Chapter 8: The Latter Prophets
From the time that Joshua led his successful attack on Jericho, violence and brutality marked the history of the Jewish people. And during those centuries, neither priest nor prophet raised his voice in protest against this travesty of the spiritual mission to which the descendants of Sarah and Abraham had been called.
Instead of providing a role model for the rest of humanity, they had indulged in the same violence and coercion that marked every other nation. Instead of allowing the compassion, nurturance and concern of the female principle to manifest itself among them, they had denigrated and kept it in subjection.
Gentleness, peacefulness and nonviolence were neither esteemed nor rewarded. The nation's heroes were those who were able to obtain what they wanted, regardless of their methods. Machismo was king and the end always justified the means.
As the nation continued to repress the female principle, its religious practices reflected the violence that marked its political life. Communal worship centered around the sacrifice of animals and their deaths, like the extermination of enemy people, were said to be pleasing to God. Hundreds of thousands of them were killed in religious ceremonies; the temple had become a giant slaughterhouse.
While the blood of sacrificial victims ran deep in the house of God, the blood of war victims was shed in the endless battles for riches and for territory. The male power principle reigned supreme; it dictated every aspect of Hebrew life. The wealthy and powerful ruthlessly exploited the poor and the powerless. Injustice was the order of the day and the violence of the temple and the battlefield was repeated in the streets of Jerusalem. The Bible records an oracle of the Lord against this state of affairs.
Your hands are stained with blood and your fingers with crime; your lips speak lies and your tongues utter injustice...They rush headlong into crime in furious haste to shed innocent blood....They do not know the way to peace...justice is rebuffed and flouted while righteousness stands aloof; truth stumbles in the market-place and honesty is kept out of court, so truth is lost to sight and whoever shuns evil is thought a madman.
But the Hebrew leaders did not challenge the corrupt status quo. With each succeeding generation, that corruption became more firmly entrenched in the religious and political life of the nation--until the eighth century, B.C.
The eighth century marked a major turning point in the history of the Jewish people. It began the era that became known as the time of the Latter Prophets. The ministry of these men had nothing in common with that of the prophets who had preceded them. Those earlier prophets had advocated violence in the name of the Lord. Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, and others like them, directed messages of wrath and destruction to those whom they perceived as the enemy. Nor were words their only weapons; in the name of God they had also acted as executioners.
But the Latter Prophets killed no one. Neither did they use their prophetic office to incite their countrymen to violence. Instead, they called for peace, compassion, and justice. They spoke of the Lord as a loving God who was like a compassionate shepherd, tenderly caring for the flock. This God was a nurturing mother as well as a powerful father: a God who manifested the female principle as well as the male.
The Prophet Isaiah spoke God's message of love: "You shall be nursed, you shall be carried on the hip and fondled on the knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you." The prophet Hosea also revealed the tenderness of the Creator: "When Israel was a boy, I loved him; I called my son out of Egypt...it was I who taught Ephraim to walk... I who had taken them in my arms; I had lifted them like a little child to my cheek, I had bent down to feed them."
Along with proclaiming the mother-like nature of God, the Latter Prophets denounced the brutality that the former leaders of Israel had demanded in the name of the Lord. They described the kind of behavior that was pleasing to God: "And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."
Love, kindness, nonviolence and social justice--these were the things that the Latter Prophets said were pleasing to God. Their ministry inaugurated an era of spiritual and moral development that struggles to continue in our own day. It was a giant leap in consciousness that seemed to emerge, full-blown, in the teachings of those men.
They proclaimed their message to a people who had been celebrating war and warriors, riches, power, and sacrificial religion--all in the name of God. And they told those people to "beat their swords into plowshares" and never again to "train for war." They denounced those who "deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed." And they declared the slaughter of sacrificial animals to be an abomination in the sight of the Lord: "...your sacrifices, what are they to me?...Your hands are full of blood....Take your evil deeds out of my sight."
For over a century God sent men like Amos, Hosea, Micah, Jeremiah, and Isaiah to prophesy against the brutality and corruption of their countrymen, and to declare the nature of true worship to the people. Generation after generation, these Latter Prophets proclaimed that it was mercy, compassion, and social justice that God desired, not the slaughter of men and beasts. In the name of God, Amos said: "When you offer me holocausts, I reject your oblations and refuse to look at your sacrifices of fattened cattle...but let justice flow like water, and integrity like an unfailing stream." And when Amos's mission was completed, Isaiah spoke the same message.
What are your multiplied sacrifices to me?....I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats...I hate your new moon and your appointed feasts....Cease to do evil. Learn to do good; seek justice; reprove the ruthless. Defend the orphan, plead for the widows.
Then, when Isaiah's ministry was over, the Prophet Jeremiah spoke to the people. "Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways....Do not trust in deceptive words saying 'this is the temple of the Lord'...do not oppress the alien, the orphan or the widow and do not shed innocent blood."
In calling for an end to the violence of war, the establishment of social justice, and the abolition of sacrificial religion, the Latter Prophets were demanding that the female principle of love and compassion be manifested among the Jewish people. Their prophetic teaching represented a revolution from within Judaism. It was a spiritual revolution that sought to overthrow the rule of the unrestrained male principle.
It was a revolution that led back to Sarah and Abraham; back to the covenant that God established with the free woman and the circumcised man. It was the covenant instituted to provide an opportunity for the female principle to be active in all human affairs. It was the covenant that could free the male principle from the tyranny of its own destructive rule.
Isaiah reminded the nation that Sarah was an integral part of that covenant. Until the time of his ministry, her name had been expunged from the records of the Jews. For a thousand years of its history, there was no scriptural reference to the founding mother of Judaism.
But Isaiah was sent to restore her name and remind the Jewish people of the pivotal role she had played in the birth of their nation. "Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth."
Isaiah's proclamation was only the beginning of a ministry that addressed numerous prophecies to women, demanding that they assume positions of leadership among their people. As symbols of the female principle, women had to reject their limited role in society. They had to be willing to take their place beside men. Until they did, the world would continue to reflect the chaos that resulted from the totalitarian rule of the male principle.
In the name of God, Isaiah commanded women to arise from their subservience to the male and take their rightful place in the affairs of the world. "Awake, Awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength....Shake off your dust; rise up....Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion."
No longer were women to continue in the pattern set by Eve when she and Adam were banished from Eden. No longer was it to be true of the woman that she allowed her "desire to be to [her] husband," thus giving him the power to "rule over [her]." That desire--that choice--made in the beginning, had allowed the man his totalitarian rule of the world. It was time that it ended.
"Comfort, comfort my people," says your God. "Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins."
Again and again Isaiah prophesied to the female, telling her it was time to renounce the domination of the male principle; it was time to overcome the past.
Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath...hear this, you afflicted one, made drunk but not with wine. This is what your Sovereign Lord says....See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger....I will put it into the hands of your tormentors who said to you, "Fall prostrate that we may walk over you." And you made your back like the ground, like a street to be walked over.
No longer were women to allow themselves to be used in such a way. No longer was the female to make her "back like the ground, like a street to be walked over." She was to assume her place of leadership, alongside the male. She was to balance the male use of force and power with the compassion and tenderness of the female principle.
The eons during which women allowed men their tyrannical rule were to end. And when they accepted their responsibility a new world order would arise: the world order spoken of by the Latter Prophets. It would be a time when the nations of the earth would come together in peace. "Nation will not lift up sword against nation. And never again will they train for war. And each of them will sit under his vine and fruit tree with no one to make them afraid."
But that prophecy of ongoing peace would never be fulfilled until women were willing to take their place in the world beyond the home. A world that did not allow the balanced rule of the male and female principles was limited to the use of power, coercion, and force to achieve its goals. It was a world that did not know the ways of peace.
Through the ages, women had learned the ways of nonviolence, of compassion and care‑giving. And in the name of God, Isaiah called upon them to show the way to the rest of the world. "Arise, O woman, shed forth light, for your light has come and upon you the very glory of Jehovah has shone forth." Isaiah went on to prophesy that the time would come when "the nations shall march towards your light...your sons also shall come from afar, your daughters walking beside them leading the way."
The prophet would not be silenced concerning this need for the restoration of the female principle. "For the sake of Zion I shall not keep still, and for the sake of Jerusalem I shall not stay quiet until her righteousness goes forth just like the brightness, and her salvation like a torch that burns. And the nations will certainly see your righteousness, O woman, and all kings your glory."
Beginning with Isaiah, a new role for women was foretold. Until the time of the Latter Prophets, the only function women had been allowed, or for which they were celebrated, was their role of wife and mother (and, more specifically, as the mothers of sons). To be without a husband, or to be infertile, was regarded as a sign of God's disfavor. And to be a widow without children was to be without any status in the community.
But now the Jewish people were put on notice that the function of a woman was not to be limited to the role of wife and mother. The descendants of Abraham and Sarah were to see women in a new light; they were to understand that the creativity and productivity of the female must be freed from the narrow boundaries in which it had been confined. Through the prophet Isaiah, God revealed a new dispensation for woman.
