Reading The Prophets

To the average Bible reader, reading the prophetic books can become a challenging task. Many find it difficult to comprehend them because of an inaccurate understanding of the word “prophecy”, an inadequate awareness regarding the purpose of the prophets, and a large disconnect created by the historical distance of ancient Israel. The prophetic books require a degree of previous knowledge to fully appreciate what God has protected.

The very word “prophecy” can be a hurdle for contemporary readers of the Bible. We often think of prophecies as being events that will unfold in the future, and then assume they are future still. However, most of the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in Israel’s past, and many within a short period of time of their expression. We must not lose sight of God’s message to the people of that day, or try to create a new meaning in our own lives.

Another difficult aspect of the prophetic books can be found in their spoken nature. The prophets functioned as God’s representatives and served as enforcers of the His Law that had originally been given through Moses. “To see the prophets as primarily predicators of future events is to miss their primary function, which was to speak for God to their own contemporaries.” (Fee p.182) These writings are the chronicles of ancient “street preachers” whose message of God’s blessings and curses were intended for an audience including the rulers and inhabitants of Israel and Judah.

A third characteristic of the prophetic books that often creates problems for contemporary readers can be summed up in the term “context.” When reading the prophetic books, it is imperative that we have a solid understanding of the historical, religious, political, and cultural life of ancient Israel. When we read these passages from the context of their historical events we are able to better understand what was going wrong and how God was attempting to direct Israel back on course. “The prophets can serve constantly as reminders to us of God’s determination to enforce his covenant” (Fee p.204). In that sense, the prophetic books offer contemporary readers a picture into the importance of obedience to God’s commands.

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