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Prophet Profiles: Brief Biographies,
    Historical-Contextual Outlines, and Major Themes
    by Jules Grisham

ISAIAH

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

"Isaiah son of Amoz" was an eighth century prophet who prophesied and wrote "during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." (Isaiah 1:1) He is declared author of the book which bears his name in several verses ?1:1, 2:1, 7:3, 20:2, 37:2, 5, 6, 38:1, 39:5 ?and has traditionally been regarded as the author of the entire book. Since the eighteenth century, however, this view has been questioned by many scholars, who note the difference in tone and context between chapters 1-39 and 40-66, and indeed between 40-55 and 56-66. Accordingly, theories have been advanced positing an exilic author ("Deutero-Isaiah") of 40-55, and even a post-exilic one ("Trito-Isaiah") of 56-66, whose works were said to have been appended anonymously to that of the original Isaiah. We will not discuss these issues here, as they go beyond the scope of our present focus, but will assume that "Isaiah son of Amoz" authored the entirety of the book.

Isaiah was a Judahite whose name means "the LORD saves." He was a contemporary of the prophet Micah. His prophetic ministry began in the year of King Uzziah's death (740) and continued at least through the reign of Hezekiah (until 686). He reports the death of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib (681) in 37:38. According to extra-biblical tradition (from The Assumption of Isaiah), he was sawn in two during the reign of the evil Manasseh, an event referred to, perhaps, in Hebrews 11:37. The Talmud (Meg 10b) declares him to have been related to the royal house, a cousin of Uzziah. He was married, it seems, to a prophetess (8:3) and was the father of at least two sons, Shear-Jashub (7:3) and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (8:3). Isaiah is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 26:22 as the author of a history of Uzziah's reign. He is also referred to repeatedly in 2 Kings 19 and 20, as he is seen to advise Hezekiah through the Sennacherib crisis (see next section) and to prophesy with regard to Judah's coming trouble at the hands of the Babylonians.

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

As we mentioned above, Isaiah's call to the prophetic ministry occurred in 740, just as the Assyrian power was beginning its ascent to Near Eastern hegemony. Assyria's period of weakness (as of Israel's relative strength) was a thing of the past; it had dealt with the problems posed by the Urartu kingdom and was now, under Tiglath-pileser III (745-727), expanding its power at the expense of its weaker rivals throughout Mesopotamia. Quite aware of the extreme danger posed by the revived and assertive Assyrian power, Pekah, king of Israel, and Rezin, king of Aram, joined together in an anti-Assyrian alliance. They sought to persuade Ahaz, king of Judah, into joining this coalition, but, failing to persuade him thus by peaceable means, they launched a military campaign against Judah, with the goal of toppling Ahaz and replacing him with a more agreeably anti-Assyrian monarch. This was the Syro-Ephraimite War of 735-34, and it was this crisis which is the context of Isaiah 7. Seeking options to protect his position and his kingdom from this attack, Ahaz was considering an alliance with the Assyrians, and Isaiah's counsel from the Lord was that Ahaz should not align with the Assyrians, but should trust in him. (Ahaz ignored this counsel, and, as we read in 2 Chronicles 28:16-21, Assyrian "friendship" would prove a very heavy and unwelcome burden.)

Between this time and 701, Assyrian power continued to expand. The northern kingdom of Israel was conquered, its capital, Samaria, was destroyed, and its population deported (722). When Sennacherib became king of Assyria in 705, he faced rebellions from both sides of his empire ?in Babylon and in the Syro-Palestinian states. We learn in 2 Kings 18:7 that Hezekiah, king of Judah, had rebelled against Assyrian suzerainty, reversing his father's ?Ahaz's ?policy of appeasement. In 39:1-8, we read that the king of Babylon sent envoys to Hezekiah, to enlist his participation in an anti-Assyrian coalition. As with the falsely grounded hopes placed in Assyria by Ahaz, so now with Babylon by Hezekiah, the seeds of future disaster were sown in Judah's trusting in militarily powerful friends rather than in its covenant Lord.

Meanwhile, in Isaiah 36-37 and 2 Kings 19 we read of the invasion of Judah by the Assyrians, and of its miraculous deliverance by the hand of God, when, with the entire Assyrian army camped outside the walls of Jerusalem, "the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp," and Sennacherib was forced to withdraw his forces and return to Nineveh.

Thus, in summary, the bulk of Isaiah 1-39 consists of the words of the prophet as they pertain to the Assyrian threat to Judah's national existence during the second half of the eighth century. Chapters 40-66 are prophetic, focused on the affairs of the Judean exiles in Babylon ?the seed of which still-distant future disaster was sown, as we have seen, in 39:1-8.

3.   The Themes of the Book

(1)   God is the Holy One of Israel;
(2)   God is the Savior and Redeemer of his people;
(3)   God will preserve his remnant;
(4)   The Servant of the Lord;
(5)   The Spirit of the Lord;
(6)   God's rule over history.


JEREMIAH

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

"Jeremiah son of Hilkiah" was a prophet during the late seventh- and early sixth-centuries in Judah. His ministry coincided with the build-up to and tragic coming to pass of Judah's great national disaster ?its conquest by the Babylonians, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the deportation of its population. In 1:2 and 3 we learn that his ministry lasted from "the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah [626], down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile [586]," and a little beyond that (see 41:16-44:30). Accordingly, Jeremiah's prophesying followed after that of Zephaniah, and was contemporary with Habakkuk, Obadiah (perhaps), and the young Ezekiel.

We know from 1:1 that his father, Hilkiah, was "one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin," and, therefore, that Jeremiah was of priestly lineage. Indeed, he may probably have been descended from Abiathar, who, upon being removed by Solomon from the high priesthood of the Lord, was instructed to return to his fields in Anathoth. (1 Kings 2:26) Jeremiah's name means either "the LORD exalts," "the LORD establishes," or ?most likely, according to the NIV ?"the LORD throws" (i.e., his prophets into a hostile world and the nations down in judgment). He was called as a child ?was set apart before birth, in fact ?unto the service of the Lord. As a messenger of the impending divine judgment to be poured out upon the nation, he was commanded by God neither to marry nor to father children (16:1-4). His bold proclamation of God's word brought him much suffering at the hands of unrighteous shepherds to whom the message of impending judgment was most forcefully directed. He was whipped (20:2), accused of treason (26; 37:11-16), plotted against (18:18; 12:6), imprisoned in a cistern (38:1-13), and held under arrest in the courtyard of the guard (38:14-28). Even his own family opposed him (11:21-23; 12:6). He had but a few friends, among whom were Ahikam (26:24) and his son, Gedaliah (39:14); Ebed-Melech (38:7-13; 39:15-18); and, especially, Baruch, his secretary. We learn that Baruch was the one who wrote down Jeremiah's words as he spoke them (36:4-32) and that he accompanied the prophet on his way to exile in Egypt (43:6-7). It is quite possible that Baruch was the one who compiled the book of Jeremiah into its final form. We do not know how and when Jeremiah died, though Jewish tradition has it that he was stoned to death in Egypt.

As Moses had done, so Jeremiah initially resisted God's calling (1:6), but God worked powerfully to strengthen his prophet and to fortify him in the bold proclamation of those painful, hard words of divine judgment (15:20). And as Paul revealed his emotional intensity and remarkable honesty in his writings, so did Jeremiah in his own (frequently expressing his anguish to God ?see 4:19, 9:1, 10:19-20, 23:9).

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

Jeremiah prophesied during the latter half of Josiah's reign (from his calling in 626 until 609), throughout the entire reigns of Jehoahaz [a.k.a. Shallum (22:11)](609), Jehoiakim (609-598), Jehoiachin (598-597), and Zedekiah (597-586), and even for a time after the fall of Jerusalem. This period saw the fall of an old power (Assyria), the immense destructiveness of a momentarily revived, but dying power (Egypt), and the rise of a new and still more terrifying power in their place (Babylon). Through this entire time, Jeremiah continued boldly to proclaim God's word to his fellow-people in Judah, calling them to turn from the disobedience which had brought the coming judgment upon them.

The events of these years are crowded and momentous. We might begin with the death of Ashurbanipal, the last great Assyrian king, in 627. After his death, no strong rulers rose up to succeed him, and the kingdom fell apart with remarkable rapidity. The very next year saw the ascension of Nabopolassar as ruler in Babylon and of the rapid rise of that kingdom to dominance in the Near East. And Jeremiah, as we have seen, was called to the prophetic office that same year (626). Four years later ?622, one hundred years after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel ?the Book of the Law was found in the Temple, an event which triggered a reformation in Josiah's regime and a great reorientation of the nation toward the Lord and his proper worship. During the next several years (622-609) Jeremiah had a powerful ally in the righteous king Josiah.

Events accelerated in 612, with the fall of Nineveh to the combined armies of the Babylonians and Medes. The Egyptians, under Pharaoh Neco, set out to rescue the fast-collapsing Assyrian kingdom, a goal which required them to march through Palestine. We read in 2 Chronicles 35:22 that Josiah "would not listen to what Neco had said was God's command but went to fight him on the plain of Megiddo," where he was shot and mortally wounded by Egyptian archers. Josiah was succeeded as king of Judah by his son, Jehoahaz, but he had reigned only three months when the now-homeward bound Egyptians deposed him, set up his brother Eliakim (renaming him Jehoiakim in the process) in his place on the throne as one more amenable to Egyptian domination of Judah, and carried Jehoahaz off to exile in Egypt.

