Chapter 2: The prophets in context
There is a tendency for all of us to succumb to our prejudices and the viewpoints of those who get to us first and we are more inclined to believe things that fit in with how we see the world, regardless of facts that suggest differently and without knowing the bigger picture or getting the right balance. No doubt this could happen with our studies of the prophets and this chapter is written to help remedy this and provide a useful reference for when we come to the chapters that follow.
Granted, it is better that readers know but a little if it comes down to choosing that or loving God a lot, and it is far better to concentrate on studying the Bible without reliance on extra help. After all, we do not have to go to the experts before we begin to study; true wisdom and understanding often resides with those who love and fear God as opposed to those with deep intellect and knowledge. If all this book does is to get folk digging deep into the Bible, then that is great! Yet context is all important, else our understanding of the Bible will be limited. This chapter opens up this whole context business, providing maps and charts that the author has found helpful, along with tools, resources and learned commentaries.
What we have done is to take several images, the majority of which can be found on the Internet, including charts and maps that in one way or another relate to some aspect of our study, and we include these in this chapter, along with a comment to help explain the relevance of their inclusion. But before we do, there are a number of principles that anyone serious about understanding the Bible, specifically the prophets, ought to take into consideration. These have continually been taken into account by the author in the course of researching for this book.
- 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.
- Get to 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. And remember, this a lifetime business and there are always new things to see.
- Even if you use a particular translation, also use other translations – while the author has opted for the King James Version, as much because that he is most familiar with and its memorable language, readers may well have other preferences. We are in fact spoiled for choice. Often it is good to read a passage in more than one translation in order to get a fresh perspective.
- Find out what is written in the original language – 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 using excellent on- and off-line commentaries and dictionaries on the subject.
- Understand the history of the period in which the prophets wrote – it will come as no surprise to discover a lot went on while the prophets wrote 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 help us.
- Understand the geography of the period in which the prophets wrote – the map of the region, 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.
- Have some archaeology awareness relating to events recorded – while not first-hand witnesses to the artefacts of the period 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 further insight. (The author is still looking forward to visiting the British museum to check this out).
- 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.
- Learn from those who know their stuff – watch, listen and read – while readers are encouraged to 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 of which are mentioned in the “Acknowledgements” section of this book. We are often spoilt for choice.
- 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.
Here then are the figures and accompanying explanations, that help further to provide the context as well as further background in studying the prophets. It is suggested that when reading the chapters that follow, these can be referred to:
Figure 1 Timeline of the Bible – the Bible recounts the story of God’s dealing with humankind, starting from “in the beginning” until the end of time
Figure 2 Bible (Hebrew and Christian) – the way Jews and Christians lay out the Old Testament are different, even though the content is the same. The two ways used for categorising and ordering the books are laid out side by side
Figure 3 Chronology (1) – from the beginning to the death of Jesus – there are many key dates relating to Bible events given and several are approximations, and while we don’t refer to all them, many that relate to this book are included
Figure 4 Chronology (2) – from the divided kingdom to the end of the Old Testament and is further elaboration of some events given in Figure 3
Figure 5 Kings of the Bible – basic details of every king of Israel and Judah
Figure 6 Prophets of the Bible – details of Elijah, Elisha and “Writing Prophets”
Figure 7 Wilderness journey – suggested route of the Children of Israel following escape from Egypt, 40 years in the wilderness and entering the Promised Land
Figure 8 Tabernacle (in the Wilderness) layout and the Temple in Jesus’ time
Figure 9 Feast and Offerings – these played an important part of Israel religious life. The seven prescribed feasts and five prescribed offerings are laid out here
Figure 10 Map of Israel showing the land allocated to the “twelve” tribes, after the Israelites had entered Canaan, the Promised Land
Figure 11 Map of the divided kingdom and the surrounding nations – this would have been around the time of Amos and shows nations he prophesied against
Figure 12 Map of the Assyrian empire 650 BC
Figure 13 Map of the Babylonian empire 540 BC
Figure 14 Map of the Persian empire 490 BC
Figure 15 Map of the Greek empire 320 BC
Figure 16 Map of the Roman empire around the time of Christ
Figure 17 The Ten Commandments – central to the Law and the Covenant
Figure 18 A simple Gospel presentation – central to the New Covenant
*** NOTE – the figures referred to above are not included here but will be in the book when it comes out ***