The Prophets (Introduction to Western Civilization 2.11)

The 50 year period of the Babylonian Captivity, which lasted from about 586 BC to 536 BC, was a time of great difficulty for the Israelites. During this time, most Israelites chose to give up their identity as descendants of Abraham and instead worship the gods of other nations and blend into their cultures. A small but important group, however, chose to remain faithful to the God of Israel. They resisted the attempts of the Babylonians to force them to give up their traditional beliefs and culture.

This group of faithful Israelites collected all of the sacred writings, or scriptures, of the Israelites and had them written on scrolls in order to preserve them. They encouraged public readings of the scriptures so that all people, even if they could not read, could hear the history of their nation and the commandments of their God. They encouraged the Israelites to stand strong and continue to obey the commandments their God had given them through Moses long ago.

Some of the members of this group were called prophets. The prophets were certain individuals who brought messages from God for the people. The prophets included such people as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Joel, and, later, Daniel.

The prophets told the Jews that the conquest of their nation by foreign powers and their captivity in Babylon was the consequence of their sins. Because they had ignored the God of Abraham, worshipping other gods and disobeying the commandments he had given them, God was punishing them. They told the people that if they stopped worshipping foreign gods and started obeying the commandments of their God then God would forgive them and allow them to return to their homeland.

The prophets also taught the people that God was using them for a much bigger purpose. They taught that God was in charge of the whole world, not just Israel, and that he was controlling the events of history. He was arranging things so that he could eventually bring about a time of peace when nations would no longer fight wars against other nations. In this time in the future, they said, there would be no more fighting and no more injustice. Instead, people would be at peace with each other and no one would be poor or mistreated. They said this time of peace would be brought by the Messiah, a Jewish man who would fight against the armies of evil and finally defeat them.

The message of the prophets brought hope for the Israelites who were suffering during the Babylonian Captivity. Their message continues to inspire hope in people today, especially in parts of the world that are still affected by war every day and where people are treated in an unjust way. One of the statues outside of the United Nations building in New York is a statue of a man who is bending a sword into a plowshare, turning a weapon into a tool used to farm and provide food for people. This statue is a representation of one of the most famous passages from the writings of the prophets (Isaiah 2:4):

He shall judge between the nations,

and shall decide disputes for many peoples;

and 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.




Review Questions

 1. According to the prophets, why were bad things, like the Babylonian Captivity, happening to the Israelites? Answer in a complete sentence.

2. What did the prophets say the Messiah would do?




Vocabulary Words

Justice – giving to each person what they deserve to receive


Messiah – a leader and savior of his people


Scriptures – sacred writings

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