HOW TO STUDY THE BOOKS OF THE
OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETS

Father of might and majesty,
More than any other people of the Old Covenant, the Old Testament Prophets enjoyed a unique relationship with You Lord, as the inspired receivers of Your divine revelation. In the Old Covenant being "in the Spirit" was a special privilege only imparted to these few.  But now Your revelation is written on our hearts-as New Covenant believers we have received this unique privilege for we reflect Your divine glory just as Your prophet Moses prayed: If only all the Yahweh's people were prophets and that Yahweh had given them His spirit!  His petition was fulfilled in the Pentecostal outpouring of Your Holy Spirit 10 days after the Ascension of Jesus the Messiah.  Having been likewise anointed by the Holy Spirit through our baptism may we have the courage to take up our prophetic offices and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  Lead us in our short study, Lord, of the books of the great prophets of the Old Covenant.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

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Many readers of Sacred Scripture find the books of the Prophets so full of bizarre literary imagery and majestic historical figures that the reader begins to feel lost in the maze of words and symbolism.  It is true that the Hebrew prophets spoke in poetry, in figures and symbols but that poetry and symbolism draws on a rich heritage of Biblical images and conveys a message that becomes the bridge of the Hebrew Bible that links the Old Covenant to the New.  It is the symbolic and poetic messages of the prophets that link the Torah of Moses and the books of Bible History to the prophecies that will be fulfilled in the Incarnation of Jesus the Messiah in the New Testament.  There are two keys to the study of the books of the prophets. Those keys are to understand the mission of Yahweh's holy prophets and to understand the focus of their metaphorical imagery and symbolism.

THE MISSION OF THE PROPHET

In Sacred Scripture the mission of Prophet of Yahweh is to be:

A prophet's job was exceedingly difficult.  Not only must he be willing to face death in delivering God's message to a rebellious people but he must also be willing to offer his own life on behalf of a repentant people.

Question: How did Jesus define the dangerous mission of Yahweh's prophet?  Hint: see Matthew 23:30-37.
Answer: He condemned the leadership of Israel for murdering the prophets of Yahweh: You are the children of those who murdered the prophets!

Question: Who are the "prophets and wise men and scribes" that Jesus promises to send in Matthew 23:34 and what does He say will be their destiny?
Answer: He is referring to the Apostles and Christian missionaries who will carry His message of salvation to the world after His Ascension.  They will face persecution and martyrdom.

Question: Not only must a prophet face the prospect of death in defense of his prophetic mission but he must also be willing to sacrifice himself for the repentant covenant people.  Which Old Testament prophet set this standard of self-sacrificial love for God's Covenant family?  Hint: see Exodus 32:30-35
Answer: Moses, the first of the long line of divinely appointed prophets, set the standard as Yahweh's Covenant mediator by offering his life for the Children of Israel.  After the sin of the Golden Calf, Yahweh threatened to destroy the people [Exodus 32:7-10].  Moses petitioned Yahweh for mercy by offering his own life as a ransom in exchange for his people's forgiveness: Oh, this people has committed a great sin by making themselves a god of gold.  And yet, if it pleased you to forgive their sin....!  If not, please blot me out of the book you have written!  The book to which Moses refers is the Book of Life in which the name of each individual bound for heaven is recorded.

Note: for more information on the Book of Life see Psalms 69:27-28; 139:16*; Philippians 4:3; Daniel 12:1; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27.  [*it is possible that this passage refers to the Book of Works instead.  There appear to be two heavenly books, the Book of Life and the Book of Works; see Daniel 7:10; Revelation 20:12].

Question: What New Testament prophet excelled Moses' standard for self-sacrificial love as Covenant mediator?  See 1 Timothy 2:5 (verse 6 in some translations)
Answer: Jesus of Nazareth.  He not only offered His own life for the salvation of His Covenant family but for the whole world; 1Timothy 2:5(6): For there is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and humanity, himself a human being, Christ Jesus, who offered himself as a ransom for all.  Also see Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; Hebrews 9:15

MAJOR OLD COVENANT PROPHETS FROM THE 9TH CENTURY BC TO THE 1ST CENTURY AD
(*Bible book attributed to the prophet)

PROPHET
OF
YAHWEH
DATE OF MINISTRY
(approximate)
PRE/POST
BABYLONIAN
EXILE
MINISTRY TO WORLD POWER SCRIPTURAL TEXT
ELIJAH 873-853BC Pre-Exile Israel Assyria 1 Kings 17-2 Kings 2:15
ELISHA 853-793BC Pre-Exile Israel Assyria 1 Kings 19:1 - 2 Kings 13:21
OBADIAH ?848-841BC Pre-Exile Edom Assyria 2 Kings 8:16-24;
2 Chronicles 21:1-20;
Book of Obadiah
JONAH 782-753BC Pre-Exile Assyria Assyria 2 Kings 13:10-25; 14:23-29;
Book of Jonah
AMOS 783-743BC Pre-Exile Israel Assyria 2 Kings 14:23-15:7;
Book of Amos
HOSEA 783-732BC Pre-Exile Israel Assyria 2 Kings 14:23-18:12;
Book of Hosea
ISAIAH 740-680BC Pre-Exile Judah Assyria 2 Kings 15:1-20:21;
2 Chronicles 26:16-32:22;
Book of Isaiah
MICAH 735-700BC Pre-Exile Judah Assyria 2 Kings 15:32-19:37;
2 Chronicles 27:1-32:23;
Book of Micah
ZEPHANIAH 640-609BC Pre-Exile Judah Assyria 2 Kings 22:1-2;
2 Chronicles 34:1-7;
Book of Zephaniah
NAHUM 614BC Pre-Exile Assyria Assyria 2 Kings 21:1-18;
2 Chronicles 33:1-20;
Book of Nahum
JEREMIAH 626-605BC Pre-Post Exile Judah Assyria/Babylon 2 Kings 22:3-25:30;
2 Chronicles 34:1-36:21;
Book of Jeremiah
HABAKKUK 605-597BC Pre-Exile Judah Babylon 2 Kings 23:31-24:7;
2 Chronicles 36:1-8;
Book of Habakkuk
BARUCH 582BC Exile Judah Babylon 2 Kings 24:8-25:30;
2 Chronicles 36:9-21;
Book of Baruch
DANIEL 605-535BC Exile Exiles in Babylon & Persia Babylon 2 Kings 23:34-25:30;
2 Chronicles 36:4-23;
Book of Daniel
EZEKIEL 593-571BC Exile Exiles in Babylon Babylon 2 Kings 24:8-25:30;
2 Chronicles 36:9-21;
Book of Ezekiel
HAGGAI 520BC Post-Exile Judah Persia Ezra 5:1-6:16;
Book of Haggai
ZECHARIAH 519-480BC Post-Exile Judah Persia Ezra 5:1-6:15;
Book of Zechariah
MALACHI 450BC Post-Exile Judah Persia Nehemiah 13:1-31;
Book of Malachi
JOEL       ?400 Post-Exile Judah Persia Book of Joel;
Acts 2:16-21
YEHOHANAN
ben Zechariahs
(the Baptist)
28AD -29AD Post-Exile Judah Rome Matthew 3:1-14:12;
Mark 1:4-6:28
Luke 1-9:9

(Some scholars place Joel in the pre-exile period)          Agape Bible Study, revised Aug. 2005

 

Scripture mentions 7 Prophetess: 6 True and 1 False

Prophetess Scripture Reference
Miriam, sister of Moses Exodus 15:20
Hulda 2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22
Isaiah's wife Isaiah 8:3
Deborah Judge and Prophetess of Israel Judges 4:4
Noadiah Nehemiah 6:14
Anna Luke 2:36
"Jezebel" the False Prophetess Revelation 2:20

Questions for group discussion:

Question: If you were writing a job description for the position of Prophet to Yahweh what would you list concerning job benefits, chances for advancement, retirement benefits, and job satisfaction?

Question: Was the Old Testament's job description for a prophet any better than the one Jesus outlined for His Apostles in Matthew 5:11-12; 24:9; Luke 11:49; 21:12; John 15:20?
Answer: No.  In both cases the earthly mission of God's prophet was full of hardships and suffering, but the eternal benefits were outstanding!

Question: Who was the last of the Old Covenant prophets?  What two authoritative offices of the Old Covenant did he fulfill?  What other Old Covenant prophet did he resemble in his manner of dress and in his mission?  How was his mission different from the prophet he resembled? See Luke 1:5, 11-17, 76-77; 3:3-4; Matthew 3:4; 2 Kings 1:8.
Answer: John the Baptist.  He was both a prophet, the son of a priest and therefore by heredity, he was also a priest of Yahweh.  He fulfilled his ministry with the spirit and power of Elijah, even dressing as Elijah dressed.  John's mission like Elijah was to call the Covenant people to repentance but his call to repentance was to prepare the way for the mission of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

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Although the ministry of God's holy Prophets covered a span of hundreds of years in missions to communities as diverse as Judah, Israel, Assyria, and Edom, the Hebrew prophets shared, to a great extent, a specific set of metaphorical images with which they expressed Yahweh's message.  These images include briars and brides, harlots and horses, lambs and lions (or other wild beasts), vineyards and vomit, and wine and winepresses to name a few.  These images are used in vivid word pictures over and over again by the prophets to express Yahweh's relationship with His Covenant people and with other communities who are called to repentance and acknowledgement of the One True God.  What is often missed in the study of the books of the prophets is the way these images appear to be grouped and the way these different groups or clusters of images are often used to tell essentially the same unfolding story of Covenant love, a broken covenant relationship, redemptive judgment, and the promise of restoration and restored communion. 

The four most often repeated groups of images used in the books of the Old Covenant Prophets are Covenant marriage, animals, a fruitful vineyard/fig tree, and wine.  Significantly these imagery patterns play out in a divinely orchestrated four part human drama which moves from the ideal Covenant Relationship, to the Rebellion of an unfaithful people, to Yahweh's Redemptive Judgment to bring His people back into fellowship with Him, and finally the Restoration of the broken relationship:

THE MOST FREQUENTLY USED SYMBOLIC IMAGES OF THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETS

Image Groups

Part I

Covenant Relationship

Part II

Rebellion

Part III

Redemptive Judgment

Part IV

Restoration

Promised

Covenant Marriage

Israel Bride of Yahweh

Unfaithful adulteress/harlot

Humiliated and abused by lovers

Repentance and restoration as Yahweh's Bride

Vineyard

or

Fig tree

Well-tended vineyard/fruitful fig tree

Vines grow wild/failure to produce fruit

Weeds overgrow vineyard/ ruin and destruction

Vines are replanted/fruitfulness restored

 

Animals

 

Domesticated animals

 

Run away and become wild

Ravaged by wild beasts/birds of prey

 

Rescued by their Master

Drinking Wine

Joy of drinking good wine

Becoming drunk

Drinking the "cup of God's wrath"

/crushed in God's winepress

Rejoicing in the best "new wine" at the Master's table

(chart revised from Bible Review, October 1990, "Exploring four persistent prophetic images", Margaret Parker)

Notice that each of the image groups consist of four parts:

The plot line of this great prophetic drama is played out according to which of the prophetic image groups are being utilized.  The Covenant Marriage Relationship scenario unfolds with Yahweh the Bridegroom:

The Vineyard / fig tree is one of the most frequently used symbols for Israel.  Yahweh cultivates His people like a vinedresser cultivates a vineyard and like a Master Gardener cultivates His prized fig tree:

The domesticated animal imagery expresses Yahweh's relationship with His people as the Master husbandman who provides for the domesticated animals in His care:

The drinking of wine imagery is particularly significant to the New Covenant Church and is used by God's prophet John in the Book of Revelation:

Each of the groups of images expresses a different aspect of God's relationship with His Covenant people. The Covenant people who lived during the ministry of the Old Testament prophets and the Jews and Galileans who lived in the 1st century AD during Jesus' ministry clearly understood the symbolism of these images and the 4 part drama in which these symbols spelled out their relationship, or lack of relationship with Yahweh. 

However, in the books of the Prophets only rarely will God's Prophet describe the entire four-part cycle with a single image group in one prophetic oracle. More often the prophets will introduce images taken from the four different parts in what seems to be an apparently haphazard or out of sequence cycle, but the images have a cumulative effect just as Salvation History is cumulative and unfolds in repeated patterns that become familiar.  Gradually one learns to visualize the whole cycle pattern of the great drama in all its powerful visual imagery.  An exception to this random use of image groups is found in chapter 16 of the book of the Prophet Ezekiel in the prophet's use of the imagery of Covenant Marriage.  This chapter contains 3 images in the cycle of the Covenant Marriage cluster and ends with the 4th image, the promise of restoration.

Please read Ezekiel 16:4-63 Yahweh takes Israel as His Covenant Bride.

Part I: Yahweh's love:

Part I of the Covenant Marriage imagery is beautifully expressed by the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 16:1-14.  [Yahweh speaking]: Then I saw you as I was passing.  Your time had come, the time for love.  I spread my clock over you and covered your nakedness; I gave you my oath, I made a covenant with you-declares the Lord Yahweh-and you became mine.  I bathed you in water, I washed the blood off you, I anointed you with oil.  I gave you embroidered dresses, fine leather shoes, a linen headband and a cloak of silk. I loaded you with jewels, gave you bracelets for your wrists and a necklace for your throat.  I gave you nose-ring and earrings; I put a beautiful diadem on your head.  You were loaded with gold and silver and dressed in linen and silk and brocade.  Your food was the finest flour, honey and oil.  You grew more and more beautiful; and you rose to be queen.  The fame of your beauty spread through the nations, since it was perfect, because I had clothed you with my own splendor-declares the Lord Yahweh (Ezekiel 16:8-14).

Question: How is Yahweh's relationship with Israel expressed in the imagery used by Ezekiel?
Answer: Yahweh is the suitor, the husband and lover who delights in the Bride He has chosen to love.  He provides for all her needs and showers her with gifts.  His love is faithful and He expects her faithful [covenant] love in return. 

Question: What is the meaning of the expression found in Ezekiel 16:8: I spread my cloak over you...?  Hint: see Ruth 3:9
Answer: This is a Semitic expression indicating the desire for marital union.

Question: What is the significance of the phrase in verse 8: I gave you my oath...?
Answer: Covenants are formed by oath swearing.  Each party swears to fulfill covenant obligations.  In Latin the word for "oath" is sacramentum, it is the origin of our word "sacrament".  The 7 Sacraments given us by Jesus the Bridegroom are our participation in the swearing of our oaths to fulfill our Covenant bond as the Bride of Jesus Christ.

Question: When Israel accepted Yahweh's covenant at Mt. Sinai what became Israel's obligations to the covenant and what did Yahweh promise in return?  Read Exodus 19:1-23:33.  List Yahweh's promises to the people found in Exodus 23:25-33.
Answer: Israel must promise to keep the Laws of the 10 Commandments and the other articles of the Law and to live as a holy people consecrated to Yahweh-to be a nation of priests.  In exchange for Israel's faithfulness and obedience Yahweh promises blessings to Israel in Exodus 23:25-33, to provide for Israel's every need: food, water, health, fertility, long life, protection from enemies, and the land promised to Abraham that will stretch from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean to the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia.  Israel will become Yahweh's personal possession (Exodus 19:3-8).

