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.
- 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
- 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.