Old Testament Survey - Lesson 17

Prophetical Books

While it is difficult to preach through the prophets it can be done well if some basic views are taken regarding the prophetic books in general.

Douglas Stuart
Old Testament Survey
Lesson 17
Watching Now
Prophetical Books

The Divided Monarchy:  Prophetical Books


I.  Preaching the Prophets

A.  Dependency on Pentateuch

B.  Lack of novelty

C.  Watch out for liberal assumptions

D.  Special stress on covenant sanctions

E.  Evidence followed by curse fulfillment

F.  "Rib Formula"

G.  Prophets as messengers

1.  Messenger Formulae

2.  Usually speaks in first person

3.  Prophets are dictation documents

4.  Prophet is messenger in original delivery context

5.  Implications

H.  Visions as verbal content

I.   Eschatology in the Prophets

J.  Personalizing, church-state confusion

K.  Oracles against foreign nations

L.  Dramatized prophecy


II.  Some Themes from Hosea

A.  A God of reversals and surprises

B.  God's people loved and therefore chastened

C.  Reliance upon human diplomacy vs. reliance on God

D.  The determination of God to redeem a remnant

E.  Ritual no substitute for substance

F.  Corruption of clergy a precursor to national degeneracy

G.  Sin as infidelity to God

H.  Sin and political instability

I.    Divine forgiveness


III.  Overview of the Minor Prophets

  • The purpose of this overview of the Old Testament is to focus on the content of each of the Old Testament books, the historical events that give context to the books, and specific questions that help draw out the overarching principles contained in the Old Testament. There is also an emphasis on identifying ways to use this material that can help people in their daily lives.

  • Genesis narrates ten stories that describe origins or beginnings. These include the origin of the “heavens and earth,” and the origin of specific families that are significant in God’s dealings with Israel and the nations.

  • Themes from selected passages in Genesis about which there are interpretations that differ greatly. These include Genesis 2 regarding creation of women and their roles, Genesis 6 about the "Sons of God," and Genesis 9 about the "curse of Ham." Other themes are the story of Abraham, and God as a punisher of evil.

  • The three major themes in Exodus are Israel's deliverance from Egypt, establishment of the Covenant and the Tabernacle. Other themes are how name repetition in a sentence is significant throughout Scripture, and how humility in the Jewish culture affects the actions and responses of many biblical characters. Exodus contains both apodictic and casuistic laws. There are also paradigmatic laws which are designed to give broad guidance for specific situations that arise. The first part of Exodus is mostly stories, and the second part is mostly a record of the laws which are the basis for how they interact with God and other people.

  • In this lesson, the concept of a covenant is defined as a legal binding agreement between two parties. In the ancient world there were many covenants. There were covenants between individuals, and even between nations. For example, a superior ruling king would make a covenant with a lesser vassal king. Covenants in the ancient near east contained the following six elements.

  • Does God punish the grandchildren for what the grandparents have done? Some people read these passages (Exodus 20:5, 34:7) and assume that they mean God punishes grandchildren based on their grandparents' sins. Unfortunately, they misinterpret these texts because they fail to understand the phenomena of numerical parallelisms. The Hebrew language favors parallelism, so that numbers which are close to other numbers will often be put in parallel to exhibit literary balance.
  • The historical books--Joshua, Judges, and Ruth--are essential reading for understanding how the bible views the progress of history. These books help us understand what the basic stages are in the progress of God’s relations with humanity. There is development, and progress in history we can refer to as epochs. This lecture provides an overview of redemptive history and a summary of the book of Joshua.

  • When discussing violence in the Old Testament it is important to discuss the concept of Holy War. This lesson does not suggest that Christians are soldiers first and nothing else since Christians are also called to be peacemakers. However, this lesson does put forward the idea that God is fighting a holy war. That is, God is seeking to promote blessing for all people by eliminating evil everywhere. The final enemy is death itself, and God is resolute on destroying evil and death. Holy war is a complex set of ideas that should be interpreted in light of the entire corpus of scripture.

  • In this lesson the extent of the conquest is discussed to frame the book of Judges. The orienting data for the book of Judges helps explain how the book recounts the decline of the people of Israel. Finally, the Dueteronomic cycle which recurs in the book is explained and helps frame Israel’s history up to the time of the exile.

  • After the division of the kingdom, 40 kings reigned during this period of the divided monarchy. Only three Kings reigned during the united monarchy—Saul, David, and Solomon. We might be able to assume the time period of the united monarch to be something like 120 years with each of the three kings reigning forty years. But the term “forty” in Hebrew means something like the English expression “several dozen.” That’s why we see the idiomatic expression “forty” so often in Hebrew literature.

  • David is a man after God’s own heart. How is this possible when he made so many moral mistakes? Being after God’s own heart does not mean David is morally upright, but that he has unwavering faith in the one true God of Israel. That is unique to David in these narratives. The narratives are clear that both Saul and Solomon conjoined belief in the God of Israel with the worship of other gods. David, however, is never portrayed as worshipping other gods or setting up altars to Idols.

  • In this lesson several key elements from the lives of Saul, David and Solomon are briefly reviewed. The rejection of Saul as King is explained. The rebellions against David are highlighted. And the disobedience of Solomon is described. Although these three kings are imperfect, God keeps the Kingdom of Israel unified throughout their successive reigns.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Stuart provides an overview of the ten types of Psalms found in Scripture, a few suggestions regarding preaching through the Psalms, and addresses how we are to interact with the hystoricizing statements within the Psalms.

  • This lesson provides an overview of the structure of Proverbs, which seems to be the most secular book of the bible. Proverbs is a book of wise memorable sayings collected by Solomon. These sayings are collected from various individuals in Israel and the Ancient Near East and serve to provide wisdom for how to live in the world.

  • There is a chiastic structure to the book of Job that begins with the prologue and ends with the epilogue. In a chiasm, the middle portion is a convenient hinge of the book, it is not necessarily the most important piece of textual material. The main question the book is asking is, where do you find wisdom? The answer is, wisdom is found in the LORD. Proverbs is monological wisdom, whereas Job is dialogical wisdom. People are debating back and forth throughout the book about the nature of wisdom.

  • This lesson briefly describes existentialism as a philosophical movement in order to frame Ecclesiastes as an ancient type of existentialist literature. Existentialism tends to argue that this life is all there is. Ecclesiastes entertains these various perspectives in the first six chapters, which serve as a literary foil, before ending with a surprise for the reader—life does have meaning because there is a God who will judge our actions.

    There is a storyline to the Song. A clue is found in the term Shulamite, which in Hebrew can be translated as Mrs. Solomon. So this is a story about Solomon marrying his wife. It conveys some of the challenges Solomon and his wife face in coming together in covenant marriage. The beginning of the book outlines their engagement. In the middle of the book they get married, and the end discusses their honeymoon. What we see in the Song is the biblical ideal of a monogamous marriage, which, ironically, Solomon failed to live up to.

  • While it is difficult to preach through the prophets it can be done well if some basic views are taken regarding the prophetic books in general.

  • This lesson provide an overview concerning three contemporaries Prophets during the period of the divided monarchy at the end of the 8 th Century BCE.

  • The passage discusses a period of time when great materials are produced, including the Book of Isaiah. The rise of the Assyrian Empire becomes a significant concern, as they expand their territory across various regions. Tiglath-Pileser III, also known as Pul, leads the Assyrians into the domain of Israel, Palestine, and Syria. The expansion is driven by economic considerations, as kings seek wealth for grand projects through tribute, tax, and tolls. The cycle of conquering and resistance repeats itself, impacting the Israelites. The passage also highlights the importance of 2 Kings, focusing on Elijah and Elisha, Jehu’s massacre of Baal worshippers, the kings of Judah, the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, and the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.

  • Historical context is vital when one moves to reading the prophets. After Solomon’s death in 931 BCE, the kingdom of Israel undergoes an extended period of civil war as rivaling leaders take control of the northern and southern regions of the kingdom. Unfortunately, this split eventually becomes permanent. In the north the kings reigned for short periods and when compared with the southern kingdom of Judah this shows a tremendous amount of upheaval. This may have to do with the fact that the north is never ruled by a descendant of David. In addition, the north fails to worship at the Jerusalem temple, and decides instead to worship idols.

  • In this lesson an overview is provided for the prophetical books of Isaiah, Micah, and Nahum.

  • An overview of the revival under King Josiah, the fall of King Josiah, and the subsequent fall of Jerusalem to Babylon.

  • Jeremiah begins his ministry in 627 BCE. This is five years before the great revival under Josiah in 622 BCE. So Jeremiah spans the time from the Assyrian domination to the invasion of Judah by Babylon. Unlike other prophets who predicted a short exile, Jeremiah preached a long, though not unending exile. Because of this Jeremiah was not popular with the government establishment of Jerusalem.

  • Dr. Stuart provides an overview of Joel, Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah and how they each relate to end times and God’s eternal reign.

  • Lamentations is a massive, huge, compound, complex lament that seeks to help God’s people see God’s goodness in the midst of tragedy.

  • Dr. Stuart provides a brief overview of Ezekiel, his difficult message of impending judgment on Jerusalem and his uplifting message of the hope to come.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Stuart describes the characteristics of apocalyptic literature and gives an overview of the books of Daniel. Esther, and the latter half of Isaiah.

  • An overview of the background to the post-exilic books including the necessity of the temple and the role of the Persian empire in it’s rebuilding.

  • An overview of Haggai and Zechariah, the beginning of the rebuilding of the temple, the encouragement of God’s people to put the things of God first, God’s sovereignty, the need to be faithful, the nature of God’s covenant, and God’s promises being fulfilled.

  • A look at the latter days, the closing of the prophetic cannon, and the books of Malachi, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

Did you know that the Old Testament contains more than 2/3 of the text of the Bible? Did you realize that the Old Testament timeline covers thousands of years of history and tells us the stories of people whose lives still affect world events today? Are you familiar with the Old Testament prophets that describe in detail the characteristics of the Messiah and the events that happen when he comes, hundreds of years before they take place? Have you ever read the Old Testament books of poetry and wisdom literature that contain inspirational and instructional passages that we still use today to inspire, comfort and inform our lives during life events, and are ubiquitous in both classic and contemporary literary works?