Question: These verses in Ezekiel chapter 16 recount God's loving care for Israel in the Exodus experience.  When did Yahweh "bathe" Israel in water and what is the significance of these words theologically.  Is there any link that can be made to Jewish bridal customs today?  See 1 Corinthians 10:1-3.
Answer: St. Paul identifies the crossing of the Sea of Reeds [Red Sea] as a kind of baptism or ritual cleansing.  In Jewish marriage customs the bride takes a ritual bath before the wedding ceremony.  Jewish rabbis see the crossing of the Sea of Reeds as a bridal "mikvah" [ritual bath of purification] when the bride prepares herself to receive her husband prior to the consummation of the marriage.

Question: Were the blessings of the Sinai Covenant promised by Yahweh temporal or eternal?
Answer: The blessings were temporal.  The promises were blessings of health and prosperity.

Question: What is the difference between the blessings of the Old Covenant Bride of Yahweh and the blessings of the New Covenant Bride of Christ?
Answer: Under the Old Covenant the blessings were temporal, but our blessings are eternal!

Part II: The Bride is unfaithful:

Please read Ezekiel 16:15-34

Ezekiel 16:15-16: But you became infatuated with your own beauty and used your fame to play the whore, lavishing your debauchery on all comers.  You took some of your clothes to make for yourself high places bright with colors and there you played the whore.

Question: What happens to strain the Bride's relationship with her Bridegroom?
Answer: She becomes unfaithful and takes lovers.

Question: The "unfaithfulness" and "harlotry" of the Bride of Yahweh indicates what particular sin?
Answer: In Scripture "unfaithfulness" and "becoming a whore" are code words for the sin of idol worship, which was strictly forbidden under the covenant.   The reference to "high places" refers to the worship of Baal and other false gods on hills and mountains.

Please read Ezekiel 16:20-21: What is more-declares the Lord Yahweh-you took the sons and daughters you had borne me and sacrificed them as food to the images.  Was not your whoring enough in itself, for you to slaughter my children and hand them over to be burnt in their honor? 

 

Question: Who were the "sons and daughters" Israel had borne to Yahweh?
Answer:  Those children who were conceived under the Covenant-becoming covenant members on the day they were named and dedicated to Yahweh [on the naming day the boy babies were circumcised].

Question: Israel's sin of idol worship led to what other abomination?  See Jeremiah 32:35; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6.
Answer: Human sacrifice-the sacrifice of their infant children to false gods whose priest representatives promised material enrichment for the offering of such a valuable sacrifice.

Question: These sacrifices of innocent children were an abomination to Yahweh.  What is the difference between the murder of these children and abortion practices today?  How does God view abortion?
Answer: There is no difference.  Abortion is the sacrifice of children to the false gods of selfishness and convenience.

Part III: The Harlot Bride is humiliated and abused by her lovers = Redemptive judgment.

Please read Ezekiel 16:23-61

 

Questions for group discussion: When did Ezekiel live and to whom did he prophesy?  What was happening to the Covenant people during Ezekiel's lifetime?  When was Ezekiel's prophecy in 16:23-39 fulfilled?
Answer: The Priest/Prophet Ezekiel was a contemporary of the Priest/Prophet Jeremiah.  In 722BC, in fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos the Assyrian Empire conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and took the 10 Northern tribes into exile [2 Kings 18:9-12].  It appeared that the Southern Kingdom of Judah would escape destruction when the Assyrians withdrew from the siege of the city of Jerusalem, struck down by a plague inflicted by the Angel of Yahweh [2Kings 18:13-19:37; 2Chronicles 32:1-23]. The reforms of King Josiah of Judah rallied the nation to repentance and restoration of Judah's Covenant relationship [2Kings 22:1-23:37] with Yahweh but all these hopes were destroyed by the sudden death of the king at the Battle of Megiddo in 609BC [2Kings 23:28-30; 2Chronicles 35:26-27] and the disruption caused by the defeat of the Assyrians and Egyptians armies at the Battle of Carchemish by the Babylonian army of Nebuchadnezzar in 605BC which resulted in the expansion of the Babylonian Empire.  Beginning in 605BC the neo-Babylonian Empire imposed its will on the entire region.  Judah became a vassal state and a number of Judah's most prominent citizens were taken into exile (Daniel was taken to Babylon at this time).  Judah rebelled in 597BC and the Babylonians responded by capturing Jerusalem and deporting part of her population.  The Prophet Ezekiel was part of this deportation.  His prophetic ministry began in 593BC.  While Jeremiah was the prophet to God's people in Judah, Ezekiel was God's prophet to the people of Judah in exile.  This prophecy of the punishment of Judah was fulfilled on the 9th of Ab 587/6BC when the Babylonians, in response to another Judean revolt, burned down the city of Jerusalem and destroyed Solomon's Temple to Yahweh on the heights of Mt. Moriah.  The surviving inhabitants were stripped of all their possessions and taken into exile in Babylon.

Part VI: The Promised Restoration of the Bride

Please read Ezekiel 16:59-63

Ezekiel 16:60, 62: But I shall remember my covenant with you when you were a girl and shall conclude a covenant with you that will last for ever. [...] I shall renew my covenant with you and you will know that I am Yahweh, and so remember and feel ashamed and in your confusion be reduced to silence, when I forgive you for everything you have done-declares the Lord Yahweh.

 

Question: Was this promise of complete restoration fulfilled in the return of the nation of Judah [tribes of Judah and Benjamin] from the Babylonian exile?
Answer: No, it was not.  The return resulted in only a partial restoration.  Only a faithful remnant of the people returned from the Exile. In the original Exodus from Egypt 74,600 men 20 years old and over, fit to bear arms from the tribe of Judah made the exodus journey along with the other 11 tribes [see Numbers 1:26-27], but in the return from the Babylonian captivity the first of the three groups of returnees only numbered 49,897 men, women, and slaves, and the other two groups that followed numbered even fewer people.

In the use of the symbolic images instead of finding the complete cycle of images unfolding from Parts I – IV as we discussed in Ezekiel chapter 16, it is more common to find the prophets combining images under one or more parts of the cycle.  In order to understand the cluster of images and the way they are used to describe the Covenant peoples' relationship or lack of relationship with Yahweh it is helpful to discuss each part of the cycle in which the clusters are found.  We have already discusses Part I of the Bride imagery; now we will explore the Covenant Union cycle in the other 3 symbolic images:

The other symbolic images of Covenant Union in Part I of the cycle

The Vineyard as a symbol of Covenant union:

In chapter 5 the prophet Isaiah uses the vineyard as a type of imagery representing God's Covenant people as vines in His fruitful vineyard.  It is probably one the best known of Isaiah's very beautiful and expressive passages describing Yahweh's relationship with His Covenant people.  Please read Isaiah 5:1-2d: Let me sing my beloved the song of my friend for his vineyard.  My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.  He dug it, cleared it of stones, and planted it with red grapes.  In the middle he built a tower, he hewed a press there too.

Question: How does Isaiah express Yahweh's relationship to His Covenant people?
Answer: As a Vinedresser to his vineyard.  Yahweh owns the vineyard, it is His possession and so He tends and protects the vineyard.

Question: What are Yahweh the Vinedresser's expectations for Israel, His vineyard?  What does He expect His "Vineyard" to produce and what does this "fruit" symbolize?
Answer: He expects His Covenant people to produce good fruit on the land that He has prepared for them.  He expects them to produce the "works of God" as a witness to the other nations of the earth.

Question: What do the "red grapes" symbolize?
Answer: The new generation covenant children born in the wilderness wandering.  All the old generation of Israel, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, died during the 40 years of wandering.  It is the new generation of Israel who takes possession of the Promised Land, "planted" in the new land by Yahweh.

