Let me repeat what I said at the outset of this thread in order to explain where it’s going now.
A couple of weeks ago I decided I wanted to give a couple of posts on the differences between the understandings of “salvation” in Jesus and Paul; then I realized to explain either one I would have to go over the basic ideas of Jewish apocalypticism; then it occurred to me that it would be useful to address the historical roots and development of apocalypticism; then I realized I couldn’t really do that without talking about the classical prophets of the Old Testament (Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.). But then it occurred to me that to do that I’d have to explain what “prophecy” even was in the OT, before the classical prophets.
I’ve seen this as an important discussion, since most Christian readers assume that the prophets of the Bible were mainly interested in predicting the coming of Jesus, or at least the coming of some kind of messiah who would save the people by suffering for them. In fact, that’s not the case. These are not views you find when you actually read these texts in their own context.
And so my most recent posts have been talking about the views found in the prophets, and I took Isaiah to be representative. Each prophet is different of course, because they are all addressing radically different situations – a prophet speaking to the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BCE, expecting an invasion by the armies of Assyria, will have different issues on his mind than a prophet of Judea (the southern kingdom) two hundred years later writing from exile in Babylon, hoping that the nation can return and start again.
Even so, the prophets of the Hebrew Bible do have major similarities. Here is a brief list. Read any of them – Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, take your pick. This is what they have in common.
- The prophets are presented as spokespersons of God, who were intervening in the affairs of the nation of Israel or Judah when things were not going well.
- The prophets are particularly concerned about social and religious transgressions of the people (Some, such as Amos, are more concerned about social issues; others, such as Hosea, are focused more on religious issues—the proper worship of Yahweh).
- The prophets do make predictions, but they are not predicting events that will transpire hundreds or thousands of years after their day. They are speaking to their own situations and must be rooted in their own historical contexts. Their predictions are about what God will do to the people if they do not return to him and behave as he requires, or about what he will do now that he has punished them for their disobedience.
- When they do talk about a coming descendant of David, they are referring to someone to appear soon, in their day, to assume the kingship once more.
- The suffering of the nation rests in the hands of God. Yes, people can and do act in ways harmful to others (that’s a big part of the problem). But the demise of the nation itself will come because of the act of God. He is the one who brings drought, famine, epidemic, economic hardship, and military disaster. If the nation is faithful to God, it will be rewarded. If not, it will be harshly punished.
- God is not simply the God of his people. He is the sovereign Lord of the entire earth, and all the other nations do his bidding. He is the creator of all, and he uses all nations to perform his will.