Biblical Hermeneutics - Lesson 14

Hermeneutics for Prophecy (Part 1)

Judgment prophecy assumes that, even if not stated, if the people repent, judgment will not come. Prophets also tend to speak in figurative language, using cosmic terminology. 

Robert Stein
Biblical Hermeneutics
Lesson 14
Watching Now
Hermeneutics for Prophecy (Part 1)

Hermeneutics for Prophecy (Part 1)

I. Judgment Prophecy

A. Rule - Judgment prophecy assumes, even if not stated, that if the people repent judgment will not come.

B. Examples

1. Jonah 3:4, 10

2. Jeremiah 18:7-10

3. Micah 3:12 (cf. Jeremiah 26:16-19)

4. 1 Kings 21:20-29

C. Quote from C. B. Caird, pp. 56-57

II. The Language of Prophecy - Cosmic terminology

A. Rule - Prophets tend to speak in figurative language, using cosmic terminology.

B. Examples

1. Isaiah 13:9-11

2. Jeremiah 4:23-28

3. Isaiah 24:23

4. Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15

5. Jeremiah 15:9

6. Amos 8:9

7. Ezekiel 32:7-8

8. Habakkuk 3:11

  • Understanding the roots of the English language and knowing the history of the English translations of the Bible gives you a context that can help you understand the meaning of the passage you are reading. 

  • After William Tyndale published the first Bible in English in 1539 that was translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts, King James of England assembled a team of top scholars to create an English translation that was published in 1611. More recent translations are still being made to reflect new manuscript discoveries and changes in the English language. 

  • There is no such thing as an exact word equivalent when going from one language to another. Different languages as well as different cultures pose a challenge for translators. It's important to use the best manuscripts for your translation.

  • A few of the challenges that translators face are for the translation to be accurate but understandable, contemporary but universal, and to avoid a theological bias. Contemporary languages are always changing, and each translator holds theological beliefs based on years of training and experience. 

  • Inerrancy of the Bible is an important foundation for the process of translation. Some translations focus more on "word-for-word" equivalents and some focus more on "thought-for-thought" equivalents. Some translations include footnotes to explain a verse that is ambiguous or controversial. 

  • The three components that determine meaning in written communication are the author, the text and the reader. In determining the meaning of Biblical passages, it's important to know as much as possible about all three components. 

  • The author of a passage made an intentional effort to communicate a message. It is the job of the reader to determine the meaning and implications of the message by studying the text itself, then evaluating the literary form and other contextual factors. 

  • The first step in interpretation is to focus on the pattern of meaning the author consciously willed to convey by the words they used. Then, the implications of the text may also include meanings in the text of which the author was unaware but fall within the author's pattern of meaning.

  • It's important to define your terms when you are determining the interpretation and application of Biblical passages. Your goal is to begin by hearing the message of a passage as the author intended it and the first readers would have understood it. 

  • The written word correctly interpreted is the objective basis of authority. The inward illuminating and persuading work of the Holy Spirit is the subjective dimension. When 1 Cor. 2:14 says that an unspiritual man cannot understand Scritpure, it is referring to his lack of acceptance rather than his mental grasp of the words. 

  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to believers, the church, and the world. The lesson covers the Holy Spirit's work in the regeneration and sanctification of believers, empowering and guiding them, unifying the church, bestowing spiritual gifts, the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and drawing people to God. The conclusion summarizes the Holy Spirit's impact on all aspects of life.

  • Your presuppositions about whether or not the miracles in the Bible took place as they are recorded will affect the way you look at the Bible and at specific events. Three approaches to this question are the supernatural approach, rationalist approach and the mythical approach. 

  • Kinds of meaning and types of meaning are two of the main ideas in the book, "The Language and Imagery of the Bible," by G. B. Caird. Proverbs are short, pithy sayings that express a general truth. Exceptions are allowed. A good example of an exception to a proverb is the book of Job.

  • Judgment prophecy assumes that, even if not stated, if the people repent, judgment will not come. Prophets also tend to speak in figurative language, using cosmic terminology. 

  • The prophets use figurative and metaphorical language to describe future events and spiritual reality. They also use cosmic language to describe God acting in history. 

  • Dr. Stein discusses the possibility of a sensus plenior in some passages. In Mark 13, Jesus talks about coming events that are also prophesied in the Old Testament. 

  • Judges chapters 4 and 5 describe the same events. Chapter 4 uses prose, chapter 5 uses poetry. The book of Psalms is a collection of songs, prayers and reflections about human emotions, and God, his character and his work in the world. 

  • Jesus uses parallelism in the Gospels to illustrate and emphasize who God is and what the kingdom of God is like. In order to understand an idiom, you first need to identify it as an idiom and then determine what the meaning is in the culture.  

  • Exaggeration is overstatement. Hyperbole is literally impossible. When using exaggeration, both parties must agree that the expression is an exaggeration. Jesus uses exaggeration to emphasize and illustrate important teachings. 

  • Jesus uses exaggeration to make his point clear, especially on matters of morality, but doesn't take the time to discuss possible exceptions. Jesus also uses all-inclusive and universal language, as well as idiomatic language that no longer bears its original meaning. 

  • Some of the early church writers and the reformers interpreted parables, like the parable of the Good Samaritan, as allegories. 

  • Adolf Jülicher taught that parables tend to have one basic point of comparison, and the details are just there to make the story interesting. So you should try to understand what’s the main point of the parable. To begin with, seek to understand the parable as the first century audience would have. Consider what the Gospel writers were trying to teach. Ask how it applies to you in your current situation. 

  • In the parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl of great price, the message of the value of the kingdom of God is more important than the character of the man. In the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the dishonest manager, it's important to focus on the main point of the parable and not to get distracted by the details. The parable of the lost sheep teaches us to pursue the lost. 

  • When interpreting the parable of the workers, determine the main characters, consider the rule of end stress and pay attention to what gets the most press. 

  • Some parables are best interpreted as an allegory. It's important to ask if Jesus with his audience would have attributed meaning to these details and if the audience of the Gospel writers would have understood the details as being allegorical. 

  • When you are determining how you should apply the parable of the final judgment in Matthew 25: 31-46, who Jesus is referring to when he says, "...just as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me." In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus makes a point about what causes people to believe in him or to not believe in him. 

  • You read and interpret a passage that is historical narrative differently than a passage that is prophecy, poetry or a parable. Much of the historical information in the Bible is confirmed by archaeological discoveries including literature from other contemporary cultures. In the 1700's there was a group of scholars that began questioning whether the miraculous events in the Bible were supernatural. They tried to find meaning in the stories without saying that a miracle happened assumed that the real meaning is not the same as the author's literal intention. They did this by finding the meaning of the words, then conducting a historical assessment of what really happened. 

  • Supernaturalists believe that the miracles the Gospel writers recorded were supernatural events. The rationalists believe that either the Gospel writers knew that miracles did not take place, but they were accommodating their readers who did believe in miracles, or that they really believed them but they were just myths. This would require the Gospel writers to be liars or not very smart, neither of which seem consistent with the care and precision with which the Gospels were written. When you are preaching a narrative passage, it's important to include the whole context when you are interpreting the meaning of the events.

  • When interpreting the epistles, it's important to identify which words are used frequently, what the meaning of the words are and how the author uses them. It can be helpful to study the etymology of words and the meaning of words in their historical context. The process of moving from norms of language to norms of utterance is important. 

  • We can get information about the meaning of words from studying ancient Greek literature, the writings of early church fathers and the translators of the Hebrew Old Testament. We can also compare letters written by the same author, and also how the word is used within the same letter or passage. It can be helpful to look at the way different authors use the same word. 

  • Once you determine the meaning of the words, it's important to recognize how they are used in the sentence and how the clauses in the sentence are related. Understanding the different ways clauses can be used will help you determine the meaning of each sentence. The distinction between "means" and "cause" is significant. 

  • Romans 13:1-7 is a good example of the development of a logical argument. Most of the epistles follow the form of an ancient letter, which is greeting or salutation, thanksgiving or prayer, body of the letter and conclusion. 

