended Resource: Ezekiel NIV Application Commentary by Iain Duguid
“What is the meaning of the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37?”
Answer: Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1–14) came to him after God had directed him to prophesy the rebirth of Israel in chapter 36. God announced, through the prophet, that Israel will be restored to her land in blessing under the leadership of “David, My servant [who] shall be king over them” (Ezekiel 37:24), clearly a reference to the future under Jesus Christ the Messiah, descendant of David (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6–7; Luke 1:31–33). However, this promise seemed impossible in light of Israel’s present condition. She was “dead” as a nation, deprived of her land, her king, and her temple. She had been divided and dispersed for so long that unification and restoration seemed impossible. So God gave Ezekiel the vision of the dry bones as sign.
God transported Ezekiel—probably not literally, but in a vision—to a valley full of dry bones and directed him to speak to the bones. Ezekiel was to tell the bones that God would make breath enter the bones and they would come to life, just as in the creation of man when He breathed life into Adam (Genesis 2:7). Ezekiel obeyed, the bones came together, flesh developed, skin covered the flesh, breath entered the bodies, and they stood up in a vast army. This vision symbolized the whole house of Israel that was then in captivity. Like unburied skeletons, the people were in a state of living death, pining away with no end to their judgment in sight. They thought their hope was gone and they were cut off forever. The surviving Israelites felt their national hopes had been dashed and the nation had died in the flames of Babylon’s attack with no hope of resurrection.
The reviving of the dry bones signified God’s plan for Israel’s future national restoration. The vision also, and most importantly, showed that Israel’s new life depended on God’s power and not the circumstances of the people. Putting “breath” by God’s Spirit into the bones showed that God would not only restore them physically but also spiritually. The Israelites residing in the Holy Land today are not the fulfillment of this prophecy. It will be fulfilled when God re-gathers believing Israelites to the land (Jeremiah 31:33; 33:14–16) and Christ returns to establish His Millennial Kingdom (Matthew 24:30–31).
Recommended Resource: Ezekiel NIV Application Commentary by Iain Duguid
Book of Ezekiel Explained
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Title: The book has always been named for its author, Ezekiel (1:3; 24:24), who is nowhere else mentioned in Scripture. His name means “strengthened by God”, which, indeed, he was for the prophetic ministry to which God called him (3:8-9). Ezekiel uses visions, prophecies, parables, signs and symbols to proclaim and dramatize the message of God to His exiled people.
Author – Date: If the “thirtieth year” (of 1:1), refers to Ezekiel’s age, he was 25 when taken captive and 30 when called into ministry. Thirty was the age when priests commenced their office, so it was a notable year for Ezekiel. His ministry began (in 593/592 B.C.), and extended at least 22 years until (571/570 B.C.; compare 25:17). He was a contemporary of both Jeremiah (who was about 20 years older), and Daniel (who was the same age), whom he names (in 14:14, 20; 28:3), as an already well known prophet. Like Jeremiah (Jer. 1:1), and Zechariah (compare Zech. 1:1 with Neh. 12:16), Ezekiel was both a prophet and a priest (1:3). Because of his priestly background, he was particularly interested in and familiar with the temple details; so God used him to write much about them (8:1-11:25; 40:1-47:12).
Ezekiel and his wife (who is mentioned in 24:15-27), were among 10,000 Jews taken captive to Babylon (in 597 B.C.; 2 Kings 24:11-18). They lived in Tel-abib (3:15), on the bank of the Chebar River, probably southeast of Babylon. Ezekiel writes of his wife’s death in exile (Ezek. 24:18), but the book does not mention Ezekiel’s death, which rabbinical tradition suggests occurred at the hands of an Israelite prince whose idolatry he rebuked (around 560 B.C.).
