We are studying the great prophets of the period before the exile. In order: Amos, Hosea, First Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Jeremiah. In later units, exile prophets Obadiah, Ezekiel, Second Isaiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Third Isaiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah; then post-exile prophets Joel, Malachi, and Zechariah.
Already we sense the differences between these so-called classical or latter prophets and the early or former prophets we studied in Year 1, including Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha.
First the similarities. Both groups:
- Spoke the words of God.
- Had a strong sense of the tradition of the covenant.
- Spoke for those without a voice.
- Believed that in order to be God’s people, Israel had to be morally upright.
Experienced the spirit of God. The former prophets experienced it rushing upon them, while the latter prophets experienced it in a way not described, as the source of prophetic messages.
Now the differences:
EARLY PROPHETS: Primarily men of deeds not of words. Often on the payroll of kings or temples, they could be called on for visions or predictions in time of need. They discerned divine will for specific occasions and specific individuals. Sometimes they were involved in revolts, coups d’état, harem intrigues or the like. Some were members of organized groups that favored ecstatic behavior rather than messages to be delivered. We have no collections of their oracles but instead extensive narratives about their deeds.
LATTER PROPHETS: Emphasis was more on the word than on action. They acted individually and their mission was identified with being a bearer of God’s word. They did not engage in intrigues but attempted to influence policy by carrying the word before kings and people. They spoke to the whole nation. They challenged popular but false values while exhorting people to rediscover the covenant and reverse evil ways. We know little about their lives (Jeremiah being the exception), but have first-person accounts of several of the calls. We have books or collections of oracles bearing their names.