This year we are reading through the prophetic books of the Old Testament (OT). To help us to understand and appreciate the message given to us through the prophets, here are four key things we should know about the prophets.
- Prophets Had Mouth: They Spoke for God. Quite simply, prophets were messengers. They were God’s mouthpiece. God spoke his word, through them, directly into the ears and minds and hearts of his people at different times. What the prophets said was what God wanted to be said. When they spoke, they began or ended with words like, “This is what the LORD says.” Although the prophets did sometimes speak about the future and predict certain things ahead of their own time, their main purpose was to speak God’s word directly to the people around them—about the presentsituation of their own time. At any point when they didspeak about something in the future, it was in order to make people think and act differently in the present. In that sense, the prophets were not “fore-tellers,” but “forth-tellers.”
- Prophets Had Ears: They Heard God’s Word.In order to speak God’s word, prophets had to receive it first of all. What they spoke is what they had heard from God. So whenever the Israelites listened to the prophets, they were listening to God. When welisten to the prophets by reading their words in the Bible, we too are listening to God through those words now stored in the Bible. A word of clarification: there is a clear distinction between the words of Scripture—revealed, inspired, and authoritative—and the words spoken by preachers of the Bible. The Bible is God’s word; preacher’s sermon is not in itself God’s word, though it seeks to communicate as faithfully as possible what God wants to say through his word today. In fact, like the Bereans (cf. Acts 17:11) we are to examine to see whether preached word is faithful to what is written in the Bible.
- Prophets Had Eyes: They Saw Things from God’s Point of View. One of the early words that was used in the OT for the prophets was “seers.” It means they were able to “see”—by God’s mysterious power—something others could not. They were given insight into what God was doing in the events of their own times. They could interpretevents and see the hand of God at work. And they could see what God was planning to do in the future as a result of what the people were doing right now. For example, when the people broke God’s covenant, they thought that it didn’t matter how they lived. So long as they went on worshipping God in the temple, they thought they would be safe. But Jeremiah sawit from God’s point of view, and it was very different. “I have been watching!” says God through Jeremiah (Jer 7:9-11). They were far from safe! God’s judgment was coming, and the prophet saw it coming.
- Prophets Had Hearts: They Felt What God Felt. Just as their words communicated the word of God, so also their emotions expressed the emotions of God. God loves and longs for people. God is angry at sin and evil. God is compassionate and care for the poor, needy, and vulnerable. God is grieved when he is rejected. God is filled with joy when people and creation are blessed. Those are emotional words. And for some prophets, the task of bearing the words of God and feeling the emotions of God took a terrible toll on their lives. For Jeremiah it brought loneliness and intense suffering, bordering on suicidal depression. For Hosea it brought the heart-break of a broken marriage. So when you read the prophets, look for the emotions in their speech.
This coming week we will come to the heart of Hosea’s message in Hosea 11:8-9 that is filled with emotional language: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?… My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” As we continue our reading of God’s word this week, may we feel the emotion of God through the Spirit’s ministry.
* Adapted from Christopher Wright’s How to Preach & Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth.