Chapter 12: The Major prophets (Isaiah – Daniel)
So we come to the last of the prophets in the Old Testament. Arguably as far as many are concerned (but not this author), that besides Elijah and Elisha, who did not themselves write down what they had prophesied, these were the most significant of the Bible prophets. These comprise four major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel) and twelve minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). Key events during the period they wrote include the captivity of Israel by the Assyrians (around 722 BC) and Judah by the Babylonians (around 608 BC). Between them they wrote before, during and after the exiles. In the case of many, they looked forward to a, still not been realised, Messianic Kingdom.
Without exception, our sixteen prophets prophesied what the Lord told them to prophesy. If Amos was right (and he has to be): “the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” Amos 3:7, then it was a serious business and what the prophets prophesied was important, not that this was always recognised at the time, and often their message was rejected and the prophets made to suffer. Isaiah was told by God at the start people would not hear him and, while he had some intermediate success, his ending, if the Jewish historian Josephus was right, meant he got sawn in half at the command of wicked king Mannaseh. Jeremiah was not allowed to marry in order to illustrate how God now viewed His relationship with Israel and was once thrown into a slurry pit and left to die; Ezekiel had to perform all sorts of humiliating antics to put his message across and Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den – and that was just the major prophets. While able to listen in directly to the Lord, the job of being a prophet (as we have already seen) was not an enviable one. While we may want to elevate a prophet, they simply acted as God’s mouthpiece.
The use of “major” and “minor” is perhaps unfortunate because all of these prophets made major contributions. Unlike Elijah and Elisha, these prophets are sometimes referred to as the writing prophets, because they wrote down what they prophesied. They are classified thus because the majors wrote a lot more than the minors, although there was a lot of repetition and variations on a theme. As far as this book is concerned, this chapter deals with the major prophets and the next chapter deals with the minor prophets. We will take each prophet in the order they appear in the Christian Bible, which is not necessarily chronological order, although it was for the majors. A common approach for covering each of the sixteen aforementioned prophets will be adopted here, bearing in mind their messages were invariably deep and sublime, what we are about to do will hardly do justice to and barely scratch the surface concerning their message.
The message of each prophet ranged from prophesy already fulfilled in their day or after, e.g. concerning world events and the first coming of the Messiah (and they were – often remarkably) as well as to be fulfilled. A recurring theme was judgment and hope and while the readership was often Israel or Judah, often other nations were addressed and 2-3000 years on we can take their message as still important. The judgement was because of immorality, idolatry, injustice etc.; the hope invariably pointed to a nation restored, living in peace and prosperity under the Messiah. While the focus was on Israel, there was invariably the sense the Gentiles were to be included, harking back to the promise given to Abraham: “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” Genesis 22:18. While the prophets often could see events that Christians classify as the first and second comings of the Messiah, the two events would have often seemed one; the notion of the Church, a shadowy one.
Since some prophecies made were fulfilled, often many years after (and often demonstrably), is one reason for some raising doubts over things like date and authorship. It is not the intention to cover these arguments in this book; suffice to say the view taken here is that each book was written by the named author and without the benefit of hindsight, because it was the word of the Lord. Not always apparent, is the prophets wrote both in prose and poetry, appealing to both mind and heart, and invariably intreating listeners to respond. They were often required to act out their message; their lives too were meant to reveal God. Readers are encouraged to look elsewhere for more detail concerning the many different prophesies that can be found, starting with the resources referred to in the acknowledgements, and of course the Bible for what those prophets wrote. In order to cover (hopefully) many of the keys points when considering each prophet in turn, the follow general headings will be used in each case:
The prophet and his prophesy – an introduction to the prophet’s life (where this is known and often it isn’t much) and concerning their message.
Background and context – developing the argument laid out in Chapter 2, that in order to understand the book we need to know the background and context in which the prophet operated and how it relates to the rest of the Bible.
A synopsis of the Book – (far from definitive statements) setting out in broad terms the main headings under which the Book can be read and understood.
The message of the Prophet – (the biggest challenge maybe), exploring what the Prophet did prophesy and considering its significance and fulfilment. While missing out a lot of the detail, we will return to some prophecies in Chapter 15.
Without further ado, let us turn to Isaiah, followed by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel:
Isaiah and his prophesy
The Book of Isaiah is introduced: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” Isaiah 1:1. Uzziah was a good king, who faltered toward the end, when Isaiah received his calling. “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple… Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, here am I; send me. And he said, Go, and tell this people, hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not” Isaiah 6:1,7-8. His vision was of the holiness of YHWH. Having realised “woe is me! for I am undone” (v6) it undoubtedly defined his ministry. His was a willing response to what he had seen and heard, but also it came with a warning that despite his best efforts, the people would not accept his message.
As far as we can make out, Isaiah came from the upper echelons of society and mingled with them in power, notable the kings. He began operating under Jotham (good king), continued under Ahaz (bad king) and reached his height of influence under Hezekiah (good king). He died during the reign of Manasseh (especially bad king that turned good at the end). A Jewish tradition was that under Manasseh he was sawn in two (Hebrews 11:37). As far as we can make out, he prophesied for over 60 years. When scholars divide the Book into two (some wrongly regard it as two books): Judgement (1-39); Comfort (40-66), this demonstrates what were two of the major themes of Isaiah. Isaiah’s name means (appropriate to his key message): “Yahweh is salvation”. We know Isaiah had a wife, referred to as “the prophetess” (Isaiah 8:3). They had three sons, naming the eldest Shear-jashub, meaning “A remnant shall return” (Isaiah 7:3), the next Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14), and the youngest, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, meaning, “Spoil quickly, plunder speedily” (Isaiah 8:3)
Background and context
Isaiah ministered (supposedly) 760 – 673 BC. He was based at Jerusalem and prophesied mainly to the southern kingdom of Judah. He did prophesy to the northern kingdom, Israel, too, but they were taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC. He also prophesied to surrounding nations, especially given their relationship to Israel / Judah. At the start of his prophesying, the Assyrians were the dominant power in the region, and while along with Syria and Egypt that power was to wane, they were Judah’s main threat. Isaiah, just as did the other prophets, was all too conscious of the political dynamics of the surrounding nations and the intrigues and alliances that took place. Chapters 36-39 tell the story of how Assyria sought to take captive Judah, but failed in spectacular fashion, thanks to YHWH’s intervention and the prayer of a praying king (Hezekiah) encouraged by Isaiah. Following Assyria’s demise, there was the rise and fall of Babylon, and later Persia, all of which Isaiah predicted. Hezekiah lived to witness the destruction of a 186,000 Assyrian army by the angel of the Lord, but his foolishness in welcoming emissaries from the new rising Babylonian empire set the scene for the later captivity of Judah.
