|Topical Bible Study||April 1957|
The People of the Bible
Article XXIV—Old Testament Prophetic Books
God’s Holy Prophets
“And He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you; whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” —Acts 3:20,21
AMONG the very important people of the Bible are the holy prophets of the Old Testament. The majority of these servants inspired of God wrote books which bear their names, and these are often referred to as the “major” and “minor” prophets, this distinction being determined by the length of the books which they wrote. There are four major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The minor prophets number twelve: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
These, however, are not the only “holy prophets” of the Old Testament. There are five others: Moses, Samuel, Job, Solomon, and David. In the New Testament, Jude speaks also of Enoch, “the seventh from Adam,” as being a prophet. (Jude 14) We have already reviewed some of the experiences and characteristics of this latter group, so are now merely identifying them as among those used by God as prophets, or seers, to foretell coming events in the outworking of his divine plan for the redemption and restoration of the sin-cursed and dying race. We have also previously become acquainted with Daniel, the fourth of the major prophets.
We know little of the major and minor prophets except what is revealed by their writings. Unlike Moses, Samuel, Solomon, and David, they were not used by the Lord as lawgivers or judges or kings, their niche in the divine arrangement being largely as writers of prophecies.
According to verse one of Isaiah’s prophecy, he was the son of Amoz. The “vision” which enabled Isaiah to prophesy concerning “Judah and Jerusalem” came to him during the reign of four of Judah’s kings: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. The immediate service of Isaiah, and of the other prophets, was on behalf of God’s people with whom they were contemporary. But more important than this was the fact that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit they foretold important coming events relating to the plan of God.
The Apostle Peter refers to this larger ministry of the prophets, saying that they foretold “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” (I Pet. 1:11) In the 53rd chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy we have a notable example of this. He describes the suffering and death of Jesus, saying that he would be “brought as a lamb to the slaughter.” Then, in conclusion, he says of Jesus that he would be given “a portion with the Great.” This is a prophecy of Jesus’ high exaltation to the right hand of the throne of God.—vss. 7-12; Rev. 3:21; Heb. 8:1; 12:2
In our text, in which Peter refers to all God’s holy prophets since the world began, he says that they also prophesied concerning “the times of restitution of all things” which would follow the second coming of Christ. The prophecies pertaining to Christ’s suffering apply to his first advent, while those which describe the work of “restitution” refer to his second presence. Thus the work of both advents was foretold by the “holy prophets” of God.
Isaiah wrote eloquently concerning “the times of restitution.” In chapter 33, verse 24, he says concerning that future time that the inhabitants “shall not say, I am sick.” In chapter 25, verses 6-9, he describes the work of Christ’s kingdom, which is the work of restitution, and says that then death will be swallowed up in victory and that the people will be glad and rejoice in the Lord’s salvation.
The name Jeremiah means “Jehovah has appointed.” He began his service as a prophet during the reign of Josiah, king of Judah, and his ministry continued until the nation was overthrown in the reign of Zedekiah and the people taken captive to Babylon. Jeremiah was not taken to Babylon, however, but left with the few whose duty it was to be “vine-dressers” under the Babylonish government. Later, most of these fled to Egypt for their safety, taking Jeremiah with them; and it is believed that the prophet died in Egypt.
