Bishop Alexander of the Russian Orthodox church
Contents: Importance of Prophecies. Time of the Prophets. Chronology. Significance of the Prophets. Reproof and consolation. A Review of the Prophetical Books in Chronological Order: Books of: 1. Joel, 2. Jonah, 3. Amos, 4. Hosea, 5. Isaiah, 6. Micah, 7. Zephaniah, 8. Nahum, 9. Habakkuk, 10. Jeremiah, 11. Obadiah, 12. Ezekiel, 13. Daniel, 14. Haggai, 15. Zechariah and 16. Malachi. Index of the Most Important Predictions and Topics. Conclusion.
The stream of time rushes the shuttle of our life to the infinite ocean of eternity. Neither people, nor demons, nor angels, but only God knows what awaits each of us. Some people are trying to unwrap the mystery of the future by using horoscopes, fortune-telling, witchcraft, superstitious tokens and other sinful and vain means, which are banned in the Holy Scripture (Lev. 19:31 and 20:6, Deut. 18:10-13, Jer. 27:9-10). However what is useful for us to know about our future has already been revealed by God through His Only-Begotten Son, and through the mediation of His selected people, the Prophets and the Apostles.
To an extent, every book of the Holy Scripture contains prophecies. Some of the Biblical books predominantly tell us about the future events, though; therefore they are called prophetical. We can find sixteen prophetical books in the Old Testament and one, The Apocalypse, in the New Testament. The Old Testament books of prophecies include the Books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. The writers of the first four books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel) are called the Major Prophets, because their books are bigger in size than the books of the other fourteen prophets, who are therefore called Minor. There are two more books that are added to the Book of Jeremiah: The Lamentations of Jeremiah and the Book of Baruch. Sometimes the prophets wrote down their discourses themselves; sometimes their followers recorded them. Many predictions from the prophetic books have already been fulfilled, namely those about the fate of some ancient nations, the advent of the Messiah, and the New Testament times. The prophecies about the Last Times of the world (the kingdom of the antichrist, the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of all the dead and the Last Judgment) are yet to come true. However, there are already some indications that these events of the end of mankind's history are approaching. As well as the miracles, the prophecies bear the witness of God's selection of the prophets and inspiration of their books.
The Christian faith teaches us that the future of each person and the entire mankind is not a result of a conjunction of incidental circumstances, or 'fate.' All events in the inanimate nature are fully controlled by the Maker. As regards the acts of men, God has given us the freedom of doing things that we wish, but He is assisting us in the implementation of our good intentions. All of the Holy Scripture, the Lives of Saints, and an insight into our own lives would convince us that God cares about the well-being of humans and directs their lives to salvation.
If acts of a person are determined only by his or her own will, how then can God foresee what exactly the person will decide to do? Answering this question, we must take it into account that the past and the future are human concepts. God lives beyond and above the time; for Him, everything is in the present. Everything to the tiniest detail is bare before His all-seeing eyes: every big and small event in the life of each living being, secret thoughts and desires, all things happening in the life of the human society in past, present and future, everything that is taking place in the most remote ends of the Universe, in the world of angels and in hell.
Why does God conceal from us some future events but reveals others? He does so for our spiritual benefit. From that tragic moment when the first man listened to the tempter and broke the commandment of God, the intense struggle over human soul has been going on, and the man is in the very center of the fighting. The Lord, angels and the saints who achieved perfection are his protectors and helpers, while demons and the people who took the evil part are his enemies. In order to help a believer to gain a victory, God shows him what his certain acts lead to, what snares the devil sets up, and what the Lord intends to do to help the faithful. On the other hand, concealing certain things, like the day of death, from a human, God makes him keep up his good effort at all times.
When circumstances require, the prophetic predictions can be very specific and detail the events of the future, naming countries, cities, people and even giving timeframes. But more often the prophecies combine in one panorama several events, divided by many centuries, yet akin in spirit. Such juxtaposition of different events in one vision is possible because the isolated facts are not equal in importance to the spiritual processes that run in the depths of human hearts. That is why prophecies predominantly speak about the moral condition of people and demonstrate the relationship between this condition and future things. At that, the prophecies provide the utmost clear manifestations of God's care for all humans, His guiding hand in the lives of individual people and countries and the entire world; His infinite love and long-suffering for those who seek good, and the wrath of His justice to those persisting in their sins and cooperating with the devil.
The aim of our two brochures, dedicated to the prophetic books of the Old Testament, is to familiarize the reader with the content of the prophetic books. In our previous brochure — “The Old Testament Regarding the Messiah” — we gave examples of predictions about the advent of the Messiah, His personality, acts and miracles. To avoid repetition, we will discuss other predictions and sermons of the ancient prophets here.
It will be easier to understand the books of prophecies, if we are aware of the spiritual circumstances under which they were written. This is why we will briefly tell the reader about the most important events of those times.
Under Solomon's son king Rehoboam (980 B.C.), the kingdom of Israel split into two kingdoms: Judea and Israel. Descendants of King David reigned in Judea, situated in the South of the Holy Land. Jerusalem, overseen by the beautiful temple built by Solomon on the mount Zion, was its capital. The law allowed the Jews to have only one temple, which was the spiritual center for the Jewish community. Judea consisted of two tribes: descendants of Judah and Benjamin. The other 10 tribes were in the kingdom of Israel in the northern part of the Holy Land. Its capital was Samaria, reigned by kings of various dynasties.
The Israeli kings, fearing that their subjects, who visited the temple in Jerusalem, would wish to again become loyal to the kings Judah, prevented them from making pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They built pagan sanctuaries in different parts of Israel to tend to the spiritual needs of the people, and encouraged the people to worship idols. The temptation of idolatry was strong, because all the nations that surrounded Israel worshipped various deities. Phoenician god Baal was especially popular. Together with idol worship, the Jews borrowed rude and immoral heathen traditions.
In this time of hardship for the religion, God sent His prophets to Israel to impede the spiritual decay and restore the piety among the people. The first Israeli prophets, Elijah and Elisha, lived under Ahab, Jehu and Jehoahaz, kings of Israel, from 900 B.C. till 825 B.C. They did not leave any records of their preaching to the posterity, though the miracles they worked and some of their teachings were put down in the First and Second Books of Kings.
During the long reign of Jeroboam II (782-740 B.C). the Israeli kingdom reached the highest prosperity. The weakened neighboring kingdoms of Syria, Phoenicia, Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites did not bother the Jews. Peace and prosperity accompanied the expansion of the borders of the kingdom of Israel. These were the blooming days of arts and commerce. But at the same time the morality started to degrade rapidly. The rich oppressed the poor, judges acquitted for bribes, depravity was rampant among the superstitious public. The prophets Joel, Amos and Hosea fought against these evils.
Jonah has a special place amongst the prophets because he did not preach to the Jews, but did it in Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. After his preaching and the repentance of the Ninevites, the Assyrian kingdom started to strengthen, expand and subsequently became a mighty military power. In two centuries, the Assyrian Empire spread over the territories of modern Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Israel. In 738 B.C. the king of Israel was forced to pay an enormous tribute to Tiglathpileser of Assyria. As the demands of Assyrian kings were increasing, the Israeli kings had to seek allies among the kings of the neighboring countries. King Tekoah of Israel together with Rezin the king of Syria attempted to force Ahab the king of Judea into a union against Assyria. Scared Ahab called for help from Tiglathpileser III. In 734 Tiglathpileser invaded Israel again, attached Galilee and Damascus to his kingdom and led many Israelites to captivity. While Tiglathpileser was alive, Israeli king Hoshea was submissively paying the regular tribute to Assyria. But after his death an alliance with Egypt was made. Then Shalmaneser IV the king of Assyria invaded Israel and devastated it and his successor Sargon conquered and devastated Samaria, the capital of Israel, in 722. Israelites were expatriated to different parts of the vast Assyrian Empire, and neighboring peoples were relocated to their land. Such was the end of the kingdom of Israel. Samaritans, the descendants of Israelites mixed with pagans, later settled in the area. The prophets Joel, Amos and Hosea predicted the forthcoming adversities to Israel. They saw the repentance as the only way for the Jewish people to escape them.
The Judean kingdom existed for more than a hundred years after the collapse of Israel. When Samaria fell, the pious king Hezekiah (725-696) reigned in Judaea. Following the politics of his father Ahab, he maintained the alliance with Assyria. However, after the death of Sargon Hezekiah joined the coalition of the neighboring countries, trying to overthrow the Assyrian yoke. In 701 the Assyrian army led by king Sennacherib invaded Judaea and devastated several Judean cities. Hezekiah bought out with a large tribute. Soon Sennacherib invaded Judaea again, intending to collect new tribute needed to support his military power, and threatened to destroy Jerusalem. Relying on God's help, Hezekiah decided to defend Jerusalem. Then the prophet Isaiah stepped forth and predicted that Sennacherib's designs would fail and God would save the Jews. Indeed, during the following night an angel of the Lord defeated the 185,000-strong Assyrian army. Ashamed, Sennacherib returned to Assyria and was soon murdered by conspirators (2 Kings 20). Isaiah provided a flourishing manifestation of the gift of prophecy. His book is a remarkable monument of the prophetic writing. We will discuss it later in more detail. The prophets Micah and Nahum prophesied around the same time.