While the Babylon captivity was 100 years after Isaiah prophesied, he not only foretold it would happen but he looked forward to Israel’s return from Exile and the Messianic kingdom where there will be great blessing, not just for Israel but to the Gentile nations. Isaiah also prophesied in amazing detail concerning the Messiah. Isaiah 53’s Suffering Servant is a wonderful example we will consider more deeply in Chapter 15. Passages from the Isaiah were cited many times in the New Testament, including by Jesus. Many such texts are memorable and are widely quoted. The author recalls as a youth a powerful sermon preached on the text: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” Isaiah 1:18. As this was being written, in an unrelated context, a friend shared: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” Isaiah 25:3. Shortly after, in another context, another friend shared: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” Isaiah 41:10.
Another feature of the Book of Isaiah worth mentioning is the many different references to God and God’s character, such as the one used throughout the Book: “the Holy One of Israel” (28 times). Some have referred to Isaiah as the fifth gospel because its message touches on many, if not all, of the key gospel themes (if you want examples as to how – then listen to Handel’s Messiah, which draws heavily upon Isaiah). Isaiah’s (prophet) contemporary in Judah was Micah, and in Israel it was Amos and Hosea. Further background to his life and times can be found in the Books of Kings and Chronicles.
A synopsis of Isaiah
- Messages of rebuke and promise (chs. 1–6)
- Prophecies from Aramean and Israel threat against Judah (chs. 7–12)
- Judgment against the nations (chs. 13–23)
- Judgment and promise (the Lord’s Kingdom) (chs. 24–27)
- Six Woes: Five on unfaithful in Israel and one on Assyria (chs. 28–33)
- More prophecies of judgment and promise (chs. 34–35)
- Historical transition from Assyrian threat to Babylon exile (chs. 36–39)
- The deliverance and restoration of Israel (chs. 40–48)
- The Servant’s ministry and Israel’s restoration (chs. 49–57)
- Everlasting deliverance and everlasting judgment (chs. 58–66)
The message of Isaiah
We can see right from the start of the Book the two major themes of rebuke and judgement and of restoration and hope. Rebuke: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward” Isaiah 1:2-4. Restoration: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord” Isaiah 2:2-5
As we read through Isaiah and the 15 prophets to follow, it becomes clear there is a lot of repetition and if not repetition, common themes. Often contrasting themes appear next to each other, such as here with God’s complaint against his covenanted people who he was effectively wedded to as well of his love and promises of future restoration, not just following the return from Exile but in a yet to happen future when Israel’s Messiah reigns and, while sometimes veiled, the notion that the other nations were to benefit (after all it was always God’s intention that Israel should be a blessing to the nations) was also a theme that is repeated. These contrasting themes are taken up by the prophets to follow and it seems there is a good deal of repetition as if God was trying to get through to His people and needed to reinforce what had been said before. Going back to Deuteronomy 27 and 28, they had a choice between blessings and curses. The tragedy of Israel was too often it made the wrong choice and cursing followed.
One of the focuses we have in these early chapters especially was the old Jerusalem, ripe for judgement, destruction and exile, would one day give way to a new Jerusalem, where blessings flow to the nations, under the Messiah from David’s line. Here we are introduced to the Righteous Branch: “in that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious” Isaiah 4:2, which is picked up again by Jeremiah 23:6, 33:15 and Zechariah 3:8, 6:12 as equating to the Messiah. It is worth noting that in the first half of Isaiah, while the emphasis on judgement, we have references, besides chapter 2. Chapters 11-12 and 32 speak of coming glory. Not to be lost sight of, because this idea is developed in later chapters, is the nature of the coming king: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” Isaiah 9:6. Neither is something of the flavour of what is to come: “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there: And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” Isaiah 35:8-10.
Sadly, as we see from the opening chapters of Isaiah, the notion of Israel being a means for God to bless the nation was a distant proposition. It seemed that Judah had committed every sin imaginable, ranging from abandoning their God and worshipping idols, to sexual immorality and dealing injustice with the poor. One aspect not mentioned thus far was how many of the women were occupied with gaining luxuries: “rise up, you women who are at ease, hear my voice; you complacent daughters, give ear to my speech” Isaiah 32:9. The result would be devastation and eventually exile, as many other prophets picked up on. The notion of God allowing calamities to get the peoples’ attention also applies. We also see in Isaiah reference to the marriage covenant YHWH has with Israel and God’s desire to re-establish that relationship in the way it had been intended. Making alliances with foreign powers was another common theme, discussed here in chapter 11 concerning a number of prophets and later developed under the ministries of other prophets, such as Jeremiah, and it was one God abhorred because it was to do with compromise and not trusting Him. While lip service was given to the worshipping YHWH, often that was all it was.
While the focus was on Israel and especially Judah, Isaiah was mindful of the nations that affected them, especially Assyrian and Babylon who were to take respectively, Israel and Judah into exile. But these were to be judged too along with other nations. While it was true, they were often instruments of God’s judgement, they also often overstepped the mark in their dealings with Israel and Judah along with other wickedness God found repugnant. Some respite for Judah could be seen in the historical interlude in chapters 36-39 when under Hezekiah, who intreated the Lord, Judah was delivered from the Assyrians who earlier conquered Israel. Later the king regressed when proudly he entertained a delegation from Babylon he was warned they would later conquer Judah. Before we move to the second half of Isaiah, as Isaiah appears to be transported from present to future, we can reflect how these first half prophecies were fulfilled.
Isaiah now switches tack in chapters 40-66 with an emphasis on comfort and hope. In the second half, Isaiah looked forward to when the people would return from exile, a glorious hope, the coming of the Messiah and beyond that – a new heaven and earth. This section begins: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” Isaiah 40:1-5.
The section ends on sober note, how things end up and God’s promises to Israel finally fulfilled: “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” Isaiah 66:22-24.
It is in this second half of the Book, we are introduced to “The Servant”, who can be equated to Israel, Israel’s Messiah and in one case (chapter 45) Cyrus. The first reference is: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law” Isaiah 42:1-4. Two other Servant references, often cited by Christian preachers and New Testament writers, as referring to Jesus, are: “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting” Isaiah 50:4-8 and “Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider” Isaiah 52: 13-15, plus Isaiah 53.
One of the wonderments of Isaiah’s ministry was how he could look forward to different points in time ranging from what was happening in his day to the final end state. In between that is what Christians see (and non-believing Jews don’t), the first and second comings of the Messiah. As we have already pointed out, Isaiah would likely have seen the two events as one. Given much of the first half of Isaiah focuses on the King to reign (second coming), we have to ask how this fits it with the Servant who dies to atone for the sin of the people (Isaiah 53) – how can it be? And also, pertinently, the need to be prepared and be rid of wrong attitudes (still a theme of Part 2), a message that John the Baptist, who fulfils some of Isaiah 40, gives to the people. A proper understanding of Isaiah needs to take into account all these things, for that is how God sees things, and to consider with prayerful concern: “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” 1Corinthians 1:23.
Let us consider the glorious hope: “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying” Isaiah 65: 17-19. While there still is exhortation to live in accordance to the will of God, it is in the context of hope of what is to be: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” Isaiah 60:1-3. With great confidence that can apply so much for the present day: “So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him. And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord. As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever” Isaiah 59:19-21 but let us sign off:
Firstly – return to the Lord: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price… Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” Isaiah 55:1, 6-9.