Jeremiah is known as the prophet of doom. This is because the Lord commissioned him to call attention to the sins of the nation and the calamities which would fall upon them because of their idolatries. This message was so condemnatory that Jeremiah for a time hesitated to declare it; but then, as he testified, the Word of the Lord was in him as a fire shut up in his bones, “and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.”—ch. 20:9
Serving as a prophet during the declining years of the kingdom of Judah, when there was corruption within the nation and enemies without, he brought much suffering upon himself because of his ministry. During the closing scenes of Zedekiah’s reign, Jeremiah was charged by the princes with hindering their war efforts; the king gave them permission to do with the prophet what they desired, and they threw him into a miry prison pit to die. He was rescued from this horrible place by an Ethiopian eunuch, Ebed-melech.—ch. 38:6-13
When Jeremiah was first called by God to serve as a special prophet, he sensed the difficulties attached to such a mission and also realized his own weakness. He said, “Ah, Lord God, behold, I cannot speak; for I am a child.” Then the Lord said unto him: “Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdom, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.”—ch. 1:6-10
Thus the Lord gave Jeremiah the loving assurance of help in every time of need; and in view of the commission given to him, the prophet was many times in need of divine protection. His commission over the nations and the kingdoms to “root out, and to pull down, and to destroy,” and later to “build, and to plant,” should not be construed to mean that he would literally destroy and rebuild nations. The thought is, rather, that he was commissioned to utter prophecies covering first a work of destruction and then a time of restoration.
Jeremiah fulfilled this commission both with respect to the nation of Israel and the world of mankind as a whole. He prophesied the calamities which, even in his own lifetime, came upon his own people when Zedekiah was overthrown and the nation taken captive to Babylon. He foretold that this captivity would last for seventy years and that then the Gentile nations responsible for it would be punished.—Jer. 25:8-14
In chapter 30, verses 18 and 19, Jeremiah prophesies that the city of Jerusalem, desolated by Israel’s enemies when the nation was taken into captivity, would be rebuilt, and that out from this place there would again “proceed thanksgiving and the voices of them that make merry.” Thus we see that Jeremiah forecast the destruction of Judah and the regathering and rebuilding which would follow the captivity.
But Jeremiah’s prophecy takes on a much wider scope than this when viewed in the light of the divine plan. In chapter 16, verse 13, he forecasts a much greater scattering of the people than was true in connection with the Babylonian captivity. He declares that they would be “cast … into a land that ye know not, neither ye nor your fathers; and there shall ye serve other gods day and night; where I will not show you favor.”
From this later and greater captivity, Jeremiah foretold they were also to be delivered. Continuing in this same chapter, Jeremiah declares that the Lord would restore his people from all the lands whither he had driven them and would “bring them again into their land.”—ch. 16:14-17
In chapter 31:31-34 Jeremiah, speaking again for the Lord, tells of a time when a New Covenant would be made “with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah,” a covenant in which the law of God would be written in the people’s hearts and in their “inward parts.” This describes a restoration of at-one-ment between God and man and is one of the promises of restitution which Peter declared had been spoken by the mouth of all God’s holy prophets. “In those days” of restitution, declares Jeremiah, “they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge; but everyone shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.” (ch. 31:29,30) Father Adam ate the “sour grape” of sin, and all his progeny have suffered death as a result. But in the times of restitution mankind will be released from Adamic condemnation, and the only ones who will die then will be those who, individually, and willfully, disobey the divine law.
The Prophet Ezekiel, according to his own testimony, was a priest, and the son of Buzi. He was taken captive to Babylon prior to the full overthrow of the Jewish nation, and it was in Babylon that the Word of the Lord came to him and he wrote his prophecy. (ch. 1:1-3) Little more than this is known of the personal life of Ezekiel. Historians say that he was distinguished by his stern and inflexible energy of will and character.
Since he was one of the holy prophets, we would expect to find in his prophecy some reference to the times of restitution of all things, and in this we are not disappointed. In chapters 37 through 39 of his book, we find a remarkable prophecy of the restoration of Israel, picturing the desolated and scattered condition of the nation as a “valley of dry bones,” which, the Lord explains, “are the whole house of Israel.”—ch. 37:11
These “bones” are seen to come together, flesh and skin are formed on them, and finally life is given. This latter, we learn, describes the result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the restored Israelites, the result of which will be the opening of their eyes to know the Lord. The final result of this will be that the Lord will not hide his face from them any more. One of the mighty acts of God which will contribute to removing Israel’s blindness will be his intervention on their behalf when attacked by aggressor hordes from the “north” in the final phase of the great time of trouble.
In the 16th chapter of Ezekiel’s prophecy, verses 44-63, there is another remarkable promise of restitution involving the resurrection of the dead—the Israelites and the heathen as well. Verses 60 to 63 reveal that after these are made free from the captivity of death they will be brought into covenant relationship with God.
In the opening verse of his prophecy Hosea identifies himself as the son of Beeri and informs us that the Word of the Lord came to him during the “days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.”
Much of Hosea’s prophecy is in the nature of a warning against Israel and Judah because of the sinful, idolatrous tendencies of both these segments of the Jewish nation. Hosea calls upon the people to repent and return to Jehovah, their God, and be at peace with him. But they did not repent and, as we know, the kingdoms of both Israel and Judah were destroyed.
Like the other holy prophets, Hosea did not fail to speak of the times of restitution. In chapter 13, verse 14, he prophesies the destruction of death and of the grave, sheol, the hell of the Old Testament. This he explains will be brought about by the Lord through the provision of a “ransom.” This great truth is enlarged upon in the New Testament, the final version of it being in Revelation 21:4, where we are told that “there shall be no more death.”
Joel, the second of the twelve minor prophets, was the son of Pethuel. Beyond this nothing is known as to the personal history of Joel. (ch. 1:1) Nor does Joel himself indicate when he served as prophet, but it seems reasonably certain that it was during the period of the kings. Some have conjectured that it was probably during the reign of Joash, king of Judah.
Without being specific in detail, Joel prophesied that calamities would come upon the nation during “the day of the Lord.” While in some respects these predictions were fulfilled upon the nation in connection with its overthrow and Babylonian captivity, it seems clear that there is a larger fulfillment during the “day of the Lord” (Jehovah) at this end of the Gospel Age, when Christ is present prior to the establishment of his kingdom.
In Matthew 24:29 Jesus quotes from Joel 2:10, indicating the fulfillment to be still future from his day. From this and other quotations from the prophecy which are found in the New Testament, we know that Joel wrote of events much more momentous that those which occurred when the nation was overthrown and taken captive to Babylon in 606 B.C.
Chapter 2, verses 28-30, is quoted by Apostle Peter in his pentecostal sermon. (Acts 2:16-19) Peter applies it to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which occurred at the time. It was at Pentecost that the Lord poured out his Spirit upon his “servants and handmaids.” But “after,” that is, during the Millennial Age, he will pour out his Spirit upon “all flesh.” Thus did Joel foretell another aspect of the glorious work of restitution.
Amos was a native of Tekoa, in Judah, which was about six miles south of Bethlehem. Seemingly he traveled north into the territory of the ten-tribe kingdom and there exercised his ministry. Amos also foretold the dire calamities that would come upon the nation because of its sin, and he suffered persecution because of his faithfulness.—ch. 7:10-17
Through Amos the Lord said to Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” Then the question is raised, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (ch. 3:2,3) Here the reasoning is that, since the Lord had made himself exclusively the God of Israel, he expected undivided loyalty from his people. If they could not thus worship and serve him, they could not continue to walk with him.
In verses 11-15 of the last chapter, Amos forecasts the regathering of Israel, at the end of the present age, and the building again of the “tabernacle of David that is fallen.” In Acts 15:13-18, this prophecy is quoted and its complete fulfillment indicated to be at the second presence of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom, when the “residue of men” will have an opportunity to call upon the Lord and be blessed.
We know nothing of Obadiah as a person and can only conjecture as to the time he wrote his prophecy. It is a one-chapter prophecy, and in the 11th verse reference is made to the time when the people were carried away captive, and foreigners cast lots “upon Jerusalem.” This might indicate that Obadiah prophesied after the captivity in Babylon began and was himself one of the captives.