  • Two types of covenants are the parity covenant and suzerain covenant. Covenant language is used in both the Old Testament and New Testament. The parts of a covenant, illustrated in the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 20, are the preamble, prologue, stipulations, provision for continual reading and witnesses.

  • God renews his covenant with Israel in Joshua 24. The three types of laws in the Old Testament are civil laws, cultic laws and moral laws. 

  • The book of Psalms is divided into five sections. The Psalms were written by different people at different times for different purposes. Some were for public worship and some were the result of personal reflection in times of joy, distress or repentance. 

  • In Jesus's day, the Scripture was the books of the Old Testament. Many of the books of the New Testament were written before 70 a.d. The Gospel writers produced a written record of the life of Jesus. Paul and other apostles wrote to churches to encourage and teach them. Eusebius, a church historian in 325a.d., recorded a list of the books that are currently in the New Testament.

  • Factors in recognizing the books that make up the New Testament were apostolic authorship, use in the church over time, unity and agreement and the superintendence of the Holy Spirit. The writing of the books of the Bible was inspired by God and it is inerrant. 

Dr. Robert Stein covers the history of the English Bible and then moves into the rules for interpreting the biblical text, including the role of the Holy Spirit in the hermeneutical process. He then spends considerable time moving through the different genres of literature (e.g., proverbs, poetry, parables, narrative). Dr. Stein did not provide us the notes he refers to in the class, but we did place links for the books he used as a basis for the class on the class page under the Recommended Reading heading.

Recommended Books

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

How do you even start to study your Bible? What are the guiding principles? Are the rules for interpreting narrative any different from parables and apocalyptic literature?...

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

Alright now we are getting into a little bit more touchy here area.  And it has to do with prophecy. 

Another genre, Prophetic literature. I have over the years enjoyed starting with an example in the book of Jonah, which indicates something about the way a form of prophecy works and the rules associated with it.

In Jonah 3, you remember the story of Jonah, called by Lord to go to Nineveh to preach to the city and he runs away, goes on board a ship, tries to escape and there is a great storm and they throw him overboard. He is swallowed by a fish and he is regurgitated later on and eventually he goes to Nineveh.

In chapter 3, verse 1,

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’

Ah but we find in verse 10,

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Here you have a prophet predicting a prophecy that is not fulfilled. Is Jonah a false prophet? If we were there, should we stone him? Penalty for false prophets.  Interesting.  Well, Jonah and the people of Nineveh all knew something about prophecy that most of us did not know – at least I did not know for a long time.  And that is that one of the rules of prophecy is that when you preach judgment, if the people repent, the judgment will not take place.

Even when not stated a judgment prophecy assumes that if people repent there will be no judgment. In the Caird book, he has a reference to this. If I can find my reference very quickly I would like to read it. It is very good. Page 56 in the G.B. Caird text.

“Readers of the book of Jonah” – Its about the 6th line at the bottom of the page – “have commonly been preoccupied with problems of marine biology to pay attention to the much more important theological difficulty that Jonah is ordered to prophesy something that does not happen. 

“In forty days, Nineveh shall be overthrown.”  Chapter 3, verse 4 as McGurney – another writer – has put it. Many things were foretold precisely that they might not come to pass. What we have to decide is whether the prophecy was intended as a prediction or as a warning.  If it was a prediction, the plain statement of fact about the future was absolute and was falsified by the event.

If it was a warning, it carried an unexpress condition clause, “unless you repent.”

Now in a later chapter we shall see that it is characteristic of Semitic style to express ideas absolutely and to leave the listener to fill in for himself the implicit qualifications. Now the nice thing about this is that elsewhere in the OT, in another prophetic book – this rule is explicitly referred to. In the book of Jeremiah, chapter 18, verses 5 and following.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11Now, therefore, say …
And so forth. So you have here explicitly a statement that judgment prophesies if people will repent, will not take place and we find this in Jonah itself.  Verse 10 of chapter 3, we read, Let me read it again.
“10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.”
“4 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”
Here we have the reason given why Jonah flees from the Lord. He doesn’t go to Nineveh. Why? Not because he is afraid to preach. It is because he knows that if he goes to Nineveh and preaches this message, they may just happen to repent and they won’t be judged as a result and frankly he wanted the people of Nineveh to go to Hell. It sounds harsh, but that’s what he really believes.
Now please understand – the people of Nineveh, capital of Assyria was a brutal nation. They were the Nazi’s of their day.  Terribly brutal people.  And Jonah believed this nation should experience the wrath and judgment of God because they are evil.
Now if God said to Jonah, “Go and tell the people, 40 days and they will be destroyed and if he knew that there was no possibility, that even if they repented that would be, that would be undone. He would not have fled away. He would have run all the way to Tarshish.  He would have run to the city walls, climbed up and said, “40 days from now, you are going to be destroyed and there is nothing you can do about it and it makes me happy.”
But he knew there was this was this rule in this game of Prophecy and that is repentance undoes the threat of judgment.  I mean why tell people anyhow that you are going to be destroyed unless implicit in that is, unless you repent. Why tell people judgment is coming if in some way there is nothing they can do to avert it.” It assumes that possibility.
And Jonah was frightened by the thought, not frightened but maybe unhappy with the thought that if he went, they might repent and judgment would not take place. And therefore he did not want to go.  Now there are other examples of this. In the Book of Micah 3, verse 12, we have another example of this kind of thing taking place.  Where we read, a prophecy
12 Therefore because of you
   Zion shall be ploughed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
   and the mountain of the house a wooded height.
And that does not take place because the people repent. And you have another example at 1 Kings 21:21-29. So a basic rule of prophecy: Prophecies of judgment assume whether stated or not, if the people repent, judgment will not take place.

Let me just ask you.  How many of you did not know that before class? Well people in  Jonah’s day knew that.  So you don’t have to repeat that. It is understood this way. But we have to relearn some of the rules involved in this kind of literary form of a judgment prophecy.

Alright let me just stop there and see any comments of questions so far. 

Student: Are they all this category?

Dr. Stein: I would think you could say that. Yes. Any judgment prophecy assumes that if you can repent, that if you repent, it wont take place. There may be instances however in which the Prophet knows from God that the people will not repent, therefore the judgment will come.  But hypothetically if they repented which they won’t, the judgment will be stayed nonetheless.

Student: So as an example, the book of Nahum,

Dr. Stein: Tyre, Sidon sure. Sure. And the – the great apocalyptic end of the world, “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have gathered you into my arms, but now judgment has coming upon you.” Yeah. If they still repented in time it would not have taken place. In the mind of God, now if you argue from the mind of God, He knows if it is conditional or if it is absolute, but we don’t. Many times a prophet may not.

Although I think Jeremiah has a pretty good idea that the judgment is coming because the people will not repent. But hypothetically if they did repent, it wouldn’t come.

Student: Same thing holds true for [Hard to Hear]

Dr. Stein: You would also have to start pressing the language that God really is repenting at this time. So it is not a matter of His knowledge, but His morality that is coming to play here or something like this. 

I think what you have to do is to look at the language and say from “What we are doing is that we are interpreting what God is doing from the perspective of how we would look at things. He changed His mind or something like that.” 

Student:  Does God’s mind really change or is it just the action of the people [Hard to Hear]

Dr. Stein: Depends on if you know God is omniscient and knows all things which I believe. So I think that what we have here is the length – how do you describe God and how He acts except by analogy with how we understand things. So from the description you would say, “Huh. He repented. He changed His mind.”  But what simply happened was that the prophecy which He knew was open, people repented as He knew they would and it looks like now by not having the judgment, God changed His mind from our human perspective.

Alright, well lets look then at another rule of prophecy and this has to do with the language of prophecy.  The language of prophecy.  In the book of Isaiah 13, I want to read verse 9 through 11. Now don’t bother following at this point, just listen to this and try to think what are we talking about here.

9 See, the day of the Lord comes,
   cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the earth a desolation,
   and to destroy its sinners from it. 
10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
   will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
   and the moon will not shed its light. 
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
   and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant,
   and lay low the insolence of tyrants.

Now if you read that in your church Sunday, how would the people who heard this understand it? What would they be thinking of? It is a prophecy about what? The end of the world right? Now why would they come to that conclusion? Lack of it sometimes yeah. The cosmic language right?

You have here “the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light.”  But that doesn’t look like a daily occurrence.  “The sun will be dark at its rising. The moon will not shed its light.” I mean these cosmic kinds of things involve the end. It has to be the end of history as we know it.

Well. Now the question comes up. If you look at the context, there are some things about this that are very very different, because the chapter opens,
“The oracle concerning Babylon that Isaiah son of Amoz saw.”  Its about Babylon here supposedly. Not only that, you have in verse 19 once again,
19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
   the splendour and pride of the Chaldeans,
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
   when God overthrew them.
Now let me ask you something.  When Isaiah spoke and mentioned the word Babylon, what would his readers in the norms of language have understood Babylon to be?
Babylon right? Not a cold [Hard to Hear] but Babylon.The kingdom up north. Later which Nebuchadnezzar will come down from and so forth on a Tigris, Euphrates rivers and so forth. 
Further more in verses 17 and 18,
17 See, I am stirring up the Medes against them,
   who have no regard for silver
   and do not delight in gold. 
18 Their bows will slaughter the young men;
   they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb;
   their eyes will not pity children.
Medes – what does that refer to? A people in modern day Iran, who are enemies of the Babylonians. Furthermore they were noted for their archery, their bows and that’s particularly referred to. 
So I think that Isaiah’s readers would say, this is a prophecy about the Babylonian Empire. But that raises a problem and the problem is this cosmic language. What are we going to do with that? What are we going to do?
Well. As I was working my way through this, I thought, “Aha. Let me look up a concordance and see where the expression, “sun not giving its light, the moon turning to blood, stars falling from heaven” – that kind of language is found in the Bible.
I want to see how do the Biblical writers use such language and understand it. So I got my concordance. I looked up passages and I began to find lots of places where the sun is turning to blood, the moon is not giving its light, the stars are falling from Heaven.  It seemed to be a fairly regular occurrence in the OT, and so as I looked them I found passage such as Jeremiah 4. Jeremiah 4 verses 23 to 28, read this way,
23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
   and to the heavens, and they had no light. 
24 I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
   and all the hills moved to and fro. 
25 I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
   and all the birds of the air had fled. 
26 I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
   and all its cities were laid in ruins
   before the Lord, before his fierce anger.
27 For thus says the Lord:
The whole land shall be a desolation;
yet I will not make a full end. 
28 Because of this the earth shall mourn,
   and the heavens above grow black;
for I have spoken, I have purposed;
   I have not relented nor will I turn back.
Well now if you look at the context of this in chapter 4, we have verse 3,
3 For thus says the Lord to the people of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem …
Verse 5,
5 Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say …
Verse 11,
11 At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem …
What we have here is a description of Jeremiah’s prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem. But you have that same language once again.
The earth is becoming black. Stars and heavens, mountains shaking and so forth and so on. Now we haven’t talked yet about poetry. We do so next week. But notice that in this passage in Jeremiah in my Bible, you have a lot of broken [Hard to Hear] not solid black. Right? And in the Isaiah was it the same way? So what we have here is poetry.
And we have to realize that what the prophets are, are poetic prophets as they speak. This is the language of the prophets – the language of poetry.  Notice that there are other kinds of examples of this cosmic terminology, going back to Isaiah 24, verse 23, you have another kind of. Here you have Isaiah talking again about, verse 24, 1 now
1 Now the Lord is about to lay waste the earth and make it desolate,
It occurs after the prophecy or oracle concerning Tyre. And then in verse 23 you have that same language again.
23 Then the moon will be abashed,
   and the sun ashamed;
for the Lord of hosts will reign
   on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem,
and before his elders he will manifest his glory.
Back to Jeremiah 15:9.  Here you have Jeremiah, verse 5,
5 Who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem,
   or who will bemoan you?
Then it says verse 9,
9 She who bore seven has languished;
   she has swooned away;
her sun went down while it was yet day;
   she has been shamed and disgraced.
And the rest of them I will give to the sword
   before their enemies,
says the Lord.

Here again you have that cosmic language.

