Breaking The Cycle of Time & History: Some Thoughts on the Prophets

To the twenty-first century mind time and history are conceived of in one way: linear. This, of course, is reflected in the use of timelines where events are dated and ordered chronologically. Yet, to Israel, time and history were understood differently. For them, time was not linear but periodic, cyclical and therefore, rhythmic. It was the rhythm of the festal and non-festal times that gave rhythm to Israel’s life. Yet, it was not the festivals themselves that gave Israel the bulk of her identity but rather the God who acted in and thus, linked these events together. Israel’s expectation, wrapped up in circularity, was always that their God, who has already acted on their behalf, would surely act again in a similar way.

Yet, with the prophets, there occurred a type of breakthrough in understanding God’s actions in time and history: the future. This new facet of time is what Von Rad referred to as Israel’s “eschatological element” (OT Theology, V.II, 113). This element, Von Rad argues, cracked Israel’s entire concept of circularity. The message of the prophets was that Israel could not rely on what God had done in the past for salvation because God was going to do something ‘new.’ This message formed a type of vacuum, “a vacuum, which the prophets [created] by preaching judgment and sweeping away all false security, and then [filling] it with their message of the new thing” (115). In short, no longer was Israel safe because of the action of her ancestors but now the basis of salvation looked towards the future and in particular, towards ‘The Day of Yahweh’ (118).

However, this ensuing ‘Day’ would not be ‘totally’ unfamiliar to Israel. Indeed, God was going to do a new thing but it would “take the same form as it had done in the days of old” (124). As He had done before, Yahweh would rise up in battle against His foes and achieve victory. In the tradition of Moses, Hosea proclaims entry into a new land; Isaiah foresees a new Zion and a new David, Jeremiah envisions a new covenant and Deutero-Isaiah a new Exodus (117). At the heart of the prophets’ message then, was a new time element, the future, which looked towards ‘The Day of Yahweh.’ Still, the most notable aspect of this ensuing ‘Day,’ though, was that Israel’s security became questionable. While God would be victorious in warring against and meting out judgment to His enemies, this was not necessarily a good sign for Israel. For, prophets such as Amos were quite willing to tell Israel that due to all of her iniquity, this ‘Day’ could well be a danger for her too. This ‘new’ thing, then, was meant to frighten Israel as much as it was to give confidence her. In hearing of this ‘Day,’ God hoped that Israel would turn from her iniquities and return to Him. Behold, this 'old' message still speaks to us in 'new' and fresh ways today. May we all, return to the Lord, our Maker.

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