Bible Old Testament: The Major Prophets
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 1989

Acknowledgement: These books have been summarized using The New International Version Study Bible (NIV translation 1973--84, published Zondervan 1985).  Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of its commentary--thus the notes reflect the devoutly evangelical flavor and point of view of that commentary.  Other sources are explicitly cited below.


Isaiah

Isaiah is the greatest of the writing prophets and much if not all of this book was probably written by him (between 701 and 681). He was a Judahite and contemporary of Amos, Hosea, and Micah, beginning his ministry in 740 (the year king Uzziah died). He enjoyed his greatest influence under King Hezekiah (who reigned from 715 to 697). The Assyrians were expanding their empire, conquering the northern kingdom in 722 - 721, threatening Jerusalem in 701 under Sennacherib. Isaiah prophesies the eventual fall of Jerusalem [due to the Babylonians in 586] and the restoration of the people from captivity that would follow the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus of Persia in 539. This book deals with the judgement of God and the punishment of His rebellious people. But they will also receive redemption and enter a Messianic age when a king descended from David will reign over the Lord's kingdom on earth. The following summary is not in consecutive order and chapter:verse are indicated by superscripts. 

Isaiah's commission: Isaiah describes how the Lord appeared to him with six angelic seraphs when King Uzziah died and commissioned him to minister to the "never understanding" people until "the cities lie ruined 6:11 ...and the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken."

The Assyrian threat to Jerusalem during Hezekiah's reign: Isaiah predicts that Jerusalem will survive this attack and indeed Sennacherib's men fall victim to a plague. 

Sin and punishment of Israel: God through Isaiah condemns the sinfulness and rebelliousness of the nation and foretells a time of judgement. "`Come now, let us reason together,' says the Lord. `Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.1:18' See how the faithful city has become a harlot!1:21... Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves.... Israel's worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.... I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities1:25.... Zion will be redeemed with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness. But...those who forsake the Lord will perish1:28.... The arrogance of man will be brought low.... Men will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground 2:19.... By the wrath of the Lord Almighty the land will be scorched and the people will be fuel for the fire.... Each will feed on the flesh of his own offspring." 

Punishment of Assyria: "The Lord... will send a wasting disease upon his sturdy warriors.... The Light of Israel will become a fire, the Holy One a flame; in a single day it will burn and consume his thorns and his briers.10:17"

Prophecy against Babylon: "Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the glory of the Babylonians' pride, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah 13:19.... The Lord will have compassion on Jacob; once again he will choose Israel and will settle in their own land 14:1.... How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star 14:12 [i.e., Babylon, translated "Lucifer" in Latin Vulgate].... 

Devastation of the earth and its peoples: "See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth...and scatter its inhabitants 24:1.... All gaiety is banished from the earth 24:11.... The floodgates of the heavens are opened, the foundations of the earth shake 24:18.... The Lord is angry with all nations; his wrath is upon all their armies. He will totally destroy them.... The mountains will be soaked with their blood 34:3.... For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution to uphold Zion's cause 34:8.... I have trodden the winepress alone; form the nations no one was with me.... I trampled them in anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments,... for the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redemption has come.... In my wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground....63:6"

Cyrus of Persia: "This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus [!] whose right hand I take hold of.... I will take up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my cities and set my exiles free.45:13"

Return from exile: "In that day the remnant of Israel.... will return to the Mighty God.... He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth 11:12.... There will be a highway for the remnant of his people 11:16.... In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit 27:6.... `Do not fear, for I am with you.... for I myself will help you,' declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel 41:10.... How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace.... For the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem....52:9"

Immanuel: Isaiah prophesies to King Ahaz "The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel ["God with us"; Jesus?].... But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.7:16"

The Messiah: "In the future [the Lord] will honor Galilee of the Gentiles.... The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.... For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace 9:6.... He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.... A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him--the Spirit of wisdom and understanding.... and he will delight in the fear of the Lord 11:3.... The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat,... and a little child will lead them....11:6"

Preparing for and announcing the Messiah: "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.... [Jerusalem's] sin has been paid for 40:2.... A voice of one [John the Baptist?] calling `In the desert prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low;... And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it 40:5....' You who bring good tidings ["gospel" in NT] to Zion go up on a high mountain.... Lift up your voice with a shout.... See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power.... He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young....40:11"

Jerusalem in the Messianic Age: "In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains...and all nations will stream to it.... They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks 2:4.... O Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. 52:1 In that day the Branch of the Lord [Jesus, Judah?] will be beautiful and glorious.... You will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah 62:4...."

