SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS
2 Kings 17:13; Isaiah 40:1-2; Ezekiel 33:7-8
KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:21)
The Bible was written over a period of fifteen centuries and is the work of more than forty authors. Its sixty-six books deal with a wide range of topics and have very different literary styles, but they all provide insight and instruction that God desired humanity to have. Prophetic declarations were one way God imparted His messages, so prophecies appear in various places throughout Scripture.
While Jewish Bibles include Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Samuel in the prophetic books, much of Biblical prophecy is contained in the Old Testament books called the Major and Minor Prophets — a reference to the length of the books rather than the importance of their content. These books were recorded during the decline, exile, and return of the Children of Israel to their native land, over a period of about 350 to 400 years. Most of the messages were directed to Judah and Jerusalem: the prophets Isaiah, Joel, and Micah wrote before the fall of Jerusalem; Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah prophesied at the time of Jerusalem’s fall and during the exile; and Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi wrote at the time of the exiles’ return and later.
Some of the prophets had names that were symbolic. Hosea means “salvation”; Nahum means “comforter”; Zephaniah means “the Lord hides”; and Zechariah means “the Lord remembers.” Whether or not the prophets’ names reflected their calling, all true prophets spoke with the authority of the Holy Spirit.
The prophetic messages recorded in the Word of God are both intriguing and mysterious because many of them concern ancient kingdoms that no longer exist. However, God included them in His Word for a reason. Prophecy can teach us many lessons about God’s nature, His plan for mankind, and His desire for a relationship with the people He created. When we understand the prophets’ motivations and methods, we are better equipped to grasp how their words have significance for our day.
SUGGESTED RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS
- The dictionary defines prophecy as “an inspired utterance of a prophet; the inspired declaration of divine will and purpose; a prediction of something to come.” While “a prediction of something to come” is probably the most common usage in contemporary society, in the Old Testament era, prophecy not only was a foretelling of future events but also a way God communicated His will to His people. According to our text, what are some other purposes of Biblical prophecy? 2 Kings 17:13; Isaiah 40:1-2; Ezekiel 33:7-8
These Scriptures indicate that in addition to foretelling future events and proclaiming God’s will to His people, prophecies were also given at times for the following reasons:
- 2 Kings 17:13 — To admonish and instruct
- Isaiah 40:1-2 — To comfort
- Ezekiel 33:7-8 — To warn
Point out to your group that all of these purposes for prophecy are a reflection of God’s love for the people He created, and His great desire for them to prosper spiritually through steadfast commitment and obedience to Him.
- Biblical prophets were intermediaries between God and man. As emissaries commissioned to challenge His people to remembrance, repentance, and obedience, they functioned in Israel alongside other spiritual leaders such as priests and elders. Scripture also identifies the prophets as “messengers” of the Lord, “seers,” “servants” of God, and “watchmen.”1 Each of these titles provides insight regarding the role these individuals filled.
God chose His prophets from many walks of life. They included princes and priests like Abraham and Ezekiel, but also shepherds and farmers like Amos and Elisha. Women and even children were among the prophets. Some ministered for decades, while others delivered just a single message.
Whatever the details of their personal backgrounds and messages, God’s prophets were called to be a positive spiritual influence, and this frequently brought opposition by national leaders. When rulers turned away from worship of the true God, the prophets were commanded to correct them, and in some cases, to pronounce judgment. This often placed the prophets in life-threatening situations. What are some of the spiritual qualifications these individuals needed in order to serve as prophets of God?
Your group will likely respond to this question with a variety of suggestions, so you may wish to compile a list of the spiritual qualifications mentioned. These could include that the prophets were fully committed to God, maintained a close relationship with Him, were obedient, were courageous and able to withstand opposition, and were deeply concerned about the spiritual welfare of God’s people.
You may wish to point out that these qualities are important in every field of service for the Lord. While the personalities and natural abilities of the individual prophets were likely as varied as their backgrounds, God was able to use them because of their spiritual qualifications. In our day as well, while God will use our natural abilities and personalities, our relationship with and commitment to Him are of greatest importance.
- The manner in which the prophets received God’s call varied. God spoke to Daniel through a dream and to Ezekiel in a vision. Some of the prophets, like Jeremiah and John the Baptist, were chosen by God before birth. Perhaps one of the most well-known and detailed calls in the Bible is found in 1 Samuel 3. Based on verses 11-18 of that chapter, how would you summarize the message that Samuel was told to deliver to Eli the priest? How did Samuel respond to God’s instruction?