Sing aloud, O barren woman who never bore a child, break into cries of joy, you who have never been in labour...Enlarge the limits of your home, spread wide the curtains of your tent...for you shall break out of your confines right and left.
It was not only women who would profit from their expanded role. Men would also be blessed when the female principle was released from its bondage. No longer would they be limited to the concept of a God who directed them to slaughter each other. No longer would they have to believe that God demanded they exterminate entire populations for his honor and glory. Through the female, men could learn of a God who was compassionate and caring; whose love and tenderness extended to all creatures. The prophet urged women to proclaim that message.
Make your way up even onto a high mountain, you woman bringing good news for Zion. Raise your voice even with power, you woman bringing good news for Jerusalem. Do not be afraid. Say to the cities of Judah "Here is your God....Like a shepherd he will shepherd his own drove. With his arm he will collect together the lambs; and in his arms he will carry them. Those giving suck he will conduct with care."
From the time the Hebrews entered Jericho they had increasingly identified their God as the violent, avenging Jehovah. But with the advent of the Latter Prophets that belief was disavowed. The idea of a destructive and vengeful God was only the reflection of a culture in which the male power principle had been given a dictatorial reign. Now that culture must reflect the input of the female.
Without the input of the female principle, the exercise of power was destructive. Only when strength and action were combined with compassion and nurturance could the exercise of power be unreservedly constructive. Only when the male and female principles were united could they bring forth the kind of activity that would be a true reflection of God--of the Creator God in whom the male and female were fully integrated.
The covenant with Sarah and Abraham had laid the foundation for that male/female equality more than 1,000 years before. But during the centuries since then, the meaning of that covenant had been banished from consciousness. Only the outward, physical sign of circumcision remained.
But the ministry of the Latter Prophets reminded the people of the Spirit of that covenant, of the need to free the female principle from its bondage to the male. God was calling on women--on the daughters of Zion--to rise up and lead their people to a new world order. And the prophets described what the world would be like when the rule of the male power principle was ended.
Micah foretold a world in which no one would be afraid; a world in which there would be no more violence and no more war. Hosea also spoke of a world without violence; a world in which in which there was no place for "bow and sword and battle"; a place where "all may lay down in safety." It would be a world of "righteousness and justice, love and compassion."
Life on earth would be peaceful and secure because idolatry would be a thing of the past: no longer would human beings idolize the imperfect, fragmented, male god whose worship demanded violence and destruction. In place of that idol, they would worship the God whose power was derived from an unfathomable and endless love. They would reverence the Creator of the universe in whom the male/female principles were united in the wholeness and perfection of the Godhead.
For almost 100 years the Lord raised up prophets who told their people of the motherhood of God; men who warned that the oppression of the poor and powerless among them would result in their own downfall. Generation after generation, Amos, Micah, Hosea, and Isaiah denounced violence and militarism and spoke of the need for compassion and love. They spoke out against the cult of animal sacrifice that had become the heart of Jewish religious and they denounced bloodshed of any kind--human or animal.
But the prophets preached their message to a warlike and prosperous people. Both Israel in the north and Judah in the south were expanding their borders and their economy. Both viewed aggressive militarism as an essential component of their territorial and economic expansion.
While the Latter Prophets warned the people that their policies would ultimately lead to disaster, hundreds of "establishment" prophets and priests were giving a different message. As spokesmen for a massive and unshakable alliance of religion and patriotism, they daily assured the people that theirs was a righteous and Godly nation with whom the Lord was well pleased.
The people chose to believe the message of these establishment spokesmen and flocked to worship at the altars where they officiated. North and south, at the sacrificial altars of Bethel and Jerusalem, they brought animals to be slaughtered in thanksgiving for military victories and in gratitude for material gains. These false prophets ignored the violence and treachery of the military and the oppression of the many at the hands of the wealthy few. They insisted that the Lord, himself, would always give these faithful worshippers victory over their enemies.
The majority of Jewish people believed in and supported those men--right up to the moment they were defeated and driven from their own land. Despite the warnings of the Latter Prophets, they had refused to reform themselves, their institutions, or their sacrificial worship. They believed they were invincible and that God would remain their partisan because they were the descendants of Abraham and heirs of the covenant.
But by 587 B.C. both Israel and Judah had been defeated by their enemies, just as Amos, Micah, Hosea, and Isaiah had prophesied. The people of Judah survived their captivity by the Babylonians, but the people of the Northern Kingdom did not survive their defeat by the Assyrian army. They disappeared in the lands to which they were exiled by their captors and became known to posterity as the lost tribes of Israel.
A remnant of the Jews would eventually return to Jerusalem from Babylon, and once again the people would grow in numbers and in strength. But ten of their tribes were forever lost to them.