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The Historical Context of the Prophets, Part 1

Dear Church Family,

On Sunday mornings at 9:15-10:15 am in the sanctuary, we have Sunday school for all ages. We are using a video series called “He Gave Us Prophets,” combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons that we are using for this class, you may find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing the summaries that I’ve been writing in these weekly emails, you may find those on the HCPCA church website here: https://www.hillcountrypca.org/pastors-blog/category/he-gave-us-prophets.

Continuing with these reviews, here is a summary of some of the things that we learned and covered in our most recent Sunday school class.

Overview of Lesson #5a – Early Monarchy and the Assyrian Judgment

As we delve more into how to properly understand and interpret the writings of the Old Testament prophets, in lesson five we are seeking to better understand the overall, big picture of the historical events in which the prophets ministered. To begin, it’s helpful to think about the history of Israel in the Old Testament in terms of four general historical eras (with approximate dates):

(1) Early Monarchy (1,000-800 B.C.)
(2) Assyrian Judgment (800-701 B.C.)
(3) Babylonian Judgment (700-539 B.C.)
(4) Restoration Period (539-400 B.C.)

Understanding what was going on at the time in these four specific eras helps us to focus in on the original meaning and purpose of each of the respective prophets. In the first part of this lesson, we looked that the first two historical eras.

The Early Monarch (1,000-800 B.C.)

Around 1,000 B.C., David began to rule the nation of Israel and united the various tribes as one kingdom. When his son, Solomon, inherited the throne, the nation of Israel flourished. Solomon expanded the borders of Israel and built the temple in Jerusalem. However, both Solomon and then his son, Rehoboam, did not respect the northern tribes. Thus, in 930 B.C., the northern tribes broke away from the nation of Israel (1 Kings 11:41-12:16). The ensuing divided kingdom consisted of northern Israel (with its capital of Samaria) and southern Judah (with its capital of Jerusalem).

There were prophets who ministered during the time of the early monarchy, like Elijah and Elisha, but we only learn of these prophets from the historical books of the Old Testament. The “writing prophets” began to minister during the time of the divided kingdom and the Assyrian judment.

The Assyrian Judgment (800-701 B.C.)

There are three major events which took place during this era of Israel’s history that help us better understand the historical context of the prophets who ministered during this time.

(1) Syrian-Israelite Coalition (734 B.C.)

[2 Kings 16:5-18; Isaiah 7:1-9] As the Assyrian Empire began to grow and conquer other nations, around 734 B.C., northern Israel joined together with the nation of Syria in order to resist the encroachment of the larger empire. The coalition of these two smaller nations also put pressure on southern Judah to join them. Ahaz, the king of Judah at the time, refused to join their coalition, but instead sought to make peace with the Assyrian Empire.

(2) Fall of Samaria and Exile (722 B.C.)

[2 Kings 17:1-8] Eventually, the Assyrians invaded and conquered northern Israel. They destroyed the capital city of Samaria and carried many of the northern Israelites off into exile. This was the first large scale judgment of exile for the nation of Israel.

(3) Sennacherib Invasion of Judah (701 B.C.)

[2 Kings 18:13-14; 19:35-37] Having previously made peace with the Assyrians, eventually southern Judah also rebelled against the Assyrian Empire. Consequently, Sennacherib, the king of Assyria from 705-681 B.C., invaded Judah, capturing many cities and made it as far as the capital of Jerusalem. The Lord miraculously delivered Judah from total destruction and the Assyrians withdrew; however, Judah remained a vassal state of the Assyrian Empire.

Prophets Who Ministered During the Time of the Assyrian Judgment

There were six prophets who ministered during the time of the Assyrian Judgment. One ministered in Nineveh (the capital of Assyria), only two ministered in northern Israel, and the remaining three ministered in southern Judah. Here is a brief summary of their respective dates, places of ministry, and messages.

  1. Jonah
    a. when: 793–753 B.C. (2 Kings 14:25)
    b. where: Nineveh (capital of Assyria)
    c. what: destruction of Nineveh (Jonah 3:4)
  2. Hosea
    a. when: 750–722 B.C. (Hosea 1:1)
    b. where: northern Israel
    c. what: Assyria will destroy Israel and Samaria, exile is coming, hope for restoration

  3. Amos
    a. when: 760–750 (Amos 1:1)
    b. where: northern Israel
    c. what: Assyria will destroy Israel and Samaria, exile is coming, hope for restoration

  4. Micah
    a. when: 735–701 B.C. (Micah 1:1)
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: Assyria will destroy Israel and Judah, hope for restoration

  5. Nahum
    a. when: 663–612 B.C. (Nahum 3:7,8)
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: destruction of Assyria and Nineveh (Nahum 3:5)

  6. Isaiah
    a. when: 740–701 B.C. (Isaiah 1:1)
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: trust God against Assyria, exile of Judah, hope for restoration

In our next lesson, we will consider the other two eras from Israel’s history: the Babylonian Judgment and Restoration (or return from exile).

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch