Understanding the Old Testament - Lesson 16

Intro Latter Prophets

We've completed the former prophets and now dig into the latter prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of the Twelve - focusing on Israel's exile due to covenant-breaking. The prophets interpret Israel's history through the lens of the Mosaic Covenant, showcasing Yahweh's faithfulness and Israel's unfaithfulness, leading to judgment. The prophetic office began with Moses, mediating God's word to the people. Prophets like Samuel, Moses, and David executed God's judgment against Israel's disobedience. The latter prophets, active from 760 to 460 BC, executed God's lawsuits, holding Israel accountable to the covenant. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel experienced divine calls, marked by visions and commissions. The prophetic literature includes oracular prophecies and sign acts, visual enactments of God's word. The prophets serve as Yahweh's prosecuting attorneys, executing covenant lawsuits rooted in Deuteronomy 32, which promises restoration despite judgment, ultimately pointing to the new covenant fulfilled in Christ.

Miles Van Pelt
Understanding the Old Testament
Lesson 16
Watching Now
Intro Latter Prophets

I. Introduction to the Latter Prophets

A. Transition from Former Prophets

B. Focus on Exile and Covenant Breaking

II. The Prophetic Office in Israel

A. Origin and Emergence with Moses

B. Mediatory Role of the Prophet

C. Legislative Foundation in Deuteronomy 18

III. Writing Prophets and Their Ministry

A. Overview of the Writing Prophets

B. Ministry Duration and Chronological Order

C. Requirements and Characteristics of a Prophet

IV. Types of Prophecy

A. Oracular Prophecy

1. Definition and Characteristics

2. Usage and Frequency

B. Sign Acts

1. Definition and Purpose

2. Examples and Interpretation

V. Covenant Lawsuit and its Significance

A. Format and Structure

B. Rooted in Deuteronomy 32

C. Unexpected Reversal and Hope

D. Connection to New Covenant

E. Dual Message of Judgment and Restoration

  • Engage with the Old Testament to grasp its Gospel-centered nature. From Genesis to Ecclesiastes and Psalms, discover foundational truths, wisdom, and insights on suffering. Strengthen your faith and find enduring hope in God's Word.
  • Gain insight into the Old Testament's theological core, centering on Jesus Christ. Explore its diverse genres, languages, and authors, unified by Jesus as its focal point. Understand how biblical evidence supports Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, shaping interpretation.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Miles Van Pelt provides the thematic framework for the Old Testament. The Old Testament's thematic core is the Kingdom of God. Through this lesson, you'll understand its covenantal nature, from pre-temporal arrangements to various administrations like redemption, works, and grace, unveiling God's salvation plan in Christ.
  • Discover the intricate covenantal structure of the Bible, revealing its theological depth and unity, from the division of the Hebrew Bible to its mirroring in the New Testament, all centered around Jesus Christ.
  • Gain insight into the Pentateuch's covenantal structure, Moses' authorship debate, and evidence supporting it. Understand its significance as the foundation of Israel's relationship with God and its relevance for biblical theology.
  • Through this lesson, you will understand the theological, structural, and thematic intricacies of the book of Genesis. You'll grasp its role as a foundational text in both the Old and New Testaments, exploring themes of covenant, creation, fall, redemption, and the fulfillment of promises. You'll gain insights into the genealogical structure of Genesis, its portrayal of key biblical figures like Adam, Noah, and Abraham, and its connection to the overarching narrative of the gospel.
  • Exodus reveals Yahweh's promise—"I will be with you"—unfolding divine presence and covenant. It anticipates Jesus as fulfillment—a better Moses and Tabernacle—ushering in God's eternal presence among humanity.
  • Studying Leviticus unveils the intricate system of laws and rituals at Mount Sinai. It explains sacrificial atonement, priestly consecration, purity laws, and the theme of holiness, prefiguring Jesus as the ultimate priest, sacrifice, and source of holiness.
  • Discover the Book of Numbers' insights on Israel's journey, God's faithfulness, consequences of disobedience, and parallels to Christ, cautioning against questioning God's holiness and emphasizing His desire to dwell among His people through the Holy Spirit.
  • Gain insight into Deuteronomy's covenant renewal for Israel entering Canaan, emphasizing obedience, typology, and its relevance for Christian living.
  • Gain deep insight into the former prophets, exploring themes of Yahweh's faithfulness, Israel's unfaithfulness, and the typological significance of the Mosaic covenant. Understand its relation to the Abrahamic covenant and its fulfillment in the New Covenant under Jesus, revealing God's plan for restoration.
  • Joshua unveils Joshua's leadership, divine promise fulfillment in Canaan, obedience's significance, and Jesus as the ultimate fulfiller of God's promises.
