Story 8 of 12: ENDING IN EXILES
God's prophets, like Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, had been preaching doom to Israel and Judah because of their infidelity to God. Kings on both sides were worshipping Baal. The kings in Judah weren't so bad at first (since the "lamp of David" was still shining in Judah), but they eventually grew too comfortable as well. The rich grew further apart from the poor, and the prophets warned of a false sense of security.
A critical juncture came when they faced a new threat - the Assyrian Empire - bigger than any mere kingdom they had previously encountered. In response to the threat, instead of heeding the prophets and turning to God, the king of Israel joined with the kings of Aram and Egypt, and even tried forcing the king of Judah to join them. The king of Judah in turn tried bargaining with the oncoming Assyrian Empire!
It's as if God's people totally forgot about God, who then asked the prophet Isaiah, "Whom shall I send?" "Here I am!" responded the prophet, "send me." It was time to announce God's message, and the message was: doom! Jerusalem was likened to a whore who was unfaithful to God. God would thereby use the other nations as his “sacred warriors” to punish Israel and Judah for their "lip service" to God over the years.
The prophecies came true about 100 years later, when the Assyrian Empire completely overtook the northern kingdom of Israel, and made the southern kingdom, Judah, into its vassal. So the kings of Judah were spared... until the next empire! Mightier even than the Assyrians came the Babylonians!
This time it was the prophet Jeremiah who delivered God's message of doom. And true to the prophecies, the Babylonian Empire overtook both the Assyrians and the Kingdom of Judah. In 587 BC Jerusalem and the Temple were utterly destroyed.
Although Isaiah's and Jeremiah's prophecies heeded doom, they also spoke of great hope, a future remnant of Judah to be made into a kingdom that would be ruled by a "prince of peace", who, unlike the kings of Israel, would show mercy and kindness to the poor. Isaiah spoke of a young maiden giving birth to a son who would be called “Immanuel”, or “God is with us.” In these prophecies, those who died faithful to God would even rise again to new life!
Jeremiah also prophesied about a new, personal relationship with God, in which each person would experience a "circumcision of the heart". God would search the heart and motives behind people’s actions, giving to each as he or she truly deserved. Furthermore, God would raise up a "branch for David"! He would write a new Law in their hearts and lead them on a second exodus back to the promised land!
These messages of hope continued even amongst the exiled Israelites that were kicked out of their promised land. Another prophet, Ezekiel, envisioned a valley of dead bones rising and growing new flesh to form a new people of God, heading towards a whole "New Jerusalem." Another prophecy in the book of Isaiah included four songs about a mysterious “Servant of Yahweh” who would be a light to the nations, who would also suffer, and whose very life would be a sin offering for His people. And it was told that God would establish an everlasting covenant in fulfillment of his promise to David.
Elijah ascends to heaven before Elisha
The history of the prophets can be divided into three periods: the period before the first exile (when the Assyrians invaded Israel), the period before the second exile (when Babylon invaded Judah), and the period during the exiles, when the people of Israel and Judah were a people dispersed ("Diaspora").
The book of Isaiah actually contains the writings of three generations of prophecies, possibly an Isaiah and one or more of his disciples continuing his tradition. The prophecies spanned the centuries before, during, and after the exiles.
There were other "minor" prophets prophesying at the same time as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, but these three are named the "major" prophets since they left us the largest bodies of writing in the Scriptures.
Why were the kings of Judah initially depicted in a better light than the kings of Israel?
What was at the "heart" of Jeremiah's message?
What's the difference between a "major" and a "minor" prophet?