The Major Prophets

Without the Major Prophets, our understanding of prophecy would be incomplete, as these books contain essential revelation from God about future world events.

There are three great divisions in the Hebrew Old Testament: the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms (the Writings). Jesus Christ mentioned these three sections in Luke 24:44. Likewise, these sections have divisions within them.

The Prophets are divided into two sections:

The Latter Prophets again are divided into two parts:

The Major Prophets contain three of the largest books in the Bible:

This article will provide a brief introduction to these three books.

The message of the Major Prophets

The word “Major” refers to the size of the books, since they are larger than the Minor Prophets. Any one of these three books—Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel—is larger than all 12 of the Minor Prophets combined.

The historic periods and some of the books that relate to them are as follows (Major Prophets are italicized):

  • The northern kingdom of Israel fell and was taken captive by Assyria between 733 and 722 B.C. Related to this historic period were the following prophets: Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah.
  • The southern kingdom of Judah fell and was taken captive by the Babylonians between 606 and 586 B.C. Associated with these events were the following prophets: Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk and Zephaniah.
  • The Jews were repatriated to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon between 538 and 444 B.C. Connected to this postexilic period were the following prophets: Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.

Time periods of the Major Prophets

Isaiah was written before and during the Assyrian invasion and the end of the northern kingdom of Israel (Samaria, the capital, fell in 722 B.C.). Isaiah’s call to service from God began in the year King Uzziah died (Isaiah 6:1) and spanned a period of over 40 years through the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah.

Jeremiah appeared on the scene about 100 years after Isaiah and prophesied through the reigns of Judah’s last five kings. He appealed to the people to forsake their evil ways and return to their true God. Unfortunately his message of coming disaster fell on deaf ears.

Ezekiel was among the group of people taken captive in 597 B.C. when King Jehoiachin surrendered Jerusalem to the invading Babylonian army. Ezekiel was a captive in the land of Babylon when God called him to declare a message primarily to “the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 2:3, 7; 3:4, 17). His commission was clear: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me” (3:17, emphasis added throughout).

The mission of the prophets

One of the major themes of the message the prophets brought is that obedience to God’s laws will bring blessings and disobedience will result in serious consequences. Regrettably, the nation of Israel—the people God chose to be an example of His way of life—turned away from Him and instead worshipped pagan gods. Time and time again, over many years, God sent faithful prophets to warn Israel and Judah of the dire consequences of their evil ways.

Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel were among those who warned Israel and Judah of the repercussions of their sinful ways. Jeremiah warned: “Have you not brought this on yourself, in that you have forsaken the LORD your God when He led you in the way? … Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backslidings will rebuke you” (Jeremiah 2:17, 19).

Sadly, as the subsequent history proves, these warnings were not taken seriously.

The Lion Handbook to the Bible, edited and produced by David and Pat Alexander, states: “God sent these prophets on a daunting and sometimes dangerous mission. They were for the most part despatched at the eleventh hour, to try to halt the people’s headlong rush to destruction; to warn them of judgement; to call them back to God in repentance—and after the great crash came, to comfort the survivors with the assurance of God’s continuing love and purpose for them. To a man, the prophets went out in the burning conviction that they had a message from God. Some braved death to make it known” (p. 376).

The book states on page 372: “Isaiah … preached to a people who by rejecting his message would have passed the point of no-return and condemned themselves out of hand (Isaiah 6:9ff.). Jeremiah belongs in the thick of the final agonies of Jerusalem, and Ezekiel in the first traumatic experience of exile.”

Messages of judgment, mercy and hope

Many in professing Christian countries have grown up believing in a stern and cruel God of the Old Testament.

But is this picture true?

Notice these passages in the Major Prophets that demonstrate how deeply concerned God is about the well-being of the nations and how He desires to abundantly bless those who are willing to obey His laws.

  • “‘For I have no pleasure in the death of the one who dies,’ says the Lord GOD. ‘Therefore turn and live!’” (Ezekiel 18:32).
  • “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
  • “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).
  • “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8).
  • “Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old, together; for I will turn their mourning to joy, will comfort them, and make them rejoice rather than sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13).

What a contrast to the unhappiness, pain and suffering prevalent in so many nations today!

For our admonition

Is our present generation making the same mistakes that the ancient Israelites made? Is it not vital for us to avoid repeating the same transgressions and, as a result, suffering the same consequences?

The apostle Paul issued a warning that we should heed: “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).

In his second epistle, the apostle Peter exhorted Christians: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; … both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God?” (2 Peter 3:10-12).

It is imperative that we be counted worthy to claim the awesome promises God gives and to be in a constant state of spiritual readiness. It is through the regular study of the Bible that we come to better understand the mind of Christ and His purpose for our lives.

Jesus Christ issued this exhortation: “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).

It is up to each of us to watch and be ready to stand before Jesus Christ!

Our section on “Christian Conversion” is a good starting place. It outlines many of the changes we need to make in our lives to be right with God.

About the Author

André van Belkum

Andre van Belkum

Andre van Belkum currently serves as the pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in New Zealand and the Pacific region. Previously he pastored congregations in southern Africa, including South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

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