However, Obadiah, like all the other “holy prophets,” failed not to mention the times of restitution. He does this in the last verse of his prophecy, where he speaks of “saviors” who were to “come up on mount Zion” at a time when the “kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” This is clearly a reference to the thousand-year kingdom of Christ, when Jesus, the Savior, and his faithful footstep followers, will be reigning for the blessing and salvation of “all the families of the earth.”
The Book of Jonah reveals that the ministry of this prophet was more particularly directed toward the people of Nineveh rather than to the Israelites. The Lord directed him to go to this great city and to “cry against it,” for, as the Lord said, “their wickedness is come up before me.”—ch. 1:2
But Jonah was not disposed to obey the Lord. Instead, he decided he would flee away from the Lord and go to Tarshish. He undertook to make this journey by ship, but a storm arose which threatened the safety of the ship. Those in charge of the vessel concluded that their difficulty was caused by the presence of Jonah, for he had told them that he was fleeing from his God. Upon his own recommendation he was cast into the sea, the “mariners” hoping that this would save their ship from further danger.
But Jonah was not drowned. Instead, he was swallowed by a “great fish,” and three days later he was cast up on the shore near the city of Nineveh, where the Lord had directed him to go. Now he was ready to fulfill his commission to “cry against the city,” and he did so. His message included a prophecy that the city would be destroyed. As a result of this warning the Ninevites repented, and the Lord changed his arrangement for the destruction of their city.
Concerning this we read, “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.” (ch. 3:10) This was fully in keeping with God’s methods of dealing in matters of this kind. For the Lord’s own explanation of the principle involved, see Jeremiah 18:1-10.
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.” (ch. 4:1) Jonah then told the Lord that he had feared this change would be made and that this was the reason he attempted to flee to Tarshish rather than deliver the message of condemnation against Nineveh. He said, “I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness.”—vs. 2
Then Jonah went outside of the city, where he “made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow.” The Lord then caused a gourd to grow up over the booth to shade it from the heat of the sun. Jonah was pleased with this. But “God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.” Again Jonah was displeased with the Lord and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”—vss. 4-8
The Lord then drew a lesson for Jonah. He said: “Thou hast had pity on the gourd, … which came up in a night, and perished in a night. And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”—vss. 10,11
Jonah himself makes no direct reference to the restitution blessings during the Kingdom Age, but through his observance of the exercise of God’s mercy he witnessed the operation of a divine principle by which all mankind will be given an opportunity to repent, turn to the Lord, and be saved from death. Thus the book which bears his name proclaims the prospect of salvation for a lost world.
Micah is the sixth in order of the minor prophets. Little is known of the circumstances of Micah’s life. He gives the time of his service in the opening verse of his book as being “in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” His prophecy, he states, is what “he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.”
He calls upon the people to “hearken” and to let the Lord be witness against them “from his holy temple.” “For,” continues Micah, “the Lord cometh forth out of his place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth.” (vss. 2,3) The “high places” referred to were centers of idolatry, a sin from which the nation of Israel was seldom entirely free. While Micah’s prophecy had a limited fulfillment in the destruction of the nation, it will have a wider fulfillment during the kingdom of Christ, when all mankind will learn to know and to serve the true God.
Micah’s contribution to the great kingdom theme of restitution is principally in chapter 4, verses 1 to 4, where he assures us of the ultimate establishment of the Lord’s kingdom—symbolized by a mountain—and that the people will flow unto it and obey its laws. This, he reveals, will result in the end of war and in economic security for all mankind, symbolized as dwelling under one’s own vine and fig tree.
