By J. B. Tidell, A.M., D. D.
Prophet. In the study of the messages of the prophets we should understand that the meaning of the term prophets may be: (1) A person employed in the public utterance of religious discourse, very much as the preacher of today. This was the most common function of the prophet. Some were reformers while others were evangelists or revivalists. (2) One who performed the function of the scribes and wrote the history and biography and annals of their nations. In this capacity they compiled or wrote large portions of the books of the Old Testament. (3) One who was able to discern the future and foretell events which would transpire afterward.
The Prophetical Books. All take their name from the Prophets whose messages they bear. They are written largely in the poetic style and are usually divided into two divisions. (1) The major prophets which include Isaiah. Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel. (2) The minor prophets, including the other twelve. This division is based on the bulk of material in the books and is unscientific and misleading, since it suggests that some are more important than others. They are more appropriately divided according to their place in the prophetic order or the period of Israel's history when they prophesied, somewhat as follows: 1. _The Pre-exilic prophets_, or those who prophesied before the exile. These are, (1) Jonah, Amos and Hosea, prophets of Israel. (2) Obadiah, Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah, prophets of Judah. 2. The exilic prophets, Ezekiel and Daniel. 3. _The Post-exilic prophets_, prophets who prophesied after the captivity. All are of Judah and are Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
Jeremiah's ministry perhaps extended into the period of the captivity. There is great uncertainty about the chronology of Obadiah, Joel and Jonah. There is differences of opinion as to whether certain of the prophets belong to Judah or Israel. Micah is an example. The teacher will be able to give reasons for this difference.
The Study of the Prophets. The student should hold in mind that the prophet deals primarily with the moral and religious conditions of his own people at the time of his ministry. His denunciations, warnings and exhortations are, therefore, not abstract principles, but are local and for Israel. The prophet was then first of all a Jewish patriot and revivalist filled with the Holy Ghost and with zeal for Israel.
The predictive elements of the prophetic books must be interpreted in the light, (1) of a nearby or local fulfillment, such as of the dispersion and restoration, and (2) of a far off and greater fulfillment of which the first is only a forerunner, such as the advent of the Messiah and his glorious reign over the whole earth. The interpretation of prophecy should generally be in the literal, natural and unforced meaning of the words. The following passages will show how prophecy, already fulfilled, has been fulfilled literally and not allegorically. Gen. 15:13-16; 16:11-12; Dt. 28:62-67; Ps. 22:1, 7, 8, 15-18; Is. 7:14; 53:2-9; Hos. 3:4; Joel 2:28-29: Mic. 5:2; Acts 2:16- 18; Matt. 21:4-5; Lu. 1:20, 31; Acts 1:5; Matt. 2:4-6; Lu. 21:16.17, 24; Acts 21:10-11.
In a given book of prophecy, the book should be read carefully and all the different subjects treated, noted. This should be followed by a careful study to find what is said about the several topics already found. To illustrate, the prophet may mention himself, Jerusalem, Israel, Judah, Babylon or Egypt, etc. One should learn what is said of each. This will make necessary the student's learning all he can of the history of the different subjects mentioned that he may understand the prophecy about it.
The Prophet Isaiah. Several things are known of him. (1) He was called to his work the last year of the reign of Uzziah. (2) He lived at Jerusalem during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, and most of his life seems to have been spent as a sort of court preacher or chaplain to the king. (3) He is the most renowned of all the Old Testament prophets, his visions not being restricted to his own country and times. He spoke for all nations and for all times, being restricted to his own country and times. "He was a man of powerful intellect, great integrity and remarkable force of character." (4) He is quoted more in the New Testament than any of the other prophets and, because of the relation of his teaching to New Testament times and teachings, his prophesies have been called the "Bridge between the old and new covenants." (5) He married and had two sons.
The Nature of His Teachings. In his inaugural vision recorded in the sixth chapter Isaiah has impressed upon him some truths that shaped his whole career. He saw: (1) The holiness and majesty of God; (2) The corruption of those about him; (3) The certainty of awful judgment upon the wicked; (4) The blessing of those whose lives are approved of God; and (5) The salvation of a remnant that was to be the seed of a new Israel. With these truths burning in his soul he pressed the battle of righteousness into every sphere of life. He strove to regenerate the entire national life. He tried to make not only religious worship, but commerce and politics so pure that it could all become a service acceptable to God. He, therefore, became a religious teacher, preacher, social reformer, statesman and seer.
Conditions of Israel (The Northern Kingdom). Isaiah began to prophecy when it was outwardly rich and prosperous under the rule of Jereboam IL Inwardly it was very corrupt. It soon went to pieces, however (621 B. C.), being conquered and carried into captivity by the Assyrians.
Conditions of Judah (The Southern Kingdom). During the reigns of Ahaz, Jotham and Uzziah, oppression, wickedness and idolatry existed everywhere. Ahaz made an alliance with Assyria, which finally brought destruction to Israel, but Hezekiah listened to Isaiah and made reforms, and God destroyed the Assyrian army before Jerusalem was destroyed.
Nature of the Contents of the Book. The contents of the Book have been said to include: (1) Warnings and threats against his own people because of their sins. (2) Sketches of the history of his times. (3) Prophesies of the return of Israel from captivity. (4) Prophesies concerning the coming of the Messiah. (S) Predictions of the judgment of God on other nations. (6) Discourses that urge upon Israel moral and religious reformation. (7) Visions of the future glory and prosperity of the church. (8) Expressions of thanksgiving and praise.
The Center of Interest. The prophet deals primarily with the nation and not with the individual. He speaks primarily of the present and not of the future. These two facts must be kept constantly in mind as we read and interpret the book.
I. Discourses Concerning Judah and Israel, Chs. 1-12.
II. Prophesies against Foreign Nations, Chs. 13-23.
III. The Judgment of the World and the Triumph of God's People, Chs. 24-27.
IV. Judah's Relation to Egypt and Assyria, Chs. 38-32.
V. The Great Deliverance of Jerusalem, Chs. 33-39.
VI. The Book of Consolation, Chs. 40-66.
For Study and Discussion. (1) The sins of Israel and Judah that he rebukes. (2) Other nations against which he makes predictions and what he said of each. (3) Isaiah's call. Ch. 6. (4) Isaiah's errand to Ahaz, Ch. 7. (5) The way in which Isaiah rests the sole deity of Jehovah upon his ability to predict a future, Ch. 41. Give other illustrations. (6) The express predictions of the Messiah as we find them fulfilled in Jesus. (7) Point out the passages portraying the future glory of the church and the spiritual prosperity of the race. (8) Passages predicting the restoration of the Jews from captivity. (9) Some predictions already fulfilled: (a) God's judgments on the kings of Israel and the nation of Israel, Ch. 7. (b) The overthrow of Sennacherib, Chs. 13 and 37. (c) Disasters which should overtake Babylon, Damascus, Egypt, Moab and Idumea, Chs. 13, 15, 18, 19 and 34. (d) Vivid and marvelous descriptions of the final fate of Babylon and Idumea, 13:19-22; 34:10-17. (10) The theology of Isaiah or his views on such subjects as the moral condition of man, the need of a redeemer, the consequences of redemption, Divine Providence, the majesty and holiness of God, the future life, etc.