In Dr. Stuart’s Old Testament Survey class, he guides you through each of the Old Testament books by giving you the historical background, major themes and insight into the stories, characters and teaching of the book. In the historical books, you will become familiar with Old Testament Names like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph and David. In the Old Testament prophets, Dr. Stuart will introduce you to the lives and messages of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and others. When you study the Old Testament books of wisdom literature, Dr. Stuart will give you insights into the teachings, structure and creativity in Proverbs, Psalms and other books in the Writings.

From the description of Creation in Genesis, to the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, the Old Testament contains stories and teachings that can inform, inspire and transform your life. Dr. Stuart’s years of training and his skill in communicating, provides you with this opportunity to study and learn from one of the best. Now it’s up to you!

You may download a syllabus for the class including the Course Outline by clicking on the link in the Downloads section. We do not have access to the notes or the 130 exam questions that he mentions in the lectures. The Syllabus is from the SemLink class that was originally offered online through Gordon-Conwell Seminary so you can see the class outline and suggested readings. The links are not active. If you want to participate in the assignments and tests and earn credit, you may contact Gordon-Conwell Seminary to find out if they still offer this class.

Thank you to Charles Campbell and Fellowship Bible Church for writing out the lecture notes. Note that they do not cover every lecture.

Recommended Books

Old Testament Survey: Genesis-Malachi - Student Guide

Old Testament Survey: Genesis-Malachi - Student Guide

Did you know that the Old Testament contains more than 2/3 of the text of the Bible? Did you realize that the Old Testament timeline covers thousands of years of history and...

Old Testament Survey: Genesis-Malachi - Student Guide

I. Preaching the Prophets

It is often hard for people to preach or teach the Prophets; a lot of pastors do not do it much. Indeed, you will notice that more Bible studies than not focus on one of Paul’s letters. Why is that? Because, of course, the letters have that nice combination of opening doctrine and closing application. Paul does the work for you. It is much harder to preach the Gospels and Acts. You will hear the Gospels and Acts preached less than you will Paul’s epistles. When you get into the Old Testament, it is a lot easier to preach the Psalms than other books. Natural identification with them and often it is a lot easier to preach certain of the key narratives, the stories that seem to have a moral. It can be very difficult to preach the Prophets and a lot of people find it daunting.

If a pastor realizes that he will have to spend an extra two or three hours a week to be able to figure out how to make a good, descent application out of some vicious denunciation of the Edomites and help people live for Christ thereby, he or she will tend to just say, “I don’t know. They like my stuff when I do it on Corinthians and so on. It is a lot of work to do these other books.” There is a tendency to want to avoid the Prophets because it is hard for people to see what the value would be. To some degree, this is just a little bit of encouragement, orientation, and pep talk covering some of the things that will help you get out of these books what God has intended for your congregation, class, youth group, or Bible study.

A. Dependency on Pentateuch

Do try to appreciate the fact that the Prophets really depend upon the Pentateuch. They really do not say much conceptually that is not already said by Moses in one of the Pentateuchal books. This is very important. They are saying things that are completely consistent with what Moses says. They are denouncing the people of Israel according to the covenant. They frequently mention the word covenant. They use techniques that indicate that they are referring back to God’s covenant law. Everywhere there is the assumption that is they are working off of the Pentateuch.

B. Lack of novelty

Secondly, appreciate the fact that they are not novel. They are not making up new material. They are in a position very much like you and I are in. When we preach to people, we are not trying to make up anything new. We may be trying to say it in a currently clear and hopefully intelligible way using, therefore, not the exact vocabulary always of the Bible, but we are trying to say what the Bible already says. We are trying to get people to pay attention to what has been around for two thousand years. That is our big thing. We know that is where the truth is. That information is what the Holy Spirit will take and use to change people. The Bible is a real change agent. It is a marvelous, powerful tool for the shaping of people’s thinking and behavior. We want them to know it, we refer to it, we get our ideas from it. We really do not want to preach anything except that which the Bible itself teaches. This is what the Prophets did.

The Prophets were, of course, more precise in their inspiration, more authoritative because God was behind every word, but they still were trying to get people back to the Bible. they were trying to get a nation of people back to its roots, to honor its constitution as God had revealed that constitution both at Mount Sinai and also in the plains of Moab in the book that we call Deuteronomy. That was their big push. Therefore, they are not novel; they are very circumscribed in their creativity.

C. Watch out for liberal assumptions

You need to watch out for liberal assumptions. If you read commentaries that are critical or left wing, you will see a very large number of assumptions about the Prophets to this extent. Many people still today, it is a minority but still a remarkably strong minority, follow the old view that was made up by Graf and Wilhousen and others who argue the following. They said, “Look, when you read the Prophets they never actually quote a single Old Testament law. They don’t quote any of the Ten Commandments. They refer the concepts in the Ten Commandments but they don’t quote them. They don’t quote any laws about boiling a kid in its mother’s milk or with doing this or that with boundary stones or anything. They just never quote the law.” They said, “You know what we should infer from that? The law was not in existence when the Prophets preached. It simply didn’t exist. Had it been in existence they would have quoted it, right? What is more powerful than to say, as God says in the law, do this? So surely the law was not in existence. The Prophets came first and the law second. Now the prophets preached down into the four hundreds so the logically conclusion was the law must come after 450 B.C or so.” That really convinced a lot of people. They said, “Gee, that has to be true. If they don’t ever cite it they must not have known it and they didn’t know it, it must not have existed.”