God directed Samuel to tell Eli that his descendants would be judged forever because he knew of his sons’ wickedness but failed to restrain them.
In response to the second question, verse 15 states that Samuel was afraid to tell Eli what God had said. However, according to verse 18, he obeyed and hid nothing of God’s message from the priest. This is just one of many Biblical examples of times when individuals chose to obey God in spite of their natural apprehension or the potential negative response to their words. Samuel’s obedience in performing a difficult task was a first step in his decades-long service to God as a prophet of Israel.
You may wish to follow up this question by noting that many times God asks us to do things for Him that are difficult, could subject us to unpleasant responses, or seem beyond our ability to perform. That was certainly true for Biblical prophets! Ask your group to discuss how we will benefit spiritually if we obey in spite of a natural inclination to avoid such challenges.
- While most Biblical prophecies were delivered orally, at times prophets were instructed to communicate through actions that were highly unusual in their culture. For example, Isaiah was told to give his sons names that symbolized prophetic truths — they would be ongoing reminders of the coming invasion by enemy forces and of the Jewish people’s eventual return to their land. Hosea was commanded to marry a woman who would be unfaithful to her marriage vows, as a picture of God’s commitment to Israel in spite of the nation’s spiritual adultery.2 Jeremiah was instructed to bury his unwashed girdle near the Euphrates River and later to recover it when it had deteriorated beyond use, as a parable portraying the spoiling of Judah.3 Ezekiel built a model representing Jerusalem’s coming siege and dramatized the attempted escape of King Zedekiah through a hole in the wall.4 Why do you think God chose at times to have His messages delivered through actions or dramatic reenactments?
Your group should conclude that the unusual nature of these portrayals would have made them memorable and thus more likely to be passed on by those who witnessed them. Bring out that in God’s great love and mercy, He used every means possible to make His message clear and unforgettable. Still today, He goes to great lengths to draw sinners to Himself.
- All the prophetic books of the Old Testament with the exception of Hosea include messages of judgment against the nations around Israel and Judah. These judgment messages reveal some important Biblical principles. What are some of the lessons we can learn by studying God’s proclamations of judgment against heathen nations?
Your students’ responses may bring out such points as the following.
- God will not tolerate sin.
- God’s moral laws are consistent in every era and for every nation.
- God is just. He will not let evil go unpunished.
- God is universally sovereign. He works in and through the nations of the world.
- Repentance and turning to God may forestall judgment upon a nation.5
The fulfillment of ancient prophecies demonstrates that we can trust the Bible is truly inspired by God.
- Two key prophetic themes woven throughout Scripture are the coming of the Messiah and the events that will transpire on this earth at the end of time. These topics will be studied individually in upcoming lessons in this unit. However, there are a number of other prophetic themes in the Bible that reflect the nature of God and His requirements, including the following five.
- God is sovereign. The prophets understood that as Creator, God had the right to control all nations and people.
- God is holy. Knowing that holiness is central to His nature, the prophets taught that God requires complete separation between the holy and the unholy.
- God will not tolerate sin. The prophets could not compromise their stern exposure of sin because the only hope for the people they addressed was a humble turning to the Lord in genuine repentance.
- God requires obedience. The prophets reminded the people that God had a rich purpose for them, but they must believe and follow His commandments.
- God will judge sin. The prophets warned that if the princes, priests, and people arrogantly rejected God’s moral and spiritual principles, they would face the consequences.
How are the principles revealed in these prophetic themes applicable in our day?
Discussion of this question should bring out that all of these prophetic themes are as true in our day as they were when they were given. God is unchanging, and the principles of His Word are unchanging as well. This is one reason why a study of prophecy can be so beneficial for us today. While sin, unbelief, and opposition to the truth of God are prevalent in our world today, they were also widespread in the era of the prophets. Just as the prophetic predictions of judgment were fulfilled centuries ago, one day judgment will fall upon all who reject God.
- In Isaiah 30:1-2, the prophet Isaiah pronounced woe upon the people of Israel for rebelling against God and forming an alliance with Egypt. In Jonah 3:1-4, the prophet Jonah gave a message of coming doom to Nineveh, the powerful and wicked capital city of Assyria. What were the responses to these prophetic messages? Isaiah 30:8-11; Jonah 3:4-10
Isaiah 30:8-11 records that the people of Israel rejected the truth delivered by Isaiah, demanding that he preach only “smooth” things and telling him to “cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.” In contrast, Jonah 3:4-10 indicates that the people of Nineveh believed the words of Jonah and repented, “from the greatest of them even to the least of them.”
