The messengers of God mentioned in the preceding chapter were prophetic men and women whose names and deeds find incidental reference in connection with the very condensed historic outline of the three and a half centuries of Judean independence. Besides these, there belong to this period seven prophets, a part of whose writings are preserved in the Sacred Scriptures. These are Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk. A tracing of the prophetic gift would be incomplete without brief mention of each of these; for not only did they bear a message for their own time, but passed on for the benefit of future generations illuminating contributions to the Messianic promises, and principles of universal application. Some of them looked even farther forward into the future day of the complete restoration from sin. Our own times are greatly illuminated by the record of this prophetic outlook.
The date of the writing of the book of Joel has occasioned much speculation. Many expositors believe that the internal evidence indicates that the country had been successively devastated by locusts, drought, and fire. The prophet, who lived in Jerusalem, graphically pictures the suffering of man and beast, and summons the inhabitants to fasting and prayer that God might send them relief. In answer to their repentance and prayers, God again blessed the land, sending the early and the latter rain in their season, and granting abundant harvests of fruit and grain.
But there was a deeper message in the book for future generations. In describing the revival and refreshing which occurred in his own day, he used language that clearly foretells the pouring out of God's Spirit upon all flesh, bringing to the church of Christ the early and the latter rain. These words were quoted by Peter as partly fulfilled at Pentecost. Acts 2: 16-21.
The day of the Lord is an expression used by Joel, as a time of divine retribution, imminent and present in his own day. But his prophetic eye also took in that great day of the Lord when the nations of earth are to assemble in the valley of Jehoshaphat, and where they will be destroyed by God's mighty ones. For these awful times, the assurance is granted that the Lord will be the hope of His people. Joel 3:16.
This prophecy closes with a picture of the peaceful scenes of the new earth, when God's people, cleansed and purified, shall dwell forever, from generation to generation.
Isaiah is regarded as the greatest prophet of the Old Testament. Because of his messianic visions, he is often called the gospel prophet.
He received his call through a vision of God's glory, which led him to bemoan his own sinfulness. Then, being assured of divine forgiveness, he was led to respond to the call of God for a messenger to speak for Him. A disheartening prospect was open before him. His teachings were to fall on deaf ears. He was to meet with willfully blinded eyes and a refusal to understand God's gracious message, or to be converted.
Anxiously he queried, Lord, how long? The answer was given, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate. Yet a gleam of hope is seen. His work should not be without fruit. A remnanta tenthshould return. There should remain the holy seed. Isa. 6:10-13.
This vision was given to Isaiah in the year that King Uzziah died. The first message of the book, addressed to a people spiritually blinded by outward prosperity, arraigns them not only as rebellious against their divine Sovereign, but as ungrateful children. Spiritually they were sick, covered from head to foot with wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores. With pathetic, pleading words, Isaiah urges them to put away the evil of their doings, to come and reason together with the Lord, who
promises, Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Isa. 1:18.
Through the successive reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, the prophet sought to lead the people back to loyalty to God, and thus save them from the imminent destruction of their nation. But they were deaf to his counsels and entreaties.
Ahaz was one of the most wicked kings of Judah. Isaiah was bidden to bear him a message of assurance, however, that the combined forces of Syria and Israel against Jerusalem should fail. He also definitely predicted the overthrow of both these kingdoms by the Assyrians.
In connection with this message occur two passages, illustrative of the double, or repetitive, application of many of the prophecies. Upon the refusal of Ahaz to ask a sign for the fulfillment of this assurance, the prophet said:
The Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Chapter 7:14.
Again, speaking of a ruler who would be raised up to deliver God's people from these enemies, he used the following language, couched in words of hyperbole common to Jewish speech, yet by no means extravagant when applied to Christ:
Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end. Chapter 9:6, 7.
