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Deacon-structing the Major Prophets: Isaiah and Jeremiah

Deacon Pedro

Monday, November 29, 2021

Detail of Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem by Horace Vernet (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Minor Prophets. They are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.  We looked at three of them – Baruch (you’ll have to read last time’s post to learn why he is not listed as one of the prophets), Zephaniah, and Micah – as we will be hearing from them during the season of Advent. I hope one day we can look at some of the others as well. The other two prophets we will hear from these weeks are Daniel and Jeremiah, and of course, during the Christmas season we will hear from the Prophet Isaiah.
I mentioned that we were focusing on the Minor Prophets because you probably already knew about the Major Prophets. Then I received a comment from Diane, who said that she did not know much about the Major Prophets and asked if I could deacon-struct them as well.
So here we are.
Let me recap from last time: The first thing we need to understand about the prophets is that they spoke for God. We can say that they were “God’s spokesmen” (they are all men, although one of these days I’d love to look at some women prophets, even though they are not officially called “prophets”). We know a prophet because he usually begins with, “Thus says the Lord...”
They don’t speak their own words; they speak for God.
There are 16 prophetic books in the Old Testament. I’ve listed the Minor Prophets above. The Major Prophets, so called because these are longer and more profound books, are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
Again, reading the Prophets is not like reading history. We have to read them as if we were reading poetry – these writings are not literal; they are symbolic. However, it’s good to understand the historical background and the context in which the prophets were writing.

The Major Prophets

Isaiah wrote 800 years before Christ, and his ministry lasted about 60 years, spanning the reign of four kings. Remember that these kings of Judah were not all exemplary. Isaiah is writing mainly to those in Judah (the southern kingdom), but it also applies to the Kingdom of Israel (the northern kingdom), as during this time the two kingdoms were at war. Isaiah also saw the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BC. Although Judah was spared this time, it followed soon after. This history can be read in the books of 2 Kings and 1 Chronicles. The name Isaiah means “God is salvation”, and so it is no surprise that the central theme for Isaiah is salvation, and probably that is why it is so often quoted in the Gospels (see Matthew 1:23; 3:3; 8:17; 21:13 / Mark 7:6; 9:48; 15:28 / Luke 2:32; 3:4; 4:17; 19:46; 22:37 / John 1:23; 6:45). For Isaiah, God is the saviour of His people. Just as He saved them from captivity in Egypt, He will save them from their present captivity. This is a message that is still true for us today.
Some words from Isaiah that we hear during the Advent season:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord — and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)
“A voice of one calling: 'In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.' ” (Isaiah 40:3-4)
“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:11)
Jeremiah wrote 600 years before Christ. He lived through the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, the destruction of the Temple, and the deportation of Jews to Babylon in 587 BC. (In 701 BC Judah fell to the Assyrians, who then lost to the Babylonians in 597 BC. Ten years later, the Babylonians again laid siege to Jerusalem, and this ended with the destruction of the city and the deportation. You can read about this in 2 Kings.) Jeremiah warned the people of these events urging them to change their ways and turn from their sins. Jeremiah’s message is simple: Repent and return to God. This message was not heard. Jeremiah was rejected, humiliated, and persecuted. He had to flee for his life and lived as a fugitive before being thrown into prison. Jeremiah is also believed to be the author of the book of Lamentations, written for the fallen Jerusalem (Jeremiah's secretary was Baruch, who also wrote during this time on these same themes). After the exile, Jeremiah’s message becomes one of hope: Although Judah has abandoned God, God has not abandoned them. Jeremiah is also quoted in the Gospels. Take a look at Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; and Luke 19:46.
A quote from Jeremiah that we hear this Advent is:
“ ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.’ ” (Jeremiah 33:14)
Other well-known quotes from Jeremiah:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11)
“ ‘This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ ” (Jeremiah 31:33)
That’s all for today. Come back next time and we will look at the other two Major Prophets, Ezekiel and Daniel.

pedroEvery week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:

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