Intro: We live in a time of new things. New ways of communication, travel, and science. But the basic issues of life are unchanged. The older I get the more this becomes apparent to me.
Over the next year we will be studying about the far away past. The time of the prophets of Israel, as revealed in the OT. We will view ancient society and its customs. Look at how God was worshipped and followed under a law long since taken out of the way. Is there any value in a study of the prophets of the OT?
The answer to that is Yes, in many, many ways.
- Romans 15:4 – 4 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. But beyond the intrinsic value of OT scriptures, the lessons seen in the writings of the OT prophets are suited well for our time, because things are not really that different.
- Men still trust in material strength and delight in wealth and luxury while they forget God.
- Society is characterized by violence, dishonesty, and immorality.
- Oppression and injustice are still rampant.
- Men still tend to prefer a speaker who tickles their ears and conscience.
- Men still prefer outward form over inward renewal and commitment.
- Lessons from the prophets, therefore, will never be out of date. These spokesmen for God may have lived in the past, but many qualities of their work are needed in our generation. Our study will focus on what are referred to as the “minor prophets”. These are the twelve literary prophets from Obadiah to Malachi. They are not minor in importance, but less in amount of prophecy.
I. What is a Prophet? We will consider the definition of the word itself, and particularly how the Bible describes the prophets. But let me begin with a general description found in the writing of Homer Hailey.
- “In character these men were God-fearing men, knowing not the fear of men but only of Jehovah. They condemned sin in the high and the low alike. Wherever sin existed it was to be condemned. They sought to bring men to repentance on the ground of Israel and Judah’s relation to God and of God’s greatness, pointing always to a grand and a glorious future kingdom in which an ideal king should reign.” He further describes them as “men of the hour” – those men who God needed for their own time. They become the men of our hour as well as they proclaim the principles of holiness, repentance and judgment to come.
A. Definition: In the Old Testament the word “prophet” is from the Hebrew term nabhi. Among scholars there is uncertainty as to the etymological meaning of the word. Some say that the root word meant to “bubble up” or “bubble forth.” Others suggest that the basic idea is “to speak” or “to announce.” The best way for us to learn what the word “prophet” means is to examine its use in the Bible. The prophet was the one who spoke for God.
1. (Exod. 7: 1 – The Lord made Moses “as God to Pharaoh,” and Aaron his brother was his “prophet“. This is, of course, just an analogy. Moses was not the ultimate authority; he could speak only as God commanded. Earlier in Exodus 4:16, we learn that Aaron was to be as a “spokesman” or “mouth” of Moses who was as God to him. This means that the prophet is “God’s spokesman” or “God’s mouth.”
2. The term “prophet” implies that he was aforthteller, but not necessarily aforeteller. The greater portion of their work was to their own generation. The thing that made one a prophet was not that he was foretelling the future, but that he was speaking the word of God as the Spirit directed him.
3. Deuteronomy 18:9-22 is a remarkable passage on the origin of the prophetic institution. It stands as a warning to the Israelites who were about to enter Canaan. Canaan was filled with superstition. They claimed detailed knowledge of the future, but their sources were declared abominations by God. Deut 18:10-14 – “ There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you.
a. To make it possible for Israel to know God’s new revelation, God was going to raise up men and put His word in their mouth. (v. 18) This passage not only speaks to the coming of the One Great Prophet who was to come, but to a long line of men who would speak for God, all with the same credentials – v. 20-22
b. The OT also uses the word “seer” to describe God’s prophets. They could see what others could not, particularly the message of God.
c. A prophet was one who was driven by the Spirit of God. 2 Peter 1:19-21 – 19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. The word for moved means to be driven (as winds drive a sailboat). NIV says “carried along by the Spirit” The work of the prophet is key to the biblical doctrine of inspiration. The spoke infallibly as God’s voice
II. Principles of the Prophetic Message: What did the prophets preach? Here is an overview:
A. They preached a relevant message: Many times they were God’s response to a national crisis. (No CNN – only the prophet)
1. “Thus says the Lord” was the watchword of the prophets during national crisis. Nahum vigorously denounced Nineveh. Joel, Zephaniah, and others declared that the nation of God had come to a day of wrath, a day of distress and trouble.
2. It took conviction, character, and courage to speak what God wanted said at the time he wanted it said. God expected the prophet to speak the message that he wanted at the time he wanted it.