Then as people studied ancient law, an observation became evident. This especially in a book by two scholars named Driver and Miles, neither of whom was Evangelical in any way. They wrote the book The Babylonian Laws, and they noticed that in thousands and thousands of law cases that we have from all over the Mesopotamian world during the days and after the days of Hammurabi’s Code and other famous law codes, nobody quotes that either. Hammurabi’s Code we know was made in multiple copies and set up in the center of every city and yet you can read law cases from these cities and they never, ever quote it. That made people a little suspicious. Then careful study of the history of law demonstrated that it was not until after New Testament times in Roman law that the concept of legal citation began. We are very used to it but remember we live in a world where our laws are not paradigmatic, our laws are exhaustive. We have to have a law for everything.

I was recently checking the net for laws on tape recording. I just wanted to check to see because not everybody gets permission to tape record a class or whatever and I was looking into that to see what students I could sue and make money from and so on. No, it was not that at all. I was just looking more out of curiosity than anything; I wanted to find out what the laws were. I read just one law from Title 19 section such and such, Chapter 119 of the U.S. Code, just one law and boy does it go on and on and on. There must be twelve thousand words in that law. It is just incredible. Just one law about that. It has definitions and everything. It has got as much in that one law as we have in the entire Pentateuch in terms of legal material. It was very, very lengthy. It is a perfect example and reminder of the way that modern law works. In modern law you try to say absolutely everything and if you do not quite say it, as we have said before, it is not a law. Whereas in bible times people gave laws as guidelines. These are the sorts of standards and you would reason from them. Hammurabi would not have been bothered that people did not cite his law code; he did not expect them to cite it. What he wanted was that everybody should know what the standards ought to be and extrapolate from them and reason to all the particular cases.

That is what God wanted for His people when He cites His law. It does not mean that the law does not apply it just means that it does apply all the more. As we have said before, it is a paradigm for all the possibilities, it sets the standards and you extrapolate from it with good wisdom and judgment. It turns out that after New Testament times the Romans began to have fuller and more codified exhaustive law and then of course began citing. You need to cite if you are starting to think that way. If you are starting to think that there has to be a law that prohibits this, if we are going to punish this, then you need to quote that law in your court case. So citation developed and became absolutely essential and necessary throughout. Nobody today could ever go into court and say, “I don’t like what this person has done and I, the District Attorney, am asking you, O judge, to put him in jail.” The judge will say, “Well what has he done? Give me the law. Cite it in your indictment.”

Be careful for liberal assumptions about the relative role of the Prophets as apposed to the Pentateuch. That is just an overview of the history of law just to be sure that you get the point. Many people are still not really on board with that understanding of the history of legal citation and you get strange results; people still following hundred-year-old data.

D. Special stress on the covenant sanctions in the Prophets.

The Prophets are covenant enforcement mediators. What do we mean by that? They are dealing with the question, will God enforce His covenant? He has been very patient. The covenant says, if you do the kinds of things that the Israelites have been doing for centuries, He will eventually bring about the curses of the covenant upon them. Why has it not happened yet? The Prophets as mediators, standing between God and His people, speaking for Him to His people, saying to the people, “It is because of God’s great patience. He has been merciful, He has given you chance after chance, He has let things go by, He has overlooked things, He is a loving God, He doesn’t want to hurt you but the time has finally come, as the Prophets that we read like Amos, Hosea, Jonah, and the others say, where if you think you are going to escape the punishment of the covenant you are wrong. A great, horrible, cataclysmic punishment is coming. They stress those covenant sanctions.

E. Evidence followed by curse fulfillment

The basic pattern in the Prophets is evidence and then curse fulfillment. What do we mean by that? The Prophets are looking at Israel’s behavior very frequently from a legal point of view because the covenant is a legal document, it is a law. The Prophets are constantly saying, “Israel, here is what you’ve done. That is covenant breaking, that is illegal, that is law breaking. Therefore, you’re going to have to expect to endure the covenant sanctions,” that is the curses, “that the law contains. They are going to be fulfilled.” We are going to find that all over the place in the sixteen Prophets that we will be looking at. For now we will just sample a little bit of Amos, Hosea, and Jonah just to get a feel for it. What we say about those prophets we will also say about others. When you read all sixteen of them many things get reinforced and put together so we will just skim the cream tonight. There is a lot more to come about the Prophets but this is a way of giving an overview to it.

F. "Rib Formula"

There is a more detailed legal pattern that sometimes is called the Rib Formula. This word, R-i-b, it is a soft b so it is pronounced like a v, means in Hebrew a lawsuit, an actual law case. The Prophets frequently do the following—they preach to the people of Israel imagining a scenario. The scenario is that God is the prosecuting attorney who has put Israel on trial. God cites the evidence and says, “Here is what you have done, O Israel.” Interestingly, God is not only the prosecuting attorney and Israel the defendant but, in addition, God is also the judge. This is a rather stacked court case, but God is God and He is infinite. He can play all roles. Sometimes God even functions as the plaintiff. “Here is what you did to Me, that’s why I’m calling you into court and I’m prosecuting the case.”

