Beginning in the eighth century before Christ (800-700BC), we see the development of a new type of literature in the Old Testament: Prophecy. This coincides with the division of Israel into two dynasties, the northern and southern kingdoms. The prophets often predicted or anticipated disaster.
The prophets Amos and Hosea correctly predicted disaster that would follow the prosperous reign of Jeroboam II. Though Amos and Hosea are short books, they provide stinging social commentary of the power elite in Israel, and they anticipate the political chaos and civil war that would accompany the next six kings, whose combined reign (767-722BC) would be shorter than that of Jeroboam II. Weakened by incessant political infighting, northern Israel ceased to exist after the capital of Samaria fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC.
Judah also so suffered from poor political leadership, as Ahaz (732-716), Amon (643-641) and Jehoikim (609-598) would bring Jerusalem to the precipice. Micah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and Habbakuk were Judean prophets. Ezekiel and Daniel were already exiled in Babylon by the time they were engaged in prophetic ministry.
Consider some of the charges that God brings, through the message the prophets convey:
Amos against Israel: Yes, I know how many are your crimes, how grievous your sins, oppressing the just, accepting bribes, repelling the needy at the gate! (5:12)
Hosea: Hear the word of the LORD, O people of Israel, for the Lord has a grievance against the inhabitants of the land: there is no fidelity, no mercy, no knowledge of God in the land. (4:1)
Zephaniah on Judah: I will stretch out my hand against Judah, and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, I will destroy from this place the last vestige of Baal. (1:4)
Jeremiah against Judah: This wicked people who refuse to obey my words, who walk in the stubborness of their hearts, and follow strange gods to serve and adore them, shall be like this loincloth which is good for nothing. (13:10)
Habakkuk to Judah: Woe to him who says to wood, “awake!” to dumb stone, “Arise!” Can such a thing give oracles?’ See it is overlaid with gold and silver, but there is no life or breath in it… Of what avail is the carved image… that its very maker should trust in dumb idols? (3:18-19)
Do the prophets of the eighth and seventh century, before the fall of Samaria (the capital of Israel) and Judah, speak of the “covenant”? The answer is yes. Jeremiah speaks most frequently about the strained covenant between God and his chosen people. Ezekiel also mentions the covenant more than a dozen times. The minor prophets also speak of the covenant, and we’ll be looking at the prophets’ commentary on the covenant in the next post.