How Should We Interpret Prophecy?

The Old Testament prophets spoke a specific message to a particular people. We can safely unpack the timeless truth and correctly interpret it for our situations with proper hermeneutical guidelines.

The Prophets’ Contexts

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.

The Specific Historical Context

  • The prophetic books are not in chronological order.
  • All prophets speak to different groups of people in specific contexts (Israel, Judah, Nineveh, etc.)
  • It is beneficial 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.

Major Prophets

  • Isaiah (Yahweh is salvation) – 740-700 B.C.; Israel and Judah
  • Jeremiah (Yahweh will lift up) – 627-586 B.C.; Judah
  • Lamentations (Passionate expression of sorrow) – 586-575 B.C.; Judah
  • Ezekiel (God will strengthen) – Date: approx. 597-574 B.C.; Exiles in Babylon
  • Daniel (God is my judge) – 605-539 B.C.; Exiles in Babylon, Babylonians

Minor Prophets

  • Hosea (Salvation) – 722 B.C.; Israel
  • Joel (Yahweh is God) – approx. 9th-6th century B.C.; Judah
  • Amos (Burden) – approx. 793-740 B.C.; Israel
  • Obadiah (Worshiper or servant of Yahweh) – after 586 B.C.; Edom
  • Jonah (Dove) – approx. 793-753 B.C.; Nineveh, capital of Assyria
  • Micah (Who is like the LORD?) – approx. 750-700 B.C.; Judah
  • Nahum (Comforting) – approx. 650 B.C.; Judah in their dealings with the Assyrians
  • Habakkuk (Embrace) – approx. 640-615 B.C.; Judah
  • Zephaniah (Yahweh treasures) – approx. 640-609 B.C.; Judah
  • Haggai (Festive) – approx. 538-515 B.C.; Returning exiles to Jerusalem
  • Zechariah (Yahweh remembers) – approx. 515 B.C.; Newly returned exiles to Jerusalem
  • Malachi (My Messenger) – After 515 B.C.; Judah

The Prophets’ Contents

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