6.1 The Prophets -- Declarative Authority
This is where the prophets come in. The Spirit of God not only worked invisibly through military and political leaders, both Jewish and foreign, but He spoke directly through a long succession of prophets. Through them, God provided instruction, direction, correction, warning and interpretation concerning the events of each generation. We have encountered them frequently in the history books, usually as interruptions of "normal programming": Saul speaking ecstatically among the prophets, Nathan rebuking David for adultery, Elijah battling Ahab and the Baalists, Elisha listening in on the secret war councils of the king of Aram. Unlike the judges who preceded them, the prophets had no political authority. They were limited to
a. anointing a man to be king (if he was God's choice)
b. advising the king what the will of God was.
Since God's will was frequently opposed to the plans of the king, the lives of prophets were always on the line. Evil kings had no respect for God's spokesmen, and instead hired their own house prophets. This meant that the life of a Hebrew prophet was a lonely one, lived unto God, enduring frequent hostility and rejection, and sometimes having to run for one's life.
The prophets were God's surrogate Presence in the midst of division, decline, destruction. The prophetic voice stopped for Israel after the fall of Samaria, but it continued for Judah during the fall of Jerusalem through Jeremiah, and in Babylon through Ezekiel, and later in the return from exile through Haggai and Zechariah. In the midst of punishment, God was with His people, He had not rejected them the way He had northern Israel. In a sense, God stayed with His Promise, He Himself kept the flame alive when there was no man to tend it. When the Temple was gone, when the sacrifices could no longer be offered, when the traditional communities were uprooted -- then the prophetic word held together the Jewish community and provided the content of faith. "God has not abandoned us, but He has punished us for our sins and those of our fathers back to the time of Solomon. But if we repent and obey, He will restore us again and give us a future and a hope. He will once again choose Israel." This wasn't much to go on in a foreign land, but it was enough to inspire thousands to return later on.
We now turn to look at the racial teachings of the prophetic books. These books differ from the historical books, in that they are often not chronological. Instead they are collections of oracles, grouped together in a sometimes random fashion. The first thing we notice is that the Big Names of the the history books are not represented in the prophetic books: there are no books named after Elijah or Elisha. And conversely, Isaiah and Jeremiah are only minor figures in the books of Kings and Chronicles. We conclude from this that God said and did a lot more things through His servants than are recorded in the Bible.
The problem with the order of the prophetic books in the Bible is that they are mixed up chronologically. We are trying to understand the development of the racial teachings in the Old Testament, and to do so we must keep in mind the historical contexts of the events and prophecies. It is not helpful to have to jump back and forth among 8th, 7th and 6th centuries when reading the Biblical books in order. So in this study, we are going to re-order the prophetic books by dividing them into two sections: the 8th century prophets, and the prophets of Judah's fall (prior to and during 586 BC). A separate unit on the Exile will cover Ezekiel, Daniel and the minor prophets of the post-Exile.