by Metropolitan Elias (Kurban) of Tripoli


The subject is “prophecy”; however, before dealing with prophecy, and in order to understand the theme of the essay well, it is necessary to have a general and brief survey of the political and historical background of the whole area which concerns us, that is, the Middle East, Judea, Israel, and the surrounding peoples.

The world’s political center was in that area for a long time; and from the very beginning, two major powers were struggling against each other for supremacy: one was in Egypt, and the other was in Mesopotamia. I guess that all of us have heard a great deal about Pharaohs and the pyramids. A huge number of tourists from all over the world pour into Egypt every year to have a look at the marvelous work of the ancient world, which still stands proudly, challenging time and the power of nature.

Egypt, for a long time, 4000-2000 B.C., was the supreme power in Africa, and it is still trying to play the same role in these modern times. Its territories extended all along the Nile Valley, including what we now call Sudan and Ethiopia. The rulers of Egypt conquered all the small kingdoms along the eastern Mediterranean Sea. A visitor to Lebanon may notice the trace of the Egyptian conquest, and the picture of Rameses engraved in the historical rock of the Dog River.

On the other hand, another world power arose in Babylonia, Iraq of today, and it seems that Egypt and Iraq are now struggling for supremacy in that area. According to recent discoveries, the first sign of human civilization is found in this area. We have no documents whatsoever of the earlier settlers. In the light of history many tribes immigrated to this area; the first was Sumer, then huge and successive waves of Semite tribes migrated, one after the other. The first people to form a mighty kingdom were the Babylonians. Babylonia lasted for more than one thousand years, 220-960 B.C. These people were the real masters of the fertile crescent (Mesopotamia, part of Asia Minor, Phoenicia, Aram, (Syria) Israel, Judea, Philistia, and Moab). A new power appeared in the political scene, Assyria. Nineveh became the new center of political power in the time of Hamorabi, and thus the kingdom of old Babylonia disappeared forever into the realm of the past.

Here in the Bible we meet prominent names, such as Shalmanasar, Sergon, Assir-Hoddon, Senneharib, all these mighty Assyrian rulers came to power between 606-100 B.C., and were the true masters of the fertile crescent, including Israel and Judea.

In the year 606 B. C., Nineveh collapsed for good and a new power arose and established the kingdom of the new Babylonia, though this kingdom did not last long. It wiped out Israel and Judea from the face of the earth as a political power and did not rise again until 1947 A.D.

Nebuchadnezzer put an end of Judea by destroying Jerusalem and carrying away its people into captivity (606-539 B.C.). Again and again a new power arose, this time it was Persia. Cyrus, the King destroyed Babylonia and permitted the Jews to go back to their country, but not to form any state of any kind. The whole history of the Jews is really a dramatic one. A history of suffering, slavery, and pain. From the time of the Pharaohs, they struggled against the power of nature as well as against human tyranny, but they never attained a state of security and independence. In Egypt, they were in slavery, so in the desert, and even after they conquered Palestine. The very small period of independence during the time of David and Solomon was but one exceptional phase of their long history. After the death of Solomon, the kingdom was divided into two parts, Judea in the south and Israel to the North. Those two kingdoms were looking for a deliverer.

The history of humanity is a struggle against an unknown factor. Birth, growth, and end; nations rise and grow, then diminish in the course of history. Humanity, in its struggle, is looking for an ideal: for a deliverer. But this deliverer is not Solomon or David of Israel. He is not Alexander the Great of Greece, or Augustus of Rome, or Napoleon of France, or Hitler of the last world war, or Marx or Lenin. He is the one the prophets spoke about who will crush the seed of the serpent.

Because of the fact that Israel and Judea were surrounded by pagan people, many customs, habits, and cults were introduced into the religion of Israel and the worshipping of God was profaned by worshipping other Gods. Corruption prevailed all over, even in the “milieu” of the hierarchy (the priests) and the rulers. So God, who revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, had to reveal himself once again. This time He chose to reveal Himself through the prophets and not through a mighty and worldly kingdom. These prophets are to prepare the way to the great and only Deliverer, Jesus, not another Solomon or David.


What Do We Mean By The Prophet?

The word, “prophet”, Nabi, in the Old Testament is derived from a root that means to speak, or better, to speak by delegated authority. The Nabi is not a man who speaks his own words, but the word of one who has authorized him to speak.

The prophets, thus, spoke the revealed will of Yahweh as it concerns the life of the nation and the wider world. They were the interpreters of events. Things did not simply happen, but all that happened was part of the Divine Plan.

The prophets, to a great extent, were reformers. The hierarchy and the monarchy worked together for their own interests, but the prophets were fired with the theocratic principle—Samuel, Elijah, Nathan, and Jeremiah rebuked kings and priests alike. They spoke with authority and good judgment.

There were prophets at least as early as the time of Moses, but beginning with Samuel, they grew in number and in influence. The last prophet of the Old Testament was St. John the Baptist.


