Part Four—the Prophets: Isaiah – Jeremiah – Ezekiel

in Great Men of the Old Testament

The reason these three prophets are not covered as separate individuals in this work is because information about their personal lives and accomplishments is scant by comparison to others. It is for this reason we have not included a number of the “minor prophets” in this work as well. This does not mean, however, that these prophets are of lesser importance. In the case of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, however, we find the great bulk of the Old Testament prophecies. If one were to ask who were the great prophets of the Old Testament, the answer would certainly be Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. The reason is that many of their prophecies are for our time period today-prophecies that will be fulfilled “in the latter days”! Many New Testament quotations are from these three prophets. These three certainly rank as great men.

Let us begin with the prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz. A Jewish tradition states that the father of Isaiah was the brother of king Amaziah of Judah. If this is true, Isaiah was of royal stock. His name means, “JHVH is my helper,” or “salvation is of the Lord.” His work as one of God’s great prophets lasted decades, and he prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Three of these kings were righteous, but one of them-Ahaz-was not. Isaiah most likely began his ministry in the latter years of the reign of Uzziah, some few years before the northern kingdom of Israel went into national captivity. Overall, national circumstances in Judah during the time of Isaiah were not the same as those that took place during the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. During the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the Babylonians took the decadent kingdom of Judah into captivity. The northern kingdom of Israel had gone into national captivity about 130 years earlier.

Isaiah is unusual in that he married a prophetess.

Moreover the LORD said unto me, Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man’s pen concerning Mahershalalhashbaz. And I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah. And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the LORD to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz. For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria (Isa. 8:1-4).

In this message God told Isaiah that the Assyrians would take both the Syrians and the northern kingdom into captivity. Isaiah had two sons by the prophetess. The second one of them is listed by name in Isaiah, chapter seven. “Then said the LORD unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field” (Isa. 7:3). Nothing else is said about these sons in the Scriptures.

Isaiah’s commission is recorded in Isaiah, chapter six.

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed (Isa. 6:6-10).

So, Isaiah was sent to warn the people of Israel-people who would not really understand what he was saying. This commission marks the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry. Isaiah was also a historian, though none of these works have been preserved. We see references to these records: “Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, first and last, did Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, write” (2 Chr. 26:22). “Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and his goodness, behold, they are written in the vision of Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, and in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel” (2 Chr. 32:32). Isaiah’s writings also include both prose and poetry.

Periodically, Isaiah delivered messages to various kings. On one occasion he was instructed to tell king Ahaz not to fear the military alliance that was directed against him (Isa. 7:1-7). Another time, he gave a message of encouragement to king Hezekiah. Hezekiah was told that the siege of his city would soon end, that the Assyrians would depart, and that the king of Assyria would be slain (Isa. 37). In another encouraging message, he told Hezekiah that he would not die from a fatal disease and, in fact, his life would be extended 15 years (Isa. 38).

Isaiah’s prophecies were directed toward many nations. Many of these prophecies have yet to be fulfilled. Isaiah, chapter 13, is a case in point. This chapter is recognized as a prophecy for the last days. Isaiah, chapters 15-19, and 23, contain a series of prophecies involving nations other than Israel. The very first prophecy regarding the Millennium is found in Isaiah, chapter two. Another is chapter 11. These prophecies of Isaiah are varied and long-ranged. Many of them reveal God’s goodness, His coming kingdom, and the need for man to attain to righteousness. The hand of Isaiah wrote some of the most profound prophecies found in the entire Bible. Not until all these prophecies are fulfilled will Isaiah be truly appreciated for the prophet he really was!

Next we come to Jeremiah. He is often called “the weeping prophet.” His name means “YHVH is high,” or “Exalted of God.” This name reflects his ministry and gives honor to God. He was the predominant prophet during the reigns of Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah-the time leading up to the demise of the kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah was a Levite, a priest, and was preordained to be a servant of God before his birth. “Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer. 1:4-5). His commission took him into the political affairs of the various nations of the day; his prophecies revealed that some of these nations would be destroyed and others raised up. “See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant” (Jer. 1:10).

This commission was so important to God that He instructed Jeremiah to remain unmarried. A wife could not have endured the persecution and sufferings he was to experience. “The word of the LORD came also unto me, saying, Thou shalt not take thee a wife, neither shalt thou have sons or daughters in this place” (Jer. 16:1-2). Jeremiah is a prime example of the vilification a true servant of God can expect for speaking the Truth. An early example of the opposition he faced is found in chapter one.

Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them. For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land (Jer. 1:17-18).

