The Prophets ‎

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			The word ‘prophet’ comes from a Greek word that means ‘advocate’. It sounds like a far cry ‎from the normal connotation of the word. The Prophets were not crystal ball gazers who had ‎a knack for predicting the future. They simply read the situation as it was and were able to see ‎what would develop from it. They had a remarkable ability cut through the baloney and get ‎right to the point. The Hebrew word navi, though a little vague in its root meaning, really ‎expresses the idea of a person who could tell it like it is. That is what a prophet was – a person ‎who could gaze with a vision that went deeper and beyond that of the norms of society. The ‎prophet could somehow see the true understanding of the past, the reality of the present, and ‎the possibilities that lie in the future. ‎
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Most of what we read in the section of the Tanakh called the Prophets is not prophecy at all. ‎It is historical narrative. The Prophets are really two distinct sections of the Bible that for ‎some reason were combined into one section. The first section, the Early Prophets, tells the ‎history of the Israelites from their entrance into the Promised Land until the exile of the ‎Judeans from it almost 700 years later (850 years according to Jewish tradition). The Later ‎Prophets are the specific messages of particularly devoted ‘Men of God’ in response to the ‎spiritual state of the Israelites during their time. It isn’t 100% clear exactly who combined the ‎two groups in the Tanakh. Maybe it was the translators of the Septuagint. Maybe there was a ‎tradition that predated this translation. We know that the division of the Tanakh into three ‎sections – Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets), Ketuvim (Writings) goes back to early rabbinic ‎teachings. It is almost definite that it was around during second temple times, though nobody ‎can point to a definitive origin. ‎
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The book of Joshua largely recounts the battles the Israelites fought in the initial conquest of ‎the Land. It ends in a manner that obviously parallels Deuteronomy – his final words of ‎warning to the Israelites to serve Hashem only, his death, and his burial. The final verse tells ‎of the death of Elazar the son of Aaron, who was the High Priest. ‎
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Following this is the book of Judges. This is also a historical narrative, concentrating on the ‎continuing battles the various Israelite tribes had with the neighboring peoples. Every few ‎decades there was another war in one place or another. It could have been north, south, ‎or east (the bulk of the western border was the Mediterranean Sea). There is even a civil war ‎towards the end of the book. While the book of Joshua takes place over a few decades, ‎Judges spans about 300 years. Some of the famous names of the Bible come from the Judges, ‎including Deborah, Gideon, and Samson. The one we shall be looking at is Samson, ‎specifically the prophetic announcement of his birth. It is another chance to look at angels and ‎the image they reveal. ‎
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Following Judges is the books of Samuel (Shmuel). There are two books of Samuel, though it ‎doesn’t seem all that fair that one Judge (he was the last of the Judges) should get two entire ‎books named after him while about 20 others have to share in a single book. Samuel I and II ‎are long books, with a lot of long narratives including some of the most famous scenes of the ‎Bible. The books begin with the prophetic announcement of Samuel’s birth when his barren ‎mother Hannah (rhymes with Manna and even more closely with Ghana) came to the Mishkan ‎to pray for a son. Her prayer has become somewhat of a prototype for all future Jewish ‎prayer. It will be the subject of the second image from the Prophets. ‎
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Samuel was the last Judge and the first of the Prophets, and he was also the precursor to the ‎Israelite kingdoms. Perhaps for this reason the Septuagint calls the two books of Samuel, ‎Kings I and II (and the two books of Kings are called Kings III and IV). Samuel prophesies ‎that a man named Saul (Shaul) was to become the first king and grooms him for this position. ‎Strangely enough, right before anointing Saul as king he warns the Israelites of the dangers of ‎a king and the conflict that would arise between an earthly king and a divine King. Saul’s ‎two and a half year reign is anything but peaceful and prosperous. Despite being highly ‎qualified, his downfall is his jealousy of David, the man who saved his army in a battle with ‎the Philistines. Saul is constantly unable to shake off his almost neurotic envy of David and ‎dies as a failure in battle. The first book of Samuel ends with Saul’s death. ‎
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David is the subject of the entire Samuel II. In fact, other than Moshe, he probably has the ‎most material revolving around him in the Bible. A good deal of the second half of Samuel I ‎really has David as the main character and Saul as secondary. Much of the early David story ‎deals with his loyal friendship with Saul’s son Jonathon. When David is crowned king early ‎in Samuel II it ushers in the most glorious era of Israelite and Jewish history. These 40 years ‎were the pinnacle of everything that had been hoped for. David was the ideal king – ‎righteous in deed, just in law, brave in battle, and royal yet humble in demeanor. ‎
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Samuel II ends with David’s death at the age of 70. This brings us to the first book of Kings ‎‎(Kings I). After a brief struggle of succession, David’s son from Batsheva, Solomon, is ‎crowned king. Solomon has a mixed reputation, varying from the ‘wisest of all men’ to the ‎lecherous despot who had ‘over 1,000 wives and concubines’. He is most famous for being ‎the driving force for the building of the first temple in Jerusalem, a longtime goal of David ‎that he was unable to fulfill. ‎
