The Old Testament prophet stood above the crowd, faced the crowd and turned his or her eye of insight and revelation on the people and its leaders. How did their theology work? What were the major themes? Aaron Chambers, in Interpreting the Prophets, sketches two major themes of the prophet:
1. Sinai and the establishment of a covenant between the Lord and the Israelite people, and
2. Zion and the establishment of a covenant between the Lord and David (and his descendants).
Chambers fills them in.
The Covenant involves three major elements of relevance to reading the prophets, and this covenant looks like a “suzerain-vassal treaty.” A good text is Exodus 19; followed then by Exodus 20 all the way to Leviticus 25; then of course either Deut 28-29 or Leviticus 26.
1 A historical prologue which describes the suzerain’s actions on behalf of the vassal that form the basis for the treaty;
2 A list of stipulations which records the expectations the suzerain places on the vassal – the primary expectation is usually complete and absolute loyalty to the suzerain;
3 A list of blessings and curses which lays out the consequences of the vassal adhering to, or failing to adhere to, the previously mentioned stipulations: continued loyalty will bring blessings, disobedience a series of horrific curses. The inclusion of the latter, in particular, is designed to ‘encourage’ the vassal’s obedience to the stipulations of the treaty.
The importance of the Sinai Covenant traditions for the prophets is easy to see. The prophets are not essentially radicals or innovators; instead, they are better characterized as traditionalists and conservatives who are responsible for calling Israel back to their covenantal obligations to the Lord. In fact, Fee and Stuart (2003: 184) refer to the prophets as ‘covenant enforcement mediators’, highlighting the fact that the demands they make and the judgements they announce closely follow the stipulations and curses of the Sinai Covenant (72).
Most equate prophets with radicals and innovators and change-agents, but rather the prophet is a traditionalist calling God’s people to be faithful to the covenant.
The second theme is Zion — a cluster of ideas around YHWH, the temple, and Israel’s Davidic king.
1. The Lord, YHWH, is king. Psalm 47:7-9.
2. Zion is the Lord’s residence. Psalm 132:13-14. God speaks from there; God will protect Zion; the Lord will defeat those who oppose Zion.
3. David is the Lord’s regent. 2 Samuel 7.
To read the prophets then means to identify one of these traditions at work: does the prophet conform, continue or change the tradition?