Biblical Prophecy

INTERPRETING PROPHECY

In his classic study, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy, J. Barton Payne identifies some 1,239
predictions in the OT, involving some 6,641 verses or 28.5% of the OT text. In the NT, he finds 578
predictions in 1,711 verses or 21.5% of the NT text.

As you study the prophetic books, imagine the strong and courageous prophets of Yahweh, who
fearlessly proclaimed God’s Word, and listen to their messages in relation to your own life—return,
repent, and be renewed. Trust in God’s redemption through Christ and rejoice. The OT prophets
revealed the Word of God for not only their time, but also for all future generations.

The Bible’s own understanding of a “prophet” is fundamentally a spokesperson, interpreter, and
mediator of God’s will. The prophet’s message is called a “prophecy” and sometimes it is termed a
vision, oracle, or burden, but most often, it is identified as “the word of the LORD.”

The Scripture, in most instances, does not tell us how the prophet heard the word of the LORD. On the
other hand, Zechariah 7:12 states that the Holy Spirit was instrumental along with the prevalent
responses of man and God:

They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD
Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry.

The prophet is a person, not a microphone according to 2 Peter 1:21:

For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried
along by the Holy Spirit.

The role of the prophet was to “forth tell” and “foretell.” The essence of the prophetic message was its
clear proclamation, “this is what Yahweh says.” Therefore, the prophet served as the contemporary
voice of God to his generation, pointing out religious and social sins and calling for repentance. The
prophet served as a source of specific divine guidance, especially confronting and counseling kings.
Therefore, the prophets are some of the most disturbing people who have ever lived—alienating the
wicked as well as the pious, the cynics as well as the believers.

As the prophet sees the social and religious life of his community, he finds hardly an element in it that is
not rotten throughout. The three things ancient society cherished above all else were wisdom, wealth,
and might. To the prophets, such infatuation was ludicrous and idolatrous. The prophet was an
individual who said “No” to his society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency,
waywardness and syncretism. He was compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what the heart
expected.

Therefore, he is a person who feels fiercely because God has thrust a burden upon his soul, and he is
abased and stunned at man’s inhumane greed. So we find God raging and encouraging through the
prophet. Confrontation and consolation are the hallmark of prophecy.

Thus, the prophet is a preacher whose purpose is not self-expression, but the stirring of thoughts and
emotions by communication of God’s Word. His images must not shine; they must burn. Often his
words are stern, sour, stinging. But behind his austerity is God’s love and compassion. He always
begins with a message of judgment and doom and concludes with a message of hope and redemption.

There are two fundamental pillars supporting the prophets and their prophecies. Note that the prophets
were covenant enforcers—either comforting or confronting based on society’s obedience to God’s Law.
Consequently, they predicted Yahweh’s near term and far term blessings and cursings for Israel and
surrounding nations.

As covenant enforcers, the prophets were required:

1. To be bold and undaunted, Ezekiel 2:6; 3:8-9
2. To be vigilant and faithful, Ezekiel 3:17-21
3. To receive with attention all God’s communications, Ezekiel 3:10
4. Not to speak anything but what they received from God, Deuteronomy 18:20
5. To declare everything that Yahweh commanded, Jeremiah 6:2

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