King Hezekiah, the successor of Ahaz, gave heed to the counsels sent through Isaiah. In the first year of his reign, he and his people witnessed the beginning of the siege of the city of Samaria, by the army of Assyria. For three years, they heard of the horrors, suffering, and death of the beleaguered inhabitants, and finally of its capture. They saw their brethren of the
northern kingdom carried away as captives to a heathen land. Their tragic fate must have sobered the minds of the people of Judah; for in it they saw the fulfillment of the prophetic warnings. The certainty of a similar judgment upon their own nation, if they persisted in their evil ways, had been clearly foretold by the prophetsú Naturally, the king and the people were more responsive to Isaiah's words. Of Hezekiah it is said:
He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him . And the Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth. 2 Kings 18:5, 7.
In the fourteenth year of his reign, the king of Assyria came against the kingdom of Judah. He had taken all the fenced cities, and was threatening Jerusalem. Hezekiah offered submission and tribute, and stripped the treasuries to pay what was demanded by the invader. But this did not avail. The king demanded the surrender of the city, boastfully enumerating his successful campaigns, and defying the God of Israel to deliver it out of his hands. Hezekiah spread the king's letter before the Lord, and prayed earnestly for deliverance. God answered him through the prophet Isaiah, regarding the king of Assyria:
He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the Lord. For I will defend this city, to save it, for Mine own sake, and for My servant David's sake. 2 Kings 19:32-34.
The very night following the delivery of this message to Hezekiah, thousands of the hosts of Assyria mysteriously perished. Their king, Sennacherib, and the rest of the army returned to Nineveh. The same God who gave the prophecy through Isaiah, wrought the deliverance that was promised.
Yet Hezekiah was not free from wrong. When he erred, the prophet was the messenger of reproof. Ambassadors from Babylon
had come to congratulate the king upon his recovery from a serious illness with which had been associated a remarkable sign in the heavens. To these representatives of a far country, Hezekiah had shown all the treasures of his house. Thus, instead of directing their minds to the power of the God who had wrought so mightily for him, he manifested a regal pride in his royal possessions.
Soon the prophet appeared with a message of reproof for this vain display of wealth, naming for the first time the kingdom of Babylon as Judah's future oppressor. Some of Hezekiah's posterity were to be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. 2 Kings 20:18.
The story of Isaiah and his prophecies is of itself worthy of an entire book. In concluding this brief sketch of his work, we shall refer only to the well-known fact that he saw in the distant future the advent and saving work of Him who was to be wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. Far past His advent, the prophet beheld also His eternal peaceful reign, amid the glories of the earth made new.
While Isaiah was declaring the word of the Lord in Jerusalem to the king and princes of the people, there was living in the sea plains of Philistia a humble peasant, Micah by name, who was called to bear his testimony to the rank and file of the people. Like the prophet Isaiah, he foretold the captivity both of Israel and of Judah; and, in the case of the former, saw its fulfillment.
To him is given due credit for the reformation of King Hezekiah and the postponement of Judah's day of doom. Jeremiah 26:18, 19. With a wider sweep of prophetic vision, he beheld the restoration of the first dominion (Micah 4:7, 8), and specified the birthplace of the promised Messiah (chapter 5:2). His book closes with a reference to the God who pardoneth iniquity, and who is to fulfill the promises made unto Abraham and to our fathers from the days of old.
About two centuries after Jonah delivered his message of doom to Nineveh, which resulted in a temporary reformation and a postponing of the divine fiat of destruction, the prophet Nahum wrote, pronouncing a sentence of final destruction upon the city for her accumulated sins. At the time he wrote his prophetic scroll, the Assyrian Empire was seemingly at the height of its power. Although Assyria was the scourge in the hand of the Lord for the punishment of His own people, yet the day of her own reckoning was at hand.
Behold, I am against thee, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will burn her chariots in the smoke, and the sword shall devour thy young lions: and I will cut off thy prey from the earth, and the voice of thy messengers shall no more be heard. Nahum 2:13.
Thus was emphasized the truth that the Most High rules in the kingdoms of men. He might use other nations, even heathen powers, to afflict His own backslidden people; but these nations, in turn, would not escape His judgments when they had filled up their cup of iniquity.
I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the Lord. I will consume man and beast . I will also stretch out Mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place. Zeph. 1:2-4.
