The Major Prophets (the longer books)

Isaiah
(750 - 700 BC)

Isaiah is full of beautiful imagery, with hope for a wonderful future with God's special servant, the Messiah, righting all wrongs. The thread running through Isaiah's long book of messages from God is, "I am the sovereign God: there is no other.” No one can compete with God, or question his wisdom or power.

Warnings and predictions
Israel had been invaded and ruined: God hated their sacrifices, festivals and prayers because of oppression of the poor, luxurious living, excessive interest charges, murder, bribery and no justice. Jerusalem would be besieged and attacked by night. There would be no more wedding feasts, and their leaders' graves would be desecrated and the bodies lie scattered on the ground, open to the stars they had consulted. There would be fear, destruction and chaos. The fashionable women would become shabby and disgusting and everyone would mourn for those lost in battle. Those who plotted to destroy others would be destroyed by their own plots. A few who lived right would be saved from the destruction. Isaiah warned not to listen to mediums but to God's messages. The astrologers and fortune tellers were useless.

The Messiah's reign
God would give them a special ruler, descended from King David, who would bring peace. The Messiah would be gentle and encouraging to the weak and damaged. He would bring light and justice to all the nations and free the prisoners. He would defend the rights of the poor and helpless. He would cause the blind to see, the deaf to hear and the lame to dance. During his reign, no animal or human would do any harm. The exiled people of Israel would return and everyone would do the right thing, so they would live in peace and safety.

The punishment of evil nations
God would punish Assyria for its pride and cruelty. For the same reason Babylon would become an uninhabited marsh. The Philistines would die from famine. Moab would all be slaughtered. Damascus would be destroyed, Sudan would be punished in war, but would one day worship God in Jerusalem. Egypt would suffer from civil war and drought, but would eventually worship God. Isaiah had to go naked for three years to symbolise the manner of Egypt's and Sudan's deportation.

Disaster and chaos predicted
A time would come when the whole earth would shake and stagger. No one would be safe, the crops would fail and the sun and moon would turn dark. God's warnings had been ignored, religion had become lifeless rules and traditions, so they would be surprised: their wisdom would turn out to be foolishness. God would end oppression, slander and injustice. Those who used Egypt's horses to get away would be no better off. But God would protect Jerusalem.

The restoration of Israel
Afterwards, God would provide food and drink, and comfort all those who were sad. He was the creator of everything, full of wisdom and power. Though Israel had been like a deserted wife, or a lonely widow, God would tenderly look after her like a good husband and never banish her again. They had done wrong but they would be reclaimed and forgiven, and gathered home from all over the world with joy: "sorrow and sighing shall flee away”. Although their land had been deserted, it would become too small for those returning from the diaspora. God would protect Israel and their fruit would go all over the world. Their attackers and accusers would fail, and foreigners would work in their vineyards and on their farms. A time would come when the nations would come to Jerusalem to hear God's judgements, and no one would train for war.

The Assyrian threat
A high official came from Assyria threatening to invade Israel. He sent King Hezekiah a letter which Hezekiah showed to God and asked him to save them. The prophet told him that not a shot would be fired. The next morning 185,000 Assyrian soldiers had died in the night. The Assyrians returned to their own land and the emperor was assassinated by two of his sons.

About idol worship
Idol worship is ridiculous: a man fells a tree and burns part to bake his bread. The other part he carves into a figure and bows down to it.

A heathen helper
A foreign, heathen king, Cyrus, would order the Jerusalem temple to be rebuilt. No one should question God's decision in this: he created everything.

The suffering servant
God's special servant would be ill-treated, despised rejected, but would endure it without a word. He would die with criminals but be buried with the rich. His suffering would achieve healing, his death forgiveness for the evil deeds of many. Finally, he would have joy in seeing his offspring, the results of his suffering. Many nations would be amazed by him and he would be honoured.

Distant nations waiting for liberation
People all over the world could ask for and receive God's protection. Distant lands were waiting for God to save them, and indeed he would liberate and rule over them. Foreigners would respect God and his people: they were all called to change their ways and their evil thoughts.

God does not think like humans and his ways are superior. God's people may include eunuchs and foreigners1. He is with anyone who is humble and turns away from evil.

1Contrary to Moses's law.

Proper religious duty
At the same time as going without food and reciting prayers they were quarrelling and oppressing their workers. What was the good of that? Proper religious duty would be to eliminate contempt, evil talk, violence, oppression and injustice, to share food and clothes with those who had none, provide the homeless with shelter and care for their own relatives. They should rest and worship on the seventh day, and get rid of lying, violence, murder and perjury.

No one to help
God has seen that no one is righting these wrongs, so he himself will rush in to end the oppression and injustice.

The new creation
God would make a new earth and heavens where nothing could harm and there would be only joy.

Where God lives
God has made the universe, he doesn't need a house. Instead, he lives with people who respect him and turn away from evil.

Quotes from Isaiah
1:17-18"Learn to do well: seek judgement, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord: "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
2:4He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and the spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
11:2-8The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid: and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them ... and the lion shall eat straw like the ox ... They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
40:3The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
42:1-7Behold my servant ... a bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench. I the Lord have called you ... for a light of the Gentiles1; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.
61:1-3The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all the mourn ... to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
53.4,6Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows ... he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities .. with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray: we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
55:7Let the wicked forsake his ways and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord and he will have mercy on him: and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
55:8-9"My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” says the Lord, "for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
1heathen non-Jews




Jeremiah (approx 600 - 550 BC)
Israel's wrongdoing
God remembered Israel's early faithfulness, but they had turned away. The prophet cried out against theft, denying the disadvantaged their rights, perverting justice, violence, murder, and adultery.

They enjoyed the prophets' and priests' false messages and murdered the real prophets. They worshipped idols, the Queen of Heaven, stones and trees and even sacrificed their children to other gods.

The scribes had changed and perverted the law as they copied it and the religious leaders didn't take the damage to the people seriously. As a result, Temple worship was useless.

Jeremiah called for them to change their ways and return to God.

Where God is
God is everywhere in the universe. He hears and sees everything, and he knew just what the false prophets had been doing.

Future destruction
Nebuchadnezzar would attack the region and Babylonia would rule them for seventy years: after that, Babylon would itself be conquered. Jeremiah had to wear a wooden yoke to symbolise Israel under the domination of Babylonia.

Jeremiah envisioned a wasted ground, a darkened sky and earthquakes. God would send a strong invading army from far away who would destroy everything and everyone except a few, whom they would deport as slaves. These would be scattered among nations they had never even heard of.

The potter and the clay pot
God was like a potter and the nations like clay. If a lump of clay turned out different from the potter's intentions he would turn it into something different. If a good nation did evil, or an evil nation changed and started to do right, God changed his intentions towards it according to its new direction. Jeremiah had to smash a clay pot in front of the community leaders to show what would happen to Israel in the future.

The future war
All the nations on earth would be involved in a terrible war, whether they wanted to or not, that would leave piles of dead bodies all over the world.

Jeremiah must not go to parties and weddings, nor to funerals, to illustrate that times would get so bad that no one would celebrate, or sympathise with those in mourning.

How to avert the disaster
All this could be avoided if they stopped murdering the innocent, oppressing immigrants and the socially disadvantaged. They must observe the Sabbath and turn from idolatry.

The reaction to God's messages
Jeremiah appealed both to ordinary people and politicians, but no one would listen to him. God had been sending prophets with messages ever since they left Egypt, but no one paid any attention.

People hated Jeremiah for his messages of doom; some even plotted to kill him. He himself was heartbroken by what God told him to say and didn't want to pass it on.

Jeremiah's sorrow
Jeremiah was in mourning over his people, their wrongdoing and deceit, and the fate that awaited them because of it.

Jeremiah's complaints
Jeremiah complained that wicked and dishonest people prosper and that because of them the birds and animals die and the grass withers. He asked why the other prophets foretold peace and prosperity, but God said they were only pretending to have messages from him. In reality, everyone would be dead, captured or in mourning, and the bodies would lie unburied.

The letter to Babylonia
After the invasion and exile that Jeremiah had correctly predicted, he sent a letter to those in Babylonia, encouraging them to settle, plant crops and have children and grandchildren, because they would stay there for seventy years.

The restoration of Israel
Although they would be scattered, eventually they would return and be settled in their land. Finally, the exiles would return from all over the world, especially from the northern country. This would be considered a greater miracle than the liberation from Egypt.

What to boast about
No one should boast about their wisdom, their strength or their wealth, but only that they know the Lord and his unchangeable love.

The incorporation of foreigners into God's people
The nations that had destroyed Israel's land would be uprooted, but if they turned to God they would resettle their own land and become part of God's people.

A new king promised
A just ruler, descended from David, would one day be appointed, called "The Lord our Salvation.”

The new covenant
God would make a new binding agreement with his people that would supersede the one made in Moses's time. Now, God would write his law in their hearts and they would all know God, and the record of their wrong deeds would be wiped clean.

Reading the book
Baruch wrote what Jeremiah said in a book and read it in the Temple during a fasting day. Some court officials had it read to the king, but he cut it up and burnt it, then tried to have Jeremiah and Baruch arrested. Jeremiah dictated a replacement book to Baruch.

