The Northern Prophets: Were They Revolutionaries? -- By: Ben F. Philbeck
FM 5:1 (Fall 1987) p. 56
The Northern Prophets:
Were They Revolutionaries?
Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
In 1980, Robert Wilson published a study in which he sought an understanding of the “social location of Israel’s prophets.”1 After setting the stage for his work with a treatment of prophecy in modern and ancient near-eastern societies, Wilson turned to a consideration of prophecy in the Old Testament. He concluded that there are two major strands of biblical prophecy: the southern or Judean tradition which he labels “central” and the northern or Ephraimitic tradition which he labels “peripheral.” The key issue in the classification of central or pheripheral was the relation of the prophet to the power structures of the day.
Those who supported the existing institutions and who were in turn highly regarded by those in power were designated “central.” These prophets were not insensitive to moral concerns, and on occasion they might even rebuke powerful figures for their transgressions, but on the whole they sought to maintain the status quo.
Nathan at once comes to mind as an example of this approach. He rebuked David for using his power to get Uriah killed when the king’s sin with Bathsheba could no longer be kept secret (2 Sam. 12:1–15). Nevertheless, Nathan retained his position as David’s advisor and even proclaimed for him an enduring line to sit on Judah’s throne (2 Sam. 7:12–17). The stability of life in the southern kingdom is attested by the fact that a single dynasty ruled there for more than three hundred years.
Where the northern kingdom is concerned, the difference from conditions in Judah could hardly be more apparent. While Judah had only one dynasty in over three hundred years, Israel had nine in only two centuries. All of these dynasties ended in assassinations except for those of Zimri and Hoshea, and they both represented exceptional cases. Zimri committed suicide after enduring siege for seven days when it became apparent that he had no hope of surviving anyway (1 Kg. 16:9–20). Hoshea was on the throne when the Assyrians sacked Samaria, and they put him in prison in the process (2 Kg. 17:4). Otherwise, biblical testimony indicates that Yahwistic prophets were involved in five of the nine dynastic shifts, and the last four occurred in the final twenty-five years before the fall of Samaria. These also involved assassinations and usurpations, but they were not associated with theolo...
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