The child prophet

The prophet Jeremiah was unique in that his calling to serve as God’s mouthpiece was not a secondary  occupation that temporarily fulfilled God’s need to deliver a message to his people, but a lifelong vocation that Jeremiah had been specifically created for. God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou comest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). The Hebrew word translated formed is yatsar (yaw – tsar´). “Yatsar is a technical potter’s word, and it is often used in connection with the potter at work. The word is sometimes used as a general term of ‘craftsmanship or handiwork’…Yatsar is frequently used to describe God’s creative activity, whether literally or figuratively” (3335).

The prophet Isaiah used the word yatsar in connection with God’s  relationship to the nation of Israel and redemption of his people. In general, it could be said that yatsar refers to someone that has been saved or born again. Isaiah spoke of this when he said, “Bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth: even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him” (Isaiah 43:6-7). These words were spoken in the context of God’s redemption of his people. Although it could be said that every person is a child of God, only those that have been redeemed or saved go through a transformational process in which they are conformed into the image of Christ. This process is referred to as sanctification. God said of Jeremiah, “before thou comest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee” (Jeremiah 1:5). Therefore, it could be said that Jeremiah was born a fully matured Christian in order to accomplish his vocation as a prophet unto the nations.

One way of looking at a fully mature Christian is to see him as someone that has completely submitted himself to God. He does this because he understands God’s role as Creator and sees himself in the context of a divine order that is intended to accomplish God’s will. Sometimes it is easier for a child to get this perspective than an 80 year old man. When Jesus was a child, he was found in the temple “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Even though Jesus was only twelve, he had the ability to discuss deep theological issues with men that had been studying the scriptures their whole lives. It is possible Jeremiah had this same or a similar capacity and began his ministry as young as 12-14 years of age (Jeremiah 1:6-7).

Jeremiah’s ministry began in 626 B.C., in the fourteenth year of king Josiah’s reign. Josiah was only 22 years old at that time. In the eighth year of his reign, Josiah began to “seek after the God of David his father” (2 Chronicles 34:3) and by the eighteenth year of his reign, he had purged the land of idolatry  and begun a building project to repair the house of the LORD his God” (2 Chronicles 34:8). So, Jeremiah’s ministry started under positive conditions in the nation of Judah. The people may have expected peace and prosperity to return to their nation because they were doing the right things. Unfortunately, time had run out for God’s people and his judgment was inevitable. The LORD warned Jeremiah of an impending disaster that would come soon. Jeremiah received two visions from God about this event (Jeremiah 1:11-14).

Although is must have been difficult for Jeremiah’s young mind to comprehend all that was about to take place, his ability to “see” the future helped him to grasp the situation ahead for Judah and to communicate it clearly. Twice, the LORD told Jeremiah to not be afraid of or dismayed at the faces of those he had to speak to (Jeremiah 1:8, 17). The Hebrew term for face, paneh (paw – neh´) refers to the look on one’s face or one’s countenance (6440). In other words, Jeremiah was going to have to confront some scary people, but God assured him that he would protect him. He said, “And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee” (Jeremiah 1:19).

 

The end

Josiah was the last king of Judah of which it was said, “he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 22:2). Josiah reigned from 640 to 609 B.C., during the time period when the Assyrian empire was coming to an end. During Josiah’s reign, you could say that Judah experienced a revival of sorts, but it may only have been a last ditch effort to spare the nation from God’s judgment. Josiah did everything he could to get Judah back on track, to the point where it was said of him, “like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to the law of Moses” (2 Kings 23:25).

The reforms enacted by Josiah that are recorded in the twenty third chapter of 2 Kings indicate that Josiah left no stone unturned in his effort to cleanse Judah of idolatry. The  only problem was it was too late to change the outcome of Judah’s fate. In particular, king Manasseh’s wickedness was identified as the reason God would not change his mind again. It says in 2 Kings 23:26, “Notwithstanding the LORD turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal.” The Hebrew word translated provoked, ka’ac (kaw – as´) means to trouble or to grieve (3707). God was both angry and sad that the nation of Judah was beyond the reach of his mercy.

Josiah’s death in 609 B.C. was perhaps the greatest testament to his willingness to do whatever it took to try and change Judah’s fate. When Pharaoh-nechoh went to Assyria to assist with their fight against the Babylonians, king Josiah attempted to stop him and was killed in the battle. Josiah was killed at Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29), the location where the battle of Armageddon will take place (Revelation 16:16). In the final battle that takes place on earth, God will bring an end to the kingdom of Satan. It says in Revelation 16:16-17, “And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.”

