If anyone ever needed counseling, it was the Old Testament prophets who so often spoke and acted strangely. Isaiah walked about town barefoot and naked for three years (Isaiah 20:1-6), and Jeremiah strapped a wooden yoke around his neck (Jeremiah 27). Ezekiel chopped his hair and scattered it to the wind (Ezekiel 5:1-4). Hosea dutifully married a harlot (Hosea 1:2-3; 3:1-5) and called his children unkind names (1:6, 9). Modern readers may struggle to understand, let alone apply, the message of these ancient prophets to everyday life. So, for various reasons, prophetical books might be the least-known portion of Scripture. They are filled with obscure places (i.e., Jeremiah 48:31-32), surreal visions (i.e., Amos 7-9), and symbolic actions (i.e., Ezekiel 4-5). As Martin Luther admitted, “The prophets have a queer way of talking, like people who, instead of proceeding in an orderly manner, ramble off from one thing to the next, so that you cannot make head or tail of them or see what they are getting at.”1 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works (Weimar edition, Volume 19: 350), quoted in Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, vol. 2 (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 33.
Thus, the prophets have been barely read, hardly preached, and often neglected. Many biblical counselors are also tempted to bypass this section of Scripture or to settle for individual jewels extracted out of context. Scripture and Counseling tellingly illustrates how to use each of the biblical genres such as narrative, wisdom literature, the Gospels, and the Epistles—all except the prophets.2 Robert Kellemen and Jeff Forrey, eds., Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014). Yet our Bibles are too thin if we ignore this vital portion of Scripture. Instead, we must declare “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), including the Old Testament prophets who preached a message still relevant for today as they looked forward with anticipation to the coming Messiah (Luke 24:25-27, 45-47).
The following article explains the basic principles for reading, interpreting, and applying the prophets in the ministry of biblical counseling.3 For a comparison between genres, see “Counseling from Biblical Narrative ” at Servants of Grace (blog), December 23, 2020.
Introduction to the Prophets
The Old Testament contains four Major Prophets and twelve Minor Prophets who wrote and spoke in ancient Israel around 760 to 460 BC.4 We will focus on the sixteen writing prophets as distinguished from the non-writing prophets in the historical narratives (e.g., Elijah and Elisha). We also accept the traditional view that the name of each book identifies its author and that Lamentations was written by Jeremiah. The books of the Minor Prophets are shorter in length, but no less important. See Appendix 1 for approximate dates and the location of each prophet’s ministry. At that time, Israel was a divided kingdom: the northern kingdom called Israel (or sometimes Ephraim) and the southern kingdom called Judah (with its capital city, Jerusalem). The prophets delivered God’s message and not their own, for they were specially chosen to do God’s work and to speak on his behalf (Isaiah 1:20; Jeremiah 26:16).5 The Old Testament introduces the messenger formula, “Thus says the LORD” nearly four hundred times (Ezekiel 2:4) and makes approximately two hundred references to “the word of the LORD” (Jeremiah 43:1; Zechariah 1:1) Like ambassadors representing the heavenly court, they heralded the King’s message to his subjects6 The prophets spoke to the people on God’s behalf (contra the priests who spoke to God on the peoples’ behalf) and often relayed his message in the first person: “I” or “me” (Jeremiah 27:11; 28:16). True prophets spoke for Yahweh and their predictions always came true (Deuteronomy 18:20, 22) and spoke boldly even before mighty kings and religious rulers (e.g., Amos 7:17). Although they might have trembled in private (Jeremiah 1:6-8), they fearlessly fulfilled their Spirit-empowered role (Ezekiel 11:5; Micah 3:8). Likewise, counselors today, who minister God’s Word in a different time and place, must learn from the bold obedience of the prophets as we herald God’s message, not our own. We must seek God’s glory instead of human praise and tremble before his Word as we pass it on to others (Isaiah 66:5).
Reading the Prophets
While reading the biblical prophets, we first explore the hermeneutical principles specific to this genre. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “There is a . . . sense in which the Bible, since it is after all literature, cannot properly be read except as literature; and the different parts of it as the different sorts of literature they are.”7 C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958), 3 The following four principles will help us as we read the prophets.
The Prophets Stood on God’s Past Promises
The prophets, first of all, grounded their message on Yahweh’s covenant promises to his chosen people, Israel: blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 4; 27-32). In the words of Abner Chou, “The intertextuality of the Old Testament demonstrates the prophets are exegetes and theologians.”8 Abner Chou, The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2018), 47. “The prophet’s job was to uphold the law as opposed to contradict or change it. . . . They do not provide some ‘hidden meaning’ of prior revelation but rather further explain the details and ramifications of the meaning that is already present” (ibid., 64, 89) The Bible is not simply a collection of sixty-six separate books by various human authors, but a beautiful tapestry woven together by a single Divine Author. Jeremiah, for example, drank deeply from Deuteronomy after the Book of the Law was rediscovered during Josiah’s temple reforms (2 Kings 22-23).9 Many even claim that Jeremiah’s father, Hilkiah (Jeremiah 1:1), was the same high priest who had discovered the Book of the Law as the temple was being restored (2 Kings 22) The peoples’ response to God’s Word determined whether their consequences would include the blessings of life, health, and prosperity or the curses of death, disease, and destruction (Jeremiah 18:7-8). In short, God’s people would reap whatever they sowed (Hosea 8:7)—a truth we still declare today (Galatians 6:7-10).
God’s promises of judgment, however, did not always seem to be fulfilled. In fact, verbs like “repent” or “relent” made God appear to whimsically change his mind. One moment, he warned of terrible judgment, but the next, pardoned his people without apparent reason. To understand this, we must remember that the prophets stood on God’s past promises. Thus, even when unstated, the blessings and curses still pervaded every prophecy (e.g., Jeremiah 26:13-19; Jonah 3:4, 10; 4:2) and each warning still contained an element of grace: “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent” (Joel 2:13b-14a).10 This anthropomorphic use described God’s “change of mind” from his peoples’ perspective without denying his immutable nature Therefore, God never spoke falsely even as he reserved his right to respond in mercy to repentant prayers (e.g., Isaiah 38:1-6).
Sadly, however, God’s people too often remained in their rebellion. So, the prophets mainly preached to those suffering sin’s painful consequences (2 Kings 17:7, 14-15). This recurring cycle of God’s judgment (Deuteronomy 4:25-28; 31:16-17, 26-29) followed by restoration (vv. 30-31) continued until God exiled Israel to Assyria (722 BC) and Judah to Babylon (586 BC). Yet the Lord did not abandon his people even then, for he had promised them steadfast lovingkindness through his covenants with Abraham (Genesis 15; 22:17b-18), Moses (Deuteronomy 4:25-31), and David (2 Samuel 7:12-16).11 The prophets often fused these covenants together without a clear distinction (e.g., Isaiah 9:7; 55:3; Jeremiah 23:5; 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23; 37:24-25; Hosea 3:5; Amos 9:11; Zechariah 13:1). Although the Assyrian exiles would not corporately return to the land, the Babylonian exiles would eventually rebuild Judah in 538 BC. Despite their sin, God would enable their hearts to obey, so he could shower them with future blessings (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
The prophets used familiar imagery to maintain continuity with God’s past promises. They spoke of a new creation (Isaiah 65-66), a new exodus (Hosea 2:14-15; Isaiah 41:17-19; 43:16-17; 52:12; Ezekiel 36:26-28; see Deuteronomy 30:3-4a), a new covenant (Isaiah 9:6-7; Jeremiah 31:31-34; see Luke 22:20), a new David (Isaiah 11:1-2; Jeremiah 23:5; Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24-25; Micah 5:2), and a new Jerusalem (Isaiah 62; 65:18-25). They also portrayed the Messiah as a coming King who would usher in both judgment and salvation (Isaiah 9:6-7; 42:4; Zechariah 9:9).
Note, however, that they did not jump directly to Jesus, but took a meandering approach through literary figures such as types, metaphors, and foreshadowing. Readers must first grasp that the prophets were expositors of Yahweh’s covenant with Israel who grounded their preaching in God’s past promises. We must then read the prophets within the directional flow of redemptive history.
The Prophets Focused Mainly on Their Present Hearers
Second, contrary to popular opinion, prophecy was not primarily concerned with predicting future events. The prophets were more often forthtellers (preachers to their own time) than foretellers (prognisticators of a future time). Even when they did envisage the future, they mainly focused on the near future of Israel, Judah, and the nations in that day (which is now verifiable history). Like medical doctors informing a patient she has only a short time to live, the prophets spoke of the future to increase the value of the present. Only a small percent of their prophecies addressed the intermediate future (i.e., the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus) and even fewer foretold the eschatological future regarding events still yet to happen (i.e., Christ’s second coming, the millennium, the new heavens and the new earth). Thus, instead of fixating on future predictions (as is common with speculations about the end times), readers should focus on how each prophet’s message impacted the lives of his original hearers. The purpose of prophecy, like the rest of God’s Word, is to transform lives in the day it is declared (Isaiah 55:10-11). Our counselees must witness the power of God’s Word for their lives today.
The Prophets Possessed Limited Understanding of Future Events
Third, when reading the prophets, we must also understand the prophetic sense of time. The prophets grounded their message in the past, then spoke about the future to teach God’s people how to rightly live in the present. Yet they only possessed a limited perspective of future events. Our family once had two neighbors in our cul-de-sac named Todd, so we referred to them as near Todd and far Todd in order to reduce confusion. Yet one day, my son called out in a very loud voice: “Daddy, near Todd is at the door!” and I had to gently instruct him: “Son, you don’t have to specify which Todd when he’s standing at the door.” Similar to living on a two-Todd street is the principle of prophetic telescoping. As the biblical prophets spoke for God, they could not always tell between near and far fulfillment (i.e., near Todd and far Todd). To them, all future events appeared to be equidistant.12 Another illustration would be to look across a mountain range from an earthly perspective. You would not be able to see the distance in between mountains if only the peaks and not the valley are in your line of sight. In biblical history, the valley represents the present church age which was still an unknown mystery to the prophets. From their perspective, those twin peaks appeared to rise as one, so they often “telescoped” the two together (e.g., Daniel 11) and wove together both near and far fulfillment (e.g., Joel 2:28-32; see Acts 2:16-21). Thus, the prophets faithfully relayed God’s Word without knowing the exact timing of each fulfillment (1 Peter 1:10-12). For example, Isaiah’s wife bore him a son (Isaiah 7:14; 8:3) whose birth pointed to the future birth of Christ (Matthew 1:23). We must understand this flexible sense of time when reading the prophets.
In fact, we today know more about God’s redemptive plan than they did, for we have received progressive revelation. As we live in the church age between Christ’s first and second comings, we can look back on certain events which were yet future for the prophets. We can read the biblical account of history and verify what God had once promised for the incarnation. We know more than the prophets did because we have 2,500 additional years of historical evidence. We also have a clearer picture of the future because we can separate the prophecies fulfilled at Christ’s first coming from the ones still promised for his return.13 Over two hundred Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled at Christ’s first coming (Isaiah 9:6a), yet more will be fulfilled when he comes again to reign forever as our King (vv. 6b-7). By process of elimination, we know something of what the future will hold through the prophecies which still remain.
Yet even though we know more than the prophets, God knows more than any of us. Man looks across history from an earthly perspective, while God looks down from heaven to see all of us at once. According to Isaiah 46:9-10, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’”14 The prophets were so certain of God’s promises that they often used a literary technique called the prophetic perfect tense to describe future events with past tense verbs. In God’s eternal mind, these future events were as good as done (e.g., Isaiah 5:13; Jeremiah 23:2; Amos 5:2). Thus, God enabled the prophet Isaiah to foretell the birth of God’s Son seven hundred years in advance because God could perfectly see both the prophecy and its fulfillment. As we comprehend the prophetic sense of time, we worship the Eternal One who transcends time. His foreknowledge of the future and his faithfulness to fulfill prophecy bolster our confidence as we minister his Word to others.
