Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel
By Don Ruhl
Have you noticed that people give their various interpretations of major news events? We cannot always know why something happened, but in the days of ancient Israel, God sent prophets who did give reasons for events. In the messages of the prophets you can discern a pattern, which often looked like this:
- Exposé of the people’s sins
- Demands for repentance
- The people’s response, whether rejection or reformation
- The revealing of a disaster if they did not repent
- The predicted disaster
- God’s promise of something better coming
The Book of Isaiah, as well as most of the prophets, showed both God’s condemnation and promises. We can use Romans 11 to typify the message of the prophets, “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off” (Rom 11.22).
While Isaiah was a prophet, he also referred to his wife as a prophetess (Isa 8.3). He had two sons, whose names had special meanings, given by the Lord, “Then the LORD said to Isaiah, ‘Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller’s Field’” (Isa 7.3). “Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said to me, ‘Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the child shall have knowledge to cry ‘My father’ and ‘My mother,’ the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be taken away before the king of Assyria” (Isa 8.3, 4).
Shear-jashub means, “A remnant shall return.” Maher-shalal-hash-baz (which is also the longest name in the Bible), means, “Speed the spoil, hasten the booty.”
One of the well-known passages from Isaiah is this,
He shall judge between the nations,
And rebuke many people;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.
Micah 4.3 says the same thing. Why is it that we know the Isaiah passage, but not the Micah passage? The same thing happens in the Gospels. We tend to quote certain passages from, let’s say, Matthew, when the same quote appears in some of the other Gospels. Interestingly, Joel 3.10 gives the reverse,
Beat your plowshares into swords
And your pruning hooks into spears;
Let the weak say, “I am strong.’”
Why the difference between Isaiah and Joel? Solomon helps us to understand why peace at one time, but war at another,
To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven…
A time to love,
And a time to hate;
A time of war,
And a time of peace.
(Ecc 3.1, 8)
The United Nations used Isaiah’s quotation on a wall, called the Isaiah Wall. Also, at the UN headquarters a statue shows a man beating his sword into a plowshare. American Artist and Quaker preacher, Edward Hicks, painted one hundred variations of a painting he called “Peaceable Kingdom,” illustrating Isaiah 11.6–9, and many of them show the various animals from that passage with a scene in the background showing the negotiations for a peace treaty between William Penn and the Delaware Indians.
When the space shuttle Columbia exploded upon reentry into the earth’s atmosphere, at the end of a televised speech to the nation, President Bush quoted Isaiah,
In the skies today we saw destruction and tragedy. Yet farther than we can see there is comfort and hope. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”
The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home.
May God bless the grieving families, and may God continue to bless America.
Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry began during a time of prosperity for Judah. Yet, the nation eventually sinned and since they were enjoying peace and prosperity, they refused to believe his messages of doom. While Isaiah was eager to engage in preaching (Isa 6.8), Jeremiah was not,
Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
Then said I:
“Ah, Lord GOD!
Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.”
But the LORD said to me:
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
For you shall go to all to whom I send you,
And whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of their faces,
For I am with you to deliver you,” says the LORD.
As he revealed the coming judgment from God through the Babylonians, the people hated Jeremiah. They persecuted him as much as any prophet of God. As the prophet complained to God, Jeremiah sounded like Job,
O LORD, You induced me, and I was persuaded;
You are stronger than I, and have prevailed.
I am in derision daily;
Everyone mocks me.
Cursed be the day in which I was born!
Let the day not be blessed in which my mother bore me!
Why did I come forth from the womb to see labor and sorrow,
That my days should be consumed with shame?
Ezekiel experienced the Babylonian captivity, and his prophetic ministry recorded in the Bible did not begin until he was in the land of Babylon, “Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month, which was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, the word of the LORD came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was upon him there” (Eze 1.1–3).
Hebrews 1 describes well the ministry of Ezekiel, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets…” (Heb 1.1).
God had Ezekiel use various ways to speak to the people. For example, chapters 4 and 5 show him building a model of Jerusalem and showing war against it, lying on his left side and then right side to show he was bearing the sins of Jerusalem, eating certain foods and using unusual fuel for fire, and cutting his hair and burning it with fire. We also know Ezekiel because of the opening vision in chapter 1 of wheels within wheels and the vision of dry bones in chapter 37.