Prophets, Israel’s Conscience

Prophets, Israel’s Conscience

Prophets were those who spoke for God. They were mediators and interpreters of the divine mind and will. Prophecy was not the forecasting of the future, but rather preaching and teaching to the people, especially during times of apostasy. The term “diviner” is never used in the Bible of an authentic spokesman for God.

“A prophet like me will the LORD raise up …. and I shall put my words into his mouth” (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18). Moses, Aaron, and Miriam were recognized as prophets by later Old Testament writers. Samuel was considered both priest and prophet (I Samuel 3:20). Nathan rebuked David for his adulterous affair with Bathsheba (II Samuel 12:1-25).

The Unwritten Prophets

It was in the ninth century that the prophetic vocation became an inseparable art of Israelite culture. Elijah, whose influence is illustrated in the fact that he is mentioned thirty times in the New Testament (Gk. Elias), was the conscience of the nation and King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  He is also mentioned by the post exilic prophet Malachi as the forerunner of God in the final judgment (Malachi 4:5).

During the prosperous reigns of Omri and Ahab, the poor were victimized by the rich. In addition to the Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, introduced the worship of Baal and Asherah Tyrian gods. A contest was held between Elijah and the false prophets on Mount Carmel with an interesting outcome (I Kings 18). The seizure of Naboth’s vineyard resulted in Elijah’s condemnation of Ahab to death and that “the dogs shall devour Jezebel” (I Kings 21). The Elijah cycle of stories ends with his being taken to heaven in a fiery chariot. He is succeeded by Elisha (II Kings 2-8).

“Classical” Prophets

These books are collections of their preaching and teaching which was edited by others. Amos, Hosea, Micah and Isaiah were eighth century prophets who called for social justice and a return to Yahwism.

Amos and Hosea were the last voices heard in the Northern Kingdom. Israel had been a classless society, but social stratification was increasing. The needy were sold for a pair of shoes (Amos 2:6; 8:6)...and merchants falsified their weights and resented the Sabbath which require them to close their shops (Amos 8:5). Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BCE.

Micah, a rural prophet, Isaiah, a royal court prophet in Jerusalem and the rest of the prophets ministered to Judah the Southern Kingdom. Isaiah, the principal prophet of this period, is credited with a book of 66 chapters.  However chapters 40-55 (deuteron) and 56-66 (trito) date from the exile and post exilic times.

First Isaiah (1-40, the greatest of all prophets, preached during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (abaout 50 years). In the opening chapter he denounces both Israel and Judah for their sinfulness, “Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me.”

This is followed by his announcing the coming Messianic age. Chapter 6 tells of his call. Next we have the Immanuel prophecies that are quoted in the New Testament (6-12). He addresses the pagan nations with a message of judgment. The section ends with God’s sparing the nation from the Assyrians.

Micah cries out against the social evils of the people and denounced the sinfulness of the leadership.

The Seventh Century Reforms

Judah, what was left of David’s great kingdom, existed as a vassal of the great kingdoms of Assyria and later Babylon. It saw the north destroyed and its leadership exiled. The astral God’s of Assyria were added to temple worship under Manasseh (II Kings 21).

Zephaniah proclaimed the day of Yahweh is near. He warned the people to seek righteousness to avoid the day of wrath. His preaching may have spurred Josiah (640-609) to bring about massive reforms that took place with the finding of the lost book of the law (II Kings 22-23).

Nahum was primarily concerned with Assyria and its impending end. His prophetic role was to anticipate the fall of Nineveh in 612 BCE.

Habakkuk prophesied at a point when Judah was a vassal state to Egypt. However Egypt was defeated and it came under Babylon control. He expresses concern at what appears to him to be God’s lack of control of the evil in the world.

Prophets at the End of Judah

Jeremiah’s ministry began during Josiah’s reform (his call, chapter 1). However it was not long before the nation lapsed into its former sinfulness. In his temple sermon he calls for repentance or the temple would be destroyed (chapter 7). He was barred from the temple, imprisoned, cast in a pit, and suffered much persecution. He prophesied of a new covenant to come (31:31-34). He and his secretary, Baruch, saw the fall of Jerusalem (586) and fled to

Prophets of the Exile

Lamentations by an unknown author meditates on the fall of Jerusalem. Each of the five chapters is a separate poem expressing anguish and grief.

Exzekiel with symbols, allegories, and repetitions is difficult to understand. It has
four main divisions.
     1) the doom of Jerusalem (1-24)
     2) the fate of foreign nations (25-32)
     3) restoration and hope (33-39)
     4) the new temple and the restored community (40-48)
Important highlights: the valley of the dry bones (37:1-14); Gog and Magog oracles (chapters 38-39).

Deutero Isaiah, the book of consolation represents true monotheism by denying the existence of other goods. The four servant poems are very important (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). The fourth poem is read on Good Friday.

Post Exile Prophets

Trito-Isaiah, the last part of the book of that name, is a miscellaneous collection of oracles by different authors. The temple and its sacrificial worship was ordained by God. It stresses the importance of prayer, fasting and the observance of the Sabbath.

Haggai and Zechariah, late sixth century prophets, inspired the temple rebuilding.  Haggai has four oracles. Zechariah presents his preaching (chapter 1-8).

Malachi (Messenger), an anonymous prophet, condemned a lax priesthood, marriages with pagans, and proclaimed the “day of the Lord.”

Obediah, the shortest Old Testament book, is a prophecy against Edom, a neighbor of Judah. Joel was written to bring hope to the people after suffering a disastrous plague of locusts. The legend of Jonah was written after the reforms of Ezra which stressed ethnic isolation. Jonah was sent to preach to the gentiles which he tried to avoid.

Growth of Apocalypticism

Daniel open with the legends of Daniel in the Babylonian court (1-6, followed by the apocalyptic visions (7-12). Deutero-Zec. is an apocalyptic work of the fourth century (9-14). The New Testament Book of Revelation is of this genre. Revelation and Daniel were used in the “Left Behind” series which was condemned by the Catholic
and most mainline churches as heresy.

"Prophets, Israel’s Conscience" is one of the pamphlets on the biblical foundations of the Catholic Church written May 2008 to Nov 2010 by Deacon Paul Carlson of Minneapolis, Minnesota's St Lawrence Catholic Church / Newman Center, a Paulist Foundation. (St Lawrence is the Catholic Church of Southeast Minneapolis and is right in the heart of "Dinkytown USA".)

This blog post is a memorial serialization of those pamphlets written by Deacon Paul Carlson at the request of than Pastor/Director Fr John J. Behnke, who asked Deacon Paul to write brief answers to questions University students often encountered as Catholics.

At couple of weeks before Deacon Paul's death, he said: "If there are any financial gains made from the blog serialization of my pamphlets, please have the money given to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers, because what they do is so important." If you can, send memorials to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers at 1203 Fifth Street, S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414. 

Remember Deacon Paul Carlson in your prayers, as well as all the other souls of the faithful departed, who have died in the grace of Jesus Christ.

No comments:

Post a Comment