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

King David (Introduction to Western Civilization 2.8)

After the death of Moses, Moses’s disciple Joshua took charge of the Hebrew people. He led them into the Promised Land and helped them to conquer it from the nations that were in control of it at that time. He established the nation of Israel. After Joshua’s death, Israel was ruled by a group of people called judges. The judges decided who was right and who was wrong in disputes between individuals and made sure the law was followed.

The people of Israel, though, wanted to be like the other nations around them. While Israel was ruled by judges, the other nations were ruled by kings. They asked God for a king. A man named Saul was selected for the job. Saul then became the first king of Israel. Saul did a terrible job as king, however. He used his power for his own good instead of the good of the people.

At that time, the Israelites were at war with another group of people called the Philistines. There was a Philistine warrior named Goliath who challenged all of the Israelites. He mocked their nation and their God. He told them to send their best warrior and he would defeat him. All of the Israelites were afraid except for one teenage boy named David.

David was angry that Goliath had insulted Israel and its God. He decided to fight Goliath. David was so little he could not even wear the armor Israelite warriors usually wore nor could he lift a sword, but he decided to fight Goliath anyway. As he stepped forward to challenge Goliath, the tall, muscular Philistine laughed. “I challenge you to send your best warrior,” he said,” and you send me a boy!” Goliath was big and strong. He was sure he was going to win in a fight against David. When the fight began, however, David took his slingshot, put a rock into it, and shot at straight at Goliath’s head. The rock hit Goliath in the forehead and killed him instantly. Goliath fell to the ground dead. All of Israel praised David as a great warrior who had saved their nation.

Saul, however, was not happy. He was very jealous of David. He knew that the people of Israel hated him and loved David. Saul tried to kill David, but David led his own army of followers who fought back against Saul. After a long fight between David and Saul, Saul was killed in battle and David became the next king of Israel.

David became king of Israel in about 1000 BC and reigned as king for 30 years. During that time, he led the Israelites to many victories over their enemies. The Israelites enjoyed a long period of prosperity with David as king.

Although David was a devout worshipper of God and a great king, he is also remembered for a horrible sin he committed while he was king. One day, while he was on the rooftop of his palace, he saw a beautiful woman named Bathsheba taking a bath on the rooftop of a house nearby. David fell in love with her when he saw her and wanted her to become his wife. After asking around, however, he found out that she was already married. There was a war going on at the time and her husband was a soldier. David ordered that her husband be placed on the front line of soldiers in an attack and that the other soldiers leave him to die. After the death of her husband, David took Bathsheba as his own wife.

One day, the prophet Nathan came to King David and told him a story. “There was a poor man,” he said, “who had only one little lamb. This lamb was his only lamb and he loved it very much. He loved this lamb so much that he took care of it in every way, feeding it at his table and allowing it to sleep in his bed. A rich man then came and took this little lamb away and murdered the poor man.” After telling this story, Nathan asked David, “What should be done to this rich man?”

David jumped up out of his seat in anger and yelled, “Bring me that rich man so that I might send him to be executed!”

Nathan the prophet looked up at the king and said, “You, King David, are that rich man.”

David knew that he had done something terrible. He cried, prayed, and fasted for days, asking God to forgive him. One prayer that he wrote during this time was Psalm 51, which many Christians and Jews still pray today as a prayer of repentance.

The first child that Bathsheba gave birth to died not long after it was born as a punishment for David’s sin. The second child that Bathsheba had, however, was a son named Solomon. Solomon became king of Israel after David’s death and is still remembered today for his great wisdom.

 

Review Questions

1. Who was the first king of Israel?

 2. Who was the second king of Israel?

3. What psalm did David write after his sin?

 

Vocabulary Words

Prophet – a person who receives messages from God

Psalm – a religious poem, often written in the form of a prayer