At a time of discouragement Jeremiah told God: “O LORD, thou knowest: remember me, and visit me, and revenge me of my persecutors; take me not away in thy longsuffering: know that for thy sake I have suffered rebuke . . . . I sat not in the assembly of the mockers, nor rejoiced; I sat alone because of thy hand: for thou hast filled me with indignation” (Jer. 15: 15-17). God encouraged him by saying: ” . . . I will make thee unto this people a fenced brasen wall: and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee, saith the LORD. And I will deliver thee out of the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem thee out of the hand of the terrible” (vv. 20-21).

Even the prominent Temple priest turned against Jeremiah. “Now Pashur the son of Immer the priest, who was also chief governor in the house of the LORD, heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things. Then Pashur smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the high gate of Benjamin, which was by the house of the LORD” (Jer. 20:1-2). In this persecution Jeremiah was publicly whipped and placed in prison. ” . . . I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me” (v. 7). Those who hated God’s indictment of the nation by Jeremiah wanted him out of the way. Jeremiah told God: “For I heard the defaming of many, fear on every side. Report, say they, and we will report it. All my familiars watched for my halting, saying, Peradventure he will be enticed, and we shall prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him” (v. 10). Again discouraged, Jeremiah said:

Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed . . . . Because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave, and her womb to be always great with me. Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame? (20: 14, 17-18).

It is hard to imagine the anguish and mental turmoil Jeremiah experienced. God was kind in not exposing a wife and children to this kind of treatment. His life was in danger more than once, as his enemies wanted to kill him.

But I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter; and I knew not that they had devised devices against me, saying, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be no more remembered . . . . Therefore thus saith the LORD of the men of Anathoth, that seek thy life, saying, Prophesy not in the name of the LORD, that thou die not by our hand (Jer. 11:19-21).

These priests hated Jeremiah, probably because what he did reflected upon them, and they did not want persecution. When he prophesied against the Temple, they were enraged.

So the priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. Now it came to pass, when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak unto all the people, that the priests and the prophets and all the people took him, saying, Thou shalt surely die. Why hast thou prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate without an inhabitant? And all the people were gathered against Jeremiah in the house of the LORD. When the princes of Judah heard these things, then they came up from the king’s house unto the house of the LORD, and sat down in the entry of the new gate of the LORD’S house. Then spake the priests and the prophets unto the princes and to all the people, saying, This man is worthy to die; for he hath prophesied against this city, as ye have heard with your ears (Jer. 26:7-11).

On this occasion his life was spared, but he had much more to suffer. When the city of Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonians, there was a brief let up. Jeremiah took the opportunity to leave the city, but was apprehended by the authorities at the gate. “Wherefore the princes were wroth with Jeremiah, and smote him, and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe: for they had made that the prison. When Jeremiah was entered into the dungeon, and into the cabins, and Jeremiah had remained there many days. Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took him out . . .” (Jer. 37:15-17). While Jeremiah was in prison the siege resumed. The king, however, allowed him more freedom and confined him to the court of the prison. Once again, Jeremiah’s enemies prevailed against him. “Then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech, that was in the court of the prison: and they let down Jeremiah with cords. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sunk in the mire” (Jer. 38:6). A short time later, an Ethiopian eunuch came to his rescue. He asked the king to free Jeremiah. “Then the king commanded Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, saying, Take from hence thirty men with thee, and take up Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon, before he die” (Jer. 38:10). “So they drew up Jeremiah with cords, and took him up out of the dungeon: and Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison” (Jer. 38:13).

Just as Jeremiah had prophesied, the kingdom of Judah was taken into national captivity. The conquering Chaldeans appointed a governor over Judah, but rebellious Jews soon assassinated him. Political chaos reigned. The rebels sought Jeremiah’s advice. They wanted to take the remnant of the Jews with them to the land of Egypt. Jeremiah advised against it. He told the people to submit to the Chaldeans, and all would go well with them. This was not what the rebels wanted to hear. Against his advice they forced the people to go to Egypt, including Jeremiah and the king’s daughters. Jeremiah and the king’s daughters vanish from sight after this. The reader can read this account in Jeremiah, chapter 43. Irish tradition describes, not too long afterward, the arrival of an aged prophet who appeared in Ireland with the king’s daughters. Shortly thereafter, a marriage took place between the king’s daughter and a royal prince of Ireland, which restored the royal line of the house of Judah. Whatever the truth is about this tradition, one fact is certain: God commissioned Jeremiah as a prophet to the nations to root out, to tear down, and to build and to plant (Jer. 1:10). There may be much credence to this Irish tradition.

