In our last lesson, we learned about a prophet named Hosea. In the lesson before that, we learned about a prophet named Amos. Amos and Hosea are preaching at the same time, and in this lesson, we’re going to meet a third prophet who is also active during this period. Soon we’ll meet a fourth. With multiple prophets roaming around, plus a bunch of new kings coming at us, things can get very confusing. So before we go any further, we need to get ourselves a more precise chart to look at.
Back in Lesson 16, we learned why it is so difficult to accurately date the kings of Israel and Judah. Our two historians (the author of Kings and the author of Chronicles) make it sound like kings rise to power in an orderly manner. One king dies (or is murdered) and then the next king takes his place. But as we learned in Lesson 16, this isn’t the whole story. In real life, kings often begin to share their power with their sons before they die. This serves many useful purposes: the son gets eased into the responsibilities of ruling, the people learn to respect him, and he keeps the kingdom running smoothly while dad is off waging wars.
Today we’re not used to having our rulers lead our armies into battle. We want them to stay home where they can be protected, so for the most part, battle decisions are left up to the commanders who are actually in the field. But back in Bible times, kings often marched out with their troops and directed the battles right from the battlefield. Remember that this was before the days of cell phones or email. If a king wanted to feel in control of a situation, he had to be present to tell his army officers what to do. Of course this posed a major risk. Even though the king would try to stay away from the front lines, he could still get killed if the enemy broke through his troops. And naturally kings were major targets, for to kill a king was a huge step forward in taking possession of his territory. All of this meant that it was very important to have the next king primed and ready to go.
So far, we’ve been using a very simplified chart to track our kings and prophets. Now that we’ve learned so much, we’re ready to graduate to a more complex chart. This will really come in handy as we move through the rest of this period. Let’s start by seeing how our new chart is organized.
Now that we know how to read our new chart, let’s review all the kings of Judah and Israel starting with when the kingdom first split after Solomon’s reign. Uzziah and Jeroboam II are the last two kings we talked about. In our previous lesson, we learned that Yahweh struck Uzziah with leprosy part way through his reign because Uzziah tried to violate God’s sacred space in the Temple. Once he was a leper, Uzziah had to live in secluded quarters, and we were told that his son Jotham took over in his absence. In the above chart, we can see how Jotham began to reign around 751 BC—that’s still 751 years before the coming of Christ.
Now while Uzziah is alive—either reigning as king, or hiding out in his leprous state—three prophets begin to speak: Hosea, Amos and Isaiah. In our last lesson, we learned that Yahweh spoke through countless prophets in these times. Only certain messages from a select few ended up being preserved in the Christian Bible today. As we’re starting to discover, many of the prophets we find in the Bible lived and spoke at the same time. They all speak very similar messages, and they all sound the same because the same God is speaking through them. If we want to know God’s Voice, understand His teaching style, and find out what He cares about, then we need to pay close attention to the prophets.
The prophets are awesome—not the men themselves, but the Voice that comes through them. It is a wonderful opportunity to hear God speaking firsthand like this and we want to make the most of it. For a Christian to study only the last two periods of the Bible (the New Testament) and miss out on the prophetic books of Period 5 is a real detriment. As we learned in our last lesson about Hosea, never are God’s grace, love, and wrath so clearly communicated than when He speaks through the mouths of His faithful prophets. And while we don’t have any long records of speeches by female prophets—there were plenty of them actively serving Yahweh at this time. God has always spoken through both men and women, and we find references to this throughout the Bible. In his book, the prophet Isaiah refers to his wife as a prophetess (now there’s a perfect match), and for a woman to gain such a title meant that she had an established reputation of speaking for God. How exciting!
ZECHARIAH, King of Israel
As we can see in our last chart above, after the death of Jeroboam II, the crown in Israel is fumbled around a bit. First it goes to Jeroboam II’s son, Zechariah. But he turns out to be such a yuck that Yahweh snuffs him out after just six months. Stirring up a conspiracy against him, God helps a man named Shallum murder Zechariah and then take his place. Remember Jehu, the man who was butchering everyone back in Lesson 18? God had promised Jehu that He would allow four generations of his descendants to rule in Israel. Well, now that time is up. Zechariah is the fourth king. God never promised that all four of Jehu’s sons would reign a long time. With Zechariah, six months is more than enough and as he is murdered, the author of Kings reminds us that:
This fulfilled the word of Yahweh which He had spoken to Jehu, saying, “Your sons to the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” (2 Ki. 15:12)
SHALLUM, King of Israel
Murdering Zechariah is the only useful thing Shallum does for Yahweh. Shallum is only on the throne for one short month before God brings another man in to strike him down. That man’s name is Menahem.
