Reading the prophets can be confusing and to help, and Bible805 did a preliminary lesson to help you understand them, CLICK HERE to go to it.
As I was preparing this section on the prophets, especially as you start to read Isaiah, I realized that an explanation of two more things are very important to keep in mind as we study the prophets as we go through the Bible. They are:
#1 The prophet’s expansive view of time
#2 The prophet’s expansive view of God’s sovereignty, His requirements, love, and plans permeating ALL of life
In this lesson, I’ll clarify these 2 characteristics in order to help your study of the individual books because they can be confusing and overwhelming if you don’t.
Of special importance is that you understand God’s view of time and a copy of the chart that helps explain it is in the notes, check it out here:
Two Key Characteristics of Prophetic Books
Essential to understand as you
Yvon Prehn, Bible805
Bible805 has another overview on the prophets—see at The Prophetic Books, little understood, incredibly important, an introduction
• The lesson looked at how much of their content was related to near events and was fulfilled in near events.
• However, their messages could also have multiple fulfillments such as the example of Ezekiel’s dry bones coming to life, both in the near fulfillment of Israel’s return to the land after the Babylonian captivity, the future establishment of the nation of Israel, and of future eternal resurrection
• Importantly, their messages werenot their own but from God,
• And finally, that they were basically “covenant enforcement mediators”
• That means that they reminded Israel they had made a covenant (promise) with God and He expected them to fulfill it and they knew there were consequences if they did not.
In addition to these characteristics, two more are very important to keep in mind as we study the prophets as we go through the Bible:
• #1 Their expansive view of time
• #2 Their expansive view of God’s sovereignty, His requirements, love, and plans permeating ALL of life
• I’ll clarify these 2 characteristics here briefly,
• It is essential for you to keep these two in mind as we study the individual books because they can be confusing and overwhelming if you don’t.
#1 The prophet’s expansive use of time
• Because the prophets speak for God, they often speak from His vantage point outside of time and in eternity and they jump around without telling you what is what or when (I’ll try to help in the lessons—but be aware of this).
• In all, keep in mind the Bible805.com chart on God’s view of time. Available on the site an on the Bible805 YouTube channel.
• Isaiah is one of the best, and can be most confusing, examples of this.
Example—Isaiah 14—written before Babylon became a major power, long before Judah’s captivity—he prophesied their return to the land
• 1 The Lord will have compassion on Jacob;
once again he will choose Israel
and will settle them in their own land.. . . . .
• 3 On the day the Lord gives you relief from your suffering and turmoil and from the harsh labor forced on you, 4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:
• How the oppressor has come to an end!
How his fury has ended!
. . . . .
• And from this prophecy about the destruction of an earthly ruler he jumps to an eternal perspective
To a passage traditionally interpreted as about the origin and fall of Satan
• Isaiah 14:12 How you have fallen from heaven,
morning star, son of the dawn (Lucifer)!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
13 You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.
14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”
15 But you are brought down to the realm of the dead,
to the depths of the pit.
• All in the same chapter
This passage and others, only make sense when you the events from God’s viewpoint
• They are real events.
• Taking place over an immense span of time.
• But all under God’s view and control.
• This ability to speak with confidence about the eternal past and future is a confirmation that the Prophet is speaking for God.
• Some will be verified in the life-time of the listeners or near-later readers as Judah saw prophecies about Israel fulfilled.
• This gives us confidence that God will do as He says He will.
• HOWEVER, as you read, it can be a challenge to know what will happen when.
• Don’t worry about it—theologians throughout all the ages have been challenged by it—I’ll try to help, but more than exact time solutions, keep in mind—more importantly and underlying all they talk about—
#2 An all-encompassing view of life and God’s right to His demands on it—
• The prophets were not popular in their time, and they aren’t today because of their single-minded focus on the importance of living as God wanted His people to live.
• This message encompassed ALL of their lives and relationships.
• When we look back at His laws, they influenced every detail of life and regardless of if they were able to keep the ceremonial law or not (the kingdom had split at this time), the basic principle remains—
• That God’s requirements and hence the prophet’s words are not simply a message to be tacked on to the rest of life, as a reminder to participate in religious services only—
• They are to be the foundation, the core, the focus of all of life.
• This is why they speak with such force and passion—they aren’t merely books of good suggestions, but the Words of Almighty God.
C.S. Lewis states well the view of the prophets—
• I’ll read you the original quote and then explain it more as his wording can be a bit challenging
• . . . . . in this present life, there is danger in the very concept of religion. It carries the suggestion that this is one more department of life, an extra department added to the economic, the social, the intellectual, the recreational, and all the rest. But that whose claims are infinite can have no standing as a department. Either it is an illusion or else our whole life falls under it. We have no non-religious activities; only religious and irreligious.
• (from C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcom)
To restate and apply the quote
• In this present life, there is danger in the very concept of religion (as a separate thing we do in the idea of religious observances for the Jewish nation in the past and for us). It (religion) carries the suggestion that this is one more department of life, an extra department added to the economic, the social, the intellectual, the recreational, and all the rest. But that (referring to our God) whose claims are infinite can have no standing as a department. Either it (God and His total sovereignty over all there is for all time) is an illusion or else our whole life falls under it. We have no non-religious activities; only religious and irreligious.
• Because our God and His total sovereignty is reality—our taking bits and parts of our life and thinking we can do as we choose, so long as we pay our dues and do certain expected religious activities—that is an illusion—
• That God is in control and our whole life falls under His authority is reality and that is the persistent reality from which the prophets preach.
In summary, the prophet’s message could be stated this way
• God created and redeemed His people, and He determined the best way for them to live—as spelled out in His Covenant with them.
• When followed they will be blessed–now perhaps, certainly forever.
• if not, they will get their desire to not follow Him granted, again, in this life they will be removed from the land He gave them and ultimately if they persist in going their own way, they will be shut out of His presence forever.
• The punishments on earth the prophets warned of serve to guide people to live the way that is ultimately best for them.
And so, we come to the prophets
• With a sense of humility, awe, and wonder.
• Realizing they see far more than we can comprehend, and that they themselves sometimes did not fully comprehend the message they gave.
• Because they SEE reality in its totality—that of God overall—in eternity past, our present lives, and eternity future—
• They can speak with authority of the right of God’s demands as Lord of all.
• That is why they speak with the power, conviction, and demands they do.
• We need to read these books not as fantastical, strange rantings, but as true perceptions not only of their world, but of ours.
Because their world is so very much like ours (as it always has been)
• Full of religious actions and many outward proclamations, but great with great inequities among God’s people,
• And personal disobedience to “doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.”
• Their writings are not comfortable, but a warning of reality that we are accountable for our corporate and personal actions…
• AND of the incredible eternal security and hope we have because—
• Our God is in control, He loves us, and He will forever.