The last prophet to cover in this chapter is Ezekiel. His name meant “God will strengthen,” and like Jeremiah, Ezekiel was both a Levite and a priest. Along with the best of the people, the Chaldeans took him captive during the reign of Jehoiachin, one of the last Judean kings. So, not all the people of Judah were removed from the land at that time. Ezekiel received his first revelation in Babylon during the fifth year of his exile and the final one in the twenty-seventh year. (Ezek. 1:2; 29:17). Thus, his ministry lasted at least 22 years. His commission was to the children of Israel (Ezek. 2:3). The reader should keep in mind that the northern kingdom, which was separate from the Jewish kingdom, was taken into captivity by the Assyrians about 130 years earlier and then lost from sight, yet Ezekiel was commissioned to be a prophet to the children of Israel, that is, to both the southern and northern kingdoms. This is why his prophecies are so important. Many of them apply to the lost ten tribes of Israel and are intended for the “last days,” a time period shortly before the return of Christ.

Some hostility and opposition was manifested toward Ezekiel, though not as severe as that directed toward Jeremiah.

God told Ezekiel:

“And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house” (Ezek. 2:6). Many of the Jews in Babylon did not take correction any better than the Jews still remaining in Judea.

The warnings that Ezekiel conveyed to the people were broader in scope than if they had been just to the Jews in Bablyon.

God instructed:

. . . Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them. For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel; Not to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee. But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted (Ezek. 3:4-7).

Nevertheless, they were given a witness and a warning. Ezekiel was a preacher of righteousness. He preached repentance and obedience to the Law of God. While in the presence of the Jewish elders in Babylon, God gave Ezekiel a vision. This vision described the evil that was still continuing in Jerusalem. It is vividly portrayed in Ezekiel, chapter eight. Chapters 13 and 34 describe false prophets and negligent shepherds-men who were more interested in personal security than in preaching the Truth. They gave the people what they wanted to hear, conjuring up messages from their own imaginations. Chapter 20 describes the national sins of the house of Israel. That this warning is directed toward both the northern and southern kingdoms is seen in verse 13. This text relates the rebellion that took place against God in the wilderness, many years before the Israelites ever reached the land of Canaan. At that time all the tribes of Israel were still united. Not until after the reign of Solomon-about 500 years later- did the nation split into two kingdoms. See 2 Kings, chapters 11 and 12.

Here is the description of the national sins of the house of Israel. Since Jerusalem was the capital of the United Kingdom for nearly 70 years, it is used as the type for the entire nation.

Then came the word of the LORD unto me, saying, Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are ye come to enquire of me? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be enquired of by you. Wilt thou judge them, son of man, wilt thou judge them? cause them to know the abominations of their fathers: And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day when I chose Israel, and lifted up mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up mine hand unto them, saying, I am the LORD your God; In the day that I lifted up mine hand unto them, to bring them forth of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands: Then said I unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me: they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt: then I said, I will pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. But I wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, among whom they were, in whose sight I made myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt. Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them. Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them (Ezek. 20:2-12).

Ezekiel did not even hesitate to rebuke his own class-the priests. He conveyed this message from God: “And the Levites that are gone away far from me, when Israel went astray, which went astray away from me after their idols; they shall even bear their iniquity” (Ezek. 44:10).

Ezekiel was also commissioned as a watchman. “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me” (Ezek. 3:17). The watchman warns when there is imminent danger. “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul” (vv. 18-19). The prophet of God must tell the truth, no matter how painful it may be. “So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me” (Ezek. 33:7). Ezekiel did not go to the house of Israel during his lifetime. The house of Israel-the northern kingdom-had gone into national captivity many years before, and had been transported to an area near the Caucasus Mountains. Clearly many of the prophecies of Ezekiel are for the last days, intended for the descendants of the house of Israel-the lost ten tribes.

Ezekiel’s prophecies were both short and long-ranged. His prophecies are scattered throughout the book of Ezekiel. See, for example, chapters five, twenty-five and twenty-six, twenty-nine, thirty-five, thirty-seven and thirty-eight. And, of course, other chapters as well.

We know nothing from the Bible regarding the deaths of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. The work of such men as Elijah and Elisha differed from that of these later prophets, and they made no long-ranged prophecies. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, however, did. They were the most influential prophets to appear on the scene, and their many prophecies have been preserved in the sacred Scriptures. The importance of their books cannot be overestimated, as many of these prophecies are yet to be fulfilled. These three were all great men of the Old Testament!

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