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Following this high point of his reign, it is mostly downhill from there. The wealth increased ‎to unimaginable proportions, the borders expanded, Solomon’s influence and reputation grew ‎to legendary levels, but he never became the righteous king that David was. His pagan wives ‎turned him to foreign gods, his wealth seduced him to forget about what was truly valuable in ‎life, and his desire for glory and splendor drove him from Biblical immortality to human ‎failure. It is a sad ending to what could have been an even higher point in Jewish history than ‎his father ever reached. ‎
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Following Solomon the Ten Tribes secede, never to be reunited with the southern tribes ‎centered around Judea and Jerusalem. They build their own shrines – pagan idols a little north ‎of Jerusalem and in the northern part of the northern kingdom. This kingdom, which would ‎go by the name of Israel, would have its own royal line that paralleled the royal line of David ‎and Solomon. Throughout Kings I and through much of Kings II these two lines are running ‎side by side. Most of these kings are relatively unknown to anyone other than a real Bible ‎enthusiast. The books drag on in a seemingly interminable succession of these good or evil ‎kings, fighting with one another, battling neighboring kingdoms, or making an occasional ‎alliance. ‎
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Towards the end of Kings I, we meet up with one of the most enigmatic and colorful ‎characters of the Bible. This is none other the Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet). Forever ‎hounding the kings (and a queen) of Israel for their evil ways, he is constantly getting himself ‎into hot water over some issue of devotion to Hashem or condemnation of worshiping idols. ‎There is a famine that he seems to mastermind, a battle with hundreds of prophets of the god ‎Baal, and assorted other adventures. One of these involves a trek down to Mt. Sinai to re-‎experience the direct encounter with Hashem. Elijah’s own experience there is both ‎fascinating and puzzling in that he seems to directly sense God’s presence but doesn’t seem ‎to fully understand it. This will be our third image from the Prophets. ‎
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Kings II goes on with some good kings like Hezekiah who saved Jerusalem and the temple ‎from destruction during the invasion of the next Assyrian king, Sennacherib. His spiritual ‎guide is the famous Prophet Isaiah, who will have his own book in the Later Prophets. But ‎whatever good Hezekiah did was erased by his son Menasheh, who went so far as to bring an ‎idol into the temple itself, to say nothing of the massive number of idolatrous shrines he had ‎built elsewhere. He represents the epitome of evil in the books of the Tanakh, and the Judeans ‎never recovered from the spiritual devastation he caused. ‎
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His grandson Josiah did succeed in temporarily reversing the downward slide of the Judeans. ‎His stature is second only to that of David as a king worthy of the name. He renovated the ‎temple, restored the religious practices that had been long abandoned, destroyed all the idols, ‎and reinstituted the pilgrimage festivals in Jerusalem. But it was all for naught. Within a few ‎decades, the new kingdom of Babylonia was salivating for conquest, and Judea was ripe for ‎the taking. In a series of wars, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, carted off the kings, ‎and then conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. The exile of the Judeans followed, ‎ending the long reign of the Israelite kingdoms. They had lasted a little over 400 years, no ‎mean feat for an ancient Middle Eastern nation, but in the end they succumbed to the tide of ‎history. ‎
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The Later Prophets are dominated by three towering figures: Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah. ‎The first was a prophet with an astoundingly long career, spanning the reign of no less than ‎four kings. In fact his reign is so long, and his book so extensive and varied, that academic ‎scholars consider it to be at least two separate books that have been merged to be one. ‎Traditionalists reject this out of hand, of course, despite strong indications in the text that ‎there is indeed a break in structure (beginning with chapter 40). This book certainly is long - ‎‎66 chapters of difficult reading. It ends on the high note of everlasting joy, with all the ‎nations of the world acknowledging the glory of Hashem. Isaiah is the messianic Prophet. The ‎Christians get much of their Old Testament material from him. The Jews see him as the ‎epitome of prophecy – understanding the knowledge of God and proclaiming it to all people ‎of the world. He will provide the fourth image from this section. ‎
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Ezekiel is the only genuine prophet of exile. Tradition has prophecy limited to the land of ‎Israel but Ezekiel is the exception. His prophecies take place in Bavel along a river, though ‎they frequently concern events in Israel. In particular, the rebuilding of the temple was a ‎major concern of his, taking up large portions of his long book (48 rather difficult chapters). ‎Being as Ezekiel was writing his prophecies outside of Israel during the exile, a good deal of ‎his material concerns the redemption and what happens afterwards. The opening chapter of ‎the book stands alone in the entire Bible. It seems to have little or nothing to do with the rest ‎of the book, including the very next chapter, or with anything else in the Tanakh. This ‎mysterious section will be the subject of the fifth and final image from the Prophets. ‎



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