Hezekiah's impious son Manasseh (696-41 B.C). was the opposite of his faithful and kind father. His reign turned out to be the darkest period in the history of the Jewish people. It was the time when prophets were persecuted and faith ruined. Manasseh made a union with Assyria and set himself a goal of making paganism the prevailing religion in his country. He mercilessly murdered the advocates of the faith. The great Isaiah was martyred during his reign, which lasted around fifty years and caused unrecoverable harm to the faith. The few prophets who survived the persecutions were hiding, and nothing is known about their activities. In his old age Manasseh attempted to get rid of the dependence on Assyria, but paid for it dearly. Eventually he recognized his guilt before God and repented, but neither the aging Manasseh, nor his successors managed to restore the faith among the people.
The pious king Josiah (639-08 B.C). reigned after Manasseh. Eager to revitalize the people's belief in God, he zealously undertook a religious reform, and regular services resumed in the Temple. However, the success of his reforms was mostly superficial. Pagan traditions and superstitions had taken deep root in the people. The upper class was morally degraded. Yet the prophets Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk and particularly Jeremiah tried to wake the people for repentance and restore the faith in God. In 608 the Egyptian army of Pharaoh Nechoh II made war with Assyria and passed through Judaea. Josiah wanted to remain loyal to Assyria and faced Pharaoh Nechoh in a battle, but was defeated at Megiddo. For a short time Judaea became subject to Egypt.
This was the time of loss of power of Assyria and strengthening of the Babylonian monarchy. Joined armies of Nabopellessar of Babylon (king of the Chaldeans) and Xerxes of Media destroyed Nineveh in 606. This was the end of the militant Assyrian Empire, which sent dismay and devastation throughout the neighboring countries for a hundred and fifty years. Nabopellessar's successor Nebuchadrezzar (Nabuchodonosor) on a victorious march to Egypt invaded Judaea, and in 604 king Jehoiakim became a Babylonian subject. Despite the warnings of Jeremiah, Jehoiakim's son Jehoiachin raised a revolt against Babylon and with many of his court was led to captivity in Babylon (It was the first Babylonian captivity in 597). The prophet Ezekiel was among the captives. In 588, under king Zedekiah, Judaea rebelled against Babylon (Chaldea) again. In 586 Jerusalem was besieged and taken. The Temple was burned down, and the city was destroyed. The blinded king with other subjects was led away into Babylonian captivity. It was the beginning of the second Babylonian captivity. The Jews spent in captivity about 70 years, from 597 B.C. till 536 B.C.
(Years Before Christ).
Kings of Israel
Kings of Judah
Malachi 475 cr
In 446 Artaxerxes ruled to restore Jerusalem.
Ezra collected the Holy Scriptures 450-25
Development of Phoenicia
Development of Assyria
Foundation of Rome 750
Fall of Israel 722
Siege of Jerusalem 700
Persecution of Prophets
Fall of Nineveh 606
Fall of Jerusalem 586
Fall of Babylon 539
Cyrus of Persia 559-29
Return from Captivity
Darius I. Restoration of the Temple 534-16
Beginning of the Weeks of Daniel
In the Old Testament times the priests, in principle, only made sacrifices prescribed by the law. They did not take care of the public morality. They were priests, not pastors. The Jewish people sojourned in spiritual ignorance and easily adopted heathen superstitions. That is why teaching the Jews to believe and live correctly was the main goal of the prophets. In view of the violations of God's law, the prophets sternly denounced those who sinned, whoever they were: ordinary people or princes, priests or judges, slaves or kings. Their inspired words had great power to wake the repentant feeling and the desire to serve God. The prophets were the conscience of the people, and 'elders' for those seeking spiritual counsel and instruction. It is only owing to the prophets that the Jewish people retained the true faith until the nativity of Christ. The first followers of Christ had been the followers of the last of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist.
While among the Jews the priesthood was inheritable, God called people for prophetic ministry individually. Prophets were coming from various social strata: peasants and shepherds, like Hosea and Amos; upper class, like Isaiah, Zephaniah and Daniel; there were also prophets descending from priests, like Ezekiel and Habakkuk. The Lord did not choose the prophets by their social ancestry, but by their spiritual qualities.
As centuries passed, an image of a true prophet of God developed among the Jews: a man fully unselfish, infinitely devoted to God, fearless before the powerful people but, at the same time, deeply humble, demanding to himself, compassionate and fatherly. God's prophets became advocates and protectors of many weak and abused people.
It hurt the souls of prophets to see violations of justice and piety. They understood that breach of the law by a minority was a bad example and temptation for the others. They saw that immorality was dragging the country to spiritual and physical catastrophe. Therefore, in the strongest of words and with relentless sincerity they rebuked the sinners and openly talked about the severity of punishment for their lawlessness.
Below are several rebuking statements, characteristic of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah:
“Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters... Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment... Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting” (Isaiah 1:4-6, 1:13-18).
Menacing are God's words said through the prophet Jeremiah shortly before the fall of Jerusalem:
“Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD... are these... Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?”
Seeing the hardening of the people’s hearts, the prophet bitterly mourned their perdition in these words:
“Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them! for they be all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men... And they will deceive every one his neighbor, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity... Shall I not visit them for these things? saith the LORD: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this? I will make Jerusalem heaps, and a den of dragons; and I will make the cities of Judah desolate, without an inhabitant” (Jeremiah, Chapters 7 and 9).
But the prophets not only reproved. When it came to public adversities and woe, they were quick to give consolation to those who repented with hope for God's mercy, promised Divine help and foretold a better future.
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD's hand double for all her sins. O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom” (Isaiah 40:1-2; 9-11).
To make the discussion of the prophetic books clearer, we will order it chronologically. We will talk about the prophets who lived between 9th and 6th centuries B.C.: Joel, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah. This first period is centered on Isaiah, whose book is to be viewed as the high blossom of the gift of prophecy. The visions of the prophets of that time were turned to the collapse of the kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. The first period ended in king Manasseh's persecution and massacre of prophets.
Chronologically, Joel was the first prophet to leave records of his preaching. Joel exercised his prophetical ministry in Judah, probably under the kings Joash and Amaziah, around 800 years B.C. He called himself the son of Pethuel. Those were the years of relative peace and well being. Jerusalem, Zion, the Temple and divine services were always on the prophet's lips. However, the prophet viewed the disasters that struck Judah — drought and, especially, the awful locusts — as the beginning of God's judgment over the Jews and all people.
The main vice attacked by Joel is the mechanical, spiritless doing of the rites prescribed by the law. It was the time when the pious king Joash was trying to restore religion in Judah, but succeeded mainly in improving its external manifestations. The prophet foresaw even greater increase of pagan superstitions and subsequent God's punishment, and called the Jews to sincere repentance, saying, “Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil” (Joel 2:12-13).
Often Joel's single prophetic vision combined events divided by many centuries but similar from religious perspective. For example, the forthcoming God's judgment over the Jewish people was combined in Joel's vision with the forthcoming God's judgment over the Universe at the end of the world:
“Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake” (Joel 3:12-18).
But the Holy Ghost was to descend, and the people of God were to be renewed in spirit before the Great Judgment over the world:
“I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered” (Joel 2:28-32).
The Apostle Peter reminded the Jews of this prophecy of Joel when the Holy Ghost descended on the day of Pentecost.
The prophet Joel speaks on the following subjects: locusts (1:2-20), the coming of the Day of the Lord (2:1-11), call for repentance (2:12-17), God's mercy (2:18-27), spiritual restoration (2:28-32); prediction of the Judgment over all nations (3:1-17) and subsequent blessing of God (3:18-21).
Jonah, the son of Amittai, was born in Gathhepher of Galilee (near future Nazareth). He exercised the gift of prophecy in the second half of the 8th century before Christ in Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. He is supposed to be a younger contemporary and follower of the prophet Elisha. Jonah's tomb can be seen in El-Meshkhad, a village situated at the place of ancient Gathhepher.
The Book of Jonah does not contain the usual preaching addressed to the Jews, but describes Jonah's embassy to pagan Nineveh. Jonah initially did not want to go and preach to the Gentiles where God had sent him, and boarded a ship in Joppa to sail to Tarshish (Spain). In order to convince the prophet, the Lord sent a violent storm in the sea, which caused Jonah's ship to start sinking. Frightened sailors learned that Jonah's disobedience was the cause of the unprecedented storm, and threw him into the sea to stop God's anger. Indeed, the storm ceased and Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish. (This is possible, though the case is very rare. There are whales, called “Fin-Buck,” that reach 88 feet in length. Their stomachs may have 4 to 6 sections, each capable of holding a small group of people. Whales inhale air and each has a 686 cubic feet air chamber in the head. Sometimes animals and people were found alive in the heads of such whales. Shark whales, reaching the length of 70 feet, also can hold a man without causing injury). Having spent about three days inside the fish, Jonah deeply repented of his disobedience and started to pray God to forgive him. Then the Lord ordered the fish to get Jonah to the land, and the prophet found himself on a beach close to Beirut. Convinced by these events, the prophet obediently proceeded to Nineveh, preaching denouncement and punishment for the city. The Ninevites believed the prophet, imposed strict fasting on themselves and their cattle, and deeply repented. The Lord had mercy on Nineveh and averted His punishment. The lives of over a quarter of a million people were saved. As the time passed, Nineveh became a capital of a powerful and militant state.
The book of Jonah gives a vivid example of God's love to all people, regardless of their nationality. The Lord Jesus Christ reminded the Jews of the miracle of Jonah and reproved them for not repenting, as the Ninevites had repented after Jonah's preaching, though they had a prophet greater than Jonah amongst them. The Lord pointed at Jonah's mysterious stay in a whale's belly for three days and nights as the prototype of His three-day stay in a grave and subsequent resurrection (Matthew 12:39-41).
Jonah's prayer in the belly of the whale, cited at the end of the second chapter of his book, is the model for the heirmos of the sixth ode of the Matins. Jonah's prayer started with the following words, “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and He heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and Thou heardest my voice.”
Amos was of a poor family. He was born in Tekoah, between the Dead Sea and Bethlehem. This is how he told about his vocation to prophecy, “I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit: And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel” (Amos 7:14-15). Amos prophesied in Bethel and other towns of the kingdom of Israel under the king Jeroboam II. He was a contemporary of the prophets Hosea, Micah and Isaiah. Those were the years of relative peace and prosperity.
The prophet was a shepherd by birth and grieved about the oppression of the poor people, keeping back laborers' hire, injustice and bribery of judges, depravity of rulers and negligence of priests. Amos viewed the restoration of justice as the first precondition in averting God's punishment. He was persecuted for his prophecies, and by the intriguing of Amaziah the priest of Bethel, the prophet was even exiled from this town.
At that time the Gentile states and towns had their 'patron gods'. In a like way, some Jews saw God Jehovah as their local God, comparable with Phoenician god Baal and other deities. The prophet Amos emphasized that the power of God stretched out beyond His chosen people, to the entire Universe, and the pagan deities were nothing. All peoples, not the Jews only, were responsible before God for what they had done, and would be punished for their iniquities. Amos' preaching went far beyond the boundaries of Israel: it was addressed to the Edomites, Ammonites and Moabites, as well as to the capital cities of Damascus, Gaza and Tyre. Having called the Jewish people to the faith, God manifested His special mercy to them. Therefore the Jews were to set good examples to the neighboring nations, and more would be required from them than from others at the Judgment: “Hear this word... the family which I brought up from the land of Egypt. You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:1-2).
The prophet saw that, due to the wickedness of the people, a spiritual famine was coming nearer, and that would be worse than physical starvation: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:11-12). This prophecy is coming true in front of our eyes in the countries of militant atheism, where the word of God is sometimes being picked out from quotations of the anti-religious propaganda.
Summarized content of the book of Amos is as follows: denouncement of the sins of Israel and neighboring nations (Chapters 1 and 2), renouncement of the mighty and rich people and call for justice (Chapters 3 through 5), prediction of God's Judgment (5:18-26). The last chapters (6-9) include five visions of the judgment of God. The conclusion of the book of Amos is a prediction of the spiritual revival of people.
The prophet Hosea, the son of Beeri from the tribe of Issachar, lived and prophesied in the kingdom of Israel shortly before its collapse. His prophetic ministry began at the end of the reign of Jeroboam II around 740 B.C. and lasted until the fall of Samaria in 721. It was a period of spiritual decline of the Israeli people, increase of idolatry and spiritual depravity. Pressure from the hostile Assyria added to the political instability in Israel and frequent coups d'état.
The prophet Hosea energetically denounced the vices of his contemporaries, and especially the obscene pagan traditions that the Jews had adopted from the neighboring nations. Hosea also predicted the forthcoming misfortunes. It is known of his personal life that he married Gomer who was publicly unfaithful to him and adulterous. The prophet had to divorce her formally, but he still loved and sympathized with her. His own personal drama was for the prophet a picture of how sad the spiritual adultery of the Israeli people was for God, Who made a covenant with them on Sinai — the covenant that the Jews broke and dishonored when they fell in spiritual fornication. Therefore the Lord predicted through the medium of the prophet that the Jews would be rejected, and the Gentiles called to the Kingdom of God: “And I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God” (Hosea 2:18-23).
The prophet also rebuked the priests who reduced the faith in God to callous rites, and neglected to instruct the people in the law of God:
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame. They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity. And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings” (Hosea 4:6-9).
The prophet further addressed those who were still able to hear his preaching, “Come, and let us return unto the LORD... His going forth is prepared as the morning; and He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.” That is what God values in the actions of people: “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:1-3, 5-6).
In view of the forthcoming destruction of the kingdom of Israel, Hosea made his best effort to wake a feeling of repentance in the people. But he also saw what was to come after the disasters, at the end of time, when the people of God would be fully renewed, and when all grieves and death itself would be eliminated: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction” (Hosea 13:14). Some phrases from the book of Hosea were often cited by the New Testament writers (See Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:15; Hosea 6:6, Matthew 9:13; Hosea 2:23, 1 Peter 2:10; Hosea 13:14, 1 Corinthians 15:55; Hosea 10:8, Luke 23:30 etc.).
The content of the book of the prophet Hosea is as follows: unfaithful wife and whoredom of Israel (1-2), God's faithfulness (3), reproof of Israel (4-7), God's judgment over Israel (8-10), a series of brief discussions on the previous topics (11-14). The book closes in the promise of salvation for the righteous (14).
Isaiah, one of the greatest prophets of all time, lived in the first half of the 8th century B.C. Generously endowed by God with spiritual gifts, Isaiah belonged to the capital's high society and had free access to the royal house. He had political views of a statesman and an outstanding poetic talent. The alliance of these exclusive qualities made his book unique in the ancient literature. The book of Isaiah is rich in prophecies of the Messiah, His blessed Kingdom and the New Testament time, therefore the prophet Isaiah is called “the Old Testament Evangelist.”
The prophet Isaiah, the son of Amos, was born in Jerusalem around 765 B.C. (The name Isaiah means “God is saving.”) When Isaiah was 20, he was called to prophetic ministry by a special revelation of God: he saw God Sabaoth, sitting on the throne, surrounded by angels (Isaiah, Chapter 6). Isaiah prophesied under Azaraias, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, the kings of Judaea. He is known to have been married with two children. His prophetic ministration ended in martyrdom in the 8th year of the reign of Manasseh when, according to the tradition, the prophet was sawn asunder with a wooden saw (Hebrews 11:37). Apart from the book of prophecies, he wrote chronicles of kings Uzziah and Hezekiah (now lost, though) and put in order the last seven chapters of the Proverbs of Solomon (Proverbs 25:1).
Under kings Azaraias (Uzziah) and Jotham the Jewish people were infected with idolatry, which even more increased under Ahaz. This king “made molten images for Baalim... and burnt his children in the fire” (2 Chronicles 28:1-4). Pekah, the king of Israel and Rezin, the king of Syria made a ware against him. Ahaz sent rich gifts to the Assyrian king Tiglathpileser and he vanquished Pekah and Rezin, but imposed a large tribute on Ahaz. The prophet Isaiah encouraged the people during the invasion by Pekah and Rezin and gave the king a sign of victory over them in the prophecy about the Messiah's birth from a Virgin (Isaiah 7:14). Yet the prophet reproved Ahaz for asking help from the Assyrian king.
Ahaz's son Hezekiah was pious. However, the morality of the urban inhabitants degraded so that the prophet likened them to the Gentiles, exterminated by God: “The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves” (Isaiah 3:9-11).
The prophet especially armed up against judges and the people at the helm of power, whose responsibility was to protect the innocent and care about justice:
“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! Woe unto them that... justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!”
“Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!” (Isaiah 5:20-23, 10:1-2).
The prophet predicted that for these crying iniquities “the LORD will cut off from Israel head and tail, branch and rush, in one day. The ancient and honorable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail” (Isaiah 9:14-15).
Both the ministers of the Temple and the Temple goers were not flawless, and the prophet accused them of callousness and hypocrisy: “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Isaiah 29:13).
The prophet grieved over the sins of the people in the following prayer:
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O LORD, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people” (Isaiah 64:6-9).
Yet the prophet believed in the power of repentance, and that there is no sin beyond the mercy of God:
“Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith 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. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it” (Isaiah, Chapter 1).
In the 14th year of the reign of Hezekiah, Sennacherib of Assyria attacked Jerusalem. By the king's and the prophet's prayer, the 185,000 strong Assyrian army was defeated by a God's angel, and the city was saved (Isaiah, Chapters 36-37). After a while, the king Hezekiah became fatally sick, but was miraculously cured by the prophet's prayers (Isaiah, Chapters 38-39).
The Syrians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians and Edomites were the neighbors of Israelites. They always threatened to invade Judaea, and the Jews had to either defend themselves or pay tribute. In the state of permanent clashes, the kings of Judaea needed a reliable guide, and God sent Isaiah to them in order to warn the kings and the people of dangers, encourage them, predict the fate of the Jews and their neighbors, and foretell the future salvation by the Messianic Child. A special theme of Isaiah's prophecy was the Babylonian kingdom, which he identified with the kingdom of evil of the latter days, and its king with antichrist, anti-Messiah. That's why many elements of prophecies about Babylon are yet to be fulfilled (see Chapters 14, 21, 46-47; cf. Chapters 16-17 of Revelation). In Chapters 24-25 Isaiah spoke about the judgment of the universe.
Isaiah's prophecies are characterized by unusual clarity and poetry. Prediction of the Savior’s suffering (Chapter 53) was written so clearly as though the prophet himself had been present at the Crucifixion. Isaiah's most remarkable prophecies included: birth of Emmanuel from a Virgin (7:14), many miracles to be done by the Messiah (35:5-6), His humility and meekness (42:1-4) and His other acts, which are discussed in greater detail in the brochure “The Old Testament Regarding the Messiah.” Remarkable was the accuracy of Isaiah's prophecy about Cyrus, which became known to this king 200 years later (44:27-28; 45:1-3, Ezra 1:1-3).
The prophet Isaiah said that the chosen people in its mass would be rejected by God for iniquity, and only the “holy remnant” would be saved (Isaiah 6:13). The place of the rejected Jews in the Kingdom of the Messiah would be taken by the converted Gentiles (Isaiah 11:1-10, 49:6, 54:1-5, 65:1-3).
Isaiah's description of God's glory and power, His wisdom, goodness and omnipotence are of remarkable depth and poetry; against the background of the Creator's perfection, the pagan deities are trifling and despicable.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith 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. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:8-11).
More than once the prophet testified about God's grace to the repentant and the humble.
“Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isaiah 66:1-2). “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:29-31).
“Therefore shall the strong people glorify thee, the city of the terrible nations shall fear thee. For thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall. Thou shalt bring down the noise of strangers, as the heat in a dry place; even the heat with the shadow of a cloud: the branch of the terrible ones shall be brought low. And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees... And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces” (Isaiah 25:3-9).
The last 27 Chapters of the book of the prophet Isaiah (40-66) contain many consolatory predictions regarding the New Testament times and the renovation of the world after the general judgment. This is the vision of the New Jerusalem (the Church) on the holy hill:
“Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise. The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the LORD shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended. Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever” (Isaiah 60:18-21).
The themes discussed in the Chapters of the book of Isaiah are as follows: rebuking the sins of Judah (1), God's judgment over the world and the advent of the Kingdom of God (2-3); salvation of the remnant of the people and the Messiah (4), song about the vineyard (5), vision of the Lord of Hosts (6), conflict with Syria and the birth of Emmanuel (7), the wonderful Child (8-9), speech about Assyria (10), the Messiah and His Kingdom (11), song of praise to God (12), prophecies about Gentile kingdoms, Babylon and antichrist (13-14), Moab (15), Samaria and Damascus (17), speech about Ethiopia and Egypt (18-20), prediction of the fall of Babylon (21), prediction of the invasion in Judaea (22), Tyre (23); Judgment over the universe and the renovation of the world (24-25), raising of the dead (26), song about the vineyard continued (27), speech about Samaria and Jerusalem (28-29), Egypt (30-31), the New Testament times (32), prediction about Assyria (33), judgment over nations and God's grace (34-35), historic records (36-39), prediction about the end of the Babylonian captivity and about John the Baptist (40, 48), prediction about king Cyrus (41 and 45), Servant of the Lord (42), consolation of the captives in Babylon (43-44), fall of Babylon (46-47), the Messiah (49-50), restoration of Zion (51-52), the suffering Messiah (53), the Gentiles called to the Messianic Kingdom (54-55), the New Testament times (56-57), reproof of hypocrites (58-59), the glory of the New Jerusalem (60), the Messiah and the new Testament times (61-63), the prophet's prayer for his people (62), the Gentiles called to the faith (65), triumphant Church and the final judgment of the renegades (66). In spite of its antiquity, the book of Isaiah reads as if it were written yesterday. It is so rich in contents, consolatory and poetic that each Christian should always have it at hand.
Prophet Micah descended from the tribe of Judah and was Morasthite by the place of birth, a small settlement south of Jerusalem. He was a younger contemporary of Isaiah and prophesied for fifty years about the fate of Samaria and Jerusalem during the reign of king Hezekiah and the first half of the reign of impious Manasseh. Micah is mentioned in the book of Jeremiah (26:18). When some wanted to kill Jeremiah for his prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem, certain elders defended him, saying, that in the days of king Hezekiah Micah predicted the same, and no one persecuted him for the prophecy. Abrupt discourse of the book of Micah is the evidence that only a portion of his prophecies has survived, while the other part, probably, perished during Manasseh's persecution of prophets.
The principal idea of the book of Micah was that the Lord remained faithful to His covenant with the chosen people and, after having them cleansed with disasters and repentance, would lead them (and through them the Gentiles) to the Kingdom of the Messiah. The book of Micah contains a prediction about the destruction of Samaria and devastation of Jerusalem; promise of the salvation of Israel through the Elder from Bethlehem; it pointed out the ways to salvation. Micah came forward to support the poor and the destitute of his people, and to denounce the heartless and arrogant rich. “The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net. That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the judge asketh for a reward; and the great man, he uttereth his mischievous desire: so they wrap it up. The best of them is as a brier: the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge” (Micah 7:2-4).
This is what the Lord expects from a man: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8). The prophet closed the book by addressing God in these words: “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19).
The content of the book of Micah: destruction of Jerusalem and Samaria (1-2), sins of the inhabitants of Judaea (3), the Kingdom of Messiah (4), the birth of Christ in Bethlehem (5), judgment over nations (6), mercy to the faithful (7).
The key events of the second prophetic period, which started after Manasseh (6th through 4th centuries B.C.), were the religious reform of the king Josiah (639-608 B.C.), development of the Babylonian kingdom, destruction of Jerusalem (586 B.C.), Babylonian captivity of the Jews; repentance of the Jews and their return to their land (536 B.C.), restoration of the Jerusalem Temple (475 B.C.). After that, the Messianic expectations were becoming increasingly tense until the time of the Nativity.
The result of the long reign of wicked Manasseh (696-641 B.C). was that almost all God's prophets in Judaea were murdered or went underground. Saint Zephaniah probably was the first prophet to raise his voice after the half-century silence of God's messengers. Zephaniah preached under the pious Judean king Josiah about 20 years before the devastation of Jerusalem (639-608 B.C.). Enumeration of Zephaniah's forefathers to the 4th generation indicates his noble origin. King Josiah's religious reform is supposed to have been encouraged by the prophet Zephaniah. However, the reform could bring but little fruit: it was too hard to restore the religious principles of the people, undermined by Manasseh. In distress Zephania watched the people running spiritually wild and getting captivated by pagan superstitions.
However, the prophet severely denounced those responsible for guiding the people and giving them good example — Judaic princes, judges and priests:
“Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city! She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the LORD; she drew not near to her God. Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow. Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law. The just LORD is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame” (Zephaniah 3:1-5).
The goal of this severe reproof of course was to avert the forthcoming disasters from the Jews. Zephaniah as well predicted God's punishment to the neighboring nations — Moabites and Ammonites in the east, Assyrians in the north, Ethiopians in the south. These punishments were not needed to exterminate the people, but to make them listen to reason and lead them to the true faith. Zephaniah closed his book by describing the Messianic times and the spiritual revival of the world: “For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent” (3:9).
The content of the book of Zephaniah is as follows: God's Judgment over Jerusalem (1-2:3), judgment over the neighboring nations (2:4-15), judgment over Jerusalem again (3:1-8), the Messiah and salvation of the world (3:9-20).
The prophet Nahum was called the Elkoshite (“elgoshi” in Hebrew), which probably was the reference to his father's name. According to tradition, Nahum's family was from the village which was later named after him. It is mentioned in the Gospel as Capernaum (i.e. the village of Nahum) on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. After the devastation of the kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., Nahum's ancestors moved to Judaea, where Nahum exercised his prophetic ministration in early 7th century B.C.
In his three-chapter book, Nahum mostly spoke about the punishment of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian kingdom. In the past Nineveh was the weapon in the arms of God, used to punish and convict the Jewish people; that was why Isaiah called Assyria “the rod of the anger of God and the staff in His hand” (Is 10:5-15). Nahum depicted the punishment of the Jews by the Assyrians in the following images: “The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet... Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him. The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him” (Nahum 1:3-7).
200 years before this, in the days of the prophet Jonah, God forgave Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, for the sake of the repentance of her inhabitants. After that, Assyria started to grow and strengthen rapidly. Encouraged by their victories, the Assyrians became very arrogant and cruel to the conquered nations. In his book Nahum very accurately described the moral condition of contemporary Nineveh, the city of blood and treachery. Nahum saw the forthcoming punishment of Nineveh as a just retaliation to this city for the innocently shed blood. Indeed, the previously invincible Nineveh was soon conquered by Nabopolassar of Babylon in 612 B.C. Herodotus, Dioscorus of Sicily, Xenophon and other Greek authors, colorfully portrayed its devastation and subsequent collapse of the entire mighty Assyrian Empire.
As foretold by the prophet Nahum, after its devastation Nineveh completely disappeared from the face of the earth: “Where is the dwelling of the lions, — asked the prophet in surprise, — The lion did tear in pieces enough for his whelps, and strangled for his lionesses, and filled his holes with prey, and his dens with ravin. 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” (2:11-13). Over two thousand years, the very location of Nineveh had been forgotten and only in the 19th century the place was found during the excavations by Rawlinson and others. These archaeological findings confirmed the truth and remarkable accuracy of Nahum's prophecies even more.
