Week Thirty-Three Reading Assignment:
Isaiah 58 - Jeremiah 14
"Everyone more or less believes in God. But most of us do our best to keep God on the margins of our lives or, failing that, refashion God to suit our convenience. Prophets insist that God is the sovereign center, not off in the wings awaiting our beck and call. And prophets insist that we deal with God as God reveals himself, not as we imagine him to be. These men and women woke people up to the sovereign presence of God in their lives. They yelled, they wept, they rebuked, they soothed, they challenged, they comforted. They used words with power and imagination, whether blunt or subtle."
(Eugene Peterson, The Message)
(Eugene Peterson, The Message)
This Week's Teaching Video: The Prophet in Old Testament Israel
Charting our Progress
During our reading of the Old Testament history books, we sought to remember the order of the major events, characters, and developments by putting them in alphabetical order. Specifically, we attached to each major period or event a key word or two, and those key words came in alphabetical order.
The final three major periods of that Old Testament history were captured in the letters N, O, and P.
N (Nineveh) represents the Assyrian era. O (occupation, ousting) represents the period of Babylonian dominance. And P (Persia, post-exilic) represents the period of the Persian Empire.
Most or all of the books that we call the Old Testament prophets come during one of those three periods. While some are difficult to date with confidence, here is a listing of the prophets about whom we have a high degree of certainty, cate-gorized by letter:
N = Nineveh
O = occupation, ousting
P = Persia, post-exilic
A knowledge of Old Testament history combined with this chart should help you to understand the historical context of each prophet, his ministry, and his message.
Side by Side, Yet So Far Apart
The books of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah are set side by side in our table of contents. During this week's reading, we'll move seamlessly from the end of the one to the beginning of the other. Yet their proximity in our Bibles belies the real distance between them.
Isaiah's life and ministry was in Judah -- and especially Jerusalem -- during the late 8th-century BC. It was the era of the Assyrian Empire, which obliterated the northern kingdom of Israel, but which did not succeed in conquering Jerusalem.
Jeremiah's life and ministry, too, were in Judah -- and especially Jerusalem -- but they came during the late 7th and early 6th centuries BC. This was the era of the Babylonian Empire, which ultimately conquered Judah, exiled the Jews into the Babylonian Captivity, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, and destroyed the Temple there. It was a very different day and experience, indeed.
Both prophets speak to the recalcitrance and sinfulness of their people. Both predict God's righteous judgment. And both look beyond that judgment to the day when God will restore all things in keeping with His perfect will. Yet what each lives through and sees with his own eyes is quite different.
Isaiah enjoys the faithfulness of King Hezekiah and Jerusalem's surprising victory against the Assyrians. Jeremiah, on the other hand, is mostly opposed by the wicked kings of his era, and he is an eyewitness to the devastation of both his people and his homeland. He is, with good reason, known as "the weeping prophet."
So as we turn from one book to the next this week, keep in mind the size of the page being turned. That page is more than a hundred years long. And while both prophets are in the same city and country, they are in different centuries, different contexts, and they experience very different outcomes.