Secondly – that hope is for (believing) Jew AND Gentile: “Thus saith the Lord, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant” Isaiah 56: 1-4.
Thirdly – that hope is embodied in the person of Jesus, who when he spoke at the synagogue in Nazareth, at the commencement of his ministry, he quoted up to “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” in the passage that follows, much to the fury of those who heard him. At the end when he announced: “this day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” Luke 4:21, he was mindful the words from Isaiah that followed were yet to be fulfilled: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified” Isaiah 61:1-3.
Jeremiah and his prophesy
We learn a lot about Jeremiah the man from the opening verses of the Book of Jeremiah, that contains his words and more importantly his prophesies, as well as background to the momentous events happening around him: “The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin: To whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month. Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant” Jeremiah 1:1-9.
We might infer from this opening that Jeremiah was ordained a prophet before he was even born and didn’t even have any choice in the matter. Doing the job of the prophet was not going to be an easy one but God would be with him and protect him. His message was a consequential one. He was young (likely he was a teenager when he was called) and seemed to have been of a timid nature. He came from a priestly family, noting priests had a quite different undertaking to that of prophet. He lived in an especially tumultuous period of Judah history, beginning under good king Josiah (born in the same year), through four evil kings, although Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin, who each only reigned three months, were barely mentioned, and ending with Zedekiah and Babylonian captivity.
He began his ministry in 626BC and ended not long after 586BC. His name means “The Lord throws”. It appears, after Jerusalem fell, despite being given protection by the Babylonian captors, he was kidnapped and taken to Egypt, where he died. He was based in Jerusalem and prophesied mainly to Judah although he did make significant prophesies regarding other nations too. His message, like Isaiah, was one of judgement but also hope, with a particular emphasis on the need to repent and specifically on an individual basis. He saw the futility of outward religion and trusting in the Temple. He was told by God he could not marry and that was part to do with him not only speaking the part but also acting it, just like when he was told to bury some worn underwear and dig it up sometime later, to smash a clay pot and to walk around with a yoke.
He was representing the aggrieved husband, God, whose spouse, Israel / Judah, had forsaken Him for other gods. Many of the sins that troubled Isaiah did so Jeremiah also and major sections was Jeremiah pouring his heart out (it often appeared he was merged with God in this respect) because of the sins of the people, with their lack of contrition as part of the slippery slope to ruin. Which is where all this would end. In this there was no doubt, it would be destruction and no one would help them. They would reach the point of no return. We look in wonder at Jeremiah’s faithfulness to God during his long ministry, having to pass on this message with doom, interspersed it is true with a future message of hope and, with few exceptions, both message and messenger were rejected. Jeremiah was a man of faith, whose faith was tested seen by his remonstrating with God while wicked people seemed to be let off. While he knew there was going to be a day of reckoning, he saw beyond that and nowhere was this more evident when he brought a field (Jeremiah 32:8) defying logic yet trusting God.
Background and context
With respect to the timelines and maps show in Chapter 2, there was significant movement in the power structure of the region during Jeremiah’s time. Israel no longer features in Jeremiah’s prophesying’s other than in a distance future when the kingdom would be restored under its Messiah. Israel had already been taken into Assyrian captivity in 722BC, 100 years before Jeremiah began. But Assyria along with the other significant power block at that time, Egypt, was on the decline. Tragically, it was at Megiddo in 608BC that King Josiah fought a battle he need not have fought, which he lost along with his life. It was to stop the Egyptians linking up with the Assyrians to fight the emerging Babylonian power. While Egypt called the shots for a time e.g. establishing Jehoiakim on the throne, the Babylonians were in the ascendancy in the control stakes. The destruction of Jerusalem in 586BC, following a long siege, was preceded by them taking effective control of the land and two earlier exiles: in 605BC that took Daniel the Prophet and 597BC that took Ezekiel the Prophet (both we will return to). Ironically, part of Judah’s plan to withstand Babylon was to make foreign alliances, one of which was Egypt, and all of which were ill fated.
There was no question that Jeremiah’s message was an unpopular one, and with very few exceptions he was opposed on every side, especially by members of the establishment, including those who claimed to be prophets. His life was threatened on several occasions. He was put in stocks, in prison and under house arrest. There were attempts on his life, including by people from his own community and when he was cast into a cistern where he would have died but for the timely rescue by Ebed-melech (a black official, whose black life it turned out, noting a present day concern, did matter). Ebed-melech was one of Jeremiah’s few friends, another being his faithful assistant and scribe, Baruch, who likely compiled the final book of Jeremiah, which seems to dart backwards and forwards in the timeline and is often repetitious. Jeremiah was a political prophet, all too aware of what was going on around him. It was he who warned the kings when they sought alliances with ungodly nations and not God, who advised them they would do better to submit to the rule of Babylon than resist. This might have been avoided if his message of repentance had been accepted but it wasn’t and there came a point of no return. Jeremiah is rightly seen as the weeping prophet, all too aware of the consequences of disobedience. It should be noted that a lot of his writing was beautiful poetry, expressing God’s heart.
Jeremiah’s (prophet) contemporaries, later in life, in Babylon, were Ezekiel and Daniel, with Ezekiel especially viewing the same events Jeremiah commented on, albeit from different places. Jeremiah’s ministry was immediately preceded by Zephaniah; Habakkuk was a contemporary. More background to Jeremiah’s life and times can be found in the Books of Kings and Chronicles. 2Kings ends as does Jeremiah with Jehoiachin who had been taken captive to Babylon in 597BC being given special favour by the King of Babylon. Chronicles, written much later, could reflect on the return from exile under Cyrus of Persia who conquered Babylon (just as Jeremiah predicted). The governor upon the return from Exile was Zerubbabel around 538BC, laying the foundation of the rebuilt temple. The significance in the two endings is that amidst the tumult there was hope and that the royal line of David had been preserved (through Jehoiachin and Zerubbabel) and the promised Messianic kingdom would be restored.
There are as we might expect many parallels between the Book of Jeremiah and Isaiah and as we will see that of other prophets also. Both are long books and while Jeremiah has 52 chapters compared with Isaiah’s 66, Jeremiah has more words than any other book in the Bible (42000). Both contain many memorable, quotable passages (some included in this account) and the only reason Isaiah is more so is that there is less doom and gloom, even though a careful reading of Jeremiah reveals messages of glorious hope and comfort. For example, “the Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” Jeremiah 31:3, has encouraged many down the ages. “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” Jeremiah 33:3 is a text that has challenged this author and “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:7-9 has served as a check and balance for this author. Like Isaiah, Jeremiah is quoted several times by New Testament writers. Matthew 2:17, 27:9 points out specific Jeremiah prophesies fulfilled in Jesus day. Jesus was himself likened to Jeremiah when the question was asked who he was (Matthew 16:14).
