The Bible Project

What Prophecy is For - Prophets E1

Episode Summary

Welcome to episode one in our miniseries on How to Read the Prophets!

Episode Notes

The books of the prophets are often the most difficult and misunderstood books in the Bible.

In part one (0:00-10:00), Tim and Jon briefly go over a few reasons why reading the prophets can be so challenging. Tim shares quotes from Martin Luther and fJohn Bright:

The challenge of reading the prophetic books:
“The prophets have an odd way of talking, like people who, instead of proceeding in an orderly manner, ramble off from one thing to the next, so that you cannot make head or tail of them or see what they are getting at.”
Martin Luther, quoted in Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 2 (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 33.

“What makes the prophetic books particularly, and one might say needlessly, difficult is the very manner of their arrangement — or, to be more accurate, their apparent lack of arrangement… All seems confusion… The impression that the reader gains is one of extreme disarray; one can scarcely blame him for concluding that he is reading a hopeless hodgepodge thrown together without any discernible principle of arrangement at all.” — John Bright, Jeremiah (Anchor Bible Commentary, 1965), p. lvi.

In part two (10:00-18:40), Tim asks Jon what he thinks a modern definition of prophets and prophecy is. Jon says he believes it has to do with fortune telling. A prophet is someone who can look into the future and predict an event.

Tim explains that while this is part of the role of a prophet, it is not the central focus, and predicting future events only occurs occasionally in the Bible.

Tim explains that the definition of a prophet in the Old Testament is actually very simple. A prophet is simply a messenger or a herald giving a message to people on God’s behalf.

Tim says that most people understand the term prophecy as the prediction of future events. This definition is inadequate and does not account for the huge amounts of the material in the prophetic books. While there are certain passages within the prophets which do contain predictive elements, most of these poems and narratives don’t present themselves as predictive prophecy.

In the Bible, a prophecy is a message that God speaks to his people through a human prophet. So prophecies often contain the quoted speech of God himself.
Jeremiah 2:1-2:
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying,
‘Thus says the Lord: “I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth…”

In part three (18:40-33:30), Tim outlines the character of Moses. Moses is portrayed as the archetypal prophet. He’s the first divine spokesmen sent to Israel and the nations (Exodus 3). He’s the first figure to mediate between Yahweh and Israel and establish his covenant with the people (Exodus 19-24, the Sinai narrative). He’s the only figure allowed to enter the divine presence directly (Exodus 19-20, 33-34). He’s the key intercessor for Israel when they have violated the covenant (Exodus 32-34). He suffers because of Israel’s failures (Numbers 11-21) and accuses them of present and ongoing rebellion against Yahweh that will result in exile (Deuteronomy 28-32).
And his death is marked as the end of an era. “Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face…” (Deuteronomy 34:10).

Tim says that Moses fails as a prophet. But in the Pentateuch, he is cast
as the ideal prophet, someone whom all other Jewish prophets should follow after.

In part four (33:30-end), Tim says the prophets are best understood as “covenant watchdogs.” They assume the larger covenant story of Yahweh, creation, and Israel. Yahweh is the creator and King, and his image-bearing stewards have rebelled and corrupted his good world (Genesis 1–11).

In the covenant he makes with Abraham, Yahweh says he will use Abraham’s family to restore his divine blessing to all nations (Genesis 12).

In the covenant with Israel (the Sinai or Mosaic covenant), Israel is called to become a kingdom of priests to the nations by adhering to the laws of the covenant. Obedience will result in covenant blessing, and rebellion will bring covenant curses (Exod 19, Lev 26, Deut 28–30).

In the covenant with Israel’s priesthood, Yahweh promises to provide a perpetual priesthood through the line of Aaron to intercede on Israel’s behalf and atone for their covenant failures (Numbers 25).

The covenant with Israel’s monarchy states that Yahweh will raise up a king from the line of David who will bring God’s Kingdom and blessing to all the nations (2 Samuel 7, Psalms 2, 72, 89, 132).

Israel was unable to fulfill its side of the Sinai covenant and was sent into exile. But in the new covenant, Yahweh will transform their hearts so they can truly love and obey their God (Deuteronomy 30, Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36).

Thank you to all of our supporters!

Show Produced by:
Dan Gummel, Jon Collins

Show Music
Defender Instrumental, Tents
Mind Your Time, Me.So
Morning, LiQwyd
Erhrling, Typhoon

Show Resources:

Martin Luther, quoted in Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 2 (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 33.

John Bright, Jeremiah (Anchor Bible Commentary, 1965), p. Lvi.
Our Video on How to Read the Prophets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edcqUu_BtN0