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Old Testament – Prophets

In order to understand the Old Testament prophets, we need to remember that we are dealing with texts written in an historical and cultural context. The story of the Israelites is the context to which we must give attention. “Theologically the prophets proclaim their message from the context of the Mosaic covenant, primarily as defined in Deuteronomy.”[1]

According to authors J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, the Old Testament prophets’ overall message can be boiled to three basic points:

  1. You have broken the covenant; you had better repent! The prophets usually do this by citing extensive evidence for the Israelites’ violation of their covenant with Yahweh. Typically, the Israelites’ violation of their covenant fell into three types of categories: idolatry (particularly syncretistic idolatry); social injustice; and religious ritualism.
  2. No repentance? Then judgment! The prophets typically plead with the Israelites to return to their covenant relationship with God. But when Israel or Judah refuses to repent, the prophets appeal to severe punishments for their lack of repentance. Duvall and Hays write, “The major judgments predicted by the prophets are the horrific invasions by, first, the Assyrians and later, the Babylonians.”[2]
  3. Yet, there is hope beyond the judgment for a glorious, future restoration. The prophets are not interested in returning to the status quo. Rather, they tell of a restoration that involves a qualitatively different relationship with God where there will be a new exodus (Isaiah), a new covenant (Jeremiah), and a new presence of God’s Spirit (Ezekiel and Joel). This time will be characterized by forgiveness and peace, and “Relationship will replace ritual.”[3]

Remember to utilize the Interpretive Journey as you read Scripture and endeavor to understand the Old Testament prophets. Duvall and Hays warn of the dangers of misapplying Step 2 (No repentance? Then judgment!) to the 21st century. If not applied considering the full view of the New Testament, we might become like the Judaizers referenced in Acts and Galatians. Duvall and Hays elaborate: “For the New Testament believer, the consequence of unconfessed sin is not a Babylonian invasion and exile, but rather a strained and damaged relationship with God, who has been hurt by our unfaithfulness.”[4] In other words, when applying the prophets’ words to the 21st century, be mindful that you not slip into the Israelites bad habits while remembering that the dynamic of God’s relationship is different than it was with the Israelites.

Check back next week for Chapter 22: Wisdom.

We’ve barely scratched the surface with Grasping God’s Word! We highly recommend you purchase this excellent book here.

[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 402-403.

[2] Ibid, 405.

[3] Ibid, 406.

[4] Ibid, 408.