Nothing is known for a certainty concerning Nahum, as a man. He speaks of himself as an Elkoshite, an evident reference to his birthplace; but there is much uncertainty among scholars as to just where this was, whether in Palestine or Assyria. Nahum describes his prophecy as “the burden of Nineveh,” meaning the doom of that great city which was spared when Jonah testified against it. Verses 5-9 of the first chapter, while having a local setting in the destruction of Nineveh, are evidently designed by the Lord to be descriptive of a more far-reaching “time of trouble” which results in the overthrow of this “present evil world.” This is the time of trouble foretold by Daniel, which results from the standing up of Michael. (Dan. 12:1) Its purpose is to destroy Satan’s empire and thus prepare the way for the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom. That kingdom will bring about the answer to every Christian’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” This will mean the complete restoration of all that was lost through original sin. And Nahum assures us that “affliction shall not rise up the second time.”—vs. 9
Habakkuk is another of God’s “holy prophets” of whom we know almost nothing. He does not even give his father’s name or the place of his birth. The burden of his message is the sin and iniquity of his nation and how long the Lord would permit this evil situation to continue. Sensing that the Lord would use the Chaldeans to punish Israel, Habakkuk found this difficult to understand; for, after all, they were more wicked than his own people. He prays earnestly to the Lord for a better understanding of God’s viewpoints and ways, then says, “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me.”—ch. 2:1
“And the Lord answered me and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.” (ch. 2:2-4) In Hebrews 10:35-39, this prophecy is quoted and applied to the time of Christ’s second presence. We know, then, that the “vision” here referred to applies to an understanding of the divine plan with which the Lord’s people would then be favored, an understanding which includes God’s reason for the permission of evil.
In chapter 2, verse 14, Habakkuk assures us that the time is coming when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” This is, in part, Habakkuk’s contribution to the general theme of the prophets concerning the times of restitution of all things.
Zephaniah is the ninth of the minor prophets. In the opening verse of his prophecy he traces his pedigree to his fourth ancestor, who he asserts was Hizkiah, believed by scholars to be the celebrated Hezekiah, one of the good kings of Judah. This, and the further information that he prophesied in the days of Josiah, another king of Judah, is about all we know of Zephaniah as a person.
Zephaniah foretold the dire calamity that would come upon Israel and Judah, and he expanded his prophecy to embrace the worldwide time of trouble which eventually was to come upon all nations. This he describes as the “fire” of God’s “jealousy,” which would devour, or destroy, all nations. He calls attention to restitution blessings which would follow the destruction of man’s social order, saying that then the Lord would “turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.”—ch. 3:8,9
Haggai, the tenth of the minor prophets, was the first to prophesy following the nation’s captivity in Babylon. While there is no definite information on the subject, it is generally believed that he was one of the captives who returned. The returned exiles had ceased in their work of building the temple, and one of the main purposes of Haggai’s prophecy seems to have been to stir up zeal for resuming this work.—ch. 1:2-4
Chapter 2, in verses 6 and 7, reads: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come.” In Hebrews 12:26 this prophecy is quoted and applied to the time of Christ’s second presence and the establishment of his kingdom. It is, therefore, Haggai’s reference to the kingdom blessings of restitution.
Zechariah was contemporary with Haggai, and in his prophecy he cooperated with Haggai in stirring up the enthusiasm of the returned exiles to resume their work of rebuilding the temple.
Zechariah’s contribution to the kingdom theme of restitution is found particularly in the closing chapter of his book. He describes the “day” of Christ’s kingdom as one during which the mists of superstition and darkness will be dispelled so that in the “evening it shall be light.” “The Lord shall be king over all the earth,” he assures us, and “in that day there shall be one Lord, and his name one.”—ch. 14:6-9
Malachi is the last of the Old Testament prophets. There is no certain knowledge of his personal history, although it is generally believed that he was born after the nation’s captivity in Babylon. The exact date of his service as a prophet is not definitely known but is generally believed by scholars to be after the temple had been rebuilt.
Like the other Old Testament writers, Malachi qualifies as one of God’s holy prophets who foretold the coming times of restitution. In chapter 4, verse 2, he describes the life-giving blessings of Christ’s kingdom, saying that “the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings.” The “Sun of Righteousness” is Christ, the One referred to in chapter 3, verse 1, as “the Messenger of the covenant”; the New Covenant, that is, under the terms of which Israel and the whole world will be restored to at-one-ment with God.