A missed opportunity

The ambassadors of the princes of Babylon came to see Hezekiah king of Judah for a specific reason. They wanted “to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land” (2 Chronicles 32:31). A wonder is a divine act or a special display of divine power” (4159). In Hezekiah’s case, it was the healing of a sickness that would eventually cause his death. In other words, Hezekiah had a terminal illness and God cured him of it. The men that came to visit heard of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery and brought an offering as an act of worship.

The visit from the ambassadors of Babylon, was an opportunity for Hezekiah to share his faith with them. Their awareness of Hezekiah’s healing and their act of worship demonstrated their belief that Hezekiah’s God was real and could do things that no other god was capable of. In this situation, it says of Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 32:31 “God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.” God had shown Hezekiah mercy by responding when he prayed, “I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight” (2 Kings 20:3). Hezekiah’s claim of having a perfect heart meant that he had been totally obedient to God’s word (8003).

God’s testing of Hezekiah’s heart was intended to show whether he believed God’s mercy was responsible for all the prosperity of his kingdom or whether Hezekiah believed he had earned everything God had given him through his good behavior. When 2 Chronicles 32:31 said, God left Hezekiah, it was saying that God let him handle the situation on his own (5800). God didn’t tell Hezekiah what to do. When the men from Babylon came to visit, “Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and showed them all the house of his precious things” (2 Kings 20:13). The Hebrew word translated hearkened, shama means that he gave the men his undivided attention (8085). Hezekiah was listening to what the men had to say, following their directions, rather than the other way around.

A clue to Hezekiah’s motivation is found in 2 Chronicles 32:25. It says, “But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up.” Seeing all of Hezekiah’s riches was not the purpose of the visit from the men from Babylon. They came because they had heard about the miracle God had done for him. Instead of taking them on a tour of his grand palace, Hezekiah should have been inviting the men to convert to Judaism.

Hezekiah didn’t understand that these men were not on his side. They were idolaters that needed to know how they could be saved. Hezekiah made it seem as if everything he had could be shared with the men from Babylon, but that wasn’t true. Only God’s people were under his protection and could share in the wealth of his kingdom. Because Hezekiah didn’t honor God and testify to his mercy toward his people, the men went away thinking God’s riches consisted only of silver and gold and it was theirs for the taking.

Believing

Believing is more than an acknowledgement that something is true. When we believe something, we act on it. Our behavior makes what we believe evident to others. Originally, the kings of Israel were meant to be role models. Their personal relationship with God was a living testimony to the truth of God’s promises. The prophets of Israel were mouthpieces of God, designed to keep Israel’s kings in check, but false prophets undermined the people’s trust and caused Israel to veer off course. By the time Isaiah came on the scene, the role of a prophet was merely to communicate God’s will and pronounce judgment.

Israel’s Messiah was a prophet as well as their king. It was important for these two roles to be combined so that the people could see the alignment between words and actions. In essence, what Jesus did was speak the word of God and simultaneously act it out. His words and behavior were completely consistent. Although we don’t think of Jesus as a believer, he was a true believer in every sense of the word. What Jesus demonstrated was perfect obedience to the will of God at the cost of his own life.

Isaiah described Israel’s Messiah as a servant, one who was called by God, subject to the will and command of his master (5650). In his description of the Messiah’s calling, Isaiah proclaimed, “The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name, and he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; and said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:1-3). As an instrument of death, the Messiah was destined to convict the world of its sin. Not only would he cause Israel to repent, but the Messiah would also make it possible for the Gentiles to be saved (Isaiah 49:6).

As God’s chosen people, the Israelites had an advantage over the rest of the world. Through their birthright, they were guaranteed salvation. The main purpose of God’s work was to bring the Israelites to the point of believing. Isaiah provided a clear picture of the Messiah’s obedience in order to convince God’s people that their Savior had come. Approximately 700 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah proclaimed, “The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed” (Isaiah 50:5-7).

At the core of Israel’s believing was the issue of death and eternal life. Jesus willingly went to the cross because he believed God would raise him from the dead (Matthew 17:23). Repeatedly, God delivered Israel from her enemies in the Promised Land, but salvation was ultimately about defeating death itself. Isaiah exclaimed, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished” (Isaiah 51:6).