Just as when reading Isaiah, we need to brace ourselves over the idea of God’s disappointment when His people sin, similar lists of sins, consequences of this falling away, the unmet call to return and future hope following restoration, all themes that are repeated many times, when reading Jeremiah. With Jeremiah it becomes that more intense because of the awful judgment that transpires toward the end of his ministry and the loneliness and personal attacks he experienced throughout his ministry, yet he stuck to it, even though he would remonstrate with God because of his enemies. He was right there at the centre of where suffering took place and teaches us that faithfulness to God, even when much that took placed seemed unjust, mattered. There is an irony as God looks back when there was a beautiful relationship as of a husband and wife who are truly in love and yet realistically, 900 years on from the making of that covenant on Mount Sinai, it was a topsy turvy relationship and it was Jeremiah’s sad lot to witness the wickedness that took place around him followed by Exile.
The end for Jerusalem (all else had fallen) is graphically described in chapters 39 and 52 and this after an eighteen-month siege, also referred to in the Book of Ezekiel. It represented the tragic demise of King Zedekiah, who tried to escape when it became clear the city could no longer be held. The other king of note, Jehoiakim, who was especially wicked, was earlier taken by the Babylonians after trying to break free from Babylonian rule by aligning with Egypt. Both kings were taken captive to Babylon in chains and no one was there to mourn their departure from the scene. Both dealt appalling with Jeremiah and yet were given every opportunity to change their ways. The tragedy was their hardness of heart and what could have been. While we on the subject of kings, mention should be made of Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim, also an evil king, who after a three-month reign was also taken captive in Babylon, with Zedekiah taking his place. The hopeful note at the end (Jeremiah 52) was a reversal in his fortunes as captive, laying the hope that the line to the future Messiah would be restored.
The book at the very end of the Old Testament (Chronicles) ends on a hopeful note as noted earlier, with the edict of Cyrus, just as did the book of Kings with the restoration of Jehoiachin, but not without first recognising the crucial ministry of Jeremiah (and others), who did what God told them, leaving the rest to God. Like Daniel (9:2), the Chronicler recognised the significance of the 70 year exile: “And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: he gave them all into his hand. And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king, and of his princes; all these he brought to Babylon. And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: To fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years. Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The Lord his God be with him, and let him go up” 2Chronicles 36:15-23.
A synopsis of Jeremiah
- Call of the Prophet (ch. 1)
- Warnings and exhortations to Judah (chs. 2–11)
- Complaints, conversations and conflicts of Jeremiah (chs. 12-20)
- Bad kings, the Righteous Branch, false prophets and exile (chs. 21-29)
- Promises of future restoration (chs. 30-33)
- Words to Kings Zedekiah and Jehoiakim (chs. 34-35)
- Sufferings and persecutions of the Prophet (chs. 36–38)
- The Fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath (chs. 39–45)
- Judgment against the nations (chs. 46–51)
- Historical Appendix (ch. 52)
The message of Jeremiah
When it came to God’s complaints concerning His people, the list of specifics was at least as long as Isaiah and not too dissimilar: idolatry, sexual immorality, child sacrifice, greed, lying, injustice, seeking help from Israel’s enemies, forsaking the Covenant they had with God, worshipping God hypocritically and it goes on and on and is repeated several times, without response other than attacking the messenger. For Jeremiah, the repetition and rejection was a painful experience that he felt acutely and had to commit to God who was His avenger, but who would judge righteously. In one summation we read: “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” Jeremiah 2:13. They had a choice between blessing and cursing and chose the latter.
While studying much of Jeremiah’s prophesying and experiences makes sad reading, both because of the pain Jeremiah and the Lord felt because of the sin of the people and what he had to go through, which hurt him greatly and much more than merely physically, there is much in what is stated that is to with hope for the future: “Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers” Jeremiah 16:14-15. He also picks up on the Righteous Branch theme, mentioned by Isaiah, relating to the future Messiah: “And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, The Lord Our Righteousness” Jeremiah 23:3-6.
His message was also a practical one, revealing repeatedly a tender hearted attitude, and a concern because of false prophets who would mislead them, for example to those who had already been sent into exile: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. For thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the Lord” Jeremiah 29:4-9. Beyond then, he could encourage. Rather than merely a prophet of doom his was one of hope: “For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” Jeremiah 29:10-13.
About the coming Messiah were his insights into the New Covenant that would be ushered in, referred to and elaborated on in Hebrews 8 and 10. ““Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more”” Jeremiah 31:33-35.
Before we leave the Book of Jeremiah, it is worth noting that chapters 46 to 51 concern nations other than Israel and Judah: Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Damascus, Kedar, Hazor, Elam and Babylon, where most attention is devoted including, pertinent to this book, it being later overrun by the Medes. We learn among other things, just as we would expect from a true prophet, the prophecies of Jeremiah were precisely fulfilled. God is interested in these other nations, especially when they relate to His covenant people and when they deal harshly with Israel we find repeatedly God sides with and will deliver them. God is concerned over the wickedness of these nations, especially the sin of pride. In some of the prophecies and despite coming judgment, there is room for hope.
All the prophets had it hard; none more so than Jeremiah. His was definitely not a message of peace, hope and love, more judgement, woe and need to repent, with some peace, hope and love thrown in. In our day, tolerance, diversity and inclusion are often the watchwords, so Christian preachers ought to take note. It would be easy to accuse Jeremiah of self-pity as he called out this or that pillar of the community, who seemed to prosper as they pummelled the poor prophet. But Jeremiah stuck to his guns when there seemed little respite from the flak that came his way. The consolation was he was doing God’s will and his reward would follow. Meantime, he had to accept God had everything under control.
We cannot say for sure who wrote Lamentations, but many experts believe it to be Jeremiah. While it might serve us if we were to go along with this thought, especially as there are pointers such as the themes covered, language employed and, while lamenting was something many of the prophets did, it was something especially associated with Jeremiah, who we know wrote a lament about King Josiah after he died (2Chronicles 25:35), but we must be careful not to read into the Bible what might conveniently reinforce our opinions. If the poetic language of Jeremiah was sublime, that of Lamentations (the entire book was poetry) was more so and it cleverly used acrostics based on successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet to introduce each of the sentences of the first four of the five chapters:
- Chapter 1: Jerusalem’s misery and desolation
- Chapter 2: The Lord’s anger against his people
- Chapter 3: Judah’s complaint and a basis for consolation
- Chapter 4: contrast between Zion’s past and present
- Chapter 5: Judah’s appeal for God’s forgiveness
The devastating effects of the Fall of Jerusalem are described in graphic and alarming detail. It begins and ends in sombre fashion: “How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies… Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old. But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us” 1:1-2, 5:21-22. The penultimate verse gives room for hope with this delightful reason for hope expressed right in the middle of the lament: “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” 3:21-23.