With the accession of Jehoiakim, a long and difficult period began for Jeremiah, whose prophetic word was neither welcome nor heeded in the royal court, and who found himself the object of frequent persecution and imprisonment (20:1, 2; 26:8, 9; 32:2, 3; 33:1; 36:26; 37:12-21; 38:6-13, 28). In Jeremiah 36:9, we see an example of this official hostility, as we read how Jehoiakim takes Jeremiah's scroll of prophesy, cuts it up and throws it into the fire (after which Jeremiah dictates his words once again to Baruch (v. 32)). Immediately prior to this outrageous act by Judah's king, the Lord had held forth hope through an offer of repentance (36:7), but by 36:31 his is the announcement of irrevocable judgment.

Four years later, in 605, Neco and the Egyptian army were back in Mesopotamia, seeking to defeat the upstart Babylonians. But in one of the most decisive and crucial battles in history, the Babylonians crushed the Egyptians at Carchemish. After this victory, no power in the Near East could stand against the advancing Babylonian tide; the old Assyrian imperialism had been replaced by a Neo-Babylonian one. Under their new leader, Nebuchadnezzar, they advanced on Jerusalem and punished Jehoiakim for having sided against them. They carried off several Judahites, an event to which we may refer as the First Deportation (605), and of which we read in Daniel 1:2-6. Installed at first as a pawn of the Egyptians, Jehoiakim now owed official allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.

A few years later, Jehoiakim rebelled, repudiating Babylonian suzerainty and aligning himself once again with Egypt. Babylon sent a punitive expedition against Judah in 597, but Jehoiakim died, and he was succeeded by his son, Jehoiachin. Jeremiah foretold the coming captivity to the young king (22:24-30), and this was fulfilled after a reign of only three months. Jehoiachin was taken off to Babylon along with 10,000 of Jerusalem's ruling, fighting, and artisan classes; this was the Second Deportation (597). In his place, the Nebuchadnezzar installed Mattaniah, Jehoiachin's uncle (brother of Jehoiakim and son of Josiah), to rule as a Babylonian vassal. Acceding to the throne, he was renamed Zedekiah.

After several years Zedekiah, too, rebelled against his Babylonian overlord. During this period, Jeremiah was kept under virtual house arrest. Now finally the time of wrath had come. The Babylonian army advanced on the Holy City, destroyed the city and the Temple, marched off with its sacred articles, and forced the Judahites into exile in Babylon (the Third Deportation and the Babylonian Exile, 586). Zedekiah tried to flee the encircling forces, but was found, brought before Nebuchadnezzar, made to watch the execution of his sons, and then blinded. The Babylonians were, however, lenient with Jeremiah, who had opposed the rebellion all along. Nebuchadnezzar named Gedaliah as governor of the ruined province, but he was assassinated soon after this by certain patriotic elements which remained in the land. Fearing reprisals, many of these went off toward an exile in Egypt. They took Jeremiah and Baruch along with them, and it is in this context of the immediate post-catastrophe that we read what is perhaps Jeremiah's last address, to those in Egypt (44:24-30).

3.   The Themes of the Book

(1)   The Lord is sovereign and holy, just in his wrath and compassionate in his mercy;
(2)   God's covenant with his people is irrevocable, but enjoyment of its benefits is conditioned on obedience;
(3)   God's prophets are messengers from the heavenly court, to be obeyed as bearing the very word of God;
(4)   Now, "the LORD is righteous" (Zedekiah) ?that is, we know him in judgment; but in the days to come, "the LORD is our righteousness" ?that is, we will know him in grace.


EZEKIEL

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

We read in Ezekiel 1:3 that "the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi [or: Ezekiel son of Buzi the priest], by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was upon him." This and the preceding verse, v. 2, are the only ones in the entire book which are written in the form of third person narrative, the rest of the book being written in the first person. The Kebar River was an irrigation canal, near Nippur in southern Mesopotamia. It was here that the exiles were resettled by Nebuchadnezzar in 597. And it was here that the word came "in the thirtieth year," referring presumably to the author's age, in the fifth year of the exile of King Johoiachin (593). We have seen that Ezekiel is from a priestly family; his reference, therefore, to "the thirtieth year" is significant in that this is the age at which one entered the Levitical priesthood (see Numbers 4:3). Denied the priestly function by his exile, Ezekiel nonetheless received a commission from God to serve as his prophet. Note also that his birth would have coincided with the advent of Josiah's reformation of Judah's religious practices (622).

We also learn from this that he was born in 623, a year prior to the finding of the Book of the Law in the Temple. He would have witnessed the years of Josiah's reformation, then watched as Judah's condition steadily worsened between 609 and 597, the year of his deportation by Nebuchadnezzar. Between the time of his call to the prophetic office in 593 and 586 he faithfully proclaimed God's word of coming judgment (chapters 1-24). We know that Ezekiel was married (24:15-27); we read there that when his wife died, he was commanded by God not to mourn for her, that this should be a sign for the people of Judah that they must not mourn when Jerusalem fell. Once the kingdom fell to the Babylonians in 586, Ezekiel's message turned to words of hope and consolation, and focused on the shape of life and worship to come in the restored covenant community.

His name means "God is strong," "God strengthens," or "God makes hard." His vast vision of the future (chapters 40-48) came in 573, and his last dated oracle was received in 571 (29:17), at which time he would have been 52 ?two years past the mandated "retirement" age for priests (Numbers 4:3).

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

Ezekiel prophesied during the final years of Zedekiah (ruled 597-586), and for approximately fifteen years after that. As we have seen, he was an exile, living among and preaching to other Judean exiles who, like him, had been deported from their homeland and brought into the heart of Nebuchadnezzar's empire. This exilic community may no longer have been in the Promised Land, and they may no longer have had the Temple or its sacrificial worship, but God was still present with them in Ezekiel's voice of prophesy. The Lord was still their God, and they were still his people.

For events which transpired before Ezekiel's exile in 597 ?events which provide the background for the later events, but which are beyond the scope of Ezekiel's years of prophetic activity ?see Jeremiah: The Historical Situation.

Jehoiakim, son of king Josiah, had been installed by Pharaoh Neco in the year 609, to rule Judah as a vassal and "friend" of the Egyptian state. Four years later, in 605, Neco was in Mesopotamia at the head of the Egyptian army, seeking to defeat the upstart Babylonians who were now poised at the threshold of Near Eastern hegemony. But in one of the most decisive and crucial battles in history, the Babylonians crushed the Egyptians at Carchemish. After this victory, no power in the Near East could stand against the advancing Babylonian tide; the old Assyrian imperialism had been replaced by a Neo-Babylonian one. Under their new leader, Nebuchadnezzar, they advanced on Jerusalem and punished Jehoiakim for having sided against them during these events. They carried off several Judahites, an event to which we may refer as the First Deportation (605), and of which we read in Daniel 1:2-6. Installed at first as a pawn of the Egyptians, Jehoiakim now owed official allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.

A few years later, Jehoiakim rebelled, repudiating Babylonian suzerainty and aligning himself once again with Egypt. Babylon sent a punitive expedition against Judah in 597, but Jehoiakim died. He was succeeded by his son, Jehoiachin, who ruled but three months before being taken off himself to Babylon, along with 10,000 of Jerusalem's ruling, fighting, and artisan classes. This was the Second Deportation (597), and it was at this time that Ezekiel was taken from his Palestinian homeland to dwell in southern Mesopotamia with a group of other Judean exiles. In Jehoiachin's place, Nebuchadnezzar installed Mattaniah, Jehoiachin's uncle (brother of Jehoiakim and son of Josiah), to rule as a Babylonian vassal. Acceding to the throne, he was renamed Zedekiah.

After several years Zedekiah, too, rebelled against his Babylonian overlord, and this brought the Great King's inevitable response. The time of God's outpouring of wrath was at hand. The Babylonian army advanced on the Holy City, destroyed the city and the Temple, marched off with its sacred articles, and forced the Judahites into exile in Babylon (the Third Deportation and the Babylonian Exile, 586). Zedekiah tried to flee the encircling forces, but was found, brought before Nebuchadnezzar, made to watch the execution of his sons, and then blinded. The Babylonian king named Gedaliah as governor of the ruined province, but he was assassinated soon after this by certain patriotic elements which remained in the land. After these events, Judah was ruled as a province of the Babylonian Empire throughout the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (until 562) and beyond, until the conquest of that kingdom in its turn by Cyrus and his Medo-Persians (539). So Ezekiel lived and prophesied among an exilic community which had been displaced to southern Babylonia; through his mouth did God's word come to comfort them and renew their hopes in the knowledge that the covenant promises stood and that Israel would be restored as a nation, purified and glorious.

3.   The Themes of the Book

(1)   God is holy and transcendent, and will brook no sin; the Exile will produce a purged people, a purified remnant ready to live in obedience to God;
(2)   God's purposes in electing Israel were not frustrated by his judgment upon the nation; to the contrary, he would show mercy to the remnant;
(3)   God is absolutely sovereign over world events and history;
(4)   We are individually responsible for our sins, and cannot sit back and blame our plight on our ancestors.


DANIEL

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

We learn much of Daniel's life-situation in the first chapter of the prophetic book which bears his name. "In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand? Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility ?young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians [Chaldeans]. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king's table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king's service." (Daniel 1:1-5) We learn that Daniel (whose name meant "God is [my] judge") was among the number of those selected from Judah, and that he was given the new name of Belteshazzar ("Bel [i.e., Marduk], protect his life").

The Babylonians had thus developed a brilliant method of co-optation and incorporation of peoples, by which the best and brightest were taken out from groups who might otherwise have remained wholly opposed to their subject status and brought into the governing of the empire. But the system met its match in Daniel, whose combination of courageous inflexibility on covenant loyalty to the Lord and tact in his dealings with the Babylonian leadership proved very effective. For example, we read in chapter one of Daniel's refusal to defile himself with the royal food, even though such a stance risked bringing down the displeasure of the king; yet he didn't simply rebel, but tactfully offered an alternative ?i.e., a vegetarian diet. In Daniel's life, we see the example of one who remained within the bounds of covenant obedience even while thriving in an alien culture and context.

Thus we see that Daniel was an impressive young man, whose family was of (at least) noble rank in Judah. We read in 1:18-21 that "at the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel [and his three Judahite peers]; so they entered the king's service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus [539]." Daniel would prove his worth to Nebuchadnezzar in interpreting his dreams at least twice. By the time of Belshazzar's feast (chapter 5) in 539, we read how one of the king's nobles approached the king and told him of Daniel: "There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. King Nebuchadnezzar your father ?your father the king, I say ?appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers, and diviners." (5:11) Thus we see that Daniel had been chief of the Chaldean "wise men" during Nebuchadnezzar's reign, but that by the time of Belshazzar he was no longer active in the royal court ?though we see that his skills were brought to bear once again.

Then in 10:1 we read that "in the third year of Cyrus king of Persia [i.e., 537], a revelation was given to Daniel." This vision, pertaining to Israel's future and to the end times, was Daniel's last one recorded.

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

Events in Daniel are dated to the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar (chaps. 1-4), Belshazzar (5-7), Darius the Mede (5:30-6:28; 9), and Cyrus (10-12). For the outline of events in Judah between the late seventh and early sixth centuries, see Jeremiah: The Historical Situation, as they lie outside the purview of the book of Daniel. Daniel itself is a book whose narrative and events are grounded in and shaped by the experience of Israelites in exile. Specifically, chapters 1-4 take place during the reign of the Babylonian hegemon, Nebuchadnezzar; chapters 5-7 during that of Belshazzar (with references to one "Darius the Mede" ?5:30-6:28,9); and chapters 10-12 during that of Cyrus the Persian.

As we've seen, the death of the last great Assyrian ruler, Ashurbanipal, in 627, unleashed a wave of events which would climax in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. 626 saw the emergence of a newly imperialistic Babylonian kingdom, under the leadership of Nabopolassar. During his reign, Babylon first shook off the Assyrian yoke, then began the process of destroying their former overlords and replacing them as rulers of the Near Eastern world. In 612, Nineveh fell to the combined armies of the Babylonians and Medes. Pharaoh Neco and his Egyptians now entered the fray, marching through Palestine (609) en route to northwestern Mesopotamia in an attempt to bolster the Assyrian rump state, but the Egyptian forces were crushingly defeated by the ascendant Babylonians (Carchemish, 605).

Led from this time forward by Nabopolassar's son, Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonians proceeded to consolidate their grip over its new imperium. They advanced on Jerusalem and punished Judah's king, Jehoiakim, for his role in opposing them. At this time they carried off several Judahites, an event to which we may refer as the First Deportation (605), and of which we read in Daniel 1:2-6. A second and more disastrous deportation occurred in 597, when Jehoiakim repudiated Babylonian suzerainty and aligned himself once again with Egypt. In response, Nebuchadnezzar sent a punitive expedition against his upstart vassal, carrying off its young king Jehoiachin (who had only months earlier succeeded his father) to Babylon, along with 10,000 of Jerusalem's ruling, fighting, and artisan classes, and installing Mattaniah (Jehoiachin's uncle, the brother of Jehoiakim and son of Josiah) in his stead. Acceding to the throne, he was renamed Zedekiah. But when, several years later, Zedekiah too rebelled against his overlord, Nebuchadnezzar's response was totally devastating. The Babylonian army advanced upon Jerusalem, breached its walls, burned the city, destroyed the Temple, and carried the Judahites into exile in Babylon (586).

Thus had Nebuchadnezzar risen to a position of unparalleled power in throughout the whole of the ancient Near East. And thus could Daniel say, in interpreting the Great King's dream in 604, "You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory." But Daniel's great message to the king was that the Living God was and ever would be the Greater King, whose purposes he was serving, however unwittingly he did so. It was prophesied that his would be succeeded by other kingdoms, still more powerful, still more bestial, if of declining quality and grandeur; but that then would come God's kingdom, the Rock which would shatter the delusion of man-as-hegemon.

Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 and was succeeded by weaker rulers, Amel-Marduk [or: Evil-Merodach] (562-560), Neriglissar (560-556), Labashi-Marduk (556), and Nabonidus. Under this last ruler, Babylon was further weakened by religious dissension between him and the entrenched Marduk priesthood; he left his royal duties in Babylon to his son and co-regent, Belshazzar. During this time, events were accelerating in the north. In 550, Cyrus the Persian, a vassal of the Median king Astyages, rebelled against and overthrew him, establishing a new and vital Persian state which expanded in all directions while the Babylonia stagnated. Daniel 5 relates the events of the last night of Belshazzar's reign, in 539, when Daniel is called to interpret the writing on the wall, and the Babylonian kingdom falls to the advancing Persians.

The collapse of the Babylonian power, and its replacement by the new and still vaster empire of the Persian, beginning of the fulfillment of Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the kingdoms falling in succession. At first, Cyrus set up a vassal in Babylon, named Darius the Mede, of whom Daniel makes mention, but shortly thereafter assumed direct control. The latest recorded prophesy in the book of Daniel is dated from the third year of Cyrus' reign (537). Yet note that (1) Daniel's life and work bridged the entire period of the exile, and he lived to see Cyrus issue the Edict of Restoration (539/8); and (2) his prophesy pointed to forward toward a further succession of kingdoms ?to the Greeks and to the Romans, and ultimately to the establishment of the kingdom of God.

3.   The Themes of the Book

(1)   Human pride reaches gigantic proportions and expresses itself in bestial kingdoms which feed on one another;
(2)   There is a stark contrast between the kingdom of man and the kingdom of God;
(3)   Yet ultimately, far beyond and above this opposition, God is sovereign; even the cruel, God-rejecting kingdoms serve his purposes; he overrules and eventually will overcome human evil.


HOSEA

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

"Hosea son of Beeri" was an eighth century prophet to whom the word of the Lord came "during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash, king of Israel." Although the years of his prophetic ministry must therefore have spanned several decades, almost nothing is known of the man from sources outside the book which bears his name. As with Amos also, so Hosea's prophesy is directed primarily to the northern kingdom, being spoken during the Indian summer of material prosperity and deluded optimism it enjoyed during the years of Jeroboam II (793-753). The fact that he lists the sequence of Judahite kings would indicate some connection with the south; it is possible that he wrote the book in the southern kingdom, perhaps after the fall of Samaria (722).

In the first part of the book, we read a dramatically intimate account of Hosea's family life, in which we learn that the Lord directed the prophet to marry an adulterous wife, named Gomer. (I will not discuss here the various arguments as to whether this account is to be read literally or symbolically, but will assume for the purposes of this profile that they are to be taken literally.) And he developed an extensive analogy between Gomer's unfaithfulness and its tragic fruit and that of Israel and the tragic fruit it was storing up for itself. That is, he used the vivid illustration of his own wife's infidelity to drive home the awful gravity of Israel's infidelity to its husband -- to the God of their covenant who had redeemed them and loved them. He gave each of his children by Gomer symbolic names: Jezreel ("God scatters"), Lo-Ruhamah ("not loved"), and Lo-Ammi ("not my people"). But Hosea, whose name means "salvation," also brings a message of God's continuing love for his people, writing that he will once again make a covenant with them -- that he will plant them, and will show him his love, and they will be his people. Indeed, Hosea is directed to "go, show love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other Gods..." God still loved his people. There was an alternative to punishment, which was to forsake her idols -- to turn from her adultery -- and turn to the Lord.

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

For the situation in Judah during the period of Hosea's prophetic ministry -- that is, during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah -- see Isaiah: the Historical Situation. But as Hosea's prophesy was directed primarily to the northern kingdom, during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753), we will now turn our attention there.

The early years of the eighth century were good ones for Israel -- at least from the materialist vantage point of economic prosperity and relative political stability. The great powers, Egypt and Assyria, were both going through periods of weakness, during which time Israel's military fortunes improved. Joined to this fortunate, if quite impermanent, international situation, the northern kingdom was also enjoying political stability. Jeroboam was the fourth successive representative of the dynasty founded by Jehu in 841, and his own reign was quite long. In this relatively stable context, Israel's upper classes thrived. It was a time of conspicuous consumption by this elite, as of increasing corruption, injustice, and idolatry. The lower classes found themselves being thus crushed by a smug and indifferent ruling class. And it was into this environment that God sent Amos and Hosea, to declare God's righteous anger, to bring his case before them, and to proclaim the coming judgment if they persisted in covenant infidelity.