So God is first of all the plaintiff, then He is the prosecuting or the district attorney depending on your sense of who does what in your state, and He is also the judge. He also turns out to be the sheriff who takes the prisoner and confines him and the warden of the prison; he has a lot of roles. The Israelites have not got too much of a chance. But, they knew how legal cases went and so you can see the summons and then the indictment, the evidence, and the judgment sentence as God plays all these roles in this imaginary scenario where the Israelites are taken to court. It fits perfectly because the law is a legal document, the covenant is law; it makes sense.

G. Prophets are messengers.

It is very important to appreciate that. A prophet understood that from heaven he or she had received messages. Some of the prophets report that God even reinforced this for them by giving them the visionary experience of being taken up into heaven and standing right in the court of God. They could see heaven and have an image of God, which usually all they see is a bright, blinding light in front of them, and there is God and angels around and they describe that scene. Then God says, “Okay prophet, here is what you say, memorize this.” So the prophets get their message, sometimes it is called a burden.

1. Messenger Formulae

It is the word that they speak. This causes them then to use language that identifies them as messengers. So I interrupt what I was just saying for a moment to show you this. You know how very often the prophet will say, “Thus says the Lord,” or “says the Lord.” These things are almost constantly showing up. Some prophets use them sparingly and other prophets use them constantly. You have got ten or twenty of these per chapter, “Thus says the Lord; I will do this says the Lord and then I will do that; and Thus says the Lord.” It is just constant. We call these messenger formulae.

2. Usually speaks in first person

Usually the prophet also speaks in the first person. “Thus says the Lord, I will do so and so.” There are times when you actually cannot be sure whether it is the prophet, “I have seen what you have done O Israel,” and you say, is that the prophet or is that God? Generally speaking ere on the side of assuming that it is God and the prophet is doing nothing but quoting Him. The prophet uses these terms, for those who know Hebrew you can follow it here, for those who know English, you can follow it here, for those who know neither Hebrew nor English, you cannot follow it. Any of these, “Thus says the Lord,” that is what we call a messenger formulae or a messenger speech formula. It is the wording that says, “I’m just telling you what I memorized.” This is very important. The prophet is not claiming actually to be creating anything. The prophet is claiming that he is saying nothing of his own and simply quoting God. This is what ancient messengers did.

3. Prophets are dictation documents

We have actually hundreds of messenger text. We have lots and lots of texts, where a messenger says in Egypt or Babylon or whatever, “Thus says king so and so, hello, how are you? I am having trouble here. Can you do this for me?” or “The taxes are difficult but we’ll have them next week and I assure you, O king, that I love you.” So one king says to another, it is always first person because that messenger is standing in for the person who sent him and is saying the words of the person who sent him. It is not quite as neat as those little holograms of Princess Leia appealing to Obi-Wan Kenobi and then fading out played by R2-D2. It is not quite as nice as those, but it is comparable.

You are the messenger and you show up and you, in effect, take the role of the one who sent you and you speak his very words. What this means is that the prophets really were absolutely verbatim speaking God’s word. Some of you have studied the question of inspiration and you know that many people argue that none of the Bible is to be understood by that old notion of the dictation approach, but in fact, that is naive. The Prophets are exactly dictation documents. They are claiming to be precisely exact words of God. We may argue that a Gospel writer or Paul would not have been aware that what he was producing was carefully watched and superintended by God, but it is hard to deny that the prophets understood that they had just heard God inside their brain and often had a vision that accompanied it, which made it clear that this was a message from God they were delivering to others.

4. Prophet is messenger in original delivery context

So the prophet is a messenger in the delivery context and then makes occasional references, “The Lord has sent me and so on, thus says the Lord.”

5. The implications:

a. The prophet is a bearer of a memorized message.

b. This is verbatim inspiration.

c. The frequency of messenger formulae may be need based. What do we mean? When you look at the frequency of the times they use, “Thus says the Lord, Says the Lord, O Lord, message of,” and so on, you find that the high-frequency prophets using these messenger formulae are prophets who encountered lots of opposition, prophets like Jeremiah and Malachi. The ones with a low frequency of thus says the lord, messenger speech language, are prophets who generally speaking were well-received, had good relationships with the king, were widely regarded by the people and so on. There is almost a one-for-one correlation. Our assumption is that, and I think it might be my assumption because I wrote an article on it and, as far as I know, nobody else had written on this, they felt need regularly to say, “Hey, I’m not making this up. Put you stone down please, just throw it in the alley. Throw it up in the air straight at Him but not at me. I’m just saying what He said.” They really felt an obligation, a kind of a fear, that they had to remind people constantly that it really was Yahweh who was speaking through them because they were getting such grief, such opposition, such resistance, and so you do see that correlation. It looks like it is need-based in part. Since there are hundreds and hundreds of them it is worth being sure you understand the concept. Back to our overview of some of these things about preaching the prophets.

H. Visions as verbal content

Do not ever think that a prophetic vision is emphasizing what is seen. This is an easy, easy mistake to make. If you will carefully look at all visions in the prophets, it is the wording that counts. The vision, whatever is described, whatever picture the prophet sees is essentially what we would call a visual aid. It is like these overheads that I am showing now. Their function is to help you understand what I am saying, but what is said is what counts. People have often misunderstood this. It is a basic rule of interpreting biblical prophecy that the primary function of the vision described is to give you a little pneumonic device to help you retain it, to help you see something that gives you a feel for what is happening. The meaning is in the spoken word.

