The Major Prophets
The books that comprise the Four Major Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel.
The Major Prophets are so called not because the Minor Prophets are of less importance, but because the books of the Major Prophets are lengthier and cast a correspondingly longer shadow on Old Testament history and theology.
These books transcribe the teachings, warnings, calls for repentance, and words of encouragement pronounced by the prophets, people chosen to be spokesmen for God.
Prophets stood alongside priests as representatives of God on earth, conveying messages directly from God to the people of Israel.
The prophets’ calling to be the conscience of Israel often set them against the Israelite establishment, invariably because the people and rulers of Israel had strayed from God’s commands.
This book, as is true of all the prophetical books, derives its name from the prophet whose messages it records.
The unity of Isaiah, a problem related to authorship and contents, has been the subject of much debate. The message of the book is twofold: judgement upon Judah for their sins (Isaiah 1—39), and comfort and hope for an exiled people (Isaiah 40—66). In these messages of encouragement are found some of the most graphic portrayals of the Messiah in the Old Testament.
Jeremiah was God’s spokesman during the decline and fall of the southern kingdom, Judah.
Among the Prophets not one had a more difficult task than that of standing alone for God in the midst of the apostasy of his own people, and not one who bares his soul to his reader as does Jeremiah.
Although Jeremiah announced the coming destruction of Judah, he looked beyond this judgement to a day when religion, no longer national, would be individual and spiritual. This new kind of religion would result from God’s ‘new covenant’ with his people.
Although challenged by some scholars, Jeremiah is traditionally taken to be the author of this book. The book is composed of five poems, lamenting the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army under King Nebuchadnezzar (586BC).
The poet also makes sincere confession of sin on behalf of the people and leaders, acknowledges complete submission to the will of God, and finally prays that God will once again smile upon His people and restore them to their homeland.
Ezekiel was carried into exile in Babylon, where he received his call and exercised his prophetic ministry. His dual role of prophet-priest and his position as ‘watchman’ over his people make Ezekiel unique among the prophets and may account for the uniqueness of his message and his methods of delivery.
The book contains 48 chapters, divided at the halfway point by the fall of Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s prophecies before this event are chiefly messages of condemnation upon Judah for their sin; following the city’s fall, the prophet speaks to helpless people of the hope and certainty of restoration to their homeland and of worship again in the Temple.
Traditionally considered as the work of the Prophet Daniel in exile in Babylon during the 6th Century BC, many modern scholars classify the book as an ‘apocalypse’ that was the product of a pious Jew living under the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes (175—164BC).
In a series of events and visions, the author presents a view of history in which God rules and prevails over men and nations to achieve ultimate victory for the ‘saints’ of God.