MENAHEM, King of Israel
We immediately find reasons not to like Menahem because when a city won’t open its gates to him, he turns into a maniac and rips open a bunch of pregnant women with his sword. What a creep! So we’re really not surprised when we’re told that Menahem is a spiritual yuck who follows after the sins of Jeroboam (and that means more cow worship). What does surprise us is that Yahweh lets him reign for ten long years.
Why does Yahweh put creeps in power, anyway? To punish nations who are defying Him—this is something He teaches us in the prophetic books. So the next time you feel disappointed by election results, remember that God has good reasons for what He does and He is always responding to our spiritual choices. Is your country’s current leader a jerk? The real question is not “Why doesn’t God fix this?” but “How is this country mistreating God that He should want to raise up a leader who will make our lives more miserable?” By studying the Bible, we learn that God isn’t the One we should be complaining against when our government is corrupt. Instead, we should be seeking to honor Him with our lives and agreeing with Him that nations who spit in God’s face don’t deserve to be blessed.
It’s after Menahem seizes the throne in the north that Uzziah’s son Jotham starts to reign with his father in the south. Menahem’s reign doesn’t go very smoothly. He gets attacked by the king of Assyria. By now Assyria is much beefier than Israel, so Menahem scrambles to scrape up enough money to bribe Assyria into leaving peacefully. The king of Assyria is no fool—he is happy to form a military alliance with Israel in exchange for Israel paying him regular fees. To keep coming up with enough money, Menahem starts taxing the people. That never goes over well. People don’t like being taxed—but then again, it’s better than being invaded by a scary army.
PEKAHIAH, King of Israel
After Menahem dies, his son Pekahiah takes the throne. Pekahiah is just as rotten as his father, so Yahweh cooks up another conspiracy to get rid of him. Military officers make great conspirators, because they are used to violence and often have connections to inside information about the king’s movements. Pekah is one of Pekahiah’s trusted officers. Pekah chops Pekahiah down right inside the royal palace. Talk about misplaced trust.
PEKAH & HOSHEA, Kings of Israel
Once Pekah is on the throne, we’re told that Assyria attacks again. The king at this time is Tiglath-Pileser [TIGG-lath-pill-EE-zer] and he is brutal. He sweeps into Israel with a massive army, butchers everyone, and seizes huge portions of land. Amid the chaos, a man named Hoshea seizes the opportunity to strike Pekah down and take the throne. Since Hoshea promises to be subservient to the mighty king of Assyria, Tiglath allows Hoshea to stay on the throne and keep order in Israel while Tiglath hauls off a bunch of Israelites as prisoners. Wow. What brought this on? It’s time for us to start listening to a new prophet.
It’s during the reign of Uzziah that a new prophet rises up in Israel—a man who will later be considered one of Israel’s greatest leaders. His name is Isaiah, and in the Bible his book is a daunting sixty-six chapters long. Yikes! Where do we start? We start with some pictures.
Like Amos, Isaiah doesn’t just talk about one nation. He speaks God’s messages to many nations, and God doesn’t have very many nice things to say to the people groups living in this region of the world. Let’s do a little comparing. Here’s a summary of what Amos prophesied:
Now let’s look at what Isaiah is going to say during his long preaching career:
These two men are saying a lot of the same things, aren’t they? Same God, same messages. And while Amos and Isaiah are calling doom out on the whole world, Hosea is emphasizing God’s exasperation with Israel and Isaiah is focusing on the sins of Judah. If you’re a reverent soul living in either of these kingdoms during this time, you’re going to be pretty nervous about all the terrible threats God is making. If you’re a rebel idolater, then you’re going to find these three prophets very irritating with their constant warnings that God is going to pay you back for all of your willful defiance.
Look again at the summary of Isaiah’s prophecies and notice how many times Assyria is mentioned. Assyria is going to conquer Aram. Assyria is going to conquer Egypt and Cush. Assyria is going to conquer Israel. And after all this conquering is over, God is going to conquer Assyria. Goodness. Whoever the Assyrians are, they must have serious military power to be able to mow down so many nations. Since they’re playing such a major role in God’s plans, we should find out a little more about them.