Question: What do the "tower" and "winepress" symbolize?
Answer: The Law of the Covenant and cultic sacrificial system.  The Law is Israel's protection to keep her holy as Yahweh's Bride. The Law instructs Israel in holiness and convicts her of sins.  The sacrificial system is the means by which Israel can remain holy by offering repentance, sacrifice for sins, and restoration to full communion with God.

Yahweh's obedient Covenant people expressed in animal imagery of Part I of the imagery cycle:

The Prophet Micah uses animal imagery to give a different aspect of Yahweh's Part I Covenant relationship with Israel in Micah chapter 4

Please read Micah 4:13: Start your threshing, daughter of Zion, for I shall make your horn like iron, I shall make your hooves like bronze, so that you can crush many peoples.  And you will devote what they have stolen to Yahweh, their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth.

Question: How does Micah express Yahweh's relationship with His Covenant people?  How is this aspect of His relationship different from the previous passages we have examined?

Answer: In Micah's imagery Israel is associated with domesticated animals.  She is like a team of oxen and God is the Master who guides and directs her.  The emphasis is on the people's responsibility to be obedient and to submit to God's yoke so that they can do His work.

Prophets also used animal imagery to suggest the total dependence of Israel on God. Please read Isaiah's sheep metaphor in 40:10-11: Here is Lord Yahweh coming with power, his arm maintains his authority, his reward is with him and his prize precedes him.  He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.

Question: The Micah passage stressed Israel's need to be guided by Yahweh and to submit to His yoke but what other aspect of God's relationship with His people is Isaiah expressing?
Answer: Isaiah is comparing God's relationship with Israel with a Shepherd to his sheep.  Sheep metaphors in particular stress the need that God's people have to be led, fed and protected by God.  This will be a favorite metaphor that Jesus will use repeatedly to express His "Good Shepherd" relationship to believers.

Israel sharing in the good wine of the Covenant

The last image group within the framework of Part I in the divine drama of the Covenant between Yahweh and His people focuses on the drinking of wine:

Question: What aspect of God's relationship with His people is expressed in these passages?
Answer: God provides the gifts of the blessings of the Covenant, in this case, the wine.  His people are stewards who ought to use the blessing properly by giving praise to God for the gift.

Question: In Isaiah 62:9 how does this passage expresses the ideal relationship between God and His people?  What is the promise of a future blessing?
Answer: The Covenant people who have cooperated with God by working to gather the fruit and produce the wine will drink in the courts of His sanctuary-in the Temple in Jerusalem in the Jeremiah passage but the promise in Isaiah refers to the Sanctuary of the heavenly Jerusalem where the Covenant people will drink the "new wine" of the New Covenant in His presence.

Part II: The People Rebel

Using the four image groups the Hebrew prophets vividly illustrate the damage people do to themselves when they rebel against God and violate the covenant:

The message is clear: when God's people turn away from Him, His blessings and gifts to them are spoiled. The Prophet Isaiah records Yahweh's lament over 8th century Jerusalem in Isaiah 1:21: The faithful city, what a harlot she has become!  Zion, once full of fair judgment where saving justice used to dwell, but now assassins!

 

Two centuries later the 6th century prophet Jeremiah records God's lament over Israel and Judah; Israel already lost, and Judah's impending destruction. The United Kingdom of Israel had split into two kingdoms in 930BC with 10 tribes forming the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin forming the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  Both kingdoms turned away from Yahweh, their true Husband, and entered "adulterous relationships" by taking "lovers"-- worshiping the pagan gods of their neighbors: Jeremiah 3:6-8: Yahweh said to me, 'Have you seen what disloyal Israel has done?  How she has made her way up every high hill and to every green tree, and played the whore there?  I thought, "After doing all this she will come back to me."  But she did not come back.  Her faithless sister Judah saw this.  She also saw that I had repudiated disloyal Israel for all her adulteries and given her her divorce papers.  Her faithless sister Judah, however, was not afraid: she too went and played the whore.

The prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah use the vineyard and drinking wine in the same negative imagery portraying God's people as choosing to turn from Him:

A few chapters later Jeremiah also represents the people of Judah as headstrong animals that resisted the divine Master's gentle, guiding hand.  Jeremiah writes in 8:6b-7 "Not one repents of wickedness saying: What have I done?  Each one keeps returning to the course like a horse charging into battle.  Even the stork in the sky knows the appropriate season; turtledove, swallow and crane observe their time of migration.  But my people do not know Yahweh's laws!

Yahweh's prophets also use the four image groups to show that people who repeatedly choose to turn away from God and refuse to come back to Him through repentance and reconciliation eventually lose their power to choose the good from the bad.  Ezekiel speaks of this tragedy when Yahweh warns that those who prostitute themselves in idolatry are soon controlled and consumed by the lust to which they have abandoned themselves as we already observed in Ezekiel 16:30-34: How simple-minded you are!-declares the Lord Yahweh-for although you do all the things that a professional prostitute would, in building a mound and making yourself a high place in every street, you do not act like a proper prostitute because you disdain to take a fee.  An adulteress welcomes strangers instead of her husband.  All prostitutes accept presents, but you give presents to all your lovers, you bribe them to come from all over the place to fornicate with you!  In fornicating, you are the opposite of other women, since no one runs after you to fornicate with you; since you give the fee and do not get one, you are the very opposite. [Please note adultery, prostitution and fornication are all symbolic of the worship of false gods]. 

Likewise in Jeremiah 13:22-23 the prophet Jeremiah uses the duel imagery of wild animals and the harlot bride to depict God's chosen flock and adulterous bride who in rebelling against God may find it impossible to turn back.  Those who consistently turn from God will become so enmeshed in their sin that they will no longer be able to choose to do good any more a leopard can "change its spots": And you should ask yourself, 'Why is all this happening to me?'  It is because of your great guilt that your skirts have been pulled up and you have been manhandled.  Can an Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?  And you, can you do right being so accustomed to wrong?" and then in verse 26 Yahweh tells the people: "I am the one who pulls your skirts up over your face to let your shame be seen.

In using the vineyard and wine imagery the prophets illustrate two kinds of evil choices made by rebellious people that lead them not to what they think will be freedom but instead to the loss of freedom and slavery to sin. 

 The prophets use these four image groups concerned with rebellion to make powerful statements about how at some point when a person crosses the line and rebels against God that he becomes entrapped and enslaved by his own sin.  At that point when a person goes his own way in a stubborn refusal to yield to God, that person ends up loosing the real freedom that is his or hers in a Covenant relationship with God for an distorted sense of freedom that only enslaves and destroys [i.e. the Fall of our first parents when they usurped God's sovereignty to choose what was good or what was evil for themselves].

Part III: Rebellion brings judgment and punishment

The Prophets of God use all four image patterns to give the clear message that rebellion against God will result in just and terrible consequences.  Obadiah, the 9th century BC prophet to Edom warns for the Day of Yahweh is near for all the nations.  As you have done, so will it be done to you: your deeds will recoil on your own head.  Obadiah 1:15

When God's Bride, Israel, behaves like a harlot consorting with the false gods of other nations she should not be surprised when the blessing of rain and prosperity cease and those pagan nations with whom she lusted turn on her to repudiate and shame her, to expose her nakedness and threaten her life: 

If Israel, Yahweh's vineyard, turns wild and fails to yield good fruit, God will destroy the unfruitful, useless vineyard: Isaiah 5:3-6: And now, citizens of Jerusalem and people of Judah, I ask you to judge between me and my vineyard.  What more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done?  Why, when I expected it to yield fine grapes, has it yielded wild ones?  Very well, I shall tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I shall take away its hedge, for it to be grazed on, and knock down its wall, for it to be trampled on.  I shall let it go to waste, unpruned, undug, overgrown by brambles and thorn-bushes, and I shall command the clouds to rain no rain on it.  Now the vineyard of Yahweh Sabaoth is the House of Israel, and the people of Judah the plant he cherished.  He expected fair judgment, but found injustice, uprightness, but found cries of distress.

