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Profiting from the Prophets.


Profiting from the Prophets!

 Introduction to ‘Men Spake from God’ Study Series.

Text. Hebrews 1:1f and 2 Tim 3:14-17

The Minor Prophets are a collection of twelve books, the last section of the OT.  They begin with Hosea and end with Malachi.    In our ‘Tabletalk Sessions’ we will be doing a survey of these books for they will help us to understand God’s redemptive plan, how he intervened in history to redeem us from the curse of sin.  In this lesson we will simply try to get an overview and introduction to the section. Of course, God spoke to his OT people through different avenues.  He spoke to them through the Law, and through the priests who administered the law, and ordered the worship of God in the tent of worship and the temple.  Wise men and women gave godly counsel,  2 Samuel 20:16  


God spoke to His People by the Torah (The Written Law)

God also spoke to His people through the sacred songs of the Psalmist.  Then there were the prophets…

1 Clarification.  What is a prophet?  Strangely, you don’t find a definition of a prophet in the Bible, it’s simply assumed that we know who and what they are.  There were prophets outside Israel too, for example Balaam was a heathen prophet, as were the prophets of Ba’al in Elijah’s day.   Numbers 22:5 Then he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying: “Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me!  And there are true prophets and false prophets.  The prophets of Israel are a special gift of God. Amos 2:11 I raised up some of your sons as prophets,And some of your young men as Nazirites. Is it not so, O you children of Israel?”Says the Lord. 

  • A messenger from God.   2 Peter 1:21 for prophesy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.   The prophet is to God, what Aaron was to Moses.  When Moses stood before Pharaoh, Aaron did all the talking.  Exodus 7:1 So the Lord said to Moses: “See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet.  2 You shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of his land.  That’s a direct illustration to us of how God speaks through His prophets to his people and to the nations.  Exodus 4:14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses, and He said: “Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And look, he is also coming out to meet you. When he sees you, he will be glad in his heart.  15 Now you shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth. And I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will teach you what you shall do. 16 So he shall be your spokesman to the people. And he himself shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as God.
  • A ‘forthteller’ rather than a ‘foreteller.’  God’s word often pointed to to future events, and of course like all the OT scripture, the ultimate fulfillment of prophecy is the Lord Jesus Himself.  But initially when they spoke, they were conveying God’s will to his people concerning the present situation.  HL Ellison points out that the antithesis between OT prophets who are ‘fore-tellers’ and NT prophets who are ‘forth-tellers’ is alien to the Bible, which is ONE book, ONE covenant of Grace, ONE redemptive history, and not two books in opposition to each other, and speaking the same spiritual language.  

So the prophets were servants of God, divinely appointed and inspired to proclaim His Word.  Primarily they were messengers of God’s word for the present, serving as watchmen of the people of God; yet unknown to themselves, at other times, God’s message for the future, was contained within their words.

2. Classification. Are there different TYPES of prophet in the OT?

Of course there are, in fact in the Bible people are referred to as ‘prophets’ whom we would not even think of as prophets.  People like Enoch, (Jude 14), Abraham,(Genesis 20:7) The Patriarchs as a group, (Psalm 105:15) Moses (Deut 16:15, 34:10)  But in general, there are two categories of prophet:-

  • Oral and Written Prophets.  This must be the most obvious distinction.  There are prophets who wrote down their words, like Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah, etc.  Our 12 Minor prophets fall into that category.  Many of them would have had their words recorded for them by their followers, like Isaiah.  But there were other prophets, equally important in Israel’s history, who don’t have books named after them, but their words are recorded in the historical records.  Men like Elijah, Elisha, and Nathan.
  • Major and Minor Prophets.  Within the literary prophets, there is a further subdivision. The Major Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.  The Minor Prophets are the smaller books between Hosea and Malachi.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, these were one book, simply called ‘The Twelve.’

There is a further division, (Yes, I know I said there were two, but this one is just one of my own, a kind of unofficial division) because some of the prophets directed their message to the northern kingdom of Israel, and some to the southern kingdom of Judah.  Isaiah, though addresses his message to the northern kingdom, and by extension to the southern kingdom at a later time.  The northern kingdom fell in 722BC, and that’s why dating the prophets can be really important.  The prophetic books are NOT in chronological order, so let’s look at…