Ezekiel and his prophesy
As we reflected when we considered Jeremiah, the exile to Babylon took place in three stages. The first was in 605BC when Daniel was taken; the second was in 597BC when Ezekiel was taken away to Babylon, aged 25, along with king Jehoiachin and the third that gathered most of who were still left who were of any societal stature, in 586 BC, when Jerusalem fell. Ezekiel began his ministry aged 30, the time he would have begun as a priest if there were a temple. We don’t know much about his life. We know he was married and that he lived in relative peace, in a place called Tel Aviv. He was a knowledgeable man and was respected by his community, who seemed to regularly consulted him.
He was meticulous in his writings, and like another priest turned prophet after him (Zechariah) dated his work. There was a symmetry when describing such things as the glory leaving the Temple and coming back at some future date, and when describing events round the Temple in Jerusalem in chapters 8 to 11, and the new temple in chapters 40 to 48. He would precisely date significant events and while the prophecies concerning the nations were undated, unlike other prophets such as Jeremiah, these were laid out in date order.
It was from a vision of the glory of God, Ezekiel received his call to prophesy to his people and be a watchman, warning the people of coming judgment. That vision and the sense of God’s holiness and of the glory of God were to be hall marks of his ministry as were his continuous repetition that the people, and later the nations, would know who the Lord truly is. Ezekiel was often referred to a “son of man” (a term later applied to Jesus). A lot of his prophesying was done through bizarre acting: building a model depicting the siege of and eventual fall of Jerusalem, cutting his hair with a sword and making three piles to depict aspects of God’s judgement, laying on one side 390 days and on the other 40 days, semi naked, eating starvation rations cooked over a fire fuelled by cow (changed from human) dung to illustrate yet further divine truth. Another piece of acting was digging under a wall during night, which like his other acting would be seen as bizarre except that is what king Zedekiah would do (Jeremiah 39) in order to escape the city of Jerusalem when overrun by the Babylonians.
The saddest acting was when he was told his wife was going to die and he wasn’t to mourn, since Ezekiel’s wife’s death prefigures the destruction of the temple, “the delight of your eyes“. It should be noted Ezekiel often told stories (parables) to make important points and there were times when he was (literally) tongue tied, such that he was unable to prophesy in words. His prophesying was over 22 years, in three periods (soon after he received his call, around the time Jerusalem fell, and some time after that). From what we can work out, he died a natural death; his tomb is a place of pilgrimage to this day.
Ezekiel’s commission was clear, and as with Isaiah and Jeremiah, it was not going to be an easy one and there would be opposition and resistance to his message (although not physically as with Jeremiah): “And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day. For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God. And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them. And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. And thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear: for they are most rebellious” Ezekiel 2:3-8.
These points are further amplified but with it the assurance he would be God’s spokesman and would be toughened up for the task, and withstand opposition: “For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel; Not to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee. But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted. Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house” Ezekiel 3:5-9.
An important aspect of Ezekiel’s ministry was that of a watchman, whose job was to warn and thereby discharge his duties: “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul” Ezekiel 3:17-19. This call to watch and warn would be further made in Chapter 33 and it was going to be a solemn duty and he would be accountable to God. It was then up to those who heard his message to respond as God requires or face the consequences of disobedience regardless of what others did or whether or not they had lived as God required prior to that.
Background and context
The political, historical and geographical context for the Book of Ezekiel was the same as that for Jeremiah, although Jeremiah by the time Ezekiel came on the scene was now middle aged. While reading Jeremiah and other prophets, we might conclude the Babylonians were cruel oppressors, it seemed just like Daniel, Ezekiel and the other captives were not treated too badly by their captors. While Jeremiah prophesied from where the important events were taking place (up to its destruction) i.e. Jerusalem, Ezekiel prophesied 700 miles away, in Babylon, but often about the same events noting similar complaints.
Strangely, the two did not acknowledge each other, in spite of their messages being complementary, although Ezekiel did recognise Daniel (three times) who along with Noah and Job were in his view the three most righteous men who had lived, and even they could not change God’s mind when it came to judging Israel. It was interesting Israel was mentioned rather than Judah, when the ten northern tribes had been judged over 100 years earlier and were not on the scene. As Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel was much aware of the nations around Judah, and how these impacted on God’s chosen people. Like other prophets, he prophesied accurately and complementary them on what would happen.
While Judah was all that was left of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, after Israel’s Assyrian captivity, and Ezekiel would use “Israel” rather than “Judah” when referring to the people of God, and could see a day when the restored kingdom would include both. “Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand” Ezekiel 37:19. A lot of Ezekiel, unlike Jeremiah for example, was written in prose rather than poetry, although there was no doubt he felt God’s pain. Like Jeremiah, he might be seen as a “doom and gloom” prophet, although like Jeremiah, even when things were at its direst, his message recognised an actively benevolent God. When he received news of the fall of Jerusalem in Chapter 33, his main message turned from judgement to come, because that is what had happened, to future hope.
While Isaiah and Jeremiah contained many memorable verses, it may be argued the same cannot be said concerning Ezekiel, although this is a debatable point as the author would testify when harking back to his youth: “And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none” Ezekiel 22:30. The same might be said of what might be seen as text worthy of any gospel presentation: “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?” Ezekiel 18:23. Then when looking far into the future of the New Jerusalem: “the name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there” Ezekiel 48:35.
Yet, when it comes to content, much of Ezekiel is a closed book for many. While there are certain passages e.g. concerning the dry bones, the good and bad shepherds, and the amazing vision which kicked things off, people may be aware off, much of its content they are not. That is a shame as Ezekiel provides an important message that merits being reflected on today and important prophecies that relate to end time events. For example, messages that they (be it Israel or the nations) would know that He, YHWH, is indeed the Lord and that of individual responsibility and the consequences for one’s own actions. While not too many quotable passages, the four visions of Ezekiel were phenomenal.
A Vision of The Glory of the Lord – and Ezekiel’s Call (chapters 1 – 3)
Words can barely encapsulate the vision Ezekiel saw. The central image comprised wheels within wheels, four creatures with four faces, lots of eyes, flames of fire, a crystalline canopy upon which was a throne. On it was seated a glorious being and all were moving in unison in one or other direction.
A Vision of Idolatry in the Temple –the Lord’s Departure (chapters 8 – 11)
Central to why God was judging Israel, was went on in the Temple back in Jerusalem by the leading figures at the time, specifically to do with idolatry. Ezekiel could see it all, including named persons dropping dead. During the vision he saw the glory of the Lord, long associated with the Temple, departing.
A Vision of a Valley of Bones – and Resurrection (chapter 37)
Ezekiel’s message changed, once Jerusalem fell, into one of hope, around returning back to its land where Israel lives in peace and prosperity. The vision of dry bones is about bones coming together into human form with life breathed into them. What is shown is far more than anything we have seen up to now as it looks to the bringing together of Israel and Judah under one good shepherd,
A Vision of a New Temple, a New Land, and a New City (chapters 40 – 48)
This follows the great battle involving Gog and Magog, where Israel comes out on top. This final vision concerns a Temple to be built. While the focus was on the Temple, described here in great detail, description was also given of the City where it was and the restored kingdom of Israel, under the rule of the Messiah. The glory that departed in chapter 11 returns in chapter 43.