The Prophets Often Wrote Thematically
Finally, the prophets did not write in strict chronological sequence but often compiled their messages non-sequentially according to theological themes (e.g., Amos; Hosea). Leland Ryken depicts this discontinuity as a “mosaic” or “kaleidoscopic structure” which brought order out of chaos.15 Leland Ryken, Symbols and Reality: A Guided Study of Prophecy, Apocalypse, and Visionary Literature (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), 127. In cyclical Hebrew fashion, the prophets also circled back to repeat common themes. Modern readers must immerse themselves in this writing style of the Ancient Near East in order to understand the prophets. We can then apply these themes to hurting people who are experiencing similar concerns.
Interpreting the Prophets
Once we establish these basic principles for reading prophecy, we then begin to practice them using the following three keys for interpretation.
Check the Context
First, check the context: both the broad historical context (i.e., the prophet’s era) and the specific context of the given prophecy. What was happening at the time of writing? The broad historical context, for example, from Amos to Malachi (c. 760-460 BC) is “characterized by three things: (1) unprecedented political, military, economic, and social upheaval, (2) an enormous level of religious unfaithfulness and disregard for the original Mosaic covenant, and (3) shifts in populations and national boundaries. In these circumstances God’s Word was needed anew.”16 Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 157. This broad context also includes the socio-historical setting and the basic purpose for which each prophetical book was written.17 A book’s structure may also divide it into separate literary sections with their own historical context. Such information can be found in a reliable Old Testament survey or study Bible. Readers should also discern how each book fits within the prophetical books as a whole and within the overall unifying theme of Scripture (see Appendix 2).
The specific context is harder to determine since it alludes to themes and situations from a distant time. For example, God’s oracle of judgment in Hosea 5:8-10 promised to punish Judah and Israel for engaging in civil war (c. 734 BC). Thus, readers must be familiar with the socio-cultural setting and surrounding historical events of Hosea’s day. We must enter this world of the Bible and assume the prophet’s perspective before we can rightly interpret his message.
Sometimes, we may be tempted to read our New Testament understanding back into the Old Testament Scriptures. Yet the prophets must initially be understood in their original context. We cannot draw a straight line from the message of the prophets to the ministry of Jesus even though progressive revelation has since disclosed aspects of God’s eternal purpose that were previously concealed (e.g., Daniel 12:4).18 Some scholars attest to this principle of sensus plenior (fuller meaning) when the New Testament reveals a second or clearer meaning which God had embedded in the Old Testament prophecies. For example, the “servant” in Isaiah first depicted the nation of Israel (e.g., Isaiah 41:8; 44:21) before later identifying Jesus as Messiah (see Isaiah 53; 1 Peter 2:24). We must first understand the original context before interpreting the message and unfolding its application for modern listeners. We then bridge this gap between two worlds one careful step at a time. Biblical counseling involves knowing both Scripture and people well, then bringing the two together.
Find the Form
The second principle for interpreting the prophets involves finding the form of the prophetic message. Some common forms included the covenant lawsuit, the oracle of judgment, and the oracle of salvation. In the covenant lawsuit, God portrayed various roles (i.e., plaintiff, prosecutor, judge, and bailiff) as he presented his case in court against the defendant, Israel (e.g., Isaiah 3:13-26; 41:21-24; Hosea 3:3-17; 4:1-19; Micah 6:1-8). The heavens and the earth often constituted the jury as God presented evidences of his grace in contrast to his peoples’ rebellion. The lawsuit would justify God’s statement of accusation (Isaiah 3:13-14a), call witnesses to give evidence (vv. 14b-16), appeal for repentance, then declare a final verdict (vv. 17-26).