So, you never have a vision with just the description of the vision; you always have a spoken word. In some cases the prophets the have an angel who interprets for them. Zachariah has this, he is conversing with an angel regularly, just like John in Revelation. He will say, “What does this mean?” and he says, “The angle who speaks with me says…” so God assigned an angel. That is how he gets it. In any kind of vision there always needs to be an explanation, otherwise it is not the point. What seems secondary, what is said, is always the purpose. So it is the Word of the Lord still even in visionary material. It is not the picture from the Lord it is the Word of the Lord that counts.

I. Eschatology in the Prophets

A word on eschatology in the prophets. The prophets are looking at history in three great epochs. They are describing the past blessing that has been in place until now. Then they are either looking immediately forward to the exile, the great time of destruction and rejection, or they are looking immediately back on it. And then they are saying, “But after the exile is over there begins a period of better than ever blessing. The prophets see a blessing, curse, blessing pattern. If you understand that pattern, a lot of things will fall into line for you as you read the prophets. You will see that sometimes they talk about God’s blessing in the past, “I’ve blessed you, I’ve been faithful, this and that.” Then you will see, “Yet, I’m going to curse you; Yet I’m going to destroy you; Yet, I’m going to reject you; Yet I’m going to send you into exile,” and you say, “Okay I get that.” And the prophets will say, “On the other hand great days are coming.” You say, “What! How can great days be coming if, in fact, he just said I’m going to curse you and send you into exile?” It is chronological. The exile is not the end of the plan.

God is always an evangelist. God is always is working for good. God always loves His people; He wants the best for them. He will never utterly abandon them; Sure, He will chastise them, but He will not utterly abandon them. He is like somebody who spanks a kid hard when he deserves it and then puts his arms around them and says, “That’s over. Let’s have some fun.” It is like it is. So the future ultimately is always blessing. The Prophets look forward to a universe in which all sin is eliminated, all evil is gone, all harm and disaster and tragedy are done away with and ultimately they see the same, wonderful future that the New Testament describes, that the Book of Revelation describes, that all of us hope and long for. In the meantime, God is not going to be a softy with a regard to the curses of His covenant. So there has been blessing from the time they entered the land until the exile and there will be blessing after the exile, but that is seventy years in the middle with the exile, a time of terrible curse. That pattern is good to get; if you get it, a lot of things become clear.

J. Personalizing, church-state confusion

Watch out for church-state personalizing, self-interested, localizing confusion. Many, many times when I have taught on the Prophets I will explain what is going on and someone will come up to me and say, “Do you think this verse here in Ezekiel refers to…,” and then they will name some current event. “Is this predicting the Columbine massacre right here where it says this?” and it will be something like terror in streets or something and they will ask, “Do you think that is what it is?” There is a strong tendency on the part of people to want these prophecies, kind of self-centeredly, to apply to us right now and specifically to us. Not generally to us right now along with others over a big period of time, but directly and specifically to only us; the prophecy would not have applied ten years ago, maybe it will not apply ten years from now, but it is for us right now. There is a lot of tendency to do that; people tend to think that. And, if you want to have a ministry and make serious money, go around the country picking out things that you allege do predict Columbine and the Clinton scandals, and Hillary’s becoming senator from New York and so on. People will buy that, “There it is, right in the Bible. That so and so is so good at opening the Bible, why isn’t our pastor like that?” You can really distort it because lots of people are doing it. So watch out.

There is a tendency for what is called church-state confusion whereby you have Israel equaling America or Israel equaling the church, equaling Canada. There is a tendency for personalizing this, self-interested localizing it. You have to watch for that.

K. Oracles against foreign nations

I want to introduce oracles against foreign nations very quickly, and then I will refer to them as we go along. In every one of the prophets, every single one of the sixteen, there is some form of denunciation by God of other nations. What is this, does God hate all the other nations or something? That is the misunderstanding that could easily come to mind. That is what people in your congregation or class may well be thinking. “Look at that, chapter after chapter saying I am going to do this to the Egyptians and now as for the Edomites I’ll do that, and now for the Babylonians, and now the Assyrians, and I’m going to throw in the Moabites for good measure.” You can easily say, “What is this? What is going on?” Let me illustrate that with something from the Book of Amos. Turn with me please to Amos 1 and 2. It will allow us to get a little feel for what we are talking about. As we do this, let me say that Amos is in all probability the first of the prophets. The only big reason for the terminology major and minor is that major means bigger, not more important but bigger, it is the old meaning of the word major. Minor means smaller, smaller coverage.

Same with the prophets, Amos is a minor prophet meaning it is not as big a book as the big ones but it is the first chronologically. Amos starts around 760 BC. After an introductory prophecy about judgment, verse 3 starts talking about what we would call oracles against foreign nations. This is what the Lord says, Amos1:3, “For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not restore it.” I think it is important that the NIV has “turn back” and it puts in brackets “My wrath” because they do not know what is going on, but I think the answer is provided in a very fine article written a number of years ago that says this terms means “restored to my covenant protection”.