Habakkuk was a Levi (Levi's descendants were priests, acolytes and singers in the Temple in Jerusalem). He lived shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem and was a contemporary of the Prophet Jeremiah. His book is distinguished for its clear, exalted and poetic language. Experts in the Holy Scripture praise this book for its simplicity, brevity and depth of depiction.
The prophet Habakkuk taught that the wicked and lawless would perish, and the righteous would be saved by their faith. This idea was first revealed in the form of a conversation between God and the prophet about the judgment and condemnation of the wicked people, and later on as the prophet's hymn, depicting God's judgment, which would result in destruction of the wicked and salvation of the righteous. “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour 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. The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
The prophet Habakkuk foretold justification by grace through faith in the Kingdom of the Messiah: “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4, сf. Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38).
The second and third chapters of the book of Habakkuk serve as the model for the heirmos of the 4th ode of the canon of Matins. Some expressions of these chapters are literally repeated in certain heirmoses, for example, “I will stand upon my watch” in the Canon of Easter, or “I have heard thy speech, and was afraid… His glory covered the heavens…” and so forth. The Apostolic Fathers see these phrases of Habakkuk as referring to the Messiah.
The prophet Habakkuk foresaw the distant future when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). His book encloses the prophet's bewilderment about the success of the wicked (1:1-4), God's reply (1:5-11), the prophet's further perplexities (1:12-17) and the Lord's answer (2:1-5), prediction of grief to the Chaldeans for their depredation (2:6-20), hymn to God (Chapter 3).
The prophet Jeremiah (in Hebrew, “Exalted by God”) was descended from a priest's family; he was born in Anathoth, four kilometers northwest of Jerusalem. He was called to prophetic ministry during the reign of Josiah and prophesied under Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah. The Lord revealed to Jeremiah that He decided to make him a prophet even before he was born: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). Appointing Jeremiah for the ministry of a prophet, the Lord stretched His arm to touch his mouth, and said: “Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:9-10).
For about forty years since then Jeremiah had continuously prophesied, teaching people faith and piety. On behalf of God, Jeremiah said: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
Under the pious king Josiah Jeremiah taught freely. The public religiosity was predominantly expressed in rituals, while in spirit people were departing from God further and further: “My people have committed two evils, — said the Lord through the lips of Jeremiah, — they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).
With the passage of time, Jeremiah's truthful words started to irritate the listeners and, from the reign of Jehoiakim, the prophet was always persecuted, even by the members of his family. It came to the point where Jeremiah had to be hiding because Jehoiakim condemned him to death. However, Jeremiah dictated his denouncements to his follower Baruch, who announced them to the king and the people. In order to conceal one of such speeches from the public, Jehoiakim was burning it, leave after leave, as it was read. Jeremiah knew that it was useless to make war against the Babylonians and tried to convince Zedekiah, the last Judean king and the successor of Jehoiakim (who was taken captive to Babylon), to submit to Nebuchadrezzar. For doing this he was imprisoned as the enemy of the fatherland, and later thrown into a dung pit.
The years preceding the collapse of the kingdom of Judaea were the time of utter spiritual desperation and blindness of the Jews. That's why Jeremiah's prophetic ministry was one of the most bitter and hard. At times Jeremiah was so depressed by the grief that he did not even want to live: “Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth... For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the LORD was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily” (Jeremiah 15:10-11, 20:7).
Finally, Jeremiah decided to stop preaching at all: “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name.” But Jeremiah could not hold back his gift of prophecy for a long time: “But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jeremiah 20:8-9).
Compared to other prophetic books, the book of Jeremiah contains many autobiographical notes, which makes it especially valuable for the understanding of the essence of the gift of prophecy and relationship between God and His elect.
In view of the forthcoming disaster, Jeremiah increasingly discharged his denouncements onto the main culprits of the spiritual hardening of the regular people — the rich and those at the helm of power:
“Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work; That saith, I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cutteth him out windows; and it is cieled with cedar, and painted with vermilion. Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him? He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 22:13-16).
However, the spiritual hardening of the upper class was already incurable: “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars” (Jeremiah 17:1). We must say that the spiritual wickedness of Jeremiah's contemporaries, as well as the Jews in the seventies A.D., when Jerusalem was destroyed for the second time, in many respects characterize the spiritual wickedness of the people of the latter days before the Second Coming of Christ. Therefore, in the lips of the prophets and the Savior, both the first and the second destruction of Jerusalem serve as images of the end of the world and get combined with it in a single prophetic vision (Matthew Chapter 24).
In the book of Jeremiah we find frequent references to his clashes with false prophets who, unlike Jeremiah, were appeasing people by saying that there would be no disaster and everything would go well. These persuasions lulled the conscience of the people and actually sped up the spiritual decay. It is appropriate to note that, according to the Savior's prediction, coming of many false prophets will also be a sign of the nearing end of the world: “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:5, 11). Thus, Jeremiah's denouncements apply even today.
Under king Zedekiah in 586 B.C., the prophecies of Jeremiah and other prophets finally came true: the hordes of Nebuchadrezzar surrounded Jerusalem, took it and destroyed the city and the Temple. The survivors were led to captivity which had to last 70 years, in accordance with the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11). During the seizure of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was bound and led away together with other captives, but Nebuchadrezzar commanded to free him on the way. Soon after that fugitives from Jerusalem captured Jeremiah and led him to Egypt, where he continued his prophetic ministration for several years. In the Second Book of the Maccabees (2 Maccabees 2:4-5) it is recorded that, when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, Jeremiah hid the tabernacle and the ark with the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, and the altar of incense in a cave in mount Nebo. The attempts to find these things later did not succeed. The tradition has it that Jeremiah was stoned at Daphne for the prediction of invasion of Nebuchadrezzar into Egypt. Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C). made an honorable funeral for the relics of the prophet Jeremiah and buried them in a precious tomb in Alexandria.
The main idea of the book of Jeremiah was that God, through the Babylonians, would enforce the judgment on the Jews and Gentiles in order to clean off their idolatry and pagan iniquity. After the captivity, the Jews would return to their land and the Lord in the person of the Messiah, King the Shepherd, would restore the throne of David (in the spiritual sense) and make the New Covenant. Jeremiah's inherent lyrical disposition, perceivable in his speech, made his book a remarkable monument of the ancient poetry.
In brief, the Book of Jeremiah tells about the vocation of Jeremiah (1), contains his prophecies during the reigns of Josiah (2-6) and Jehoiakim (7-20), reproof of kings and false prophets (21-25:14), prophecies about the neighboring nations (25:15-38; 46-51), devastation, restoration (25-33) and the last days of Jerusalem (34-45), plus a historical summary (52).
The book of Jeremiah is followed in the Bible by the book of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, which was written soon after the devastation of Jerusalem. It contains five chapters, which colorfully depict the misery of the destroyed Temple and the city, and the grief of the Jews. The original text of this book was an acrostic with the first letters of each line set in the order of the Hebrew alphabet, like in Psalms 37 and 119. Jeremiah addressed all passers-by on behalf of Jerusalem, wishing that they escaped such a fate, explained the reasons of what had happened and asked for sympathy. The book of Lamentations was closed with a prayer: “Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old” (Lamentations 5:21).
Another book, adjoining the books of Jeremiah, is the Book of Baruch, written by Baruch the son of Neriah. Enumeration of the five generations of his ancestors shows the nobility of his descent. Indeed, his brother Seraiah was the chief of tax collectors and went with Zedekiah the king of Judah into Babylon to Nebuchadrezzar (Jeremiah 51:59). The prophet Baruch was a follower and assistant to the prophet Jeremiah. Together with his teacher Baruch bore the persecution and oppression of the contemporaries (Jeremiah 36:19-26; 43:3; 45:2-3). After the destruction of Jerusalem Baruch relocated to Egypt with Jeremiah, and stayed there until the death of his teacher. After that Baruch moved to Babylon where, as the tradition has it, he died in the twelfth year after the destruction of Jerusalem.
The book of Baruch was written out of the desire of the Jews from Babylon to encourage their compatriots, who had stayed in the devastated Judaea, with donations and an accompanying letter. The letter on behalf of the captives was compiled by Baruch. First he read this letter to the captured king Jehoiachin with the Jews that lived in Babylon, and then sent it to Joakim the high priest in Judaea.
In his letter Baruch explained to the Jews that the disasters that befell them did not mean final rejection, but were only a temporary punishment for the sins. Therefore the people had to grieve over their sins, not the captivity. In due time the Lord would free His people from the captivity, and the glorious days of Jerusalem would come, when the Person of the Wisdom of God would become incarnate. (The Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, is called Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs: Proverbs 8:22-30, Baruch 3:36-4:4). The book of Baruch showed how beneficial were the disasters for the Jews: many admitted their share of the guilt, repented and became more humble and obedient to God.
The Book of Obadiah is the shortest work in the Old Testament, containing only 21 verses. It is based on the vision of Edom, a country southwest of Judaea; the Edomites that inhabited it were related by blood to the Jews. Nothing is said about the prophet Obadiah neither in his book, nor in the rest of the Biblical writings. The book of Obadiah was written soon after Nebuchadrezzar destroyed Jerusalem, when the Edomites encouraged and gloated over the devastation of the city, instead of providing help or at least showing sympathy to their blood brothers. The grief of the Jews over this behavior of the Edomites was expressed in the following words from Psalm 137: “Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.” In his prophetic vision Obadiah saw the punishment of the Edomites for their cruelty. The prophet also foretold the return of the Jews from the captivity.
The prophet Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, was born in Judaea. Together with king Jehoiachin and 10,000 Jews he was led captive to Babylon in 597 B.C. and settled in Mesopotamia at the river of Chebar, a tributary of the River Tigris.
Ezekiel was called to the ministry of a prophet at the age of thirty by the vision of the “appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.” It was in the fifth year of the reign of Jehoiachin, and since then he prophesied to the settlers of the Mesopotamian Tel Aviv for 22 years, from 592 till 570 B.C. The description of his vision of the four living creatures with the faces of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle was later used for the symbols of the Four Evangelists (Ezekiel 1:10). Ezekiel preached not only to the captive Jews, but also to the “rebellious house of Israel” — the Israelites who had been led here after the devastation of their kingdom by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. These Israelites had no spiritual leaders in the land of captivity and fully degraded spiritually.
Calling Ezekiel to prophetic ministry, the Lord said to him:
“And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me... they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD. And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear... yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them. And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them... Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 2:3-7, 3:8-9).
The Lord further revealed to Ezekiel what was his mission and responsibility as a prophet:
“Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul” (Ezekiel 3:17-21).
Obeying God, the prophet Ezekiel severely denounced the inclination of the Israelites to pagan traditions, their hypocrisy and disobedience. However, Ezekiel predicted the end of the captivity and restoration of the Temple and Jerusalem, so that they would not lose their hearts.
Ezekiel lived far away from Judaea, yet in his prophetic spirit he flew to Jerusalem (8:1-3) and from Mesopotamia he saw every detail of the siege of Jerusalem (4:1-17), capturing of king Zedekiah, destruction of the city and the Temple. The prophet passed on his visions to the Israelites who cared for the fate of their native land. The prophet had a wife who died in the fourth year of his prophetic ministration as a prophetic symbol of the grief of the Jews, and her death was made known to Ezekiel the day before (24:15-24).
The tradition says that Ezekiel was a “judge” of the captives, that is their spiritual leader. Once he rescued a group of captives from robbers, and multiplied food by his prayer when the crop was poor. The prophet Ezekiel was martyred for the exposure of the idolatry of the elders of Israel.
The language and the narrative of the book of Ezekiel are characterized by a few symbolic visions, parables and allegories. By this, the book of Ezekiel can only be compared to the Revelation of St. John the Theologian. The vision of the glory of the Lord, described in the first three chapters of the book, was extraordinary and even hard to picture. In general, the imagery and symbolism of the prophet's speech made the understanding of the book difficult, and experts in the Bible and the Hebrew language, such as the blessed Jerome, complained about it. Even the naming in the book of Ezekiel is special: God is Adonai Sabaoth, i.e. “the Lord of Hosts,” Shaddai, or “Almighty,” the people are Israel, which means “the one struggling with God.” The prophet often called himself “son of man,” which implied his humble and humiliated position of a prophet in the captive nation.
Remarkable is Ezekiel's vision when an Angel of God set a mark upon the foreheads of the men in Jerusalem “that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.” The people marked by the Angel were saved from the fate of the other inhabitants of Jerusalem who were slain when the enemy took the city. According to the vision, the punishment of the wicked had to start with the ancient men at the sanctuary (Ezekiel 9:1-7). This vision of Ezekiel is very similar to the vision of the Apostle John the Theologian (Revelation 7:1-4) and tells us that the grace of God, like a seal, distinguishes those who love God and protects them from the common fate of the wicked.
As foretold by Ezekiel, the faithful of the forthcoming Kingdom of Messiah would not only formally fulfill the commandments of God, as the best of the Old Testament Jews did, but they would be absolutely different people by their spiritual content: “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20, 36:26-27).
To sum up, the contents of the book of Ezekiel is as follows: vision of the appearance of the glory of God and Ezekiel's vocation to the ministry of a prophet (1-3), thirteen reproving speeches against the Jews and the symbolic acts mimicking the fall of Jerusalem (4-24), denouncement of Gentiles: the neighbors of the Jews (25), people of Tyre (26-28). Verses 13-19 in Chapter 28 refer to the devil, personified by the king of Tyre (see a similar speech about antichrist in Isaiah 14:5-20). Prophecies about the Egyptians (29-32), the prophet's new mission after the fall of Jerusalem: console and encourage (33), the Lord is the shepherd of revived Israel (34), punishment of Edom (35), revival of Israel (36), raising of dead bones as the prophecy about resurrection of the dead (37), apocalyptic prophecies about the enemies of the Church and the defeat of the hordes of Gog (38-39) (Cf. Revelation 20:7 about Gog and Magog), new eternal Kingdom of God and the new Temple (40-48, see Revelation, Chapter 21). Prophecies of the last 14 Chapters of Ezekiel, referring to the last times, have many common features with the mysterious visions of Daniel and the Apocalypse of the Apostle John the Theologian. These prophecies are yet to be fulfilled, and their interpretation should be tentative, with account to their heavy load of symbolism.
The prophet Daniel was of a noble, maybe even of royal descent. In the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim, during the first conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar (in 606 B.C.), young Daniel was taken captive to Babylon. Together with other noble youths, Daniel was sent to a school to be trained for service at the royal court. Daniel was then between 14 and 17 years old.
Three friends of Daniel went to school together with him: Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael. They had to learn the local language and various Chaldean disciplines for several years. When the Jewish boys were admitted to the school, they were renamed into Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Having adopted these Gentile names, the boys did not change the faith of their fathers, though. They feared the abomination of the pagan meals from the king's table, sprinkled with the idol-offered blood, and asked their Gentile instructor to give them plain vegetable food instead. The instructor conditionally agreed to give vegetable food to the boys for ten days. At the end of the try period these youths turned up to be healthier than the others who ate from the king's table. After that they were permitted to continue eating vegetarian food. The lord rewarded the pious boys with success in studies, and at the examination the Babylonian king found them to be wiser than his Babylonian magicians.
After the completion of the course of studies, Daniel with his three friends was to serve at the royal court, and remained at the court as a man of high rank during the entire reign of Nebuchadrezzar and his five successors. After the conquest of Babylon he became counselor to kings Darius of Media and Cyrus of Persia (Daniel 6:28).
God gave Daniel the ability to understand visions and dreams; Daniel demonstrated it by interpreting two dreams to Nebuchadrezzar (Chapters 2 and 4). In the first dream, Nebuchadrezzar saw a tremendously huge and terrific image, which was broken with a stone that rolled from a mountain. Daniel explained it to the king, that the image symbolized the four Gentile kingdoms, which had to supplant one another, starting with Babylon and ending with Rome. The stone that broke the image symbolized the Messiah, and the mountain — His everlasting Kingdom. This is how Daniel finished his interpretation of the dream:
“Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands (the Savior was born without a corporal father), which smote the image... and brake them to pieces... and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth... And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:31-45).
This dream proved to be a prophecy about the Church. Indeed, the Christian faith that first appeared in the Roman Empire, has filled the whole world and will continue to exist until the end of the world, while there is no trace now from the formerly mighty pagan empires.
The third chapter of the book of Daniel tells about the feat of his three friends who refused to bow to the gold idol of Marduk and for this were thrown into a furnace of fire, but an angel of God saved them from any harm from fire. The grateful “Prayer of the three holy children” serves as the model for the 8th and 9th odes of the Canon of Matins.
Nothing is known about the acts of the prophet Daniel during the seven years of the reign of the three successors of Nebuchadrezzar: Evilmerodach, Neriglissar and Labashi-Marduk). Nabonidus, the assassin of Labashi-Marduk, made his son Belshazzar his co-ruler. In the first year of Belshazzar Daniel had the vision about the four kingdoms, which transformed into the vision of the heaven and God as the Ancient of days and the “Son of Man,” i.e. the Son of God Who was to become incarnate (Daniel, Chapter 7). As we know from the Gospels, Our Savior often called Himself the Son of Man to remind the Jews about this prophecy of Daniel. Before the council, when the high priest asked Christ whether He was the promised Messiah, the Lord directly pointed out this vision of Daniel and reminded about the heavenly glory of the Son of Man (Daniel, Chapter 7; Matthew 26:64). In its main part the vision of Daniel referred to the time before the end of the world and the Last Judgment, though some of its features gave the indication about the persecutions by Antiochus Epiphanes in the third century before Christ and the persecution of the Church in the times of antichrist.
The next vision — about two monarchies represented by the images of a goat and a ram, put down in the third year of the reign of Belshazzar, — also referred to the end of the world. This vision had some features in common with the visions of the Apostle John the Theologian, recorded in his book of Revelation (Daniel, Chapters 7-8, Revelation, Chapters 11-12 and 17).
