An Introduction to the Prophets
If you were to poll the average person on the street and ask them what a prophet was they would answer, “the money left over in a business after all the expenses were paid.” Then, after clarifying that you are referring to a “prophet” not “profit,” they would most likely say either, 1) a crazy man who stands on the street corner yelling out that God is going to kill everyone, or 2) a guy who can predict the future.
Let’s be honest; the Old Testament Prophets are very foreign to us and reading them is not always the easiest thing to do. In fact, many times it leaves us scratching our heads and saying, “huh?”
In order to make the prophets more understandable there are a few things we must keep in mind.
1. Prophets are real people.
It is easy to look at famous preachers and pastors in our world and elevate them to a sort of demi-god status. These people walk on water and can do no wrong. If that is how we view them then it could become possible to doubt whether they really no what “real life” is like. Hopefully that bubble has already been burst in your perspective of pastors as you have come to realize that pastors are fallible humans like everyone else.
Unfortunately, it seems to be more difficult to remove the writers of scripture from this same lofty pedestal. The fact that centuries of time, language, and culture create a gulf between us and the biblical writers makes this dethroning process all the harder.
While that may be true, it is still important to do so. Isaiah was a regular guy. He was a real man, who lived in a real city, he shared the same hopes and fears that every person has. His world was the city of Jerusalem during the time when the Empire of Assyria was pressing in on the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He watched Israel move from being a pompous, self-righteous, arrogant nation, thinking they could conquer the world, to being completely and utterly destroyed. The Empire of Assyria continually attacked Judah until, in its final stages, was camped only eight miles outside of Jerusalem. Imagine the pressure and stress the citizens of Jerusalem must have felt as they watched the smoke rise from the burning cities of Judah, fearing that their city would be next.
2. Prophets are primarily preachers.
A prophet is not a sooth-sayer or a fortune teller. A prophet is a person who is so in tune with the Spirit of God that he or she has the ability to speak God’s truth in a clear, no-nonsense manner to the world.
Isaiah’s preaching ministry was targeted at Jerusalem. He was desperately trying to get the people of that city to see that the reason their twin kingdom, Israel, was being destroyed by Assyria was because the people of that kingdom had strayed so far away from God. They didn’t trust in God or obey Him. They worshipped pagan idols and made alliances with all the countries surrounding them in order to fight against the Assyrians. Isaiah’s message could be summed up like this, “Jerusalem, if you don’t wake up, what happened to them will happen to you.”
3. Preaching was very different in those days.
One of the main reasons reading the prophets is so difficult is because the popular form of public speaking was so radically different then than what we are used to. For us, if a person isn’t casual and full of clever antecdotes in his message, then we tune him out. Back then it was very different. In the ancient world (everywhere, not just Israel) public speaking was an artform that was done in a highly poetic fashion. The orators were expected to craft their words in poetic stanzas and weave dynamic imagery into their presentation. You could say that the prophets were being “culturally sensitive” by speaking in this form of poetry.
The following books are called Major Prophets simply because they are long books, as compared to the smaller "minor" prophets.