3. The prophets were different men with different styles of speaking. Some were eloquent; some were plain-spoken; some were fiery. Some used piercing words; some sobbed out their broken-hearted appeals. God uses different types of messengers.. (Amos vs. Hosea) We must not accept one to the exclusion of others.
B. They preached repentance: There was only one message that answered the rebellion of God’s people – both then and today. Repent. Repentance is the opposite of sin – a decisive move toward God.
1. The prophets voiced this message in various terms, all pointing men back to God’s word. “Seeking God”(Amos 5:4); “Returning to God” (Mal. 3:7); “Turning from evil” (Jonah 3:8)
2. It is evidenced in a contrition and sorrow over past sins. Jonah 3:6-10 “Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water.8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish? 10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
3. It is a complete break from sin – no half & half repentance. Joel said, “Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God” (Joel 2:12-13).
C. They preached a distinctive morality: The Old Testament prophets were not given to preaching vague generalities; they called sins by their names. They were not like hunters using shotguns, which scatter the shot; they used high-powered rifles.
1. For instance, they made continual attacks on the two sins of sexual immorality and alcoholic drink. Hosea said, “Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart” (Hosea 4:11). He called sin by its name:: “By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood” . (So much for Hosea’s positive preaching)
2. Micah & Malachi preached against the evils of hypocritical priests and false prophets. No one was exempt from the righteous judgment of God’s word.
D. They preached for people to remember God: The basic sin against which the prophets cried over and over with frenzied zeal was that of forgetting God. “Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? yet my people have forgotten me days without number” (Jer. 2:32).
1. How does one forget God? Does he really forget that God exists? Israel never lost consciousness of God. They simply did not include him in their daily activities.
2. Some “good people,” are good to their children and spouses, pay their debts, but who leave God completely out of their lives. They take no time to worship God or show any interest is spiritual things until something bad happens. They are not wicked, just ungodly and lost
3. Some Christians have become so accustomed to his blessings that they take God for granted and forget to give sincere thanks.
4. Some have also forgotten God by substituting human traditions and man-made commandments in the place of God’s ways. Like Israel which had turned to idols in Hosea’s day, “Israel hath forgotten his Maker and buildeth temples and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities; but I will send a fire upon his cities and it shall devour the palaces thereof” (Hos. 8:14).
E. They Preached the Sure Judgment of the Sinner: In the days of the O.T. prophets as well as now, there were people so foolish as to say, “God is too good to send anyone to hell.”
1. The prophet Ezekiel was quick to emphasize that God had no pleasure in the death of the wicked (33:11). God longs for men to turn from their evil ways and to live. But the judgment of sin is sure, and men cannot escape the wrath of God.
2. Amos speaks plainly about God’s judgment to come. Amos 3:2 – You only have I known of all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. 4:12 – “Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; Because I will do this to you, Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” Hosea 14:1 implored, “0 Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity”
G. They preached the undying love of God. God taught Hosea that if he could love and forgive Gomer, surely Jehovah could love an unfaithful people and forgive those who repent. Hosea preached to them about the gracious Jehovah whose heart was breaking for them, who was saying, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? … I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God and not man” (Hosea 11:8-9).
H. They preached Hope for the future. If one desires to preach like the prophets, he must be an optimist as well as a realist. Preaching should do more than denounce the sinfulness of sin; it must also declare the eternal hope which is promised through Christ.
1. Amos thundered denunciation upon those who were guilty of social sins, but he was quick to declare that Jehovah was a forgiving God who would restore Israel. Amos 9:11 – 11 “On that day I will raise up The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, And repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, And rebuild it as in the days of old;
2. A glorious Jerusalem was envisioned by Zechariah when he lifted up his eyes (ch. 2). A young man with a measuring rod was told that the new Jerusalem was so large it could not be measured. It would not need a city wall for protection; God would be like a wall of fire about it and would be the glory in the midst of it (2:5). Jerusalem would be populated with contented old people living in peace (8:4), with happy children playing in the streets in safety (8:5).
Conclusion: God’s spokesmen speak to us today. They present God’s solution to our culture and time. We must live the principles of the prophets in our world today, for we are His people. The better day spoken of by the prophets was inaugurated with the coming of Christ. He is our hope. Have you obeyed Him?