THE ASSYRIAN EMPIRE
In the modern world, we don’t have any experience with the concept of a growing empire. The closest we’ve come in recent history was back in World War II when a fellow named Adolf Hitler began greedily grabbing up countries in Europe. That made everyone nervous, so countries banned together to fight back. We humans instinctively know that it wouldn’t be a good thing for any one country to get too much territory or power. It’s better to keep the world broken up into small, manageable nations. That way, if anyone starts making trouble, we can gang up on them and make them knock it off.
Back in Bible times, things were different. Countries were constantly battling with each other in a greedy fight for more territory. It was a rare day that a king could just sit back and enjoy life without someone attacking his borders. Life was one long series of attack and counterattack. They invade, you defend, and if you’re not successful, then something very ugly happens to you and your people.
While Israel and Judah look like a decent size on the maps we’ve been using, in reality, they were quite small compared to the massive empire that was forming around them. A country named Assyria has been on a rampage for many years. They’ve been swallowing up more and more land, winning battle after battle, and it seems no one is able to stop them. The more territory they seize, the richer they get, and the more massive their army becomes. Soon it feels like they own the whole world. Running an empire is a very complicated affair. There are so many things that can go wrong. The more nations you conquer, the more unhappy people you have living within your borders. Civil unrest is a massive problem, and the Assyrians are having particular trouble with a people group called the Chaldeans. Like the Jews, the Chaldeans are fierce patriots. They aren’t taking kindly to a bunch of rude Assyrians muscling in on their territory. They find it especially infuriating that the Assyrians have set up shop in the Chaldean capital of Babylon.
Babylon is to the Chaldeans what Jerusalem is to the Jews—it’s their glorious capital city, a center hub of their culture and religion. Now there’s some foreigner acting like he owns the place. Tiglath-Pileser [TIGG-lath-pill-EE-zer] is the current jerk who is calling himself the king of Babylon. Well, he’s not the king. He’s just an unwelcome intruder, and the Chaldeans are trying to think up a way to kill him. Before Tiglath came along, there was a Chaldean on the throne. That was how things ought to be. But then Tiglath drove the Chaldean out and took the crown for himself instead of appointing another native. Very rude.
While the Assyrian Empire looks triumphant on a map, the truth is that there is a lot of strife happening within its borders, particularly from those pesky Chaldeans who are revolting every chance they get. One day in the near future, God is going to help those Chaldeans succeed in overthrowing their oppressors. When that day comes, people will stop talking about the Assyrian Empire. They’ll start talking about the Babylonian Empire instead. This change will take place after the fall of Israel and before the fall of Judah. And because we have the advantage of being able to peek ahead, here’s an overview of what Yahweh is planning:
We are going to hear prophets hinting about these various stages of history far in advance of when they will actually happen. Isaiah, for example, won’t live long enough to see Step 5 in our list happen. Yet even now, as he lives before Step 1 has happened, he is already predicting Step 7.
“Against the Babylonians I am going to stir up the Medes, a people who do not value silver or take pleasure in gold. Their bows will mow down the young men. They will have no compassion on the fruit of the womb, nor will they look on children with pity. Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans’ pride, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation. The Arab will not pitch his tent there, nor will shepherds make their flocks lie down in that place. But desert creatures will lie down there, and their houses will be full of owls. Ostriches also will live there, and shaggy goats will frolic there. Hyenas will howl in their fortified towers and jackals in their luxurious palaces. Her fateful time will come soon; her days will not be prolonged.” (Isa. 13:17-22)
It’s pretty impressive to hear such accurate predictions of future events like this. When the world around you is dominated by a single empire, it’s pretty hard to fathom some smaller nation ever overturning them. And yet this is what Yahweh says will happen to the Assyrians after He’s done using them to pound all the nations around them. Remember that all of this mass conquering is really a form of Divine discipline. When we look at a map of the Assyrian Empire, we’re really seeing a map of how many nations Yahweh is furious with because of their hardcore spiritual rebellion.
Now Assyria is an idol worshiping nation, and she couldn’t care less about helping Yahweh spank His enemies. As far King Tiglath is concerned, he’s being so successful because he is the man. During his reign, he conquers the Medes in the north, he conquers Ammon, Edom, Moab and Aram. He is so impressed with himself that he can hardly stand it.
