ex libris — prophets bookshelf
In the following books a variety of authors discuss material related to the prophets and Old Testament salvation history.
Joseph Jensen’s scholarly book provides a response to the notion that the Old Testament prophets are irrelevant in our own time. The author examines how their forceful role in shaping the ethics of ancient Israel still strongly influences present-day ideas of social justice. The work focuses on the theological foundation of the ethical teachings of the prophets, especially their understanding of God. Reflecting on the teachings of the prophets offers rewards as well as challenges.
“What the prophet can conceive of as God’s will is something we can work for as a goal. While the United Nations exists in order to bring about peace among nations, its success depends upon the will of the nations to live in peace; the desire of an individual nation to live at peace with others will often depend on the will of its citizens to live at peace with one another. The beating of swords into plowshares, we might say, begins in our own back yard. … The concern for the poor and downtrodden that so characterized Amos and other prophets, if it became the moving force of individuals and states, could ultimately eliminate the conditions that promote violence and would therefore make the longed-for peace possible “
Although intended as a college textbook, this work by Joseph Jensen is more easily digested than Ethical Dimensions of the Prophets (see above). God’s Word to Israel will serve as a boon companion for anyone approaching the Old Testament with the aim of learning more about what it is that God is saying to humanity. The author is well aware that reading his introduction to the Old Testament is in no way a substitute for reading God’s Word. Jensen’s book provides background for additional reflection after first reading the Scriptures.
“The central message of the New Testament is that the redemption which Israel had long expected has at last been accomplished. The events by which God called Israel, formed its expectation, and brought this expectation to fulfillment, make up the message contained in the Bile—not a list of dry propositions, not a compilation of abstract truths, but a series of events which take place in human history. The events by which God is believed to have revealed himself and his plan for the redemption of fallen mankind is often called “salvation history” (Heilsgeschichte). The term supposes a God who is truly the Lord of history and whose will is to save.”
Both more accessible and more comprehensive than many books about the prophets, this introduction includes information about each of the prophetic books of the Old Testament as well as mention of the prophets found in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) and the historical books. The author compares the work of the prophets of Israel— always recognized as divine spokesmen—with prophetic literature written at the same time in neighboring nations.
“Prophets straddle two worlds. On the one hand, they make the audacious claim to speak for God. As such, they think of themselves and are perceived b others as individuals sent from God with a message for God’s people. As messengers of God, they claim access to a world not generally available to other men and women. … On the other hand, prophets are entirely human men and women, shaped by their world and bound by their own time and culture. As human agents of God, their worldview and their words, their manner of speaking and ways of acting, their place in society, and their understanding of domestic and foreign politics are all influenced by their time and place in the world.”
Although they are essential to salvation history, a number of different ideas exist about the role of the prophets. Abraham Heschel, a Jewish scholar, understands a prophet to be someone compelled to sympathize with God about humanity’s endangered access to eternal life. Heschel’s book is considered a seminal work by many biblical scholars, and it continues to exert great influence on how Christians as well as Jews view the Old Testament prophets.
“To a person endowed with prophetic sight, everyone else appears blind; to a person whose ear perceives God’s voice, everyone else appears deaf. No one is just; no knowing is strong enough, no trust complete enough. The prophet hates the approximate, he shuns the middle of the road. Man must live on the summit to avoid the abyss. There is nothing to hold to except God. Carried away by the challenge, the demand to straighten out man’s ways, the prophet is strange, one-sided, an unbearable extremist. … The prophet’s word is a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels a blast from heaven.”