Book Report: The Prophets – Enforcing the Covenant in Israel

Book Report:   Chpt 10:  The Prophets – Enforcing the Covenant in Israel

Presentation of Chapter 10 of the book, #How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth. by #Gorden D. Fee# and #Douglas Stuart#. Zondervan c. 2003 3rd edition (p 163-180) Presented by Kevin Jesmer at the UBF Publishers Meeting Chicago UBF. 5-12-12


There are four major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel) and 12 minor prophets. They wrote in ancient Israel between 760 BC and 460 BC.

The Hebrew word for prophet comes from a Semitic verb, “to call”. (p, 186)

Minor Prophets: Shorter in length. Latin- prophetes minores: shorter or less important. The Jews grouped the Minor Prophets into one book, “The Book of the Twelve.” (p. 181)

Latin meaning of major = longer or larger.

The Minor Prophets are not less important. They contain some of dearest and most profound verses in the Bible.

The Nature of Prophecy

1. The Meaning of Prophecy

Most people think of prophecy as the foretelling or prediction of what is to come. They think that the prophets are given to us to predict the coming of Jesus or certain features of the covenant age. But this is not so. Here are some interesting facts.

1. < 2% of the OT prophecy is Messianic
2. < 5% specifically describes the new covenant age

The prophets predicted the future, but usually the immediate future. For the prophets it was the future. For us we must look back on history.

2. The Prophets as Spokespersons

The prophet’s main purpose was to speak for God to their contemporaries.

Of the hundreds of prophets in ancient Israel only 16 were chosen to oracles (messages from God.) (p. 183) For example, Elijah and Elisha were very important but we know a lot more about what they did than what they said. Some prophets have a combination. For Nathan and Hudlah, there is combination of prophecy and biography. We hear more about the prophets than “from” the prophets.

The larger books are a collection of oracles that are not always presented in their chronological sequence. Some have no hint of where one ends and the other begins. Sometimes there is no historical setting.

3. The Problem of History

There is a problem with historical distance. Things clear to ancient Israel are not so clear to us. We are far removed from the religious, historical and cultural life. It is hard to put it all in the proper cultural context and to figure out to whom things are said and why.

The Function of Prophecy in Israel

1. The prophets were covenant enforcement mediators

God gives us the law. He states curses and blessing. God tells the people of these “incentives” through the prophets. The blessings are announced with a warning. (Lev 26;1-13; Deut 4:32-40, 28:1-14) The prophets serve as spokesmen for the covenant. They worded these blessing and curses in novel and captivating ways. It was not their words. It was God’s word they were speaking.

God may also predict the future blessings of the nation. (Amos 9:11-15) ; or the doom of disobedient nations; or the deportation of God’s people.

There is a simple pattern in the prophet’s words: 1) Identification of Israel’s sin coupled with God’s love for his people. 2) A predication of curses and blessings

2. The prophets’ message was not their own but God’s

Though each prophet, and each book, may have their own unique style, vocabulary and emphasis, etc, we must know that God raised up his prophets to speak God’s word to Israel. (p. 186) They were responding to a divine call. Their words were prefaced by statements like, “This is what the Lord says.” and “declares the Lord.” Consider Jeremiah who was called to give a difficult message to his people for them to submit to their enemies. He could stand as a prophet because he was confident that what he was saying was the word of God and he stated this so many times. (27:2)

3. The prophets were God’s direct representatives

The prophets held a societal office. They were ambassadors of the heavenly court who relayed the divine sovereign’s court to the people. Some prophets even installed or deposed kings. They declared war and they spoke against war. They did not act or speak independently of God. (p. 187)

4. The prophets’ message is unoriginal

The prophets were inspired by God to present, to their generation, the essential content of the original Mosaic covenant’s warnings and promises. It is essentially the same message conveyed by God in his original message given through Moses. God raised up the prophets to gain the interest of the people to whom they were sent. They did not initiate a new message or alter an old message.

Sometimes they would give a long discourse on how Israel had broken the laws of God. They did so in a way that simply repeats a list of the laws broken could not have done.

God brought the notion of the Messiah through the prophets. It began in the Law. We see these things in Genesis. Some of these prophecies are obvious and clear. (Is 42, 49, 50, 53) The coming of this new Prophet (Deut 18:18) is not a new story for the prophets, but one they preached and upheld. (p. 188)

The Exegetical Task

1. The need for outside help

Some people think that the prophets’ words should be clear for all people of all generations because God wrote them. But this is not the case. Parts of the Bible are obvious at first while others are not. They were spoken in historical, cultural, and political settings. Some are written in poetry. We need tools to aid us in our understand.

