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Prophets

There are six­teen books in the Bible called by the names of the prophets although not nec­es­sar­i­ly writ­ten by their hands. A prophet is one who speaks by the direct inspi­ra­tion of God; only sec­on­dar­i­ly does the word mean one who fore­tells the future. Four of the prophet­ic books are those of the so-called major prophets: Isa­iah, Jere­mi­ah, Ezekiel and Daniel.

Most schol­ars believe that the book of Isa­iah is the work of more than one author. It cov­ers the peri­od from the mid­dle of the eighth cen­tu­ry before Christ to the time of the Baby­lon­ian exile. It tells of the impend­ing doom upon the peo­ple of God for their wicked­ness and infi­deli­ty to the Lord. And it fore­tells the mer­cy of God upon His Peo­ple, as well as the gen­tiles, in the time of His redemp­tion in the mes­sian­ic age. The famous vision of the prophet in chap­ter six is includ­ed in the eucharis­tic prayers of the Ortho­dox Church. Of cen­tral impor­tance in Isa­iah are the prophe­cies in the first part of the book, espe­cial­ly chap­ters six to twelve, con­cern­ing the com­ing of the Mes­si­ah-King; and the prophe­cies at the end of the book, about the sal­va­tion of all cre­ation in the suf­fer­ing ser­vant of the Lord. The entire book of Isa­iah is read in the Church dur­ing Great Lent, and many selec­tions are read at the vig­ils of the great feasts of the Church. In the New Tes­ta­ment scrip­tures there are innu­mer­able quo­ta­tions of the prophe­cy of Isa­iah made in ref­er­ence to John the Bap­tist, and most espe­cial­ly to Christ Himself.

The book of Jere­mi­ah cov­ers the peri­od of the sev­enth cen­tu­ry before Christ and, like Isa­iah, prophe­cies the Lord’s wrath upon His sin­ful peo­ple. Jere­mi­ah, a most reluc­tant prophet, suf­fered great­ly at the hands of the peo­ple and was con­stant­ly per­se­cut­ed for his procla­ma­tion of the Word of the Lord. The book is referred to many times in the New Tes­ta­ment. The mes­sian­ic prophe­cies of sal­va­tion in Jere­mi­ah are often read in the fes­tal ser­vices of the Church. The books of Baruch and the Let­ter of Jere­mi­ah from the apoc­rypha go togeth­er with this prophet­ic book in the Ortho­dox ver­sion of the Bible.

The book of Ezekiel, who was a priest as well as a prophet, is dat­ed at the time of the Baby­lon­ian Cap­tiv­i­ty. Once again, the prophet is direct­ly con­cerned with God’s right­eous anger over the sins of His Peo­ple, mak­ing spe­cif­ic ref­er­ence to the presence—and the departure—of the Lord’s glo­ry in the Jerusalem Tem­ple. Ezekiel, how­ev­er, like all of the prophets, is not with­out hope in the mer­cy of God. The mov­ing pas­sage about God’s res­ur­rec­tion of the “dry bones” of dead Israel through the breath­ing in of His Holy Spir­it is read over the tomb of Christ at the Great Sat­ur­day ser­vice of the Ortho­dox Church.

The prophe­cy of Daniel, read in the Church at the vig­il of East­er, is con­cerned with the faith­ful­ness of the Jews to their God in the time of forced apos­ta­sy. Schol­ars con­sid­er this book among the lat­est writ­ten in the Old Tes­ta­ment, much after the time of the Baby­lon­ian cap­tiv­i­ty in which the sto­ry is placed. Cen­tral among the book’s mes­sages is the redemp­tion of Israel in the vic­to­ri­ous com­ing of the heav­en­ly Son of Man, who, in the New Tes­ta­ment, is iden­ti­fied with Christ. It is the apoc­a­lyp­tic char­ac­ter of the book—apocalyptic mean­ing that which refers to the final rev­e­la­tion of God and His ulti­mate judg­ment over all creation—which accounts for the place­ment of Daniel at a date close to New Tes­ta­ment times. The Song of the Three Youths which goes togeth­er with Daniel and which is placed by the non-Ortho­dox among the apoc­ryphal writ­ings, forms a gen­uine part of the Bible in the Ortho­dox Church, as do the books of Susan­na and Bel and the Drag­on, also part of Daniel. The Song of the Youths is part of the mati­nal office in the Ortho­dox Church.


Among the books of the so-called minor prophets, Amos and Hosea are the ear­li­est, com­ing, like the first part of Isa­iah, from the mid­dle of the eighth cen­tu­ry before Christ. Amos is the great pro­claimer of the jus­tice of God against the injus­tices of His Peo­ple. Hosea tells of the unwa­ver­ing love of God which will ulti­mate­ly tri­umph over the adul­ter­ous har­lotry of His Peo­ple who unfaith­ful­ly lust after false gods. The book of Mic­ah dates from approx­i­mate­ly the same peri­od and is very sim­i­lar in con­tent to Isa­iah. In Mic­ah is found the prophe­cy of the Savior’s birth in Beth­le­hem (5:2–4).

Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zepha­ni­ah are dat­ed in the lat­er part of the sev­enth cen­tu­ry before Christ. They imi­tate Jere­mi­ah, proph­esy­ing the wrath of a good and just God upon a wicked and unjust peo­ple. Like Jere­mi­ah, they also fore­tell the restora­tion of Israel by the mer­ci­ful Lord.

Hag­gai, Zechari­ah, Malachi, and per­haps Oba­di­ah, belong to the peri­od of the return of God’s Peo­ple from exile. Zechari­ah is famous for the ora­cle of the appear­ance of the Sav­ior-King, “tri­umphant and vic­to­ri­ous as he is, hum­ble and rid­ing on an ass …” (9:9) which is referred to Christ’s tri­umphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sun­day. Malachi, who is fero­cious against the sins of the priests, is the last of the prophets before John the Bap­tist whose com­ing he fore­tells, as did the oth­ers, to ush­er in the “great and ter­ri­ble day of the Lord” (3:1, 4:5) when “the Sun of Right­eous­ness shall arise with heal­ing in his wings (4:2), a ref­er­ence made, accord­ing to Chris­tians, explic­it­ly to their Lord.

The prophe­cy of Joel, quot­ed by St Peter in ref­er­ence to the com­ing of the Holy Spir­it on the day of Pen­te­cost (Acts 2), belongs to the apoc­a­lyp­tic style of Daniel as it speaks of the final acts of God in the days of the Lord’s “great and ter­ri­ble” appear­ance when He will exe­cute jus­tice and restore the for­tunes of His Peo­ple, deliv­er­ing “all who call upon the name of the Lord” (2:31–32).

The book of Jon­ah is most like­ly a prophet­ic alle­go­ry intend­ed to fore­tell the Lord’s sal­va­tion of the gen­tiles in the time of His final mes­sian­ic pres­ence in the world. It was prob­a­bly writ­ten in post-exil­ic times. It is read in its entire­ty in the Church at the East­er vig­il of Great Sat­ur­day as it was direct­ly referred to by Christ Him­self as the sign of His mes­sian­ic mis­sion in the world (Mt 12:38, Lk 11:29).

It must be men­tioned at this point, that the vari­a­tion in names found in Eng­lish for the prophets, as well as for oth­er per­sons and places in the scrip­tures, comes from the dif­fer­ent Hebrew and Greek lan­guage tra­di­tions of the Bible. The Ortho­dox sources most often tend to fol­low the Greek. Thus, for exam­ple, Eli­jah becomes Elias, Hosea becomes Osee, Habakkuk becomes Avvakum, Jon­ah becomes Jonas, etc. Once again we must men­tion as well that accord­ing to Chris­tians, the entire Old Tes­ta­ment finds it deep­est mean­ing and its most per­fect ful­fill­ment in the com­ing of Christ and in the life of His Church.