bible.cod: The Prophets of Israel
Mediators of God’s Enforcement of the Covenant
“For the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will not let you down or destroy you,
for he cannot forget his covenant with your ancestors that he confirmed by oath to them.”
The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)
Studying the Prophets of Israel presents unique interpretative challenges. We must keep in mind the number one principle of interpretation—the Bible can never mean what it never meant. When we place the prophets in their proper literary and historical context a pattern emerges. We begin to see the prophets as Covenant Enforcer Mediators. (Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, p. 167)
“The prophets spoke for God to His people. They functioned to call Israel back to God, which meant a call back to faithfulness to their Covenant relationship with God; i.e., back to the Law of Moses. There was a covenant relationship between God and His people. This covenant contained not only the rules which they are to keep, but it also describes the sorts of punishments that God will necessarily apply to His people if they do not keep the Law, as well as the benefits He will impart to them if they are faithful. What is important is that God does not merely give His Law, but He enforces it. Positive reinforcement is blessing; negative reinforcement is curse. This is where the prophets come in. God announced the enforcement of the Law (both positive and negative) through the prophets.” (Bob Deffinbaugh, Understanding the Writing Prophets, bible.org, p. 4)
I would sum up the message of the prophets in one extended sentence:
You are mine! Walk with me and I will bless you.
Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline.
(God’s message to His people through the Prophets of Israel)
Before we begin our journey through the Prophets of Israel, here are some foundational truths concerning their grammatical and historical context:
I. What do we mean by the word “prophecy”? Most people think of a prophecy as a prediction of a future event, a foretelling. Though this is an aspect of the term, it’s inadequate. The Bible doesn’t limit the meaning of prophecy to foretelling the future. The word prophet also means someone who tells forth or proclaims.
A. The prophets did tell the future (foretell), but that was not their primary function. Less than 2% of the Old Testament prophecy is messianic, and less than 5% of the writings of the Prophets of Israel relates to the New Covenant age of the church. Remarkably, less than 1% of all the Old Testament prophecy actually concerns events still future to us as Church Age believers. The bulk of the foretold prophecies of the Prophets of Israel have been fulfilled.
B. From the prophet’s perspective, his primary function was to speak for God to his contemporaries. This is why we need to first establish the primary message to the prophet’s audience and his predictions concerning the near future before we begin trying to ascertain what the prophet was saying about the “way off” future.
II. What was the purpose of the Prophets of Israel? The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their Covenant relationship with God.
A. God had made four Unconditional Covenants with His people, Israel:
1. Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12-15): A literal, eternal, and unconditional “deal” that God would give them a land, a seed, and a blessing.
2. Palestinian Covenant (Deuteronomy 30:1-8): Unconditional and permanent ownership of the Promise Land. However, current possession of the land was conditioned upon obedience to the Mosaic Law. (see below)
3. Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:14-16): The Seed of David would rule on the throne of the eternal Kingdom.
4. New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34): The Blessing of forgiveness of sins, the indwelling Spirit, and a new nature would be realized through the Seed of David, Messiah.
B. God and Israel had made one Conditional Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant. God not only gave the people His Law, but He also told them He would enforce it through blessings and cursings.
1. God would encourage faithfulness to the Law by blessing (Leviticus 26:1-13; Deuteronomy 28:1-14). These blessings included life, health, prosperity, agricultural abundance, respect and safety in the world.
2. God would discourage unfaithfulness to the Law by cursing, or loving discipline (Leviticus 26:14-39; Deuteronomy 28:15-32, 42). These blessings included death, disease, drought, danger, destruction, defeat, deportation, destitution, and disgrace.
3. Deuteronomy 4:25-31 sums up this dynamic of the conditional covenant:
After you have produced children and grandchildren and have been in the land a long time,if you become corrupt and make an image of any kindand do other evil things before the Lord your God that enrage him,I invoke heaven and earth as witnesses against youtoday that you will surely and swiftly be removed from the very land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not last long there because you will surely beannihilated. Then the Lord will scatter you among the peoples and there will be very few of youamong the nations where the Lord will drive you. There you will worship gods made by human hands – wood and stone that can neither see, hear, eat, nor smell. But if you seek the Lord your God from there, you will find him, if, indeed, you seek him with all your heart and soul.In your distress when all these things happen to you in the latter days,if you return to the Lord your God and obey him(for heis a merciful God), he will not let you downor destroy you, for he cannotforget the covenant with your ancestors that he confirmed by oath to them.
III. Who were the prophets speaking to? The chronology of the Prophets of Israel is critical. They were speaking to specific generations of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant in the context of the unconditional covenants.
The prophets to Israel: Jonah, Amos, and Hosea. The prophets to Judah: Obadiah, Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Jeremiah (Lamentations). The prophets to the exiles: Ezekiel, Daniel. The prophets to the returning remnant: Zechariah, Haggai, Malachi
IV. What was their message as mediators to enforce the covenants? You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline. (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11)
V. What can we learn from the overarching message of the prophets? When people are in covenant relationship with God He will never revoke His promises. But He loves them too much to ignore them if they stray from faithfulness to Him.