Why study the Hebrew prophets – and how to do so?

This blog is going to be a bit strange (what is new; do bear with me) in that it proverbially attempts to kill more than two birds with one stone and is why I wish to start off with two Bible verses …

As some folk know, I am focusing my efforts right now on writing a book that will be titled “The Prophets of the Bible”, where I get to (hopefully / DV) reflect on ALL the prophets of the Bible. This as I am beginning to realise is a massive undertaking, that should help shutting me up for a few months, but at least is part of the big plan to leave a useful legacy for those who follow after me.

I begin by sharing the opening of a draft to a chapter of my book covering the important subject: “The prophets in context”.

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There is a tendency for all of us to succumb to our prejudices and believe things that fit in with our view of the world, regardless of facts that suggest otherwise and without knowing the bigger picture or getting the right balance. I have little doubt this could happen in our studies of the prophets and is why this chapter is written. On one hand it is better readers know little while loving God than know a lot and not love Him, and they focus on studying the Bible to find out more about the prophets than do all the things I am about to advocate in this chapter, and not be put off by those who insist they go to the experts before they study. For context is important, else our understanding of the prophets will be skewed.

What I am going to do is to take *** images from the Internet, which are mostly charts and maps that somehow relate to some generic aspect of our study, and include and comment on these to help provide us with that all important context and explain why I believe that to be the case. But there are other things people who are serious about understanding the prophets and their message can also do and bear in mind as they seek to come to solid understanding of the Prophets:

  1. Study all what the Bible says about the prophets and their words – there is a temptation to pick the easy or nice bits and ignore the more difficult bits pertaining to each prophet. It is important to study all what is written. Often it can’t be done in a single sitting, but we gain much if we study the whole.
  2. Know all 66 books that make up your Bible well – the prophets and their message can only be properly understood with reference to the rest of the Bible, from Genesis and Revelation. It is good to get into the habit of regular Bible study that involves systematically going through the whole Bible.
  3. Even if you use a particular translation, also use other translations – while I have opted for the King James Version, I recognise readers will have other preferences. We are spoiled for choice. Often it is good to read a passage in more than one translation in order to get a fresh perspective.
  4. Find out what is written in the original language – I doubt few who read their Bibles do so in the original language but the words and the way these are arranged do matter and sometimes it is helpful to refer to the original text from excellent on- and off-line commentaries and dictionaries on the subject.
  5. Understand the history of the period in which the prophets wrote – it should come as no surprise that a lot went on when the prophets wrote and this affected their ministries. We can find out some of this by reading all of the Bible, but also non-Bible writings explaining pertinent historical events.
  6. Understand the geography of the period in which the prophets wrote – the geographical map, especially relating to the countries surrounding Israel (often opposing it) and the rise and fall of different empires was continually changing. As with the history, this too had a bearing on what was written.
  7. Have some archaeology awareness relating to events recorded – while not first-hand witnesses to the artefacts of the period in which the prophets operated, thanks to many amazing archaeological finds we now know a lot, and among other things it confirms what the prophets said, adding insight.
  8. Understand the culture – especially Jewish culture – for most readers the culture and mindset that typically influences us is NOT Jewish and it puts us at a disadvantaged sometimes when attaching significance to the prophetic writings. There is also something we can loosely refer to as “Midrash” which among other things gives insights as to how the Jews viewed prophecy.
  9. Learn from those who know their stuff – watch, listen and read – I would rather readers go direct to the Bible to gain understanding, rather than read the musings of those deemed as “expert” on the matter, yet there are some wonderful resources out there, some I mention in my “Acknowledgements”.
  10. Pray to the Lord to open your eyes and help you to understand – the Bible is no ordinary book – it is God’s Word. While many of the disciplines we might apply as when studying any other writing, we should approach our studies prayerfully, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to reveal truth.

All the above considerations have continually occupied me in writing this book, which I will hope will help the reader to focus on studying the prophets directly by reading their Bibles. I will return to these in the chapters to follow. I am mindful too that Christians can fall into two camps: Camp A that over obsesses about prophecy, especially that which is unfulfilled, which is significant if like me you are a pre-millenialist, non-replacement, believer in OT types theologian, as I am, or Camp B that tends to ignore prophecy, especially the not yet fulfilled variety, deeming there are more important things to attend to. My own position is to seek a biblical balance concerning these two extremes. For now, just as promised: here are the figures and accompanying explanations, that help further to provide the context as well as further background in studying the prophets.

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As I am often at pains to point out, I am especially keen people do get to know their Bibles, because that is part of loving God with all our minds, but also they are not mere hearers of the Word but doers also, which is to do with loving God with all our hearts. While I am keen too they do so in a right way, and thus the above “words of wisdom”, I am also keen they don’t delay unduly and would encourage those who are daunted at the prospect of getting stuck in, to remind them of the words of St. Paul: “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” 1 Corinthians 1:27, and one way we can do that is knowing our Bibles well, and being doers of the Word.

Which brings me to my more (controversial point) … We are just two months into 2020 and already we have experienced the Corona virus, bush fires in Australia, plagues of locusts in Africa, flooding in England, 5 G hoo hars, with no let-up in the anti-globalist backlash, moves toward a one world religion and a new world order, wars and rumours of wars and global religious persecution, which resonates with students of the Book of Revelation (a book, incidentally, that shows God winning at the end). All this can be mind blowing and disturbing, which is why I wish to end by stating three things:

  1. This is one more reason why studying the Hebrew prophets of the Bible, including their yet to be fulfilled prophecies, is a profitable activity when coming to terms with what is happening in the world, which baffles and bemuses most people.
  2. To stop our taking the eye of the ball as it were, we need to bring to heart and mind the text at the beginning, about loving God and our neighbour, upon which hangs all the prophets.
  3. To remember and take comfort from the words of Jesus: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” John 16:33.

 

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