  • Discover the Book of Judges, detailing Israel's history and faith journey. Learn about judges as deliverers from oppression and idolatry, portraying parallels with Christ's ministry. Uncover a pattern of uncreation due to idolatry, emphasizing the need for an eternal judge—Jesus Christ—to save from corruption.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Miles Van Pelt provides insights into the book of Samuel, exploring its characters, themes, and the transition from judgeship to kingship in Israel. Learn of the significance of the Davidic covenant, culminating in Jesus as the ultimate King of Kings.
  • Gain insights into the Book of Kings, revealing its historical and theological significance. Discover the fulfillment of Davidic covenant, reasons for Israel's exile, and anticipation of the new covenant. Recognize Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of its promises.
  • This lesson reviews latter prophets' insights into Israel's exile for breaking the Mosaic Covenant, the prophetic office's nature, diverse prophecy genres, and the execution of covenant lawsuits, all pointing to God's judgment and hope for restoration.
  • Explore Isaiah's profound prophetic themes, from redemption to impending judgment. Unravel his life and ministry's context, review the debate around authorship, and learn essential tools for study.
  • Enjoy this lesson on Jeremiah, a second Moses figure, and his prophetic message of repentance, redemption, and a new covenant. Explore the book's chiastic structure, historical context, and theological significance, offering hope amidst Judah's fall.
  • Studying Ezekiel reveals its focus on the glory of the Lord and the temple. You learn of Ezekiel's exile, his visions, and themes like covenant theology, creation, and apocalyptic elements, offering profound insights into hope amidst crisis.
  • Discover insights into the minor prophets' diverse genres and themes, from covenant infidelity to divine restoration. Witness Jonah's repentance narrative and prophetic visions culminating in Christ's fulfillment. Embrace Yahweh's justice and compassion, urging Israel's return, leading to Jesus as the ultimate authority.
  • Understand the structure and themes of the Hebrew Bible's writings section. Explore diverse literary forms, intentional divisions mirroring prophets, and the overarching theme of exile and return, illuminating Israel's covenant journey.
  • Discover the depth of the Book of Psalms: 150 songs divided into 5 books, expressing diverse emotions and worship forms. Explore themes, structure, and practical applications for personal devotion and prayer.
  • Gain insights into human suffering and theodicy through Job's trials. Explore themes of faith, resilience, and God's sovereignty amidst adversity. Discover hope in God's incomprehensible sovereignty amid life's trials.
  • Proverbs is a book of timeless wisdom from Solomon, who was gifted by God. By studying this book, you can learn to navigate life with righteousness and discernment, rooted in the fear of the Lord.
  • Journey through Ruth, where redemption, loyalty, and divine providence intertwine. Ruth, a symbol of strength, aligns with Boaz, embodying ancient customs. Their union shapes history, reflecting the enduring legacy of faith amidst life's complexities.
  • Explore the Song of Songs for insights into marriage and intimacy. It navigates the tension between true love and temptation, advocating for unwavering commitment and passionate intimacy, reflecting God's desired relationship. Discover timeless wisdom for modern-day love and marriage.
  • Ecclesiastes reveals life's futility without God, emphasizing the necessity of fearing Him. Through Solomon's wisdom, it prompts reflection on divine purpose amid existential questions.
  • In Lamentations, mourn the fall of Jerusalem and exile, finding hope in God's sovereignty.
  • The book of Esthers contains themes of providence, hiddenness of God, and faithfulness in exile. You will uncover the intricacies of Esther and Mordecai's roles in the deliverance of the Jewish people, as well as the establishment of the festival of Purim. This study will equip you with insights into how God's providence operates amidst human events, even when His presence may seem concealed, and how faithfulness in exile can lead to unexpected outcomes of deliverance and restoration.
  • Through this lesson on the book of Daniel, you'll gain insights into its structure, themes of faithfulness in exile, comparisons with Joseph, and its significance for understanding apocalyptic literature, providing a comprehensive understanding of God's sovereignty and care for His people.
  • Explore Ezra and Nehemiah for insights into post-exilic restoration, intertwining faith, governance, and cultural renewal. These books point towards a deeper longing for true and lasting restoration and echo themes found in apocalyptic literature such as the book of Revelation.
  • The Book of Chronicles traces Israel's history, emphasizing kingship, priesthood, and divine selection. It anticipates restoration, pointing to Jesus as the ultimate priest-king who fulfills God's promises.

