Interpreting the Prophets

Interpreting the Old Testament prophets is an important hermeneutics’ skill. While the prophets are historical...
October 22, 2017

Interpreting the Old Testament prophets is an important hermeneutics’ skill.

While the prophets are historical literature, they are more like sermons commenting on the events than detailed reporting of the events.

Download Handout – Session 8 – Interpreting the Prophets

The Prophets’ Contents

  1. Most of the prophets’ messages focused on current disobedience and consequential impending judgment.
  2. Only a small percentage of Old Testament prophecy foretells future events.
  3. Instead of providing new commands, the prophets warned about disobedience to the old commands.
  4. The prophets’ primary job was to speak for God to their specific audience.
  5. In the prophetical books, we hear from the prophet, but we rarely hear about the prophet.
  6. The prophets were commissioned to serve as covenant enforcement mediators.
  7. Blessing or cursing depended upon the hearers’ obedience to the Law.
    • Obedience brought about life, health, prosperity, agricultural abundance, respect, and safety.
    • Disobedience brought about death, disease, drought, dearth, danger, destruction, defeat, deportation, destitution, and disgrace.
  8. The prophets presented God’s Word to a people in a particular situation.

The Prophets’ Contexts

  1. The Larger Historical Context
    • At this time, Israel was established but spiritually wavering.
    • God was using the prophets to call his people back before impending destruction.
  2. The Specific Historical Context
    • The prophetical books are not in chronological order.
    • Different prophets speak to different groups of people in different specific contexts (Israel, Judah, Nineveh, etc.)
    • It is important to know the date and location from which the prophet was prophesying.
      • Assyria destroyed Israel – 722 B.C.
      • Babylon attacked Judah – 605 B.C.
      • Babylon destroyed Jerusalem (capital of Judah) – 586 B.C.
      • Judah returns from Babylonian exile – 538 B.C.
      • Temple rebuilt – 515 B.C.
      • Jerusalem walls reconstructed – 445 B.C.

The Prophets’ Concepts

  • Names of God
    • אל‎ – EL, ELOAH [el, el-oh-ah]: God “mighty, strong, prominent” (Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 139:19).
    • אֱלֹהִים‎ – ELOHIM [el-oh-heem]: God “Creator, Mighty and Strong” (Genesis 17:7; Jeremiah 31:33) – the plural form of Eloah, which accommodates the doctrine of the Trinity. From the Bible’s opening words, the superlative nature of God’s power is evident as God (Elohim) speaks the world into existence (Genesis 1:1).  The poor grammar (the plural God(s) singularly created) reveals doctrinal indications.
    • יהוה – YHWH / YAHWEH / JEHOVAH [yah-way / ji-hoh-veh]: “LORD” (Deuteronomy 6:4; Daniel 9:14) – the proper name for God. Translated in English Bibles “LORD” (all capitals) to distinguish it from Adonai, “Lord.” The revelation of the name is first given to Moses “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). He is the self-defining one.  This name specifies an immediacy, a presence. Yahweh is present, accessible, near to those who call on Him for deliverance (Psalm 107:13), forgiveness (Psalm 25:11) and guidance (Psalm 31:3).
    • אֲדֹנָי‎ – ADONAI [ah-daw-nahy]: “Lord” (Genesis 15:2; Judges 6:15) – used in place of YHWH, which was thought by the Jews to be too sacred to be uttered by sinful men. In the Old Testament, YHWH is more often used in God’s dealings with His people, while Adonai is used more when He deals with the Gentiles.
  • Major Prophets
    1. Isaiah
      • Name: Yahweh is salvation
      • Date: approx. 740-700 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Israel and Judah
      • Particularity: Takes a dramatic turn at chapter 40 of God’s coming salvation
    2. Jeremiah
      • Name: Yahweh will lift up
      • Date: approx. 627-586 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Judah
      • Particularity: Known as the weeping prophet, but God lifted Jeremiah up to proclaim the message
    3. Lamentations
      • Name: Passionate expression of sorrow
      • Date: approx. 586-575 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Judah
      • Particularity: Jeremiah’s lament of Judah’s sinfulness that incited God’s wrath
    4. Ezekiel
      • Name: God will strengthen
      • Date: approx. 597-574 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Exiles in Babylon
      • Particularity: God will strengthen his people by breathing life into dry bones
    5. Daniel
      • Name: God is my judge
      • Date: approx. 605-539 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Exiles in Babylon, Babylonians
      • Particularity: In exile, these Jewish men only had one God who could serve as their judge
  • Minor Prophets
    1. Hosea
      • Name: Salvation
      • Date: approx. 722 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Israel
      • Particularity: God called on him to marry a prostitute to show God’s salvation and love for the rebellious Israel
    2. Joel
      • Name: Yahweh is God
      • Date: approx. 9th-6th century B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Judah
      • Particularity: Coming locust plague proved that the LORD was the true God
    3. Amos
      • Name: Burden
      • Date: approx. 793-740 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Israel
      • Particularity: Shepherd and farmer who had a burden for the apathetic Israelites
    4. Obadiah
      • Name: Worshiper (or servant) of Yahweh
      • Date: after 586 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Edom
      • Particularity: Shortest book in the OT; prophesied to the proud Edomites acknowledging himself as a submitted servant of the LORD
    5. Jonah
      • Name: Dove
      • Date: approx. 793-753 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Nineveh, capital of Assyria
      • Particularity: Swallowed by a fish, unrepentant, reluctant prophet; a dove is a symbol of reconciliation with God which Nineveh experienced and Jonah needed
    6. Micah
      • Name: Who is like the LORD?
      • Date: approx. 750-700 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Judah
      • Particularity: Denounced the wealthy who were oppressing the poor; Micah saw that God’s own people were not “like the LORD”
    7. Nahum
      • Name: Comforting
      • Date: approx. 650 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Judah in their dealings with the Assyrians
      • Particularity: After Jonah saw the Assyrians repent, they were back in their former spiritual state a century later; Nahum comforted Judah that Nineveh would fall
    8. Habakkuk
      • Name: Embrace
      • Date: approx. 640-615 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Judah
      • Particularity: Habakkuk questioned how God could use wicked Babylon to punish Judah; he sought to embrace God with his questions and concerns
    9. Zephaniah
      • Name: Yahweh treasures
      • Date: approx. 640-609 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Judah
      • Particularity: Speaks of the day of the LORD where sin would be punished and a remnant would be saved; Yahweh treasured his people and would save them on the day of the LORD
    10. Haggai
      • Name: Festive
      • Date: approx. 538-515 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Returning exiles to Jerusalem
      • Particularity: Encouraged the people to rebuild the temple; as they celebrated the completion of their new homes with a festive spirit, Haggai exhorted them to pay attention to God’s house
    11. Zechariah
      • Name: Yahweh remembers
      • Date: approx. 515 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Newly returned exiles to Jerusalem
      • Particularity: Encouraged the people to renew their covenant with God so that they could truly worship once the temple was rebuilt; Yahweh remembered the people in exile, they needed to remember him now in freedom
    12. Malachi
      • Name: My Messenger
      • Date: After 515 B.C.
      • Primary Audience: Judah
      • Particularity: Called people to repentance since they were ungrateful amidst their reinstatement; promised the messenger of God and God himself was coming