ROLE PLAYED BY THE PROPHETS 10
Duringthe time of exile, the Jews had really a hard time trying to maintaintheir religion and cultures in a foreign land. Most of them hadactually lost hope for returning back to their motherland andtherefore were corrupted by the cultures of Babylon. However as Godhad spoken there was no doubt that after seventy years were over theywould be restored. With that came the need for the prophets-givinghope to the people. The purpose of this essay therefore is tosummarize the role that these prophets, including Jeremiah, Isaiah,Micah, Ezekiel, Daniel among others, played in preserving thereligion of Israelites while in exile.
Thedangers that faced the Israelites in the exile should not betrivialized or minimized. Loss of identity endangered the people ofIsrael more pronounced compared to any other in their history withprobable exception of the bondage in Egypt. The likelihood isunderestimated by the fact that several Jewish communities thatresided outside Palestine finally lost their Jewish traditions andwere incorporated into the cultures of the surrounding areas. Thefact that Judah’s history did not end together with Babyloniancaptivity it was not a small miracle. She did not only survive thetragedy but also created anew and feasible society built on thewrecks of the old. As a result of the captivity, Judah disciplined,refined and fortified her faith. The captivity gave her faith thevigor and a course that would eventually drive it into New Testamentera.
Onefeature of that miracle which was the core of the success of all therest was prophecy. The prophets of Judah preserved their faith frombecoming extinct and her traditions from decaying. They accomplishedthis partly via reminding her of her special relation with God andthe mission assigned to her by Him. The prophets also incited theirenthusiasm to get back to the land of their fathers, reconstructGod’s temple and for another chance become His unique people.Additionally, the prophets enhance the miracle by satisfactorilygiving answers to the exile’s most pressing questions and by doingso they gave the Jews both direction and hope (Richard, 2005).
Itwas in the land of Babylon, in a place several miles from Judah, thatthe craving for return truly burned. It is to these Jewish people,those who were initially taken into enslavement by Nebuchadnezzar,ought to receive the largest praise for the survival of all the rest.Three main factors played part. First, the rule of deportationimplemented by the Babylonians implied that those Jews in Babyloncomprised mainly of Judah’s political, ecclesiastical, andintellectual, leadership. Jeremiah presents the total figure of thosetaken in exile (in 597, 587, and 582 B.C.) in Jeremiah 52:28–30, as4600. This number presumably represents adult males exclusively,hinting that the actual figure was closing twenty thousand. That wasnot a great number of people as compared to those residing in Syria,Egypt or Palestine.
Superficially,it looks surprising that the drive that would uphold the Judah wouldcome from such a small number of people, regardless of the fact thatthey were more elite. Nevertheless, here the second aspect applied.The conditions they were exposed to in Babylon contributed greatly totheir success. Although the Jews did undergo some instability anddiscomfort, particularly during the initial few years of exile, andwere not liberated to go back to their mother country, they were notcaptives, either. Their life here in exile was sort of modified,somewhat charitable, internment that permitted them to purchase land,move into civil service, open shops, and tackle their numerouschores. Finally, several of them led a happy, if unconnected,lifestyle.
Biblicalhistorical writings point out that they formed their own communitiesand flourished in peace. The Babylonians permitted them to gather andto perform certain religious and civil duties among themselves.Several Jews began trading, and most of them became pretty wealthy.Enhancing that favorable imprisonment must have been the Jewishexecutives, for instance Daniel, Meshach, Abednego and Shadrach, whowere ascending in the positions of Babylonian government. By 531B.C., Zerubbabel had ascended to the rank of cup bearer. He was nowsecond in command in the midst of the palace bureaucrats. A number ofthe Jewish heads were in an outstanding position both to give a handto the captives and to facilitate their craving to go back andre-establish their mother country and temple.
Altogether,the Jews who reside in Babylon generated the manpower and capitalessential to carry out the fundamental work for the going back.Nevertheless, other domains where the Jews had settled down possessedall these things too. What they did not have was the one thingpossessed uniquely by the Babylonian Jews- the prophets. Those Jewstaken slaves to Babylon comprised of not only the spiritually elitebut also the socially elite as well. This takes us to the thirdaspect that assisted these Jews uphold the spirit of being restored.It was in Babylon —not in, Jordan, Syria, Egypt or Palestine —whereGod positioned His prophets and from them came the direction, theimpetus and the explanation, for the restoration of the entirecommunity and the religion.
Nonetheless,the restoration of Judah, even with the push from the prophets, didnot come easily or automatically. It cost her considerablesoul-searching and thoughtful re-amendment in her theologicalindulgence to get things moving. However the role that was played bythe prophets was of high significance. Retrospection will make iteasier for a contemporary leader to understand the reason behind thefall of Judah. Yet to a majority of Jews of that era, it waseverything but apparent. They even doubted God’s dealings with Hispeople and many of them felt betrayed.
Onthat account, Judah’s danger of apostatizing in while in Babyloniancaptivity was real and instant. It may be important to note that thepossibilities of apostatizing here in Babylon were more acute ascompared to anywhere else. Although the religion and the law of Judahstressed on the worship of Jehovah alone, emphasizing that all othergods were false gods, Judah was slowly crouching towards polytheism.According to archeological facts, it becomes well convincing thatordinary people practiced symbiotic religion where they blendedfeatures of Jehovah’s reverence with adoration of other foreigngods of the land. According to the writings of the prophets thepeople of Judah justified themselves while doing this with theassurance that they were still entitled to the blessings of Yahweh(Jeremiah11:12–13), Hosea 9:9–10)
Onthe other hand, some of the captives were still not ready to givereverence to false gods. They upheld the worship of Jehovah to andfelt that He was still their God. On the contrary they questioned thejustice of God. A majority of them complained that their group wasunfair and unfounded. A perfect reflection of their feelings is seenin the Book of Mormon, during the era of Lemuel and Laman quoting:“we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were arighteous people for they kept the statutes and judgments of theLord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moseswherefore, we know that they are a righteous people” (1 Nephi17:22). Almost everything could have been the truth however, theattitude shown by these two merciless brothers was common in Judah aswell. The willingness of prophet Habakkuk to question the justness ofGod in using Babylon as His chastening tool over Judah highlights thepervasiveness of the attitude (Habakkuk 1:1–17).
Inthe same manner that Jeremiah had labored to redirect Israelitesattitude concerning the temple, earlier on prophet Micah hadattempted to make a track correction regarding the covenant of Godwith her princes. In no uncertain terms he stated that he hadcomplete authority to proclaim unto Jacob his indiscretion and toIsrael his transgression. In Micah 3:8-12, he give a message to thehouse of Jacob and to the prices of the house of Israel who werebeing accused of hating judgment and distorting all equity. He saysthat by blood they constructed Zion and with iniquity they buildJerusalem. He continue rebuking them saying that their leaders judgefor a money, their priests teach only when hired and the prophetsdeliver messages for money and after this the same people lean toGod claiming that He is still amongst them and that no evil can harmthem. Because of Israelites iniquities and deviating from the law oftheir God, Micah pronounce a judgment upon them saying that Zionwould be ploughed like a field and Jerusalem would be made heaps andthat the mountain of the house would be made as the raised places ofthe forest.
ProphetMicah was not alone in his testimony Isaiah also attacked thejudges, nobles and the priests for their dishonest readiness to robfrom the defenseless and the poor. God would not allow priests,prophet or prince to lead Judah off course without dire consequences.No doubt, Judah with her obvious splendor was going to fall.
Judaismin Babylon endured because of three interrelated phenomena. First,the morally weak apostatized, leaving the positions of the faithfulmore uncontaminated and unwavering second, the morally strong askedfor forgiveness and became more established and, finally, those wholingered in the faith began to pay attention with open ears to themessages of the prophets. They rapidly found that these men of Godhad answered and were still answering Judah’s most urgentquestions. The prophets cautiously and totally identified hertroubles and gave advice on how to make the right, giving promisesthat the people could once more go back the land promised to theirfathers to worship the their God and live in peace.
