and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will
Matt. 23 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who
are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!
The kingdom of God departed from the earth with the initiation of a kingdom of man in Israel. The first kings of the latter were Saul, then David, Solomon and Rehoboam. Solomon was wise (except with beautiful women), but his son, Rehoboam, was stupid. The result was that ten tribes withdrew from him, leaving only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin loyal to the House of David in Jerusalem. The other ten tribes united under Jeroboam to constitute the kingdom of Israel, which lasted about two hundred years and collapsed in 722 BC when the Israelites were carried captive into Assyria, never to be seen again. The kingdom of man persisted under the line of David in Jerusalem until 586 BC when Zedekiah, the last king, was carried captive to Babylon. There all of his sons and heirs were slaughtered as he was forced to watch, then he was blinded. The kingdom of man had failed utterly. Was this the end of the promise?
Our prior chapters followed the course of history as related in the books of history through II Kings. Through all, God's Promise to Patriarchs and to David, of a land and a kingdom, remained intact. It's links often strained but never broken until the very end.
The most significant thing here is that the Promise was conditional as it was relayed down the line of successive kings, except for the Promise to David. This was maintained with the greatest care and without conditions. David's line was and is to endure forever.
Two other books of history, I and II Chronicles, are paralleled to II Samuel and I and II Kings, and much of the material is duplicated, as in the parallel gospels of the NT. The Golden Chain of the Promise winds it's way through these documents by means of much duplication of what we have already surveyed. Therefore, we will not duplicate the evidence of the Promise by surveying these books, except for this link in the Golden Chain that appears near the end of II Chronicles:
 The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place;
 but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, till the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, till there was no remedy.
The kingdom of God is long departed; the kingdom of man has utterly failed, and there is no remedy. Surely, this is the end of the promise?
Let us not say so! It is not the end -- yet it is the end of the human kingdom. Never, since 586 BC to this day has there been a king from the line of David to sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem, although the promise was at one point very specific:
 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.
But take note of the fact that we have here no mention of Jerusalem or of the kingdom of Judah. It is nevertheless unconditional and is consistent with other statements of the unconditional Promise made to David.
Nor have the sons of Israel and Judah possessed the Land in security, as we see them attempting to do to this day in Israel. There have been efforts at restoration, notably under the Hasmonean dynasty and the Bar Kokhba rebellion. Before we lay the Promise to rest (if we do), we must listen to the voices of his messengers in 2 Chronicles 36:15,16 above. Throughout the declining years of he kingdom of man, God inspired prophets to speak to the kings and the people of Judah in an effort to call them back to faithfulness. If they would repent and hold up their end of the Promise, the conditions necessary to perpetuate it, there was hope. It is to these messengers that we now turn. Men cannot see it; in the bleak days of Israel following the fall and sack of Jerusalem in 586 BC, all was lost. All was lost, except a glimmer of hope that shone through these messengers and that continued to inspire hope until the final and everlasting fulfillment of the Promises of God.
Isaiah -- This prophet was active during the last half of the Eighth Century, under the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1). However, the document contains material composed by others during the Babylonian captivity and as late as the Fourth Century BC. Legend has Isaiah sawn in two during the reign of Manasseh.
Jeremiah -- Active from the thirteenth year of Josiah, king of Judah, until "the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month." (Jer.1:1-3). The approximate period is from 625 BC to 586 BC. and includes Josiah, Jehoiachim, and Zedekiah, who was the last king of Judah. But like Isaiah, it is a patchwork document written by several persons during this period and later. After the final deportation to Babylon, Gedeliah was made governor in Jerusalem by the king of Babylon, but was murdered by nationalist rebels. In subsequent events, the Jews remaining in the land fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of the Babylonians, and Jeremiah was forceably taken to Egypt with them. We do not know the details of his death. By tradition, he was a martyr in Egypt, stoned to death because of the threatening nature of his continuing prophecies.
Ezekiel -- Suffered deportation to Babylon in the first captivity, 597 BC, and continued to receive divine revelations in Babylon until about 571. It is disputed that the document was all composed during this period, but it is much more unified that either Isaiah or Jeremiah. Tradition states that he was murdered by one of the exile leaders for denouncing idolatry, and was buried in Babylon.
As a new student of the Bible, I once eagerly read from the prophets and sought to read deep spiritual meanings into every word. I had no idea of the circumstances of the lives of the prophets, including this one, and therefore no insight whatever into his motivations. I simply assumed that God gave the ancient seer words to write. They would therefore be as relevant to me as to his contemporaries, for God would only inspire men with words of universal, absolute and eternal significance.