Understanding the Old Testament 
Dr. Miles Van Pelt
Intro Latter Prophets 
Lesson Transcript

We've now completed our study of the former prophets, and we now begin our study of the latter prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of the Twelve. These four books correspond with the four books of the former prophets in this way. The former prophets deal with life in the land, that is, in Joshua, they enter into the land, and in the Book of Kings, they are exiled out of the land. The latter prophets focus on Israel's exile due to the breaking of the Mosaic Covenant. Okay, so if you remember our introductory lectures, we have the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, and the prophets are former prophets and latter prophets, life in the land, life in exile. The prophets are going to talk about and take up Israel's disobedience to the Mosaic Covenant and the subsequent exile that is due because of that.

The latter prophets provide the theological interpretation of the former prophets. They interpret Israel's life in the land according to the standards of the Mosaic Covenant outlined in Exodus to Deuteronomy. They testify to the faithfulness of Yahweh, the infidelity of Israel, and the coming of judgment according to the covenant curses outlined in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. The prophetic office in Israel began with the emergence of Israel's greatest prophet, Moses. For example, in Hosea 12:13, it says the Lord used a prophet to bring Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet, he cared for him. The prophetic office of Moses begins with his call at the burning bush in Exodus 3. 

Now the prophet's job was to mediate the word of the Lord to the Lord's people. Now we can see this mediatorial nature of the office in Exodus 20, verses 18 and 19, where it says, "When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. (This was God's presence on Mount Sinai.) And they stayed at a distance and said to Moses, speak to us yourself and we will listen, but do not have God speak to us directly or we will die." So you can see here that the prophet is sent by Yahweh to speak to his people. 

The establishment of a prophetic legacy is legislated in the well-known text of Deuteronomy 18:9 to 22, where it provides a description, the origin, and the authority of the prophet in Israel. Deuteronomy 18:9 to 22. Just like Deuteronomy legislates for a king, it also legislates for a prophet in the Mosaic economy of that theocratic kingdom. If you look at your screen, you'll see a slide. Now the prophets existed, you know, Samuel was a prophet, Moses was a prophet, David was a prophet in some source, Saul prophesied. But these are very specific prophets. These 15 prophets you know as the latter prophets or the writing prophets. These prophets all had a writing ministry and their job was to execute the lawsuit of God against his people. Yahweh was in a covenant with his people. Israel broke the covenant and these were Yahweh's prosecuting attorneys. Their job was to take the law, Exodus and Deuteronomy, and hold that law up to the life of Israel in Joshua the king's and see whether Israel had obeyed or disobeyed and whether they should be in exile or not. And you know the story.

The writing prophets have a very brief ministry in the overall time of Israel's history from, you know, the time of Abraham to the return from exile. These prophets existed or had their ministry from 760 BC with Amos being the earliest, as you can see on your slide highlighted there, all the way down to Malachi in 460. So from 760 to 460, 300 years of writing prophets. You can see the order of the prophets above on this slide where we have Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel in roughly chronological order. But then Hosea through Malachi in kind of a quasi-chronological order but not necessarily a full chronological order. Their arrangement is more theological than it is chronological.

Now to be a prophet you had to be called by God. And callings of this type are very distinctive. That is, not everyone could be a prophet. If you weren't called in this way you'd have been a false prophet. And so it's helpful to know how to determine whether you're a true or false prophet. So I made this little slide for you to just briefly go over with you so that you understand what a prophet is and how he's called.

There are six elements of the divine prophetic call and commission. Here they are illustrated with Moses, the paradigm Old Testament prophet. But I'm going to give you a slide that will show you how to assess that with some of the other prophets. It begins with a vision or appearance of God in one sense where the prophet is taken into God's throne room. In the book of Exodus, it says, "The angel of Yahweh appeared to him and flamed a fire from within a bush and Moses saw that the bush was on fire but it did not burn up." That's the vision or the appearance of God. It's followed by an introductory word where you have a twofold name, a statement of caution, and a historical review. So you can see it again in Exodus 3, 4, 5, and 6 when it says, when the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called from him from within the bush, Moses, Moses. So that twofold name, just like Saul in the book of Acts, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? Then there's a statement of caution, do not come any closer because this is holy ground.