The author received his call to prophesy (in 593 B.C.; 1:2), in Babylon (“the land of the Chaldeans”), during the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, which began (in 597 B.C.). Frequently, Ezekiel dates his prophecies (from 597 B.C.; 8:1; 20:1; 24:1; 26:1; 29:1; 30:20; 31:1; 32:1, 17; 33:21; 40:1). He also dates the message (in 40:1 as 573/572, the 14th year after 586 B.C.), i.e., Jerusalem’s final fall. The last dated utterance of Ezekiel (was in 571/570 B.C.; 29:17).
Almost all of Ezekiel’s prophecies are in chronological order and are precisely dated (1:2; 8:1; 20:1; 24:1). The commencement of his ministry is said to be “in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity” (1:1-2; or 593 B.C.). The expression “in the thirtieth year” (1:1), probably refers to Ezekiel’s age when he began to prophesy, which, in this case, was the same age at which priests became qualified to serve (Num. 4:3). The latest dated prophecy in the book was given “in the seven and twentieth year, in the first month, in the first day of the month” (29:17). The twenty-seventh year should be dated to Jehoiachin’s exile (as in 1:2), which would terminate Ezekiel’s ministry (in 571 B.C., at age 52), or a total of 22 years.
Background – Setting: From the historical perspective, Israel’s united kingdom lasted more than 110 years (ca. 1043-931 B.C.), through the reigns of Saul, David and Solomon. Then the divided kingdom, Israel (north), and Judah (south), extended from (931 B.C. to 722/721 B.C.). Israel fell to Assyria (in 722/721 B.C.), leaving Judah, the surviving kingdom for 135 years, which fell to Babylon (in 605-586 B.C.).
From the more immediate setting, several features were strategic. Politically, Assyria’s vaunted military might crumbled after 626 B.C., and the capital, Nineveh, was destroyed (in 612 B.C.), by the Babylonians and Medes (compare Nahum). The neo-Babylonian empire had flexed its muscles since Nabopolassar took the throne (in 625 B.C.), and Egypt, under Pharaoh Necho II, was determined to conquer what he could. Babylon smashed Assyria (in 612-605 B.C.), and registered a decisive victory against Egypt (in 605 B.C.), at Carchemish, leaving, according to the Babylonian Chronicle, no survivors. Also in 605 B.C., Babylon, led by Nebuchadnezzar, began the conquest of Jerusalem and the deportation of captives, among them Daniel (Dan. 1:2). In (Dec. 598 B.C.), he again besieged Jerusalem (and on Mar. 16, 597 B.C.), took possession. This time, he took captive Jehoiachin and a group of 10,000, including Ezekiel (2 Kings 24:11-18). The final destruction of Jerusalem and the conquest of Judah, including the third deportation (came in 586 B.C.).
Religiously, King Josiah (ca. 640/609 B.C.), had instituted reforms in Judah (compare 2 Chron. chapter 34). Tragically, despite his effort, idolatry had so dulled the Judeans that their awakening was only “skin deep” overall. The Egyptian army killed Josiah as it crossed Palestine (in 609 B.C.), and the Jews plunged on in sin toward judgment under Jehoahaz (609 B.C.), Jehoiakim [Eliakim] (609-598 B.C.), Jehoiachin (598-597 B.C.), and Zedekiah (597-586 B.C.).
Domestically, Ezekiel and the 10,000 lived in exile in Babylonia (2 Kings 24:14), more as colonists than captives, being permitted to farm tracts of land under somewhat favorable conditions (Jeremiah chapter 29). Ezekiel even had his own house (3:24; 20:1).
Prophetically, false prophets deceived the exiles with assurances of a speedy return to Judah (13:3, 16; Jer. 29:1). From (593-585 B.C.), Ezekiel warned that their beloved Jerusalem would be destroyed and their exile prolonged, so there was no hope of immediate return. (In 585 B.C.), an escapee from Jerusalem, who had evaded the Babylonians, reached Ezekiel with the first news that the city had fallen (in 586 B.C.), about 6 months earlier (33:21). That dashed the false hopes of any immediate deliverance for the exiles, so the remainder of Ezekiel’s prophies related to Israel’s future restoration to its homeland and the final blessings of the messianic kingdom.
