Thursday, September 6, 2012

Old Testament Timeline: Pre-Exilic Books

This week we began reading "The 11th Hour Prophecies" of Zephaniah, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah within the context of the last few chapters of II Kings.

This prophet is unique in that he traces his lineage back to royalty! He was the great-great grandson of King Hezekiah (called Hizkiah in 1:1 of the KJV) though not from the line of rulers. For those of you who enjoy genealogy (okay, that would be me and probably only me) Zephaniah was the second cousin once removed of King Josiah, the child-king of Judah that followed the wicked reigns of Manasseh and Amon. Zephaniah prophesied in the days of this righteous distant cousin.

King Josiah's reign lasted from 640-609 B.C. Since Josiah implemented serious religious reform in 628 B.C. when he was 20 years old, it could be that Zephaniah's prophecy predates those changes.

The wickedness of Manasseh and Amon were so great that the nation had endured 55 years of idolatry and paganism of large proportion. Even the Godly Josiah could not bring about a spiritual change through the outward physical changes he brought about in national worship.

The book of Zephaniah is known for the phrase "the day of the Lord" and although the Messiah is not specifically mentioned in the book it is only He that can fulfill the promises at the end of Zephaniah's message. Zephaniah ends on a high note about the triumphant reforms of his Distant Cousin, the Messiah, another descendant of the royal line of Judah.

Not much is known about the person of Habakkuk the prophet but the fact that he ended with a psalm that includes the word Shigionoth, a word similar to the shiggaion of Psalm 7, might mean that Habakkuk was somehow involved in the music ministry of the temple at Jerusalem.

As for the time of writing, Habakkuk does not name the specific king on the throne at the time of his prophecy but indications are that it was during the reign of either Jehoahaz or his brother Eliakim/Jehoiakim, both evil sons of Josiah. This would place the time of writing at about 609 B.C. since the campaign against Jerusalem began within a few years of Josiah's death.

Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry in the 13th year of the good king, Josiah, and continued until the destruction of Jerusalem during the reign of Zedekiah. This place the dates between 627-586 B.C. Jeremiah was himself the son of a priest by the name of Hilkiah.

The life of Jeremiah was a hard one! He was branded a traitor to king and country for the judgment that he pronounced. His message later brought hope to at least one captive, Daniel, as he read the prophecy and came to understand that some of the exiles would make their way back to Jerusalem at the end of 70 years captivity.

The book can be divided into three sections, the first occuring while Judah was being threatened by Egypt and Assyria, the second covering the threat by Babylon, and finally after Jerusalem was conquered. The last section was a time of ministry to the occupied inhabitants of Jerusalem and later those who rebelliously made their way to Egypt, forcing Jeremiah to accompany them.

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Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
Psalms 19:14 (KJV)