This is an introductory session about the biblical prophets and a brief look into the history of Israel.
Feel free to ask questions or make comments on this post. After all, the best way to learn is for us to learn together.
This is the first attempt at an online study, so please let your pastors know if you have suggestions for how to improve your experience. This is a learning experience for us all.
First, let’s think about what we have heard about prophecy.
In our society, prophecy is primarily known as predicting the future, fortune telling and other divining that attempts to figure out what will happen.
Sound about right? Watch some TV or films (not the bible-based ones) and you can see how we as a society talk about prophets, and most tend to focus on the future and trying to know what is to come.
So now let’s think about biblical prophecy, which is a bit different.
1. Prophets are messengers from God. Prophecy is the message from God. Prophecy may predict the future, but typically in the way we set up future consequences for children: “if you continue to misbehave and to not listen, then this particular event will happen.”
2. Prophets seldom tell people what they WANT to hear. Instead, the message is always what people NEED to hear.
3. Prophecy can be harsh or uplifting (sometimes both). Harsh when God wants people to shape up, get back on track and stop misbehaving. Uplifting when God is sending words of comfort or hope to people who are feeling lost, ignored, unjustly punished or weary of suffering.
4. Prophets tended to exist during the reigns of kings. Not all lived within the kingdoms of Israel or Judah, but most of the biblical prophets brought their messages to the people of God. Some prophets went to other kingdoms with messages.
5. Prophecy looked more at past and present actions to see how people were behaving than any attempt at predicting the future.
6. Prophets were given the words to speak, but they chose the way to get the message from God to the people of God. This could include some highly unusual methods or startling language in attempts to get people’s attention.
So a brief summary of biblical prophecy: message from God delivered by persons called by God to act as God’s spokespersons.
– Israel = “wrestles with God.” This can refer to a) Jacob the grandson of Abraham, son of Isaac and father of 12 sons; b) the entire people of God; c) the united kingdom under David and Solomon; or d) the Northern Kingdom
– Judah = a) one of Jacob’s sons, b) family tribe descended from Judah, or c) the Southern Kingdom
– Exile = being taken away from home country into a new, foreign land by a conquering army
– CE = common era (academic way to refer to A.D. as the commonly accepted way of talking about time)
– House = physical building or family dynasty
And last but not least, a short timeline to help you (but remember that dates are approximate because ancient methods of timekeeping vary):
1000 BCE – David takes over Israel after King Saul. King David will unite all the tribes of Israel into one Kingdom moving capital from Hebron to Jerusalem. He rules 40 years before his son Solomon takes over
930 BCE – King Solomon dies. After his death, the succession is debated and the kingdom splits into Israel (Northern Kingdom, capital Samaria) and Judah (Southern Kingdom, capital Jerusalem). Israel abandons God before Judah, who has a few kings who lead the people back to God thus prolonging the Kingdom of Judah
722 BCE – Israel falls to Assyria and is lost forever (never identified as the people of God again)
587 BCE – Judah falls to Babylon and goes into exile, where the people of God live for three generations
540 BCE – King Cyrus of Persia defeats Babylon then lets exiles return to homelands in order to rebuild
Now that your brain is overwhelmed with details, aren’t you looking forward to actually digging into the messages that the biblical prophets brought from God to the people of God?