Kingdom Civics

The Prophets: A Gathering Storm

Kingdom visionaries (5)

 

“And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.” Daniel 7.27

The folly of kings

It may have been that David and Solomon set the bar of expectations so high in ancient Israel that the very greatness of their success bred the disasters of Israel and Judah in the generations that followed.

Certainly one of the main lessons to be derived from the monarchic period of Israel’s history is that the Kingdom God intends to establish, and over which He will rule, cannot be defined by the parameters and protocols of a merely earthly realm. While Israel achieved an almost unprecedented measure of greatness, splendor, and prosperity under David and Solomon, subsequent rulers, for a variety of reasons, failed to realize the same height of success. And internecine fights, fueled by idolatry and the lust for power, hastened the ultimate disintegration and destruction of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of the people of Israel.

All this was very discouraging to the Israelites and their rulers. They had come to understand through the patriarchs and Moses that God was planning a great and expansive kingdom in which His people would know His blessings and extend them to all nations and peoples. For nearly a century, under David and Solomon, their hopes must have soared as they participated in the wealth, power, safety, and prestige of the Davidic Kingdom.

But as it all began to unravel, their hopes of realizing all that God had promised must have begun to dwindle. Into that situation, as the folly of human rulers tore to shreds the kingdom fabric of Israel, the prophets of God began to point His people to larger horizons, grander vistas, and even more expansive promises of Kingdom realization.

While we cannot look in detail at the many specific insights given the various prophets concerning the promised coming of the Kingdom of God, I want us to consider five aspects of their collective vision which fueled the hopes of the faithful and laid the groundwork for the greatest events the history of humankind would ever know.

The prophetic vision of the coming Kingdom of God grows like a gathering storm throughout the prophetic literature, leaving the Old Testament to close, at least for the faithful, with a powerful expectation of soon and sudden appearing of a glorious, divine intervention in the affairs of men and nations.

God’s authority

The vision of the prophets is one in which, first of all, the faithful of Israel are reassured that God Himself is King and His power extends to all nations and peoples.

Such a vision would have been necessary in view of the continuing ravages and losses of the nations of Israel and Judah at the hands of the repressive and violent regimes of various pagan kings. It might have appeared to many that God was not as powerful as these earthly kings and their gods, for He seemed unable to defend Israel or Judah against their attacks (Habakkuk). Indeed, even His temple, the very dwelling-place of God on earth, was destroyed and plundered by Nebuchadnezzar in a deliberate attempt to vaunt his own majesty and might over the God of Israel (2 Chronicles, Daniel).

But prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, Amos, Habakkuk, Nahum, and more made it clear to all the faithful that the sins of the nations – particularly those committed against the people of God – did not escape the notice of Jahweh. In His way and time, they prophesied, He would reassert His authority and power over all the nations of the region, and all the peoples of the earth, in order to demonstrate His justice and might and to validate His claim of sole allegiance and exclusive worship.

A developing economy of grace

As the promises of Abraham slipped through the fingers of God’s wayward people, even the faithful among them must have wondered if God had changed His mind, and His covenant were no longer valid. Had the people of God at last and finally forfeited their privileges through their unbelief and disobedience?

As the prophets continued to preach and write during this period, they made it abundantly clear that, central to the coming renewal of God’s rule over the nations was a revitalizing of His covenant relationship with His chosen people. A day was coming – as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Zechariah foretold – when God would make a new and lasting covenant with His people, would send a new King and Shepherd to rule and keep them, and would once again extend His blessings through His people to the Gentiles, even to the extent of including the Gentiles among the chosen people of God (Hosea, Amos).

All this would be a continuation of God’s gracious way of relating to His people. They had done nothing in the past to cause Him to set His favor upon them. In the present they were busy forfeiting that favor as many ways as they could. But though they were faithless, God was faithful, and He would not allow His promises to fall to the ground. Instead, the promises to Abraham would be renewed and expanded beyond anything God had ever declared before in a new Kingdom of grace and glory.

From heaven to earth

How could this possibly be? That must have been the question on the minds of many. How could anyone exceed the achievements of Solomon? And yet we see what happened to him and his kingdom after him. What Isaiah and Daniel helped the people of Israel to understand was that events in heaven were transpiring, and would transpire, which would bring to earth a King, sent from heaven, the very Son of the Most High, Who would inherit the throne of David, bring in the Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy, and extend the favor of God to all who submitted to Him.

A mere earthly kingdom could not fulfill all that God was promising. It would take an action of heavenly provenance and character, bringing divine authority and power in a new way to earth, to bring the blessings of God to and through His people in the days that were coming. And that great coming event was somehow bound up with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God upon the peoples of the earth (Ezekiel, Joel).

A divine King

All this would be accomplished by the coming of One Who is the Son of Man, and yet a descendant of King David; the offspring of the Ancient of Days, for Whom the Kingdom was being prepared, and yet the Lord of David and all the people of God. He would come to suffer and die but to rise again, in the process gaining a Kingdom which He would bestow upon His faithful ones to seek, attain, enjoy, and expand unto all the nations of the earth (Isaiah, Daniel, Zechariah, Micah).

The faithful in Israel, upon hearing these promises and reading these visions, might have been put in mind of the promised “Seed of the woman” who would destroy the enemy of men’s souls (Gen 3.15), of the Shiloh Who was to come and for Whom the Kingdom was being prepared (Gen. 49.8-11), or of the Prophet and King that Moses had foretold and Nathan had revealed to David, Who would rule in perfect justice and love forever over his people. Thus the ancient vision of a coming Kingdom would have been renewed and enlarged in these more precise promises of a King to come. God was doing a new thing, but not a new thing. What He had always promised, now He was about to bring to pass in grander and more majestic manner.

Prepare for the Kingdom

In the light of all that God was promising concerning this coming Kingdom, Israel was commanded, in spite of her misery and loss, to prepare their hearts and lives by doing in the present what God commanded, with a view to establishing a faithful legacy of waiting for the promised Kingdom of God.

Whether it was to seek revival and renewal in the midst of decay (2 Chronicles), work for prosperity and fruitfulness while in captivity (Jeremiah), or build a humble and unadorned temple in anticipation of a greater temple to come (Haggai), the people of God must be diligent and faithful to focus on the promised Kingdom and do whatever the present required in order to prepare for it.

So the Old Testament closes with this gathering storm of divine blessing growing on the horizon of the future. All this would break into human experience with the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Man and the King of Israel and the nations. It is to His vision of the Kingdom of God that we shall next turn our attention.

Consider:

  1. Why do you suppose that revelation concerning the coming Kingdom of God accelerated so much during the period of the prophets – which extends from after the days of Solomon to the end of the Old Testament? What should we conclude from this ever-sharpening focus?
  2. Isaiah 9.6, 7 is undoubtedly one of the best-known prophesies of the coming Kingdom of God. How many different observations can you make about this coming Kingdom? How would this have comforted and inspired the hearts of those who heard it in Isaiah’s day?
  3. The people of God in Israel, during the time of the prophets, were commanded to make preparation in their day for the coming of the Kingdom of God. How does this instruct us? The Kingdom of God has come, but it is still coming? How should we seek this Kingdom (Matt. 6.33)?

T. M. Moore

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore