Messages of the Pre-exilic and Post-exilic Prophets

The pre-exilic prophets ministered before the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 B.C. which led the the exiling of the Israelites. They prophesied during a time of decline in the history of Israel and Judah. Most of the pre-exilic prophets voiced the central themes of sin-exile-restoration, but they are primary focused on the first two addressing personal and societal sins in the form of covenantal disobedience, social injustice and idolatry. They declare present and future judgement of the covenantal people and the nations for their sins. A remedy to judgment was repentance, and so there was a constant call to repent and return to a relationship with their loving God. A few pre-exilic prophets prophesy messages of restoration, hope and future promises regarding a future savior and kingdom. Others mention God’s plan for inclusion of the nations in his salvation history.[1]

The post-exilic prophets delivered their messages following the Babylonian/Persian exile and upon the return of God’s people to Jerusalem. While many of the Jews did return from exile historically and geographically, there was much to be desired for a true theological return from exile. “This return hardly signaled the inauguration of the glorious restoration that had been prophesied by the pre-exilic prophets.”[2] The post-exilic prophets explain that the return was not the promised restoration, and so they prophesied of a future and glorious hope of restoration. While this message was their primary focus, they still addressed sin, covenantal disobedience and insincere worship.  [3]

In summary, the post-exilic prophets differ from the pre-exilic prophets in their challenge to fix one’s eyes to the future horizon for the coming of the anointed one who would fulfill the promises concerning restoration. Whereas the pre-exilic prophets focus primarily on turning back to a proper relationship with God before it is too late.[4]

[1] Marvin C. Pate et al., The Story of Israel: a Biblical Theology (InterVarsity Press, 2004), 91-99

[2] Ibid., 99-100. 

[3] Paul R. House, “Introduction to the Prophetic Books.” ESV: Study Bible (Crossway Bibles, 2007), 1230.

[4] Pate et al., The Story, 103.

The Prophets’ Use of the Marriage/Adultery Metaphor

The concept of marriage is rooted in the Genesis human creation narratives where woman was made of the flesh of man, and they are brought together creating the marriage bond that reunites them into the above-mentioned one flesh. In view of this reunification as one flesh, all other relationships must be secondary to the marital union. The marriage relationship necessitates that one man and one woman have an exclusive, life-long bond where each fully belongs to one another and each strives to remove barriers that would separate the relationship. This is the vision of marriage and is the foundation for the metaphor of marriage between God and his covenanted people─the Israelites.[1]

The marriage metaphor of God in relation to his people is unique in the ancient Near East. None of the surrounding nations referred to their gods as a husband nor did any of the nations have covenants with their gods that emphasized fidelity as portrayed by marital obligations.[2] The marriage metaphor was an effective rhetorical tool used by the prophets because of its biographical nature. When the marriage metaphor was used, it conjured up various aspects of relationships ─ “courtship, marriage, the honeymoon period, betrayal, alienation, divorce and reconciliation.”[3] Thus, the history of Israel becomes biography as the people turn from God and are personified as an unfaithful spouse.[4] Referring to the unfaithful wife imagery, Pate et al. write, “This is perhaps the central imagery that paints the seriousness of the Idolatry charge. For example, the harlotry/unfaithful wife image runs throughout Jeremiah; indeed, it is one of the central images he uses. Ezekiel also uses this relational picture in Ezekiel 16. And poor Hosea lives out the heart-breaking drama in his own life.”[5]

Present readers may find the intertwinement of the marriage metaphor, covenant and adultery as foreign and archaic, especially if both marriage and covenant are viewed and defined, within the ANE historical context, as “relationships between unequals, with the stronger, dominant party responsible for the protection and maintenance of the other.”[6]  Furthermore, there may be objection in the present day to the appearance of a misogynist message throughout the prophets.[7] These are valid observations, but they should not lead readers to change the metaphors of the scriptural witness. Readers should not deconstruct the text based on their cultural progress, but rather should use a responsible hermeneutic that seeks God’s truth even among the ancient historical context that is strikingly different than the present day. Moreover, the message of the adultery theme must not be overlooked since its primary focus in on the spiritual life of God’s people. If the idea of spiritual adultery is considered too remote or irrelevant to use in today’s culture, then people are liable to be deceived into idolatry like the Israelites.[8] Ray Ortland defends the continued use of the adultery metaphor. He writes,

The harlot metaphor is an apt figure for the sin it points to. I affirm this, because I believe that in actual reality God is a perfect ‘husband’ to his people, our sins really are a betrayal of him, and thus a moral category exists for which the image of a harlot is a reasonable fit. It is not the only metaphor useful for directing our thoughts toward this moral category; but when God’s love is primarily in view, our harlotry is a meaningful description of our rejection of his love for the love of others.[9]

[1] Raymond C. Ortlund, God’s Unfaithful Wife: a Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery (Intervarsity Press, 2002), 23. [2] Elaine June Adler, The Background for the Metaphor of Covenant as Marriage in the Hebrew Bible (UMI, 1991), 2-3. [3] Ibid., 29.[4] Ibid., 29. [4] Marvin C. Pate et. al. The Story of Israel: a Biblical Theology (InterVarsity Press, 2004), 94. [5] Adler, The Background, 94. [6] Ibid., 94. [7] Ortlund, God’s Unfaithful, 181-182. [8] Ibid., 176. [9] Ibid., 183.


The Role of the Prophet in Relation to Israel


Throughout the Ancient Near East, kings of nations were often deified and worshipped. Some kings were also considered priests whom would later become gods upon their death; however, within the social and religious life of Israel, there was a separation of divinity and the monarchy. In other words, the Israelites did not view their kings as gods nor as priests. While kings and priests played major roles and had significant influence in Israel, the primary focus was always on the covenant between God and his people. Even with this focus, kings and priests were tempted to deification and ritual corruption, and this is where the prophets played a major role. The prophets operated with independence and freedom in relation to the kings and priests, and so they helped prevent and safeguard against kingly deification and priestly corruption.[1] “It was this independence that gave the prophets the singular opportunity to transcend power structures and labels and to serve as social critics when the necessity arose.”[2]

The prophets held such an independent role due to being spokespersons for God. The prophets spoke on behalf of God conveying his message, intention and agenda.[3] They were endowed with a dynamic and prophetic word that was not their own.[4] “The word of God reverberated in the voice of man.”[5] Deuteronomy 18:18 states, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name” (NIV). Even Balaam, who was rebellious and greedy, had to submit to God and proclaim the message God gave him; he states, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak” (Num 22:38 ESV).


Another role of the prophets was that of covenant enforcers. As mentioned above, the Israelites were distinct in the ancient Near East due to their covenantal relationship with God, and so when the Israelites were not adhering to their covenant obligations, the prophets would intervene on behalf of God in order to point them back to the relationship. The prophets called the people back to covenant obedience, and they reminded them of the blessings and the curses that would result based on their decision.[6] God loves his people and shows great attentiveness and concern when they stray from him, and so God reaches out to his people through the prophets. Abraham Heschel writes,


The basic feature of pathos and the primary content of the prophet’s consciousness is a divine attentiveness and concern. Whatever message he appropriates, it reflects that awareness. It is a divine attentiveness to humanity, an involvement in history, a divine vision of the world in which the prophet shares and which he tries to convey. And it is God’s concern for man that is a the root of the prophet’s work to save the people.[7]

God is holy, just, and compassionate, and so he must address the sins of his beloved people; therefore, the prophets serve as God’s prosecuting attorneys who give indictments with the hope that the outcome will be repentance. The three major indictments against Israel were idolatry, social injustice and religious ritualism.[8]

The central aspect of the the covenantal relationship was in God’s statement, “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God” (Exod 6:7 NIV). Furthermore, God commanded that the Israelites have no other gods, and that they refrain from worshipping idols (Exod 20:3-4). From their earliest days, the Israelites worshipped idols and other gods. They would even try to synchronize their worship of God with the gods of their neighbors. This syncretistic idolatry was a rejection of the covenantal relationship and blatant disobedience of the commands against false worship; therefore, the prophets called them to repentance and a return back to God.[9]


