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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

From Isaiah to Jeremiah

  1. When did Isaiah make the famous prophecy about a virgin being with child?
  2. What place did Isaiah use to represent Hell?
  3. Who did Isaiah heal with figs?
  4. When did the sun go backwards ten degrees?
  5. Whose army disappeared overnight?
  6. Which king was in charge when Hilkiah found the book of law?
  7. Which king restored temple worship to its original form?
  8. Why do Kings and Chronicles tell the same stories?
  9. Why might chapters in Isaiah not be in the right order?
  10.  When did worship become centered on the Temple?

Isaiah’s writings start under King Ahaz and would have been collected after his death to form the “book” we know. They include a mix of prophecies, essays and historical accounts, not necessarily in chronological order, and combined with Kings and Chronicles, they tell a story consistent with other historical sources. Isaiah’s most famous Christian prophecy comes in the time of Ahaz when God promises an enemy will fail during the time a child born of a young woman (virgin) grows to manhood (Is 7). At a time when Israel is falling from glory, Judahites are tempted to feel proud, but Isaiah promises them the same fate for the same reasons—not following God and not caring for their people (Is 28), even mentioning a place of ritual burning (or hellfire) reserved for them (2 Ki 23, Jer 7:31, Is 30:33). After King Ahaz loses land to Edom and Philistine (2 Chr 28), Isaiah becomes prophet to his son, Hezekiah, who institutes reforms, destroys Moses’ snake (possibly because people have made it an idol), rebels against Assyria, and reconquers Philistia (2 Ki 18). Judah is invited to join an Egyptian rebellion against Assyria but Isaiah says no (Is 18), claiming the Assyrians are God’s tool and will fail in God’s time. He preaches against Moab too (Is 15), another possible source of aid. And when the rich scribe Shebna offers his plans for the future, Isaiah writes of God’s plans instead (Is 22, 36, 2 Ki 18).

Isaiah is called to Hezekiah’s bedside when he falls ill. Initially prophesying death, he’s sent back by God to promise life, heal with figs, and give a sign with shadows on a sundial (2 Ki 20, Is 38). But Hezekiah inadvertently reveals the Temple’s wealth to Babylon’s envoy, thus sealing Judah’s fate. Hezekiah celebrates the first united Passover (2 Ch 30), inviting all Judah and Israelite refugees, finally centering worship in the Temple instead of on "high places." Meanwhile he prepares for war, building fortifications and tunnels to supply water to Jerusalem (2 Chr 32, Is 22). It’s possible that priests and scribes began combining sacred works at this time, putting together writings split between Israel and Judea earlier, and creating the “book of the law” which would later be read by King Josiah.

Sennacherib of Assyria conquers many of Judah’s cities and besieges the capital, refusing to be deterred by Hezekiah’s tribute of Temple gold (2 Ki 18, 2 Ch 32, Is 37). Determined to break Jewish independence, Sennacherib sends a taunting message, insulting God. But God sends Tirhakah of Ethiopia from Egypt when Hezekiah prays, and Sennacherib’s army disappears overnight, perhaps to deal with this threat (2 Ki 19, Is 37). Hezekiah’s son Menasseh becomes king at age 12 (2 Ki 21) and enjoys a long dark reign, being finally taken captive to Babylon (2 Ch 33). His son Amon is assassinated after gaining power, but a rebellion places Amon’s 8-year-old son Josiah on the throne. When Josiah is 18, the priest Hilkiah discovers the book of the law in the Temple. Some suggest this was Deuteronomy, newly edited and restored (perhaps by the brother of Jeremiah's friend Baruch). Josiah reforms the temple worship, supported by rediscovered scripture, priests and prophets, including Zephaniah who encourages reform and preaches against those countries Judah might look to for aid against Assyria.

The book of Kings comes to a natural end with Josiah. All that was lost is restored. The long road from Moses’s leadership to kingly nation is complete (2 Ki 23:25). And God has won. But Jeremiah will tell a different tale.

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