Historical – Theological Themes: The “glory of the Lord” is central to Ezekiel, appearing in 1:28; 3:12, 23; 10:4, 18; 11:23; 43:4-5; 44:4). The book includes graphic descriptions of the disobedience of Israel and Judah, despite God’s kindness (chapter 23, compare chapter 16). It shows God’s desire for Israel to bear fruit which He can bless, however, selfish indulgence had left Judah ready for judgment, like a torched vine (chapter 15). References are plentiful to Israel’s idolatry and its consequences, such as Pelatiah dropping dead (11:13), a symbolic illustration of overall disaster for the people.
Many picturesque scenes illustrate spiritual principles. Among these are Ezekiel eating a scroll (chapter 2); the faces on 4 angels representing aspects of creation over which God rules (1:10); a “barbershop” scene (5:1-4); graffiti on temple walls reminding readers of what God really wants in His dwelling place, namely holiness and not ugliness (8:10); and sprinkled hot coals depicting judgment (10:2, 7).
Chief among the theological themes are God’s holiness and sovereignty. These are conveyed by frequent contrast of His bright glory against the despicable backdrop of Judah’s sins (1:26-28; often in chapters 8-11; and 43:1-7). Closely related is God’s purpose of glorious triumph so that all may “know that I am the LORD”. This divine monogram, God’s signature authenticating His acts, is mentioned more than 60 times, usually with a judgment (6:7; 7:4), but occasionally after the promised restoration (34:27; 36:11, 38; 39:28).
Another feature involves God’s angels carrying out His program behind the scenes (1:5-25; 10:1-22). A further important theme is God’s holding each individual accountable for pursuing righteousness (18:3-32).
Ezekiel also stresses sinfulness in Israel (2:3-7; 8:9-10), and other nations (throughout chapters 25-32). He deals with the necessity of God’s wrath to deal with sin (7:1-8; 15:8); God’s frustration of man’s devices to escape from besieged Jerusalem (12:1-13; compare Jer. 39:4-7); and God’s grace pledged in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:1-3), being fulfilled by restoring Abraham’s people to the land of the covenant (chapters 34, 36 to 48; compare Gen. 12:7). God promises to preserve a remnant of Israelites through whom He will fulfill His restoration promises and keep His inviolate rod.
Interpretation – Purpose: The backgrounds of the books of Daniel and Ezekiel are quite similar. Daniel was taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (in 605 B.C.), during the reign of Jehoiakim (Dan. 1:1), At first, Jehoiakim supported Nebuchadnezzar, but (in 601 B.C.), he changed allegiance to Egypt (2 Kings 24:1). As a result, Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem and captured it (in March 597 B.C.). Jehoiakim had already died in disgrace and been succeeded by his son Jehoiachin. The latter, feeling that matters were quite hopeless, surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar and was taken captive to Babylon along with Ezekiel and a total of 10,000 of the leaders and skilled craftsmen (2 Kings. 24:8-17; Jer. 22:24-30; Ezek. 19:5-9). Thus, all of Ezekiel’s ministry, except for visionary glimpses of life in Jerusalem, took place in Babylon Since Ezekiel prophesied both before and after the destruction of Jerusalem during Nebuchadnezzar’s third campaign (586 B.C.). His early prophecies emphasize the impending disaster; his later prophecies stress Israel’s future restoration, especially their glorious new temple.
The purpose of the book is essentially threefold:
(1) To explain that Judah must be judged for disobedience;
(2) To encourage the remnant of Judah through prophecies of her glorious future restoration;
(3) To emphasize the preeminence of God’s glory and character. The Glory of God may well be viewed as the theme of the book, because Ezekiel’s ministry begins with a vision of God’s glory and emphasizes it throughout the book (1:28; 3:12, 23; 8:4). Upwards of 75 times God expresses His own concerns in the book as “for my name’s sake” or that “ye shall know that I am the Lord”. All of God’s actions, either in judgment or blessing, emanate equally from His holiness and for His glory.