I realize that it has been some time since I wrote a blog post on my journey of reading the Bible in one year. In my last blog post of March 1, 2021, I had completed the Torah, which, if you haven’t read it, you can do so here.
Now I have completed reading the Hebrew Bible/Older Testament. As I reflect on my commitment to this project, which I continue to find challenging some days, regarding the time factor, my thoughts turn to the prophets and the prophetic books. The following are a few brief reflections on them.
The difficult ministries of the Prophets
God called most of the prophets into difficult ministries, which meant that they did not win any popularity contests! God’s people often failed to listen to their messages, rejecting them personally and their messages, ridiculed them, persecuted them, arrested them, and, as in the case of Jeremiah, even threatened to kill them. The lives of God’s prophets were not easy, often lonely, and extremely challenging physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually.
Symbolic Prophetic actions
The prophets, so they believed, were called by God to do some rather weird, and difficult symbolic prophetic actions. For example, in the case of Isaiah (see chapter 20) God called him to go naked and barefoot for three years. Jeremiah was told by God to wear a yoke (chapter 27:2), and the prophet Hananiah took it from Jeremiah and broke it as a sign that the oppressive yoke of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar would be removed from all nations within two years (chapter 28:10-11), and Jeremiah’s oracle regarding an iron yoke, in opposition to Hananiah’s words and action (chapter 28:12ff). God told Ezekiel to lie on his left side for 390 days symbolizing the number of years of Israel’s punishment; and then Ezekiel was to lie on his right side 40 days symbolizing the number of years of Judah’s punishment. Hosea was instructed by God to marry a prostitute symbolizing the unfaithfulness of God’s people. He was also instructed to name a daughter Lo-ruhamah, meaning Not pitied, and a son Lo-ammi, meaning Not my people. Jonah was called by God—fleeing, resisting, kicking and screaming all the way!—to go to the capital city of the enemy, Nineveh, which had inflicted so much suffering on God’s people to preach to them.
Preaching difficult messages
Speaking of preaching, many of the prophets were given God’s messages that God’s people did not want to hear, let alone obey. God called on the prophets to preach messages of repentance, judgement and punishment for violating God’s ways, condemnation of idolatry (a constant sin in the Hebrew Bible), confrontation of unethical merchants with their false weights and measures cheating the poor, criticism of self-indulgent priests and political leaders who thought God would be pleased with their worship, even though they neglected to care for widows, orphans and resident aliens. The prophets were strong advocates of justice, which is linked to keeping God’s covenant and commandments. Violation of the covenant and commandments proved disastrous as the prophets warned—e.g., the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, destruction of the Jerusalem temple, and famines in the land.
The Day of the LORD
The prophets proclaim a day of the LORD. It is a day of darkness and to be dreaded. It refers to disastrous cataclysmic events, God’s enemies will be punished; see Joel 2:1-2; Amos 5:18-20; and Zechariah 1:14-15. However, there are also more hopeful, and blessed references that to the day of the LORD; see Isaiah 4:2-6; 25:6-10; 30:26; Hosea 2:18-23; Joel 2:28-32; Amos 9:11-15; Zechariah 14:6-11.
In addition to the prophets being messengers of “bad news,” they were also blessed by God with “good news.” For example, Isaiah speaks of the wonderful beautiful vision of perfect Shalom in chapters 2 and 11. Jeremiah purchased a plot of land as a sign of hope that God’s people would eventually return from exile to the promised land. Jeremiah also spoke of a new covenant in chapter 31, highlighting the importance of forgiveness. Isaiah 7:14 has been interpreted by Christians as a reference to the birth of Jesus the Messiah, as well as Micah 5:2. Isaiah 52-53 refer to the Suffering Servant, whom Christians interpret as Jesus. There are also references in the prophets to Jerusalem as the capital of the world, when all nations shall live in peace.