“Woe to the king of Assyria, the rod of My anger in whose hands is the club of My wrath! I send him against a godless nation; I dispatch him against a people who enrage Me, to seize and loot and plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. But this is not what the king of Assyria intends, nor is this what he has in mind. His purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations. He boasts, ‘Are not my commanders like kings?’’” (Isa. 10:5-8)
As we learned back in Lesson 4, every war is a god war to these people. As Assyria gobbles up more and more nations, her king naturally concludes that the Assyrian gods are undefeatable. Yahweh? He’s no threat. Where was He when Tiglath assaulted Israel and dragged her people off as his slaves? Obviously this Yahweh is a complete wimp. And even if He has power, He’s clearly no match for the mighty gods of Assyria. Speaking as Tiglath, Yahweh says:
“My hand seized the kingdoms of the idols, kingdoms whose images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria—surely I will do to Jerusalem and her images just as I have done to Samaria and her idols.’” (Isa. 10:10-11)
Now that he’s got Israel under his thumb, Tiglath is fixing his greedy eyes on Jerusalem. How fine it would be to add the plunder of that city to his royal coffers.
Well, Yahweh has something to say about all this. Through the mouth of His prophet Isaiah, He reveals the thoughts of Tiglath’s haughty little heart and then announces that He has a few plans of His own.
So it will be that when Yahweh has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will say, “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness, for he has said:
‘By the strength of my hand I have done this, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding. I removed the boundaries of nations, I plundered their treasures; like a mighty one I subdued their kings. As one reaches into a nest, so my hand reached for the wealth of the nations; as easily as people gather abandoned eggs, so I gathered all the countries; not one flapped a wing, or opened its mouth to chirp.’” (Isa. 10:13-14)
This conquering business has been so easy that it’s really rather dull. Tiglath snatches up nations like a man gathering eggs left on the ground. Sure his gods are great, but so is he. In fact he’s so brilliant and terrifying that no one dares to oppose him. Well, God has something to say about this.
“Is an ax superior to the person who swings it? Is a saw better than the one who uses it? A stick cannot control the person who picks it up. A club cannot pick up the person who swings it! Therefore, the Lord, Yahweh Almighty, will send a wasting disease upon Assyria’s sturdy warriors. The strength of Assyria will be burned up like a fire burning until everything is gone. The Light of Israel will become a fire, their Holy One a flame; in a single day it will burn and consume Assyria’s thorns and his briers. The splendor of Assyria’s forests and fertile fields will be completely destroyed, as when a sick person wastes away. There will be so few trees left in his forests that a child could write them down.” (Isa. 10:15-19)
God takes a dim view of people trying to take the bows for the things that He has accomplished. Does a lawnmower run by itself? Is a hammer of any use before someone picks it up and swings it at a nail? Certainly not! And yet here this pompous dot of a human claims to be accomplishing things without God’s assistance. What a crock!
We humans can do NOTHING without God. We can’t think, we can’t breathe, we can’t eat, and we can’t even move without God infusing energy into our physical beings. So when ministries thrive, should we be patting ourselves on the back? Certainly not! Do we deserve some slice of the glory when souls are saved or when minds are illuminated with truth? Certainly not! God deserves all of the glory, all of the time. There’s just no room whatsoever for us to claim that we played some critical role in accomplishing His purposes. Instead of focusing on how vital we are to the process, we should find it a humbling privilege that a perfect God would even offer us the chance to participate in His work. Let’s face it: we’re not the most helpful assistants in the world. We do a lot of bumbling and fumbling, and we just can’t stand not to be in charge. So when God manages to get something done in spite of us, it should be quite obvious that He is only One deserving of praise.
As we can see in following chart, leprous King Uzziah dies during the reign of Pekah in the north. It’s at this time that Isaiah has a very shocking vision. He sees Yahweh sitting on a majestic throne in His Temple. The train of His royal robe is so long that it fills the entire place, and there are multi-winged creatures calling out His praises. God then calls out for someone to be His messenger. Isaiah volunteers. But then Yahweh says something very disturbing: He is going to intentionally block the people from understanding what Isaiah will say to them. In other words, He is going to prevent souls from feeling convicted by His own words. But why would God not want people to feel convicted when He’s calling them out on their sins? Because convicted people might sincerely repent and ask for forgiveness. God never turns down sincere repentance. But when He becomes so angry with people that He is no longer willing to forgive them, then He blocks them from wanting to repent. Here’s how it works:
Today this process is the same for a non-Christian. Notice how vital God’s conviction is to obtaining forgiveness. What happens if that conviction doesn’t take place?
It is impossible to obtain God’s forgiveness without sincere repentance. It’s impossible to repent without God explaining to us why He is angry at us and what we can do to get right with Him. Here in Isaiah 6, Yahweh tells Isaiah that though the prophet will say many words to the people, God will block the people from comprehending His messages.
I heard the Voice of Yahweh, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”
Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
He said, “Go, and tell this people: “Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ Make the hearts of these people hardened. Make their ears dull, and their eyes blind. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.” (Isa. 6:8-10)
As a priest, Isaiah immediately understands the full implications of what Yahweh is saying. By withholding repentance from the current population of rebels in Judah, God is declaring His intentions to throw the whole lot of them into Hell. Though these people are still alive and breathing, they no longer have the option of receiving salvation from God. He has taken that option away from them. Isaiah is deeply disturbed.
Then I asked, “For how long, Lord?”
He answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until Yahweh has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. One-tenth of the people will be left in the land, but then it will be destroyed again. These people will be like an oak tree whose stump is left when the tree is chopped down. The people who remain will be like a stump that will one day sprout again.” (Isa. 6:11-13)
God is going to continue to withhold conviction from these hardened hearts until both nations are utterly destroyed and their citizens have been dragged off to foreign lands. Then God will ravage the whole place a second time until finally there are only a few survivors left. Of those few, there will be some who are allowed to get back into a right relationship with God. But as for all the other people who have been refusing to repent until now—their time is up.
Later on in Period 7, Jesus will go around preaching in parables. No one will understand the spiritual meaning of the parables unless He explains it to them. But Jesus won’t explain the parables to anyone but His disciples. When the disciples ask why He is always preaching using parables, Jesus will quote this same passage from Isaiah 6 as His answer. In other words, He will also be intentionally withholding conviction and understanding from the people of His time. So then, in the Bible, we find both Yahweh and Jesus intentionally blocking souls from understanding truth. We find Them both damning souls to Hell before those souls even leave the earth. We find Them both closing the door of salvation in many people’s faces and then refusing to reopen it. This is terrifying stuff. When’s the last time you heard your preacher tell you that Jesus spoke in parables to ensure that no one would understand His messages and be saved? Sweet loving Jesus? Never! We adamantly reject such a notion even though it’s right there in front of us: God doesn’t wait forever.
Today we live under the New Covenant. Once God grants us His salvation, He never takes it back. But even Christians can seriously damage their relationship with God if they rebel against Him for too long. It is vital that we understand what a precious gift God’s conviction is. We cannot possibly get closer to Him without it. We mustn’t take His conviction for granted. Instead, we must act swiftly whenever God starts tapping us that He wants something to change in our hearts and lives. Even if we don’t have what it takes to do what He is asking, we need to respond to Him with hearts that sincerely care about pleasing Him. As long as we sincerely desire to please God in our hearts, He will not withhold His convictions from us. In fact, the more we care about Him, the more He will speak to us—opening our minds to receive new insights about Him. These things are all precious gifts which God can and will take away if we start abusing them. Look around in the Church today and you will see many teachers and leaders who are taking the glory for the insights God has given them. Such people invariably find themselves cut off from receiving any more wisdom, and then even what they have becomes corrupted in their minds like dried up leaves rotting away on a forest floor. We must treat God with honor. He will not reward rebellion.
So then, what would you do if you were standing in Isaiah’s sandals? Yahweh is going to load you up with a bunch of messages that no one will understand. This means no one will turn away from their sins, and that means your enemies will never decrease in number. It’s not going to take long before a lot people want you dead. Evil instinctively hates the light. Isaiah’s been given a very tough assignment. He’s not going to be able to expect any attaboys from the general public. He’s going to have to rely on Yahweh alone to give him the pep and stamina he’ll need to get up every morning and face more hostility. Will he do it? Oh yes, he will. Isaiah is dedicated. He will do anything for Yahweh. He’s willing to be mocked, ridiculed, beaten up and embarrassed. He would even take off his tunic and walk around totally naked in public if that’s what God wants. And that is exactly what God is going to ask him to do—for three long years. We’ll learn more about that awkward assignment in our next lesson. We’ll also learn about a time when Isaiah gets his wife pregnant in order to show everyone how long it will take Yahweh to fulfill certain prophecies about Israel and Aram. It turns out Hosea isn’t the only prophet who has symbolic children with weird names. When Yahweh calls a man to function as His full time prophet, He often likes to get that man’s whole family involved in the ministry.
Click here to see all the lessons in this series.