I became a Christian aged 15 and became part of a set-up associated with the Plymouth Brethren. Not so long after, I went along to the church Bible study, which as I recall was a somewhat stuffy occasion and one where the men came in suits and the ladies wore hats. The untypical speaker for that first visit was one Winston Chilcraft, who reminded me of a mildly unkempt, absent minded professor. His subject that evening was Elijah and Naboth’s vineyard, and it was presented alongside a backdrop – a map of the Middle East. The story was set in the Northern kingdom (Israel) and found in 1Kings 21. As was pointed out, it needed to be understood in the context of what was happening in surrounding countries. The synopsis was wicked King Ahab wanted to buy a vineyard. Its owner, Naboth, did not want to sell. Ahab’s wife, (even more wicked) Queen Jezebel, hatched a plan to falsely accuse and then kill Naboth and thus acquire the vineyard. All this was revealed to prophet Elijah, who exposed Ahab. I got to know brother Winston in the years following and I attribute my fascination with the prophets a lot to him. A few years ago, I attended his funeral. I recall someone making the apt remark when Winston got to heaven one of his first ports of call would have been to seek out and quiz one of the minor prophets.
For all their faults, the Plymouth Brethren were keen to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2Timothy 2:15) and since they regarded “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable…” it should not be surprising that this included the less well-known parts of the Bible. In my mid to late teens, I recall lessons on Wilderness Wanderings and all sorts of Bible related subjects being taught at the Young Peoples’ Bible class I attended, some quite obscure and I doubt would be covered in most other places. I became fascinated, for example, with the Song of Solomon (my last book writing project), as one or other brother shared a Christ related thought in the morning meeting. This at least is one aspect of PBism that I am grateful for. In later years, I since found myself associating with the Strict Baptists. while they have a deep love of scriptures, their heritage was not so much about studying those nooks and crannies that so fascinated the Brethren. I found myself leading a number of their Bible studies in the last few years, which is ongoing. We agreed for the last several studies it should be on the prophets of the Bible, which has provided a springboard for this book as well as opportunities to preach, especially on my India visits.
While I have access to all sorts of books and commentaries on the prophets, the one that stands out is what was introduced to me when I was a university student – the Tyndale commentaries covering each book of the Bible. I like the fact it focuses on explanation rather than application, although there is a place for both. As with all resources I have referred to, it was not so much in order to get a verse by verse analysis of the text but more in order to get a steer on what is pertinent and to ensure what I write is sound. One recent resource that has come to hand is “A Pathway into the Bible” by my friend Stuart Kimber. This has proved a great help, especially concerning the writing prophets. I have sometimes been tempted to write – go and read Stuart’s book to find out more. As it is, he has kindly allowed me to plagiarise some of his material.
I am not a big NIV fan but I do like the study Bible I have, which I use when on the road in England and India. I especially like its introductions to each Bible book and often find its notes and cross references helpful as a source for what I write, especially when doing a synopsis of a Bible book, and is available online from biblestudytools.com. There is much else on the ubiquitous Internet, where so much “good stuff” can be found, as well as the thoughts of those who give a fascinating range of views on the subject, along with that found in dusty old books. I appreciate the resource biblegateway.com, where I can read the Bible in many different versions and, if need be, I can go to a specialist resource for the original language. I make no apology that I have favoured the King James Version (KJV), which is testimony to the fact that dinosaurs are not yet extinct. A complementary resource is the King James Version Audio Bible which can also be accessed from biblestudytools.com. On many occasions I have listened to the Bible being read while reading the text at the same time it was spoken.
While I don’t like YouTube banning conservative voices, what I mention here can all be accessed from it. Lots of online sermons and studies have helped, but one resource I have consistently gone to, especially when covering major and minor prophets, I have found invaluable, is the “Unlocking the Bible” series by David Pawson. I learned of his death while writing this book. This does what it says on the cover – unlock the Bible. It has proved an incredible resource. One unlikely, recently discovered resource that neatly summarises each Bible book, is named “The Bible Project”. One even more recent helpful discovery is the “One Hour, One Book” series by Dr. Randall D. Smith. There is a lot of helpful material, when you know where to look, including from less salubrious sources, and all of it needs to be weighed. I also listen to and reflect on the deliberations of those with prophecy insights, like Jacob Prasch. While I like to think what I present are my own God given thoughts, credit must go to where credit is due.
Looking back on my life, starting from when I attended Sunday School as a child under a strict yet kind, prim and proper, near retired headmistress (Miss Rafan) who loved the Lord and His Word; and then as a teen under my ever so patient Covenanter leader (Bryn Jones), and latterly my faithful father-in-law, Evangelist Varghese Matthai, who had confidence in me when others didn’t, as well as my early mentors, many have helped to inform and shape my thoughts for this book. I thank members of Providence Baptist, my church, for keeping me on my toes. I have appreciated exchanges with and thoughts of brothers and sisters in Christ, often unbeknown to them have helpfully shared their insights. One I should mention, not so much because of her deep insights on the prophets but more due to giving me the time and space to write, is my wife Jolly. I do need to give glory to God, not just for helping me to understand but seeing me through often puzzling and painful experiences, without which I doubt I could empathise with the prophets and whose amazing grace hardly begins to cover it. Then, practically speaking, there those who have assisted me in getting the words typed into the computer to a form people can read <to be added>…
As for opinions expressed and biases implied, these are the authors. As for intended audiences – it is any with an interest in Bible prophets, who want to know more. I welcome those who don’t share my take on eschatology. I have no delusions of grandeur about readership, and if more than a few read it, that is a bonus. This project concerns some of the legacy I want to leave for them who come after me, and if good glory goes to God. I did think about who to dedicate the book to, starting with the memory of my early Plymouth Brethren (a much misunderstood and maligned group) mentors, especially Winston Chilcraft, who I recently discovered (like me) had Jeremiah down as his favourite prophet (I know the feeling brother). While writing this, I learned of the death of his son, Steve, who like his dad lived to promote the cause of Christ. Leaving a legacy matters. This was brought home when considering the life and death of Bible characters. When it comes to my son, Matthew, I pray without wanting to sound pretentious, he will be like Elisha, who had a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. I sadly see a new generation, brainwashed by godless culture and let down by the shepherds (of the church). What we now desperately need (among other things – but then this book is about prophets) is a prophetic voice. The recent news of the partings of Ravi Zacharias, David Pawson and Jim Packer, each in their own way have blessed me, make me realise their shoes need to be filled. I dedicate this book to those of the next generation (and the little I know of God, it will be those deemed least likely) who will pick up the prophet’s mantle and regardless of title, status or if they predict the future, will convey God’s heart and mind.