Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel
How does this type of literature fit into the Bible as a whole?
Written by or about Jewish prophets and their messages to the nation of Israel, the books that make up the Major Prophets are described as “major” because they are longer and filled with broad content and far-reaching global implications.
Historically speaking, God’s people in Judah had just watched Israel, their northern neighbor, conquered and removed by the Assyrian empire in 722 BC. Opening with Isaiah, we see God pronouncing judgment against the rebellion of His people, warning of a similar fate if they didn’t respond by doing God’s will. Jeremiah recounts a worsened situation but also reveals a great hope, the new covenant which would be experienced beyond the Babylonian exile. Lamentations speaks to God’s compassion and faithfulness in the midst of the tragic destruction of Jerusalem. Through Ezekiel, God chastened His exiled people to find life in Him alone. Later, in Babylonian captivity, Daniel’s life and visions demonstrated that God’s plans cannot be thwarted because of His ultimate authority over the nations.
How do we read the Major Prophets normally?
First off, it is worth noting that prophecy is sometimes unpopular because of its unusual language and seemingly constant warnings. Yet, prophecy should not be avoided because it is, like all scripture, “God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). That said, it is helpful to keep in mind that prophecy is complex; comprised of literal historical and future elements, profound visions, and symbolic language. The genre addresses real events and utilizes graphic imagery, picturesque language, and symbolic acts to make powerful statements about divine judgment and deliverance. As you read prophecy, ask questions like:
How might the events described in text match up with actual historical events in world history?
How do symbolism, warnings, and promises work with other biblical themes and point to future judgement, events, and salvation?
How does this part of the Bible point to Jesus?
Biblical prophecy points explicitly to the person and work of Jesus, often being fulfilled by Him directly. Isaiah, for instance, refers to a boy called Immanuel (“God with us”) who would remind God’s people that they lived before a holy God and cause them to experience great blessing (7:14). Though God had always been present with His people, Isaiah predicted that He would eventually become one of them (fulfilled in Matthew 1:23), as Jesus literally came and dwelt among them to instruct, care, and become the promised servant who would take on the wrath reserved for sinners, effectively delivering them (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). The good news promised in the Old Testament reveals that Jesus brought about the new covenant, promised in Jeremiah 31:33 and spoken of by Jesus in Luke 22:20. Ezekiel spoke of a future expression of God’s presence, described as a new temple where life-giving water would flow (47:1-12). In John 4, Jesus, who spoke of Himself as the temple, presented Himself to a Samaritan woman with the life-giving water Ezekiel described about 600 years earlier.
Throughout the Old Testament, time and again God demonstrated His dominion over kingdoms, such as Babylon and Assyria. Continuing this theme, Jesus declared His divine authority over all things in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), a reign that continues and will continue for evermore (Ephesians 1:20-21). Finally, prophecy such as Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah also speaks of Christ’s second coming that is echoed in several New Testament books.
How do the Major Prophets fit into our lives today?
These prophetic accounts often hard to read and even harder to receive. But, consider Ezekiel; here is a priest turned prophet using language, images, and context of his day (exile to Babylonian 586 BCish) to bring warning and hope to Israel. The paradox for us as modern readers is that the warnings themselves are hopeful. These accounts leave us with a peculiar tension wherein a good God will not allow injustice to stand, all the while loving the very people who continue to live and act unjustly. How will God act? How will justice come? Today, as followers of Jesus, we look at the Major Prophets and still feel this tension. We can wrestle with the tension of hope in these warnings, but unlike the exile communities, we know that hope has a name–His name is Jesus.