Reading the Bible: The Old Testament Prophets

Prophet Definition:

“Prophets are the mouthpiece of God, conveying God’s opinions, reactions, intentions, and very words. In short, God’s agenda, or program is announced through the words of the prophets. Each prophet came with a message from God and his job was to communicate that message.”

from “A Survey of the Old Testament,” Walton & Hill.

“Remember the former things of old,

For I am God, and there is no other;

I am God, and there is none like Me,

Declaring the end from the beginning,

And from ancient times things that are not yet done,

Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,

And I will do all My pleasure,’

Calling a bird of prey from the east,

The man who executes My counsel, from a far country.

Indeed I have spoken it;

I will also bring it to pass.

I have purposed it;

I will also do it.”

Isaiah 46:9-11

Reader Insight

As a reader of the Bible who is unfamiliar with the various books, genres, and themes of scripture; you would probably want to know what knowledge and wisdom is to be gained from reading the books of the Prophets. The books of the Old Testament point to Christ as the coming Messiah (Saviour) who will deliver mankind from the penalty of sin. The events written about in the Old Testament help to explain the evil and rebellion against God that took place which not only required a means of salvation, but also brought God’s wrath down on the Israelites by bringing conquering nations against them and destroying their nation. Before God released His judgment on the Israelites, He sent His prophets to warn them and to try to get them to repent. He was patient in delivering judgment as He desired them to return to the loving relationship that they had enjoyed. The book of Jonah describes this aspect of God’s nature as He sends Jonah to warn the Ninevites to repent or judgment would fall on them. The theme of the book of Jonah is that God is merciful and loving as Jonah quotes, “For I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” The Ninevites repented and God relented from judgement on them. In contrast, the Israelites did not repent and continued their idolatry and breaking of the covenant which brought God’s wrath on them. These events display God’s character where His love is balanced with His justice. Obedience is contrasted with rebellion. One brings blessing, while the other brings judgment. Even in disobedience God’s love is patient as He relents from judgment by offering repentance. However, judgment is unavoidable unless there is repentance. The books of the Prophets give warning to all readers of this truth and the example of the fall of ancient Israel testifies to us today.

Background Information

The books of the Prophets were written between the 8th and 5th centuries BC. They were written to address the situation occuring during these times among the Israelites and the Jewish nation concerning their apostasy and God’s coming judgment. A brief lesson on the history of ancient Israel before and during this time is needed in order to understand the writings and prophecies of the Prophets. We begin with the exodus of the Jews from Egypt when they cross the Red Sea as they escape from the Pharoah. Moses leads them to the promised land which is a Caananite territory. They proceed to conquer the nations there and make it their land. An important point to remember concerning the land of Israel is that it was promised to them by God through a covenant agreement with Abraham where God agreed to the promise with the stipulation that Abraham and his descendants agreed to worship only Him and to obey His commandments. This covenant agreement was repeated to the people by Moses and again by Joshua as they took control of the land with the help of God. This covenant agreement is central to the books of the Prophets because the Israelites continually break the covenant by worshipping foreign Gods, and disobeying God’s commands by engaging in evil acts.

The time of the Prophets is considered to be one of the most impressive periods of prophetism in Israel. In these books we are witness to the fall of the Israelites, who were God’s chosen people to be a model to all the other nations. They were given a nation that was abundant in resources which is why it was referred to as the land of milk and honey. We see a total abandonment of the God who delivered them and gave them this land. The people engaged in wickedness even as they were given warning after warning by God’s prophets. They worshipped the foreign gods of their neighbors and willingly broke their covenant with God. Judgment was slow in coming but God’s wrath was harsh as it is recorded by the prophets.

The Prophets

The books of the Prophets are divided onto two categories, the Major Prophets and the Minor Prophets. These categories are based on the length of the books and not on the importance of the prophet. There are four Major Prophets and twelve Minor Prophets for a total of sixteen books.

Major Prophets

  • Isaiah
  • Jeremiah
  • Ezekiel
  • Daniel

Minor Prophets

  • Hosea *Jonah *Zephaniah
  • Joel *Micah *Haggai
  • Amos *Nahum *Zechariah
  • Obadiah *Habakkak *Malachi

Final Comments

May you be encouraged to take time to study the scriptures so that you can become a knowledgeable servant of the Lord during these times of increasing spiritual darkness. Stand firm in the faith and may your endeavor be fruitful for the Kingdom of God.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

1 Corinthians 15:58

For a larger version of this article see the Reading the Bible drop down window on the Bible Study tab.

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