3. Chronology.  How do we fit the written, prophetic books into the history of Israel?  Let’s devise a timeline.

  • 900 – 800 BC (Divided Kingdom) Obadiah (ca. 845 B.C) Joel (ca 830 B.C.) and Jonah (790-750 B.C.) This is during the period of “The Divided Kingdom” in Israel’s history; to the north and east the empire of Assyria was beginning to make its presence known in Israel.  
  • 800 – 700 BC. (Assyrian period). Amos (755 B.C.) Hosea (750-725 B.C.) Isaiah (740-700 B.C.). Micah (735-700 B.C.). This was the period leading up to the fall of Israel and the destruction of the 10 northern tribes in 722 BC under the Assyrian king Tiglath Pileser III, when these prophets are urging the wicked nation to turn away from their wickedness and trust in God.  It was quite a prosperous time in Israel’s history, particularly during the reign of Jeroboam II, and there were many rich people who simply didn’t want to hear their message.  False religion, henotheism, Baal worship, fertility rites, were all common among the people.  Judgement would come, and it would be swift and devastating,  
  • 700 – 600 BC.  (Babylonian Period). The southern kingdom of Judah (with two tribes, Judah and Benjamin) continues. It’s a time of great uncertainty, political upheaval and national turmoil.  False religion continues and the prophets of the era give a clear warning of the judgement of God.  World events move on and Assyrian is defeated by Babylon, who threaten Judah.  They begin to wonder if an alliance with Egypt would be a safe bet?  Prophets are Jeremiah (626-586 B.C.) Zephaniah (630-625 B.C.) Nahum (625-612 B.C.) and of course Habakkuk (625-605 B.C.), warns that God is going to raise up a foreign power to punish his own people.  
  • 600 – 500 BC. The Israelites have been taken into exile in Babylon.  The psalmist bewails their condition, in Psalm 137  By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept When we remembered Zion. 2 We hung our harp Upon the willows in the midst of it. 3  For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, And those who plundered us requested mirth, Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4  How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? 

We hung our harp Upon the willows in the midst of it.

Ezekiel and Daniel were the prophets who brought the Word of the Lord.  

  • 500 – 400 BC.   (Post exiled period). The Jews have returned to Jerusalem.  Their exile has ended, but when they return they find a pitiful sight.  The walls of Jerusalem are destroyed and the temple ruined.  Despite all the mockery and discouragement of others, they begin to rebuild the temple and the city.  Haggai (520 B.C.) and Zechariah (520-518 B.C.) provide encouragement to the builders  while Malachi (ca. 440 B.C.) is instrumental in reforming the priesthood

It’s worth remembering that some theologians disagree on the exact time when some of the prophets did their work, but for our purposes, this conservative timeline will help us.   So we’ve seen who the prophets were and what they did, the different types of prophets and a rough guide to the times in which they lived and worked.  Now, one last consideration.  What’s the point of reading and studying them?

4. Consideration. How do we study them beneficially?  What measures do we need to take to understand their message and properly apply them?  What will we learn from them?

  • We need CONTEXT. That very basic rule of every Bible Study.  We need to know to whom the prophet was speaking, and in what circumstances.  That means finding out the religious, political and social circumstances of the time.  
  • We should remember the one overriding point of the OT, it’s preparing us for Christ.  We should always examine the OT in the light of its completion in the NT.  OT prophecy finds its fulfilment in the NT.
  • We must look for the great themes of God’s redemptive history.  Remember that the Scriptures point us to God and His Christ, we will learn about God, about his attributes, and we will see ourselves starkly contrasted to him.  We’ll learn about:
    • God’s attributes.  His holiness and sovereignty in the way that he determines the history of mankind, uses sinful nations without sin, ruling over all the universe.
    • God’s Word.  In the prophets we shall see how God gives his word, revealing himself, and how he always keeps his word, which teaches us that whatever the circumstances he is trustworthy.
    • The sinfulness of man.  That basic nature of all men and women, that issues in sinful acts, and that separates us from God for time and eternity.  We see the heinous nature of our sin and why it is abhorrent to a thrice holy God.
    • The way of salvation.  For those who repent of their sins and trust him, there is hope.  God forgives us, and redeems us even though we are totally undeserving of his grace.   In return he demands our unfeigned obedience and worship.
    • The eternal punishment of the damned.  For those who refuse to repent, and who remain in the sinful state, the inevitable consequence is eternal loss and punishment.
  • Seek application, both in the historical setting, and biblical lessons for us.  In doing this we need to avoid too much subjectivity.  There’s a tendency among Christians today to ask, ‘What does this verse or passage mean to me?’ The proper approach is just to ask, ‘What does this passage MEAN,’  We also need to avoid the wild speculation that some dispensationalists indulge in.

That way, we will Profit from the Prophets!

© BobMcEvoy February 2019

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