A synopsis of Ezekiel
Unlike with the other major prophets, we will tackle this section on the basis that Ezekiel had four ‘Visions’, thirteen ‘Pictures’ and eight ‘Words’:
- A Vision of the Glory of the Lord – and Ezekiel’s Call (Chs. 1.1 – 3.15)
- A Word about the People (Ch. 3:16-27)
- An acted parable of Siege (Chs. 4 – 5)
- A Word about idolatry (Chs. 6 – 7)
- A Vision of idolatry in the Temple – and God’s departure Chs. 8 – 11)
- An Acted parable of Exile (Ch. 12)
- A Word to the ‘Prophets’ (Chs. 13 – 14)
- The Illustration of the useless vine (Ch. 15)
- The Allegory of the adulterous wife (Ch. 16)
- The Parable of the Eagles and the Vine (Ch. 17)
- A Word to the people (Ch. 18)
- A Lament for the lion cubs and the Vine (Ch. 19)
- A Word to the Nation (Chs. 20 – 22)
- The Allegory of the two sisters (Ch. 23)
- The Parable of the cooking pot (Ch. 24:1-14)
- The Allegory of Ezekiel and his wife (Ch. 24:15-27)
- Words and laments for the nations (Ch. 25 – 32)
- The Allegory of Ezekiel the Watchman (Ch. 33)
- A Word to the ‘Shepherds’ (Ch. 34:1-10)
- The Allegory of God the Good Shepherd (Ch. 34.11-31)
- The Allegory of the Land (Ch. 35 – 36)
- A Vision of a Valley of Bones – and Resurrection (Ch. 37.1-14)
- The Acted Parable of the Sticks (Ch. 37:15-27)
- Seven Words against Gog (Chs. 38 – 39)
- A Vision of a new Temple, Land, City (Chs. 40 – 48)
The message of Ezekiel
The essence of Ezekiel’s message of warning in chapters 1-11 was around the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and it would be every bit as bad as described in the book of Lamentations. The twin complaint of idol worship and social injustice was similar to that given by Jeremiah. A lot of what he sought to convey was through acting and what he could see through his vision of the Jerusalem temple and the idol worship that took place, and where much of his message would be rejected by the people, as we have discussed earlier. Yet God does not abandon his people and it is, as it were, He goes into exile with them.
At the end of his vision of idolatry in the Temple (Chapters 8-11) and just prior to seeing the significant departure of the glory from the Temple, Ezekiel can look in the future and see how Israel is scattered, yet one day will be restored and be following God with a new heart, looking forward to the New Covenant: “Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come. Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence. And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God” Ezekiel 11:17-20.
Before we come to the change is message, triggered by the Fall of Jerusalem, announced in Chapter 33, there is the message of judgement, firstly against Israel in Chapters 12-24 and then several of the surrounding nations in Chapters 25-32. In pronouncing judgement against Israel, Ezekiel often resorted to allegory: a burnt useless stick (Chapter 15), a rebellious wife (Chapter 16), a dangerous lion that gets captured (Chapter 19) and two promiscuous sisters (Chapter 23), all representing Israel’s foolish rebellion resulting in its justified punishment. They had reached the point of no return and not even Daniel, Noah or Job could intercede on their behalf to prevent their exile from happening.
In Chapters 25-32, Ezekiel turns his attention to some of the nations surrounding Israel: Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia. They rejoiced in Israel’s downfall and showed contempt and took advantage of Israel’s plight. Aside from its own internal wickedness their attitude toward Israel made them ripe for judgement, all of which would take place as prophesied. He also covers the two bigger powers in the region, Tyre and Egypt, both of which Judah had allied itself with. One of the notable features of these was their pride, viewing themselves as God, which God would bring down using the Babylonians.
Much contained in the later chapters (34 onwards) refers to a coming Messiah that is to reign over his people, specifically Israel and relate to themes picked up by other prophets e.g. Zechariah, and in Revelation. Ezekiel was typical of most prophets that saw glimpses of the last days, in that while he looked forward to a Messiah who reigns, he did not see someone coming twice (once to die 2000 years ago and once when he comes to Earth to establish his kingdom); neither did he foresee the Church. Ezekiel, like other prophets, used language and images the people he was primarily addressing (in this case those exiled, only a remnant of which would return) could understand, anticipating while not fully understanding the final outcome, to be bound up with the messianic kingdom.
Chapter 34 is about shepherds. Firstly, the bad shepherds that do not feed the flock and then the good shepherd – led by the Lord Himself, and His servant David (the Messiah), who will look after the flock. Chapter 35 is about Edom and God’s judgment on that nation that had so rejoiced in Israel’s demise.
Chapter 36 depicts Israel restored to the land and living safely in it: “For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (36:24-27).
Chapter 37 is Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones: “Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord” (37:4-6). The prophesy comes to pass and great hope: “Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwelling places, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God. And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them. And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore” (37:23-28).
As we turn to the final chapters, that look into the far distant future we note, firstly, Ezekiel’s Gog and Magog account (Ezekiel 38,39). This is written in apocalyptic style, and is reminiscent of events in Revelation 16:16 and 20:8,9, although how these battles relate is for further study (see Chapter 15). Ezekiel 38,39 describe a final battle in which military forces from the far north make an all-out assault on the land of Israel. The names of these forces, Gog, Magog, Mechech and Tubal, along with many other nations (38:1-3) are obscure and undefined but they represent evil. God defeats them completely even before they engage in battle. Israel is resettled and the people are living peacefully and unprotected. The section ends with great hope: “When I have brought them again from the people, and gathered them out of their enemies’ lands, and am sanctified in them in the sight of many nations; Then shall they know that I am the Lord their God, which caused them to be led into captivity among the heathen: but I have gathered them unto their own land, and have left none of them any more there. Neither will I hide my face any more from them: for I have poured out my spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord God” Ezekiel 38:27-29 as does the final, in the far distant, prophecy (Ezekiel 40-48).
This section, which we might call “A Vision of a New Temple, a New Land, and a New City”, appropriately rounds of Ezekiel’s prophecy with a full-blown vision of what God’s ultimate purposes might look like, with what amounts to a detailed picture of what that vision encompasses. We learn (40:1) he has been twenty-five years in Exile when he wrote this and it has been thirteen years since the Fall of Jerusalem, begging the question perhaps what he was doing in the time since he last prophesied. The prophecy concerns a Temple yet to be built (and still has not been built – the Temple built on Israel’s return from exile was not it and neither was that build by Herod and destroyed in AD 70). While the focus was on the Temple, described here in meticulous detail, description was also given of the City where it was and the restored kingdom of Israel, under the rule of the Prince. The glory that departed in chapter 10 returns in chapter 43. One of the more remarkable descriptions was of a river of life flowing from the Temple to the Dead Sea, in chapter 47, giving life to the land. Fittingly and hopefully, “Yahweh Shammah”, a Christian transliteration of the Hebrew “Yahweh is there”, is the name at the end given to the City (48:35).
