July 20, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Prophets tried to get Israelites to reform

John F. Fink(Fourteenth in a series of columns)

There are 18 prophetic books in the Old Testament, but don’t worry, I’m going to describe only a few.

Isaiah is second only to Psalms as both the longest book in the Bible and as the most valuable Old Testament Book for the New Testament.

Isaiah the man first appears in the Second Book of Kings. He prophesied between 740 and 687 B.C. when the kings of Judah rejected his reforming ideals and acted against his advice.

But Isaiah didn’t write this entire book. The book spans several centuries and is best characterized as a long-standing school or tradition of disciples. It wasn’t completed until the period 535-460 B.C. after the Babylonian exile and the return to Jerusalem.

It ends with prophecies of a Messiah, and the New Testament shows how Jesus fulfilled these prophecies.

For example, Jesus read a passage from Isaiah about the anointed one and then proclaimed that this prophecy was fulfilled in him. Passages in Isaiah also refer to the “suffering servant,” and these passages are considered predictions about the sufferings of Jesus.

Jeremiah was the next major prophet. He lived while the Babylonians were threatening Jerusalem. He urged the people to repent, but also advised them to surrender to the Babylonians rather than escape to Egypt. The Israelite leaders didn’t take his advice and fled to Egypt, where they were captured and killed.

Much of the Book of Jeremiah tells what the prophet is doing as well as his prophecies. After the fall of Jerusalem, the Babylonians gave him the choice of enjoying a palace in Babylon or remaining in Jerusalem. He chose the latter, but when the remnant in Egypt rejected his advice and fled to Egypt, they dragged him with them, and that’s where he died.

The Book of Lamentations is included among the prophetic books. An eyewitness to the fall and destruction of Jerusalem composed five laments that combine confession of sin, grief over the suffering and humiliation of Zion, submission to merited chastisement, and strong faith in the constancy of God’s love and power to restore.

The Book of Baruch follows Lamentations. It gets its name from the secretary of the prophet Jeremiah, and it was written in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem. It is one of the few books in the Old Testament that considers it possible for an Israelite to live outside the promised land (the others are Tobit, Wisdom and Esther), and the book is not part of the Jewish canon. St. Jerome also didn’t include the book in his translation of the Old Testament. It is composed of five compositions, two in prose and three in poetic form.

Ezekiel is also one of the major prophets. He is sometimes called “the father of Judaism” for his part in influencing the laws and customs in the Books of Moses. He prophesized from Babylon after he was exiled there the first time the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 597 B.C. (They did it twice, destroying the temple in 587 B.C.) †

Local site Links: