The Prophets - The Arbitrators of the Covenant



Purpose: To allow the student to see the role that the prophets took in being the covenant enforcement mediator. 

Objectives: The student will use a case study to develop the tools necessary to interpret the prophets.

Video content

Setting up the idea of perspective.

Imagine looking through the lens of a camera at something close-up. You can see great detail of the object in front of you. Perspective is much enhanced if you can put it into context. How big is it? Is there something that it can be compared to in order to give it some perspective? But in the background, things look a little fuzzy. You can’t quite make out the details when you’re focused on what’s in front of you. You get a general idea, but you don’t get all of the details. The role of the prophets is much like looking through the camera at what’s in front of you and knowing that what you are saying is going to have implications farther out into the future. But you’re not sure exactly what can happen. Sometimes the prophets are given very specific future-oriented oracles.

Today we’re going to be looking at the prophets and how they were called by God to enforce the covenant, the laws of God on the nation of Israel. They also foretold the consequences of the surrounding nations for not following God’s covenant. And then there were some small sections that predicted the messianic future of Jesus and the ultimate consequences of the nations that oppose him.

Consider this. Less than 2% of the Old Testament prophecy is messianic (about Jesus). Less than 5% specifically describes the new covenant age. Less than 1% concerns events yet to come in our time. The prophets did indeed announce the future. But it was usually the immediate future of Israel, Judah, and other nations surrounding them that they announced rather than our future.[1]

There are 4 major prophets; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel and there are 12 minor prophets that cover a vast array of messages from God. The major prophets are not better or more important but rather come from a Latin word that means “larger”. Literally, the books are longer than the others. The minor prophets doesn’t mean less than, but rather it also comes from the Latin word that means “shorter”. Literally, the books are shorter than the major prophets.

The primary functions of a prophet

1.      The prophets were covenant enforcement mediators. Basically, they were policemen for the Old Testament laws. If you read Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 4, 28-32 you find an outline of the laws of God. By reading these chapters you’ll have a better understanding of why the prophets said the things they did. The prophets would go out and enforce the covenant stipulations. Sometimes they would even act out the consequences or the blessings from these passages. Hosea and Jeremiah are good examples.

2.      The prophet’s message was not their own, but God’s. God is the one who raised up the prophets to speak his word to Israel. Over and over again you’ll hear the prophets say things like, “this is what the Lord says” or “declares the Lord.” Many times, its message is relayed as if God were speaking himself.

3.      The prophets were God’s direct representatives. The prophets held a kind of society office like ambassadors from the heavenly court of God who wanted to relay God’s will to the people. On their own, the prophets were not radical social reformers or innovative religious thinkers. The words they shared were already revealed in the law of God. No matter what group broke those laws, God’s word through the prophet held punishment. That was true for the clergy, the King or any other group of people.

4.      The prophet’s message is unoriginal. While the prophets’ words may seem unique and they can be conveyed in an unusual or substantially different way than the Old Testament law, they are not initiating any new message or altering the old message at all. They are much more like a contemporary preacher who is trying to communicate the Old Testament or New Testament truths to a contemporary audience. Let’s not forget that several hundred if not a thousand years has passed since Moses gave the first 5 books of the Bible to the people of Israel. Each prophet probably had their own style and vocabulary, but they all went back to the original that was given by Moses.

Outside Sources

This is one genre in the Bible that really does lend itself to finding outside sources to help you understand the literary and historical context. Many people will say that if God wrote the Bible for us, we should be able to understand it completely the first time we read it since we have the Holy Spirit in us. That is not necessarily true. While some parts are obvious other parts are not. Far too often we come to the prophets with too much of a casual stance on trying to understand what it’s saying. We don’t study school textbooks that way and it doesn’t work with the prophets either. I must take should take some time and read some outside resources to help us understand the historical, cultural and political settings that are so different from ours.

Use a Bible dictionary, commentary or Bible handbook to help you understand what you’re reading.

Small-group content

1.      Do prophets make up their own words? Read Jer 4:3; 5:20; 6:16; 8:4.

2.      As Moses prepared people to go into the promised land he told him about true and false prophets. Read Deuteronomy 18:15-22. Using the idea perspective, what does verse 17-18 say about who will be the next prophet? How many could there be? Who would be the ultimate fulfilment?

3.      How do prophets apply the word of God to their situation? (The prophets go back to the original word of God and apply it to their current setting - sound familiar? Example: Jeremiah’s words to the people of Judah were nothing more than applications of the word of God given in the first 5 books of the Bible, particularly Exodus 20-Deuteronomy 33. Jeremiah saw the situation and applied God’s word to them.)

4.      What does God say about false prophets? Read Jer 23:9, 16-18, 33-37 (The warning here is to make sure that the words are from the Lord and not from the prophet’s own mouth. Using the phrase “Prophecy from the Lord” can be confusing. Jeremiah is suggesting that you just say, “This Is the Word of the Lord” or “God’s word says.” and make sure it comes from God’s word.)

In the New Testament, God has given men and women the gift of prophecy.

“The gift of prophecy is the divine enablement to reveal truth and proclaim it in a timely and relevant manner for understanding, correction, repentance, or edification. There may be immediate or future implications.” [2]

Have your group read the following Scripture passages: 2 Peter 1:19-21; 1 Corinthians 12:10; 13:2

It’s not easy being a prophet in a New Testament church. Far too many people have chosen to insert their own words, dreams or visions instead of using and relying on the word of God. The job of the prophet was to expose sin or deception in others, speak a timely word from God causing conviction, repentance, and edification (to glorify God and lift up the church). They often see truth that others fail to see and warn of God’s immediate or future judgement if there is no repentance. [3]

1.      Have you had an experience where someone spoke a message of prophecy over you? What happened?

2.      In what way do we behave like the Old Testament prophets? What behaviours or attitudes or actions could be considered prophetic to our family and neighbours?

3.      In what way can we speak like Old Testament prophets?

4.      Is the prophetic role any different in the New Testament era than in the Old Testament era?

5.      If you were to practice the spiritual gift of prophecy, what kinds of things would you say or do?

6.      What cautions should we be aware of?

a.      Bring up the following:

         i.     We need to be aware that listeners may reject the message if it’s not spoken in love and for their edification.

         ii.     We need to avoid pride, which can create a demanding or discouraging spirit that hinders this gift.

         iii.     We should remember that discernment and Scripture must support and agree with each prophecy.

[1] Fee and Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All it's Worth. Zondervan. 2003.

[2] Bruce Bugbee and Don Cousens. "Network: Participants Guide". Michigan: Zondervan 2005. Page 91

[3] Ibid. Page 91.

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