I have started to discuss the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, in large part to correct widespread misunderstandings of what they were doing and what their books were about, and in part to emphasize just how interesting and important they are. These are Israelite teachers who believe that God was delivering a message through them to the crises they were facing in their time.
To understand their message, we have to know what the particular crises were – there were many different ones confronted by different prophets, and each had a message to deliver in the face of the one he was addressing.
Even so, there is a broad consistency among the messages you will find in the prophets – though it is not at all what most people tend to think. These prophets were not anticipating a messiah to come hundreds of years later or a cataclysmic end of the world to come thousands of years later. They were talking about their own situations and what God wanted to be done – and what would happen if Israelites did not heed their message. Short answer: It won’t be good.
I will take a couple of posts to illustrate how prophecy worked in the Hebrew Bible by dealing here with Isaiah, who is probably the most famous prophet of all. Since understanding what he has to say is completely dependent on the situation he was addressing, the first step in discussing his proclamation is to set it in his precise historical context. This and my subsequent posts on Isaiah will be taken from my discussions in The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction (Oxford Univesity Press).
One of the earliest of our “classical” (that is, writing) prophets is Isaiah of Jerusalem, from the 8th century BCE. The book of Isaiah begins, in typical prophetic fashion, by
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