CHAPTER 5: The Messages of the Old Testament Prophets
5.1 The role of the
It is an
unfortunate fact of history that God-fearing kings in Judah and Israel were few
and far between. The majority not only broke God’s laws, but also led the
people to do likewise. Therefore, God had to raise up
prophets like Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel to reprimand the two kingdoms,
and to remind the people of their covenantal obligations, including their duty
to keep the Sabbath day holy.
5.2 Prophetic messages for
ministered in the eighth century BC,
during the reign of Jeroboam II. It was a time of peace and prosperity for the
northern kingdom; yet, all was not well. The prophet was compelled to speak out
against a troubling attitude in the people:
will the New Moon be past,
may sell grain?
may trade our wheat?
the ephah small and the shekel large,
the scales by deceit,
may buy the poor for silver,
needy for a pair of sandals—
the bad wheat?”
they worshipped God and observed the Sabbath and the New Moons, but it was mere
lip service. The condition of their lives did not match their religiosity: they
failed to act righteously, exploited the poor and were dishonest. To make
matters worse, they adopted the idolatrous practices of the surrounding nations
to create a syncretic brand of religion; the damning evidence was in the high
places at Bethel and Gilgal (Amos 4:4–5; 5:4–5). This dire situation prompted
God to issue a severe warning through Amos:
has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
will never forget any of their works.
land not tremble for this,
everyone mourn who dwells in it?
All of it
shall swell like the River,
River of Egypt.”
“And it shall come to pass in that day,” says the Lord God,
will make the sun go down at noon,
will darken the earth in broad daylight;
turn your feasts into mourning,
your songs into lamentation;
bring sackcloth on every waist,
baldness on every head;
make it like mourning for an only son,
And its end like a bitter day.”
prophet made it clear that God would not overlook the sins of the people, but
would surely judge them. He therefore spoke of a day when Israel would have
cause to put on sackcloth and mourn.
latter part of Jeroboam’s reign, another person emerged to speak out against
the northern kingdom—the prophet Hosea. Continuing the message of Amos, he
highlighted the social and moral sins of the people, focusing particularly on
the matter of idolatry. He pointed out that, in God’s eyes, they were like an
unfaithful wife: “Do not rejoice, O Israel, with joy like other peoples, for
you have played the harlot against your God” (Hos 9:1). Hosea added that God had
no choice but to pronounce judgment:
did not know
gave her grain, new wine, and oil,
multiplied her silver and gold—
they prepared for Baal.”
I will return and take away
in its time
new wine in its season,
take back My wool and My linen,
cover her nakedness.
will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers,
one shall deliver her from My hand.
also cause all her mirth to cease,
will destroy her vines and her fig trees,
she has said,
are my wages that my lovers have given me.’
So I will
make them a forest,
beasts of the field shall eat them.
days of the Baals to which she burned incense.
decked herself with her earrings and jewelry,
after her lovers.
forgot Me,” says the Lord.
prophecies of both Amos and Hosea were duly fulfilled in 722 BC. The Assyrians, led by Tiglath-Pileser
III, invaded Israel, exiled the people and brought in foreign subjects to
occupy the land. From that time, the northern kingdom ceased to exist.
5.3 Prophetic messages for
a prophet of the southern kingdom and a contemporary of Amos. Addressing the
inhabitants of Judah as the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah, he pointed out
that God took no delight in their sacrifices, New Moons, sacred assemblies and
word of the Lord,
rulers of Sodom;
to the law of our God,
people of Gomorrah:
purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?”
had enough of burnt offerings of rams
fat of fed cattle.
I do not
delight in the blood of bulls,
lambs or goats.”
come to appear before Me,
required this from your hand,
trample My courts?
more futile sacrifices;
is an abomination to Me.
Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—
endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
Moons and your appointed feasts
a trouble to Me,
weary of bearing them.
spread out your hands,
hide My eyes from you;
though you make many prayers,
hands are full of blood.”
yourselves, make yourselves clean;
the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
for God’s acute displeasure was the people’s religious hypocrisy. Like the
nation of Israel, they honoured Him outwardly, but
their lives told a different story: they failed to implement justice and
righteousness, and instead committed evil. They also profaned the Sabbath—not
surprising, given their overall backsliding. The prophet therefore urged them
to mend their ways, before God was forced to execute judgment:
justice, and do righteousness,
salvation is about to come,
And My righteousness to be revealed.
is the man who does this,
son of man who lays hold on it;
from defiling the Sabbath,
his hand from doing any evil.”
proclaiming messages of warning and judgment, Isaiah gave words of comfort to
assure the people of restoration. One key message was God’s promise to bless
those who honoured the Sabbath day:
turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
doing your pleasure on My holy day,
the Sabbath a delight,
day of the Lord honorable,
honor Him, not doing your own ways,
finding your own pleasure,
speaking your own words,
shall delight yourself in the Lord;
will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
of the Lord has spoken.”
grant them three blessings. One blessing was that they would delight in
Him—that is, they would find spiritual joy through their relationship with Him.
The second blessing was that He would make them “ride on the high hills of the
earth”—words reminiscent of the Song of Moses:
him ride in the heights of the earth,
might eat the produce of the fields,
him to draw honey from the rock,
from the flinty rock;
from the cattle, and milk of the flock,
of the breed of Bashan, and goats,
drank wine, the blood of the grapes.”
revealed a blessing of a physical nature: God would bestow His providential
care upon the people, as well as the bounty of the earth. The third blessing
was the “heritage of Jacob”, which, in one sense, signified the right to dwell
securely in the promised land (Gen 28:3–4, 12–14; cf. Ex 6:8; Ps 135:12).
However, in a more profound sense, it referred to the right to inherit a far
better heavenly country (Heb 11:13–16). This latter meaning was reinforced in
another of Isaiah’s messages:
says the Lord:
eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths,
choose what pleases Me,
fast My covenant,
them I will give in My house
within My walls a place and a name
than that of sons and daughters;
give them an everlasting name
shall not be cut off.”
God’s assurance that even the eunuchs would receive a lasting legacy for their
part in honouring the Sabbath: He would grant them an
everlasting name and a place in His house. In other words, God would record
their names in the Book of Life—a privilege signifying their right to eternal
life in His kingdom (Rev 20:11–15).
Isaiah prophesied of a new era when God’s people would return to Him:
the new heavens and the new earth
will make shall remain before Me,” says the Lord,
your descendants and your name remain.
shall come to pass
one New Moon to another,
one Sabbath to another,
shall come to worship before Me,” says the Lord.
time, salvation would extend to “all flesh”, and both Jews and Gentiles would
gather before Him on the Sabbath.
was a prophet of the southern kingdom, ministering from 627 to 580 BC. Despite the earlier reforms of King Josiah
(2 Kgs 22, 23), the religious situation of Judah did
not improve for the longer term. In fact, the nation was backsliding once more,
for we learn of the following indictments against the people: they were
ignorant of the way of the Lord (Jer 5:4); they continued in idolatrous
practices (Jer 5:7; 7:9, 18); they carried out abominable pagan acts (Jer
7:31); their religion was false and their lives, immoral (Jer 7:1–11).
A sign of
the nation’s godlessness was their neglect of the Sabbath. It was for this
reason that God instructed Jeremiah to stand by the gates of Jerusalem to
proclaim this warning:
the Lord: “Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor
bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; nor carry a burden out of your houses on
the Sabbath day, nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded
your fathers. But they did not obey nor incline their ear, but made their neck
stiff, that they might not hear nor receive instruction.”
“And it shall be, if you diligently
heed Me,” says the Lord, “to bring no burden through the gates of this city on
the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work in it, then shall
enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David,
riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, accompanied by the
men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain
forever. And they shall come from the cities of Judah and from the places
around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin and from the lowland, from the
mountains and from the South, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain
offerings and incense, bringing sacrifices of praise to the house of the Lord.
But if you will not heed Me to hallow the Sabbath day,
such as not carrying a burden when entering the gates of Jerusalem on the
Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the
palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.”
message was clear: unless they took care to sanctify the Sabbath day, God would
destroy the city with a consuming fire.
people refused to listen, and Jeremiah had the misfortune to witness the
literal fulfilment of God’s words. In 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem and
destroyed both the city and its temple with fire. Not long after, the prophet
could only lament over the fact that the chosen people would now be destined to
forget the Sabbath:
done violence to His tabernacle,
As if it
were a garden;
destroyed His place of assembly;
appointed feasts and Sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion.
In His burning indignation He has spurned the king and the priest.
indicates that Ezekiel was most likely exiled to Babylon in 597 BC, along with Jehoiachin,
king of Judah. It was in that land, by the River Chebar,
that God called him to be His prophet (Ezek 1:3)— to not only make known the
sins of the nation and to pronounce
judgment, but also to give hope of future restoration.
pointed out that the people were guilty of idolatry (Ezek 6; 8:15–18) and of
failing to obey God’s statutes and judgments (Ezek 5:6). A symptom of their
fallen state was the profaning of the Sabbath. In effect, they were repeating
the mistakes of their rebellious forefathers (Ezek 20:1–32)—those who forgot
that the Sabbath was a sign of their sanctification (Ezek 20:12).
eyes, the defilement of the Sabbath was a particularly grave sin. Hence,
Ezekiel spoke of it alongside the nation’s other great evils: the neglect of
one’s parents, the oppression of the weak, sexual immorality, child sacrifice
the princes of Israel: each one has used his power to shed blood in you. In you
they have made light of father and mother; in your midst they have oppressed
the stranger; in you they have mistreated the fatherless and the widow. You
have despised My holy things and profaned My Sabbaths.
In you are men who slander to cause bloodshed; in you are those who eat on the
mountains; in your midst they commit lewdness. In you men uncover their
fathers’ nakedness; in you they violate women who are set apart during their
impurity. One commits abomination with his neighbor’s wife; another lewdly
defiles his daughter-in-law; and another in you violates his sister, his
also said to me: “Son of man, will you judge Oholah
and Oholibah? Then declare to them their
abominations. For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands.
They have committed adultery with their idols, and even sacrificed their sons
whom they bore to Me, passing them through the fire,
to devour them. Moreover they have done this to Me:
They have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and profaned My Sabbaths. For
after they had slain their children for their idols, on the same day they came
into My sanctuary to profane it; and indeed thus they
have done in the midst of My house.”
continued his message by saying that the religious leaders had also committed
conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the
prey; they have devoured people; they have taken treasure and precious things;
they have made many widows in her midst. Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not
distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the
difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes
from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.”
God’s laws, acted corruptly, failed to distinguish the holy things and
neglected the Sabbath.
In 586 BC, while the prophet was still speaking, God’s
judgment came upon the southern kingdom: the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem,
destroyed the city and its temple, and exiled the inhabitants. In the
aftermath, God gave the prophet a vision of a new city and a new temple. He
also set out His expectations concerning how the priests were to minister in
the new era: “In controversy they shall stand as judges, and judge it according
to My judgments. They shall keep My
laws and My statues in all My appointed meetings, and they shall hallow My Sabbaths”
(Ezek 44:24). The priests would act as faithful judges and keep His Sabbaths
holy once more.
45, God outlined the duty of one called the “prince”:
shall be the prince’s part to give burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink
offerings, at the feasts, the New Moons, the Sabbaths, and at all the appointed
seasons of the house of Israel. He shall prepare the sin offering, the grain
offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offerings to make atonement for the
house of Israel.”
the Lord God: “The gateway of the inner court that faces toward the east shall
be shut the six working days; but on the Sabbath it shall be opened, and on the
day of the New Moon it shall be opened. The prince shall enter by way of the
vestibule of the gateway from the outside, and stand by the gatepost. The
priests shall prepare his burnt offering and his peace offerings. He shall
worship at the threshold of the gate. Then he shall go out, but the gate shall
not be shut until evening. Likewise the people of the land shall worship at the
entrance to this gateway before the Lord on the Sabbaths and the New Moons. The
burnt offering that the prince offers to the Lord on the Sabbath day shall be
six lambs without blemish, and a ram without blemish.”
spiritual leader would do God’s will, to make offerings on the Sabbath and
guide the people to hallow this day.
their various messages, the prophets warned the people of Israel and Judah
about their departure from God and their failure to sanctify the Sabbath. They
highlighted a number of important truths, including the point that
Sabbath-keeping was as important as a life of morality; that obedience would be
rewarded with physical and spiritual blessings; and that judgment awaited those
who persisted in profaning this day.
the chosen people chose to ignore the warnings, thereby provoking God to anger
and righteous judgment (Jer 17:22–27; Amos 8:5–10; cf. Hos 2:11–12). In the
case of the northern kingdom, the outcome was its invasion and destruction by
the Assyrians in 722 BC. In the case of
the southern kingdom, the outcome was the destruction of Jerusalem and the
temple at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC.
© January 2012
True Jesus Church.