I have been privileged to have been leading a series of Bible studies at my own church these past several weeks. Recently I covered the four major prophets and more recently two of the twelve minor prophets: Hosea and Amos. While Jonah (the next prophet on my list) operated around the same time in the Northern Kingdom (Israel) around the reign of Jeroboam II it seemed appropriate to take time out and use the last session to place these 16 prophets in context, particularly geographical and historical. In order to understand any subject, in this case it happens to be the life and work of the 16 afore-mentioned prophets of the Bible, we can only do so if we understand the context in which they operated.
One of the wonders of the Internet is there is often so much that is relevant to what one wants to study available online and often one is spoilt for choice, although discenment is necessary. In order to provide a geographical context I picked up two maps (included in the image above) showing the region where the main action was taking place – in this case it was an 800BC snapshot around the death of Elisha and, so to bridge the gap between earlier prophets, not long after Jonah ministered followed by Amos, then Hosea.
I chose the Fertile Crescent since as well being the cradle of earliest civilizations and including where Abraham hailed from – Ur, it also encompassed the main power bases of the next 200 years: Syria, Egypt, Assyria and Babylon and not long after and (not shown) Persia. Not covered in the Old Testament historical narrative were Greece and Rome, both of which were beginning their rise to power and would play important parts in the history of Israel, which was the main focus of the Old Testament. I wanted to highlight key centres on the map: Jerusalem (Judah), Samaria (Israel), Damascus (Syria), Nineveh (on the banks of the River Tigris – Assyria – now where the northern Iraq city of Mosel is sited) and Babylon (on the banks of the Euphrates and the main city of the empire that bore its name). The maps include important centres spoken off in our narrative, e.g. Bethel, Megiddo and Jaffa (Joppa) as well as the nations that surrounded Israel and Judah: specifically Syria (Aram), Phoenicia (Tyre), Philistia (Gaza), Edom, Ammon, Moab, all of which were prophesied against by the prophet Amos.
800 Death of Elisha 2Kings 13:18-21
782 Jeroboam II becomes king of Israel and reigns 41 years
Jonah prophesies a blessing to Jeroboam II – 2Kings 14:25-26
Jonah sent to prophesy against Nineveh – Jonah 1:1-3
(The sign of Jonah – Matthew 12:39-41)
Amos prophesies to Israel
Hosea prophesies to Israel
Isaiah and Micah prophesy to Judah
722 Fall of Israel / Assyrian Captivity – 2Kings 17:3-6
716 Hezekiah becomes king of Judah and reigns 29 years
Isaiah prophesies concerning Egypt and Assyria – Isaiah 19:23-25
Hezekiah gives envoys from Babylon a guided tour of all his treasures
650 Nahum sent to prophesy against Nineveh – Nahum 1:1-3
640 Josiah becomes king of Judah and reigns 31 years
Zephaniah and Habakkuk prophesy to Judah
612 Fall of Nineveh – Nahum 3:18-19
608 Josiah killed at Megiddo trying to stop the Egyptians joining up with the Assyrians – 2Kings 23:29
Jeremiah prophesies to Judah, mainly regarding its demise
Four bad kings: Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah
Babylon becomes the dominant power – defeats Assyria, then Egypt
605 Daniel taken to Babylon and begins his ministry
598 Ezekiel taken to Babylon and begins his ministry five years later
586 Fall of Jerusalem
539 Persians overthrow the Babylonian empire
Cyrus edict for Jews to return to their land
Jews begin to return to Israel under Ezra and Nehemiah and others like Joshua and Zerubbabel
Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi prophesy (post exile)
(Joel, Obadiah prophesy – dates debatable?)
400 Inter-testament period – Greece becomes dominant power, then Rome
The timeline given previously begun 800BC and ends 400 years later, when the Old Testament completes, incorporates all of our 16 prophets as well as some kings and significant events, although is far from complete when it comes to important events and misses out some of the kings, but whose dates I give in the chart above. In some cases, dates given are at best rough estimates. In the case of the prophets Joel and Obadiah, important as their prophecies were, I couldn’t even give a rough estimate noting the scholars are far from agreed. The Bible references were given such these could be read when we came to do our studies and to provide elaboration of what happened and highlight points for discussion.
I was keen to bring out that our period was a turbulent time with kingdoms rising and falling and all sorts of alliances, conflicts and exploitation. While for Israel and Judah there were bright periods and times when God was followed, for the most part it was marked by national apostasy and both being eventually exiled according to God’s will. They had broken their covenant with God by practising idolatory and injustice, and while as God’s special people they received the brunt of His displeasure, there were words of judgement for the surrounding nations as well as words of mercy. Even so there was cause for future hope and while scholars are by no means agreed, a bright future for a restored Judah / Israel. Besides considering Nineveh, the centre of a cruel and wicked empire, the focus of the Jonah and Nahum prophecies, prophesying its destruction, 120 years apart, where in Jonah’s case we see God having mercy and Nahum’s case the judgment taking place only a few years later, we should consider the other main powers.
Following Elisha’s death, Syria lost a lot of its power to Assyria, giving some respite to Israel, it was not long after Assyria fell when so did Egypt to the rising power, Babylon. I especially noted the death of the last good king, Josiah, in 608 BC (Israel fell to Assyrian captivity 114 years earlier) because of the especially rapid shifts of power and alliances. Josiah died at Megiddo (the site of the future great last battle) fighting a battle he should not have fought. Egypt was seeking to join with Assyria (Nineveh had fallen by then) against the Babylonians, who eventually overcome both, making the last three kings of Judah effectively puppets before completing the final exile of its leading citizens. Ironically, another good king, Hezekiah, had foolishly given fledgling Babylon envoys the guided tour of his treasures. As the above timeline shows, we have Ezekiel and Daniel prophesying from Babylon during the exile and Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi after, at which point the Old Testament ends.