Responses to the Gospel message today mirror the contrasting responses to the ancient prophetic messages of Isaiah and Jonah. Some people — far too many — reject the truth, preferring lies and illusions to the necessity of humbling themselves and admitting their wrongdoing. Others believe and respond by repenting and turning to God.
Point out that the response to a message from God is not the responsibility of the one delivering it. The prophet’s duty, and our duty today as men and women of God, is to be faithful in communicating the truth as God instructs us or gives us opportunity. While we pray for positive results, we must continue to be faithful and obedient whether or not that is the case.
- Old Testament prophecies sometimes had dual or multiple fulfillments, even though the prophet spoke the prophecy as a single event. While the prophet’s audience would have viewed it in the historical context of their own day, a more complete fulfillment would come later. In a sense, the prophets saw the “mountain peaks” of prophetic events, but they could not identify the “valleys” of time between the peaks. We find one example of this in God’s promise of a “son” and a “house” to David in 2 Samuel 7, which was only partially fulfilled in David’s son, Solomon. The second and complete fulfillment of that promise will be realized when Jesus, the “Son of Man,” establishes His kingdom on earth.
Another example of this type of dual fulfillment is the “day of the Lord” referenced in Joel 2:28-32 and Amos 5:18-19. Joel and Amos viewed this as a one-time event when invading armies would bring judgment and destruction upon Israel. Based on 1 Thessalonians 5:2 and 2 Peter 3:10-13, what is the secondary and future fulfillment of these verses?
Your group should understand that the secondary and future fulfillment of these verses will occur at the Second Coming of Christ. The Scriptures indicate that “the day of the Lord” will come quickly, like a thief in the night, so Christians must be watchful and ready at any moment.
This may be a good opportunity to point out to your group that Biblical prophecy is not intended to provide believers with a complete, sequential, unfolding of the future. Allusions to coming events may only be fully understood when those events come to pass. Nonetheless, Scriptural prophecies — especially those concerning the end time — provide hope and encouragement for those whose trust is in God.
- In the Old Testament, false prophets dishonestly claimed to deliver messages from God, while in actuality, they were speaking deceitfully. At times, they also spoke on behalf of false gods or prophesied for monetary gain. Based on the following Scriptures, what are some ways we can discern whether a prophet is true or false? Deuteronomy 18:22; Jeremiah 23:32; Lamentations 2:14; Matthew 7:15; 1 Corinthians 14:32-33; 1 John 4:1-3
These Scriptures point out the following characteristics of true and false prophets.
- Deuteronomy 18:22 — The predictions of false prophets will not all come to pass.
- Jeremiah 23:32 — False prophets often speak lies and do not encourage righteous behavior or teach things that align with God’s will.
- Lamentations 2:14 — False prophets do not condemn all sin.
- Matthew 7:15 — False prophets disguise their true nature.
- 1 Corinthians 14:32-33 — The messages of true prophets are in harmony with each other and the Word of God.
- 1 John 4:1–3 — True prophets acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God.
- What are some reasons that Christians of our day should study prophecy?
To wrap up this lesson, help your group understand that Christians should study all parts of the Word of God because all Scripture is inspired and given for our benefit (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Those who invest time in studying Biblical prophecy will develop their knowledge of God’s holiness, righteousness, justice, and mercy, their understanding of God’s dealings in the nations of men, and their appreciation of the Bible as God’s revealed will to mankind.
The world in which Biblical prophets delivered God’s messages was much like our own — it was filled with individuals who wanted their own way, and rebelled against the instructions of the God who created them. It took courage for the prophets to proclaim what the people needed to hear rather than succumbing to the temptation of telling them what they wanted to hear. Nonetheless, these men and women of God ministered in obedience to Him, and their words have been preserved in the Scriptures for our benefit and instruction.
1. See Isaiah 44:26; 2 Samuel 24:11; Amos 3:7; and Isaiah 62:6.
2. Hosea 1:2
3. Jeremiah 13:4-9
4. Ezekiel 4:1-8, 12:3-13
5. An example of when judgment was restrained due to repentance is found in Jonah 3:4-10.