God loves and protects all nations of the earth; they are all His. He has established their boundaries at the Book of Acts points out, as Paul says and so on. This says, “I’m going to kick them out of my protective care and not restore them.” That is what I think it means in the Hebrew. Damascus is going to get hurt in some way. What is going to happen? The reason because she threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth. This is border war, border fighting between nations and God says, “I won’t stand for it.” God hates what is going on in the Balkans and former Yugoslavia, we hate it too, we hate to see it happening. He hates it all over the world where it occurs and he hates it in ancient Israel’s neighborhood as well. “So I am going to send fire on the house of Hazael, it will consume the fortresses of Benhadad,” that is Damascus, what we would call Syria. Then with verse 6 comes Gaza, a Philistine city. He mentions several Philistine cities in that prophecy and how they are going to be destroyed. Then he goes on in verse 11 to the Edomites and they are going to be punished. Then the Ammonites in verse 13. Then in chapter 2:1, the Moabites; the people of Moab. He is going all around. These are all the nations that circle Israel. He is going back and forth from northeast to southwest and all around the compass points and so on. Then in verse 4 he comes to Judah.

Amos was a prophet from Judah preaching up in the north in Israel. One can imagine the crowds warming up to him at this point. “Hey, this is great! This Judean guy is giving Judah the business. They are always so high and mighty about the Davidic covenant. But this guy is hanging it right in there.” “I’m going to attack Judah, this and that will happen, I’ll send fire on Judah, consume the fortresses of Jerusalem,” all of this language appropriate to ways of saying metaphorically, “I’m going to judge and punish and inflict my covenant punishments upon them.” Then suddenly verse 6, “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.” The denunciation of and prediction of judgment for Israel is the biggest of all.

What is happening? In general, foreign nation oracles are encouragements because these nations that did evil things usually were doing them also to Judah and Israel and he talks about what they did to each other in various ways, but to Judah and Israel is what they usually were doing. God assures his people, “It won’t last forever, they are not going to get away with it forever. I am going to judge them too.” A lot of the prophetical books have reassurances to good people. “Yes, all this evil has occurred. Yes, it has gone on and on. Yes, it continues. I understand. Don’t worry, I’m watching over it all. I will punish appropriately all the evil that is taking place.” For that to happen if God’s people are going to eventually be elevated and redeemed and so on, their oppressors cannot be allowed to continue to oppress. On the other hand, what Amos is doing here is saying, “Judah and Israel also are foreign nations to me.” By including them in a compound, complex foreign nation oracle, he is making the point, “They too have become as foreign nations to me. They are not really my people. I judge them just like I do the Syrians or the Moabites or the Edomites or the Philistines or whatever. What a tragedy that that should be so.

L. Dramatized prophecy

Finally, dramatized prophecy. In a number of instances one sees prophets acting out some symbolism related to their message. This is a good thing, it makes it more vivid, your brain then has a chance to remember both the words and the imagery. When Ezekiel wants to talk about how the Babylonians will certainly destroy Judah and Jerusalem and so do not have false hope, which is his message for the whole first 24 chapters of his book, he does things like build little model cities of Jerusalem and then smash them down.

In chapter 20 of Isaiah, Isaiah is prophesying about the fate of the Cushites. We would call that partly modern Ethiopia, partly modern Sudan; it is the Upper Nile, which is the southern Nile, the area all around below Egypt. The prediction was that the Assyrians would be so successful, so strong, that they would go all the way down and actually exile people from below Egypt, south of Egypt. That means they are going to conquer all the Fertile Crest, all of Palestine. The Assyrians are in charge. That is a way of saying that this is tuff. It would be like somebody standing up today and saying, “I expect the Dow Jones Industrial Averages to dip below 800.” That is not nice to hear and they did not want to hear the same thing about what the Assyrians would do. So to dramatize this he did something that played upon a particular word in Hebrew. In Hebrew there is a word Golah that means both to be exposed and can mean to be naked, but also means to be exiled. Because, when you are exiled, you are taken off your land and you are kind of exposed out in the open as it were. So it means exposed. It is the standard word for exile as well as a common word for being naked or not having enough clothes on.

For a period of years in predicting this people did not believe him and said: “All these false hopes and there is lots of false prophecy, it will work out fine.” Isaiah is saying no, it is not going to work out fine. It is going to get worse, not better. He goes around “naked,” exposed. I really do not think he was totally naked, I think that it means that he probably wore the equivalent of jockey shorts, wearing only a very modest covering but basically stripped otherwise, because he said, “So it will be the Ethiopians, or Cushites, will go “into exile” “stripped and naked”. That is also what they did. They took the prisoners naked so that they could not conceal weapons on them and it was part of the humiliation and shame of being taken into exile. It is a horribly shameful thing. So, he himself symbolizes that and every once and a while, effectively, you see Isaiah streaking.

II. Some themes from Hosea.

A. A God of reversals and surprises

There is some wonderful stories of reversals and surprises in Hosea. “I’m going to punish you, and yet in three days I’ll raise you up says the Lord.” It sounds almost like a prophecy of Christ’s resurrection. It really is not, it is a way of saying you will be as good as dead and I will raise you up. People in the ancient world thought of anyone who was in the grave for three days as hopelessly, positively dead. They knew that sometimes people who looked dead would begin to breathe again, they understood there were comas, and they did not understand all of that, but they had a basic rule—three days with no pulse, no nothing and they are dead. They used that symbolism. It is interesting Jesus picks another symbolism because they all knew that one, He picks the symbolism of the prophet Jonah and talks about that rather than the quote from Hosea. But that is typical of Hosea. Lots of reversals, lots of surprises. God is the God who brings pleasant surprises and you can preach that from a book like Hosea.