Consequently, I found it almost impossible to find anything relevant to me; mostly I read out of a sense of "Christian duty" as I understood it. You know, regular Bible reading and all of that. It was boring and little edifying.
This all changed when I began learning a little of the current events being addressed by the prophet. Isaiah lived in a turbulent and insecure world. The tiny kingdoms of Judah and Israel were under constant threat and frequent attacks from the expansive empires that surrounded them -- Syria, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Media/Persia -- so that war or the threat of war was a fact of life -- not to mention the many wars between the two. Occupying Palestine, a strategically located land that sat across the paths of commerce and empire of the ancient world, it was coveted by every aggressive ruler.
Isaiah, very devout in the worship of the Lord, was pressed by an even greater and more powerful threat than any emperor. This was the threat of the wrath of of the Lord.
 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the LORD of hosts
in the day of his fierce anger.
Israel and Judah were surrounded by empires whose peoples worshipped idols; these were a constant temptation to the Israelites so that they were never, as a people, faithful to the Lord. The Baals in particular appealed to them. Their kings were seldom faithful; we read this of Ahaz, king of Judah (742-727BC):
Isaiah addresses the people:
 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD, like his father David,
 but walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. He even made molten images for the Ba'als;
 and he burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burned his sons as an offering, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.
 O my people, your leaders mislead you,
and confuse the course of your paths.
He knew of the Lord's promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon, of a land, a kingdom and a throne that, hopefully, was to stand forever in Jerusalem. He also knew of the conditions pertaining to the promise, to everyone except David, and he saw to his great sorrow that neither the people nor their leaders were satisfying the condition:
 The LORD swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
"One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
 If your sons keep my covenant
and my testimonies which I shall teach them,
their sons also for ever
shall sit upon your throne."
Alas, the sons of David were not keeping the covenant or the testimonies of the Lord, Ahaz being only one of the worst examples of apostasy at the top. As the prophet, through his tears and his fading hope for the failing kingdom of man, strained forth in his despair seeking Light in the darkness, he found it in the unconditional Promise to David, and the Word of God to him was unequivocal:
Such was the hope that sprang gloriously alive in his heart! The kingdom of man would fail -- Isaiah could not deny it -- but somehow, in his own will and way, the Lord would resurrect it on the land of the Promise and give it to a son of David. There would be justice, and righteousness, faithfulness and yes, peace forevermore. True, the kingdom of man would fail, but there would be a remnant of survivors, and there would come a shoot from the stump of Jesse (David's father). The prophet's inspired vision brought to focus within him many images of the one who was to come and sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem. Yes, he would be the stump, the root, the shoot, the branch of David, the final ruler and redeemer of his royal line. Again and again he turned to these images.
 But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zeb'ulun and the land of Naph'tali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
 Thou hast multiplied the nation,
thou hast increased its joy;
they rejoice before thee
as with joy at the harvest,
as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
 For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
thou hast broken as on the day of Mid'ian.
 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government will be upon his shoulder,
and his name will be called
"Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom,
to establish it, and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
 then a throne will be established in steadfast love
and on it will sit in faithfulness
in the tent of David
one who judges and seeks justice
and is swift to do righteousness.
Here we will set the most common of them before you. By visiting this University of Michigan site, you can find the others (RSV) scattered through Isaiah, and not only Isaiah but his fellow messengers also.
First, a single sentence bringing four of these images together:
 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
Again, the root and the shoot(s):
 In days to come Jacob shall take root,
Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots,
and fill the whole world with fruit.
We visit next the Branch:
 In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.
Yes, the survivors:
 for out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.
Nor did Isaiah forget the Promise that came to the Patriarchs, of a land to possess as an inheritance forever.
Without his unflagging confidence in the Promise, this saintly prophet would have had nothing but despair, for he saw that there was no hope for the Israel that was -- for the kingdom of man. That Promise, and that hope, inspired him in everything. Though everything seemed hopeless, in his heart he knew better. Many lines from his prophecies reflect the overarching hope that was his mainstay. In few words, these lines say it well:
 When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you!
The wind will carry them off,
a breath will take them away.
But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land,
and shall inherit my holy mountain.
 In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots, and fill the whole world with fruit.
