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The Function Of Prophecy In Old Testament Theology Religion Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Theology
Wordcount: 1650 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Prophets have always been surrounded by an aura of mystery. Because they were intermediaries between the human and divine worlds, prophets appeared to their hearers as terrifying yet magnetic and fascinating figures. Throughout the history of Western civilization, whenever these divinely inspired individuals have appeared, attempts have been made to penetrate the mystery that surrounds them. The focus of many of these attempts has been the Old Testament prophets who have traditionally functioned as models for the elucidation of other prophetic phenomenon.

How prophets were viewed:

Prophets were viewed as channels through which divine messages reached the ordinary world and through which humans could gain direct access to the divine. Therefore, the prophetic intermediaries appeared in any society which believed in the existence of divine powers capable of communicating with human beings. [1] 

However, within societies and groups, the behaviour of prophets tended to follow traditional, well-defined patterns. This behavior varied from society to society. Within a given society or group, prophetic behavior usually conformed to the expected norms. In the Old Testament we can find that the prophets receive divine messages and translate them into human terms and communicating them, using traditional speech forms and actions. This task indicates that they are functioning as prophets and the message they bring, comes from the divine realm. [2] 

Isaiah as a prophet:

Similarly, Isaiah who is one of the great prophets, exercised his prophetic ministry during the reigns of Uzziah (783-742 BC), Jotham ( 742-735), Ahaz ( 735-715) and Hezekiah (715-687). The vision which is recorded in Chapter 6 was the one which constituted the call of Isaiah to be a prophet.

It has sometimes been said that Isaiah must have belonged to the aristocracy of the capital because he knew the ways of the court and had ready access to the presence of the king when he had need. A prophet of the stature of Isaiah must have made himself a well-known member of the Jerusalem community and one whose words were treated with great respect. [3] 

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The book of Isaiah, one of the longer units in the Hebrew Bible, comprises prophetic material in verse and prose collected over a period of at least half a millennium. In the opening chapter of Isaiah we catch echoes of Amos here and there, not least in the contrast between the sacrificial cult and the demands of social justice ( Isa. 1:12-17) which would fit better the early stage of Isaiah’s career.

There is also reminiscent of Amos in his condemnation of the ruling classes who grind the face of the poor (Isa. 3:15) and reflects a lack of concern for traditional moral values of the women of Jerusalem ( Isa. 3:16-17,24-26; cf. The poem on divine judgment (Isa. 2:6-22) restates for the befit of Judah the central message of Amos : that the God of Israel has now abandoned his people and left them at the mercy of history. [4] 

And Isaiah was taking up where Amos left. He is more explicit than Amos in his reference to the Assyrians and the role they were destined to play in Israel’s future ( Isa. 5:26-30).

Social, cultural and political situation during the time of Isaiah:

Before the time of Omri and Ahab, kings of Israel about a century before Isaiah received his call to be a prophet, the history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah after the death of Solomon had been an unimpressive record of petty squabbles, and events of very local significance. But these two kings saw the folly of such behaviour o the part of two politically weak kingdoms, which, in face of an aggressive policy by a great power such as Assyria or Egypt, could hope to survive only by the combined military resources of an alliance of western states, in which they had part.

Israel was the dominant partner. In every age political and commercial bargaining was successful done from a position of strength. With Israel’s considerable increase in national wealth owing to the opening up of profitable avenues of trade, s development which, in turn, widened the social gap between the wealthy, upper class in Israelite society and the poor peasants. [5] Such a situation was liable to recur whenever Israel entered into a close relation of association with, or, even more, of dependence on, a people greater in power than itself, and it was the main reason for the warning which the prophets repeatedly gave against any policy.

In a way not paralleled in the activity of the other great prophets whose utterances have a place in the Old Testament canon, Isaiah took a very prominent part in the national crises of the days through which he lived.

Isaiah as a Judge:

In spite of the fact that judgment spoken of as if it were inevitable, that does not exclude from Isaiah’s preaching the note of pleading and entreaty calling upon the people to return. This is found several times in chapter 1 (5, 16 f., 18 f.). It is Isaiah’s conviction that for all this sinfulness a day of judgment is coming. God is not mocked; men cannot disobey his will with impunity. ‘The land will be desolated. Lebanon will become a heath, fruitful places like Carmel and Sharon will become a wilderness, men and cattele will be few Time after time Assyria is specified as the instrument by which the judgment will accomplished’. [6] 

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Isaiah often declares his confidence that, however devastating the judgment may be, a remnant of the people will survive. Out of the stump of the tree new life will come. The glory will have departed, the comeliness will have perished, the new shoot will be a miracle of renewed life; but therein is the hope of the people and therein lies the possibility of the continuance of their work and witness. That conviction on the part of Isaiah may be related to the fact that even in human relations a complete obliteration of an individual or a people was guarded against with very great care ( cf. Deut. 25.5; Ruth 4.10 f., Amos 1.6,9). The doctrine of surviving remnant in turn is related to the fact that whereas the prophet can speak in terms of a judgment upon the whole people, he can, at the same time and without any sense of contradiction, speak of a discriminating judgment in which a distinction will be made between the righteous and the wicked ( Isa. 1. 27 f.; 3.10 f.; cf. 28.23-29). At this point Isaiah though of the necessary cleansing of the peoples as consisting substantiality of restoring in them a former righteousness and purity which had become corrupted; he comes near to describing it as a renewal of the wilderness ideal. [7] 

The message and the people Isaiah spoke to and spoke about:

The postexilic community was concerned with their identity and self-understanding. Their existence as a people was threatened by the consequences of the catastrophe of exile and loss of national independence. There were other Jewish communities, and perhaps provinces, in close proximity to Judah, for example in Samaria and Transjordan, and far away, for away for example in Egypt and Babylon. Isaiah presents a vision for these people to understand themselves, their God and their world. The vision spans past, present and future.

Israel as a people participates in this story ( Isa. 1.2-9; 4.2-6) and, at the same time, Israel is comprised of wicked and righteous, oppressors and the oppressed ( Isa. 1.19-23, 27-28; 3.13-15). Isaiah gives a clear picture of distinction between good and evil that is at points applied to over against the nations can be applied to Israel itself. Righteous versus wicked behaviour is the important point. There is no doubt in Isaiah about the radical separation of good and evil. What is in doubt, indeed, what is denied, is the equation of these absolute categories with actual human groups, whether defined in religious or political terms.

Isaiah represents his vision as a Quasi-drama dominated by dramatic speeches. Even the narrative sections in chapter 6 provide settings for further speeches. The characters are not presented as distinct and historical individuals. They are constructs in the grand poetic work of Isaiah. Israel, for example, is masculine singular ( 1.4), masculine plural ( 1.5-6) and feminine singular ( 1.21-26), where one can see that Israel is judged and condemned, desolate and devastated, and comforted and redeemed. [8] 


Joseph Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel ( Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996)

James Luther Mays and Paul J. Achtemeier. Early Israelite prophecy: Interpreting the prophets, ed., Philadelphia : Fortress Press, c1987.

Mauchline, John.

John Mauchline, Isaiah 1-39 , (London : SCM Press, 1962), p.

Peter D. Miscall, Isaiah ( Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993). P.


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