And then a historical review related to the historical prologue, identifying God as the covenant Lord of his people. Then after the vision and introductory word, you get a divine commission. So now go, I'm sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt. There's usually a statement of reluctance or disqualification. For example, Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out?" Or Gideon said, "I'm the least in my family." Or Isaiah said, "You know, I'm a man of unclean lips." Moses said, "I can't speak." Then there's the divine reassurance. And God said I'll be with you. That's the ultimate reassurance.And then some sort of confirming sign, for example, and this will be the sign to you that it is I who brought you or have sent you. When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God. And so on this mountain.And so you can see on this slide, we won't go over each of these, but we'll see them in the books themselves when we encounter them. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Amos all have these specific call narratives with most of these elements present. And I've outlined those there for you so that you can make use of them later on.

The last thing I want to say about prophecy and Old Testament prophecies, writing prophets before we get into them, is that you're going to encounter several different types of prophecy genres. There are apocalyptic visions. There are woe oracles. There are oracles against foreign nations, all kinds of different things. But I'm going to divide for you most of the prophecy into two different types. Oracular prophecy, which is a kind of verbal prophecy, and sign acts, which is a kind of prophecy acted out like a living parable. There is biographical material in the prophetic literature, but that kind of stages and frames the more oracular and sign acts kind of thing. 

Oracular prophecy, what is that? Oracular prophecy is this. It usually begins with something like, thus says the Lord, where the prophet is commissioned as a divine messenger. As members of the divine council, these prophets delivered the word of the Lord to his people and the nations. Consider Jonah, for example, who delivered the oracle to Nineveh. This type of prophecy includes covenant lawsuits, woe oracles, oracles of salvation, oracles against foreign nations, calls to repentance, and even parables.

This is the verbal aspect of prophecy. And just in terms of some basic statistics that may be interesting, the prophetic messenger formula, thus says the Lord, appears 293 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. It occurs five times in the call of Moses, the paradigm prophet, and then 227 times in the latter prophets. 227 times. 153 of those are in Jeremiah.

Now there's another extended prophetic messenger formula, which says, thus says Yahweh God. Or thus says Adonai Yahweh, something like that. It's a little bit extended. And that's an additional 131 or 137 times in the latter prophets, 123 of which are in Ezekiel. 

So all combined, check this out. These two messenger formulas occur 430 times. So if you're ever wondering whose words these are.These are the words of the Lord. They're not the words of Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel or Amos or Malachi. They are messengers. This prophetic material is the word of the Lord. Those are the oracular prophecies or the verbal prophecies. 

Now, a little bit less common, but very interesting are these things called sign acts, or I call them enactment prophecies. And here's the definition. A sign act involves a nonverbal action or object employed by the prophet at the command of Yahweh to communicate and illustrate a prophetic word. So this is a whole visual culture thing. Don't say show me. Sign acts are recounted through the literary form known as a sign act report. This literary thing has two primary components, the divine command to the prophet to perform the specific action. And then the interpretation of the sign act. So you don't have to guess what it's about. The Lord says, do this and then say, here's what it's about. Let's look at at least one or two.

The first one appears in Isaiah 20 verses one to four, and you have two parts, the command to perform the sign act. Here it is in verses one and two. In the year that the commander in chief who was sent by Sargon, the king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and captured it. At that time, the Lord spoke to Isaiah, the son of Amoz saying, go and take off the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet. And he did so walking naked and barefoot. 

 Rough to be a prophet in those days. Then you have the interpretation of the sign act. "Then the Lord said, as my servant, Isaiah walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush. So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both young and old, naked and barefoot with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt." So Isaiah's life is exemplifying what's going to happen to Assyria later on. It's an image. 

How about another one in Ezekiel 24? Here it says in Ezekiel 24:15, here's the command to perform it. This is a difficult one. "The word of the Lord came to me, son of man, that's what he calls Ezekiel. Behold, I'm about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke. You shall not mourn or weep, nor shall tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud. Make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban and put your shoes on your feet. Do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men. So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening, my wife died. And on the next morning, I did as I was commanded." So he said, the Lord's going to say, tonight your wife is going to die, which he calls the delight of your eyes, and you cannot mourn for her. Here's the interpretation that follows in verses 19 and following of chapter 24 of Ezekiel. "The people said to me, will you not listen to what these things mean for us, that you are acting thus? Then I said to them, the word of the Lord came to me. Say to the house of Israel, thus says the Lord, behold, I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and the yearning of your soul and your sons and your daughters, whom you left behind, shall fall by the sword. And you shall do as I have done. You shall not cover up your lips, nor eat the bread of men. Your turban shall be on your head, and your shoes shall be on your feet. You shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away in your iniquities and groan to one another. Thus shall Ezekiel beat you a sign according to all that he has done to you. When this comes, then you will know that I am Yahweh." So these sign acts are things that happen in the lives of the prophets that have theological significance for what's about to happen to the people of God. So there's oracular prophecy, and then there are sign acts. 