Indeed, the end of the northern kingdom was appallingly close at hand. The House of Jehu came to an abrupt end when Jeroboam's son and successor, Zechariah (753-752), was assassinated by Shallum (752). But only one month later he was assassinated by an upstart military commander, Menahem (752-742), who held on to power for ten years and managed to pass the kingdom on to his son, Pekaliah (742-740). Then Pekaliah, in his turn, was assassinated by yet another military commander, Pekah (752-732), who had apparently set himself up as the rival successor to Zechariah back in 752, but was only able to make good on the claim these twelve years later.

Through this period of increasing instability on the home front, the Assyrian kingdom was, under Tiglath-pileser III (745-727), rapidly expanding its power and dominion to an unprecedented degree throughout the Near East. Menahem and Pekaliah had adopted a more or less pro-Assyrian policy -- or, perhaps better, an Assyrian appeasement policy. Pekah was strongly anti-Assyrian, and when he became king he sought to build an alliance of western states against the surging tide of Assyrian expansionism. This led to the events of the Syro-Ephraimite War (735-734), for which see Isaiah: the Historical Situation. The end result of Pekah's policy, however, was disaster. Assyria smashed Aram in 732, and in that year or the next welcomed Pekah's assassination and replacement as king by one who more readily accepted Assyrian suzerainty, Hoshea (731-722). But when he in his turn rebelled against his overlord, the Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom, destroyed the capital, ended the kingdom, and carried its population off into captivity.

Thus, in a stunning and tragic span of thirty years, the ruling classes of Israel would be reduced from their condition of smug infidelity to one of landless exile. They had become Lo-Ammi. The message of Hosea and Amos, ignored by the powers of the northern kingdom, had come to a horrifying fulfillment. But the promise of redemption still stood.

3.   The Themes of the Book

(1)   The Israelites will experience judgment because they have broken the covenant;
(2)   Covenant and marriage are both exclusive relationships; covenant unfaithfulness is akin to marital infidelity, and merits alike punishment;
(3)   But the God who brings judgment is the same one who will bring salvation; God will heal Israel of its wounds and restore them.


JOEL

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

Little is known of "Joel son of Pethuel" outside the book that bears his name, which means "the LORD is God." We must look to the internal evidence of the book to provide more information about the time in which Joel wrote. First, it seems that the book was written some time after a locust plague (chapter 1). But such plagues were common enough as to render this a firm foundation for a date. Second, the book presumes the existence of a functioning Temple (1:9, 13-16; 2:15-17), so it cannot have been written between 586 and 516. Third, the book mentions Greeks and Sabeans among the nations upon whom he will take his vengeance, indicating a later, fourth century date. But Greek trade in the Levant was known from the eighth century, and the Sabeans had been active in trade back to Solomon's times. On the other side is the absence of any reference to the Assyrians or the Babylonians, an argument from silence for the book's early composition. Fourth, the book presumes a leadership which is in the hands of elders and priests; there is no mention of kings or royal officers. This suggests either the post-exilic period (I think convincingly) or one of limited royal influence (e.g., the period of Joash's minority, during the late ninth century). Fifth, there is no mention of the northern kingdom, but where the word "Israel" is used, it is done so to designate Judah (see 2:27; 3:2, 16). Sixth, the book mentions that the nation had been scattered. Again, this is strong evidence for a late date, but not conclusive; as we've seen there were several deportations and invasions which preceded the final one in 586. The evidence would seem to indicate that Joel was a post-exilic prophet, perhaps contemporary with Malachi.

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

Assuming the late date per the paragraph above, Joel's prophetic ministry would have been during the post-exilic period. Judah had been invaded by the Babylonians in 586, its capital destroyed, and its population carried off into the seventy year exile of which Jeremiah had foretold. But the Babylonian imperium was short-lived, being conquered in 539 and succeeded as Near Eastern hegemon by the Persian Empire, under Cyrus the Persian (559-530). Soon after this, Cyrus issued an Edict of Restoration (538), which restored the Jews to their homeland and granted them specific permission to rebuild a temple to the Lord. The next year saw the first wave of exiles, led by Sheshbazzar return to the land from which they had been evicted. In 537 the new community managed to build an altar to the Lord and to reactivate the sacrificial regime, but soon after this it ran into opposition from the surrounding populations, and construction halted (536). Sixteen years later the voices of prophesy proclaimed God's word once again in the land to his people. In 520, Haggai and Zechariah both spoke out concerning God's plans and the importance of building the Temple. Work began again, now under Zerubbabel (a descendant of David) and Jeshua (a Zadokite priest), and in 516 -- seventy years after its destruction -- the rebuilt Temple was completed. After this, there is something of a break in the narrative until the arrival of the next generation of returning exiles, under Ezra (458).

During this time, Cambyses (530-522) had succeeded his father Cyrus as king of Persia, then Darius (522-486) had succeeded him, and then Xerxes (486-465) in his turn. (The events recorded in the book of Esther probably occurred during this king's reign.) Finally, Artaxerxes (465-424) came to the throne. During his reign Ezra returned with his exiles, working to reestablish the theocracy, and Nehemiah returned (in 445), as the king's appointed governor in the area. During this period Malachi proclaimed his prophesy. It is possible that Joel would have done so at this time as well -- or possibly even later.

In all this we see that God's covenant relationship with his people still stood; that the voice of prophesy was once again heard in the land; and that he still held out to them the promise of redemption

3.   The Themes of the Bookk

(1)   As locusts rip through the countryside, leaving destruction in their wake, so will God's anger on account of Israel's covenant infidelity;
(2)   But God's sovereignty not confined to Israel;
(3)   God's terrible day of judgment which was coming for the nations would also be one of compassion and mercy upon his people.


AMOS

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

Amos was one of the earliest of the writing prophets, whose name means "the LORD carries" or "the LORD upholds." We read in Amos 1:1 that the book consists of "the words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa -- what he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel." The earthquake is probably that referred to in Zechariah 14:5: "You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah." Evidence for this quake has recently been excavated which would date it between 765-760. So a reasonable date-range for Amos's prophetic ministry would be 760-755.

In any event, Amos was a man of the southern kingdom, from a small town five miles south of Bethlehem, who was sent into to the northern kingdom there to announce God's coming judgment upon it. And he was sent to do this at a time when the northern kingdom was politically stable (under the long reign of Jeroboam II, 793-753, the fourth of the House of Jehu which had ruled Israel since 841), militarily successful, and economically prosperous. This material well-being had given rise to a powerful and profligate wealthy class in Samaria, who smugly abused its privileges as the masses suffered under a grievously unjust system. Moreover, the ruling classes of the northern kingdom were given over to apostasy. And it was to the religious center of Bethel, that Amos, a shepherd from a rural district of Judah, was sent to announce God's judgment upon the nation.

It has been traditionally supposed that Amos came from the lower classes of his society. We have seen that he identified himself as a shepherd in 1:1; he also mentions that he was a "dresser" sycamore trees (7:14). In recent years many have argued that by identifying himself as a noqed, rather than as a ro'eh, the common term for that profession, he was declaring that he was a large-scale breeder or broker of herds; and they explain the passage on his being a "dresser" as a secondary insertion. But this argument is undermined -- or so anyway it seems to me -- by his further describing himself as "following the flock" (7:15). Thus, it seems that Amos had been neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet (7:14), but was called by God from his modest vocation to deliver God's word to the most powerful elements of the northern kingdom's society. That the Lord's condemnation of their smug indifference either to justice for the poor or to fidelity to the covenant would come from a man with no earthly credentials -- from nowhere, socially speaking -- magnifies the power of the proclamation.

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

The early years of the eighth century were good ones for Israel -- at least from the materialist vantage point of economic prosperity and relative political stability. The great powers, Egypt and Assyria, were both going through periods of weakness, during which time Israel's military fortunes improved. Joined to this fortunate, if quite impermanent, international situation, the northern kingdom was also enjoying political stability. Jeroboam was the fourth successive representative of the dynasty founded by Jehu in 841, and his own reign was quite long. In this relatively stable context, Israel's upper classes thrived. It was a time of conspicuous consumption by this elite, as of increasing corruption, injustice, and idolatry. The lower classes found themselves being thus crushed by a smug and indifferent ruling class. And it was into this environment that God sent first Amos and then later Hosea, to declare God's righteous anger, to bring his case before them, and to proclaim the coming judgment if they persisted in covenant infidelity.

Indeed, the end of the northern kingdom was appallingly close at hand. The House of Jehu came to an abrupt end when Jeroboam's son and successor, Zechariah (753-752), was assassinated by Shallum (752). But only one month later he was assassinated by an upstart military commander, Menahem (752-742), who held on to power for ten years and managed to pass the kingdom on to his son, Pekaliah (742-740). Then Pekaliah, in his turn, was assassinated by yet another military commander, Pekah (752-732), who had apparently set himself up as the rival successor to Zechariah back in 752, but was only able to make good on the claim these twelve years later.

