The Prophets (Act 3 Scene 6b)

The primary function of a prophet of God was to call the king and the people back to the Lord when they start worshiping false idols and gods.

Sometimes during this message, they did foretell the future – usually in a negative sense, as in “If you fail to turn back to God, judgment and discipline is coming.” Granted, they also dropped hints of what would happen to those who followed God (i.e. the new heaven and earth, the coming of Jesus Christ, the breaking in of the Age to Come).

It is like looking at the mountains – you think you are looking at one peak when in reality you are looking at two peaks (one up close and one further back and higher).This means that a lot of what the prophets are saying came true during the time in which they lived while some of it was meant for a future age.

As you can image, this makes reading these books at tad difficult…

Yet I firmly believe that we NEED to read them as we need to hear how much God cares about us and His unwillingness to let us wander off alone into this messed up world.

When we do read them, I feel that we need to keep three things in mind:

1)    Read them through the lens of Jesus and the grand story of God.

One of the cool things about learning the grand story of God is that when we read things we don’t really understand we can use the big picture to help us figure things out. It also helps that we are reading these books after the coming of Jesus (which was foretold by several of these prophet) so we have the ‘inside’ scope.

2)    Hold things lightly with open hands.

Anytime we are dealing with the future we must remember to hold things lightly – with open hands. Jesus told us that no one knows when He will be coming back. Yes, there are some hints and signs…yet, most likely we will miss them just like the Pharisees… For me, I think we should focus on doing what Jesus did right here in our community and let God worry about the future.

3)    Discipline is good.

A good deal of the books of the prophets deal with the judgment of God upon those who do not follow Him. Verses and chapters of doom and pain…all of which could twist our view of God as it does not seem to fit with the picture of love and grace that we see in the New Testament. However we do not worship two gods (as some folks seem to think), but One God who cares for and guides His people. Hebrews 12:4-13 sheds some light on this issue:

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?  If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

As you can see, the heart of the Prophets was not destructions or pain… they wanted people to come back to God Almighty. And just like a human father who will discipline his wayward son, Father God disciplined His people in an effort to bring them back to Himself.

The Prophets

Now that we have a framework to start from, let us find out who are the prophets –what books of the Bible are we actually talking about. 🙂

In the Bible there are three main groups of prophets:

  1. Oral Prophets (i.e. those who left no written letters)
    • Nathan, Ahijah, Iddo, Jehu, Elijah, Elisha, Oded, Shemaiah, Azariah, Hanani, Jahaziel, and Huldah
  2. Major Prophets (i.e.  those who wrote a lot)
    • Isaiah, Jeremiah (who wrote both the book of Jeremiah and Lamentations), Ezekiel, and Daniel
  3. Minor Prophets (i.e. 12 prophets who wrote short letters)
    • Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi

Furthermore, the written prophets (major and minor) can broken into two major groups:

  1. Those before the Exile – that is, before the Temple was destroyed
    • Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai
  2. Those during and/or after the Exile
    • Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah, Zechariah, and Malachi

Today we are going to look at the prophets before the Exile (with two exceptions – Isaiah, which our special speaker is going to cover next week, and Jonah, which I’m going to talk about in two weeks when I return from the Philippines). We will talk about the Exile books (historical and prophetic) in December after Thanksgiving…meaning that you have to keep coming back to get the full story. =P

Book Summary

As you can imagine, you can spend an entire Sunday or many, many weeks on each of these books – time we don’t have right now… so what we are going to do is to quickly go over each of these books giving you all a summary of their message. From there, I pray that you will read them and study them on your own.

Joel

We don’t know much about this prophet…we think he lived during the time of Joash, who we talked about last week. This was the king of Judah whose grandmother killed all his family and ruled for six years. Joash was a good king following three bad kings…

What we do know about the time of Joel is that there was recently a locust plague in the land which Joel compares to a human army advancing on Judah.

Two important points to the overall story:

  1. Day of the Lord – a time when the Lord would fight Israel’s enemies like He did during the time of Joshua. The people at the time thought this day would be a 24-hour period in which God would destroy their enemies. Joel gave new meaning to this phrase as it was to be a period of time and would bring judgment to all people, Jews and Gentiles.
  2. Coming of the Spirit – Joel spoke of a time when the Spirit of God would inhabit all of God’s people and not just the kings and prophets. This happened at Pentecost.

Book/Author: Joel
Age Written: Unknown; Might Have been during Joash’s time
Audience: Those who have suffered a misfortune and did not realize that it was a judgment of God.
Aim: To demonstrate to Judah that God will judge His own children if they will not repent.
Key Concepts: The Day of the Lord (Judgment)
Key Lessons: Repentance is easier than bring stripped by God.
Geography: Judah

Amos

During the time of Jeroboam II, Israel rivaled Judah in its riches…in this they became socially corrupt. Amos, a shepherd from the Southern Kingdom (Judah) came with the message that they were not measuring up to God’s plumb line.

