How to Read: Prophetic Books

This is part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters
How to Read: Old Testament Narrative

How to Read: The Gospels
How to Read: Parables
How to Read: Jewish Law


The Prophets are an excellent example of holding fast to God’s Word in the midst of a corrupt society. Virtually all of the prophets faced intense persecution for their proclamation of God’s Word. Keeping this in mind, each of the prophets is relevant for us today. We also live in the midst of a society and even a church culture that is consistently rejecting the authoritative Word of God. We also face persecution if we refuse to glorify the post-modern worldview that many around us hold.

We need a fresh understanding of the Prophets.

Unfortunately, many Christians neglect reading the Prophets…. Probably due to the strange names!

Below are a list of the Prophetic books in the Old Testament:
Major Prophets 
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
Daniel

Minor Prophets
Hosea
Joel
Amos
Obadiah
Jonah
Micah
Nahum
Habakkuk
Zephaniah
Haggai
Zechariah
Malachi

As you can see, the prophetic books make up a considerable chunk of the Bible. As you study and meditate upon these incredible books, there are a few concepts to keep in mind.

1. Understand what Biblical Prophecy is (and what it isn’t). 

When you hear the word “prophecy” what is the first thing that comes to your mind? If you are like most people, there are probably images of Armageddon and predictions of the future. Although this is definitely a part of prophecy, foretelling the future was NOT the primary role of the Prophets.

Each one of the prophets literally proclaims God’s Word. God would speak, the prophet would listen, and then they would proclaim this Word to the people of Israel. The vast majority of the prophetic books are a teaching and application of the Law we studied a few days ago.

In essence, God promised Israel blessings if they obeyed him and judgments if they disobeyed him. Through the prophet spokesmen, God pronounce specific judgments against His people due to their disobedience. As you read through the Prophets, you need a general understanding of God’s Law for Israel in order to understand why the prophets are proclaiming certain messages.

Rather than creating new revelation, the prophets are applying the Law to God’s people.

2. Interpret the Prophetic Books in Light of History.

Many doomsday cults separate individuals oracles throughout the prophets from the contextual and historical background. This results in both false teaching and a heretical understanding of God. Rather than proof-texting your specific end-time beliefs through the use of the Prophets, allow your interpretation of the Prophets to be informed by the context!

As the authors state in the book, “God spoke in history and about history. To understand God’s Word we must know something of that history.” Although the Bible is timeless and relevant for today, we need to study it in its proper context.

Practically, this means utilizing a solid Bible Dictionary or commentary to understand the background of the Prophet you are studying. Rather than causing the Prophetic book to become dry and boring, your study will actually help bring the words to life. You will notice many parallels between the prophet’s context and your own life. It will also prevent you from twisting Scripture and forming a wrong belief system based on bad hermeneutics.

3. Understand the Different Types of Prophecy.

Depending on the type of literature you are reading, you will understand it differently. For example, you do not read a history textbook the same way you read the Lord of the Rings. You also do not read music the same as you read the news. Different types of literature demand different types of reading.

The Prophetic books are full of literary styles. It is helpful to have a general understanding of what you are reading so you experience the full impact of the prophetic word. Below are some of the major types of prophetic words and why it matters:

  • The Lawsuit (see Isaiah 3:13-26)
    • In essence, the prophet writes in such a way that God is bringing a lawsuit against His people. Often this form of prophecy contains a summons, a charge, evidence, and a verdict.
  • The Woe (see Habakkuk 2:6-8)
    • The word “Woe” is one which the people of God would use during mourning or disaster. The prophets use “woes” in order to pronounce imminent judgment and danger on God’s people if they did not repent of their sin.
  • The Promise (see Amos 9:11-15)
    • God is faithful and continually promises to restore His people when they turn to Him. This type of prophetic word brings hope; often when God’s people are exiled or being persecuted. It is a prophecy which looks to the future in eager expectation of God’s redeeming work and deliverance.
  • The Messenger Speech (see Amos 1:3-2:16)
    • This is the most common type of speech throughout the prophetic books. It usually occurs alongside of one of the other types of prophetic speeches. It is signaled by wording such as, “This is what the LORD says”. It cements the understanding that “no prophecy ever had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21

Have you ever read through one of the prophetic books? What was the hardest thing for you to understand? Let me know by leaving a comment!

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