and the Prophet Nathan
Jerusalem in Judah from the Jebusites and made it his own capital--about
the year 1000 BC (Before Christ).
He then had the
ark of the covenant brought from the north to his new capital in Jerusalem.
He proposed to build a great temple in Israel to place the ark of the covenant
in it. But Nathan, the prophet, was told by God that David should
not be the one to build it, but instead one of his descendants would do
so. David respected Nathan as a prophet--and agreed not to try to
build the temple.
David tried to
remain humble and devoted entirely to God. But his human nature got
him in deep trouble when he saw Bathsheba and fell in love with her, even
though she was already married to someone else. He got her pregnant--and
things only got more complicated. In the end, to cover his sin, David
planned that her husband (a soldier very loyal to David) should die in
the next battle.
that no one was on to his secret--until the prophet Nathan came to him
with a story.
Read 2 Samuel
God worked a good
out of the evil that David had fallen into--by having Solomon born to David
and Bathsheba. This is a reminder that God is ever forgiving and
able to turn even our mistakes into new opportunities!
were terrible consequences on earth for David's actions. God knew
that David would have to reap what he sowed. So the rule of David
was troubled from then on by family problems (most notably with his son,
Absalom). That was the natural consequences of David's sin.
Thus though God
forgives, and can work good out of our evil, we must still live with the
natural consequences of our own deeds. God constantly warns
us--and sends prophets to remind us that this danger is ever with us.
Wise or confused?
We know of the
story of how God granted Solomon his request for great wisdom as ruler
of Israel (1st Kings 3:3-15) and how Solomon used his wisdom to decide
a dispute between two women and a baby (1st Kings 3:16-28)--so that his
reputation for wisdom spread to all the nations.
We remember also
that he was the one who built in Jerusalem the beautiful temple to God
(1st Kings 5:1-18)
But Solomon could
also be very sophisticated in the wisdom of the world--by marrying daughters
of kings of the surrounding nations (for instance, the daughter of Egypt's
Pharaoh)--and then building for them temples to their gods. All of
this was done to secure the friendship of the other nations. (1st Kings
God greatly. (1st Kings 11:9-13) And God himself sent enemies
There seem to
have been no prophets to keep Solomon reminded of God and his covenant
with David and his royal descendants (such as Solomon). Solomon apparently
listened only to his own thoughts. That proved to be disastrous.
When Solomon died,
his son Rehoboam became king. But Rehoboam was not a wise king.
He listened not to the wisdom of the old men who had once worked with his
father Solomon and who knew God and God's ways. Instead Rehoboam
listened to the voices of his power-hungry young friends around him, friends
who had no thoughts about God.
the 10 northern tribes (of the 12 total) of Israel rebelled against
Rehoboam, and selected their own king: Jeroboam (who was not one
of David's descendants).
Really only the
tribe of Judah stayed loyal to David's grandson, Rehoboam.
Thus there were
now two kingdoms, where there once had been just one: The
Kingdom of Israel (the 10 northern tribes making up the northern
kingdom) and the Kingdom of Judah (the southern kingdom).
Kingdom of Israel defeated and the people carried off into captivity--never
to be heard of again
From then on the
two kingdoms would spend as much time fighting each other as they did working
together and helping each other as brothers--until finally the northern
kingdom of Israel was destroyed by by Assyria (around 720 BC) and
only Judah was left of the original tribes of Abraham, Moses and
Judah and the
Jews: The remnant of Moses and David's Israel
From the name
of the "remnant" (those still left after most of God's people were simply
disappeared from history)--the people of Judah--we get the name
(a shortened name for the people of
But even the people
of Judah were carried away from the Promised Land when they were defeated
in a series of political wars with Babylon (610-600 BC). At this
time Solomon's temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and all the leading families
of Judah were carried off to captivity in Babylon.
the people of the northern Kingdom of Israel, who were lost forever to
history, the people of the southern Kingdom of Judah, managed to stay together
during their captivity.
Indeed, it was
during the time of the "Babylonian captivity" (610 - 540 BC) that
was reshaped into its present form. With no temple to periodically
offer animal sacrifices in worship, the Jews focused more and more on the
importance of gathering on the Sabbath to recite "their story" (the long
story found in Holy Scripture that we ourselves have been studying so far).
Under the leadership of the teachers (the Rabbis) their worship now centered
on the study of Scripture. This, not the temple sacrifices, was now
the thing that identified them and held them together as God's "chosen
Then when about
70 years later (540 BC), Babylon was defeated in a war with Persia, the
Persian king, Cyrus, permitted the Jews to return to the lands of
their ancestors. Judah (which continued to carry also the greater
name Israel) was restored. Even the temple was rebuilt in
Jerusalem--though it was not as grand as the original one built by Solomon.
The temple priesthood was restored. But the Rabbis continued to exercise
tremendous influence on the life of Judah-Israel.
as the most powerful of the Spiritual guides of Israel during the rule
of the kings of Israel and Judah
Let's back up
a bit and look at life in Israel and Judah after David and Solomon--and
before the captivity of Israel and Judah (a time period covering roughly
900-600 BC)--a time period covered in detail in 1st and 2nd Kings and 2nd
Most of the kings
of Israel and Judah during those important 300 years were either somewhat
bad--or very bad. Often they were even downright evil.
As God had so
oftened warned them, for Israel and Judah to want to become like the other
nations (with kings, armies, palaces, etc.) would be for them to soon forget
God. This was dangerous for a people whose main special feature was
that they were the carefully chosen people of God, given their power by
God in order for God to display through them His miraculous works to the
rest of the world. For them to start following the ways of the world
was for them to lose all touch with this original agreement or covenant
Thus God sent
them prophets to advise and warn the kings and people about their behavior
when it wandered away from God's will (just as we saw Nathan serving
to keep David on track).
For the most part,
the prophets were not appreciated by the kings, who did not like what these
prophets had to say. Some kings tried even to put the prophets to
The Early Prophets:
still a bit like the Judges or Samuel
The Prophet Elijah was a very
colorful character--full of storm and fury. He drove weak-willed
King Ahab crazy with his constant criticism about how Ahab had let his
wife Jezebel take over Israel with her Canaanite gods. At one point
Elijah had a showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel--and killed
400 of them by his own hand.
Read 1st Kings 18:1-46
Elijah's understudy, Elisha,
was even zanier still! He performed amazing miracles (2nd Kings,
from chapter 2 to 8, covers many of his exploits).
These early prophets, like the judges
before them, not only spoke forth the word of God but they acted it out
in daring deeds undertaken to make God's judgments very real to the people
The Later Prophets: more focused
on declaring God's truth to a deaf people.
The later prophets are more like the
prophets we think of when we hear the word prophet: people
who would go into a trance and speak forth words that came directly from
God: "Thus says the Lord: . . ."
Of these prophets, Isaiah was
undoubtedly the most important. At first he spoke forth about a coming
harsh judgment that was coming to the people of Israel because they had
given up the pure worship of God and were chasing after other gods or idols
in their daily lives. Isaiah also spoke of a servant of God who was
to come to the people of Israel to lead them back to God. Isaiah
described him as a suffering servant--because this servant would indeed
suffer cruelly for this good work. Isaiah even spoke prophetic words
in encouragement to a people themselves suffering under foreign power,
encouragement to return to the Promised Land of Israel and start up their
life there again--reminding them to rely on God totally in the process.
He was describing, of course, the Israel that would soon be conquered by
its enemies and carried off as prisoners into foreign exile.
Read Isaiah 40: 1-11 and 27-31
Other prophets (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea,
Joel, Amos, etc.) performed pretty much the same task of warning Israel
and Judah about what would happen to them if they continued to ignore God
and to follow instead the ways of the world. Their prophecies
included not only warnings but also instructions on how to worship and
serve God and how to act in relationship with others, especially those
in need of human assistance.
Daniel is a later prophet of a special
nature. He too was more like one of the early judges and prophets:
a man of action. Also he performed his ministry as a Jew still living
in Babylon--not in as a Jew living in Israel or Judah.
Esther, though not considered a prophet,
actually performed very much like an early prophet--or an early judge,
such as Deborah. She too carried out her ministry not in Judah or
Israel, but in Babylon.
John the Baptist in Jesus' time:
The last of the prophets--in the tradition of Elijah?
By Jesus' time it had been centuries
since the prophets had wandered around Israel, instructing and warning
the people of God's judgments upon them. Nonetheless, there was very
strong expectation in Jesus' days that the time was drawing close when
God would send another prophet, in the tradition of Elijah and in fulfilment
of some of the ancient prophecies of Isaiah, to prepare the way for the
coming of the even greater figure, the Anointed One (Messiah or Christ)
Certainly John the Baptist looked like
the prophet that God had promised that he would send. In every respect
John talked and behaved like one of the traditional prophets: calling
Israel to a personal preparation for the coming of the promised Messiah
or Lord through repentance and ritual cleansing (baptism) in the waters
of the Jordan River.
As in the days of the former prophets,
the common people generally responded well to the warnings and call to
repentace of John the Baptist. But the religiously "accomplished"
people of Israel (the scribes and teachers of the Law and the temple priests)
resented John--since they viewed themselves as fully righteous through
their own good religious works. They saw no need of repentance or
of being reminded of their sins. They also were highly suspicious
about John the Baptist's announcement of the One coming after him who was
even greater than he.
Read John 1:14-34