Daniel and his prophecy
As we come to the last of the major prophets, we do so mindful there has been no let-up in the wow factor as wonderful truth is gleaned, sometimes for the first time. It has become increasingly clear, while the prophets were concerned with similar issues, they each delivered the message God gave them from their own unique perspective, according to the situation prevailing at the time and the circumstances they were placed. We don’t see the same message of Israel’s judgment we saw in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, other than delay in the setting up the long awaited messianic kingdom as God’s chosen people were further refined, but we do read of a message of future hope that was meant to motivate faithfulness, as Daniel looked, often way ahead into the future and spelled out in remarkable detail what was going to happen, some of which is still to happen.
As for that which has been fulfilled, it has been so precisely. It is one reason why taking a straightforward view that the Book of Daniel was completed by Daniel himself, soon after the Cyrus edict around 538BC, toward the end of his life, is resisted by those who doubt that the future can be accurately predicted. Another stumbling block is its reference to the miraculous. There are several miracles described in the Book of Daniel, which ought not be dismissed. As has already stated, this book takes the straightforward and, unless clearly not the case, literal interpretation of Daniel (recognising still significant gaps in the author’s understanding and differences among eminent scholars). As fascinating as checking out historical and architectural verification is, and relevant in order to come to a view on the reliability of the text, it is not the intention to examine evidence in this book. This author, like Jesus, has no doubt Daniel wrote the Book of Daniel, without the benefit of hindsight, because he was a prophet.
Daniel’s prophecy was less to do with pronouncing oracles on the street and in the palaces so to speak, as did many of the writing prophets, and was more to do with dreams and visions (his own and others) and their interpretation as was revealed to him by the Lord, along with a good deal of narrative concerning events happening at the time. It makes Daniel an extraordinary book to come to grips with. Some parts are so easy to comprehend such that when we teach it Sunday School all involved can readily understand. But when it comes to the prophetic parts of Daniel, much of which is of an apocalyptic nature, matching and indeed complementing the Book of Revelation, as well as the writings of some of the other Hebrew prophets, that can and does present a challenge.
If there is a standout theme of the Book of Daniel, it is God’s sovereignty and “that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men” Daniel 5:21. Daniel was the right person to convey that message. From the time, as a teenager, he was taken into captivity in Babylonian, throughout the seventy-year exile period, until an old man and unlikely never to return to his country, he faithfully did so. He lived a godly life, serving God, despite the obstacles and temptations. He was also endowed with extraordinary wisdom and ability and was promoted to high positions in the governments of the Babylonian kings, Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, and the Mede king Darius, who all recognised his abilities.
Background and context
We learn a lot about Daniel from the opening verses of the book and while the Book of Daniel was about the message rather than the messenger, we find a lot more, particularly his prayer life and desire to serve God: “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god. And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes; Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king. Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself” Daniel 1:1-8.
We see here further confirmation that Daniel was among the first exiles to Babylon and he likely was part of the privileged class. Daniel means “God is my judge”. His Babylonian name, Belteshazzar, means “Keeper of the hidden treasures of Bel (a Babylonian god)”. Having to adopt a new name and learning the wisdom of the Babylonians, some of it to do with their false worship, did not seem to phase Daniel and his three friends (who will henceforth be referred to as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – how the author was taught as a child) and they adapted to their new circumstances and excelled. But when he came to following the Law of YHWH, they would not compromise, and the rest of the chapter (and the Book) is about YHWH honouring those who honoured him.
When it comes to background, Daniel was not just against the backdrop of Babylonian exile but also the Medo-Persia empire that was to take over and the prophecy of Jeremiah that the captivity would be for seventy years only. This happened, as will be detailed when we come to the post-exile prophets: Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, but by then Daniel was a very old man, who could only see this happening with the eyes of faith. A further backdrop was the kingdoms to follow: Greece, Rome and eventually that of Israel’s Messiah. There was much Daniel couldn’t figure out but was assured by the angel he was beloved of God: “And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end” Daniel 12:9. It is worth reflecting, the rise and fall of kingdoms and where Christ will ultimately triumph through God’s sovereign will, along with a spiritual dimension and battle, was a major theme of Daniel’s prophetic ministry, reminding us: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” Ephesians 6:12
For the angel had also told him about the unseen conflict, indeed war, in the spiritual realm and it was this, as brought out after he had been entreating the Lord on what was going to happen, in prayer, that had caused him to become exhausted: “And he said unto me, O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright: for unto thee am I now sent. And when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling. Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia” Daniel 10:11-13.
The only other Old Testament reference to Daniel, was by Ezekiel, discussed earlier, with Daniel being perhaps being one of the three most righteous men to have ever lived up to then. While not named by the writer of Hebrews as one to be included in his hall of faith, he surely had Daniel in mind when he wrote: “… of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions” Hebrew 11:32,33. Besides parallels to the Book of Revelation (although Daniel is not named), perhaps the most startling reference is that of Jesus’ own end times prophecy: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place …” Matthew 24:15, pointing out that a single prophecy (Daniel 11:31, 12:11) can be fulfilled at different levels: through Antiochus Epiphanes, the sacking of the Temple in AD 70 and the AntiChrist.
A synopsis of Daniel
Here we offer two alternative breakdowns (both correct):
- Daniel and His Companions in Babylon Ch. 1
- Daniel and the Dangerous Dictator Chs. 2 – 4
- Daniel and the Contemptuous King Ch. 5
- Daniel and the Manipulated Monarch 6
- Daniel’s Dream and His Visions of the Future Chs. 7 – 12
- Prologue: The Setting (Ch. 1; in Hebrew)
- The Destinies of the Nations of the World (Chs. 2–7; in Aramaic)
- The Destiny of the Nation of Israel (Chs. 8–12; in Hebrew)
At the time Daniel wrote, Hebrew was the language of the Jews, Aramaic was the lingua franca universally used. The choice of the language used in the Book of Daniel was likely due to who were the intended audience. It might be said Daniel is like a game of two halves: the first half 1-6 is mostly narrative and the second 7-12 mostly prophecy in the form of visions and dreams, ending in chapter 10, with chapters 11 and 12 tying up many of the themes of the Book. Noticeably, the first half is written in the third person (i.e. about Daniel and his world) and the second half is in the first person (i.e. about Daniel’s prophecies).
The message of Daniel
Nebuchadnezzar saw an opportunity of training up these and other bright young men to exercise positions in his royal court (Chapter 1). Daniel and his three friends were willing to do this but not to compromise when it came to matters of faith, in particular on matters of diet. This act of faith set a precedence for Daniel’s long life that followed and he and his friends not only healthier than those who compromised but they excelled in their studies, and were promoted in the king’s service. In Chapter 2 we read that Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, which he could not remember and decreed that if his wise men (which included the four friends) could not provide an interpretation that they would be put to death. The dream was about kingdoms that was to follow after Babylon (golden head), Persia (silver breast), Greece (brass belly), Rome (iron legs) and feet of iron and clay, followed by the messianic kingdom that will usurp all other kingdoms: “thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces” Daniel 2:34, something Daniel interpreted to the king’s satisfaction, giving glory to God, and as a result the grateful king promoted Daniel to high office.
