History & Literary - Prophets

In regard to the prophets, it may be observed, that all the Old Testament is considered to be in substance one continued prophecy of the coming of Jesus Christ; so that all the books of which it consists are understood to be in some sense prophetical. But this name is more especially given to those books which were written by persons who had a cleaver knowledge of futurity, who forewarned both kings and people of what would happen to them, and who at the same time pointed out what the Messiah was to do, whom they who are acknowledged to have been prophets had always in view: and this is what ought most especially to be taken notice of in their writings.

The prophecies bear the name of those to whom they belong. Some learned men are of opinion that the prophets made abridgments of the discourses which they had written, and fixed them up at the gates of the temple, that all the people might read them; and that after this the ministers of the temple might take them away, and place them among the archives, which is the reason why we have not the prophecies in the order in which they were written. But the interpreters Scripture have long since labored to restore that order, according to the course of their history.

The works of the prophets are divided into two parts, the first of which contains the greater, and the second, the lesser prophets. This distinction, of course, does not apply at all to the persons of the prophets, but only to the bulk of their works. The greater prophets are Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Jeremiah. The Lamentations of Jeremiah make a separate book by themselves, containing that prophet's descriptions of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, and of the captivity of the people. The lesser prophets are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. They were formerly contained in one single volume, which the Hebrews call Thereaser, which means twelve, or the book of the twelve.

The dates of many of the prophecies are uncertain, but the earliest of them was in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam the Second, his contemporary, king of Israel, about 200 years before the captivity, and not long after Joash had slain Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, in the court of the temple. Hosea was the first of the writing prophets, and Joel, Amos, and Obadiah, published their prophecies about the same time.

Isaiah began his remarkable prophecies a short time afterward, but his book is placed first, because it is the largest of them all, and is more explicit relative to the advent of Christ than any of the others. The language of this eminent writer is exceedingly sublime and affecting; so much so, that it has never been equaled by any profane poet either in ancient or modern times. It is impossible to read some of the chapters without being struck by the force of the prophetic allusions to the character and sufferings of the Messiah; and in consequence of these prevailing characteristics, the author is ordinarily styled the evangelical prophet, and by some of the ancients, a fifth evangelist. The Jews say than the spirit of prophecy continued forty years during the second temple; and Malachi they call the seal of prophecy, because in him the succession or series of prophets broke off; and came to a period. The book of Malachi, therefore, appropriately closes the sacred record of the Old Testament.