The book of Isaiah is the account of the prophecy given to Isaiah by G-d. Isaiah probably received and transmitted more prophecies than are recorded here. As a matter of fact, there were many more prophets in the years of the first Temple than are mentioned in Tanach (the Bible). The ones which were written down in the bible are the visions that somehow have relevance to Jews of all generations. The poetry of the book of Isaiah is as beautiful as any other in all of mankind’s literature – but that’s not the main point. The beutiful writing is just the medium of the message; the wrapping.
The role of Isaiah was to transmit the warnings from G-d to His nation…to be the conscience of the Jewish people. His message was also one of comfort – there’s the joy and hope of a look ahead to the perfect world of the messianic era.
Isaiah’s immediate political concern was the viability of the Jewish state. The Jewish claim to Israel and the right to nationhood is based solely on the observance of G-d’s commandments. Many Jews (even among those who remained loyal to the Kingdom of Judah) weren’t what they should have been, and G-d wanted to warn us of the national destruction which would come upon us if things didn’t improve.
Isaiah warned of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple and the exile of the Jews of the kingdom of Judah. Hindsight showed that he was right on target. But hindsight is 20/20 and it was very hard for many people of that generation to swallow what the prophet was saying. How could Jerusalem, the holy city, be destroyed? How could we, the Jews who have remained loyal, ever be exiled?
The prophet responded to these questions without hesitation:
G-d has very high expectations of us, and we’re not living up to them. Our city could be destroyed and we could be exiled. Threatened by the bleak predictions of the prophet, Menashe the king of Judah murdered Isaiah – his own grandfather. But the words of Isaiah live with the Jewish people to this day – as fresh and as relevant as ever.
It was Jeremiah’s lot in life to be known throughout the ages as “the prophet of doom,” for he was G-d’s main spokesman in the generation of the destruction of Jerusalem’s first Temple. But there’s much more to this great figure in Jewish history.
Jeremiah was the one who risked his life to plead with the Jewish king to change his ways… before it would be too late. For his trouble, the prophet was eventually thrown into prison without food or hope of rescue. He was the one who wrote a scroll (that would eventually become the book of Lamentations) predicting the terror of the destruction – only to have it torn up and thrown into a fire. And he was the one who, after having been saved from prison by the king of Babylonia, found the courage to face his patron with prophecies of the coming end of that nation.
Jeremiah was also the man who joined the suffering lines of marchers on their way to exile in Babylonia… and who placed their chains over his shoulders too. He was the one who followed the last remnants of the Jews of Israel into their lonely, self-imposed exile in Egypt – despite the fact that they hadn’t listened to him when he had told them not to go…
We get the picture of a man totally dedicated to his people, concerned with nothing else than for what was best for them. There are times when G-d decides that we need harsh rebuke to bring us back to the right path, and there are times when we need comfort. Jeremiah was there for us in both of those times – without a thought for his own safety or honor.
Jeremiah – The symbol of a man great enough to lead a great nation.
Of all the prophets, the vision of Ezekiel is the one most obviously relevant to all future generations. Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel began his public career before the destruction of the first Temple and was instructed by G-d to bring the attention of the Jews (particularly those already in Babylonia) to the oncoming tragedy.
It is the accessibility of his searching gaze into the distant future that stands out most in the prophecy of Ezekiel. The book opens with a breathtaking vision of the “chariot of G-d.” While there are precious few details of this image that any human being could possibly understand (and even fewer that our rabbis felt fit to make public), the thought that a “son of man” rose to the level of perfection where he was privileged to such close contact with his Creator is in itself sobering. Ezekiel also gives us our best picture of the architecture and construction of the third Temple (to be built in the time of the Messiah), and of the future layout of the Land of Israel. It is interesting, that when the second Temple was erected, as much as possible, the builders used the book of Ezekiel as a blueprint.
To communicate his message, G-d would on occasion instruct Ezekiel to use physical signs and gestures as symbols (see, for example, chapter 5). His prophecy was very visual (see the Valley of Dry Bones), and the imagery has found its way into the literature and thought of all of the world’s cultures. What the prophet really wanted, was that the imagery should find its way into our hearts and change our actions for the better….