Lesson 8: Isaiah, Jeremiah


Isaiah: (66 chapters; between 740 and 701 B.C.)

Several themes in Isaiah stand out and should be noted: 1) There is only one God--Yahweh--the God of Israel. The idols worshiped by their surrounding neighbors are not gods at all. The special characteristic revealed to Isaiah is the holiness or transcendence of God. He often refers to God as "the Holy One of Israel." 2) God's perfections are reflected in his creation, so that the whole earth is filled with his glory. Yahweh is the sole master of history and may intervene when and as he wishes.

3) The relations between Yahweh and Israel are regulated by the Sinai Covenant made with Moses and Israel. 4) The remnant: God's holiness and justice led him to punish the sins of his people, but he would not wipe them out completely. His goal was not to destroy but to purify them. So he left a holy remnant, faithful to the Covenant, after the sinners had been destroyed. This idea of the remnant is a central teaching of Isaiah. 5) Isaiah predicts a new and glorious age which will come for Israel in the future. 6) Isaiah taught that Jerusalem enjoyed special privileges from God, because Yahweh ruled from the Temple.

The well-known four servant songs are found in 42:1-4; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12. The last one is called the Song of the Suffering Servant. Many scholars think that the servant stands in a collective sense for the people of Israel, and in an individual sense for the Messiah. Some of the main themes in chs. 40-66 are the universalism of God's salvation; he is the creator of the world and directs world history, with special concern for Israel and Jerusalem. He will send a Messiah and has prepared a glorious future for those who remain faithful to him and keep his Covenant.

The prophetic ministry of Isaiah over forty years can be divided into three main periods: 1) the reign of Jotham (742-735); 2) the reign of Ahaz (735-715); and 3) the reign of Hezekiah (715-687).

Most OT scholars today hold that chapters 40-66, usually called "Second Isaiah," were written by another prophet or prophets almost 200 years after Isaiah--during the captivity in Babylon. All of the arguments for this position are taken from internal criticism. Jewish and Christian tradition up to the 19th century held for one author, Isaiah. Many books and articles are available on this question.

According to Isaiah, the proper response of man to God's holiness and his divine plan is FAITH, by which he means the acceptance of God's plan and his will and power to accomplish it. The fundamental sin for Isaiah is the refusal to put one's faith in Yahweh. And this unbelief is the source of all the vices which Isaiah saw in his society, both individual and social.

The influence of Isaiah on the New Testament is profound. After the Psalms, he is the most frequently quoted book of the OT in the NT. This is evident from the fact that 41 different passages are quoted either explicitly or implicitly in 66 different places in the NT.

The tone of Second Isaiah is not one of threat and condemnation, as we find in the first 39 chapters, but one of consolation and hope. Isaiah sees the return from Babylon as a New Creation and projects the same idea on the end time for the Day of the Lord.

Jeremiah: (52 chapters; 627 to 587 B.C.)

Jeremiah lived in a time of war, intrigue and great social turmoil. He lived to see the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, his people being carried off to exile in Babylon. The dominant theme in Jeremiah is the devastating consequences of sin. Even if God pardons sin, the sinner must still suffer the consequences of it. But God punishes the sinner in order to heal him--to bring him to repentance and a change of heart.

Jeremiah is also the prophet of the interior life. For him the true religion of the future must be primarily interior. He speaks of circumcision of the heart and of a new covenant (31:31-34) which God will write on the fleshy tablets of the heart.

The oracles or prophecies of Jeremiah concern two major points: 1) oracles about political and social situations of his time, and 2) oracles about himself and his relationship with Yahweh.

Jeremiah declares forcefully that sin brings on its own sorrow. Like other prophets, he condemns idol worship and injustice in dealings with others, especially the poor and defenseless. There is a close connection between Jeremiah's grasp of the connections: sin, suffering, repentance, forgiveness and new life, and the Deuteronomic theology we saw in the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings.

There is a strong emphasis on prayer and discussion with God in his prophecies. He has the boldness to question God on his dealings with man in what is called his "confessions"; they are found in 12:1-5; 15:10-21; 17:12-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-18. He never wavers in faith but he is bold in questioning God.

Jeremiah detests false prophets and offers some criteria for knowing the difference between a true and a false prophet: 1) fulfillment of prophecy, for if prophecies do not come true that is a sign they are not from God; 2) avoidance of man-made attempts to contact the spirit world, such as mediums and fortune tellers; 3) living a personal moral life; 4) acceptance by the community of the prophet.

In the NT Jeremiah is quoted seven times. In a broader sense, he prefigures Jesus in certain aspects of his life: 1) his call to prophetic celibacy (16:1-4); 2) his rejection in his native village; 3) his prophecy of the destruction of the Temple; 4) his prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem; 5) his trial because of his preaching about the Temple. He suffers at the hands of his own people, like the "suffering Servant" of Isaiah 53, and in this foreshadows Jesus who is the true Servant of the Lord.

Reading Assignment

Read the two prophets and pay attention to the notes. The Jerusalem Bible or The Catholic Study Bible will be helpful in this.

Writing Assignment

Write an essay of about 1000 words on one of the following themes in Isaiah: the holiness of God; the remnant; Messianism; the Servant of Yahweh; the question of Second Isaiah in chapters 40-66. If you prefer to write on Jeremiah, then write an essay on his concept of sin or the New Covenant proclaimed in chapter 31.

Suggestion

For your own information, look up all the references to these two prophets in the New Testament.

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