Books of Prophecy
The following notes developed out of my preparation to speak on the Old Testament Books of Prophecy as part of the Story of God series at Westside Church.
As I dug into the background of the prophets God sent to the nations of Judah and Israel following the division of the Kingdom, I noticed so many things about the prophets, their prophecies, and the settings in which they were delivered that it simply wouldn’t fit into a single message.
I know that some of you would like to dig a little deeper with me, so here’s some of my working notes.
* If you’re using the Life Journal Reading Plan, you’re reading in Isaiah right now, then moving this week into Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and into Jeremiah by week’s end. * http://www.westsidechurch.org/ scroll down the page to Daily Bible Reading click on Ready-Set-Go
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Today’s Focus: Books of Prophecy
* Major Prophets (5) Because we have more content from them.
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel.
* Minor Prophets (12) Because we have less content from them.
Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
The Prophetic Books are not listed in the Bible in chronological order, except kind of…
The section begins with Isaiah (an early prophet)
Then Jeremiah (a late prophet)
Then Ezekiel (a late prophet)
Then Daniel (late – both a prophet and a politician)
Early Warning Prophets: Some of the prophets preached early, warning of the coming judgment, of the need for repentance, and of God’s eternal covenant love and his promise to restore them back to their homes after a season of captivity.
* Some spoke warnings of coming destruction to Israel, the northern kingdom.
* Some spoke warnings to Judah, the southern kingdom.
* One of them, Jonah, spoke his prophecy to Assyria, the first of the great world-conquering empires.
* Imminent Judgement Prophets: Some of the prophets preached at the time of crisis as first Samaria, then Jerusalem fell to the invaders from Assyria then Babylon. They called the people to repentance and promised God would be merciful and restore them.
* Jeremiah lived in Jerusalem and spent his entire lifetime trying to warn the kings and the people of Judah.
Coming Restoration Prophets: Ezekiel lived in Babylon during the captivity. Some of the prophets preached during the captivity, as the time came for a remnant to be restored to Jerusalem and Judah. These prophets preached them back home and preached them through the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple that the Babylonians had destroyed.
* Ezekiel lived in Babylon after the first captivity of Israel.
* Daniel lived in Babylon after the captivity of Israel and the first captivity of Judah.
* The books of Ezra and Nehemiah belong after Daniel, and fit with the restoration prophets like Habakkuk, Haggai, Zechariah, Zephaniah, and Malachi, who prophesied God’s people back home after the captivity, and preached them through the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple.
To make sense of the rest of the OT, you have to think in terms of the two nations, divided in 930 BC. Israel in the north, Judah in the south, with a common heritage, living in enmity (and frequently at war) with each other, in a world in which empires were beginning to develop. First came the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then the Medo-Persians.
* Over the next 400 or so years, Judah, to the south, with the Temple in Jerusalem, had a few good and godly kings. Israel, to the north, had no good and godly kings, descended into the most perverse kinds of idol worship, and fell to the Assyrians as a consequence in 720 BC.
* Judah had good kings and bad kings, seasons of backsliding and revival, and eventually, except for a faithful remnant, forsook the living God for pagan idols. Judah fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC.
* All during the time this was going on God kept sending prophets to these two nations to woo them and warn them, to warn them of coming judgment and woo them with declarations of his faithful covenant love.
From the day your ancestors left Egypt until now, I have continued to send my servants, the prophets—day in and day out. (Jeremiah 7:25 NLT) (11 times Jeremiah makes this statement!)
* Some of the prophets, like Isaiah in Judah, had the ear of kings and prophesied for many years, reigns of five kings in Jerusalem. Later prophets, like Jeremiah, prophesied for many years and were labeled “traitors” for speaking truth to power.
The prophets God sent came in a variety of sizes and shapes, backgrounds, and approaches.
* The prophets weren’t social scientists, figuring out what was going to happen, then making political predictions. In fact, they often wondered what their messages actually meant in the longer term. They wrote and spoke what God’s Holy Spirit inspired them to speak!
They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward. (1 Peter 1:11 NLT)
* Prophets and success: Most of the prophets were persecuted and their messages rejected.
* Their success wasn’t measured by how popular they were, how many people bought their books or read their blog posts or followed them on Twitter! Their success was measured by their sacrifice and their faithfulness to say what God gave them to say!
Stories of the Prophets’ Callings
1 It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. 2 Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” 4 Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke. 5 Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 He touched my lips with it and said, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.” 8 Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.” (Isaiah 6:1–8 NLT)
4 The LORD gave me this message: 5 “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” 6 “O Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!” 7 The LORD replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. 8 And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be
with you and will protect you. I, the LORD, have spoken!” 9 Then the LORD reached out and touched my mouth and said, “Look, I have put my words in your mouth! (Jeremiah 1:4–9 NLT)
1 “Stand up, son of man,” said the voice. “I want to speak with you.” 2 The Spirit came into me as he spoke, and he set me on my feet. I listened carefully to his words. 3 “Son of man,” he said, “I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me. They and their ancestors have been rebelling against me to this very day. 4 They are a stubborn and hard-hearted people. But I am sending you to say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says!’ 5 And whether they listen or refuse to listen—for remember, they are rebels—at least they will know they have had a prophet among them. (Ezekiel 2:1–5 NLT)
God’s first assignment for Ezekiel was to draw a chalk map on the sidewalk at the corner of Wall Street and Franklin in downtown Bend. Then he was to lie on his side there every day for a year. He was to get up twice a day and make a fire of dried cow manure and bake a little loaf of bread. When people asked what he was doing, he was to say, “This city is doomed to fail, the economy will collapse, and property values will plummet, and it will be a ghost town! All because of greed, selfishness, and immorality!” The local business owners called the police and said, “You need to get this guy out of here! It’s the peak of tourist season and he’s definitely not good for business!
