Continuing a series on the Bible's summary:
Part 9: In 587 BC, the Babylonian armies once again marched across the now-destroyed “Northern Kingdom” of Israel, and what was left of the “Southern Kingdom” of Judah, completely looting and leveling everything in their path, including Solomon’s great Temple in Jerusalem. A vast majority of the Hebrews they encountered where either put to the sword or carried off as slaves into exile in Babylon. In other words, the Israelites were now enslaved and in exile in what is present-day Iraq.
Why? Why did God let this happen? It could be said that history does indeed repeat itself, especially for those who fail to learn from it. Recall the great enslavement of the people in Egypt and the great event of the Old Testament: The Exodus from Egypt, where God leads his people out of the chains of slavery into a new land, with the understanding that they were to honor and glorify God and God alone. Sadly, honoring God rarely happened.
Conditions throughout the kingdoms were horrific. Morality had crumbled and society was in chaos. The people by-and-large were morally and spiritually bankrupt as they engaged in open prostitution even within the temple, and filled the temple with shrines to all manner of false gods. Its leaders were fiscally irresponsible, enslaving their own people and letting greed run as the center of their existence. Taxation was through the roof. Leaders only looked out for themselves (this includes the majority of the kings), and were as morally and spiritually bankrupt as the people. As the end of Judges testifies, people were doing as they saw fit, not as God had commanded them. God’s Word meant very little in those times. The laws that Israel had to honor God by honoring their neighbor had long disappeared. Prosperity had completely ruined them, and as a result, they had forsaken God who had given them this prosperity in the first place. As a political note: if you change a few names, dates, and place locations, are we describing our own country?
Therefore, because Israel had forsaken God, who had granted them the prosperity they once enjoyed, God now threatened through a small remnant of faithful followers (the prophets) that disaster would fall on them if they did not return to their Lord and God and forsake the many sinful, selfish ways that God deemed destructive to them and the common good. Warnings were issued for dozens, even hundreds of years, that went unheeded.
The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles essentially retell the story of the kings, but this time for a remnant of God’s people now in exile that would be restored. If God had something to say before the exile, did God also have something to say even now to those who were in exile? Was God still interested in them? The answer is a resounding “yes.” Israel needed to recall what had gotten them into this new slavery and this new mess in the first place: they themselves did.
Continuity with the past was perhaps the best way they could prevent the same thing from happening once more. And of course, during this whole period of time, the prophets - those elusive, sometimes reclusive, often reluctant but faithful messengers of God, were not only warning them of disaster, but also reminding them that God’s covenant with Abraham was not fulfilled yet. While their “predictions” of disaster did indeed come to be fulfilled, would their words of comfort and encouragement regarding the restoration of Israel and a coming Savior from God also be fulfilled?
Part 10: The Kingdom has been destroyed. Its’ buildings lie in ruins. The Temple has been leveled. Its’ people have been carried off into exile in Babylon, and it seems they are right back where they started - in slavery and bondage. So what happened to God’s promise to Abraham? Enter the prophets!
There are numerous books of prophesy in the Old Testament. They are divided into “major” and “minor” prophets. These correspond largely to the size of the books. Therefore, the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel are considered “major,” while the majority of the prophets (Hosea through Malachi) are considered “minor.” Other prophets also existed that do not have their words recorded in the Bible, such as Elijah, who was a prophet of God in the early years of the kings. Nearly half (17 of 39) books of the Old Testamant are books attributed to these elusive messengers of God.
What is a prophet? It is someone, called by God, to deliver a message to God’s people. A prophet’s primary mission for God is not to predict the future, but to deliver the message. God’s prophets had a universal message that recurred over and over. It is not unlike the message we saw throughout the history books telling us of the kings: the people had rebelled against and turned away from God, and needed to renew their commitment to the LORD. Spiritually, the people were terminally sick. Morally, the people were bankrupt. Socially, however, things never appeared better, despite the lies, deception, corruption, and greed on a national level.
As God’s messenger, first and foremost, what is often associated with the prophet’s words is a statement such as “thus says the Lord...” (Jeremiah 2:2 and elsewhere). Though the prophets spoke for God, their message was often ignored. So how then, one might ask, does a person know if the prophet’s message is for real? It can be measured on whether or not it conforms to the past history, and on whether or not its message comes true.
In the case of the Biblical prophets, they really weren’t telling the people anything new that they had not heard before. If we recall the covenant God made on Mount Sinai (the 10 Commandments), there were certain stipulations that went along with it. The prophets were simply reminding the people and the leaders of those stipulations, and warning them that the disasters foretold for them disobeying the covenant would take place soon if they did not change their ways (Deut. 27:15-26).
However, the prophets, in addition to warning the people of impending disaster according to the conditions of the Sinai Covenant, also foretold of a “restoration” after disaster hit, that would also be brought about by God. The “restoration” prophesies all center on a future “Messiah” or “Savior” that was yet to come. Some of these prophetic words are even affirmed when we read the four Gospels, especially in the Gospel of St. Matthew. For example, Isaiah 7:14, which says “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son...” is confirmed to be fulfilled in Jesus when we read Matthew 1:23. So even though the disaster scenario of the Israelites disobeying their part of the covenant was going to happen, God wasn’t done yet, and had additional plans for not only Israel but also the whole world, Isaiah 11:10, 12 and elsewhere.
Though Israel was God’s chosen, eventually all peoples are chosen by God to live in covenant with Him through the examples both good and bad given us by the Hebrew people. The foretold Messiah is to be the fulfillment of this future hope. Today, we know this Messiah as Jesus.
Author's note: This was originally a series written for a bulletin insert, and is continuing to be adapted as a Confirmation curriculum Bible overview. The whole series is available by contacting me. Past blog
installments can be found here: