Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 9 – The Prophets and Writings
[Bible references: 2 Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1, 2; 6; 7; 9-10; Nehemiah 1-2; Haggai; Zechariah 8; Malachi 1:6-14; 2:10-16; 3:6-9; 4:6]
Assyria scattered the Northern Kingdom then the Babylonians overran Assyria, captured Jerusalem, and took the prominent citizens into exile. After the 70 years in captivity prescribed by God had passed, the Persians overran Babylonia and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. The first batch of returnees went back with Zerubbabel to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. A second batch would go back to Jerusalem with Ezra who confronted the Jews about their failure to keep separate from the nations around them. A while later, Nehemiah would go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. And yet, with all the returnees, the majority of the Jews chose to remain in Babylonia – and even today, most Jews live outside the Promised Land.
In another reminder of God’s provision, in all the returns to Jerusalem, the rulers of the Persian empire strongly supported the returns of the Jews who were given what they needed. God even provided prophets to encourage the Jews.
In a reminder of the times when contributions were needed to build the tabernacle, those who did choose to return to the Promised Land with Zerubbabel willingly contributed from the provisions given to them by the Persians to the rebuilding of the temple.
In a reminder of their own abilities to follow Yahweh, when the Jews first returned to the Promised Land they ended up once more intermarrying with the non-Jews and practicing their idol worship. So, when Ezra came to Jerusalem, he had to lead the Jews to repentance and to put away their foreign wives.
Then, in the end, God would send one last prophet, Malachi, who had words of condemnation of Israel for all the sins committed and of the promise to restore everything because that is what he promised. After the prophet Malachi, God did not raise up another prophet for Israel until Jesus came. That prophetic silence would last four hundred years.
Songs and reflections of the heart
[Bible references: Psalm 1, 2, 3, 8, 11, 32]
As creatures made in the image of the Creator, it is self-evident that we cannot avoid creating. We are also creatures that are born to worship, as even our popular culture makes very evident. When we put those together, we get a work like the Psalms, a book of poetry which was set to music. The psalms are a collection of praise songs written by various people. They are songs that reflect the thoughts of those people experiencing life with all its emotions in a broken world.
In addition to musical notations, several psalms have notations indicating the events which inspired the writing of those psalms. Some of the psalms have notations indicating the kind of occasion that the psalms are used for. As poetry, the psalms use various poetic devices such as parallelism, acrostics, and figures of speech.
The Psalms express various themes such as the character of God, the experience of people, the worship of God, lament, petitions for help, confession of sin, praise and thanksgiving, expressions of wisdom. The emotions expressed in the Psalms are sometimes very raw with feelings of abandonment, questions of God’s provision, hatred, and vengeance. Yet all these expressions are included in that book of praise songs. The inclusion of the full range of human expression is an acknowledgement of the reality of the human experience and an affirmation of being honest with God about our feelings while placing all of that in the context of a just and merciful God who is worthy of praise.
The Psalms are not the only place where poetry can be found in the Old Testament. There is poetry that can also be found in various portions of other books of the Bible. There is even one book of the Bible that is entirely a poem/song, The Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs) which is a positive and passionate expression of marital love.
In addition to the expressions of wisdom that are found in the Psalms, there are other places where expressions of wisdom are found. The pair of books, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, show the benefits of and limits of wisdom. Solomon was the author of Ecclesiastes and was the primary author of Proverbs. In 1 Kings 3-4, Solomon requests and is granted much wisdom to rule the nation of Israel. That wisdom is reflected in Proverbs as a collection of rules to live a good life. On the other hand, Ecclesiastes reflects the limits of wisdom in finding the meaning of life.
Silence and waiting
[Bible references: Genesis 45:7; 2 Kings 19:30; Psalm 62:1]
After the time of Nehemiah and Malachi, there were no more explicit words of prophecy from Yahweh until the coming of Jesus. And in this time of silence from God, there was much turmoil.
- The Greek Empire would overtake the Persian Empire and therefore Israel.
- When the Greeks desecrated the temple, there was a revolt led by a Jewish family, the Hasmoneans, who successfully overthrew the Greeks. Hanukah is a celebration of the miracle that took place in the temple.
- The Roman Empire would overtake the Greek Empire and the Hasmonean kingdom in Israel. Despite the Romans taking over, the Greek language and culture became part of the infrastructure of the Roman Empire.
- The exact origins are unknown, but some of the Jews would adopt the Greek culture, becoming Hellenized. The aristocratic leaders of these Hellenized Jews would become the Sadducees. In opposition to the corruption of Judaism brought in by the Sadducees, a group known as the Pharisees arose. These two groups were still active when Jesus broke into history.
In the midst of God’s apparent silence, all this activity indicates that God is still working. Several times in the Old Testament, God pointed out that, despite everything else going on, there was still a remnant of people with which he was still working. No matter what the situation is, no matter how good or how bad things seem to be, God is always working on his plans, and he is always preparing, however quietly and behind the scenes, for the next step.
 Jewish Virtual Library “Vital Statistics: Jewish Population of the World (1882 – Present)” d
 The Hebrew name of the book is Tehillim, which means praise songs.
 Cole, Steven J. “Psalms An Overview: God’s Inspired Hymnbook;” Nally, Joseph R. “Overview of the Book of Psalms”
 Postoff, Matt. “Categorizing the Psalms” f
 Ross, Lesli Koppelman, “The Hasmonean Dynasty”
 Dixon, Austin. “History of Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees”
Despite the discipline of God, after the nation of Israel was allowed to return to the homeland, it still would have problems with unfaithfulness and God would stop speaking to them for 400 years. How does God speak to us today?
Read Malachi 4:1-6. This is the last passage written by the last prophet before Jesus would come. Even now at Passover celebrations, a place is set at the table for “Elijah.” In the Christian understanding, who is the “Elijah” that was prophesied to come?
Songs and reflections of the heart
In this day, we create songs and books of wisdom. We may not be writing scripture itself, but we are expressing ourselves in worship in the way that God has designed us. How do you express yourself to God?
Read Psalms 1, 2, 3, 8, 11, 32. These Psalms represent the some of the major types of Psalms. How would you categorize them?
Silence and waiting
Do you see signs of God at work today?
Read 2 Kings 19:29-31; Genesis 45:4-7; Ezra 9:7-9; Isaiah 10:20-22; 11:1-10; 53. The Assyrians had already conquered the Northern Kingdom and were now surrounding the capital of the southern kingdom, Jerusalem, threatening to overwhelm it. Looking back, we now know that two hundred years later the Babylonians would succeed where the Assyrians would not. What is Yahweh’s hint of his plan?