When the Israelites turned away from God, they also lacked concern for social justice. Not only did their relationship with God suffer, but their relationship with others also suffered. God communicated his desire for justice for all and for the care of weaker individuals. He demanded that the Israelites show fair treatment to workers (Deut 24:14-15); practice justice in the court system (Deut 19:15-21); and take care of widows, orphans and sojourners (Deut 24:17-22).[10] The prophets addressed the Israelite’s injustice and failure to defend the rights of the needy, and they called the Israelites back to the heart of God. Micah 6:8 states, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV).

The hearts of the Israelites were often far from God, and so their relationship waned and was replaced with ritualism. They went through the rituals motions, but they forgot that the rituals were the means to the relationship with God. They had a flawed perspective acting as if ritual was all they needed in order to be in right standing with God. They arrived at the illogical conclusion that their ritual observance would cover their sins of Idolatry and social injustice. The prophets confront this religious ritualism by proclaiming that God is not concerned with their many sacrifices, but rather he is concerned with their heart posture in relation to him (e.g. Isa 1:11f). [11]

[1] Abraham Joshua Heschel. The Prophets (Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), 474-479.[2] R.A. Mason, “Prophecy and Society” Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets. eds. Boda, Mark J., and J.G McConville (IVP Academic, 2012), 1290.[3] Andrew E. Hill, and John H. Walton. A Survey of the Old Testament (Zondervan Publishing House, 2009), 309. [4] Heschel, The Prophets, xiv. [5] Heschel, The Prophets, xiv. [6] Marvin C. Pate et. al. The Story of Israel: a Biblical Theology (InterVarsity Press, 2004), 92.[7] Heschel, The Prophets, 483. [8] Pate et. al. The Story of Israel, 92[9] Pate et. al. The Story of Israel, 93-94. [10] Pate et. al. The Story of Israel, 94. [11] Pate et. al. The Story of Israel, 95.


Job and His Friends

The book of Job portrays poetic dialogue between Job and his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu. When Job is suffering, his friends arrive to comfort him. At first, they remain silent and sit with him for seven days. Then, they begin to discuss Job’s condition with him. The friends represent the best of ancient Near Eastern thinking about God, suffering and the human condition, and they begin to debate about God’s justice and how it relates to Job’s suffering.

However, the friends approach the discussion with a big assumption about wisdom and how God’s justice plays out in the world. They approach a complex wisdom situation with a simple wisdom mentality. Simple wisdom proposes that righteous behavior leads to success and sinful behavior leads to suffering. Complex wisdom is more nuanced in that sometimes the righteous person suffers and the wicked person prospers.[1]

From a simple wisdom mentality or a strict justice perspective, the friends insist that Job must have sinned against God in the present or in the past for him to experience such suffering. They even begin to make up possible sins that Job could have committed. At every point in the dialogue, Job proclaims his innocence which shows that the situation needs to be approached from a complex wisdom mentality. Later in the book, Job’s friend Elihu offers an advanced perspective to the simple wisdom position. He explains that God is just and runs the world according to justice, but he explains that suffering may be a warning to avoid future sin while building character and teaching valuable lessons. Elihu concludes the responses by Job’s friends which represents everything that ancient wisdom had to offer.  

Job turns to God who gives him the ultimate wisdom perspective. God gives Job a glimpse at the complexity of universe and explains that even though the world is an amazing creation it is not designed to prevent suffering. God explains that Job does not have sufficient knowledge to make claims of injustice or demand an explanation. Rather Job needs to trust in God and his wisdom and character. Job acknowledges God’s wisdom and character, and he repents and retracts his prior statements about God. At the end of the book an epilogue is given which circles back to the dialogues with the friends, and God explains that Job’s friends were wrong and that indeed Job was righteous.

[1] Joanne J. Jung, “Wisdom Literature.” Open Biola. Web. 17 Sept. 2017.