Through this period of increasing instability on the home front, the Assyrian kingdom was, under Tiglath-pileser III (745-727), rapidly expanding its power and dominion to an unprecedented degree throughout the Near East. Menahem and Pekaliah had adopted a more or less pro-Assyrian policy -- or, perhaps better, an Assyrian appeasement policy. Pekah was strongly anti-Assyrian, and when he became king he sought to build an alliance of western states against the surging tide of Assyrian expansionism. This led to the events of the Syro-Ephraimite War (735-734), for which see Isaiah: the Historical Situation. The end result of Pekah's policy, however, was disaster. Assyria smashed Aram in 732, and in that year or the next welcomed Pekah's assassination and replacement as king by one who more readily accepted Assyrian suzerainty, Hoshea (731-722). But when he in his turn rebelled against his overlord, the Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom, destroyed the capital, ended the kingdom, and carried its population off into captivity.

Thus, in a stunning and tragic span of thirty years, the ruling classes of Israel would be reduced from their condition of smug infidelity to one of landless exile. The message of Amos, by which God issued his call that they turn from injustice and apostasy, but which had been ignored by the powers of the northern kingdom, had come to a horrifying fulfillment. But the promise of redemption still stood, by which God would save his people (9:11-15).

3.   The Themes of the Book

(1)   God is sovereign over the historical process, and this sovereignty is not just on the level of the personal and the divine, but on that of creation, moral causality, and political history;
(2)   God opposes idolatry and social injustice, and demands instead fidelity and justice among his covenant people;
(3)   The resolution of the tension which arises between God's gracious commitment to his people and the requirement that they yet keep his commandments is in the concept of the remnant -- the nucleus for the continuation of the people of God;
(4)   The Day of the Lord was coming, not as the apostate northerners expected, as a day of national vindication, but as judgment from God in the form of enemy armies descending upon them.


OBADIAH

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

As was the case with Joel, so it is with Obadiah that what we know of him comes only from what we can discern from the contents of the book which bears his name. Obadiah's name means "servant [or: worshipper] of the LORD." Other Obadiahs are mentioned in the Old Testament (see 1 Kings 18:3-16; 1 Chronicles 3:21; 7:3; 8:38; 9:16; 12:9; 27:19; 2 Chronicles 17:7; 34:12; Ezra 8:9; Nehemiah 10:5; and 12:25), and since we are told neither his father's name nor his place of birth, we are unable to provide much in the way of his personal information.

The book begins simply, "The vision of Obadiah," and the prophet then proceeds to announce God's wrath to come upon Edom for its callous indifference -- even rejoicing -- "while strangers carried off [Jerusalem's] wealth and foreigners entered [its] gates." (v. 11) He rebukes Edom, writing, "You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction... nor look down on them in their calamity... nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster... nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble." (v. 12-14) Clearly, then, knowing the disaster of which Obadiah is speaking would help us in determining his own dates.

There are two main possibilities: the first is that it refers to the invasion of Jerusalem by the Philistines and Arabs during the reign of Jehoram (853-841); the second is that he is speaking in the wake of any or all of the several Babylonian attacks or final destruction of the city (609-586). If we accept the first date, he would be the earliest of the writing prophets, pre-dating the eighth century trio of Jonah, Amos, and Hosea. But two arguments suggest that we ought perhaps to accept the later date. First, the language of Judah's disaster ("calamity... fugitives... survivors") is so intense that the most probable explanation of it would be that it refers to the final fall of the kingdom. Second, the parallels between Jeremiah 49:7-22 and Obadiah 1-9 are such as at least to suggest some kind of interdependence between the prophets; if we accept the later date, Obadiah would be a contemporary of Jeremiah. For the purposes of these profiles, I have opted for the later date, and would argue that Obadiah was a sixth century prophet, writing in the wake of Jerusalem's catastrophic fall, and delivering an oracle of God's coming wrath against Edom which had rejoiced at Judah's day of misfortune. (See also Psalm 137:7; Lamentations 4:18-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; 35:1-15.)

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

The events of the late seventh century and early sixth century are crowded and momentous, as Judah careened toward disaster in a larger international arena over which the shadow of foreign aggression was becoming ever more menacing and insistent. We might begin with the death of Ashurbanipal, the last great Assyrian king, in 627. After his death, no strong rulers rose up to succeed him, and the kingdom fell apart with remarkable rapidity. The very next year saw the ascension of Nabopolassar as ruler in Babylon and of the rapid rise of that kingdom to dominance in the Near East.

Events accelerated in 612, with the fall of Nineveh to the combined armies of the Babylonians and Medes. The Egyptians, under Pharaoh Neco, set out to rescue the fast-collapsing Assyrian kingdom, a goal which required them to march through Palestine. We read in 2 Chronicles 35:22 that Josiah "would not listen to what Neco had said was God's command but went to fight him on the plain of Megiddo," where he was shot and mortally wounded by Egyptian archers. Josiah was succeeded as king of Judah by his son, Jehoahaz (609), but he had reigned only three months when the now-homeward bound Egyptians deposed him, set up his brother Eliakim (renaming him Jehoiakim in the process) in his place on the throne as one more amenable to Egyptian domination of Judah, and carried Jehoahaz off to exile in Egypt.

Four years later, in 605, Neco and the Egyptian army were back in Mesopotamia, seeking to defeat the upstart Babylonians. But in one of the most decisive and crucial battles in history, the Babylonians crushed the Egyptians at Carchemish. After this victory, no power in the Near East could stand against the advancing Babylonian tide; the old Assyrian imperialism had been replaced by a Neo-Babylonian one. Under their new leader, Nebuchadnezzar, they advanced on Jerusalem and punished Jehoiakim for having sided against them. They carried off several Judahites, an event to which we may refer as the First Deportation (605), and of which we read in Daniel 1:2-6. Installed at first as a pawn of the Egyptians, Jehoiakim now owed official allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.

A few years later, Jehoiakim rebelled, repudiating Babylonian suzerainty and aligning himself once again with Egypt. Babylon sent a punitive expedition against Judah in 597, but Jehoiakim died, and he was succeeded by his son, Jehoiachin. After a reign of only three months, Jehoiachin was taken off to Babylon along with 10,000 of Jerusalem's ruling, fighting, and artisan classes; this was the Second Deportation (597). In his place, the Nebuchadnezzar installed Mattaniah, Jehoiachin's uncle (brother of Jehoiakim and son of Josiah), to rule as a Babylonian vassal. Acceding to the throne, he was renamed Zedekiah.

Then, after several years Zedekiah, too, rebelled against his Babylonian overlord. Now finally the time of wrath had come. The Babylonian army advanced on the Holy City, destroyed the city and the Temple, marched off with its sacred articles, and forced the Judahites into exile in Babylon (the Third Deportation and the Babylonian Exile, 586). Zedekiah tried to flee the encircling forces, but was found, brought before Nebuchadnezzar, made to watch the execution of his sons, and then blinded. If we accept the exilic date for Obadiah's authorship of his book, then his prophetic ministry would have been during this period and its aftermath, when a great number of Judah's population was in exile, and when those who remained in the land were scattered, broken, and oppressed by opportunistic neighbors like the Edomites.

3.   The Themes of the Book

(1)   God is sovereign over all nations;
(2)   As he promised to bless those who bless the children of the promise, so he also promised to curse those who curse them;
(3)   God is a God of justice, who will see to it that his will and his purposes prevail in the end, over against all those (like Edom) who oppose his will.


JONAH

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

"Jonah son of Amittai" was an eighth century prophet. We read in 2 Kings 14:25 that he was "the prophet from Gath Hepher," the "servant" of the Lord who prophesied at some point early in the reign of Jeroboam II that he, Jeroboam, would be "the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Sea of Arabah." The fact that this came to pass attests to Jonah's status as a true prophet of God.

Gath Hepher was located in Zebulun (per Joshua 19:10, 13), so Jonah was, like Elijah, Elisha, and (possibly) Hosea, a northerner. Also like Hosea, and like Amos as well, he prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753), though it seems that he did so earlier than either of them. His name means "dove," which the NIV Study Bible points out is "the simile used of Ephraim in Hosea 7:11 to portray the northern kingdom 'as easily deceived and senseless.'"

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

For the events unfolding in the northern kingdom during the eighth century, see Hosea: the Historical Situation. But as the book which bears Jonah's name focuses upon his (albeit reluctant) ministry to the Assyrians in their capital city of Nineveh, we will briefly examine the international situation of these years.

We have seen that the early years of the eighth century were good ones for Israel -- at least from the materialist vantage point of economic prosperity and relative political stability. The great powers, Egypt and Assyria, were both going through periods of weakness, during which time Israel's military fortunes improved. Joined to this fortunate, if quite impermanent, international situation, the northern kingdom was also enjoying political stability. Jeroboam was the fourth successive representative of the dynasty founded by Jehu in 841, and his own reign was quite long. In this relatively stable context, Israel's upper classes thrived. It was a time of conspicuous consumption by this elite, as of increasing corruption, injustice, and idolatry. The lower classes found themselves being thus crushed by a smug and indifferent ruling class. And it was into this environment that God sent Amos and Hosea, to declare God's righteous anger, to bring his case before them, and to proclaim the coming judgment if they persisted in covenant infidelity. And, in an interesting sense, the religious smugness of Israel during these years, even among those who perhaps were unimpeachably committed to the true and covenant Lord, is captured in the person and story of Jonah.