Chapter 3 was about the Image of gold Nebuchadnezzar had built representing himself, demanding his subjects worship that image and the Blazing Furnace Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego were cast into for refusing to do so and how God miraculously delivered them from the Furnace. Chapter 4 might be seen in three sections: Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a tree, Daniel interprets the dream and the dream is fulfilled. God had already used Nebuchadnezzar as his instrument of judgement, and had revealed himself both in the interpretation of his dream and the way God had delivered Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego, and yet the king remained proud despite a dream he would be stripped of his power, something Daniel was able to interpret. A year later the king was driven away from his palace and became crazy for seven years until he recognized God was the true God who he had to honour. And so he did and thus he was restored. As for Nebuchadnezzar, he could not have spoken a truer word: “At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase” Daniel 4:36-37.
Chapter 5 was about Nebuchadnezzar’s successor, Belshazzar, who arrogantly made a feast for his subjects and in doing so mocked the God of Israel. Here we witness the writing on the wall: “And this is the writing that was written, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. This is the interpretation of the thing: Mene; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. Tekel; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. Peres; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians” Daniel 5: 25-28. This Daniel interpreted and was again promoted to a high position. Like Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar’s pride had been judged and while Nebuchadnezzar repented and his throne was restored, in Belshazzar’s case he did not and he was killed. That very night, the mighty Babylonian empire was overthrown by the Persians and Darius the Mede became king in his stead. Darius, recognizing Daniel’s qualities, and he retained him in his royal service and Daniel prospered. This made other high officials jealous, who tricked the king into making an edict that all were to worship King Darius, on pain of death. Naturally, Daniel refused and he was thrown into the lion’s den, but God delivered him, much to the king’s relief.
Moving onto the second half of the Book, our big challenge is understanding the dreams and visions given to Daniel. Chapters 7 and 12 are about end times and can be tied in with the Book of Revelation, while chapters 8 and 11 was more to do with the future of the Medo-Persian empire and it being conquered by the Greeks, depicted by a ram and a goat in Chapter 8, with many of the details remarkable in terms of historical correlation. Chapter 11 is about what happens after Alexander the Great dies and the Greek empire is divided among his four generals, and both chapters remarkably details events that have come and gone. One commentator has identified 135 specific prophecies fulfilled in Chapter 11.
The culmination of Chapter 7 sees one identified in the New Testament as the AntiChrist, who is himself cast down with the true king (the Messiah) taking over, with his saints: “he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” Daniel 7:25-27. It is worth noting that both the Ancient of Days (v9) and the Son of man (v13) are named by Daniel along with much rich imagery, and we see a parallel with Revelation 1 and 4.
Concerning Chapter 9 and to an extent 10, in particular Daniel’s remarkable prayer of chapter 9, this was 2-3 years after the end of the 70-year exile, after which the captives could return back to their land. Besides Jeremiah’s prophecy there is that about Cyrus in Isaiah 45. His prayer was one of contrition, finding out God’s will and seeking God’s honour. The answer was an extraordinary and unexpected one, which looked beyond merely returning but to the coming of the Messiah (in 70 weeks, including the missing one). Some commentators, relating 69 weeks to a day being a year and 483 years to the coming of the King (Jesus), but this and the “missing” 70th week is for further study. Regarding Chapter 10, again linked to another Daniel prayer, we are reminded of a spiritual war raging in the heavenlies, with demonic powers seeking to control the temporal powers.
The final chapter makes sobering reading as it resonates with what we see now, and yet there is hope, not least that the purposes of God will be fulfilled and the reward for the righteous: “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” Daniel 12:1-4.
The warning is clear: “many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” Daniel 12:10, but so is the hope of the coming of the Messiah along with the saints (and that would include all his followers) to rule. As one person reflecting on why was all this was revealed to Daniel concluded that besides being a warning to unbelievers and those would try to usurp God’s authority, it was to encourage God’s people (then and now) to stand firm, do exploits, bring understanding, endure suffering, be refined, resist evil, find rest. As with the prophets generally, we are grateful Daniel stuck to his task.
As we close, we do so mindful we have hardly scratched the surface concerning Daniel’s prophecies and, while we will revisit one of them in Chapter 15, the reader is encouraged to check these out themselves in a spirit of open humility, mindful of wide differences in interpretation among commentators. One thing ought to be pondered is these prophecies was history before it happened and, as Daniel was able to witness first hand, the Sovereign God is in control of history. While some history was fulfilled before the first coming of Jesus, other parts spanned both comings. Daniel unlikely had more than basic insights into the period in-between or the time elapsed. Each prophecy covers different periods. Some have both an initial and a final fulfilment, which is to be revealed. An example is the BC AntiChrist, Antiochus Epiphanes; but there is one still to come that Daniel also referred to, the identity of which is yet to be revealed.
As often is the case with the prophets, the message and the messenger, were closely linked, even though presenting the message was invariably done with due humility, honouring the message originator. Unlike with the other major prophets, we don’t get the impression that Daniels message was received negatively, and it was likely the exiled people needed hope and the despot rulers welcomed his future insights. It is evident, as far as Daniel was concerned, hearing from God was an emotionally draining experience, whenever God spoke to him in dreams and visions with vivid and alarming imagery, from which he could not detach. There is evidence of a meaningful prayer life and Daniel intreated God, we are told, three times a day, Daniel 6:10. Among his items of prayer, Daniel prayed on behalf of the people, pleading their plight.
The following is offered by way of summary of Daniel’s life and ministry:
- His whole life was marked by his faithfulness to God
- He was diligent in all that he did and God blessed him and made him a blessing to others
- While he submitted to ungodly authorities, it was always God first, even if it meant he had to die for adopting godly principles
- His extraordinary qualities as a result of God’s blessing were recognized by those who did not recognize the God of Israel, including ungodly rulers, with who he cooperated, working for the common good
- He was recognized and honoured by at least three kings: Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius, and that had a significant impact in the unravelling of God’s plan for Israel, including influencing all of the kings in unexpected ways and impacting the divine plan
- He had more than a glimpse into a still to happen future: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” Daniel 2:44
- He prayed amazing prayers, especially the one on behalf of his people and confessing their sins, which ends: “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name” Daniel 9:19
- He had a glimpse into the spiritual warfare that profoundly was going on in the background and did so prophetically: “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days” Daniel 10:11
- Just as he looked forward to the reign of the Christ and His everlasting kingdom that will usurp all before it, he saw the evil reign of the yet to be revealed AntiChrist, and AntiChrist type figures before him, realizing: “yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him” Daniel 11:45
- He understood a time of trouble for God’s people, some of it still to be fulfilled: “there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” Daniel 12:1
- He understood and humbly accepted the limits of his own knowledge and understanding and was patient: “And he said, go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end” Daniel 12:9
- He could personally look forward to a wonderful end beyond the grave: “But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days” Daniel 12:13