So great was this man's sorrow that he is generally known as "the weeping prophet." If Isaiah had cause to weep, seeing the failed kingdom of man from afar, Jeremiah much more for it was his sad lot of see the bitter end of the kingdom of Judah and the deportation of the people to Babylon. He prophecies perhaps a century following Isaiah and knew no hope for the salvation of the nation under the Judean kings. He did not just prophecy the end, he experienced it in all its anguish:
Jer.4He did not want to speak in this way; there was a large cadre of false prophets who only spoke of a glorious future for the kingdom of Judah -- things the kings loved to hear -- whereas he stood alone to proclaim the bitter Truth.
 My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!
Oh, the walls of my heart!
My heart is beating wildly;
I cannot keep silent;
for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
the alarm of war.
 An appalling and horrible thing
has happened in the land:
 the prophets prophesy falsely,
and the priests rule at their direction;
my people love to have it so,
but what will you do when the end comes?
He would attempt to hold in the words that he knew would only cause him much personal grief, but he could not do so. the Lord YAHWEH had the reigns and spurred him on:
 If I say, "I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,"
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
Yet though all about him was but calamity and disaster, like Isaiah before him he found a great hope in the Promise. Somehow, someway, someday, by a Coming One, the Lord would yet honor his covenant with David and the Patriarchs, and so we read this:
 Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.
This figure of the remnant was precious to him as it had been for Isaiah. So also the branch:
 "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring forth for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
And David! That Promise without conditions, that everlasting covenant with the son of Jesse that none of the prophets forgot nor would let Israel and Judah forget.
 Thus says the LORD: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth,
 then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his descendants to rule over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them.
Nor was Jeremiah forgetful of the Promise to the Patriarchs of a land to inherit:
As the weeping prophet empties the sorrow of his heart in his writing, he comes to a sudden and unexpected cessation, and the weeping of which he speaks is that of someone else, and the tears that he sees are no more the tears of sorrow but wonderful tears of joy mingled with tears of remorse for former sins:
 In those days the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel, and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers for a heritage.
 "In those days and in that time, says the LORD, the people of Israel and the people of Judah shall come together, weeping as they come; and they shall seek the LORD their God.
 They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it, saying, `Come, let us join ourselves to the LORD in an everlasting covenant which will never be forgotten.'"
 I will restore Israel to his pasture, and he shall feed on Carmel and in Bashan, and his desire shall be satisfied on the hills of E'phraim and in Gilead.
 In those days and in that time, says the LORD, iniquity shall be sought in Israel, and there shall be none; and sin in Judah, and none shall be found; for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant.
The Book of Lamentations follows the prophecies of Jeremiah, and bears his name, however it is not likely the work of the weeping prophet, but of another who not only weeps, but finds no hope and no Promise to bring Light to a weary people. I was likely written in the latter days of the Babylonian captivity, by a sad poet who knew little hope and felt little connection with the Promise, but who could only pray:
 Why dost thou forget us for ever,
why dost thou so long forsake us?
 Restore us to thyself, O LORD, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old!
 Or hast thou utterly rejected us?
Art thou exceedingly angry with us?
Taken captive and deported to Babylon with those who were removed from Israel along with King Jehoiachin (598/597 BC), Ezekiel received his prophetic calling there. The king of Babylon had installed Zedekiah as king in Jerusalem when he took many of the people away and it was to this Jerusalem and this king, the last of the kings of Judah, that the prophet looked and against whom he announced the wrath of the Lord.
He had nothing good to say about them. He spoke of them most often as "the house of Israel" rather than Judah, and he believed that the fate of both the lost kingdom of Israel and the soon to be lost kingdom of Judah would be decided together, with an eventual reunification of both into a single kingdom, as it was in the days of David and Solomon. But when he evaluated them as they were in his own generation, one of his most frequent descriptions was "they are a rebellious house."
His prophetic call came to him in a vision of a written scroll, with words written on both front and back of "lamentation and mourning and woe (2:10)." It was this book of lamentation that he then was commanded to eat, and so he did. This actually makes him a candidate for authoring the Book of Lamentations, for the Book of Ezekiel is a book of lamentations before all other things. But unlike Jeremiah, his older contemporary, he was not a weeping prophet, but bore his woeful burden in the mood of the stoic. Perhaps this is explained when we see that, through his many visions and words from the Lord, he also received encouragement and expressed the hope of an eventual glorious destiny for the children of Israel and Judah. But first he must proclaim the abominations of Jerusalem and prophesy her destruction and the defilement and profanation and destruction of the temple within it. This proclamation surely brought him to the verge of tears.
 I fell upon my face, and cried, "Ah Lord GOD! wilt thou destroy all that remains of Israel in the outpouring of thy wrath upon Jerusalem?
