The most important mark of a prophet of God is NOT the ability to foretell the future. Rather the most important characteristic of a prophet of God is the prophet’s position as a “spokesperson” for God. That is, the prophet is one who speaks “the word of the Lord.” The prophet says what God tells the prophet to say; the prophet speaks for God to the people.
Be sure to read with the students, the sample scripture texts listed for each major theme of the eighth- century prophets. These texts should illustrate the theme with which they are listed.
Major Themes of the Eighth-Century BC Prophets
The eighth-century prophets include Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah. The following list constitutes major themes reflected in the eighth-century prophets:
1. Condemnation of empty ritual/vain worship (hypocrisy). The eighth-century prophets confronted the hypocrisy of “going through the motions” of religious rituals, without a sincere heart for obedience to God. This concern was combined with a call to justice, right living, and walking with God. See Is 1:10-15 (1 Sam 15:22); Hos 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Mic 6:6-8.
2. Condemnation of injustice/oppression. The confronting of injustice and oppression, along with a call for ministering to the needs of the poor and oppressed. See Amos 2:6-8; 4:1; 8:5-6; Is 3:15 (cf. Jas 1:27).
3. Oracles of God’s wrath and punishment against evil and injustice. The prophets proclaimed God’s displeasure with idolatry and unfaithfulness to the covenant. See Amos 3:11-15; Hos 5:8-14.
4. God’s mercy and passion for Israel to return to God and repent! God’s purpose in His wrath is not destruction but rather is to bring about repentance and a turning back to God. See Amos 5:4-7; Hos 11:8-11; Is 1:16-19.
5. Hope of restoration and the promise of saving a remnant. God’s promise to preserve a remnant that sustains God’s promise in relation to the Davidic covenant (i.e., always have a descendant of David on the throne of Israel). This theme reflects God’s ultimate desire of restoration and renewal for His people. See Amos 9:11-15; Hos 14:4-9; Is 12; Mic 4:1-5.
Book of Amos
Amos was active in the time of Jeroboam II (786-746 BC). Amos was a Judean (1:1) who prophesied in the Northern Kingdom. Amos 1:1 and 7:14 identify Amos as a herdsman, dresser of sycamores, and a sheep breeder.
Amos 1:3-2:16 contains a series of divine judgments proclaimed against neighboring states and then upon Israel itself. This reflects a pattern that draws in the listeners and then suddenly turns on them with conviction. Listeners from Israel become proud as their enemies are denounced. Then, suddenly the conviction is aimed toward Israel itself!
Jesus uses a similar technique in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Listeners join in the condemnation of the haughty priest and Levite who neglect their people. But listeners are convicted when their enemy, the Samaritan, turns out to be the hero. This has the convicting effect of placing the listeners in the place of the haughty priest and Levite.
Book of Hosea
The book contains little direct information about the prophet himself. No indication is given of his home, his occupation, or the circumstances of his prophetic call.
Only his father’s name is given in the text (Beeri). It seems certain, however, that he came from the Northern Kingdom of Israel and carried out his mission there. His sayings are mostly directed to Ephraim.
The book reflects the events and conditions in Israel during the years 750-722, from the prosperous and peaceful years of Jeroboam II until the end of the Northern Kingdom.
Hosea’s proclamation is modeled after the Exodus from Egypt, wilderness wanderings, and settlement in Palestine. Hosea implies this experience was to be repeated in a sense. The impending exile would be similar to a return to Egyptian captivity. The eventual restoration and renewal would be similar to a second exodus and settlement (8:13; 9:3). His wife becomes the image of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God (2:2-13). In each case, the metaphors turn to hope and restoration. The children regain the promises of God and are again called children of God (1:10-11; 2:22-23). The unfaithful wife is betrothed again in faithfulness (2:14-20).
Book of Micah
Micah served as a prophet in the South. Micah began his prophetic ministry before the fall of Samaria (in the North) and continued after that fall.
Micah can be outlined as follows:
1-3: Judgments against Judah and Samaria
4-5: Oracles of salvation for Zion and Israel
6-7: Oracles of judgment and promise addressed to Israel
Book of Isaiah
The Book of Isaiah can be organized according to the following divisions based on the setting implied and the audience whose needs God seeks to address:
1. Isaiah 1-39: the life of Isaiah the prophet, active in Jerusalem, before the Babylonian exile (his ministry can be dated around 740-700 BC, during fall of israel).
2. Isaiah 40-55: the prophetic message carried on in the name of Isaiah during the exile with a setting in Babylon. This section is often referred to as Deutero-Isaiah.
3. Isaiah 56-66: set in Palestine, after Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonian Empire and arranged for the exiles to return to Palestine and restore Jerusalem and the Temple. This section is often called Trito-Isaiah.
These divisions are based on the evidence from the text that suggests God addresses three unique periods of Israel’s history through Isaiah. This does not deny God’s ability to foretell the future through the prophet. In fact each of the three sections of Isaiah include futuristic elements of prophecy. For example, the first section of Isaiah prophesies the fall of Israel and its restoration. Both of these events are then reflected in the second and third divisions of Isaiah. Isaiah also contains significant messianic prophecies.
Isaiah of Jerusalem (Isaiah 1-39)
Isaiah was active in Jerusalem during the latter half of the eighth century. Isaiah 1:1 claims his ministry took place during the reigns of kings Uzziah (783-742 BC), Jotham (742-735 BC), Ahaz (735-715 BC), and Hezekiah (715-687 BC). The reigns of these kings are discussed in the 2 Kgs 14:17-20:21 and 2 Chr 26:1- 32:33.
Isaiah’s commission from the Lord appears in Isaiah 6:8-13. His mission appears to be the announcement of the destruction of Israel and Judah. The reason for this judgment was the gross disregard of the laws of God, on the part of the people in these kingdoms. A major aspect of this wrongful action was the oppression and neglect of the poor and needy.
Considering the irony of God’s word to Isaiah in Isaiah 6:9-10, it appears God had already given the nations of Israel and Judah years of opportunity for repentance and now is the time for judgment. It appears Isaiah’s commission is not so much a call to repentance, as it is a warning and explanation of the coming destruction. Thus, there can be no complaint that God did not clarify in advance the reason for such action.
Nevertheless, for those who do seek to repent, Isaiah’s commission ends with a subtle promise of hope for a remnant of the faithful (6:13).The period of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam II, king of Israel, was a prosperous time. Both of these kings had long reigns. The two nations expanded to the combined size of nearly that of Solomon’s kingdom. This was a period of peace with flourishing trade and commerce. Wealth poured into the nations and the population grew. With such prosperity came moral decay and injustice. Jeroboam led his nation in idolatry, and Uzziah allowed worship at the high places (associated with idolatry).
In addition, wide class distinctions emerged between the rich and poor. Consequently, injustice abounded. Small farmers were at the mercy of moneylenders. That is, during difficult times (crop failure or drought), when farmers could not pay for the land, they might lose their land or even be forced into slavery. Also, during this period, the prophecies of Isaiah accuse the wealthy of cheating in the marketplace through the use of false weights and measures. The result of such moral decay was often hardest on the poor, including the widow and the orphan.
Isaiah’s preaching announced God’s judgment against such oppression and idolatry. Following the period of Uzziah and Jeroboam II, Assyria became a growing threat. Military instability and national insecurity became signs of the coming destruction.