The Prophets – Powerful Voices - Lesson One
I. Introduction to the Sessions
A. Who Were the Prophets?
B. When and Where Did They Speak Out and Lead?
C. What Aroused Their Interest and Concern?
D. What Relevance Is It All to Us?
II. Sampling of Today’s Prophetic Statements
A. ”Children have I raised and exalted, but they have rebelled against Me. An ox knows its owner; and a donkey its master’s trough; but Israel does not know; My people does not comprehend.” Isaiah 1:3
1.This is the first criticism that God proclaims in the book. I want here simply to take note that we see in the first verse that the prophet’s vision began in the “days of Uzziah…”
Rashi, the great sage, says that Isaiah’s first prophetic vision came on the day Uzziah was stricken with tzara’at. This punishment from God occurred because Uzziah, the king, though previously a spiritually and economically successful king, had entered the Temple to burn incense on the altar. The High Priest (and likely God, too) saw this act as an attempt to usurp the prerogatives of the priests.
Let’s assume, if this occurrence actually was responsible for initiating Isaiah’s vision, it must have troubled him so. Why?
2. A. Let’s consider the references to animals – the ox and the donkey. What do we make of them, generally and specifically? What do we learn about the behavior of the people in contrast to that of the animals? What does it teach about how we stray from our way?
B. “My Beloved had a vineyard in a fertile corner. He fenced it around and cleared its stones; He planted it with choice shoots and built a tower inside it; He even hewed a wine vat in it. He hoped to produce fine grapes, but it produced only inferior grapes.” Isaiah 5:1-2
This is the famous Song of the vineyard. It’s full of metaphor. For people of faith, obviously, the Beloved is God.
What’s its meaning, as we ponder success and failure in a society? What do we learn about this vineyard? How does that truth relate to us, or others who live in different times? What questions do these verses raise? What are early answers?
C. Jeremiah 2 begins with God’s telling Jeremiah how loving and giving God had been to the people but that they strayed.
1. “What wrong did your forefathers find in Me, that they distanced themselves from Me and pursued futility, and became futile? But they did not say, ‘Where is God, who brought us up from the land of Egypt…’ I brought you into a fruitful land, to eat the fruit and bounty, but you came and contaminated My land, and made My heritage into an abomination.” 2:4-7
The priests similarly did not say, “Where is God?” Those “who teach Torah did not know Me.” “The shepherds rebelled” and “the prophets went the way of Baal.” 2:8
a. What’s the problem here?
b. Pursuit of futility means what? And becomes futile means what?
c. What’s the import of the people not asking, “Where is God, who brought us up from the land of Egypt?”
d. How might the people “contaminate the land?”
e. What’s with the priests, teachers, shepherds, and prophets?
D. Let’s now look at animal images of the wayward people:
1) “like a young camel , careening in her ways.” Jeremiah 2:23
2) “like a wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness - at her soul’s desire she sucks in air; who can restrain her serpentine manner? All who seek her should not weary themselves, for in her month they will find her.” verse 24
3. “your sword has devoured your prophets like a destructive lion.” verse 30
Meaning? And meaning for us in each of the three?
Do we see parallels in our society that suggest ongoing relevance of these portrayals of animal images?
E. Now we see a progression of images of clothing.
Note the images of “a maiden that forgets her jewelry” and “a bride her adornments” in verse 32. In verse 33, we see that she has dressed in new clothes - “How you adorned your way to seek love.” And, in 34: “Even on your hems is found the blood of poor, innocent souls…”
What do they suggest? Explain.
F. “Have you seen what rebellious Israel did? She went onto every high mountain and under every leafy tree, and committed adultery there…She did not return. And her unfaithful sister, Judah, saw what befell her, (yet) unfaithful Judah, her sister, was not afraid; she, too, went and committed adultery.” Jeremiah 3:6-8
After a discussion of the history that is alluded to here, we’ll examine these questions: do we know of times in history when people betrayed core principles and faced consequences for doing so? And why would a people who recently have seen such consequences applied to a people nearby and under similar circumstances not take heed and refuse to go down the same, destructive path?
G. Note the reference to practices in the streets of Judah that bother God: “The sons gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough - in honor of the queen of heaven to pour out libations to the gods of others.” Jeremiah 7:17-18
Knowing that the physical activities of gathering wood, handling flame, and kneading the dough were tasks engaged in by Abraham’s family, the ancestors of these people, why do you believe this behavior in the streets was especially offensive?
Can you think of ways people do similarly in our own times?
H. 1. “…they content themselves with the children of foreigners. Isaiah 2:6
Rather than the physical offspring of foreigners, think more deeply about what the term, “children,” might mean. What could it be, and what’s the problem with it? Thoughts about what it might mean in our time?
Look, too, at the next clause:
2. “Its land became full of silver and gold, with no end to its treasures; its land became full of horses, with no end to its chariots. Then it became full of false gods, each one of them bows to his own handiwork, to what his fingers had made.” 7-8
What could this mean, and what’s the problem with it? Can you cite examples from history? (Discussion)
I. One of the wrongs was when people caused “house to encroach against house, and make field approach field, until there is no more place…” Isaiah 5:8
What’s the problem here?
J. “You have consumed the vineyard; and what you have robbed from the poor man is in your houses. What has become of you that you crush My people and grind the faces of the poor…? Isaiah 3:14-15
This has multiple layers of meaning. Starting with the meaning on the surface, describe them.
K. When the people ask what iniquity of theirs has caused such a harsh Divine judgment, God tells Jeremiah to say: “It is because your forefathers have forsaken Me - the word of God - and they followed the gods of others; they worshipped them and prostrated themselves before them; but Me, they forsook; and My Torah they did not observe. And you have acted worse than your forefathers, for each of you follows the vision of his evil heart, in order not to listen to Me.” Jeremiah 16:11-12
What distinguishes the wrongdoing of the forefathers from that of the current generation? Can these earlier wrongs lead to the later wrongs? How? How could such a development happen in other settings, including our own?