Then came the mysterious vision of the "four living creatures" and the prophecies expanded from the city to the whole house of Israel, which we identify at that time as the remnant that remained in the land of Promise after the first deportation. Again, the prophet fell on his face in lamentation for the house of Israel, as for Jerusalem:
 And it came to pass, while I was prophesying, that Pelati'ah the son of Benai'ah died. Then I fell down upon my face, and cried with a loud voice, and said, "Ah Lord GOD! wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?"
There follows the first words of encouragement from the Lord to the prophet:
 Therefore say, `Thus says the Lord GOD: I will gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.'
 And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations.
 And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,
 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
First, however, there is the matter of those who remained in Jerusalem and of Zedekiah their king, who would be the last, for centuries, to reign over the house of Israel and Judah.
Later yet, the prophet leveled his prophetic aim once more on Zedekiah in Jerusalem and uttered one of the most significant statements in the OT, which clearly defines the destiny of the Davidic dynasty:
 `Thus says the Lord GOD: This oracle concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel who are in it.'
 Say, `I am a sign for you: as I have done, so shall it be done to them; they shall go into exile, into captivity.'
 And the prince who is among them shall lift his baggage upon his shoulder in the dark, and shall go forth; he shall dig through the wall and go out through it; he shall cover his face, that he may not see the land with his eyes.
 And I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare; and I will bring him to Babylon in the land of the Chalde'ans, yet he shall not see it; and he shall die there.
 And I will scatter toward every wind all who are round about him, his helpers and all his troops; and I will unsheathe the sword after them.
 And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I disperse them among the nations and scatter them through the countries.
 But I will let a few of them escape from the sword, from famine and pestilence, that they may confess all their abominations among the nations where they go, and may know that I am the LORD."
 "Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because you have made your guilt to be remembered, in that your transgressions are uncovered, so that in all your doings your sins appear -- because you have come to remembrance, you shall be taken in them.
 And you, O unhallowed wicked one, prince of Israel, whose day has come, the time of your final punishment,
 thus says the Lord GOD: Remove the turban, and take off the crown; things shall not remain as they are; exalt that which is low, and abase that which is high.  A ruin, ruin, ruin I will make it; there shall not be even a trace of it until he comes whose right it is; and to him I will give it.
Ah! In the midst of words of disaster, suddenly this glorious vision of hope. There is a "coming one" who will receive the mantle of David after it has long laid in ruins. The throne of David will yet rise in Glory over His people, Israel. The Promise endures! Ezekiel became one of the most powerful voices for the endurance of the Promise, even when circumstances were the most bleak and unpromising. Ezekiel goes on to utter even more dynamic expressions of the Promise, both of the land and of the kingdom. Harking back to David who was a shepherd in his youth, he explodes into this:
And then this concerning his people and the land promised to the patriarchs:
 "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.
 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.
 And I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the fountains, and in all the inhabited places of the country.
 I will feed them with good pasture, and upon the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on fat pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.
 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.
 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice.
 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.
 For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.
 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.
 You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
 then say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all sides, and bring them to their own land;
 and I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms.
 They shall not defile themselves any more with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
 "My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes.  They shall dwell in the land where your fathers dwelt that I gave to my servant Jacob; they and their children and their children's children shall dwell there for ever; and David my servant shall be their prince for ever.
 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore.
 My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
 Then the nations will know that I the LORD sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is in the midst of them for evermore."
Before Ezekiel completed his prophecies, Zedekiah had rebelled against the king of Babylon, had been defeated and the Holy City Jerusalem utterly destroyed. As for Zedekiah, he and all his sons were carried to Babylon there to suffer what seemed a final blow to the Davidic dynasty. Zedekiah was forced to watched while his every son was slaughtered before him, then he was himself blinded. A sad fate for a son of David!
And yet, Ezekiel's prophecy closes on the most optimistic note. He sees a vision of the temple to be restored, and issues revelations of the Lord concerning its design, and the ministry of the priesthood and the offering of sacrifices. He gives new instructions of the division of the Land of Promise, much as Joshua had given instructions for the first division of the land, and ends with this final, joyful prophecy concerning Jerusalem:
 And the name of the city henceforth shall be, The LORD is there.
Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are the most influential prophets in the formation of Christian doctrine, but there were many others no less faithful in the task of reminding Israel and Judah of the Promises of the Lord. They were contemporaries of these three, and are often designated "minor prophets." But they also uttered major prophecies and called Israel, and us, to remember the Promises of the Lord and his Everlasting Covenant. We will examine these in Chapter 7.