If God's domesticated animals choose to run away from their Master who has lovingly cared for them, behaving instead like wild animals, it is to be expected that, out of their Master's protection that their enemies would attack them and they should lie unburied like any wild beast.   In this violently vivid passage from the 8th century prophet Hosea God Himself is pictured as a ferocious animal punishing the rebellious people:  I pastured them, and they were satisfied; once satisfied their hearts grew proud, and therefore they forgot me.  So now I shall be like a lion to them, like a leopard I shall lurk beside the road, like a bear robbed of her cubs I shall meet them and rend the membrane of their heart, and there like a lioness I shall eat them, like a wild beast tear them to shreds (Hosea 13:6-8).

Israel in her disobedience will reap the harvest of sins by being lost and alone like the wild donkey in Hosea 8:1-14: Put the trumpet to your lips!  Like an eagle, disaster is swooping on Yahweh's home! Because they have violated my covenant and been unfaithful to my Law, in vain will the cry, 'My God!'  [...] Israel has rejected the good, the enemy will pursue them.  [..]  Since they sow the wind, they will reap the whirlwind; stalk without ear, it will never yield flour-or if it does, foreigners will swallow it.  Israel has himself been swallowed; now they are lost among the nations like something no one wants, for having made approaches to Assyria-like a wild donkey, all alone...

The prophets sternly warn if God's Covenant people choose to reap His gifts without acknowledging Yahweh as Lord they will experience a harvest of regret  as in Joel 4:13 "Ply the sickle for the harvest is ripe; come and tread, for the winepress is full; the vats are overflowing, so great is their wickedness!"   Those transgressors will be crushed in God's great winepress or forced, in the drunkenness of their rebellion, to drink to cup of God's holy wrath!

This passage from the Prophet Joel also speaks of a future, eschatological judgment.  The majority of scholars date Joel to the post-exile period.  In his book there is no reference to a reining king of Israel or Judah, however, there are allusions to the deportations of Judah by the Babylonians in 597 and 587/6BC, and to a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem [rebuilt after the return from exile in 517/6 BC].  In Joel chapters 3 - 4 the prophet announces the promised restoration of Judah and Jerusalem but in chapter 4 he also announces Yahweh's judgment on the gentile nations who have persecuted His holy people.  The restoration of Israel will be linked to the punishment of her oppressors [also see Obadiah 15-21] who will be "harvested" into Yahweh's great winepress.  The Catholic Church honors Joel as "the prophet of repentance".  His summons to repentance, fasting and prayer were adopted into the Lenten liturgy of the Church.

Question: Joel is also known as "the prophet of the Pentecost".  Why is he known by this title?  Hint: see Acts 2:16-21 and Joel 3:1-5.

Answer: In Acts 2:16-21 St. Peter quotes Joel 3: 1-5.  Joel's prophecy of the outpouring of the "spirit of prophecy" on all God's people in the eschatological age in 3:1-5 was claimed by Peter to be fulfilled in the events of Acts 2:1-11 when Yahweh's Spirit was "poured out" on all believers regardless of social standing.

Question: What other event from Numbers 11:29 is fulfilled in the events of Acts chapter 2?

Answer:  The miracle of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost in 30AD will be the fulfillment of Moses' petition to Yahweh in Numbers 11:29 when he prayed "If only all Yahweh's people were prophets, and Yahweh had given them his spirit!"

[also see Isaiah 63:2-3; Jeremiah 13:12-14; 25:15-31; 48:26; 25:27-28, 30]. 

The final act of a prophet in Part II is to fulfill the role as God's holy prosecuting attorney, to call down a Covenant Lawsuit in judgment on a rebellious people as Hosea pronounces on Israel in Hosea 2:4-15: To court, take your mother to court!  For she is no longer my wife nor am I her husband.  She must either remove her whoring ways from her face and her adulteries from between her breasts, or I shall strip her and expose her naked as the day she was born; I shall make her as bare as the desert, I shall make her as dry as arid country, and let her die of thirst...[..] vs. 14 "I shall make her vines and fig trees derelict of which she used to say, "These are they pay my lovers gave me.' I shall turn them into a jungle: wild animals will feed on them,  I mean to make her pay for the feast-days on which she burnt incense to the Baals, when she tricked herself out in her earrings and necklaces to chase after her lovers, and forget me! –declares Yahweh.

Part IV: The Promise that true Repentance will result in the Restoration of God's People:

The prophets are not only harbingers of doom; they also offer hope, redemption, and restoration.  God has no intention of abandoning the people He has loved with such a passionate and abiding love.  It is always His plan to bring a faithful remnant back into fellowship with Him.  Through the Prophet Ezekiel Yahweh promises, in imagery of shepherd and sheep, not to abandon His people: For the Lord Yahweh says this: Look, I myself shall take care of my flock and look after it.  As a shepherd looks after his flock when he is with his scattered sheep, so shall I look after my sheep.  I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered on the day of clouds and darkness. I shall bring them back from the peoples where they are; I shall gather them back from the countries and bring them back to their own land. [...] I myself shall pasture my sheep, I myself shall give them rest-declares the Lord Yahweh (Ezekiel 34:11;15).

The prophet Hosea paints a beautiful picture in the symbolic imagery of vineyard, of animals, of new wine, and of Covenant marriage when he records Yahweh's promise of a restored Covenant relationship in Hosea 2:16 (14)-25(23): But look, I am going to seduce her and lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.  There I shall give her back her vineyards and make the Vale of Achor* a gateway of hopeThere she will respond as when she was young, as on the day when she came up from Egypt.  When that day comes-declares Yahweh-you will call me, 'My husband', no more will you call me, 'My Baal'.  I shall banish the names of the Baals from her lips and their name will be mentioned no more.  When that day comes I shall make a treaty for them with the wild animals, with the birds of heaven and the creeping things of the earth; I shall break the bow and the sword and warfare, and banish them from the country, and I will let them sleep secure.  I shall betroth you to myself forever, I shall betroth you in uprightness and justice, and faithful love and tenderness.  Yes, I shall betroth you to myself in loyalty and in the knowledge of Yahweh.  When that day comes, I shall respond-declares Yahweh-I shall respond to the heavens and they will respond to the earth and the earth will respond to the grain, the new wine and oil, and they will respond to Jezreel.  I shall sow her in the country to be mine, I shall take pity on Lo-Ruhamah, I shall tell Lo-Ammi, 'You are my people,' and he will say, 'You are my God' (Hosea 2:16-25).

*The Valley of Achor, an arid site located on the northern border of Judah, was formerly a site of tragedy [Joshua 7:24-26] but the prophet promises that even the past will be healed and its bad reputation will be reversed from one of despair to hope.

In this image of future restoration Yahweh is promising a covenant "knowledge" [verse 22] founded on His faithful love [hesed in Hebrew].  This covenant relationship is more than merely an intellectual knowledge of Yahweh.  God 'makes Himself known' to human beings when He forms a family bond with them through a covenant and shows His faithful love [hesed] for them by the blessings He confers.  In a similar way, God's Covenant people 'know God' when they return his faithful [hesed] love for them by their loyality; by obediently observing His Covenant commandments and by showing gratitude for His blessings which they use according to His plan by letting His works work through them as an obedient, faithful, holy people.  This is the future covenant Jeremiah promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34 when Yahweh promises a new and more perfect Covenant in which God will write His Law on the hearts of His people: Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall make a New Covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah.  [...] Within them I shall plant my Law, writing it on their hearts.  Then I shall be their God and they will be my people.  There will be no further need for everyone to teach neighbor or brother, saying, 'Learn to know Yahweh!'  No, they will all know me, from the least to the greatest, Yahweh declares, since I shall forgive their guilt and never more call their sin to mind (Jeremiah 31:31, 33-34).