The oracle of judgment even more directly condemned the wicked by depicting the presence of evil (often with the interjection, “Woe!”), denouncing sinful practices, then declaring the appropriate punishment. The prophets lamented God’s sorrow over sin (e.g., Ezekiel 28:6-9) and sang songs of doom to vividly warn God’s people of his wrath (e.g., Jeremiah 48:43-44). They also effectively used satire to ridicule human vice and folly (e.g., Ezekiel 8:7-12; Zechariah 5:1-4). They mocked those, for example, who bowed down to idols, though they had carved them with their own hands (e.g., Jeremiah 10:3-8). The woe formula often served as a vehicle to convey the oracle of judgment.
By contrast, the oracle of salvation promised blessings for a particular people group or nation (e.g., Amos 9:11-15). It pronounced blessings such as material well-being, family success, national prosperity, or spiritual flourishing (e.g., Isaiah 62:4). It made references to the future (i.e., “in that day” [Amos 9:11]), reassured listeners that God’s promises remained true, called for radical change (i.e., repentance), and pointed to the hope of future blessings. Oracles of judgment were frequently followed by oracles of salvation in order to frame the prophetic message in the context of hope.
Counselors communicate more effectively when we use forms familiar to our culture. We draw on shared terminology and rhetorical structures to help our counselees better relate. For example, we might depict the gospel in a courtroom context: “If you were to stand before the Lord today, would you plead innocent or guilty?” We should also convey the tone of the text alongside its content. A lament expresses sorrow, while a salvation oracle declares hope. Counsel based on a covenant lawsuit replicates the tension of standing on trial before God. The prophets teach us that how we say a thing is just as important as what we say.
Pleasure in the Poetry
Third, the prophets often wrote in poetic form (i.e., figures of speech, rhythm, and parallel structure) to make the message more memorable and emphatic for their listeners.19 Some books were written entirely in poetry (e.g., Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah), but other prophets blended poetic passages with prose (i.e., historical narrative, dialogue). As with biblical poetry, readers must identify different kinds of parallelism and their import for interpretation. Synonymous parallelism, for example, restated a similar thought in successive stichs (half-lines).20 Usually, the first stich (or verset) was more general in nature, whereas the second stich carried a heightened, dramatized, or more specific meaning (e.g., Isaiah 45:11b, 12). If one line was confusing, the other line could clarify it.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5)
Antithetic parallelism balanced contrasting thoughts in each of the two stichs. This juxtaposition also serves to sharpen the reader’s perspective.
They do not cry to me from the heart,
but they wail upon their beds (Hosea 7:14a)
Basic rhetorical structures also included repetition (Amos 1:3-2:5), inclusio (Ezekiel 26:15-18), and chiasm (Amos 5:10-13; Jonah 1:17-2:10). These various structures highlighted the scope and emphasis of each literary unit. Other common figures of speech were metaphor (i.e., an implied comparison), simile (i.e., an explicit comparison using the formula “like” or “as”), personification (i.e., attributing human qualities to nonhuman phenomena), apostrophe (i.e., directly addressing something absent or inanimate as if it could respond), and hyperbole (i.e., conscious exaggeration for the sake of effect). Poetry also employed symbolic or apocalyptic imagery to represent greater realities beyond the person, object, place, or event itself (e.g., Isaiah 52:9; Daniel 2:31-35; Zechariah 3). All of these literary elements and more should be taken into account as we interpret the prophets. We need not explain them all when counseling, but they should inform our interpretation and instruction of the text.
Applying the Prophets
Right reading and right interpretation of the prophets then leads to right application. Although we cannot speak with the same certitude as the divinely appointed prophets, we can still relay their message accurately (2 Timothy 2:15). Counselors should implement the following principles to apply the message of the prophets in a contemporary world.