The suffering and resurrection of the Messiah (the "gospel in the OT"): "See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him--his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness--so he will sprinkle [cleanse or consecrate] many nations 52:13.... He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.... Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God.... But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent.... By oppression and judgement he was taken away.... Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days.... After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life [resurrection] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.... He poured out his life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors....53:12

The new order: "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.... I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.... Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years.... My chosen will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord....65:23"

Salvation for all peoples: "Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say, `The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.' Foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord...these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.56:7"

Jeremiah

Jeremiah's ministry extended from c. 626 to c. 586. He was a prophet of doom who upon God's command never married. His words were written down by his secretary Baruch and are characterized by self-analysis and self-criticism. His denunciatory tirades against his enemies seeking redress and his long complaints give us the word "jeremiad". He is justly termed the "weeping prophet". He prophesied in Judah during the troubled reigns of Josiah (640 - 609; a kindred spirit who died fighting the Egyptians), Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim (who persecuted him and ruled during the siege of Jerusalem in 605 by Nebuchadnezzar after the defeat of the Egyptians at Carcamesh), Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah (597 - 586), fleeing to Egypt at the end of his life. He denounced the sins of his countrymen and prophesied the judgment and destruction of Judah to come ( as well as the wrath to fall on Babylon, Moab, the Philistines, etc.). He also emphasized the value of repentance, the importance of "individual responsibility," and the restoration and renewal that would later follow. The oracles in the book are not arranged in chronological order.

His call: "`Before I formed you in the womb...I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.1:4' You must not marry and have sons or daughters in this place 16:1.... "

The sins of the people: "You wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you 2:19.... But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers 3:1.... They are well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for another man's wife.5:8 Has this house [the temple], which bears my name, become a den of robbers to you?...7:11 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to evil. I will scatter you like chaff driven by the desert wind.13:24 Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength.... But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord... He will be like a tree planted by the water.... It does not fear when heat comes 17:8.... Like clay in the hand of the potter, so you are in my hand18:6.... "

Disaster ahead: "From the north [Babylon] disaster will be poured out on all who love in the land.1:14 A lion has come out of his lair; a destroyer of nations has set out.4:7 The whole land will be ruined 4:27.... I will destroy the Daughter of Zion [Jerusalem], so beautiful and delicate 6:2.... Teach your daughters how to wail 9:20.... These nations will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years 25:11.... "

His suffering: "O, my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart!4:19 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead?... Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.9:1"

His enemies: "I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realize that they had plotted against me 11:19.... Let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.20:12" King Jehoiakim cuts up Jeremiah's prophetic scroll. Zedekiah's men imprison him in a cistern because he counsels surrender to Babylon.

The Messiah: "`The days are coming...when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely.... In his days Judah will be saved.23:6

His complaints to the Lord: "O Lord, you deceived me....20:7"

His advice to those in exile: "`Build houses and settle down.... Marry and have sons and daughters.... Increase in number there,; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.29:7' A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children [the exiles] and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.... `They will return from the land of the enemy.31:15' "

The return from exile: "`I will restore them to the land I gave their forefathers.16:15' "

Day of judgment: "How awful that day will be! None will be like it.... I am with you and will save you.... Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you.30:11"

The new covenant: "`In those days the people will no longer say `The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.' Instead, everyone will die for his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes--his own teeth will be set on edge.... `I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel...and Judah. It will of be like the covenant I made with their forefathers.... I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts 31:33.... ' "

Lamentations

Tradition ascribes this book to Jeremiah, who was an eye-witness to the destruction of Jerusalem. It was probably written around 575 but not later than 516. It consists of five poetic laments. It is read by Jews at the "Wailing Wall" today and by Roman Catholics before Easter. 

Jerusalem: "How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations 1:1.... The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins 1:5.... Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean 1:8.... The Lord has rejected his altar and abandoned his sanctuary 2:7.... Her king and her princes are exiled among the nations, the law is no more....2:9"

The exile: "Judah has gone into exile. She dwells among other nations1:3.... O Daughter of Zion, your punishment will end; he will not prolong your exile.4:22"

His anguish: "My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within, my heart is poured out on the ground....2:11"

Curse on his enemies: "They tried to end my life in a pit and threw stones at me.... You have seen, O Lord, the wrong done to me.... Pay them back what they deserve.... May your curse be on them! Pursue them in anger and destroy them from under the heavens of the Lord....3:66"

The suffering of the people: "They say to their mothers `Where is bread and wine?' as they faint like wounded men,... as their lives ebb away in their mother's arms.2:12  Look, O Lord, and consider: Whom have you ever treated like this? Should women eat their offspring, the children they have cared for?2:20 How the gold has lost its luster4:1.... Even jackals offer their breasts to nurse their young, but my people have become heartless like ostriches in the desert.... The children beg for bread, but no one gives it to them....4:4 The punishment of my people is greater than that of Sodom....4:6 With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children....4:10 Women have been ravished in Zion and virgins in the towns of Judah.5:11"

Appeal to God's love and forgiveness: "Yet this I call to mind and therefore have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.3:23 It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.... Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him.... For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion.3:32 Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may return; renew our days of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.5:22"

Ezekiel

According to this book, Ezekiel was a priest-prophet who received his call from God in 593 in Babylon and ministered there seven years before and fifteen years after the downfall of Jerusalem in 586. He was exiled by Nebuchadnezzer to Babylon in 597 (along with 10,000 other Jews). He writes mainly in prose, in an often detached style. He emphasizes God's sovereignty over all things. Like Isaiah and Jeremiah, his messages consist of oracles against Israel, oracles against the nations, and consolation for Israel. He focuses on Israel as the holy people of the holy temple, the holy city and the holy land. The message is ultimately about God's past and future purposes in the history of the world.

At the age of thirty (in 593), Ezekiel sees in a vision a windstorm coming from the north, a fiery cloud with lightning and containing four winged creatures ("cherubim") each with four faces (man, lion, ox, and eagle) and each having a wheel. God's voice speaks to him from above the cherubim: "`Son of man [a title used by Jesus], I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation 2:3.... Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. 2:6' " God gives him a scroll to eat and charges him to declare God's displeasure with the Israelite exiles, holding him responsible for their actions. He prophesies the siege of Jerusalem and the atrocities and destruction that will follow: "`Therefore in your midst fathers will eat their children, and children will eat their fathers. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds.5:10 Wherever you live the towns will be laid waste.... Doom has burst forth.... I will turn my face away from them.... The teaching of the law by the priest will be lost 7:26.... ' " In 592, he experiences another vision in which God condemns the idolatry in Jerusalem's temple and calls for a "man clothed in linen" [an angel] to spread fire obtained from the cherubim onto Jerusalem. God condemns false prophets and women following occult practices. "`How much worse it will be when I send against Jerusalem my four dreadful judgments--sword and famine and wild beast and plague--to kill its men and their animals.14:21

Ezekiel recounts an allegory from God about Jerusalem as a beautiful bride. From Jerusalem's profane parents (the Amorites and Hittites), God raised Jerusalem as the most beautiful of jewels and enters into a marital contract--yet Jerusalem becomes a prostitute. As punishment, she will be stripped naked, stoned, and hacked to pieces. But God promises to remember his covenant and to establish an "everlasting covenant" with her after her punishment ends. 

God tells another prophetic allegory through Ezekiel about the attack by the Babylonians and the capture of Jehoiachin (the topmost shoot of a cedar). But he also prophesies: "`I myself will take a shoot [the Messiah] from the very top of a cedar and plant it.... It will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar.17:23' "

Ezekiel stresses the Lord's justice and, like Jeremiah, teaches God's intention that the guilt for sins will not be inherited. Moreover, a wicked man who repents will be forgiven. God says "`I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked but rather that they turn from their ways and live.33:11' "

He recounts a negative view of Israel's rebellious history and prophesies against Judah: "`O profane and wicked prince of Israel [Zedekiah], whose day has come, whose time of punishment has reached its climax, this is what the sovereign Lord says: Take off the turban, remove the crown.... The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low.... It will not be restored until he [the Messiah] comes to whom it rightfully belongs; to him I will give it.' " 

In the allegory of the adulterous sisters Oholah (Samaria) and Oholibah (Jerusalem), Ezekiel describes in the graphic symbolism of lust and prostitution the forming of political alliances by the Israelites with Egypt, Assyria (Samaria) and Babylon (Judah) and their defilement as punishment. 

God appears to Ezekiel and tells him that his wife will die but that he is not to mourn, as an example to his followers in exile. They are not to mourn the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem which occurs on the day his wife dies. 

He prophesies against Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, Egypt, and Gog and gives laments for Tyre and Egypt. He compares Egypt to Assyria as a cedar of Lebanon which was cut down by the Babylonians. He describes the pharaoh as a monster in the sea that is caught and killed by the Babylonians. 

God will punish the leaders of Israel who were like shepherds that neglected their sheep and allowed them to be scattered. God promises that "`I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.... I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered.... I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel.... I will judge between one sheep and another.... Is it not enough for you feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of the pasture with your feet?... I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them.... I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of wild beasts.... The people will be secure in their land.34:27 For I will take you out of the nations.... I will cleanse you from all impurities.... I will remove from you your heart of stone. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers 36:28.... ' "

Ezekiel is led in a vision to a valley full of dry bones [symbolizing the exiled]. The bones come together, flesh appears, and they come to life. The Lord promises a national resurrection and reunification: "`These bones are the whole house of Israel.... I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them 37:12.... I will make one nation in the land.... There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms.... My servant David will be king 37:24.... I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant 37:26.... ' "

Ezekiel describes a vision from God of the new temple to be built on Mount Zion [a design that is never realized]. The glory of the Lord fills the temple. The Levites (in particular the Zadokites) are restored to the temple. He describes offerings and holy days [which differ from the Pentateuch], boundaries of the land, and the division among the twelve tribes. Jerusalem will be called "The Lord is There [Yahweh-Shammah]".

Daniel

Daniel is the author of this book, according to Jesus, and therefore this book was written c. 530 after the capture of Babylon by Cyrus. But some disbelieve the likelihood of such long-range prophesy and place the date during the Maccabean period (c. 165). It is in Hebrew and Aramaic. It apparently prophesies the four great empires: Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman. The theme is God's sovereignty. It consists of historical narrative and apocalyptic material (i.e., revelatory; defined as symbolic, visionary, prophetic literature, usually composed during periods of oppression and being chiefly eschatological in theological content, intended to provide encouragement.)

Daniel, exiled from Judah in 605, is recruited by Nebuchadnezzar to serve in his court. Daniel succeeds in avoiding the defilement that would arise from eating the royal food. He masters the Babylonian literature on astrology and divination from dreams. N. wants his dream interpreted and threatens to kill all the astrologers, who cannot explain it, but Daniel volunteers to do so. After receiving a revelatory vision during the night, Daniel explains the dream. The king had seen a statue with a gold head [N. and the Neo-Babylonians], chest and arms of silver [Medo-Persians], belly and thighs of bronze [Greeks], legs of iron [Romans], and feet partly of clay and partly of iron [?who]. A rock strikes the feet and the statue falls. Each symbolic kingdom is made of a metal which is stronger but of lesser value, and in the end will be an eternal kingdom of God that will crush all worldly kingdoms. Daniel is rewarded for his interpretation. 

Daniel's Jewish colleagues Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are thrown into a furnace in punishment but are rescued by a guardian angel. 

Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a great tree that is cut down. Daniel says Nebuchadnezzar is the tree and that he should renounce his sins and wickedness to continue his prosperity, which apparently he does. 

In 539, the son [?] of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, gives a great banquet when suddenly the fingers of a human hand appear and write on the wall the words "Mene, Mede, Tekel, Parsin". Daniel interprets this to mean that the Babylonian reign will come to an end and that the Medes and the Persians will take over. Soon "Darius the Mede [?Cyrus]" indeed takes Babylon.

Darius' men conspire against Daniel and he is thrown into a lion's den. But he is protected by God's guardian angel. The conspirator's are punished instead and are eaten by the lions, after which Darius exalts Daniel's God. 

In 553, Daniel has a dream which he interprets. Four great beast come from the sea: a lion with eagle's wings [a cherub, symbolizing the Neo-Babylonians], a bear [Medo-Persians], a leopard with four wings [Greeks], and a fourth with iron teeth and ten horns [Romans?], which will "be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it.7:23" Another horn, with eyes of a man, appears to him [the antichrist?]; he will "speak against the most high and oppress the saints.... but his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever.7:26" Daniel sees God sitting on his throne and "there before me was one like a son of man [the Messiah], coming with the clouds of heaven.... He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.7:14"

Daniel has another dream, involving a ram with two horns (Medo-Persia) which is attacked by a goat with one horn (Greece). The angel Gabriel explains it to him: it prophesies the division of the Greek empire into four parts and the rise of another king [Antiochus IV on the Seleucid throne!]. 

The angel Gabriel appears to Daniel in answer to his prayers and prophesies that Jerusalem will be rebuilt, the Anointed One will come [in 483 years?] and later be cut off [crucified], the city and sanctuary will be destroyed, and [the antichrist?] "will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.9:27"

In 539, an angel appears to Daniel and prophesies: additional Persian kings; [Alexander] and the division of his kingdom into Ptolemaic, Seleucid, and two other parts; [Antiochus Epiphanes, who set up an altar to Zeus]; and [the rise of the antichrist?], eventually to come to an end. "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress, such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people--everyone whose name is found written in the book--will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt 12:2" [This is the first clear reference in the Bible to a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.]