Isaiah likened death to being a prisoner and living in darkness (Isaiah 42:7, 49:9). In contrast, Isaiah portrayed life after death as waking up from sleep. He stated, “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city…shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem” (Isaiah 52:1-2). The Messiah’s resurrection from the dead was more than just a restoration of life. The transformation that occurred during Jesus’ resurrection was a supernatural changing from one life form to another. He was no longer a mortal being, but the immortal Son of God.

God’s message of salvation was in many ways news that was too good to be true. Regarding the Messiah, Isaiah asked, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1). The Hebrew word translated believed, aman is the same word used in Genesis 15:6 where it says of Abraham, “he believed in the LORD.” “The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God…It was not primarily in God’s words that he believed, but in God himself…In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than in impersonal relationship with his promises” (539). Isaiah referred to believing as having a personal relationship to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah predicted the rejection of Israel’s Messiah and made it clear that Jesus would suffer because of Israel’s unbelief. Isaiah declared:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid  on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:3-7)

In exchange for giving up his life, the Messiah would be rewarded by God with the spoils of his victory. Isaiah foretold of Jesus, “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). Although the nation of Israel as a whole rejected its Messiah, there were some who believed in Jesus. Isaiah described those who would believe and receive salvation as a wife of youth, and said, “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy redeemer” (Isaiah 54:6-7).

Similarities between the Messiah and his followers were noted by Isaiah in his use of the same Hebrew word to designate the servant and servants of the LORD. True believers would be expected to submit themselves to the will of God as the Messiah did. To those who responded in faith, God promised, “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn” (Isaiah 54:17). Essentially, the believer was guaranteed entrance into heaven where he would be united with other believers and receive eternal blessings from God (Isaiah 54:11-17).

Isaiah’s great invitation of salvation had two characteristics that made it difficult to resist. First, salvation was free of cost. Isaiah stated, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat, yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1). Second, salvation was obtained by merely paying attention to what God said. Isaiah declared, “Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:3). The type of hearing Isaiah referred to involved not only the ears, but also the heart (8085). God wanted his people to listen to him using spiritual discernment.

According to Isaiah, the key to believing was an understanding of the ways of God. As much as God had done to develop a relationship with the people of Israel, his effort was fruitless because they couldn’t comprehend his loving nature. Isaiah declared, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). In order to close the gap, God would himself become the messenger and for the first time since the garden of Eden, he would speak face to face with his children. John the apostle stated it this way. “And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Psychological warfare

Sennacherib king of Assyria sent his servant Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army in order to intimidate the people of Jerusalem into surrendering (Isaiah 36:2,4). A master at psychological warfare, Sennacherib instructed his servant to speak to the Jews in their native language so that they would understand every word he said and would believe he sympathized with their situation.

Rabshakeh intended to instill doubt and fear in the people when he said, “Am I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it? the LORD said unto me, Go up against the land, and destroy it” (Isaiah 36:10). Hearing these words spoken in Hebrew made the message much more convincing. Essentially, Rabshakeh implied that the LORD had switched sides. He was no longer protecting the Israelites; God was helping the Assyrians to destroy them.

Rabshakeh’s message was true in the context of the northern kingdom of Israel, but an outright lie in regards to Jerusalem. Whether or not God had spoken to Sennacherib was not what really mattered. The question at hand was did God intend to destroy the kingdom of Judah as he had the northern kingdom of Israel? Apparently, king Hezekiah had already warned his people of an Assyrian invasion. Rabshakeh wanted the people to think Hezekiah was the one who was lying to them.

Then Rabshakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews’ language, and said, Hear ye the words of the great king, the king of Assyria. Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you. Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us: the city shall not be delivered into the had of the king of Assyria. (Isaiah 36:13-15)

Rabshakeh had a strategic advantage in convincing the people that their king was lying to them. It would make sense for Hezekiah to do so. Rabshakeh argued that Hezekiah was like every other king and was powerless to keep his promise. Rabshakeh declared, “Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, The LORD will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?” (Isaiah 36:18).

Three of king Hezekiah’s cabinet members were listening in as Rabshakeh struck fear into the hearts of the people of Jerusalem. Rather than trying to defend their leader, these men walked away without acknowledging Rabshakeh’s threat. It says in Isaiah 36:21-21, “But they held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the king’s commandment was saying, answer him not. Then came Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, that was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, the son of Asaph, the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rabshakeh.”

