This week we will begin to take up the prophets. I am not going to get into the division of the books yet because I want to give you an underpinning for the nature of and the work of the prophets.
To begin with, they were servants of God. To them, idolatry was the ultimate sin against God and the reason for the demise of the Hebrew civilization. They were messengers raised up by God to deliver sometimes harsh and not always terribly uplifting messages. Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha were prophets in the Old Testament but were mentioned in books not titled in their name. The books of the Prophets normally begins with Isaiah and concludes with Malachi.
They are divided into two main groups: The major prophets and the minor prophets. The major prophets were Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The rest with the exception of the book of Jonah were called Minor Prophets. I tend to exclude Jonah because it is the journey of faith of not only the people but of Jonah’s struggle and epiphany as well.
Now don’t get too excited about the designation of Major and Minor Prophets. It has nothing to do with their importance or work. It has to do with the amount of material only. The Major prophets simply talked and wrote more.
A prophet had two very distinct roles. The first was to take the word of God and bring it to the people. Their pronouncements often began with something to the effect of “Thus siatheth the Lord…” and what followed was usually direct and to the point. They didn’t pull many punches with the exception of Ezekiel who really did some strange things to catch the attention of the folks. Later on that when we come around the second time through and get into his book with more depth.
Let me give you an modern example of what it was like to be around a prophet. Let’s say you invited one to dinner. At the table you spill the salt. The prophet would then exclaim, “Thus saith the Lord, you are a vile people and I intend to scatter you one the earth like the salt on the table because you have lost your usefulness you useless generation.” “Oh and by the way, pass the gravy.”
Not a real good way to make friends and influence people. In fact several of the prophets tried to talk God out of calling them to the job without much luck. In this case, you can see this easily in Jeremiah 1:6 “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.” To which God replies, “do not say, I am a youth, for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and what ever I command your, you shall speak.” Notice there are not too many options here.
So they lived in total servant-hood and a somewhat lonely life as friends a family began to not invite them over to dinner as often unless they hid the salt shaker.
The second job of the prophet was to take the needs of the people to God. Occasionally they would say “God, I think You’re being just a little too harsh here. How about giving them a break?” Imagine telling God He might be a bit too arbitrary and God saying back, “O.K. you have a point there.”
Oh and by the way, one job of the prophets was not to predict the future like a tarot card reader. Their work was in for the people in their day and time. They did not predict things for this day and age with this one exception: they spoke universal truths that were true for every nation and every age and generation. Some have stretched a bit too far on looking for them to stir the tea leaves and give us predictions for today. For that, we need to look for prophets the God raises up for this age and generation. They do exist.
I want to encourage you to read up a bit on the prophets. Take one you like and read some of his works. I like Ezekiel myself but then again he was a bit weird himself. Next week, we will go a bit more into the work of a couple of the prophets.