Assyria had been cruising toward ascendancy in the first years of the eighth century, when it defeated Aram in 797. But soon after this triumph internal troubles and distractions with the Urartu kingdom to the north of Mesopotamia distracted Assyria's attention from the west, and Israel found itself able to expand in the new power vacuum, as Jonah had prophesied. But now it was to Assyria's capital that Jonah was being sent, to announce there God's judgment. In an interesting twist, while Assyria repented (to the prophet's chagrin), Israel did not do so when confronted by the Lord's ambassadors in the persons of Amos and Hosea. Within a few decades after these events, Assyria would reign supreme across the entire Near East, and the northern kingdom would exist no more.

3.   The Themes of the Book

(1)   The God of Israel is the God of the whole world; he has compassion for those even outside the covenant community;
(2)   Israel ought not to be smug about its special relationship with God; like the Assyrians, they too must repent.


MICAH

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

"Micah of Moresheth" was an eighth century prophet to whom the word of the LORD came "during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." This means that the years of his prophetic ministry spanned at least a few decades, from sometime in the reign of Jotham (751-735, and then in some figurehead capacity until 731), through that of Ahaz (735-715, but possibly co-regent with Jotham since 743), and on through until sometime during the reign of Hezekiah (715-686, but co-regent with Ahaz since 729). He was, therefore, a contemporary of Isaiah. Moreover, as his message speaks to the conditions of Judah prior to the religious reforms under Hezekiah, and as he prophesies Samaria's coming fall, we may reasonably set the years of his active ministry as having fallen between c. 751 and 729.

The town of Moresheth (1:1) was probably Moresheth Gath (1:14), in southern Judah. As Amos was a man from a small town who spoke boldly to the need for the northern kingdom to set right its rampant injustice, its tolerance of social ills, and its spiritual infidelity, so too was Micah a man from a small town who spoke to Judah's injustices and apostasy. His name means "Who is like the LORD?"

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

Both Israel and Judah had experienced a period of relative calm during the first half of the eighth century, as the great powers (e.g., Egypt and Assyria) were in periods of stagnation and decline, and as regional rivals (such as Aram) were subject to a revived Israelite power. But the accession of Tiglath-pileser III (745-727) to the throne in Assyria marked the onset of Assyria's resurgence and its final push to Near Eastern hegemony. Henceforth, the Assyrian shadow would loom larger and larger over both the northern and southern kingdoms.

Quite aware of the extreme danger posed by this revived Assyrian power, Pekah, king of Israel (752-732), and Rezin, king of Aram, joined together in an anti-Assyrian alliance. They sought to persuade Ahaz, king of Judah, into joining this coalition, but, failing to persuade him thus by peaceable means, they launched a military campaign against Judah, with the goal of toppling Ahaz and replacing him with a more agreeably anti-Assyrian monarch. This was the Syro-Ephraimite War of 735-34. Seeking options to protect his position and his kingdom from this attack, Ahaz was considering an alliance with the Assyrians, and Isaiah's counsel from the Lord was that Ahaz should not align with the Assyrians, but should trust in him. (Ahaz ignored this counsel, and, as we read in 2 Chronicles 28:16-21, Assyrian "friendship" would prove a very heavy and unwelcome burden.)

Between this time and 701, Assyrian power continued to expand. The northern kingdom of Israel was conquered, its capital, Samaria, was destroyed, and its population deported (722). When Sennacherib became king of Assyria in 705, he faced rebellions from both sides of his empire ?in Babylon and in the Syro-Palestinian states. We learn in 2 Kings 18:7 that Hezekiah, king of Judah, had rebelled against Assyrian suzerainty, reversing his father's ?Ahaz's ?policy of appeasement. And so it was that in 701, the Assyrian invaded Judah and besieged Jerusalem. But, with the entire Assyrian army camped outside the walls of city, "the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp," and Sennacherib was forced to withdraw his forces and return to Nineveh.

It was in this context of Judah's continuing hardness of heart, even in face of the looming threat of Assyrian power, that Micah spoke God's word. Yet though "her wound is incurable" (1:9) and judgment was coming upon the nation, God "will again have compassion on us; [he] will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago." (7:19-20)

3.   The Themes of the Book

(1)   The Lord will press his case against those who have broken covenant with him;
(2)   He desires people that love him and act justly;
(3)   Sin will be punished, but God's promises stand; his promises to David are not dead, but will be fulfilled in the future.


NAHUM

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

"Nahum the Elkoshite" was a seventh century prophet about whom nothing is known except his hometown of Elkosh -- and even its location is uncertain. His name means "compassion" or "comfort" (related to Nehemiah, "the LORD comforts"), and the form this comfort takes is the book's series of judgment oracles against Assyria, the empire which had destroyed the northern kingdom and come close to doing the same to the south. Between 652 and 648 Manasseh found himself brought in shackles to Babylon, perhaps for having sided with the Babylonians against Assyria in the civil war (see below). Shortly thereafter, however, he was released and returned to his throne -- most probably on the basis of a renewed pledge of loyalty to Ashurbanipal. This span of years is a very plausible one for Nahum's prophesy to have taken place, as the Assyrian power is still represented as strong (1:12), yet no mention is made of any king of Judah, nor of the sins of Judah.

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

In 3:8ff. Nahum mentions that Thebes had been destroyed and its inhabitants taken captive; this event occurred in 664. Therefore, his oracles were delivered after that time and before, of course, the destruction of Nineveh in 612. During this entire period, Assyrian power was surging forward in a relentless expansion over the entire Near East. A succession of dynamic and able rulers led the nation in this push to hegemony, among them: Tiglath-pileser III (745-727), Shalmaneser V (726-722), Sargon II (721-705), Sennacherib (704-681), Esarhaddon (680-669), and Ashurbanipal (668-627). When this last destroyed Thebes and so conquered Egypt in 664, the Assyrian state had reached its high-water mark, ruling the largest empire the world had ever yet seen.

But in 652, Ashurbanipal's younger brother, Samas-sum-ukin, who had been installed as the vassal king of Babylon, revolted against his brother. Ultimately, Ashurbanipal won, and reasserted Assyrian rule, but he did so at a heavy drain on the imperial resources. After the king's death in 627 and his replacement by weaker rulers, things really began to unravel. Nabopolassar came to the throne of Babylon the following year (636) and began a revolt against the Assyrians which culminated in the ruin of Nineveh (612), the end of the Assyrian Empire, and the succession of Assyria as Near Eastern hegemon.

Meanwhile, Judah had been ruled from 686 until 642 (with a co-regency from 697) by Hezekiah's son, Manasseh. This disastrous reign, the magnitude of whose evils, abuses, and apostasy assured God's coming judgment (per 2 Kings 21:12-16), was followed by the reforming reign of the good King Josiah (640-609), who would live to see the ruin and fall of the Assyrian Empire in 612, as predicted by Nahum.

3.   The Themes of the Book

(1)   The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble;
(2)   He will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into darkness.


HABAKKUK

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

Little personal information is known about Habakkuk, whose name is may be derived from the Hebrew word for "embrace," or conversely may be Babylonian, and refer to a kind of garden plant. He was a contemporary of Jeremiah, and his prophetic ministry looked upon and spoke about the approaching disaster of the Babylonian invasions. His description of the wickedness in the land would not seem appropriate to apply to Judah during its years of reform under Josiah, so we may reasonably date the book after that king's death in 609. Since the approaching threat he speaks of is the new Babylonian Empire, we may surmise that the book was either soon before or soon after the battle of Carchemish (605), in which the Egyptian army was crushed by the Babylonians, and after which no power in the Near East could stand against their power. The disasters about to befall Judah at the hands of the new imperium were several: a first deportation in 605, a second one in 597, and a third and final one in 586.

In the book which bears his name he is referred to as "Habakkuk the prophet" both at the beginning of his dialogue with the Lord (1:1) and at the head of his psalm which concludes the book (3:1). And as a prophet who makes use of the lament genre, composing the psalm of chapter 3 complete with its musical terms for liturgical use, have led many to suggest that he was a "cult prophet" -- that is, one whose maintenance was drawn from the temple revenues and who performed his prophetic duty as part of the temple liturgy. But such a fine-tuned identification is speculative. It might be more acceptable to argue that, in referring to him as a "cult prophet," we are merely surmising that he was a prophet whose ministry routinely brought him into the environs of the temple. But then, such an identification could apply to any one of several prophets.

If Scripture itself does not thus provide us with much information about the personal and life situation of Habakkuk, there are several apocryphal sources which do so provide, in the form of legendary material. He appears as a Levite in Bel and the Dragon, the apocryphal addition to Daniel. Some rabbinical sources identify him as the Shunamite woman of 2 Kings 4:16 (!), on account of the occurrence of the word "embrace"; others identify him with the watchman of Isaiah 21:6, on account of his own use of the word in 2:1.

In a fascinating note in Dillard and Longman we read: "The Talmud (Makkot 23b) records the remark of one rabbi that 'Moses gave Israel 613 commandments, David reduced them to 10, Isaiah to 2, but Habakkuk to one: the righteous shall live by his faith' [2:4]." Amen! (Note: I'd love to know what were considered to be David's 10 and Isaiah's 2.)

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

As we have mentioned, Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah. Both of these men prophesied during the period of Babylon's approaching ascendancy. The events of these years are crowded and momentous. We might begin with the death of Ashurbanipal, the last great Assyrian king, in 627. After his death, no strong rulers rose up to succeed him, and the kingdom fell apart with remarkable rapidity. The very next year saw the ascension of Nabopolassar as ruler in Babylon and of the rapid rise of that kingdom to dominance in the Near East.

Events accelerated in 612, with the fall of Nineveh to the combined armies of the Babylonians and Medes. The Egyptians, under Pharaoh Neco, set out to rescue the fast-collapsing Assyrian kingdom, a goal which required them to march through Palestine. We read in 2 Chronicles 35:22 that Josiah "would not listen to what Neco had said was God's command but went to fight him on the plain of Megiddo," where he was shot and mortally wounded by Egyptian archers. Josiah was succeeded as king of Judah by his son, Jehoahaz, but he had reigned only three months when the now-homeward bound Egyptians deposed him, set up his brother Eliakim (renaming him Jehoiakim in the process) in his place on the throne as one more amenable to Egyptian domination of Judah, and carried Jehoahaz off to exile in Egypt.

Four years later, in 605, Neco and the Egyptian army were back in Mesopotamia, seeking to defeat the upstart Babylonians. But in one of the most decisive and crucial battles in history, the Babylonians crushed the Egyptians at Carchemish. After this victory, no power in the Near East could stand against the advancing Babylonian tide; the old Assyrian imperialism had been replaced by a Neo-Babylonian one. Under their new leader, Nebuchadnezzar, they advanced on Jerusalem and punished Jehoiakim for having sided against them. They carried off several Judahites, an event to which we may refer as the First Deportation (605), and of which we read in Daniel 1:2-6. Installed at first as a pawn of the Egyptians, Jehoiakim now owed official allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.

A few years later, Jehoiakim rebelled, repudiating Babylonian suzerainty and aligning himself once again with Egypt. Babylon sent a punitive expedition against Judah in 597, but Jehoiakim died, and he was succeeded by his son, Jehoiachin. After a reign of only three months, Jehoiachin was taken off to Babylon, along with 10,000 of Jerusalem's ruling, fighting, and artisan classes. This was the Second Deportation (597). In place of Jehoiachin, Nebuchadnezzar installed Mattaniah, Jehoiachin's uncle (brother of Jehoiakim and son of Josiah), to rule as Babylon's vassal. Acceding to the throne, he was renamed Zedekiah.

After several years Zedekiah, too, rebelled against his Babylonian overlord. Now finally the time of wrath had come. The Babylonian army advanced on the Holy City, destroyed the city and the Temple, marched off with its sacred articles, and forced the Judahites into exile in Babylon (the Third Deportation and the Babylonian Exile, 586).

This was the tragic sequence of events which Habakkuk looked ahead to with such dismay as he addressed God. How could God have appointed such a nation as the Babylonians to be the executors of his just wrath against Judah? But God is sovereign, and he is good.  Cheap Replica Watch Eventually the destroyer will himself be destroyed. But God's love for and his promises to his people shall stand; indeed, "the righteous shall live by faithfulness." (2:4)

3.   The Themes of the Book

(1)   How can God stand by while Judah is filled with such corruption? He was not standing by, but was raising up an army to execute his judgment -- the Babylonians.
(2)   How can God use such as the Babylonians to execute his judgment? He will judge, and woe to those who abide in corruption. Yet his wrath will be poured out on the Babylonians, too.
(3)   So we must continue to believe, continue to trust in the promises of God and have confidence that the Lord of all the earth will do right (3:16-19). We must live by faith.


ZEPHANIAH

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

Zephaniah was a seventh century prophet to whom the word of the Lord came during the reign of Josiah (1:1). From the same verse we learn that he was "the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah." The only prophet to provide us with so detailed an account of his genealogy, his goal was surely to draw attention to the fact that he was related to the Davidic royal house. Thus, as a fourth generation descendant of the king, he must have been a man of considerable social standing, whose royal connections probably gave him access to the court. Whereas Amos and Micah had spoken to the experience of the oppressed and impoverished, the rural and the villager, Zephaniah speaks much more to the political currents of the day, seen as from the top of society's social ladder. As his prophetic ministry occurred during Josiah's reign, he was therefore a contemporary of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah, and, like them, would have come of age during the wholly apostate reigns of Manasseh and/or Amon.

Zephaniah, whose name means "the LORD hides" or "the LORD protects," speaks to still-appalling conditions in Judah: "I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem. I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal, the names of pagan and idolatrous priests." (1:4) Clearly, this sounds incompatible with the years after Josiah's reformation, triggered as it was by the finding of the Book of the Law in the Temple (622). So a powerful argument can be made on this basis that Zephaniah's prophesy came before 622. Yet we must also note parallels between Zehpaniah and the curses of Deuteronomy (e.g., compare Zephaniah 1:13 with Deuteronomy 28:13), which would argue for a post-622 date. Belcher advances the entirely plausible argument, therefore, that Zephaniah's words of prophesy constituted what was essentially a sermon, applying the law in support of Josiah's reforms. Thus, we may reasonably date his ministry to 622-621.

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

Judah had been ruled from 686 until 642 (with a co-regency from 697) by Hezekiah's son, Manasseh. This disastrous reign, the magnitude of whose evils, abuses, and apostasy assured God's coming judgment (per 2 Kings 21:12-16), was followed by the reforming reign of the good King Josiah (640-609). The impetus for this reformation, as we have seen, was the finding of the Book of the Law (Deuteronomy?) in the Temple precincts, in 622. Zephaniah, connected by blood to the royalty, prophesied in the immediate wake of this discovery, calling the nation to greater covenant obedience.

Events on the international scene during these years are crowded and momentous. Manasseh (see Nahum: the Prophet), Amon, and the young Josiah had all been under the tributary yoke of the Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal. But when that king died, in 627, and no strong rulers rose up to succeed him, the kingdom began to fall apart with remarkable rapidity. The very next year saw the ascension of Nabopolassar as ruler in Babylon and of the rapid rise of that kingdom to dominance in the Near East. Four years later ?622, one hundred years after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel ?the Book of the Law was found in the Temple, an event which triggered a reformation in Josiah's regime and a great reorientation of the nation toward the Lord and his proper worship. Replica Watches, For subsequent events, from the fall of Nineveh in 612, to the death of Josiah in 609, to the battle of Carchemish and the first deportation in 605, to the second deportation in 597, and until the final deportation and fall of Jerusalem in 586, see Jeremiah: the Historical Situation.

3.   The Themes of the Book

(1)   The Day of the Lord was to come, the great day of God's holy war against evil, when his honor would be vindicated and he would appear with destructive judgment against sin;
(2)   Yet God will be faithful to the remnant (3:12-13), those purified and holy survivors of his wrath who will inherit afresh the promises of God;
(3)   God is the universal God, possessing sovereignty over all nations, to be manifested both in his judgments against them and in his mercy for them (3:8).


HAGGAI

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

"In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua [i.e., Jeshua] son of Jehozadak, the high priest." (1:1) Thus the voice of prophesy was heard again in the environs of Jerusalem, in and through the person of Haggai, over the course of a four-month period in the year 520. Haggai, whose name means "festal" -- a fact which may indicate that he was born during one of the three pilgrimage feasts -- may have been old enough in 520 as to have remembered the original Temple, as can be inferred from 2:3. Beyond this, very little personal information is known about him. He was a contemporary of Zechariah. According to Jerome's commentary on Haggai, he was both a prophet and a priest, as was Zechariah, but this tradition cannot be verified. For the situation which triggered Haggai's prophetic ministry, see the next section.

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

Judah had been invaded by the Babylonians in 586, its capital destroyed, and its population carried off into the seventy year exile of which Jeremiah had foretold. Swiss Replica Watches Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 and was succeeded by weaker rulers, Amel-Marduk [or: Evil-Merodach] (562-560), Neriglissar (560-556), Labashi-Marduk (556), and Nabonidus. Under this last ruler, Babylon was further weakened by religious dissension between him and the entrenched Marduk priesthood; he left his royal duties in Babylon to his son and co-regent, Belshazzar. During this time, events were accelerating in the north. In 550, Cyrus the Persian, a vassal of the Median king Astyages, rebelled against and overthrew him, establishing a new and vital Persian state which expanded in all directions while the Babylonia stagnated. Then in 539, Cyrus advanced upon Babylon, overthrowing Belshazzar and bringing Babylonian glory to a decisive end.

Cyrus (559-530), king of the newly ascendant Persian Empire -- who had been prophetically referred to in Isaiah 45:1 as none other than God's "anointed" -- proceeded to issue an Edict of Restoration (538), which restored the Jews to their homeland and granted them specific permission to rebuild a temple to the Lord. The next year saw the first wave of exiles, led by Sheshbazzar return to the land from which they had been evicted. In 537 the new community managed to build an altar to the Lord and to reactivate the sacrificial regime, but soon after this it ran into opposition from the surrounding populations, and construction halted (536).

With the passage of time, the initial enthusiasm of the people had died down, and had been replaced by a deadening lethargy. So sixteen years later the voices of prophesy once again broke forth to announce God's word to his people. In 520, Haggai and Zechariah both spoke out concerning God's plans and the importance of building the Temple. Work began again, now under Zerubbabel (a descendant of David) and Jeshua (a Zadokite priest), and in 516 -- seventy years after its destruction -- the rebuilt Temple was completed. After this, there is something of a break in the narrative until the arrival of the next generation of returning exiles, under Ezra (458).

During this time, Cambyses (530-522) had succeeded his father Cyrus as king of Persia, then Darius (522-486) had succeeded him, and then Xerxes (486-465) in his turn. Replica Rolex, (The events recorded in the book of Esther probably occurred during this king's reign.) Finally, Artaxerxes (465-424) came to the throne. During his reign Ezra returned with his exiles, working to reestablish the theocracy, and Nehemiah returned (in 445), as the king's appointed governor in the area. During this period Malachi proclaimed his prophesy. It is possible that Joel would have done so at this time as well -- or possibly even later.

In all this we see that God's covenant relationship with his people still stood; that the voice of prophesy was once again heard in the land; and that he still held out to them the promise of redemption.

3.   The Themes of the Book

(1)   The returned exiles are to rebuild the Temple;
(2)   The Temple will be filled with glory;
(3)   A defiled people will be purified and blessed;
(4)   Prophesy concerning Zerubbabel.


ZECHARIAH

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

"In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo." (1:1) Haggai's prophetic ministry had begun in the late summer of 520; now Zechariah's voice joined Haggai's, in the autumn of that same year. But whereas all of Haggai's prophesy which is recorded in the book which bears his name occurred in the course of one year, Zechariah prophesied over several years (see 7:1, in 518). "Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo" is probably the same person as that known in a telescoped form as "Zechariah son of Iddo" (see Ezra 5:1; 6:14; and Nehemiah 12:16). Therefore, he was among the families of priests who returned from the Captivity. We can infer that, at the time of the first prophetic message in 520, he was a young man (see 2:4), and so may reasonably have continued prophesying even into the reign of Artaxerxes (465-424). The first eight chapters of the book of Zechariah pertain to issues of immediate concern to the postexilic community, while the last chapters (9-14) take a longer, more eschatological view. (Note: I was unable to find out what the name "Zechariah" means.)

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

Judah had been invaded by the Babylonians in 586, its capital destroyed, and its population carried off into the seventy year exile of which Jeremiah had foretold. Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 and was succeeded by weaker rulers, Amel-Marduk [or: Evil-Merodach] (562-560), Neriglissar (560-556), Labashi-Marduk (556), and Nabonidus. Under this last ruler, Babylon was further weakened by religious dissension between him and the entrenched Marduk priesthood; he left his royal duties in Babylon to his son and co-regent, Belshazzar. During this time, events were accelerating in the north. In 550, Cyrus the Persian, a vassal of the Median king Astyages, rebelled against and overthrew him, establishing a new and vital Persian state which expanded in all directions while the Babylonia stagnated. Then in 539, Cyrus advanced upon Babylon, overthrowing Belshazzar and bringing Babylonian glory to a decisive end.

Cyrus (559-530), king of the newly ascendant Persian Empire -- who had been prophetically referred to in Isaiah 45:1 as none other than God's "anointed" -- proceeded to issue an Edict of Restoration (538), which restored the Jews to their homeland and granted them specific permission to rebuild a temple to the Lord. The next year saw the first wave of exiles, led by Sheshbazzar return to the land from which they had been evicted. In 537 the new community managed to build an altar to the Lord and to reactivate the sacrificial regime, but soon after this it ran into opposition from the surrounding populations, and construction halted (536).

With the passage of time, the initial enthusiasm of the people had died down, and had been replaced by a deadening lethargy. So sixteen years later the voices of prophesy once again broke forth to announce God's word to his people. In 520, Haggai and Zechariah both spoke out concerning God's plans and the importance of building the Temple. Work began again, now under Zerubbabel (a descendant of David) and Jeshua (a Zadokite priest), and in 516 -- seventy years after its destruction -- the rebuilt Temple was completed. After this, there is something of a break in the narrative until the arrival of the next generation of returning exiles, under Ezra (458).

During this time, Cambyses (530-522) had succeeded his father Cyrus as king of Persia, then Darius (522-486) had succeeded him, and then Xerxes (486-465) in his turn. (The events recorded in the book of Esther probably occurred during this king's reign.) Finally, Artaxerxes (465-424) came to the throne. During his reign Ezra returned with his exiles, working to reestablish the theocracy, and Nehemiah returned (in 445), as the king's appointed governor in the area. During this period Malachi proclaimed his prophesy. It is possible that Joel would have done so at this time as well -- or possibly even later.

In all this we see that God's covenant relationship with his people still stood; that the voice of prophesy was once again heard in the land; and that he still held out to them the promise of redemption.

3.   The Themes of the Book

(1)   The people are called to repentance;
(2)   A series of eight night visions;
(3)   Israel will be restored, and the nations will also worship the Living God;
(4)   Two prophetic oracles concerning the advent and rejection of the Messiah.


MALACHI

1.   The Prophet: Biographical Sketch (family background and place of origin)

"Malachi" means "my messenger." And the book which bears his name begins thus: "An oracle: the word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi." This is rather terse compared to the superscriptions of the other prophets. Malachi is referred to neither as "prophet" nor is his father's name given. On the basis of these facts, some have argued that Malachi of 1:1 should be identified with the "my messenger" of 3:1. They argue further that this should be counted as Zechariah's third oracle in a series (i.e., effectively as Zechariah 15-18). But the most natural explanation is to regard Malachi as a proper name.

Dillard and Longman make the case, apparently along with most scholars, that Malachi's oracle was delivered sometime during the years of disillusionment which followed the completion of the Temple in 516, but preceded the re-energization of the people which Ezra brought in his wake in 458. Others, however, argue that many of Malachi's themes (his condemnation of the behavior of priests, of the neglect of contributions, of intermarriage with foreign women) are shared concerns of Nehemiah (compare Nehemiah 13 with Malachi 1:6-2:9; 3:6-12; 2:10-12, respectively) -- though a major difference is in the fact that Malachi does not deal with the issue of the desecration of the Sabbath. In any event, if we accept this later date for Malachi's ministry, we might reasonably place it to 433, during the period of Nehemiah's recall to Persia (Nehemiah 5:14; 13:6). I think the evidence favors the second position, though not conclusively.

2.   The Historical Situation: Dates, Audience, Events Domestic and Foreign

Judah had been invaded by the Babylonians in 586, its capital destroyed, and its population carried off into the seventy year exile of which Jeremiah had foretold. Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 and was succeeded by weaker rulers, Amel-Marduk [or: Evil-Merodach] (562-560), Neriglissar (560-556), Labashi-Marduk (556), and Nabonidus. Under this last ruler, Babylon was further weakened by religious dissension between him and the entrenched Marduk priesthood; he left his royal duties in Babylon to his son and co-regent, Belshazzar. During this time, events were accelerating in the north. In 550, Cyrus the Persian, a vassal of the Median king Astyages, rebelled against and overthrew him, establishing a new and vital Persian state which expanded in all directions while the Babylonia stagnated. Then in 539, Cyrus advanced upon Babylon, overthrowing Belshazzar and bringing Babylonian glory to a decisive end.

Cyrus (559-530), king of the newly ascendant Persian Empire -- who had been prophetically referred to in Isaiah 45:1 as none other than God's "anointed" -- proceeded to issue an Edict of Restoration (538), which restored the Jews to their homeland and granted them specific permission to rebuild a temple to the Lord. The next year saw the first wave of exiles, led by Sheshbazzar return to the land from which they had been evicted. In 537 the new community managed to build an altar to the Lord and to reactivate the sacrificial regime, but soon after this it ran into opposition from the surrounding populations, and construction halted (536).

With the passage of time, the initial enthusiasm of the people had died down, and had been replaced by a deadening lethargy. So sixteen years later the voices of prophesy once again broke forth to announce God's word to his people. In 520, Haggai and Zechariah both spoke out concerning God's plans and the importance of building the Temple. Work began again, now under Zerubbabel (a descendant of David) and Jeshua (a Zadokite priest), and in 516 -- seventy years after its destruction -- the rebuilt Temple was completed. After this, there is something of a break in the narrative until the arrival of the next generation of returning exiles, under Ezra (458).

During this time, Cambyses (530-522) had succeeded his father Cyrus as king of Persia, then Darius (522-486) had succeeded him, and then Xerxes (486-465) in his turn. (The events recorded in the book of Esther probably occurred during this king's reign.) Finally, Artaxerxes (465-424) came to the throne. During his reign Ezra returned with his exiles, working to reestablish the theocracy, and Nehemiah returned (in 445), as the king's appointed governor in the area. During this period Malachi proclaimed his prophesy. It is possible that Joel would have done so at this time as well -- or possibly even later.

In all this we see that God's covenant relationship with his people still stood; that the voice of prophesy was once again heard in the land; and that he still held out to them the promise of redemption. The Old Testament ends with its hopes pointed to the coming of God's messenger, toward the one who came in the person of John the Baptist, as reported in the Gospels.

3.   The Themes of the Book

(1)   God loves his people (1:2);
(2)   God is Israel's father and master(1:6);
(3)   God is Israel's father and creator (2:10);
(4)   God is the God of justice (2:17);
(5)   God does not change (3:6);
(6)   God is honest (3:13).



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© Faith Presbyterian Church 2009 • Jules Grisham, Pastor
Church Phone: (267) 392-5282 • E-mail: Jgrisham@faithprez.org