Viathe prophets, Judah became persuaded that the judgment of God hadbeen blameless and well deserved. Her duty was to ask forforgiveness then God would re-establish the covenant. The graciousact of Hosea of marrying a wife who had turned herself a prostitute,Hosea 1:1–2:23, ought to have given the Jews hope and comfort. Theprophets’ love, reflecting that of Yahweh for Judah, bore witnessthat Jehovah would cheerfully welcome back the repentant withcomplete forgiveness (Robert, 1999)
Theseers did not underestimate the tragedy that had taken place.Nevertheless, they presented hope in Yahweh’s redemptive intention.Judah would not remain in enslavement. She was but a foreigner in astrange ground, a sojourner in a distant nation from which she wouldfinally be freed. Jeremiah even gave the boundaries of her stay,saying that Judah would only be under captivity for only seventyyears and which she would be set free.
Jeremiahwork was to make sure that the Israel was not incorporated into theways of their captors by promising that after that end of the seventyyears, God would punish the king of Babylon and the nation for theirsinful nature. With such a promise not many Israelites wished toshare their captors’ fate in the hands of Jehovah and thereforetried hard not to be integrated into the cultures of this foreignland with a hope of one day stepping out of its soil.
Asignificant duty of the prophets was to guarantee Judah that, it didnot matter whether she was in a foreign land as a captive but whatmattered was that Jehovah was with her.
Theydid so by strengthening the notion that Jehovah presided over andmanipulated the fate of all nations, Babylon included. Here Daniel’swritings were chiefly poignant. The chronological piece of his workhas two stories that abide directly on the idea. The first handledthe dream of Nebuchadnezzar concerning the great image. Thesignificant idea of the narrative was besides Daniel’s ability tointerpret the king’s dream he also had the ability to do it. Thenarrative actually plays upon the last point. The king asserted thathis auditors, comprising of a majority of his magicians, wise men,soothsayers and astrologers, reveal to him the dream prior tointerpreting it, as confirmation that their interpretation was notbiased. The answer he got from them was that whatever he wasdemanding was only possible by the gods who dwell not with flesh.(Daniel 2:11). In that context, it becomes evident that the so calledBabylonian priests could not be able to seek help from their own godson such issues. Daniel, on the other hand, was able to reveal thedream to the king because his God possessed both might and wisdom.The irony is significant the reaction of the king’s wise menhighlight their conviction that their gods were impersonal anddistant, while Daniel’s demonstrate that Yahweh, even in strangelands, was personal and immediate.
Ezekielplainly preached against the notion that the temple unaided wouldliberate the people. Ezekiel narrated a vision saying that he hadseen the Spirit of the Lord coming from the sanctuary, float over thetemple for a while before taking off towards the east Ezekiel 9:810:18 11:23. His message was both simple and clear: God was notafter the temple but after the righteousness of Judah only.
Althoughthis scripture reflected to the final days, it had instantapplication to Judah’s homecoming from enslavement. Ezekiel’sdelegation to fasten together the sticks or writing tablets—becamea herald of the re-establishment of all Israel. The Jewish captives,nevertheless, would have considered it as a request to acknowledgethe prophet’s message (for instance, Amos, Isaiah and Hosea) unitedwith the southern prophets (for instance, Micah, Habakkuk andJeremiah) that Jehovah dominated and would ensure that His peoplereturned.
Therefore,while the Israelites were still in enslavement, the messages of theirearlier and present prophets gave the answers to Jew’s questionsand offered her direction and hope for the future. Under theirpatronage, she was in a position to maintain her truthfulness inBabylon and got ready for the awareness of her restoration blessing.Meanwhile, the prophets provided her a task to do even in Babylon.They permitted her to perceive herself as Jehovah’s servantaccountable for passing on His law to the generations that wouldfollow. By motivating Judah to perceive herself in this position, theprophets provided a most thoughtful interpretation to both hercurrent agony and her eventual destiny.
Inconclusion, the prophets gave meaning to the Jews as a whole andstrengthened the necessity for allegiance to her God. This held thepeople to a general ideal and prevented a majority of them fromgetting lost in captivity. When suitable circumstances came up, Judahhad the determination and the will to appeal to her oppressors forher liberty. Under the direction of her leaders, Judah went back homeand began to reconstruct her national identity.
Bradshaw,Robert.(1999).The Babylonian Exile of Israel. Retrievedfrom: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_exile.htmlDraper,Richard D. (2005). TheProphets of the Exile: Saviors of a People.Retrieved from: http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/sperry-symposium-classics-old-testament/prophets-exile- saviors-people