B. God's people loved and therefore chastened

If God loves you and you are doing wrong, He is not going to say, “Oh well, I love you therefore keep doing wrong.” That is not what God does and people need to know it. It is good for them to know it. That is not His method of operation. He may be patient before He punishes, but He does not say, “That’s alright, go ahead.”

C. Reliance on human diplomacy versus reliance on God.

This is a big theme of Hosea, how the people tried every means to get the Assyrians off their back. Hosea was preaching in a day when the Assyrians were threatening Israel more and more and just did not turn to God. The last person that they thought of was God.

D. The determination of God to redeem a remnant.

He will not be without a people. That people may be small, it may be a little leftover bunch from a big, large crowd that disobeyed him, but He is going to make sure that He has a people for Himself. That is His plan. If He has a plan, do you think anybody can stop Him? Who can say, “I don’t like your plan, don’t do it.” No, not to God. As Paul says, “Who can ever say, stay your hand to God.”

E. Ritual, no substitute for substance.

That is famous in Amos. “I despise your feasting and all your ceremonies. Not because they are bad in and of themselves but because you’re doing them hypocritically. You’re not keeping My covenant, you’re just going through certain motions.” Same kind of themes in Hosea.

F. Corruption of clergy, a precursor to national degeneracy.

Corruption of clergy is one of the interesting themes in Hosea that the priests and the prophets stop faithfully preaching God’s word. It is necessary for the people to really go off the deep end. You get faithful preaching of the Word of God and a certain percentage of people are going to hear and take it seriously and change. When you do not have that, that is when people really get lost.

G. Sin as infidelity to God.

Sin as infidelity to God is not just hurting somebody else, not just something you do that corrupts your character, it wrecks your relationship to God. That is what you ought to fear doing it.

H. Sin and political instability.

A very interesting way of thinking about the way the world works politically. Some of that is in the book.

I. Divine forgiveness

Divine forgiveness is a great theme of Scripture anyway, but Hosea has a lot of it. While there are more than these, these are just some things that I have listed, I just want to give you a feel for how rich the preaching of these prophetical books can be and want to encourage you to think that they will function as assets for you as you are trying to help people learn the Word of God and become close to Him. You want to help people follow Christ. The Old Testament prophets will help you help people follow Christ. Don’t miss that. If it is an asset for you do not say, “Aw, it is Old Testament prophetical stuff, it can’t have as good and direct of value.” It is what the early church had until the New Testament got written. They preached it. It is what Paul had to work from. It has to do the job. It did the job beautifully in the first decades of the early church. So this is material that you and I need also to exploit an obedience to God for His purposes. What I have here is just a very simple overview. It is just to orient us.

III. Overview of the Minor Prophets

I am going to spend the remainder of the time on Amos, Hosea, and Jonah. We will pick up some more as we talk about 1 and 2 Kings. Some of what is in 1 and 2 Kings during this time period is the sort of thing that is pretty easy to follow. You are not going to have too much trouble with it, so I do not want to talk about those three prophets mainly. I only want to put them in context. You can see from the list that the vast majority of the prophets were southern prophets. You have one northerner who preaches in Assyria, Jonah, and then one native northerner who does preach in the north, in Judah, that is Hosea. Amos is an exception; he is a southerner who preaches up in the north. But I would especially have you notice that it appears to be almost exactly three centuries between the first and last prophet.

It looks like Amos probably preached mainly in or around the year 760 BC, maybe just that one year, and it looks like Malachi preached relatively briefly sometime around 460 BC just prior to when Ezra and Nehemiah arrived back in the promise land. It looks almost exactly like 300 years. I do not mean to say that there is any need to make it exactly that but as far as we know it appears to be approximately a 300 year period. I have not included here the Major Prophets yet, but they are all in here. They are all within this same time period. This was a time of enormous, enormous productivity of the Word of God. The prophetical books cover a very big block. Why? Because God is, in effect, explaining, explaining, explaining to His people what it is that He is doing and what a huge amount is happening.

This is the time period of the end of Israel which comes to an end in 722 BC when the Assyrians conquer it and annex it. The end of Judah, 586 BC when the Babylonians conquer Judah and annex it. The exile which is the great period of curse from 586 to 516 and I will describe that eventually. Then the beginning of the restoration where the Persians conquer the Babylonians and have a whole different policy about exiled peoples and so on. It is a very, very dramatic time of change and transition and I think we would not wonder that God would be constantly explaining how it is that He can take His people and really obliterate them as a political, economic, social entity and instead turn around and make them a people of faith so that even their ethnic character, even their national character no longer counts much. What counts is whether they trust in Him for what He is going to do with them and for them in the future. That is just a huge transition. It is a massive transition, their whole identity changes. Their whole purpose really is reoriented. It is understandable the prophets are preaching God’s guiding words so that people can appreciate them.