When I did my customary Google search on a subject I wanted information on, in this case it was to the question “why do books have a preface?“, I got what I felt was a decent answer on my first hit: “The preface is a place for the book’s author to tell the reader how this book came into being, and why. It should build credibility for the author and the book … Here the author should explain why they wrote the book, and how they came to writing it. The author should be showing the reader why they are worth reading”. I had been thinking of going straight into the content but it only seemed right and proper I produce this “I hope folks read” preface beforehand. I also have to confess, even though I have often been guilty of such, an aversion to too many personal anecdotes and reflections in a book that is meant to be mainly objective. But sometimes it is unavoidable and by having a preface I can get the personal bits out of the way before delving into the all-important, impartial exegesis that is not about me, but is all to do with the Prophets of the Bible and how they speak to us today.
According to Wikipedia: “In religion, a prophet is an individual who is regarded as being in contact with a divine being and is said to speak on that entity’s behalf, serving as an intermediary with humanity by delivering messages or teachings from the supernatural source to other people. The message that the prophet conveys is called a prophecy. Claims of prophethood have existed in many cultures throughout history, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, in ancient Greek religion, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, and many others”.
When I did another Google search looking for something more “Christian”, one response to the question: “What is a prophet in the Bible?” was “In a general sense, a prophet is a person who speaks God’s truth to others. The English word prophet comes from the Greek word “prophetes”, which can mean “one who speaks forth” or “advocate.” Prophets are also called “seers,” because of their spiritual insight or their ability to “see” the future. In the Bible, prophets often had both a teaching and revelatory role, declaring God’s truth on contemporary issues while also revealing details about the future”.
I am sure readers will agree that defining key terms is important to save misunderstanding down the line, so I will go with this definition but with a couple of caveats. Clearly there are many characters in the Bible who meet this criteria, although the main ministry of many was simply to speak God’s truth applicable to the situation prevailing at the time, regardless of any future predictions they might make, and there are many who did just that, who traditionally are not regarded as prophets, yet what they said / did was significant. Some, not regarded as prophets, relayed God’s message and sometimes that included predicting future events, and that too was significant. Besides being seers, prophets were watchmen. Also, the Bible is full of false prophets whose message was NOT of God. Putting aside the question “are there prophets today?”, we need people now who can / do see and watch.
“Significant” is important, because in God’s dealing with his people, Israel, especially, and also with the nations generally, there were invariably prophets around saying what needed to be said. At least it was the case in Bible times. But it is not just for the time and the setting in which the prophets spoke, but also for our own time, including prophecies yet to take place. It is why I am keen to write this book. As will become apparent, I hope to cover all the well-known prophets as well as those who are less well known, with the focus on what it was that made them tick and why their message was relevant then and now. I recognise to do full justice to what is a significant section of the Bible (well over a quarter) it will require a library of books, and what I am producing is one book of not that many pages. I hope to cover or at least introduce the more significant lessons and apologise in advance for things I miss. But I will attempt to open up my subject, say something about the prophets themselves, reflect on their message, state pertinent facts and suggest possible modern-day applications. I hope by doing so the earnest reader will be encouraged to do deeper study. How well I succeed will be up to the reader to judge.
It is worth explaining how I came to doing a subject, which potentially can take me way out of my depth. I have learned by experience the need NOT to have delusions of grandeur or getting side tracked as some do on interpreting every detail. While I would like lots of people to read what I wrote and hopefully profit from doing so, I am resigned to the thought it may be only a select few, including friends who do so because they are friends. At least on that I am in good company with the prophets, who were often rejected in their day, even though doing something important – speaking on God’s behalf. Yet I regard this as an important undertaking, possibly my most important project for 2020, mindful as I rapidly approach my three score and ten my time will soon run out and there are many other things I might be doing. But I write, I hope with due humility, for what I say I believe needs saying, I am unaware of too many, if any saying it all, I may be the man to do so and to make a difference. It is true “of making many books there is no end” and, while much of what I am about to write may have already been written, we do well to re-iterate these points.
I explained earlier why I have a fixation on the prophets of the Bible. While I don’t know the Bible as well as I ought, I know it better than most, especially this part of it, which from what I can make out is not anywhere nearly as well covered in standard church teaching contexts as it ought. There is something else though – around the turn of the millennium, I embarked on my third career, which might be best described as a community worker. I wrote about this in my book “Outside the Camp”, which along with many of my writings is freely available online in my website. The title that has some bearing on my PB background is based on the text: “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach” Hebrews 13:12,13. In the past six years I have regularly maintained a blog. It covers all manner of subjects, many controversially, trying to figure out the world about me. I think reflecting on the prophets, their message etc., will help us to do just that. I add a caveat though, the need for humility – good, well-read people, even on the prophets, may reach different conclusions on applying this to current events.
It seemed to me that a common theme of the prophets, especially when it came to Israel, the main intended audience of many prophecies, was the need to be faithful to YHWH but also to do justice when it comes to the people around them, especially the poor. I am exercised that having gone inside the veil (which separates the Holy of holies) (Hebrews 6:19) in order to commune with the Almighty, we need to then go out into the wider world with all is contradictions and counters to godly living. What takes place there matters a lot, including our own involvement, even if we can’t fully understand many of the reasons for and implications of. This can be a contentious area, yet one if we are to follow in the footsteps of the prophets we cannot avoid. Even as I write, I note well known Christian leaders speaking in God’s name, offering a view of the world I cannot support. It makes me realise that not only are there true prophets, even today, there are false ones and we need to take heed of the 1Thesselonians 1:18-22 lessons. While I would rather concentrate on being winsomely truthful, my motivation for writing is to offer a much-needed and alternative perspective. Yet I intend not so much to give my views on subjects, which I know better Christians than me see differently, but to encourage study of the prophets, for what they said may help us see things more clearly.
When we think of what was prophesied, some of it related to things that were to happen in the prophet’s lifetime, but some happened centuries after, e.g. concerning the first coming of the Messiah (Jesus – the helpless Babe of Bethlehem), and some is yet to happen, e.g. concerning the future of Israel and the second coming of the Messiah (Jesus – the all-conquering King of kings). These too are controversial subjects and views among Christians are polarised. I noted as a young man such subjects occupied older, Bible savvy men – and now I am one! I do not believe Israel (people and land) has been replaced and there is a body of to be fulfilled prophecy that makes understanding world events as they take place relevant, although I recognise some think differently.
My final point, before I introduce the prophets and the considerations that I have made when doing so, is that while I see my role as a watchman on the wall, I don’t see myself as a prophet in the biblical sense. I am an unprofitable servant who has often rebelled against the one I claim to serve. In the process I have been broken and become beholden to a holy God, and this along with my prophetic insights enables me to inform and encourage others. While it is true my focus is on the Old Testament rather than on the New, because there are many more OT prophets than NT and present day prophetic gifts is not an area I feel particularly qualified to speak on, yet I believe in the gift of prophecy for and prophets exist today and I can think of those who I regard as authentic prophets and I have personally benefited from some of their ministries. But I can also think of many false prophets, just as the Bible has warned us. All these things I will elaborate upon.