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The Historical Context of the Prophets, Part 2

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 #5b – The Babylonian Judgment and Restoration Period

In the first part of this lesson, we learned of how 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.)

Having examined the first two historical eras, in this lesson we will consider the second two.

Babylonian Judgment (700-539 B.C.)

There are three major events (three Babylonian incursions, or invasions, of southern Judah) 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) First Incursion and Deportation (605 B.C.)

[2 Kings 24:1-9] As a vassal state of the Babylonian Empire, Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, rebelled against their suzerain. As a result, in 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and removed many of their leaders. In this first incursion, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were carried off into exile.

(2) Second Incursion and Deportation (597 B.C.)

[2 Kings 24:10-20] The nation of Judah continued to rebel against the Babylonian Empire, so in 597 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah for a second time. He destroyed much of Judah and carried off many people from the general population in Judah off into exile. The prophet Ezekiel was among those who was carried off at this time.

(3) Third Incursion and Deportation (586 B.C.)

[2 Kings 25:1-12] Nebuchadnezzar had had enough, so in 586 B.C. he invaded Judah for a third and final time. The Babylonians destroyed the capital city of Jerusalem, along with the temple. The majority of the people of Judah were carried off into exile and the land was left desolate.

Prophets Who Ministered During the Time of the Babylonian Judgment

There were seven prophets who ministered during the time of the Babylonian Judgment. Five ministered in Judah, while two, having been carried off into exile, ministered in Babylon. Here is a brief summary of their respective dates, places of ministry, and messages.

  1. Jeremiah
    a. when: 626–586 B.C. (Jeremiah 1:1-3)
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: true repentance, destruction of Jerusalem, hope for restoration (Jeremiah 30-31)

  2. Zephaniah
    a. when: 640–609 B.C. (Zephaniah 1:1; 2:13)
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: Babylon will destroy Assyria, hope for restoration (Zephaniah 3:20)

  3. Joel
    a. when: 597–586 B.C. (Joel 1:13; 2:1)
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: destruction of Jerusalem, hope for restoration (Joel 3:20-21)

  4. Obadiah
    a. when: uncertain (during Babylonian Judgment)
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: destruction of Edom (Obadiah 1:15)

  5. Habakkuk
    a. when: around 605 B.C.
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: lamented evil of Judah and oppression of Babylon, encouraged trust in God

  6. Ezekiel
    a. when: 597–586 B.C. (Ezekiel 29:17)
    b. where: Babylon (Ezekiel 1:1)
    c. what: destruction of Jerusalem and temple, directions for rebuilding temple

  7. Daniel
    a. when: 605–539 B.C.
    b. where: Babylon
    c. what: exile to be extended (Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Greeks, Roman Empire), encouraged repentance (Daniel 9:13)

Restoration Period (539-400 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) Israelites Return to the Land (538 B.C.)

[Ezra 1:1-5] The Persian emperor Cyrus conquered the Babylonians and then encouraged the Israelites to return to their land and rebuild the temple. So, in 538 B.C., the exiles began to return to the land of Judah.

(2) Rebuilding the Temple (520-515 B.C.)

[Ezra 3:8; 6:14-16] Even though the people had been delivered from exile and returned to the Judah, the rebuilding of the temple was not a priority. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah began ministering around 520 B.C. to encourage the people to rebuild the temple of God.

(3) Widespread Apostasy (450-400 B.C.)

[Malachi 2:7-9, 11, 17; 3:8-10, 14] Within one generation after Zerubbabel had rebuilt the temple, the people of God began to intermarry with foreign women. They took on the religious practices and idol worship of the surrounding nations and corrupted the worship of the one true God. Eventually, the restoration period moved into a time of great apostasy.

Prophets Who Ministered During the Time of the Restoration Period

There were three prophets who ministered during the time of the Restoration Period. All three ministered in Jerusalem. The first two emphasized the importance of rebuilding the temple, while the third addressed the increasing apostasy of God’s people. Here is a brief summary of their respective dates, places of ministry, and messages.

  1. Haggai
    a. when: 520 B.C. (Haggai 1:1)
    b. where: Jerusalem
    c. what: blessings upon rebuilding, repentance
  2. Zechariah
    a. when: 520 (Zechariah 1:1)
    b. where: Jerusalem
    c. what: rebuild the temple, future divine intervention necessary for full restoration

  3. Malachi
    a. when: 450-400 B.C.
    b. where: Jerusalem
    c. what: coming great judgment (3:5), final restoration of righteous (4:2)

Conclusion

Malachi is the last of the writing prophets and the final, concluding book of the Old Testament. In the fourth and final chapter of Malachi, the Lord commands obedience to His Word. And, in the final verses, we read of how the Lord will send “Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).

For hundreds of years, the Lord is silent; there are no prophets and no word from the Lord. Then, the Lord raises up and send his prophet, John the Baptist, as a forerunner to Jesus. John the Baptist comes in the spirit and power of Elijah in fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy (Luke 1:17). Then, the coming great and terrible day of the Lord is fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus, the Son of Man, who suffered and died for the sins of His people (Matthew 17:10-13).

The Spirit of Christ was within the prophets of the Old Testament as they hoped and prophesied of the coming grace of salvation. We who live on this side of the cross know this grace of salvation in the suffering of Jesus Christ and the glory that is ours through faith in Him! (1 Peter 1:10-11)

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