The Message and Themes of the Prophets

INTRODUCTION

            This paper gives a summary of the major themes or messages of the prophets in the Old Testament canon of scriptures. It begins with Joel, the prophet whose date is unknown. It estimates reasonably as ranging as three hundred years during Joash’s reign. This makes him the earliest of the prophets whose writings are preserved in the bible at around 830 BC. After his era, forty or fifty years comes Jonah’s warning to Nineveh. This immediately follows four important prophets spreading out over a period of about sixty years: Amos and Hosea to the Northern kingdom of Israel, and their contemporaries Isaiah and Micah to the Southern kingdom of Judah. After more than fifty years as these ministries come to end, around 640 BC come another five prophets leading up to fall of Jerusalem. Nathan prophesied Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, who conquered Israel. Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk prophesied to the Southern kingdom and Obadiah prophesied to the neighboring Edom. After the first group of exiles is sent to Babylon before the fall of Jerusalem, Ezekiel and Daniel began to prophesy to their contemporaries there. Finally, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi prophesied to the remnant of Judah that returned to the land to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple.

MESSAGE/ THEME OF THE PROPHETS

JOEL

“Even now”, declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” – Joel 2:12[1]

The prophet Joel addresses the southern kingdom of Judah to repent from its idolatrous sinful activities and to return to the Lord through fasting, weeping, and mourning. He uses the plague of locusts as an analogy for the pending day of the Lord. A warning signaling devastation is encapsulated and repentance is the stipulation to stop God’s judgment on Judah. The prophecy signals blessing to those who obey the Lord and signals destruction or curses to those who disobey the Lord’s commandments. Part of this prophecy was fulfilled during the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles. Yamauchi states that the event in Joel relating to this pending day is a day that begins with judgment and leads to restoration which signifies a time when the Lord supernaturally intervenes in the course of human history. It begins with divine judgment on wickedness and can lead to glorious restoration.[2] The visitation of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost is God supernaturally intervening in the course of human history in which the church (body of believers) becomes the actualization and fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel. It indicates glorious restoration of the unregenerate person who does not know Christ as Lord and Savior. It takes the Holy Spirit to bring about this new life birthed through God’s working.

JONAH

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened – Jonah 3:10[3]

            God spoke through Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh concerning the coming judgment on this city. Jonah having been commanded to go to this city to preach refused to do so. The prophet’s act of disobedience led him to be swallowed by a big fish. The fish became a vehicle to take Jonah to the city of Nineveh. At the preaching of Jonah, the people repented and turn to the Lord; consequently, the Lord did not bring the judgment on the people of Nineveh. The message is the warning to Nineveh which indicates that God is unlimited by geography and he can use circumstances to achieve his desire. It indicates the universal love God has for humanity and not just the Hebrews race. Yamauchi comments that the book of Jonah exhorts the Israelites to disassociate themselves from a narrow nationalism, which included other peoples, and to be mindful of their calling to bless all families of the earth (Gen. 12:3) and to be a light to the Gentile world (Isa. 42:6).[4] The people of Nineveh being excluded from the community of covenant did not exclude them from the love that God has for the entire humanity. God only use the children of Israel to enact the covenant so that through them the Gentile world would become beneficiaries to covenantal promises.

AMOS

“Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria” -Amos 6:1a[5]

Amos addresses Israel concerning its sinful activities and asks Israel to return to their God. He condemns immorality and warns of the coming judgment of the Lord. He appeals to Israel to return to the Lord and obtain mercy. He reminds Israel characteristically concerning God’s attribute of being holy. Yamauchi writes, “Amos’s cry for justice arose from his recognition of the very nature of God and His relationship to the world. Yahweh is the God of all nations, He has had a hand in all their destinies, and he holds them all equally responsible for their sins.”[6]

HOSEA

“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? […] My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused” – Hosea 11:8

Hosea addresses Israel for God’s unshakable nature of love and compassion in the face of constant unfaithfulness on the part of his loved people. He conveys God’s displeasure at the failures of his people and also addresses his sadness and weariness. The prophet’s life was a parable of his message. He married a prostitute who was unfaithful to him, but he maintained his relationship with Gomer despite of her prostitution and infidelity. Yamauchi states that Hosea uses many images to communicate his message to Israel. He referred to God has a jealous husband, a frustrated shepherd, a destructive moth and an undesired rot, a ferocious lion, and trapper. On the other hand, God is also depicted as a forgiving husband, a healing physician, the resuscitating rains, a loving parent, a protecting lion, a life-giving dew, and fertile pin tree.[7]

ISAIAH

“To whom will you compare me, or who is my equal?” says the Holy One – Isaiah 40:25

Isaiah addresses Israel topical of God’s holiness, warning of coming judgment, call to renunciation of sinful acts, vision of immanent benediction, messianic prediction, and the servant songs. Yamauchi states that Isaiah based his accusations and warning of coming judgment against the nation Israel on the Mosaic Law (Exod. 24:1-8; 34: 10-28; Leviticus 26; Deut. 29:1-32:47).[8]

MICAH

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” – Micah 6:8[9]

Micah predicts judgment on Judah. He predicts this judgment not just because of the people have turned from their God, but also of moral results or outcomes of their apostasy. He lays emphasis on the need for ethical behavior in secular lifestyle as well as religious purity. Yamauchi states that Micah was concerned with Judah’s sin which called for divine judgment. His response on the part of God’s prophet was in harmony with Israel covenant relationship with the Lord who promised a divine judgment on their sin (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28).[10]

NAHUM

The Lord has given a command concerning you, Nineveh. “You will have no descendants to bear your name.” – Nahum 1:14[11]

Nahum gives a final prediction of the coming destruction of Nineveh with no precondition as the stipulation for avoidance of the fate of Nineveh. Unlike Jonah’s message, it was a message of warning to bring about repentance. Nahum’s message is final and a statement of what will surely occur than a warning of fate that can be avoided.

Yamauchi states that the book of Nahum is devoted exclusively to the announcement of the destruction of the city of Nineveh. The prophecy gave hope to the people of Judah who had long been terrorized by Assyria’s constant and ominous threat.[12]

ZEPHANIAH

“The great day of the Lord is near – near and coming quickly” – Zephaniah 1:14[13]

The prophet warns Judah of the coming Day of the Lord emphasizing that Judah will not be exempted from the judgment due to the surrounding nations as the result of its history. God’s people must seek him for themselves and must refuse to depend on their ancestors’ relationship. He predicts the survival of a faithful remnant when God’s judgment falls on Jerusalem.

JEREMIAH

“O house of Israel, can I not do with you as the potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” – Jeremiah 18:6

The prophet Jeremiah covers the transition of the last days of the kingdom into the exile. He warns Judah to repent; unfortunately, the warnings are unheeded and Jerusalem falls. He predicts future restoration after seventy years of exile and he warns the remaining Judaeans not to go to Egypt. He understands God’s will, his acceptance of it, and his willingness to persist with the unappreciated ministry to which God has called him. Yamauchi comments that the message of Jeremiah is largely one of the judgment and punishment for the nation Judah.[14]

HABAKKUK

“Though it linger, wait for it. It will certainly come, and will not delay” – Habakkuk 2:3b[15]

The book takes the form of a dialogue: Habakkuk asks God why he allows injustice to continue in Judah. When God replies that he will end it by means of the Babylonians, he asks God how he can use those even more unrighteous as agents of judgment. God replies that all wickedness will surely be judged at the proper time. Habakkuk concludes that he can rejoice in God whatever the circumstances. This statement is embodied in the statement “The just shall live by faith” mentioned in the book of Habakkuk.

OBADIAH

“Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down”, declares the Lord – Obadiah 4[16]

A message of woe to Edom, a neighboring country which took advantage of Judah’s disarray after the Babylonian triumph to raid weakened villages. Edom was descended from Esau, the brother of Jacob (Israel), and had always been a thorn in the Hebrews’ sides. Obadiah denounces their pride and security in their mountain strongholds, predicting a total annihilation of the Edomite nation. Yamauchi asserts that the prominent theme in Obadiah is the justice of God.  Since the Lord is holy, he would not allow Edom to go unpunished and he must execute appropriate judgment on this nation.[17]

EZEKIEL

“I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory” – Ezekiel 43:2

Ezekiel prophesied to the children of Israel in exile concerning the final destruction of Jerusalem and judgment that will be accompanied by sin. After this point, theme is that restoration will follow. Its message is centered on the glory of God. Yamauchi states that with final glorious vision of the return of the glory of the Lord the book of Ezekiel reaches its climax.[18] The book is punctuated by complicated, confusing and occasionally terrifying visions and symbolic actions.

DANIEL

“[…] the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth – Daniel 2:35b”[19]

The book of Daniel begins with several chapters of history and stories about Daniel and his contemporaries’ exemplary faith in extremely hostile circumstances. The remainder of the book is a series of highly figurative prophecies concerning the rise and fall of subsequent empires, and the eventual end to all things. Throughout, the emphasis is on the sovereignty of God. Yamauchi states the book of Daniel makes clear that the central theme and overarching purpose of the book is the recognition and celebration of the sovereignty of the God of Israel.[20]

HAGGAI

“Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while [God’s] house remains in ruins?” – Haggai 1:4[21]

Haggai, the prophet speaks to the returned Israelites to rebuild the temple instead of only prioritizing their dwelling places. The book is amalgamation of history and prophecy. Yamauchi comments the single-minded of all the prophets pursued one controlling theme – the significance of the temple of the Lord and the need for the people to get at the task of rebuilding it as a symbol of both the Lord’s immediate presence among them and of his promise to be their God and dwell among them in the ages to come.[22]

ZECHARIAH

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit”, says the Lord Almighty – Zechariah 4:6b[23]

The prophet’s message to the remnant contains a rich brew of visionary and apocalyptic imagery some of which is extremely difficult to comprehend and to interpret. The early part of the book is centered on rebuilding the temple and later part is a glimpse into the New Covenant future. Zechariah is a contemporary of Haggai on some aspect of his message, but done in style completely different. Yamauchi comments that Zechariah directed his gaze more to the future, speaking of a day when the feeble structure of the present will give way to God’s glorious kingdom in which Israel will once more play a central role.[24]

MALACHI

“Return to me and I will return to you”, says the Lord – Malachi 3:7b[25]

The prophet addresses the remnant of Israel dealing with apathy. The temple worship is being observed half-heartedly fashion. He places emphasis on what God desires we offer not just the least we can get away with in less recognition of him. Yamauchi states that the theology of Malachi oscillates between the historical reality of Israel’s sinfulness, even as a chastened postexilic people, and God’s elective grace that makes provision for their repentance and ultimate restoration as the pure covenant people he had called them to be.[26] [1]

References:

Yamauchi Edwin. The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament, B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee, 2011.


[1]Joel 2:12.

[2]Edwin Yamauchi, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament, B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee, 2011, 426-427.

[3]Jonah 3:10.

[4]Ibid, pp. 445.

[5]Amos 6:1a.

[6]Ibid, pp. 430.

[7]Ibid, pp. 246.

[8]Ibid, pp. 375.

[9]Micah 6:8.

[10]Ibid, pp. 457.

[11]Nahum 1:14.

[12]Ibid, pp. 460.

[13]Zephaniah 1:14.

[14]Ibid, pp. 385.

[15]Habakkuk 2:3b.

[16]Obadiah 4.

[17]Ibid, pp. 443.

[18]Ibid, pp. 402.

[19]Daniel 2:35 b.

[20]Ibid, pp. 412.

[21]Haggai 1:4.

[22]Ibid, pp. 481.

[23]Zechariah 4:6.

[24]Ibid, pp. 488.

[25]Malachi 3:7b.

[26]Ibid, pp. 493.