Question: Looking back over these four groups of prophetic imagery patterns what are the familiar, reoccurring themes concerning God and man found in all four image clusters?
Answer: The image clusters vividly picture the relationship Yahweh desires to have with mankind as one in which He takes the initiative in showering His beloved ones with all they could ever desire or need.  In turn, He asks that His people respond to His love by entering into a Covenant relationship with Him and by submitting in obedience to the restraints He has placed on them--restraints which will enable them to become the holy people He has called them to be--people who will be ready to be used for the work He wants them to do.

Questions for group discussion: If Yahweh is the All True and Loving God how could He bring the harsh judgments that fell on the Old Covenant Church like the destruction and exile of Israel in 722BC and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 587/6BC that resulted in the bitterness and suffering of the people taken into the Babylonian exile?  If God is completely in control of the cosmos as the Church teaches then how can He allow pain and suffering to destroy the lives of the children He has created?
Answer: The Old Testament clearly teaches that God is merciful and loving but even though He loves us just as we are-when we are deep in sin He loves us too much to leave us that way.  When God allows our sins to bring us pain and suffering He is calling us away from sin and back into fellowship with Him.  Unfortunately, sin not only brings eventual pain to the perpetrator but sin also harms the lives of the innocent.  God loves us enough to allow us to exercise our free will in choosing to love Him or to reject Him by rejecting the commandments He gave us to ensure our health and protection in a world damaged by sin.  Punishment is always meant to be redemptive-punishment is meant to bring the sinner back into communion with the Father, but the painful truth is that sin hurts living things-sin hurts the wicked as well as the innocent.  However God in His mercy sent His Son to unite with us in our suffering through the suffering He endured on the Cross, and God does promise the innocent who suffer that they will have justice, if not in this world in the next.

Question: Why is it that the books of the Old Testament Prophets only promise the restoration of God's Covenant people?  When does true restoration of the Old Covenant Church back into full communion with God take place?
Answer: Part of the answer lies in the two books of the prophets that do not use the symbolic imagery we have been discussing.  The Book of the Prophet Jonah and the Book of the Prophet Daniel does not repeat these reoccurring images of Covenant commitment, apostasy, judgment, and promised restoration.  The Book of Jonah tell the story of a prophet of Yahweh who is entombed in the belly of a great fish for 3 days before he is resurrected to complete his mission to bring the gentile Assyrians of Nineveh to repentance and the promise of knowing the One True God.  The prophetic mission of this prophet from the Galilee foreshadows the redemptive work of Jesus the Galilean prophet who, entombed in the earth for three days completes His prophetic mission after His resurrection, bringing the gentile nations of the earth into Yahweh's Covenant family!  This prophet is mentioned by name more often in the Gospels than any other Old Testament prophet: Matthew 12:39, 40, 41 x 2; 16:4, 17; Luke 11:29, 30, 32.

The Book of the Prophet Daniel records the visions Daniel received from Yahweh that foretell the unfolding of historical events that will precede the coming of the promised Messiah. Living in the 6th century BC in the time of the Babylonian captivity and serving the kings of Babylon, Daniel prophesizes the rise and fall of four successive kingdoms beginning with the Babylonians who will be succeeded by the Medo-Persian Empire and then the Medo-Persian Empire that will be conquered by the Greek Empire established by Alexander the Great and his Greek armies [see Daniel chapters 2, 7 and 8].  Daniel prophesizes that the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great will split into 4 parts [chapter 8], with two kingdoms who will dominate the Promised Land [Egyptian Greek Ptolemy dynasty and Syrian Greek Seleucid dynasty].  As Daniel prophesized these Greek kingdoms were swallowed up by a 4th Empire that would conquer all the other kingdoms and spread its rule across the known world [see Daniel chapter 2 and 7:23-24].  This prophecy was fulfilled in the conquest of the armies of Rome and the 10 provinces that would come to make up the Roman Empire, which included the province of Judah [see Daniel 7:23-24. Note: there are 10 Caesars from Julius Caesar to Vespasian and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD].  However, in 2:44 Daniel prophesized that this 4th mighty empire would be overcome by a 5th Kingdom that would conquer and rule forever, and in Daniel 7:13-14 Daniel receives a vision of a king whose kingship would never come to an end!  I was gazing into the visions of the night, when I saw coming on the clouds of heaven, as it were a son of man.  He came to the One most venerable and was led into his presence. On him was conferred rule, honor and kingship, and all peoples, nations and languages became his servants.  His rule is an everlasting rule which will never pass away, and his kingship will never come to an end (Daniel 7:13-14).

Question: What is the 5th Kingdom that Daniel prophesized would establish an everlasting authority over the kingdoms of the earth?  Daniel 2:44-45: In the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and this kingdom will not pass into the hands of another race: it will shatter and absorb all the previous kingdoms and itself last for ever-just as you saw a stone, untouched by hand, break away from the mountain and reduce iron, bronze, earthenware, silver and gold to powder.  The Great God has show the king what is to take place.  The dream is true, the interpretation exact.
Answer: The universal, Catholic Church, the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth!  [The word "catholic" means "universal"].

Question: Who is the "Son of man" Daniel sees in his vision in Daniel 7:13-14?
Answer: Jesus the Messiah.

In addition to revealing God's plan for the unfolding of history from the time of the Exile to the Roman conquest, Daniel also receives a vision interpreted by the angel Gabriel that prophecies the 4th kingdom [Rome] will not only "devour" the whole world but will bring persecution to the Saints until the time comes when kingship and rule and the splendors of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High whose royal power is an eternal power, whom every empire will serve and obey  (Daniel 7:27-28).  Later in Daniel 9:24-27, in response to Daniel's appeal that the time has come for Israel to be restored, the angel Gabriel reveals to Daniel that although his people will be allowed to return to Judah at the completion of the 70th year of the Exile, his people will not be fully "spiritually" restored" until 70 weeks of years are completed, or 490 years.  At that time "the Anointed" [Messiah] will come [Daniel 9:25] but He will be put to death outside his city and later the city and the Temple will be destroyed [9:26]: ...to the coming of an Anointed Prince, seven weeks and sixty-two weeks, with squares and ramparts restored and rebuilt, but in a time of trouble.  And after the sixty-two weeks an Anointed One put to death without his....city and sanctuary ruined by a prince who is to come.  The end of that prince will be catastrophe and, until the end, there will be war and all the devastation decreed.  He will strike a firm alliance with many people for the space of a week; and for the space of one half-week he will put a stop to sacrifice and oblation, and on the wing of the Temple will bed the appalling abomination until the end, until the doom assigned to the devastator (Daniel 9:25d-27).

Some scholars see this prophecy fulfilled during the persecution of the Jews by the Greek Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes [ruled circa 175-164BC].  This Seleucid king attempted to suppress the faith of his Jewish vassal state and to force the conversion of the Jewish people to the cultic rites of the Greek gods.  When an altar to the Greek deity Zeus was erected in the Temple in Jerusalem the Jewish opposition erupted into a revolt in 167BC, led by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers.  However, other scholars see fulfillment of these prophecies in the atoning death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus, with the Ascension of Jesus fulfilling Daniel's vision of 7:13-14 [see Acts 1:9], the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD by the Roman prince Titus who set up his standards in the Temple as it was being engulfed in flames, and the victory of the 5th Kingdom, the Universal Church of Jesus Christ and the conquest of the Church through the spread of the Gospel across the earth. The Temple and the city of Jerusalem were not destroyed in the time of the Maccabees.