1 This message was given to Amos, a shepherd from the town of Tekoa in Judah. He received this message in visions two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam II, the son of Jehoash, was king of Israel. 2 This is what he saw and heard: “The LORD’s voice will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem! The lush pastures of the shepherds will dry up; the grass on Mount Carmel will wither and die.” (Amos 1:1–2 NLT)
Tried to get away from God, because he didn’t want to be a prophet! I’ve always thought there was something fishy about that response. If you know what I mean.
Michaiah (a very courageous prophet who didn’t even get to write a book!)
6 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there not also a prophet of the LORD here? We should ask him the same question.” 7 The king of Israel replied to Jehoshaphat, “There is one more man who could consult the LORD for us, but I hate him. He never prophesies
anything but trouble for me! His name is Micaiah son of Imlah.” Jehoshaphat replied, “That’s not the way a king should talk! Let’s hear what he has to say.” 16 Then Micaiah told him, “In a vision I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd. And the LORD said, ‘Their master has been killed. Send them home in peace.’ ” 17 “Didn’t I tell you?” the king of Israel exclaimed to Jehoshaphat. “He never prophesies anything but trouble for me.” 25 “Arrest him!” the king of Israel ordered. “Take him back to Amon, the governor of the city, and to my son Joash. 26 Give them this order from the king: ‘Put this man in prison, and feed him nothing but bread and water until I return safely from the battle!’ ” 27 But Micaiah replied, “If you return safely, it will mean that the LORD has not spoken through me!” Then he added to those standing around, “Everyone mark my words!” (2 Chronicles 18:6-7, 16–17, 25-27 NLT)
Here’s something else, real practical and real close to home, from good old Isaiah. Remember he got the Messiah thing right and the Cyrus thing right, so maybe he’s got this right too!
11 The LORD has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said, 12 “Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them. 13 Make the LORD of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. (Isaiah 8:11–13 NLT)
It’s an election year in the USA (had you noticed?)
* Some people think putting a bunch of new people in office will fix what’s wrong with the US. Let’s vote in a Messiah or two. That should do it! Messiah is not an electable office!
* Some people think the system is broken and changing the system will fix things. The system may well be broken, but scrapping it without something better to put in its place is even worse!
* The message of the prophets is that changing our hearts is what it will take to fix things. (See why it’s easier to focus on “end times”? Changing our hearts is hard!)
* Some people think “This world’s so bad it’s hopeless! But that’s ok because Jesus is going to come get us soon and we’ll be raptured to heaven and we can watch the world go to hell!”
* The message I get pretty consistently from the Bible is “God loves this world so much that he sent his prophets, his Son, his Spirit, and us to make it better!”
As wonderful as the predictions are, I think it’s the case that we so often go for the prediction part of the prophets’ messages.
* The End-Time Apocalyptic events, The Anti-Christ, The beasts and the battles, the angels and trumpets. And of course, Jesus coming back to snatch us all out of this mess! Maybe that’s because what the prophets had to say hits too close to home!
* In Revelation 8:1 there’s an interesting statement: When the Lamb broke the seventh seal on the scroll, there was silence throughout heaven for about half an hour. (Revelation 8:1 NLT)
* I think perhaps that half hour of silence is when all the End Time Prophecy teachers are realizing how far they missed it with all their End Time Apocalypse books, their prophecy seminars, and their charts! (This is a joke!)
Reading the Prophets for Personal Application
I read the Bible to hear what God has to say to me. Over the years, God has “quickened” verses and short sections to me as I read. These verses sometimes answer a question, sometimes challenge my faith, sometimes convict me of my sin, sometimes express a prayer of my heart. When I find them, I capture them in a list I call “Verses for Daily Reading.” And I read them again and again to remind myself of what God has said and continues to say to me.
Some of those Spirit-Quickened words from God to me through the Prophets:
I will be your God throughout your lifetime – until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you. (Isaiah 46:4 NLT)
8 “But as for you, Israel my servant, Jacob my chosen one, descended from Abraham my friend, 9 I have called you back from the ends of the earth so you can serve me. For I have chosen you and will not throw you away. 10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. (Isaiah 41:8-10 NLT)
4 The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary. Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will. 5 The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me, and I have listened. I have not rebelled or turned away. (Isaiah 50:4-5 NLT)
23 I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course. 24 So correct me, Lord, but please be gentle. Do not correct me in anger, for I would die. (Jeremiah 10:23-24 NLT)
No, O people, the LORD has already told you what is good, and this is what he requires: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NLT)
I hope these Supplemental Notes have been helpful to you. You can send me your comments at email@example.com.
Grace to you,