STUDYING OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY (1)
In the Old Testament we read about prophets and prophecy from Genesis to Malachi. The first verse in the Bible in which we read the word “prophet” is Genesis 20:7, where it is written that God described Abraham as a prophet. Does that surprise you? As for “prophecy,” that word is first used in 2 Chronicles 9:29 in reference to the work of Ahijah, who recorded the acts of King Solomon.
What does the word “prophet” mean? When Jehovah sent Moses back to Egypt to deliver His people out of slavery, He told him, “. . . and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet” (Exodus 7:1). God had earlier told Moses about Aaron’s role, saying, “And he shall be your spokesman to the people. And he himself shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as God” (Exodus 4:16; all emphasis mine, rdc). When we compare and combine the thoughts of these statements, we see that one who was a prophet served as a spokesperson or mouthpiece for another. That is, one spoke in the place or steadof another. Thus, a prophet of the Lord was one that by God’s authority spoke in His place, taking His message to humans. A prophet of Jehovah was His messenger, with no right to add to or take away from the message that God delivered to him.
At times, God’s prophets predicted future events, as when Isaiah foretold the virgin birth of the Messiah (Isaiah 7:14). However, to say that a person was a prophet does not mean that each time he spoke a message from God he predicted some future event. Sometimes prophets spoke or wrote about what had already taken place in the past. For instance, all the events that Moses recorded in the Book of Genesis took place before he was even born. Or, consider Jeremiah 39, where Jeremiah recorded the final fall of Jerusalem and Judah’s last king, Zedekiah. In this instance, Jeremiah wrote as an inspired historian. At other times, as Jeremiah often did, prophets acted more like preachers, exhorting the people of their day to comply with the commands of the Lord which He had given them.
In the Old Testament, in addition to the word “prophet,” a spokesmen of God was sometimes called “a seer” (1 Sam. 9:9) or “man of God” (1 Kings 13:1,2). In other passages, a prophet was identified as “the LORD’s messenger” (Haggai 1:13; 2 Chronicles 36:15,16), God’s “servant” (Jeremiah 7:25), or a “watchman” (Ezekiel 33:7).
How did God’s messengers receive their prophetic powers, that is, the power to reveal to the people the mind or will of God? “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20,21). The Holy Spirit empowered the prophets to speak forth God’s message, meaning that what they said orally or in writing was inspired by God through His Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16,17). For instance, King David, who was also a prophet (Acts 2:30), declared, “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). In similar language, Jeremiah said, “Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: ‘Behold I have put My words in your mouth’” (Jeremiah 1:9).
What are some of the benefits and blessings of studying the prophetic books of the Old Testament? In particular, we have in mind the last 17 books, going from Isaiah through Malachi. Since the Old Testament was “written for our learning” (Romans 15:4), there must be some benefit for Christians to study the oral and written prophecies of that era.
(1) Such a study increases our knowledge of God’s character – His holiness, righteousness, immutability, hatred for sin, and mercy are plainly portrayed in the message of His prophets.
(2) Such a study increases our understanding of how God deals with the nations of men. The building up or destroying of a particular nation is in the hands of the Almighty (Jeremiah 18:7-10).
(3) Such a study enhances our understanding of the fact that men and nations, regardless of who they are, reap what they sow. Jehovah is a God of lovingkindness, but His treatment of them is based on the truth that righteousness exalts a nation while sin is a reproach to any people (Proverbs 14:34).
(4) Such a study increases our realization that we need to trust in and obey the Lord God. For God’s people, the only path of safety has always been to submit humbly to His will. We see that principle time and again in the prophets’ message.
(5) Such a study reminds us that, though times and places may change, for the most part the character of people (“human nature”) stays the same. And, those who fail to learn from the mistakes made by others in the past invariably will repeat them.
A study of Old Testament prophecy has the potential to be an eye-opening, faith-building, even life-changing undertaking. It will help you to see Bible matters more clearly. Enjoy the journey.
— Roger D. Campbell