Moment of truth

Isaiah’s ministry covered a span of approximately 60 years. During his lifetime, Isaiah experienced what could be considered the best and worst times in Jerusalem’s history. During King Uzziah’s reign (792 B.C. – 740 B.C.), Judah’s powerful army of over 300,000 men expanded his kingdom’s borders and fortified the city of Jerusalem, making it a secure fortress that could withstand a long siege of enemy attack (2 Kings 16:5). Within a decade of Uzziah’s death, his grandson, king Ahaz cooperated with the Assyrians to defeat the northern kingdom of Israel and erected an altar in the temple of God so he could worship a Syrian god instead (2 Kings 16:15).

Isaiah confronted Ahaz in a location referred to as “the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field” (Isaiah 7:3). Isaiah told the king of Judah, “The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah” (Isaiah 7:17). Ahaz ignored Isaiah’s warning, no doubt thinking an alliance with the king of Assyria would  prevent him from attacking Jerusalem.

Isaiah recorded his prophecy about the king of Assyria as a testimony against king Ahaz and all who doubted God’s intention to punish Judah for its rebellion against him (Isaiah 8:7-8). Later, Isaiah added that Assyria would be destroyed after God was finished using them to punish Samaria and Jerusalem for their idolatry (Isaiah 10:12). Predicting specific details of the Assyrian attack, Isaiah showed the king of Judah that God controlled his kingdom and could give it to whomever he wished (Isaiah 22:20-25).

When Ahaz’s son Hezekiah took over as king in 715 B.C., Israel had already been taken into captivity and the king of Assyria was breathing down Judah’s neck. Isaiah’s message to Hezekiah made it clear that Assyria was doomed and Jerusalem would be spared from destruction (Isaiah 29:22; 30:31). Isaiah warned Hezekiah to not trust in Egypt, but to rely on the LORD. Isaiah stated, “So shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof. As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem, defending also he will deliver it and passing over he will preserve it” (Isaiah 31:4-5).

The moment of truth came in 701 B.C. when “Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them” (Isaiah 36:1). The king of Assyria sent a messenger to Hezekiah with a great army, “And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field” (Isaiah 36:2), the exact location where Hezekiah’s father had first been warned by Isaiah of an Assyrian attack against Jerusalem (Isaiah 7:3,17). Sennacherib claimed to be on a mission from God. He told Hezekiah’s men, “And am I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it? the LORD said unto me, Go up against this land, and destroy it” (Isaiah 36:10).

Redemption

The prophet Hosea’s relationship with his wife provided a real life example of what God went through to redeem his people. God commanded Hosea, “Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress, according to the love of the LORD toward the children of Israel, who took to other gods, and love flagons of wine” (Hosea 3:1). The word used to describe the love Hosea was to show his wife was ’âhêb (aw – habe´), which meant to love “in the sense of having a strong emotional attachment to and desire either to possess or be in the presence of the object” (157).

The kind of love Hosea was to have for his wife was similar to what we think of today as being in love with someone. It was supposed to involve making love and having a romantic desire for her. It was clear that those kinds of feelings would not be natural for Hosea, and therefore, God’s command to love his wife made it a matter of obedience to the LORD that caused Hosea to act appropriately toward his wife, not his own feelings.

The challenge for Hosea was that his wife had been sold into slavery and had to be purchased for more money than Hosea had available. It says of the transaction in Hosea 3:2, “So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for a homer of barley, and a half homer of barley.” Hosea spent all the money he had and also gave up necessary food for his family in order to obtain his wife’s freedom. If his wife had been loving and faithful to him, the transaction might have made sense, but Hosea’s wife was an adulteress that was probably married another man and had been sold to pay his debt.

The reference to Hosea’s wife as a harlot (Hosea 3:3) indicated that Gomer had become a prostitute. In that case, the purchase price Hosea paid could have been the amount owed on her contract for sexual service. Typically, slaves, even sexual slaves, could be redeemed by a family member for a set price. The total value of the silver and barley Hosea paid for Gomer was likely 30 shekels, the redemption value of a woman (note on Hosea 3:2, Leviticus 27:4). In essence, what Hosea was doing was buying back Gomer’s spiritual life, so that she was no longer obligated to server her “true” master, the devil.

The goal of Hosea’s redemption of his wife was to restore their relationship. If Hosea had merely brought his wife back into his house and not resumed their sexual activity, Gomer would have continued to be a slave rather than a wife to Hosea. She was not just a possession, but a member of the family, the mother of Hosea’s children. No doubt, Gomer felt shame after she returned to her home. Like Israel, it says in Hosea 4:19, “The wind hath bound her up in her wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.”