Babylon was taken by Darius the king of Media in the 17th year of the reign of Belshazzar (539 B.C.). Belshazzar was killed during the battle for the city, as it was predicted to him by the mysterious hand writing “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN” on the wall (thou art found wanting, thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians, Daniel 5:25). The prophet Daniel interpreted these words to Belshazzar. As we have already mentioned, the fall of Babylon had been predicted by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah (Isaiah, Chapters 13-14 and 21, Jeremiah, Chapters 50-51). In the book of Revelation Babylon signifies the kingdom of the evil of the world (Revelation 16-19).
Under Darius of Media Daniel was one of the three top officials of the Median kingdom. The pagan officials slandered Daniel before Darius out of envy and cunningly achieved that Daniel was thrown to lions. But God kept His prophet unhurt (Chapter 6). Later on, Daniel received the revelation of the Seventy Weeks (70*7 = 490 years), which indicated the time of the Messiah's advent (Daniel, Chapter 9; see explanation of this vision in the second part of the brochure “The Old Testament Regarding the Messiah”).
During the reign of Darius, Daniel retained his rank at the court. It was not without his care that in 536 B.C. Cyrus ruled to free the Jews from the captivity. The tradition has it, that the prophet Daniel showed Cyrus the prophecy of Isaiah (Is. 44:28-45:13). Surprised by this prophecy about himself, the king recognized the power of Jehovah and commanded the Jews to build a Temple in Jerusalem in His honor (1 Esdras, Chapter 1). Under the same king Daniel was for the second time miraculously saved from the lions when he was thrown to them for having killed the dragon worshipped by the pagans (Chapter 14). In the third year of the reign of Cyrus in Babylon, Daniel was honored to receive a revelation about the future fate of the people of God in connection with the history of the Gentile kingdoms (Chapters 10-12). The prediction of the persecutions for the faith refers to the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes and antichrist at the same time.
Cited below are two apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel:
“And at that time shall Michael stand up (Archangel Michael, Revelation 20:11), the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book (The Book of Life, meaning God's awareness of all good works of a man, see Revelation 13:8, 20:12). And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting 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” (Daniel 12:1-3, cf. Matthew 13:43). “The words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” (Daniel 12:9-10).
Some interpret the three and a half years of intensified persecution of the faithful as the term of the reign of antichrist (Daniel 12:9-13); by the way, Jesus Christ also preached for three and a half years. However, the apocalyptic timeframe may be merely symbolic.
Little is known about the subsequent life of the prophet Daniel. He died at a very old age, about 90 years old, probably in Susa (Ectabanes). The book of Daniel consists of 14 Chapters. The first six chapters of the book make up its historical part. They tell how the glory of God proliferated among the Jews and the Gentiles during the captivity. Chapters 7-12 are prophetic and contain visions about the future of the Gentile nations that surrounded the Jews, and about the future Kingdom God, the Church. Some modern Biblical critics question the authenticity of the Book of Daniel. Yet the Lord Jesus Christ twice referred to the prophecies contained there, and for us faithful it is a sufficient witness of the book's authenticity. It is remarkable how accurately Daniel predicted the time of the coming of Christ and the beginning of the New Testament. This prophecy of the “Weeks” is unpleasant to those Jews who reject Christ and continue waiting for a new “messiah.”
The prophet Haggai prophesied in Judaea during the reign of king Darius I (Persian, Hystaspes, 522-486 B.C.). That was the time when many Jews, led by Zerubbabel, returned to Judaea from the Babylonian captivity. One named Joshua was the high priest at the time. In the second year after the return from the captivity the Jews started the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, at the site of the destroyed Temple of Solomon. But due to the intrigues of the Samaritans and other ill-wishers, the construction was postponed by 15 years, until king Darius commanded to resume it.
The people were poor. However, they believed that the grandeur of the second temple should not be less than that of the Temple of Solomon, destroyed by Nebuchadrezzar. That's why some said that the time for the construction of the new Temple had not yet come. This cooled down the zeal of the builders. So, in order to encourage the people for the completion of construction of the second Temple, God sent Haggai. His prophetic ministry continued for about one year.
The prophet Haggai used the following words to convince the Jews to carry on the building of the Temple:
“Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD. Ye looked for much, and, lo it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit” (Haggai 1:6-10).
In the brochure “The Old Testament Regarding the Messiah” we cited Haggai's promise that the Messiah would come into this new Temple, and His coming would bring it the glory much greater than that of the richly decorated first Temple (Haggai 2:5-9). The book of Haggai has two chapters, which contain four speeches of Haggai, dedicated to the construction of the Temple.
The prophet Zechariah is also called the sickle-seer, for he saw a flying roll bent in the shape of a sickle (5:1-4). Zechariah, son of Berechiah and grand son of Iddo, was a descendant of a family of priests. He was called for the prophetic ministry at a young age and, being a contemporary of Haggai, started to prophesy in the second year of the reign of Darius I (520 B.C.). Like Haggai, Zechariah encouraged people to complete the construction of the Temple. He did not finish his prophetic book until after the consecration of the Temple in 516 B.C.
The book of Zechariah, like that of Ezekiel, is characterized by the numerous symbolic visions, and also by detailed predictions about the last days of the Savior’s life; it has the peculiarities that cannot be found in the writings of any other prophet: that the Lord would enter Jerusalem riding upon a donkey, that He would be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, that He would be pierced on the Cross, and that the Apostles would run away from Gethsemane. God called the Jews to genuine piety, saying through the lips of Zechariah:
“Turn ye unto me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 1:3). “These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD” (Zechariah 8:16-17).
The contents of the book of Zechariah is as follows: call for repentance (1:1-6), vision of an angel among the myrtle trees (evergreen southern plant with big fragrant flowers) (1:7-17), vision of the four riders (1:18-21), vision of an angel with a measuring line (2), vision of the high priest Joshua and the Messiah (3), vision of a gold candlestick (4), vision of a flying roll and ephah (measure for bulk granular materials) (5), vision of four chariots and the Messiah as the High Priest (6), Zechariah's prophetic speeches about the New Testament times (7-8), Messianic predictions (9-11), prophecies about the gifts of grace that are given to the faithful (12), prophecies about the Messiah and the redemption of Jerusalem (13-14).
Prophet Malachi (“messenger” in Hebrew) was a younger co-laborer to Ezra and Nehemiah; he descended from the tribe of Zebulun. As he was the last of the Old Testament prophets, he is called the Seal of Prophets. He exercised the gift of prophecy 475 years before the Advent of Christ.
From the Book of Malachi it is apparent that in the prophet's lifetime the Temple had already been restored and divine services were held, though often without due reverence. The prophet denounced the negligence of priests, telling them on behalf of God, “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear?” (Malachi 1:6). In the New Testament era, the Judaic priests would be replaced by people that fear God, “For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering” (Malachi 1:6-11).
The prophet further denounced the Jews for mixed marriages, irregular tithing, offering animals with blemish for sacrifices, superficial callous rites, murmuring against God for supposed delay in the fulfillment of the promise of the coming of Messiah. Malachi does not rebuke the Jews for the sin of idol worship, because after the disasters, related to the Babylonian captivity, they were totally cured of this superstition.
Malachi said prophecies about John the Baptist, the prophet and forerunner, who would come to get the people ready to receive Christ: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap” (Malachi 3:1-2, see Mark 1:1 and Matthew 11:14, 17:12). Malachi's following prophecy, similar to the previous one, is also about Christ's forerunner, but is obviously related to His Second Coming: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5, Cf. Revelation 11:3-6).
The content of the Book of Malachi is as follows: lack of pious reverence in people (1:6-14) and priests (2:1-9), cruelty and turning away from God (2:10-16), disregard of God's promises and commandments (2:17-3:6), non-tithing of tithes (3:7-12), God's Judgment (3:13-4:3), the last call for repentance (4:4-6).
All prophetic predictions, excluding those which are regarding the last times, have been fulfilled, and often with impressive precision. We especially treasure the predictions about the Savior of the World, the Church and God's grace given to the faithful. The books of prophecies also give comfort because, no matter how much evil seems to triumph, it will be exterminated by God, and the truth will triumph; eternal life and bliss are awaiting the faithful.
God's Omnipotence and Majesty: Isaiah 6:1-4, Isaiah 55:8-11, Isaiah 64:1-3, Jeremiah 10:12, Jeremiah 16:21, Ezekiel Chapters 1-2, Daniel 2:20, Daniel 7:9-11, Nahum 1:3-7. The Grace of God: Isaiah 55:6, Isaiah 54:10, Isaiah 64:5, Lamentations 3:22-28, Micah 7:18-19. Justice of God: Isaiah 1:27-30, Isaiah 30:18, Isaiah 33:1-5, Isaiah 59:16-19, Jeremiah 9:23-24, Ezekiel 18:20-24, Daniel 9:7. God's Omniscience: Jeremiah 17:9-10. Holiness of God: Isaiah 6:3, Isaiah 57:15, Hosea 11:9. Eternity of God: Isaiah 43:10.
The New Testament: Isaiah 55:3, 59:20-21; Jeremiah 31:31-34, Daniel 9:24-27 (See Acts 13:34).
