Major Prophets (5 Books)
We call these the Major Prophets because their writings are longer than those of the Minor Prophets. They cover the time before and during the exile. They guided Israel and Judah through the darkest time of the nation’s history. Each of them used special and vivid imagery to get God’s message across to the people. They had a unique way of describing the people’s relationship with God.
We call them the “literary prophets” because we know more about the prophecy they wrote than their lives. When we read about the earlier prophets like Elijah and Elisha, we know more about their lives and battles than their written prophecy.
Prophecy concerns itself with whether the nation was living holy before God or breaking the covenant. Idolatry occurs often in the prophetic writing. These prophets faced off with the kings of Israel, who violated God’s covenant and led Israel and Judah into sin and idolatry. The prophetic office in Israel was a check and balance of the political kingly office.
Many of these prophets spoke predictably about Israel’s future. When they predicted the future, they gave a sign fulfilled within the lifetime of the prophet or the person the prophecy was meant for. So anytime you see a predictive prophecy, look for a sign that follows. This followed Moses’ principle about prophetic utterances and their truthfulness to confirm the prophet spoke as God’s mouthpiece (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
The genre of prophecy often uses vivid images, poetry, object lessons, narrative, and other sub genres to get the point across. Prophetic writings contain sections called “oracles against the nations” that proclaim God’s judgment on Israel, Judah, and the Canaanite nations around them.
The prophets often proclaimed and spoke their prophecies either before or after they wrote them down. Some of the prophets were persecuted for speaking the truth of God to the people and the kings.
Date: 740-690 BC
Purpose: To prophesy and proclaim a future Messiah who will rescue Israel from its enemies and bring peace and prosperity.
Key People: Isaiah, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah
Key Passages: Isaiah 6:3; 26:3; 40:30-31; 60:1
I. God’s wrath against Israel and Judah (1-39)
A. Prophecies Concerning Judah and Jerusalem (1-12)
B. Oracles against the Nations (13-23)
C. Judgment against World and Israel’s Redemption (24-27)
D. God’s Judgment and Mercy (28-35)
E. Invasion and Deliverance of Judah (36-39)
II. Consolation of Israel (40-66)
A. Cyrus Delivers Israel from Captivity (40-48)
B. The Suffering Servant and Sacrifice (49-57)
C. Future Glory for God’s People (58-66)
Isaiah spent his whole life under the threat of an Assyrian takeover of Israel and Judah. He had a long and storied prophetic career. He faced down kings and prophesied to a nation of people that refused to listen to his prophecies. Isaiah’s prophecies are the most quoted from the prophetic books in the New Testament because he prophesied about a coming Messiah figure who would save Israel from their enemies.
Further revelation from God through Jesus shows a Messiah who doesn’t just save Israel, but anyone who trusts in His sacrifice. His message begins with condemnation of the nations, including Judah, and ends with God’s promise of salvation. He had already seen the fall of Israel and Jerusalem in the north to the Assyrians. He warned Judah against following the same path.
We know Isaiah for his beautiful poetic prose concerning the Messiah. He prophesied about Jesus 700 years before Jesus was born. We see his prophecies are spot on, as Jesus fulfills them in the first century AD.
Date: 627-581 BC
Purpose: To warn Judah of God’s coming judgment and the salvation of God.
Key People: Jeremiah, Baruch, Jehoiakim, Zedekiah
Key Passages: Jeremiah 8:22; 17:9; 29:11-13
I. Jeremiah’s Call and Commission (1)
II. Messages to Rebukes Judah (2-25)
III. Rebuke and Judgment of Judah, and Restoration (26-39)
IV. Prophetic Messages after of the Captivity of Judah (40-45)
V. Oracles against the Nations (46-51)
VI. Looking Back at Judah’s Captivity (52)
Many people know Jeremiah as the “weeping prophet” because, unlike Isaiah, Jeremiah had a softer message of God’s judgment for Judah. He began his ministry about 70 years after Isaiah’s death. He wept for both of them. He was also very young when God called him with His prophetic message. Jeremiah’s vivid imagery of spiritual adultery for Israel’s idolatry is one of his greatest contributions to prophetic literature.
Jeremiah was a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah. His father was a priest and he migrated to Jerusalem from his hometown, probably because of persecution. He was also a persecuted prophet, arrested under one team, and thrown into a dungeon under another. He had a forty-year ministry and was returned to Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar. He tried to get the people not to trust in Egypt but ended up with them and perhaps died there.
Date: 586 BC
Purpose: A song of lament for the destruction, sacking, and fall of Jerusalem to King Nebuchadnezzar.
Key People: Jeremiah
Key Passages: Lamentations 3:23-24
I. Jerusalem’s Sorrows (1)
II. Jerusalem’s Punishment (2)
III. Hoping in God’s Mercy (3)
IV. The past and Present of Jerusalem (4)
V. Praying for God’s Mercy (5)
Lamentations is probably written by Jeremiah. It is a book full of tears at the fall of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar’s hand in 586 BC. Jeremiah’s final chapter (52) looks back at the fall of Jerusalem while Lamentations is penned by a person watching the city’s demise. Think of it as the opposite of F Scott Fitzgerald watching Baltimore last through the night at Penn the Star-Spangled Banner.
It is a long song of lament that fully explores the loss of the greatest city, the city of David, in the southern kingdom of Judah. It is a series of lamentations, each chapter a new one.
Date: 592-570 BC
Purpose: To show Israel even after the exile that God is faithful and the same through His judgments and blessings. His people to come to Him.
Key People: Ezekiel
Key Passages: Ezekiel 3:18-19; 36:24
I. Ezekiel’s Call (1-3)
II. Doom for Jerusalem (4-24)
III. Oracles against the Nations (25-32)
IV. God Promises Renewal (33-37)
V. Prophecy against Gog (38-39)
VI. Vision of the Celestial Temple (40-48)
We know little about Ezekiel’s life. He went into exile in Babylon during the last days of Judah with the king in 597 BC. More than any other prophet, Ezekiel acted out the object lessons of his prophecies. He also adds more dates to his prophecies than any other prophet.
We know him well for his vision of the celestial Temple at the end of the book and his vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. He gives a vivid description of the Lord’s glory departed from the Temple.
Date: 536-530 BC
Purpose: To show how to live God’s visions and prophecies of future kingdoms. In a persecuting land of captivity, trusting God, and
Key People: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshack, Abednego, Nebuchadnezzar, Darius
Key Passages: Daniel 3:17-18; 6:23
I. Daniel’s Life in Captivity (1-6)
A. Daniel and His Friends’ Faithfulness (1)
B. Nebuchadnezzar’s First Dream (2)
C. The Golden Image and the Fiery Furnace (3)
D. Nebuchadnezzar’s Second Dream (4)
E. Handwriting on the Wall (5)
F. Daniel and the Lion’s Den (6)
II. Daniels prophetic visions (7-12)
A. Visions of world empires (7-8)
B. Vision of the 70 “Sevens” (9)
C. Vision of Israel’s Future (10-12)
We know more about Daniel’s life than most of the literary prophets. Daniel lived in captivity in Babylon and Persia, serving the kings of both empires. God gifted him with leadership, wisdom, and the God-given the ability to interpret dreams and visions. Daniel and his friends wisely chose how to live in this idolatrous land. God rescued them when they stood for Him despite the pressure to accept the cultural norms.
The last half of the book is a collection of prophetic visions and dreams Daniel received about the coming kingdoms. We still look at these prophecies today to understand the book of Revelation and some things that have not yet happened in human history.