Principlize the Particulars
The particulars of literature serve as a net to capture the “concrete universal.” In this way, a prophet’s message in his own day can demonstrate universal principles still applicable in the present day. For example, the judgment oracle in Ezekiel 25:8-11 reveals the character of God to punish sinners just as he judged Moab and Seir. Isaiah’s condemnation of allying with foreign nations (Isaiah 7; 30:1-5; 31:1-3) conveys the principle that we must never place more faith in earthly powers than in the Lord (see 30:15-17).
One way to discover such timeless truths in Scripture is to meditate on God who stays the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Study his eternal character and sovereign plan to restore his kingdom on earth. Then remember his ultimate promises to judge the wicked and to bless his worshiping people. As counselors draw upon the character of God, we help our counselees with their present concerns.
Glory in the Gospel
The church today cannot fully claim God’s covenant with Israel, yet we do possess new covenant promises in Christ (Jeremiah 31:31-34; 2 Corinthians 3:3-6) because our risen Lord Jesus is the One to whom all the prophets pointed (Luke 24:27). “To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43). Therefore, we must read, interpret, and apply the prophets in order to better know Jesus and to enjoy him more fully (2 Corinthians 3:18-4:6). We then discover his glory afresh in a multitude of ways.
The prophets unveiled the manifold character of God, which was later displayed in the radiance of God’s Son (Colossians 1:15, 19). Jesus Christ fully embodied both “grace and truth” (John 1:16-18) just as his Father was “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:2-3; see Exodus 34:6-7a). Like his Father, Jesus created and still sustains the universe (vv. 16-17). He serves as Head of the church (v. 18), having made peace between God and man (v. 20). Then as the Bridegroom of his redeemed people (Mark 2:19-20; Ephesians 5:22-23), he jealously protects them from deceitful lovers (see Hosea 1-3).
Yet God’s people continually fell short of his perfect holiness (Isaiah 6:3; Romans 3:23). Thus, the prophets lamented over human wickedness. They called for repentance by vividly depicting sin’s varied manifestations as adultery (Hosea 2:1-13), idolatry (Ezekiel 14), abuse (Amos 1:2-2:16; Micah 2:1-3:12), and impurity (Malachi 1:6-14). Then as they declared God’s judgment on Israel and the surrounding nations (Joel 1:2-2:11; Obadiah 1-16; Zephaniah 1:2-18), they foreshadowed that final day when Jesus would ultimately judge the world (Acts 17:30-31; Revelation 19:11-21). Their shocking words convict us that we today still need a Savior from our sin (Romans 1:18-3:19; Ephesians 2:1-3). No man can keep God’s law and therefore none can escape sin’s wages (Romans 6:23a).
Therefore, the prophets also pointed to the righteous God-man who would die for sin upon a cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus would bear his Father’s wrath to spare us from that future judgment (Matthew 27:32-56; John 3:16-18). He would take the prophets’ “woes” upon himself and lead us to salvation (1 Peter 2:24). Like his Father, who forgives our sins by casting them deep into the sea (Isaiah 1:18; Micah 7:18-20), Jesus would be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 35-36). He would lead his people out of exile and return them to the promised land.
The prophets then proclaimed a King of kings who would supersede the faltering kings of Israel. This king, God promised from David’s line, would establish peace and justice among the nations, rule God’s people as a shepherd (Micah 5:2-5), and transform the creation itself (Amos 9:11-15; Zechariah 9:9; 14:9). So as the true and greater Son of David (Matthew 1:1), Jesus Christ is now our peace (Ephesians 2:14) and leads us today as our Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18). He sits triumphant at his Father’s right hand (Hebrews 1:1-13) and awaits that final day to renew the whole creation (Revelation 21-22).
Finally, the prophets remind believers today that God’s Spirit now lives within us. God’s promise to pour out his Spirit on his chosen people (Joel 2:28-32) is repeated by the risen Christ (Acts 1:8) and fulfilled when Jesus is exalted (2:1-41). The Holy Spirit empowers God’s people to live in holiness and to bear witness to God’s glory. The Spirit also teaches counselors how to minister God’s truth with grace and love (Ephesians 4:15).
Counsel the Word
As we read, interpret, and apply the prophets, they expose our sin, they declare the coming judgment, and they prompt us to repentance. Through the prophets, we praise the One who took our place and bore his Father’s wrath (2 Corinthians 5:21). Through the prophets, we discover the sinless King of kings (Isaiah 6:3) and submit ourselves to his sovereign authority (Philippians 2:9-11). Through the prophets, we see the promise of new covenant salvation accomplished in Christ which fills our hearts with the assurance of his love (Romans 8:35-39). Through the prophets, we receive the promises of God’s Holy Spirit, who witness to our hearts that we are God’s children and his eternal heirs (Ephesians 1:3-14). Through the prophets, we find joy in Christ and testify to his glorious transformation of our lives (2 Corinthians 5:17).
APPENDIX 1: A CHRONOLOGY OF THE PROPHETS21 Adapted from John H. Walton, Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 52 and Jason S. DeRouchie, How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament: Twelve Steps from Exegesis to Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2017), 59.
|World Power & Prophetic Period||Israel||Judah||Canonical Order|
|Assyria (870-626 BC)||Jonah (c. 770)||Jeremiah|
|—————————||Amos (c. 760)||Ezekiel|
|8th – early 7th century||Hosea (c. 760-730)||Isaiah (c. 740-700)||Isaiah|
|Micah (c. 737-690)||The Twelve|
|Nahum (c. 650)||Hosea|
|Babylon (625-539 BC)||Habakkuk (c. 630)||Joel|
|—————————||Jeremiah (c. 627-580)||Amos|
|Late 7th – early 6th BC||Zephaniah (c. 622)||Obadiah|
|Joel (c. 600?)||Jonah|
|Obadiah (c. 586?)||Micah|
|Ezekiel (c. 593-570)||Nahum|
|Persia (539-523 BC)||Haggai (c. 520)||Haggai|
|—————————||Zechariah (c. 520-518)||Zechariah|
|Late 6th – 5th century||Malachi (c. 433)||Malachi|
APPENDIX 2: THEOLOGICAL BIG IDEA FOR EACH PROPHETICAL BOOK
|Isaiah||God rescues and renews his people for himself through the coming of his messianic Servant King.|
|Jeremiah||God promises judgment for those who do not heed his warnings, but also new covenant blessings for those who are his own.|
|Lamentations||God grants new morning mercies based on his great faithfulness and steadfast love.|
|Ezekiel||God acts in judgment against those who rebel, but restores any who align with him.|
|Daniel||God is always true, so remain faithful to him despite the pressure to compromise.|
|Hosea||God’s people must abandon their idolatrous pursuit of unsatisfying lovers and embrace the Lord, their true Husband and Redeemer.|
|Joel||God’s wrath is coming, so repent, call upon the Lord, and be filled with his Spirit to forever enjoy his new creation.|
|Amos||In the day of the Lord, the holy God will judge all human sin to establish his coming kingdom.|
|Obadiah||The sovereign God will soon defeat his peoples’ enemies and establish his eternal rule.|
|Jonah||God’s extravagant love toward us shapes us into conduits of his compassion toward others.|
|Micah||God’s gracious forgiveness compels us to walk before him with humble and obedient hearts.|
|Nahum||God will punish the wicked and restore his people through his messianic Warrior-King.|
|Habakkuk||Even when suffering conceals God’s sovereign hand, we must patiently trust and rejoice in his unchanging character.|
|Zephaniah||God is a mighty Warrior who brings judgment on the wicked, but rescues the remnant who trust him as their King.|
|Haggai||God renews his presence among his people and re-establishes his reign by sending his messianic King.|
|Zechariah||God’s people participate in restoration through repentance and faith as they anticipate the final consummation of his kingdom.|
|Malachi||God calls his people to repent of apathetic worship and to fearfully wait for the day of the Lord.|