Book/Author: Amos
Age Written: Jeroboam II and Zechariah (both bad kings)
Audience: Those who believe that their peace and prosperity are because of their own endeavors.
Aim: To teach that God will not stand for blatant sin among His people.
Key Concepts: Measured for Justice
Key Lessons: Righteousness is measured by our responsibility to act justly toward the oppressed, not because of our religious merit.
Geography: Israel

Hosea

Contemporary to Amos in Israel and to Isaiah and Micah in Judah. Prosperity was still the order of the day during Hosea’s life – but Israel was in a religious mess. One could even say that Israel had switched stories, going from being a model of God’s society to the nations to following the surrounding nations into immorality.

Hosea’s life was his message as God told Him to marry a prostitute as a symbol of God’s love for Israel. After being faithful for a while, Gomer, Hose’s wife, runs away and has a series of affaires – ending up on the slave block. Hosea buys her back and restores their relationship. A beautiful picture of what God wanted to do with His people.

Book/Author: Hosea
Age Written: Jeroboam II through Hoshea (all bad)
Audience: Those who have turned away from God and do not recognize the consequences of their decision.
Aim: To teach Israel that they were in covenant with God and they should be faithful to it or suffer the consequences.
Key Concepts: Return
Key Lessons: God’s love is sometimes tough.
Geography: Israel

Micah

Nothing personal is known about Micah…he lived during the time of Isaiah in Judah and Hosea in Israel. His message was to both nations and told them that they were headed to disaster because of their idol worship.

Book/Author: Micah
Age Written: Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah
Audience: Those who believe that they have no responsibility to change the society around them.
Aim: To teach the necessity of living a daily righteous life.
Key Concepts: Controversy
Key Lessons: The by-product of saving faith is social reform and practical holiness.
Geography: Judah

Zephaniah

Simple message – if you break the covenant, God will judge you. Judah was full of sin – however, it must be noted that Josiah, the King, was working on changing this during this same time…sadly thought the kings after him were all bad…

Book/Author: Zephaniah
Age Written: Josiah, right before the Exile
Audience: Those who have repeatedly ignored the warning signs of God’s judgment.
Aim: To give Judah a warning of the impending destructions of evil.
Key Concepts: The judgment of God
Key Lessons: God is in control regardless of contrary appearances.
Geography: Judah

Habakkuk

Lived during the same time as Zephaniah and Jeremiah… written to help the people understand why does evil happen to a good person? Similar concepts as Job (which I know we skipped over…). In a nutshell, we live in a fallen world in the middle of a war – God is there with us through the bad times of life.

Book/Author: Habakkuk
Age Written: Josiah, right before the Exile
Audience: Those who need to understand that God’s inactivity does not mean God’s abandonment.
Aim: To explain the inactivity of God in the face of suffering.
Key Concepts: Faith
Key Lessons: Learning to trust God when it’s bright, as well as when it’s night.
Geography: Judah

Jeremiah/Lamentations

The weeping prophet as he weeps over Jerusalem… He tried to turn Judah back to God during the final days of the nation.  Unfortunately, the nation fails to listen…instead they throw him into jail multiple times and try to kill him.

Book/Author: Jeremiah
Age Written: Josiah to Zedekiah and the fall of Jerusalem
Audience: Those who are persistent in their rebellion to the point that the discipline of God cannot be reversed.
Aim: To teach God’s people how to accept his judgment.
Key Concepts: Divine Discipline
Key Lessons: Without repentance God will break us so that he can remake us.
Geography: Judah and Egypt

Book/Author: Lamentations / Jeremiah
Age Written: After the fall of Jerusalem
Audience: Those who are suffering because of the judgment of God.
Aim: To weep over loss because of sin and judgment.
Key Concepts: The Lament over Jerusalem
Key Lessons: Mourning comes before morning.
Geography: Jerusalem

Nahum

Nothing is known about this guy…just that he gives Nineveh a stern message of judgment. ..may have lived during the time of Jeremiah and the fall of Jerusalem.

Book/Author: Nahum
Age Written: Sometime after the fall of Israel
Audience: Those who are undergoing persecution.
Aim: To pronounce judgment of a nation who opposed Israel.
Key Concepts: Retribution
Key Lessons: The patience of God does not mean He is impotent.
Geography: Judah and Nineveh

Obadiah

Nothing is known about this guy… gives a message to Edom similar to Nahum pronouncement over Nineveh. ..
Main message given to Edom who were the descendants of Esau… Edom plundered Judah and rejoiced when Judah fell…God told them to be careful as He would judgment them just as harshly.

Book/Author: Obadiah
Age Written: Sometime after the fall of Israel
Audience: Those who have chosen not to respond to the message of God.
Aim: To announce judgment on Edom
Key Concepts: Judgment
Key Lessons: God will reward you in the same fashion you reward others.
Geography: Edom

Conclusion

I know that we have covered a lot of ground… hopefully I have not worn out your brain… 😀

As you tell from reading the above, we can learn from the Hebrew people and the books of the prophets. They show us the Father Heart of God – loving and disciplining His children, trying to guide them in the middle of a crazy messed up world.

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