Introduction to Prophetic Literature

The Prophets! What a fantastic collection of books! The prophetic books of the Old Testament contain some of the most inspiring passages in the Bible. Isaiah is a favorite of many Christians. Recall his uplifting words in 40:31:

But those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Christians love that verse. Does it not lift your heart? Or ponder the profound truth expressed in Isaiah 53:6 concerning Jesus Christ and us:

We all, like sheep, have gone astray.
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

We could go on and on, citing wonderful, beloved prophetic passages. The prophets, however, also contain some rather unusual and difficult verses. For example, there are some gruesome texts, as in Amos 3:12:

As a shepherd rescues from the lion’s mouth
only two leg bones or a piece of an ear,
so will the Israelites living in Samaria be rescued.

Some passages were extremely insulting to their original audiences, such as Jeremiah 2:23b–24:

23See how you behaved in the valley;
consider what you have done.
You are a swift she-camel
running here and there,
24a wild donkey accustomed to the desert,
sniffing the wind in her craving—
in her heat who can restrain her?
Any males that pursue her need not tire themselves;
at mating time they will find her.

And there are strong passages of judgment, as reflected in Jeremiah 15:1–2:

Then the Lord said to me: “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go! And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says:

“‘Those destined for death, to death;
those for the sword, to the sword;
those for starvation, to starvation;
those for captivity, to captivity.’”

Some of the Old Testament prophetic passages are wonderful and easy to grasp, but some texts are bewildering and troubling. In this unit we will teach you how to tackle this fascinating portion of Scripture. We will first discuss the nature of the Old Testament prophetic literature. Next we will explore the important theological and historical contexts in which the prophets wrote. With these contexts under our belt, we will then discuss the overall message of the prophets to determine exactly what they were trying to say to the people of their time. Once we have understood what the text meant to the biblical audience, then we will be ready to complete the Interpretive Journey and begin to interpret and apply specific prophetic passages.

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