Bible dictionary: to get background information and to catch the main point.

Bible commentaries: These provide the meanings of individual verses.

Bible handbooks: Contains Bible dictionaries and commentaries. They have lots of useful info derived in a minimal amount of time.

Look at the chapter in the follow up text, “How To Read the Bible Book by Book.”

2. The Historical Context

The prophet could be speaking of an era or the time frame of a particular oracle. We need to understand the historical context.

3. The Larger Context

The 16 books come from a time period of 760 to 460 BC. (only 300 years!) Amos to Malachi.
This period called for covenant enforcement mediation on the part of the prophets. Also God wanted to record the warning and the blessings for all subsequent generations.

Why were most oracles spoken in the 300 year period? During those times there was;

1. Unprecedented political, social, military economic upheaval.
2. Enormous level of religious unfaithfulness.
3. shifts in populations and national boundaries and changes in the balance of power

God’s word was needed newly and so God raised up these prophets. These prophets spoke mainly to the events of the Assyrian exile 722 BC, the Babylonian Captivity 587 BC and the rebuilding of the nation and reinstitution of orthodoxy.

What about the others times? There are prophets mentioned in other times. (1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 13) God also spoke through the Law. (p, 191) And so there was communication from God.

4. The Specific Context

Each prophet delivered his oracles in a specific setting. (p. 192) A knowledge of this setting aides in our understanding of the prophets oracles and ministry. (ex. Hosea the war oracle.)

5. The Isolation of Individual Oracles

Think “oracles” as one thinks “paragraphs” in the epistles. Some oracles are written down without knowing where the oracle ends or begins. We are left wondering if an oracle was written on the same day to the same audience. (p. 193) (Ex Amos 5). Is this all one prophecy or not? How are the component parts to be understood? Are some to be grouped together? There are three oracles, but no explanatory titles.

6. The Forms of Prophetic Utterance

These are some of the different forms of utterances that the prophets used to from their oracles.

a. The Lawsuit: The court convenes. The Lawsuit if brought before Israel. The accusation is spoken. The judgment is announced along with the types.

b. The Woe: Announcement of distress. The reason for distress. Predictions of doom. (Hab 2:6-8)

c. The Promise: Reference to the future. Mention of radical change. Mention of blessing. (Amos 9:11-15)

d. The Enactment Prophecy: The use of visual aides. The use of symbolic actions to bring home the point of God’s word. Example Isaiah going stripped and barefoot for three years (Is 20:3)

e. The Messenger Speech: The most popular form. Standard openings, “This is what the Lord says.” They made sure the audience knew that it was not them making up what was said.

f. The Prophets as Poets

Nowadays, we place very little emphasis on poetry except in music. (p. 197) It seems strange to us. But poetry was a highly praise form of expression. Poems were easy to memorize. It was a means of learning. A prophet’s poetry could take the following forms.

– Synonymous parallelism: the 2nd line repeats and reinforces the 1st line
reinforcing by repetition.
– Antithetical parallelism: the 2nd line contrasts the thought of the 1st.
Reinforcing by contrast.
– Synthetic parallelism: the 2nd line adds to the first, by introducing more info.
Reinforcing by offering up more info.

Keeping the rules in mind makes poetry as comprehensible as prose.

Some Hermeneutical Suggestions (p. 199)

1. A Caution: The Prophet as Foreteller of the Future: It is not the prophet’s primary task to predict future events. But the temporal events need to be seen in the light of God’s overall, eternal plan. We need the proper perspective…always.

2. A Concern: Prophecy and Second Meanings: There are times when the New Testament references to the Old Testament does not appear to refer what the New Testament says it does. (Hos 11:1) The New Testament writers draw analogies. (Ex. Paul in the Rock which is Christ analogy found in 1 Cor 10:4) There are metaphorical and allegorical meanings that the Holy Spirit has authorized some writers to make. We are not allowed to do this? (p. 202) Paul was blessed with Sensus Plenior “fuller meaning”. It is a function of inspiration of the Holy Spirit and not illumination on our part. (P. 203)

3. A Final Benefit: The Dual Emphasis on Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy: This is correct belief and correct action. The prophets can remind us God’s determination to enforce his covenant. If we love God and love our neighbor, the eternal result will be blessings. The results in this life are not guaranteed. (p. 204) Those who disobey will experience curses no matter how well their life fares in this world. (Malachi 4:6)

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