In terms of the distribution of these sign acts, they are concentrated in the latter prophets. And you have one in Isaiah, you have eight or nine in Jeremiah, 15 in Ezekiel, two in Hosea, and one in Zechariah. So they're spread about these latter prophets.

The last thing I want to do with you in this introduction to the latter prophets is talk about the covenant lawsuit that we've mentioned before. We talked about it in our introductory lectures, and it's going to play a major role in the latter prophets for this reason. The latter prophets, that is Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve, are Yahweh's prosecuting attorneys. And so what they're going to be doing is executing a lawsuit against God's people on behalf of Yahweh. Okay.These lawsuits have particular sections to them, and they're related to the covenant that we studied earlier. So you'll recall on the slide that we see right here that covenants in the ancient world had a preamble, historical prologue stipulations, a document clause, witnesses, blessings, and curses, and oaths or blood rituals. You can see that. And in the middle column, you can see how that works out in the covenant document. But in the right column, you'll see that the covenant lawsuit is related to the covenant. So you take the covenant, and you modify its form to engage in the covenant lawsuit activity.

In the preamble, you'll get the ID, the identification of the judge or the suzerain. In the historical prologue, you'll get the testimony of the suzerain's innocence followed by the indictments because they've broken the stipulations. And then you'll have witnesses and the enactment of curses and a call to repentance. You can see this in that right column. So that is the basic format that's being employed in these covenant lawsuits. In this next slide, you can see some examples that some covenant lawsuits, you'll see Isaiah 1, Hosea 4, and Malachi 6, all have this six-part format to them. Sometimes you don't need all the formats or all the elements, but the base of them. And this is going to become important because of what the prophets are doing and in terms of their job as prophetic covenant mediators.

These covenant lawsuits in the prophets have their root in the book of Deuteronomy, specifically Deuteronomy 32. Remember I told you that in Deuteronomy 20 if you took the former prophets, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, and you x-rayed them, you would see that the spine runs through them is Deuteronomy 29 to 31, which has that five-part episode.You're going to go into the land, become prosperous, you're going to become unfaithful, I'm going to become angry, and I'm going to kick you out. And that's what happens. The same thing is true for Deuteronomy 32. If you were to x-ray the latter prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the 12, you would see running through its spine, Deuteronomy 32. You will not be able to understand the prophetic message if you don't understand how it's connected to Deuteronomy 32, the first major literary covenant lawsuit in the Bible, where you see there are eight parts to it.

The call to witnesses, heaven and earth in the first two verses, the identification of the parties in the next few verses, you have the judge or the suzerain that Yahweh the rock, you have his innocence, you have the vassal Israel, which is a warped and crooked generation, the review of Yahweh's faithfulness and the indictments because of the broken stipulations, and finally the judgment or the enactment of curses, in section 7. But what's unusual is section 8, where you have verses 26 to 43, the largest section there, with the unexpected reversal of judgment, where it says at the climax of it, I will atone for my people and my land. Some scholars have called this a broken lawsuit, that is Yahweh takes the people through the lawsuit and at the end says, but there's hope, and I'm going to amend or fix this somehow. Now the reason for this is rooted back in the Abrahamic covenant, that God makes a unilateral covenant with Abraham, that I will give you a great name, a great blessing, and descendants and inheritance.

The Mosaic economy, in which we see Deuteronomy, is a temporary typological first stage fulfillment of that Abrahamic covenant, and so it's going to become corrupt and the curses are going to be enacted, but because it's rooted in the Abrahamic covenant, we know that there's going to be a stage two coming, the new covenant, and so that unexpected reversal is always a pointer to the new covenant, to the new covenant, and so that's why you'll get kind of, in some sense, schizophrenia. It feels like when you're reading the prophets, you've sinned, you're evil, you're wicked, I'm going to judge you, but I'll call you back to me, but there'll be hope, but there'll be renewal. It's like, are you mad or are you sad? Are you going to smoke them or are you going to deliver them? And the answer is both. Israel will experience the curse of judgment, but there's also the hope of restoration, not because of their return from exile, but because of the personal work of Christ, ultimately.

So it's a very important theological connection to think about, and so Deuteronomy 32 provides that unexpected reversal where the climax of it is in verse 33, where Yahweh says, I will atone for my people. He will pay the price. He will pay the debt, and we get that in the gospels.

So the latter prophets deal with the whole issue of exile and Israel's unfaithfulness to the Mosaic economy. They're going to execute Yahweh's lawsuit, but also proclaim the good news of God's hope.