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5 Things about the Prophets You Might Have Missed

5 Things about the Prophets You Might Have Missed

by J. Daniel Hays (General Editor: Tremper Longman III), adapted from resources in the new Message of the Prophets Pack.

  1. The prophets provide the primary link between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Much of the theology of the New Testament is built upon the prophets, and the New Testament is difficult to understand apart from the message they proclaimed. In addition, most of Jesus’ colorful imagery (e.g., springs of living water, fishers of men, bride and bridegroom) is drawn from the imagery of the prophets.
  2. The Old Testament prophets primarily wrote in poetry. Although the Old Testament prophets occasionally wrote in narrative (prose), they primarily wrote in poetry. Poetry is quite different than prose, and we will interpret the prophets better if we keep these differences in mind. Unlike Paul and much of the New Testament literature, the Old Testament prophets (through their poetic expression) appeal primarily to our emotions. Furthermore, they do not build complex grammatical arguments (as does Paul), but rather they use images to convey their meanings. They paint colorful pictures with words to express messages loaded with emotional impact. This doesn’t mean that they ignore logic or argue illogically. It simply means that they focus on emotional more than on logical aspects. Likewise, Paul’s letters are not devoid of emotion, but his focus is on reasoning.
  3. A central feature of Hebrew poetry is the extensive use of figures of speech. The Old Testament prophets do not write essays; they paint pictures. Like master artists they use figures of speech, wordplay, and verbal nuances, along with structural elements, to paint the complex interacting shades of color that proclaim their message.

    Since most English speakers and writers today use figures of speech and wordplay all the time, we are not strangers to this feature. In English, if someone takes a figure of speech literally, he or she will misunderstand what the speaker is trying to say. If someone says, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse,” they just mean that they are extremely hungry. If we take the figures of speech in the Bible literally, we will misunderstand the text as badly as thinking that the person could actually eat an entire horse. If we want to understand the Old Testament prophets, it is crucial that we recognize figures of speech for what they really are and then interpret them accordingly. On the other hand, we must not forget the connection between figurative language and literal reality. Figures of speech use figurative language to express literal realities. The speaker above does not actually believe that they could consume an entire horse, but recognizing this fact does not diminish the literal truth being communicated. The speaker is really hungry. That is the literal reality that the figurative language communicates. Our job as readers is to grapple with the figures of speech and to strive to grasp the literal reality as well as the emotion that the poets are conveying by their figurative language.

  1. Theologically the prophets proclaim their message from the context of the Mosaic covenant, primarily as defined in Deuteronomy. After Yahweh delivered the Israelites from Egypt and as he led them to the Promised Land, he entered into a covenant agreement with them, as spelled out in Deuteronomy. This defined the relationship Yahweh was to have with his people, and it spelled out clearly the terms by which the Israelites could live prosperously in the land under the blessing of Yahweh. As the people enter into the Promised Land (see the book of Joshua), the driving question is: Will they be obedient and keep the terms of the law as spelled out in Deuteronomy?

    The tragic answer recorded in Judges to 2 Kings is “no.” In general the Israelites abandon Yahweh to worship idols, and they also succumb to the low judicial and moral standards of their neighbors. The prophets deliver Yahweh’s word in a situation of flagrant covenant violation and of almost total disregard for the book of Deuteronomy.

  2. The message of the prophets expands beyond Israel. The Scriptures open with two major story cycles. In the first story cycle, Genesis 3—11 presents the cosmic, worldwide story of sin and scattering (exile from the presence of Yahweh); Genesis 12:3 presents the hope of restoration (blessings for the scattered nations in Genesis 10—11).

    The other story runs from Genesis 12 to 2 Kings 25 and is about Israel. It parallels the first story and follows the same pattern of sin, exile, and promised restoration. The remarkable theological contribution of the prophets is that they wed these two stories together. Sin will result in judgment on both Israel/Judah and on the nations. Likewise, the prophets proclaim, the true picture of the future restoration is one in which Yahweh restores Israel and the nations to himself.

    Thus the prophets declare that the specific theological story of Israel will merge with the cosmic universal theological story of Genesis 3—11 into a spectacular restoration that will bring Israel and the nations together in a true worship of Yahweh.

    This new people of Yahweh will be led by a glorious and righteous messianic Davidic king who will fulfill the Abrahamic promises both for Israel and for the nations. They will enter into a new covenant and will be empowered and enlightened by the very indwelling presence of Yahweh’s Spirit.

—J. Daniel Hays (General Editor: Tremper Longman III), Message of the Prophets Pack

How To Use This Book

The Message of the Prophets Pack will help you and your small group or Bible study achieve several things:

  • identify and understand the message of each Old Testament prophet in its historical and biblical context
  • trace how the prophets’ messages are handled by Jesus and the writers of the New Testament
  • be challenged and encouraged to apply the prophets’ messages to your life today
  • deepen your understanding of God and your relationship with him

The pack contains everything you need to understand Old Testament prophetic and apocalyptic literature, equipping you with two tools:

  • The widely-used textbook The Message of the Prophets that includes hundreds of color photos, maps, and illustrations, plus discussion questions and writing assignments
  • 27 video lectures (seven hours of video lessons) that will help you master the crucial points of the prophets

Get the pack today and start unlocking the meaning of the prophetic books.

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