THE JEWEL OF BIBLICAL PROPHECY
The ancient Greeks yearned for a single word from their gods. Fearing they may upset or displease their gods, some Greeks journeyed long distances and faced dangerous or rough terrain. Expending large sums of money for a simple, “yes” or “no ” from their god proved to be the experience of many Greeks.
The fickle nature of their gods might cause a god to hurl a lightning bolt from the sky or to turn the person into something like a tree. The Greeks thought, “How wonderful it would be to have a message from the gods.” Understanding that a few gods answered questions about life, some Greeks searched for oracles, that is, persons or places where the gods spoke to men.
The most important ancient oracle as Apollo’s at Delphi. The second most important was the oracle of Dodona. which worshiped the god, Zeus. This oracle held the unique distinction of being the oldest of all the oracles.
Greek tradition teaches that two black doves flew from Thebes and each place where the two doves landed, oracles were established.
Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian, recorded the tradition that the two doves were two women sold into slavery. Both women were worshipers of Zeus and established places of worship, hence the oracles originated.
More specifically, the black dove landed in an oak tree and spoke that the sanctuary of Zeus was to be built at Dodona in northwestern Greece.
(Zeus, the god, with lightening in his hand).
Many Greeks sought advice from Zeus expecting an answer to their questions. Your questions had to be asked with the expected answer of yes or no.
The worshiper journeyed to Dodona and wrote the question on a tablet. Zeus answered through the rustling of leaves or doves which the priests or preistess interpreted and delivered the message to the worshiper: a “yes” or a “no.”
As you read about this fascinating practice of pagan worship, you can hopefully see how desperate humanity was and is to hear from a god. Men willingly expended large sums of money to just get to the oracle. Imagine how long the Greeks waited for a simple, yes or no.
Aren’t you thankful our God, the God of the Old and New Testament, who clearly revealed Himself and His will in his word? Our God has spoken and recorded for us his Word and his will! We merely need to read and study His revealed Word which goes beyond a mere “yes” or “no.”
How many believers is the study of prophecy almost as hit and miss as going to an oracle?
Let’s look at the jewel of prophecy this week.
INTRODUCTION TO THE JEWEL OF PROPHECY
When we speak of the prophetic books of the Old Testament, we note there are four “major” prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah-Lementations, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
Twelve prophets are termed, “minor” prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. We need to notice that “major” and “minor” have nothing to do with importance of the messages but focuses on the length of the books. The “major” prophets writings contain more content.
While it might be hard to fathom, the Old Testament prophets by themselves claim as many pages in the Bible as the New Testament by itself.
Thus, the study of the prophets ought to be diligently undertaken by a serious student of the Bible.
WARNING! – When measuring the difficulty of understanding a biblical genre, the prophetic writings move to center stage. Understanding biblical prophecy proves problematic because no similar genre exists in English literature. While the language of the prophet may seem bizarre and strange, there are principles to help guide us through this genre.
TAKE NOTE: only a small percentage of the major and minor prophetic works focuses on the future. Most of the prophetic materials illustrate the disobedience and judgment falling upon Judah and/or Israel.
In their book, Fee and Stuart write that “Less than 2% of the Old Testament is messianic. Less than 5% specifically describes the new covenant age. Less than 1% concerns events yet to come in our time.” (Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.” 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003).
THE JEWELS SURROUNDING THE PROPHET and PROPHECY
The Old Testament uses prophet and prophecy in a broad sense. On the basic level – the prophet was one sent by God with a message or prophecy – that is, a word from God, Himself. Thus, the agent or messenger is the prophet and his message is the prophecy.
INTERPRETATION GUIDELINES FOR THE JEWEL OF PROPHECY
DISCOVER THE BOOK’S HISTORICAL BACKGROUND, DATE AND AUTHOR.*
- Locate the intended recipient of the message.
- Establish the date of the message.
- Who is the prophet and what can be discovered about him from the book and other literature?
- How were the original recipients to respond to the message?
DISCOVER THE LITERARY CONTEXT.
- Most modern translations include paragraph markers which help set off the immediate passages before and after your passage.
- Use the chapter headings and the subheadings to assist you with discovering the general subject of the paragraphs.
- Using more than one translation may add to your general overview of the passage.
- Where the translations differ, you will need to investigate why.
DISCOVER THE AUTHOR”S USE OF FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE
- Prophecy is characterized by emotive statements involving judgment, suffering, anguish, pain, deep desires and festivity.
- Prophecy often expresses itself with flowing images and larger-than-life language.
- The interpreter may encounter this language set off in Hebrew poetic meter. This may be set off by large amounts of white space.
- Remember if the writer desired his work to be interpreted literally, then we need to follow the literal interpretation. Likewise, if figurative understanding was intended by the author.
- Be aware that the Hebrew language of the Old Testament is more figurative than most of us are used to reading.
DISCERN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CONDITIONAL AND UNCONDITIONAL PROPHECY
- Realize that prophecies may directly state God’s unchangeable purposes (Gen 12:1-3; Gal 3:15-18).
- Understand that prophecies may contain conditional promises or warnings (Jonah 3:4).
- Explore the nearby statements for context to be sure whether the unchangeable purpose of God or the conditional promises are intended.
- Jeremiah 18:7-10 provides a sample of prophetic condition, with the idea of national judgment and blessing:
7 At one moment I might announce concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will uproot, tear down, and destroy it. 8 However, if that nation about which I have made the announcement turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the disaster I had planned to do to it. 9 At another time I might announce concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it. 10 However, if it does what is evil in my sight by not listening to me, I will relent concerning the good I had said I would do to it.
- Realize that conditional prophecy shows the mysterious way of a sovereign, omnipotent and omniscient God who interacts with humanity.
DISCOVER WHAT THE INSPIRED AUTHOR INTENDED TO COMMUNICATE TO THE ORIGINAL AUDIENCE BEFORE TRANSFERRING THE MESSAGE TO OUR TIME.
- Differentiate of specific and unrepeatable events from outlines of God’s dealing with humanity.
- For example, God is not fickle, but repeated is explained to be faithful to Israel, even when they play the harlot.
- Consider the church may fail in its obligation to speak the truth of the Gospel but Jesus promised to build His church and no one or nothing can prevent that from happening (Matt 16:18).
DISCOVER WHETHER THE PREDICTIONS ARE FULFILLED OR UNFULFILLED
- Sometimes it is difficult to determine if the eschatological prophecy was fulfilled in the past or not.
- In that situation turn to the New Testament and let it be the determining factor.
- Expect New Testament writers to explain that an Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled in novel ways as the passage finds its final meaning in Jesus and the Church.
SUGGESTED HELPS FOR THE JEWEL OF PROPHECY:
Archer, Gleason L . A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Rev. ed. Chicago: Moody
Dillard, Raymond B. and Tremper Longman. An Introduction to the Old Testament.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.
Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand
Rapids: Zondervan: Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1994.
Harrison, R. K. Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969,
reprint, Peabody, MA: Prince (Hendrickson), 1999.
Perterson, D. L. The Prophetic Literature: An Introduction (Louisville: Westminster John
Sanday D. B. Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the language of Biblical
Prophecy and Apocalyptic. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
Westernmann, C. Basic Form of Prophetic Speech. Louisville: Westminster John Knox,
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*See Robert L. Plummer, 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2010), 197-203 for more details and additional guidelines.