Gentiles Called to the Church: Isaiah 2:2, Isaiah 11:1-10, Isaiah 42:1-12, Isaiah 49:6, Isaiah 54:12-14, Isaiah 65:1-2, See Galatians 4:27, 1:9 and 2:23. Internal Spiritual Regeneration: Isaiah 44:3, Zechariah 12:10-13:1, 14:5-9, Isaiah 35:1-7, Isaiah 55:1, Isaiah 55:10-11, Isaiah 12:3-5, Joel 2:28-32. One Heart and New Spirit: Ezekiel 11:19-20, Ezekiel 36:24-2. The Kingdom of God as the Mountain of God: Isaiah 2:2-3, Isaiah 11:1-10 (See Romans 15:12), Daniel 2:34, Joel 3:17, Obadiah 17, Zechariah 8:3.
Reverence before God: Malachi 4:2, Malachi 3:16-18. Faith: Habakkuk 2:4. Trust in God: Isaiah 8:9-14, Isaiah Chapters 25-27, Isaiah 26:2-12, Isaiah 30:7, Isaiah 30:15, Isaiah 40:29-31, Isaiah 51:7-8, Isaiah 51:12-14, Isaiah 54:10, Jeremiah 9:23-24, Jeremiah 15:20-21, Jeremiah 17:7-8, Ezekiel 34:14-16, Micah 7:7-19, Habakkuk 3:17-19. Knowledge of God: Isaiah 2:2-3, Isaiah 11:1-10, Isaiah 54:13, Jeremiah 9:23-24, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hosea 6:3. Humility: Isaiah 57:15-16, Isaiah 66:1-2, Micah 6:8. Longing for Virtue: Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 33:14-16, Isaiah 55:6-7, Baruch 4:4, Zechariah 7:9-10, 8:16-17. Justice: Isaiah 1:27, Micah 6:8. Mercy: Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 58:2-12, Hosea 6:6.
Reproof: Isaiah 1:3-6, Isaiah 3:9-11, Isaiah 5:20-23, Isaiah 10:1-2, Isaiah 19:13, Isaiah 30:1, Isaiah 42:18-20, Isaiah 45:9-10, Isaiah 57:20-21, Isaiah 59:1-4, Jeremiah 2:13, Jeremiah 5:1-5, Jeremiah Chapter 7, Jeremiah 8:9-11, Jeremiah 9:8, Jeremiah 15:1-2, Jeremiah 17:1, Jeremiah 17:5, Jeremiah 22:13-17, Jeremiah 44:4-6, Jeremiah 48:10, Micah 7:1-6, Zephaniah 3:1-5, Malachi 1:6. Call for Repentance: Isaiah 1:16-20, Isaiah 64:6-9, Jeremiah 8:4-5, Ezekiel 18:30-32, Hosea 6:1-3, Joel 2:11-17, Zechariah 1:3-4, Malachi 1:9.
Spiritual Famine: Amos 8:11. False prophets: Isaiah 9:15, Jeremiah 14:14-16, Jeremiah 23:15-17, Jeremiah 23:26-28, Ezekiel 13:3-16, Ezekiel 14:9-11, Zephaniah 3:4, Micah 3:5-7. Good Shepherds: Jeremiah 3:15; Bad Shepherds: Isaiah 56:10-11, Jeremiah 10:21, Jeremiah 23:1-6, Ezekiel 34:1-6, Zechariah 11:16-17. Antichrist: Isaiah 14:4-20, Ezekiel 28:13-19, Daniel 11:35-40, Daniel 12:9-13. Judgment over People: Isaiah 2:10-21, Isaiah 13:6-15, Isaiah 24:4-23, Isaiah 63:1-6, Isaiah 66:15-16, Jeremiah 46:10, Jeremiah 50:31-32, Ezekiel 9:4-8 (Revelation 7:3), Ezekiel 30:2-3, Ezekiel 38:20-23, Daniel 7:9-12 (Revelation 4:2, 5:11, 20:12), Joel 2:1-10, Joel 3:2-17, Amos 5:18-20, Zephaniah 1:14-18, Zephaniah 3:8-9, Nahum 1:3-7, Obadiah 15, Malachi 4:5, Malachi 4:5 (Revelation 11:3-6).
Elimination of Evil and Suffering: Numbers 24:17, Isaiah 11:1-10. Everlasting Joy: Isaiah 42:1-12, 54:12-14, 60:1-5, 61:1-4). Resurrection of Flesh (Job 19:25) and Elimination of Death: Isaiah, Chapter 26, 42:1-12, 61:1-4, Zechariah 9:9-11, Hosea 13:14. Triumphant Truth and Justice: Isaiah 9:6-7, 11:1-10, Chapter 26, Jeremiah 23:5.
Glory of the Triumphant Church: Isaiah, Chapters 26-27, Isaiah 52:1-2, Isaiah 60:1-5, Isaiah 61:10-11, Isaiah 62:1-5.
Renovation of the World: Isaiah 4:2-6, Isaiah 11:1-10, Isaiah 44:22-24, Isaiah 49:13-15, Isaiah 52:1-9, Isaiah 60:1-21, Isaiah 61:10, Isaiah 62:11-12, Isaiah 65:17-20, Isaiah 65:25, Isaiah 66:22-24, Jeremiah 32:39-41, Jeremiah 33:6-9, Jeremiah 33:15-16, Baruch 5:9, Daniel 12:1-3, Hosea 3:4-5, Hosea 13:14, Habakkuk 2:14, Zephaniah 3:9, Zechariah 8:3.
With the moral hardening of people in the Old Testament era and in the absence of spiritual leaders, the prophets carried out the difficult task of teaching people to believe in God, abstain from vice and live righteously. Naturally, reproof dominated in the discourses of the prophets. In order to stir up the conscience of the listeners, the reproof was often very strong and even harsh, which makes the prophetic books look somewhat severe in the eyes of a modern reader. The Savior expressed it in an image: the ancient prophets had been digging up the earth of the hardened human hearts to make it ready to receive the seeds of the Apostolic preaching in future (John 4:37-38). Had any of today's preachers or authors addressed the Jews with the adjectives that are scattered everywhere throughout the books of the prophets, he would have been accused of extreme anti-Semitism without any doubt.
True, the prophets also spoke about the glory of Israel, Hebrews being God’s chosen people, and defeat of the Gentiles, but this language should not be viewed as chauvinism. The prophets understood Israel, Zion, the chosen people and other like names as spiritual, not national concepts. In other words, the prophets used these words as symbols of the Kingdom of God, of which many nations would become a part. Of course, the Jews were the first to be called into this Kingdom, but the prophets also foresaw that the majority of the Jews would break away from the faith, and the Gentiles would be called to the Church (see the Index above for the list of prophecies about the calling of the Gentiles to the Kingdom of God). By the way, the names Zion, Jerusalem, Israel are used in the divine services our Church with the same spiritual meaning, as synonyms of the word Church.
In the New Testament times, the predictions of the prophets about calling the Gentiles to faith inspired the Apostles' bold preaching among pagans. For example, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).
Being the spiritual leaders of their people, the prophets often stepped forward as the only protectors of all the weak and hapless in their nation. Often this mission required them to expose the venality of judges, avarice and brutality of princes, negligence and hypocrisy of priests, falsehood of self-appointed prophets. For the word of truth the prophets were always persecuted; very few of them died the natural death. Yet ordinary people valued and loved them and followed their teachings.
In the years of great disasters and national catastrophes the prophets were the only comforters of the woeful. The prophets also revealed the great qualities of the One God: omnipotence, omniscience, justice to non-repentant and infinite mercy to the humble. In their prophecies they displayed the unsearchable ways of God's providence, by which He guided the destiny of the mankind toward the better part. The prophets also loved to tell about the forthcoming time of the New Testament, the spiritual renovation and the final triumph of truth and justice. Here their prophetic vision was always focused on the coming Messiah the Savior. The prophets predominantly heralded Him and His acts (see the brochure “The Old Testament Regarding the Messiah”).
Calling to virtue, the prophets taught people to sincerely believe in God and serve Him without hypocrisy, recognize the sinfulness and repent, be meek, just and merciful to those in need.
God revealed to His elect the events of the near and distant future of their nation, neighbors and the whole mankind. Their predictions were always accurately fulfilled, and this is the proof that they were the chosen people inspired by God. At the same time, the prophets explained the moral causes of all events: nothing good or bad would happen by chance. Good things are the reward for virtues, suffering is the punishment for sins, though not as vengeance but as correction to persuade the sinners. Only from the standpoint of morality it becomes clear why the predictions of prophets may combine elements of different times. For example, the ancient Babylon is associated with the kingdom of the evil of the latter times; persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes with the persecutions of antichrist; hostile hordes of ancient pagan tribes with the persecutors of the Church in its historical way; judgment over the people of the Old Testament times with the Judgment over the universe; spiritual renovation in the New Testament Church with complete renovation of the world after the general resurrection. These parallel events in the life of humankind are spiritually akin, and the prophets placed them together in a single prophetic picture. Any faithful who knows, which elements of a certain prophetic vision have already fulfilled, may better comprehend what is still to come. Without doubt the Revelation of John the Theologian depicted the last events of the world by the imagery borrowed from the prophetic books of the Old Testament.
So, getting familiar with the Old Testament prophetic books helps a Christian to understand the essence of modern religious and moral processes and see where they lead. The books of prophecies are to be read with prayer and humility, remembering that “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
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