In our last article on this theme, we examined what the word “prophet” means, some different biblical names or descriptions of prophets, how they received their power to speak forth the will of God, and some benefits that Christians can receive by studying Old Testament prophecy. If we fail to investigate the prophecy of the Old Testament era, we miss out on some extremely rich material.
Let me suggest some things to keep in mind as we attempt to understand the message that the prophets set forth. These are important principles.
(1) We need to try to understand the historical, political, social, and religious conditions of the times when a particular prophet spoke or wrote. That means for each book of the prophets, we must consider the background which is provided in the historical books of the Old Testament, at the same time noting any “outside” archaeological or historical findings that might be connected to the prophet’s era and work. For instance, Micah wrote during the reigns of Ahab and Hezekiah (Micah 1:1), so in order to understand Micah’s message, one would need to study the historical background connected with those two kings (2 Chronicles 28-32).
(2) We must try to understand the message of each book as it applied to the people in the days when it was written. That is, think first about application to people during the prophet’s lifetime, then look for application to the gospel message and to those following Jesus. Amos’ initial warning about a life of ease was intended for those Israelites of his day that were “at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1).
(3) Always keep in mind that, though you and I live under a different covenant, the God of heaven changes not (Malachi 3:6), so in the prophets’ writings we should note carefully His dealings with man, including both Israel and the Gentile nations. Amos wrote about the conduct of several nations in a concise way (Amos 1:3-2:8), whereas Jeremiah spoke in six chapters about God’s righteous judgment on a number of countries (Jeremiah 46-51).
(4) We should pay close attention to any teaching of the prophets that points to the coming of the Messiah and His kingdom (Acts 3:22-24). That is, in fact, the major thrust of the entire message of the Old Testament – the Christ and His Kingdom are coming! (Isaiah 9:6,7).
(5) Sometimes the prophets explained portions of their prophecies. If so, their explanation, which was from Jehovah, must be accepted as the true meaning. For example, Daniel foretold of a ram with two horns and a male goat from the west. He went on to explain exactly what those animals symbolized. The two-horned ram – “the kings of Media and Persia.” And the male goat? “And the male goat is the kingdom of Greece” (Daniel 8:3,5,20,21). Daniel’s inspired explanation is the only one that is correct.
(6) In a similar fashion, if Jesus, an apostle, or a New Testament writer quoted from or mentioned an Old Testament passage, then proceeded to explain what that passage meant, then we absolutely must accept their inspired interpretation. Isaiah spoke of a virgin who gave birth to a male child by the name of Immanuel. There is no doubt that that was a prophecy of Jesus the Christ and Mary. Matthew said so (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-23).
Prophets were God’s mouthpieces. They spoke God’s message about the past, the present (the days in which the prophets themselves lived), and the future. When it came to their foretelling future events, just what was true, predictive prophecy?
Predictive prophecy was a statement or more than one statement in which a clear, unmistakable prediction was made about a future happening. No words such as “maybe,” “might,” “it could happen,” or “possibly” were ever employed. Instead, God’s prophets mentioned specific names, specific people, specific places, and specific times (as when Isaiah wrote of the action of Cyrus, king of Medo-Persia, long before his birth, Isaiah 44:28).
Predictive prophecy was never based on current conditions (that is, the conditions that were present when the prophet made the prophecy). This is where predictive prophecy is different from simply making a prediction. A country might predict what its population will be at some future date, but such prognosticating would be based on available information about the current population and rate of growth. That does not constitute predictive prophecy.
Of course, predictive prophecy had to be made before the events mentioned in the prophecy transpired, as when David by the Spirit foretold the resurrection of Jesus (Psalm 16:8-10; Acts 2:27-31).
Fulfilled Bible prophecy is powerful proof that the Bible’s message came from God. Why is that? Because only the God of heaven can predict the future with 100% accuracy. Thus, if the Bible contains plain, unmistakable predictions of future events, and those events came to pass precisely as they are predicted in the Bible, then such predictions must have come from God. The Bible does contain such prophecies and their fulfillment. Thus, it must have come from God, for only He knows everything about the future. True, He revealed such things through humans, but the ultimate Source of those amazing foretellings was God Himself.
In the past, if you have not spent much time studying the last 17 books of the Old Testament (Isaiah through Malachi), let me encourage you to put forth the effort to dig into and learn from their message. You will be blessed for doing so.
— Roger D. Campbell
TRUTH is published monthly by the Klang church of Christ in order to help educate, edify, encourage, and equip the saints of God.