Prophets of Special Vocation

The vocation of prophetism was not reserved to the members of any one tribe. God called His prophets according to His own good pleasure. Amos was a countryman, Jeremiah was a priest, and Isaiah was a nobleman. The prophets were the confidants and spokesmen of God: they were counselors, and, above all, preachers. They made known the will of God and events of the future.

The authenticity of the ministry of the prophets chosen by God is determined by various criteria, chief among which is their moral standard.


The Message of the Prophets

The first element of the message of the prophets is the ethical monotheism. It began with Moses. The God of the moral law is the God of Israel.

The moral character of God they stressed in several ways: 1) Holiness 2) Righteousness. On this attribute, the prophets rest their confidence that God will not only punish sin, but also pardon and restore the penitent.

If we go further with the teachings of the prophets, we meet the following topics:


  1. SIN: It is a voluntary, personal act: it is a rebellion against God. It stems from a deep-lying evil condition in the heart of man. It is disloyalty, ingratitude, pride, idolatry, greed, injustice, oppression of the poor and weak, unbrotherliness, governmental corruption, giving and taking a bribe, cruelty, murder, dishonesty, and treachery.
  2. REPENTANCE: The call to repentance is one of the major notes in the preaching of the prophets. It is the only way to regain God’s favor and secure his help and salvation. The elements of true repentance are recognition and acknowledgement of guilt, regret, and sorrow for the iniquity done, renouncing sin and turn away from evil. But the most characteristic expression of repentance is return to God. The prophets emphasize that ceremonies of worship without righteousness of life are unacceptable to God.
  3. LOVE: This brings to us what we call the positive side of the prophets’ teaching about God. The main exponents of the Divine Love are Hosea, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. They show that God is basically compassionate, that He grieves over His children, that He longs for their return to Him, that He is willing to forgive the penitent, and that His love reaches out without limitation to all His creatures.
  4. THE MESSIANIC SALVATION: Here we reach the climax and the heart of the teachings of the prophets. The Divine Love is not a mere sentiment, but a creative energy. God has a plan of Salvation, as He had a plan to Creation. What kind of salvation is it going to be? We find two meanings: Deliverance from oppression from foreign occupation, but in the prophetic usage, it is deliverance from the sins that bring punishments, and more specifically, peace and blessing. These hopes found their highest development in the Messianic prospect.


A great Deliverer had to come, in what form, for what purpose? The answer is in the writings of the prophets. Here we have the theme not only of the prophets, but of the whole Bible. Messiah is to come and deliver His people, and deliver all mankind. Yes, there is a plan for Salvation. The Jews did not understand the contents and meaning of the whole plan, and they still, until this very day, are waiting for the Deliverer. That deliverer may be personified in the person of Ben Gurion, who is trying to establish the Jewish kingdom in Palestine in a new form. Yes, the deliverer would be an Israelite, a descendant of David, but his activity would not be restricted to his own people. Yehovah would enter into another covenant with a cleansed, purified people, a redeemer had to come. This redeemer is the heart of the whole human history, and all the ancient history is nothing but an arrangement for the coming of Jesus, a new Kingdom to be established, a Kingdom of a new meaning, a spiritual one, a Kingdom of righteousness, love, unity, a Kingdom which will last forever: it is the Kingdom of God on earth which will transcend us and elevate us and unify us with God. This Kingdom has not yet attained its full and final perfection….“Thy Kingdom come”.

This kingdom is in our hearts and begins with Baptism. A kingdom not to raise our standard of living, not to provide us with all material things. It is not based upon the same principle of our modern concepts of a kingdom, but it is the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of love, beauty, salvation, restoration, and its final object is union with God. It is a struggle against sin, corruption, and every vice. It is the kingdom established by the Incarnate God, the real deliverer of Mankind.

(Isaiah 11: l-2) — ”That He is from the descent of David.” How it was literally prophesied by Isaiah that He would be born of a Virgin, he said, “Emmanuel” God is among us (Is. 7:14.) Here, also, in what part of the earth was He to be born, “But you, O Bethlehem” (Micah 5: 2) How He was to come and to be the true Ruler, (Is. 9:67.) How He was crucified, (Psalms 22, 16-18.) His glorious coming to Jerusalem, (Zecharia 9: 9.) How Jesus was rejected by Israel, (Is. 1:3-4.) Here the prophetic spirit speaks of the character of Christ, (Is. 65:2.) and again (Is. 50:6-8.) Now, how predictions were made about those who were to proclaim His teaching and testify to His manifestation, (Psalms 19:2-6.) How it was prophesied that Christ would heal all diseases and raise the dead, (Is. 35:5-6.) That His mission is a general one for all and that He is to die for our sins, (Is. 53:8-12.) How He was to ascend into Heaven, (Psalms 24:7-8.) Finally, about the general resurrection and judgment. (Ezech. 37.)

From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
April 1958
pp. 3-4