Question: What is the significance of the title "Son of man" in the Gospels and what is the reaction of the High Priest during Jesus' trial before the Jewish law court known as the Sanhedrin when He uses this title, "the Son of man", for Himself when referring to the passage in Daniel 7:13-14? See Matthew 26:63-66.
Answer: The messianic title "Son of man" will become Jesus' favorite title for Himself.  This title appears 70 times in the Synoptic Gospels and 12 times in the Gospel of John. When Jesus refers to the "Son of man" messianic passage in Daniel 7:13 during His trial, the High Priest immediately rents his clothes and declares that Jesus has blasphemed, a crime punishable by death under the Sinai Covenant.  The High Priest Caiaphas understands that Jesus is claiming this passage for Himself and is therefore claiming to be the "divine Messiah" of Daniel's vision.  See Matthew 26:63-66; Mark 14:61-62; Luke 21:27.

Question: What similarities do you see between Daniel 7:13-14 and Acts 1:9?
Answer: In both visions a "son of man", one who has the appearance of a man, is taken up into the Glory Cloud to heaven.  The Daniel passage adds the information that this "son of man" who is a king is presented to a figure that Bible scholars both ancient and modern have identified as Yahweh: "the Ancient of Days".  We know from the Gospels and Acts that Jesus ascended in a cloud to the right hand of the Father and therefore Acts presents the same image of Jesus' Ascension as the vision in Daniel.

For these questions please refer to the Chart of symbolic images of the Prophets found at the end of this study:

Questions:

  1. The Old Testament prophets pronounce judgment on an unrepentant people but also promise a complete restoration of the Church to Yahweh.  When does the Church become the fully restored Bride of the One True God?
  2. What Shepherd will rescue the Covenant people who like lambs have gone astray and need to be returned to their rightful Master?
  3. Who will be sent to the Covenant people to the True Vine who will restore the fruitfulness of the Church?
  4. When do the Covenant People drink the "new wine" of the everlasting covenant?
  5. In whom is Part IV of the prophetic cycle fulfilled?

Answers:

  1. The four prophetic cluster images we have discussed play a vital role in the New Testament.  The prophetic imagery of restoration in Plan IV is a vision of the future-a prophetic vision not realized in Old Testament times.  The Gospel writers all announce that the promise of that vision is played out on their stage of human history--they are the players in the final human drama of the prophetic image groups!  When the Holy Spirit inspired Gospel writers echo those images of the Old Testament prophets it is with the conviction that in Jesus the Messiah the Old Testament prophesies are being fulfilled.  It is what Jesus tells the Apostles after His Resurrection: This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms, was destined to be fulfilled (Luke 24:44) and Now all this happened to fulfill the prophecies in Scripture... (Matthew 26:56). 
  2. - 5. It is Jesus the Messiah who takes the initiative to restore the people of the Covenant to fullness of life and to perfect Communion with God the Father:

This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms, was destined to be fulfilled.
Luke 24:44

Question: Jesus will come fulfilling what 3 authoritative offices of the Old Covenant?
Answer: He will come as Prophet, High Priest, and King.

Question: What prophecy found in Deuteronomy 18:17-19 does Jesus fulfill?  Also see Matthew 17:5.
Answer: He is the promised prophet-the one who will be greater than Moses: From their own brothers I shall raise up a prophet like yourself; I shall put my words into his mouth and he will tell them everything I command him.  Anyone who refuses to listen to my words, spoken by him in my name, will have to render an account to me (Deuteronomy 18:17-19).  This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor.  Listen to him. (Yahweh speaking from heaven concerning Jesus in Matthew 17:5).

Question:  The Old Testament prophets as Covenant mediators pronounced Part III of the image cycle = Judgment unto Redemption, but only promised Part IV in the cycle, the restoration of the Covenant people to full fellowship and communion with Yahweh.  In His role as Yahweh's Covenant mediator/prophet does Jesus use any of the 4 symbolic images to warn the people of the Part III cycle of Yahweh's judgment?   Hint: see for example Matthew 7:15-20; 21:18-22; 21:33-46; 25:31-34; Mark 2:22; 11:12-14, 20-25; 12:1-12; Luke 5:37-39; 20:9-19.  Please give examples and explain the symbolism of the images.  In each of the succeeding Bible quotations, Jesus is the speaker:
Answer: Read Matthew 25:31-46

Question: How is the parable similar to the animal imagery found in Ezekiel 34:1-31?  How is the Ezekiel prophecy fulfilled in Jesus' mission?  In the judgment parable of Matthew chapter 25 what is the criterion for judgment?

Answer:  This parable of the final judgment recalls the Great Shepherd imagery of Ezekiel chapter 32 where Yahweh warns that because of the failure of the Old Covenant priesthood to properly shepherd His flock [the Church] that He will come Himself to shepherd His sheep [Ezekiel 32:1-2, 7-16].  In that passage Yahweh, through His prophet speaks of sheep, God Himself as Shepherd, goats, and one shepherd, my servant David who will be in charge of the flock.  The prophecy of a shepherd descended from the line of David was fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah who also fulfills the prophecy that God Himself will come.  In the Matthew parable,  Jesus depicts Himself, using His favorite messianic title "Son of man", as the Great Shepherd of Ezekiel chapter 32.  The flock has already been gathered and now the Great Shepherd will pass judgment on the flock by separating the believers, the sheep for know His voice, from the goats, those who choose to go their own way and are not obedient to the Master, which echoes Ezekiel 32:17: As for my sheep, the Lord Yahweh says this: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and he-goats.  But in the Matthew 25 parable the criterion of judgment will be the acts of mercy that have been done for the least of Jesus' brothers [see Matthew 25:40], those who have suffered and were in need and had not been shown mercy and love, Whoever receives you, receives me ( Matthew 10:40).  

New Testament Vineyard /Fig Tree Imagery:

Read Matthew 7:15-27

Question: What is the criterion for judgment in this passage?  What is the punishment?
Answer: Once again the emphasis is on works, symbolized by the word "fruits."  The expanded passage [continuing to verse 27] also focuses on obedience to the teachings of Christ.  Jesus has commanded us to love one another as He has loved us.  We demonstrate our obedience in how we show His love to others through our acts of mercy and love.  The temporal punishment for failure to produce "good fruit" is a breach in our fellowship with our Lord, however, the eternal punishment for persistent failure to produce "good fruit" can lead to eternal separation, Any  tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire (verse 19).

Read Matthew 21:18-22

New Testament Covenant Marriage Imagery:

Read Mark 2:18-22

Question: What imagery does Jesus use in this passage?  Who is the bridegroom and what do the old and new wineskins symbolize?
Answer: Jesus uses Bridegroom imagery in speaking of Himself and His coming Passion, and then He teaches about the transformation of the Old Covenant into the New using the imagery of wineskins and wine.  The "wine" of the New Covenant cannot continue in the old rites of the Sinai Covenant.  The Sinai Covenant must be transformed into the New Covenant in Christ.  To explain this concept Jesus uses the example of what happens if new wine is put into old skins.  New skins can expand as the wine ferments, but old skins have already expanded to their limit and if they are filled with new wine they will explode.  The eternal blessings of the New Wine of the New Covenant are so rich that the "old skins" of the Sinai Covenant cannot contain them!  It is necessary to form a New Covenant as promised by the Prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and which will be announced by Jesus the night of the last Passover supper/ first Eucharist.  Jesus will fulfill the imperfect sacrificial rites of the Old Covenant in the perfect sacrifice of His Passion, death, burial, and Resurrection and therefore it will no longer be necessary to continue with the animal sacrifices which were meant to teach the Covenant people about the necessity of sacrifice to prepare them for the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.  The Old Covenant rites of feast days-the reenactment of the night of the Passover sacrifice and sacrificial meal, the reenacted the Exodus journey and experience and other purity obligations will be transformed into the 7 Sacraments and feast days of the New Covenant Church in which Christ's redeeming work will be represented in the Eucharist and remembered in the great feast days of the New Covenant people.  All that will remain of the Old Law will be the moral law, embodied in the Law of the Ten Commandments, the rest will not be discarded but will be fulfilled and transformed into the New Israel-the Universal Catholic Church.

Jesus came to warn of God's judgment but His divine mission was to bring about the restoration of the Covenant people, to free them from bondage to sin, liberate them from the curses of covenant failure-the "cup of God's wrath", and to usher in the New and Everlasting Covenant promised by the Old Testament Prophets of God.

Question: How are the 4 symbolic images of the Old Testament prophets used in the New Testament to announce the promised restoration fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah?
Answer:

In the New Testament Jesus is the Divine Bridegroom come for His New Covenant Bride:

In the New Testament Jesus is the True Vine.  Those who abide in Him will bear fruit unto eternal life.

New Testament Domesticated Animal Imagery: In the New Testament, Jesus is the gentle Master and the loving Shepherd of the sheep in His flock:

New Testament Drinking the Cup of God's Wrath Imagery: In His sacrificial death recorded by the New Testament inspired writers, it is Jesus who drinks "the cup of God's wrath" intended for those who face God's judgment and promises the new wine of the New Covenant.  He takes God's wrath upon Himself so that His followers can joyously drink the Eucharistic wine of the New Covenant in the new relationship which He makes possible as a bridge between redeemed man and a Holy and Eternal God:

Many of these same images are repeated by the last Prophet of Yahweh to write a book of Sacred Scripture, John, the servant of Jesus Christ, including this beautiful passage found in Revelation 21:1-4: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a Bride dressed for her husband.  Then I heard a loud voice call from the throne, 'Look, here God lives among human beings.  He will make his home among them; they will be his people, and he will be their God, God-with-them.  He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness or pain.  The world of the past has gone.'

The Book of Revelation, the covenant lawsuit of the Jesus' servant/prophet John against the old covenant people who refused to acknowledge the Messiah, is also full of judgment imagery using the Old Testament Prophet's 4 most common reoccurring symbols of the harlot bride, the cup of God's wrath, animals gone wild, and instead of the ruined vineyard, the crushing of Yahweh's winepress and the destruction of the vines:

  1. The harlot bride (unrepentant Judah united to Rome): Revelation 17:1-7
  2. The cup of wrath (Judah has become the false bride who is forced to drink God's cup of wrath): Revelation 18:1-24
  3. Beasts of prey (Satan, Rome and Rome's ruler, and Judah): Revelation 12:3-9, 13-17; 13:1-17; 17:8-18
  4. Crushing winepress: Revelation 14:14-20

Revelation 14:17-20 offers one of the terrifying visions of God's judgment-the crushing of God's winepress:  Another angel who also carried a sharp sickle, came out of the temple in heaven, and the angel in charge of the fire left the altar and shouted at the top of his voice to the one with the sharp sickle, 'Put your sickle in and harvest the bunches from the vine of the earth; all its grapes are ripe.  So the angle set his sickle to work on the earth and harvested the whole vintage of the earth and put it into a huge winepress, the winepress of God's anger, outside the city, where it was trodden until the blood that came out of the winepress was up to the horses' bridles as far away as sixteen hundred furlongs.

But the Book of Revelation does not only offer terrible visions of judgment.  There are also the visions of restoration and renewal. In Revelation the fourth cycle of images finds fulfillment in the vision of the Bride of Christ.  The climax of judgment in Revelation 19:1-4 is the restoration of the faithful: Alleluia!  The reign of the Lord our God Almighty has begun; let us be glad and joyful and give glory to God, because this is the time for the marriage of the Lamb.  His bride is ready, and she has been able to dress herself in dazzling white linen, because her linen is made of the good deeds of the saints.  The angel said, 'Write this, "Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb,"' and he added, 'These words of God are true' (Revelation 19:6b-10).

When you read the books of the Old Testament prophets look for the prophetic image patterns so boldly, poetically, and vividly written, and remember that they are a bridge to the fulfillment of that divinely orchestrated human drama that is completed in the redemptive work of Jesus the Messiah!

THE SYMBOLIC IMAGES OF THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETS FULFILLED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT RESTORATION

Image Groups Part I

Covenant relationship
Part II

Rebellion
Part III

Redemptive Judgment
Part IV

Restoration Fulfilled
Covenant Marriage


[examples in Scripture]
Israel Bride of Yahweh


Ez 16:4-14;
Is 61:10-11;
Jer 2:2
Unfaithful adulteress/harlot


Ez.16:15-34; 23:1-12;
Is. 1:21;
Jer.3:6-8; 13:22-23, 26; 23:10; Hosea 4:10-14
Humiliated, abused & abandoned by lovers
Ez 16:23-61; 23:35-49;
Amos 4:7-8;
Jer 3:1b-2; 4:30-31;
Hosea 2:4-15
The Bride restored to her Bridegroom


John 3:28-29;
2 Corinthians 11:2;
Ephesians 5:25-27;
Revelation 19:7-9; 21:2, 9; 22:17
Vineyard or Fig tree


[examples in Scripture]
Well-tended vineyard/fruitful fig tree

Is 5:1-4;
Ez 19:10-11;
Jer. 24:4-7
Vines grow wild/failure to produce fruit

Jer.2:21;
Hosea 2:14;
Mic. 7:1-4;
Joel 1:7; 11-12;
Weeds overgrow vineyard/ ruin and destruction

Is 5:3-6;
Ez 19:12-14;
Jer 8:13;
Na 3:12-15
Vines are replanted/fruitfulness restored

John 15:1-2, 4-6
Animals



[examples in Scripture]
Domesticated animals


Mic 4:13;
Is 40:10-11; 65:25;
Ez 34:15-16
Run away and become wild


Is 50:6; 53:6;
Jer 5:5d-6; 8:6b-7; 23:1-2;
Ez 19:1-9
Ravaged by wild beasts/birds of prey

Is 50:7;
Jer 8:15-17;
50:6-7;
Hos 8:1-14;
13:6-8
Rescued by their Master


Matthew 11:28-30;
John 1:29, 36;
10:1-18;
Hebrews 3:20;
Rev 5:6, 13; 7:9-17; 14:1-10; 19:2-9; 21:9-23; 22:1-3
Drinking Wine


[examples in Scripture]
Joy of drinking good wine


Is 62:8-9 Jer. 40:12;
Becoming drunk



Is 5:11-12; 28:1;
Jer 8:13; 48:26; 51:7;
Joel 1:5
Drinking the "cup of God's wrath"


Is 51:17; 63:2-3;
Jer 13:12-14; 25:15-31; 48:26; 25:27-30
Joel 4:13/3:13;
Rejoicing in the best "new wine" at the Master's table

Promise:
Zech 9:15-16
Filled:
Luke 22:19-20;
1 Corinthians 11:23-32;
Revelation 19:7-9

Michal Hunt, 2003                www.agapebiblestudy.com

Resources:

  1. God's Prophet God's Servant: A study in Jeremiah & Isaiah 40-50, John Goldingay, The Paternostre Press [1994].
  2. New Jerusalem Bible
  3. Images of The Spirit, Meredith G. Kline, [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980].
  4. Bible Review, October 1990, "Exploring Four Persistent Prophetic Images", Margaret Parker

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.