Lecture 2- The Theology of the Prophets
a. The Deuteronomist
ASSIGNMENT: Read Joshua through 2 Kings; and Von Rad, vol. 1, part 2, chapter C, section 6.
The Old Testament consists of great segments of literature that have been edited in the final edition which we presently possess. The earliest writer is the anonymous theologian we call the Yahwist. He wrote around the time of David, and compiled the earliest traditions in Genesis through Numbers. The next theologian (also anonymous) is called by scholars the Elohist. He wrote some hundred years after the Yahwist. Then we have the Deuteronomist, who wrote around the sixth century BC. Then the Priestly writer, and finally the Chronicler who wrote in the late 5th century BC. These great strands of theology have been woven together in the great sources we find in the Old Testament. In Gen through Numbers we find the Yahwist, the Elohist, and the Priestly writer at work. In Deuteronomy through Kings the Deuteronomist is at work; and in Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1-2 Chronicles the Chronicler is found. To these writings were eventually added the prophetic works and the wisdom literature.
Our present task is to investigate the work of the Deuteronomist. Why does he write what he does when he does?
The sixth century BC was a terrible time for the people of Judah. Their Northern neighbors had been deported in 722 BC and they were attacked and conquered in 587 BC. So the Deuteronomist writes to explain why it happened. And the reason he gives is quite simple -- the people had sinned against God and God had punished them.
I Ki 3:1ff is an excellent sample of the Deuteronomist's theology:
Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt; he took Pharaoh's daughter and brought her into the city of David, until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem. The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord.
Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.
Even the great Solomon is guilty of offering incense at the high places.
Now, of course, during the historical period of Solomon is was quite normal and even expected that offerings would be given at the high places. It was only during the exile that a stigma attached to this practice; so Solomon is guilty of a sin, not in his own time, but in the time of the Deuteronomist.
The Deuteronomist assembled annals, prophetic biography, temple chronicles and other historical material and molded them into his own theological image. This is especially true of the central Deuteronomistic tendency to maintain that there is only one legitimate place where Yahweh can be worshipped- the temple in Jerusalem. Thus, those who worshipped at other places were charged with sin (cf. 1 Ki 15:26, 34;16:19, 26) and others.
The ending of the Deutronomistic work holds the key to the whole (2 Kings 25:1-30):
And in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem, and laid siege to it; they built siegeworks against it all around. So the city was besieged until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine became so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. Then a breach was made in the city wall; the king with all the soldiers fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, by the king's garden, though the Chaldeans were all around the city. They went in the direction of the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and overtook him in the plains of Jericho; all his army was scattered, deserting him. Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, who passed sentence on him. They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah; they bound him in fetters and took him to Babylon.Even though the nation is in exile, there is still hope, according to the Deuteronomistic theologian. If Israel would only be faithful to Yahweh, all would be well. That is the theology of the Deuteronomist.
In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month -- which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon -- Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He burned the house of the Lord, the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. All the army of the Chaldeans who were with the captain of the guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem. Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had defected to the king of Babylon -- all the rest of the population. But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest people of the land to be vinedressers and tillers of the soil.
The bronze pillars that were in the house of the Lord, as well as the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the Lord, the Chaldeans broke in pieces, and carried the bronze to Babylon. They took away the pots, the shovels, the snuffers, the dishes for incense, and all the bronze vessels used in the temple service, as well as the firepans and the basins. What was made of gold the captain of the guard took away for the gold, and what was made of silver, for the silver.
As for the two pillars, the one sea, and the stands, which Solomon had made for the house of the Lord, the bronze of all these vessels was beyond weighing. The height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, and on it was a bronze capital; the height of the capital was three cubits; latticework and pomegranates, all of bronze, were on the capital all around. The second pillar had the same, with the latticework.
The captain of the guard took the chief priest Seraiah, the second priest Zephaniah, and the three guardians of the threshold; from the city he took an officer who had been in command of the soldiers, and five men of the king's council who were found in the city; the secretary who was the commander of the army who mustered the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land who were found in the city. Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them, and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. The king of Babylon struck them down and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath.
So Judah went into exile out of its land.
He appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan as governor over the people who remained in the land of Judah, whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had left. Now when all the captains of the forces and their men heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah as governor, they came with their men to Gedaliah at Mizpah, namely, Ishmael son of Nethaniah, Johanan son of Kareah, Seraiah son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, and Jaazaniah son of the Maacathite. Gedaliah swore to them and their men, saying, "Do not be afraid because of the Chaldean officials; live in the land, serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you."
But in the seventh month, Ishmael son of Nethaniah son of Elishama, of the royal family, came with ten men; they struck down Gedaliah so that he died, along with the Judeans and Chaldeans who were with him at Mizpah. Then all the people, high and low and the captains of the forces set out and went to Egypt; for they were afraid of the Chaldeans.
In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of King Jehoiachin of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, King Evil-merodach of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, released King Jehoiachin of Judah from prison; he spoke kindly to him, and gave him a seat above the other seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes. Every day of his life he dined regularly in the king's presence. For his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, a portion every day, as long as he lived.
b) Isaiah through Malachi
ASSIGNMENT: Read Isaiah through Malachi; von Rad, volume 2, Part 1, chapters A-G.
The Deuteronomist concluded his work with 2 Kings. In the Hebrew Bible this is immediately followed by the so called "writing prophets" or Isaiah through Malachi. This is the segment which we will now investigate.
Ex 4:16 gives a very simple definition of what it means to be a prophet. The Hebrew word "navi" is translated by the Greek words "pro" and "phiemi". This Hebrew word literally means "to bubble forth, to express". Likewise the Greek words mean "to speak to or towards". Thus a prophet is not a foreteller of the future; but a forthteller, one who speaks to someone on behalf of someone else.
Many Old Testament scholars believe that originally prophets were part of the servants of the local sanctuary. That is, they were oracle givers at the local shrine, while the priests handled the sacrificial side of the "business" (cf. Jer 29:24ff, and I Sam 10:10ff.). But prophets evidently also served as leaders in times of war, leading the army of God into battle and blessing them as they go (cf. I Kin 20:13-14, 22, 28, 22:6, 12, 15,20 2 Kin 3:16-17, 6:9).
One of the most interesting aspects of the prophetic literature is the fact that prophets were active primarily during the monarchy. That is, before the time that Israel had a King there is no prophetic activity to speak of; and after the demise of the Kingship there are only a few prophets active, and they minor ones at best. It seems, then, that prophecy was a counterbalance to the possible abuse of power which a monarchy carried in its wake. Thus it is safe to say that when one reads the prophets one must understand their theology as essentially anti-monarchy! Israel was better off, in the minds of the prophets, when God alone was their leader (as in the wilderness). Kings bring only trouble. Even David led the nation astray.
Prophets speak for God. The following texts are ample proof of this:
This is what the Lord God showed me: he was forming locusts at the time the latter growth began to sprout (it was the latter growth after the king 's mowings). When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, "O Lord God, forgive, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!"
The Lord relented concerning this; "It shall not be," said the Lord.
This is what the Lord God showed me: the Lord God was calling for a shower
of fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. Then I said, "O Lord God, cease, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!"
The Lord relented concerning this; "This also shall not be," said the Lord God.
This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, "Amos, what do you see?"
And I said, "A plumb line."
Then the Lord said, "See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword."
Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, "Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, 'Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'"
And Amaziah said to Amos, "O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom."
Then Amos answered Amaziah, "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'
"Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. You say, 'Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.'
Therefore thus says the Lord:
'Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,
and your land shall be parceled out by line;
you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'"
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out."
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"
And I said, "Here am I; send me!"
And he said, "Go and say to this people:
'Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.'
Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed."
Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" And he said:
"Until cities lie waste
and houses without people,
and the land is utterly desolate;
until the Lord sends everyone far away,
and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
Even if a tenth part remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak
whose stump remains standing
when it is felled.
The holy seed is its stump."
The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah son of Josiah of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month.
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy."
But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you," says the Lord.
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
The word of the Lord came to me, saying, "Jeremiah, what do you see?"
And I said, "I see a branch of an almond tree."
Then the Lord said to me, "You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it."
The word of the Lord came to me a second time, saying, "What do you see?"
And I said, "I see a boiling pot, tilted away from the north."
Then the Lord said to me: Out of the north disaster shall break out on all the inhabitants of the land. For now I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, says the Lord; and they shall come and all of them shall set their thrones at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its surrounding walls and against all the cities of Judah. And I will utter my judgments against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have made offerings to other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands. But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land -- against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.
Yet, even though the prophet spoke for God it was not always (or ever) an easy path. The were denounced by their own families, harassed by their compatriots, and many of them were killed rather violently (cf. Jer 15:17, 20:7, Amos 3:8). They spoke, indeed, but it was very difficult for them.
And what did they say? They warned the people of Israel that God's just judgment would come upon them unless they repented. And when they did not repent and were judged, then the prophets encouraged them with the idea that God had not utterly abandoned them. In short, they preached judgment and hope (cf. Jer 21:1-10).
The theology of the prophets is thus a twofold message: (1) repent or be judged, and, (2) judgment has come and God still loves you. Each of the 3 major and 12 minor prophets can be understood quite well under this paradigm.
Of course each prophet has a distinctive way of presenting this twofold message. For an in depth discussion of each, one must read a good commentary on the individual books of the prophets. I recommend the volumes of the "Old Testament Library" published by Westminster/John Knox.
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