The second invasion
While the Babylonians were attacking Jerusalem again, some years later, Jeremiah bought a field to indicate that property would once more be bought in Israel. He also said that there would always be a descendent of David as king of Israel.

Jerusalem fell and prisoners were taken. A governor was appointed who gave property to poor people. The expatriates heard this, returned from nearby nations and became prosperous, but this didn't last because the governor was assassinated. A lot of people ran off to Egypt out of fear the emperor would take revenge.

The fall of Babylon
Eventually, Babylon would be laid waste and never be inhabited again because of its contempt of God. The Jewish exiles must escape from Babylon with their lives before the invasion.

Conclusion
Another author sums up the historical events referred to in the book.

Quotes from Jeremiah
5:28"They overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge. Shall I not visit for these things?” says the Lord. "Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?”
8:11They have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, "Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.
13:23Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may you also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
17:9The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?
23:5-6A king shall reign and prosper, and he shall execute judgement and justice in the earth. In his days, Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely, and this is his name whereby he shall be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
29:11I know the thoughts that I think towards you, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.




Lamentations
(586 BC)

A collection of five poems lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon:
A lament for Jerusalem
God's punishment of Jerusalem
Submission to God's correction and hope of restoration and protection
Jerusalem's ruin
A prayer for restoration

Quotes from Lamentations
3:22-23It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is your faithfulness.
3:40Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.




Ezekiel
(600 - 550 BC)

Ezekiel was one of the exiled Jews living in Babylon. Ezekiel saw a vision of God's majesty, and God appointed him to be like a watchman to the people of Israel. A watchman who raises the alarm when he sees the enemy approach should not be blamed for the death of any who ignore the warning, but if he remains silent, he is responsible for any deaths. The same applied to God's watchmen, warning people to turn away from evil.

The orphan baby
God had cared for Israel when she was like a helpless orphan baby. When Israel was old enough, he made a marriage agreement with her, washed and perfumed her and clothed her in fine clothes and jewels. Now she was beautiful, she was unfaithful with heathen nations and other gods, even sacrificing her children to them. A prostitute might be promiscuous for pay but Israel gave gifts to her illicit lovers. God would gather her former lovers to destroy her. Jerusalem was as bad: it was worse than Sodom, where the women lived in luxury, and didn't care for the poor and disadvantaged. It was worse, too, than Samaria, which was despised for its heresy.

God had brought Israel out of idolatrous Egypt where they bowed down to statues, to make them a separate people. He gave them life preserving laws, and the Sabbath as a symbol of the agreement with them. Even then they strayed from him, but he gave the younger generation new chance. They were no better, so he decided to scatter them all over the world. He also gave them detrimental laws.

Israel's evil
Israel had done evil: murder among the nation's leaders, idolatry, sun and animal worship, violence, pride, murder, contempt for parents, cheating foreigners, exploiting the disadvantaged, desecrating holy places, perjury, idolatry, promiscuity, incest, adultery, unfair interest rates, hiring paid killers. Also, men were faking prophecies and women were selling enchanted garments, and this blinded them to their true predicament.

The shepherds: good and bad
The rulers of Israel were like uncaring shepherds, who took the milk and wool for themselves and ate the sheep, but never looked after them when they were ill or wandered off. Now predators caught the sheep and they were scattered and lost. God would rescue his sheep, Israel, from them and care for them himself, gathering the scattered ones, giving them good, safe, pasture in their own land and healing the sick and injured. The strong ones would be destroyed because of their cruelty to the weak. He would give them a good shepherd, like King David, and would ensure their safety.

Who takes the blame
God would hold no one responsible for the wrongs done by their family members. (This was a new idea.) Also, if either good or bad people changed, they would be treated according to their new direction.

Israel's punishment
Babylonia would put Israel to the sword because of their evil ways. God was so angry that if he brought any kind of disaster on a country because of its evil, nothing would stop him. If even Noah, Daniel and Job were living there, they alone would escape with their lives.

Israel's suffering would last for 390 years, and Judah's for 40. The siege would be so bad that they would turn to cannibalism. A third would survive but be scattered throughout the nations, and all the splendour and wealth would be destroyed. One disaster after another would follow. When they were scattered, other nations would dishonour them, but they would know the dispersion was God's doing.

Other nations' wrongdoing
Other nations would be punished for their evil and for despising God: Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon and Egypt.

God to watch over the exiles
Those in Babylon must always be assured, however, that God was with them, although they were far from their land, and that he would bring back those he had scattered to live in their own country once more. Then they would regret all their idolatry and evil sacrifices and God would give them a living heart in place of the stony heart they had now.