With these startling words the prophet Zephaniah, who lived in the days of Josiah, added his testimony regarding the judgments that would come upon an impenitent people. Fourteen times in this brief prophecy occurs the expression, day of the Lord. It is therefore worthy of the careful study of those today for whom the antitypical day of the Lord is near, and hasteth greatly. Verse 14.
His prophecies of impending judgment upon Judah apply with equal force to the judgments that are to fall upon an impenitent world at the time of the second advent of Christ.Prophets and Kings, p. 389.
But mingled with the portrayal of the terrors of God's wrath are many expressions of His tenderness and love. We today may well heed the counsel given by Zephaniah to those of his own time:
Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought His judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord's anger. Chapter 2:3.
Jeremiah was called of God to the prophetic office at an early age. He prophesied during the reigns of the last five kings of Judah. Vainly he hoped that the reformation begun under Josiah might be permanent. For forty years he stood as a living example of truth and righteousness. He shared in the perils and hardships incident to the siege of Jerusalem. His counsel to the king of Judah to submit to Nebuchadnezzar was made the basis of a charge of treason.
He suffered imprisonment by command of the king, and was often threatened with death by his own countrymen. When about 586 B. C. the city was finally taken by the Babylonian king, and most of the inhabitants of the land were carried into captivity, Jeremiah was treated kindly by the victors. Given his choice of remaining in the land or of being treated with honor in Babylon, he preferred to remain with the company of his people left in Judea.
When his fellow countrymen insisted on going down to Egypt, contrary to the divine counsel, he went with them.
His prophecy is remarkable for the pathos of its language, even while faithfully declaring the purpose of God to afflict His people. His prediction that they should be permitted to return to their land after the expiration of seventy years brought comfort and hope to the exiles in Babylon.
The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee. Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel . Thou shalt yet plant vines upon the mountains of Samaria:
the planters shall plant, and shall eat them as common things. Jer. 31:3-5.
Jeremiah cried out in anguish as he witnessed the terrible wars of the last days, as he saw the slain of the Lord from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth. Chapter 25:33. He saw also the desolated earth as it will appear after the coming of Christ, when the wicked shall be destroyed by the glory of God, and the righteous shall reign for a thousand years in heaven. He says:
I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light . I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and by His fierce anger. Chapter 4:23-26.
But he was permitted to look still farther down the stream of time to the final restoration, when Christ, the King of spiritual Israel, shall reign forever.
In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The Lord our righteousness. Chapter 33:15, 16.
Written in the most beautiful Hebrew language is a book of only three chapters, but truly worthy of its place in the canon of Scripture. The author, the Judean prophet Habakkuk, was unable to understand why the evils which he saw in the land, and over which he mourned, were unchecked. The Lord, in vision, answered the question in his mind, and declared that the evil should not go unpunished. The Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, were soon to come as a scourge against Judah.
But this answer raised another question: Why should a nation even more wicked than Judah be permitted to triumph over them? In His reply to this perplexity, the Lord not only sets forth the principle that punishment will come upon the transgressor,
but He also proclaims the great central truth of the gospel, that the just shall live by his faith. Hab. 2:4.
In the prayer with which this book closes is a description of the coming of Christ. The prophet trembled as he contemplated the day of trouble, but closes with a paean of triumphant faith and trust which may well sustain God's people today:
Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. Chapter 3:17, 18.
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand. Dan. 1:1, 2.
The city was not yet destroyed. Vessels from the house of God were taken to be placed in the temples of Babylon. The prediction made to Hezekiah by Isaiah was now fulfilled. Certain of the royal seed were taken to Babylon, as eunuchs in the king's palace. From this time is reckoned the seventy years of Jewish captivity, though it was not till twenty-two years later that the folly of the kings of Judah in resisting the kingdom of Babylon resulted in the final overthrow of the nation, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the wholesale captivity of the people of the land.
The prophet Jeremiah stayed in Judah, and continued to witness for God to those who remained. He also wrote letters of encouragement to the captives in Babylon, reminding them of the promises of God for their restoration. He warned them against sedition, and gave them the following wise counsel:
Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. Jer. 29:5-7.