Ezekiel, chapter 32, verses 7 and 8. Here you have context, verse 1,

In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 2Mortal, raise a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say to him:
You consider yourself a lion among the nations,
   but you are like a dragon in the seas;
you thrash about in your streams,
   trouble the water with your feet,
   and foul your* streams. 
3 Thus says the Lord God:
   In an assembly of many peoples
   I will throw my net over you;
   and I* will haul you up in my dragnet. 
4 I will throw you on the ground,
   on the open field I will fling you,
and will cause all the birds of the air to settle on you,
   and I will let the wild animals of the whole earth gorge themselves on you. 
5 I will strew your flesh on the mountains,
   and fill the valleys with your carcass.* 
6 I will drench the land with your flowing blood
   up to the mountains,

Now historically, one of the hopes of Jerusalem was that when Babylon was coming down to invade Jerusalem, they would be rescued by the Egyptians – the Egyptians led by Pharaoh Neco were leading an army up at this point.

Let me have an aside for a minute. In the Mediterranean world – that’s Greece by the way.  Here is Egypt. Here you have. People of Israel hate the name Palestine, because that means the land of the Philistines. But here is Israel by the way. And over here is Babylon. Tigris. Euphrates River.

Other times there was Assyria and so forth. Usually Egypt was powerful and there would be a powerful northern kingdom of some sort. In between the powerful north and the powerful south, there is this land of Israel.  Now if you have a powerful north, you want to control Israel because any enemy from the south has to go through Israel. So why don’t they just come over here?

Over the centuries people have learned to like to drink water once in a while and that’s not the way to go.  This is the great desert of Saudi Arabia, so all travel has to go this way. And there are limited number of valleys that you have that are passable and if you control that area, you can put fortresses on those – on the mountains over those valleys and you know – they may not have been as smart as we are, but they knew that if you were in the top of the mountains throwing rocks down, its was better than throwing rocks up.

And so you wanted to dominate them. And so if Egypt was strong, it wanted to dominate here and what happens now is Babylon is powerful and is coming down this way and Egypt – we are not let them come all the way down to Egypt before we fight. We are going to fight them in the valleys where we can defeat them.

And what happens is, the people of Israel, of Judah in particular during the time of Nebuchadnezzar are looking for help from Pharaoh Neco and this prophecy is about the destruction of Pharaoh Neco - Pharaoh, King of Egypt, verse 2.

In the particular passage, notice the language that’s used to describe this in verses 7 and 8, verse 6,

6 I will drench the land with your flowing blood
   up to the mountains,
   and the watercourses will be filled with you.
7 When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens,
   and make their stars dark;
I will cover the sun with a cloud,
   and the moon shall not give its light.
8 All the shining lights of the heavens
   I will darken above you,
   and put darkness on your land,
says the Lord God.

Again cosmic language being used to describe this event. Two more references and then we will have a break. The Joel passages – well we will look a little more at a different time later. Amos 8:9, notice the cosmic language used here in this judgment prophecy.

9 On that day, says the Lord God,
   I will make the sun go down at noon,
   and darken the earth in broad daylight.

Finally back through 11 there are others, but this will do. 

Habakkuk 3:11,

10 The mountains saw you, and writhed;
   a torrent of water swept by;
the deep gave forth its voice.
   The sun raised high its hands;
11 the moon stood still in its exalted place,
   at the light of your arrows speeding by,
   at the gleam of your flashing spear.
12 In fury you trod the earth,

And so forth.  So you have again cosmic kinds of language.  Now what I am going to suggest and we will take a break and we will discuss it at that point. I want to suggest that what the prophetic poet is trying to say when he uses language like this is to say, the God of Heaven and Earth – the God who controls the planets, the stars, the sun and the moon, this God is going to act. These are signs that this God of the Heavens will bring judgment upon the nations. His readers all understood that this was the use of poetic language – symbolic language, but it had a truth – judgment, horrible judgment was coming.

The description of that judgment might use apocalyptic cosmic language. It might use this poetically – shouldn’t be understood literally. But what it is indicating should be understood literally and that is God is bringing judgment. Judgment is going to take place.