The restoration of Israel
Israel would return and rebuild all that was in ruins. Everyone would see lush crops and fruit trees growing where there had been desert. This was not for the Israelites' sake, who had disgraced God's name wherever they were scattered, but to restore his own reputation. Israel and Judah which had been two kingdoms would be united under one king, like King David, and God would place his temple among them. A stream would flow out of the temple towards the Dead Sea, making it fresh and supporting wildlife and fruit trees. The world would recognise this as God's doing. Lengthy specifications of the future temple, its consecration and who was to fulfil what function there are recorded towards the end of the book, together with regulations about dividing up the land after the restoration.

The valley of dry bones
This very famous passage tells of a vision Ezekiel had, representing Israel's future. He saw a valley covered with very dry human bones. Ezekiel watched while the bones rattled and moved together to form the correct joints, then the bones were covered with muscles, then skin. After that, God sent a wind to breathe life into these many bodies, and they stood up.

The invasion from the far north
A leader from the far north would invade Israel with a huge multinational force. On the day that they attacked, God would cause a devastating earthquake. Everyone would be terrified and the soldiers of the northern army would start fighting each other. Rain, hail, fire and sulphur would pour down on them and they would die on the northern mountains of Israel. The people would gather the weapons for fuel for seven years.

Quotes from Ezekiel
1:15-18Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel on the earth by the living creatures, (each) with his four faces. The appearance of the wheels ... and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went. As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful: and their rings were full of eyes round about them four.
16:49-50Behold, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy, and they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
18:2-4"What mean you, that you use this proverb ... ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'? As I live,” says the Lord God, you shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb ... the soul that sins, it shall die.”
33:11Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn you, turn you from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
36:25Then will I sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean ... A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.




Daniel

Set during the exile in Babylon. Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego were bright boys who were captured and taken to the court of the emperor, Nebuchadnezzar, where they became high-ranking officials. They refused the king's meat and wine and ate pulses instead.

The golden image
The emperor set up a huge golden image and commanded everyone to worship it. Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego would not and so were tied up and cast into a furnace. Those who threw them in died of the heat, but the fire only burnt their ropes off, and they came out unscathed. Then Nebuchadnezzar decreed that no one should speak disrespectfully of their God.

The seven year madness
Daniel interpreted a dream of Nebuchadnezzar's: he was to go mad for seven years and live in the field like an animal. Daniel begged him to save himself by having pity on the poor, but a year later the dream came true. After seven years Nebuchadnezzar was restored and publicly acknowledged God's power and majesty.

Belshazzar's feast and the writing on the wall
While Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar's son, was reigning, he was giving a feast when a hand appeared and wrote on the wall. They were terrified and could find no one who understood the writing. Finally, Daniel was called and promised many honours if he could explain it. He told the king that because of his disrespect for God the empire would be given to the Medes and Persians. That night, they attacked and killed Belshazzar.

Daniel in the lions' den
Darius, the new emperor, made Daniel his top official. Darius didn't mind his religion but jealous courtiers made it an excuse to try to get rid of him. They persuaded the king to forbid prayer to anyone but himself for a month, but Daniel continued as before, so they were to put him in a lions' den. This upset the king but he couldn't change the law of the Medes and Persians. After a sleepless night, he rushed out to discover Daniel's fate and found him untouched. He took him out and instead had those thrown in who had schemed against him. Darius also commanded that great respect be shown to Daniel's God.

Dreams and visions
Daniel also had the answers to the King's dreams and other portents. Much of the book of Daniel after this is concerned with symbolic prophetic visions concerning rulers, kingdoms and alliances that would arise in the future.

Quotes from Daniel
3:15-17(Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego said) "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God, whom we serve, is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image that you have set up.”
5:25-28Daniel said, "This is the writing that was written, MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN ... MENE: God has numbered your kingdom and finished it. TEKEL: you are weighed in the balances, and are found wanting. PERES: your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians”
12:1-3At that time Michael1shall stand up, that great prince which stands for the children of your people: and there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation ... and at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.
1Michael: one of God's top attendants (an archangel) and also the guardian of Israel.


Next section: The Minor Prophets
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Introduction and Index     Books of Moses     Books about the time of the Judges     History of the Era of the Kings      The Exile in Babylon     Songs and Wisdom     The Major Prophets     The Minor Prophets     The Gospels     Acts of the Apostles     Letters (Epistles) from Paul the Apostle     Letters (Epistles) from Other People     Revelation     Ten Commandments     Selection From Psalms     Selection From Proverbs     Jesus's teachings and sayings

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