Study of Old Testament Prophets
I. The Old Testament is divided into three major sections: the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets – Luke 24:44
A. The Law refers to the first five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy
B. The Prophets or teachings were divided by the Jews into two sets:
1. The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings
2. The Latter Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve smaller books from Hosea to Malachi
C. The Psalms or holy writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, I Chronicles and II Chronicles.
D. Today we divide the Old Testament differently.
1. The Law still comes first: Genesis to Deuteronomy
2. History covers Joshua to Nehemiah and is roughly in chronological order
3. Wisdom is Job to Song of Solomon
4. Major Prophets are Isaiah to Daniel
5. Minor Prophets are Hosea to Malachi
E. We are going to focus today on these prophets because they are often used to state things never intended
1. The prophets taught faced the problems in their days and taught the eternal truths from God to counter those problems. Truths that we still often need today.
2. They knew that the sins of Israel would lead to the captivity and destruction of their nation.
3. Inspired by the Spirit of God, they foresaw the coming of the Messiah and his kingdom to right the many wrongs caused by man.
4. Their job was to encourage the people to remain faithful and trust in God’s ability to carry out His will and His triumph.
II. What was a prophet?
A. Three basic classes
1. Jeremiah 18:18 – Priests involved in the Law, Wise men or elders involved in counsel, and Prophets involved in the Word.
2. Ezekiel 7:26 – Prophets had visions, Priests had the Law, and Elders had their Counsels.
3. Thus elders or wise men functioned in Israel’s society to give counsel, applying the teachings of God to day-to-day living
4. Priests were teachers of the law, both in declaring what it said and helping people understand the Law’s meaning. They also performed duties under that law, such as the offering of sacrifices.
5. Prophets communicated to Israel God’s will
B. A prophet was God’s spokesman
1. Exodus 7:1 – Aaron function for Moses in a manner similar to how prophets functioned for God
2. Exodus 4:16 – Aaron was Moses’ spokesman or his mouth
3. In speaking of the future Prophet – Deuteronomy 18:18
4. Prophets relayed God’s revelations – Amos 3:7-8
C. Other terms
1. Seer – A person who sees, such as visions
2. Man of God – A person who belongs to God or serves God
3. Servant of God
4. Messenger of the Lord
5. Watchman – A person to watch events and give advance warning
D. “Someone has said, ‘There are two classes of preachers – the good preachers who have something to say, and the poor preachers who have to say something. But there is yet another and higher class. It consists of those who both have something to say and who have to say it. Such are the prophets.’” [Homer Hailey, “Ancient Prophets in a Modern World”]
E. False Prophets
1. As might be expected, men arose claiming to be prophets though not sent from God.
2. Some were mercenary, they prophesied for money; others were political, they prophesied for position and power – Micah 3:5-7
3. Micah, in contrast, was a true prophet – Micah 3:8
III. What was a prophet’s job?
A. People have a tendency to stray from God – Romans 3:9-23
B. In Israel the people did as they saw fit – Judges 21:25
1. Religious corruption – idolatry
2. Social corruption – not following the law
3. Political corruption – men grabbing power for their own purpose
4. In other words, people then are much the same as now – Ecclesiastes 1:10-11
C. Israel was doomed unless they changed.
D. The prophet’s job was
1. To call Israel back from idolatry
2. To denounce the sins of the people
3. To warn of impending judgment if they did not repent
E. It was a message of repent or perish – Ezekiel 18:31-32
IV. The Era of the Prophets
A. While prophets existed stretching back to the beginning of time, it was during the age of the Divided Kingdom when we see the prophets come to the forefront
1. Generally it is with Elijah and Elisha in the 9th century B.C. are considered the beginnings of the prophets, working hard to turn people back to the true God.
a. Other prophets of this era are Obadiah, Joel, and Jonah
2. During the 8th century B.C., during height of the Assyrian empire were:
a. Amos and Hosea who prophesied to Israel (the northern kingdom)
b. Isaiah and Micah who prophesied to Judah (the southern kingdom)
3. During the 7th century B.C., as the Babylonian empire began to rise there were also four prophets: Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk. They spoke to Judah as the Assyrians had wiped out Israel in 722 B.C.
4. In the 6th century B.C. came the time of the captivity during which Ezekiel and Daniel spoke.
5. Finally came the prophets of the return: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. These form the last three books of our Old Testament.
B. An example from during the rise of the Assyrian empire (8th century B.C.)
1. This was a period of great prosperity for both the northern and southern kingdoms – Isaiah 2:6-9
a. But such wealth brought trouble
b. People became self-confident and lax in their religious beliefs
2. We find it to be a period of both moral and religious corruption
3. In addition, the success of the Assyrians made it seem that the Assyrian gods were superior to Israel’s God. May left the worship of God to follow these idols.
4. The prophets sought to clarify what was happening
a. Assyria’s success was not due to a weakness in God, but happened because God was going to use Assyria to punish Israel’s sins.
b. It was sin that was destroying Israel.
5. They also sought to correct the people’s view of God
a. Amos stressed the righteousness and justice of the Lord – Amos 2:4-9
b. Hosea stressed God’s love and compassion using the illustration of a husband wounded by his unfaithful spouse – Hosea 14
c. Isaiah spoke of God’s holiness and majesty- Isaiah 6:1-4; John 12:41
d. Micah taught about divine judgment – Micah 6
V. We can learn from the prophets today
A. The points made by these prophets would fit in today’s society as well
1. God’s dispute with the people – Hosea 4:1
2. Civilization becomes uncivilized – Hosea 4:2
3. How good is the average man’s word today?
4. How rampant is violence in our streets?
5. What about our stance on marriage and sexual morality?
6. My people are destroyed – Hosea 4:6
a. The moral decay came about from a religious decay
b. Much like it is happening in our own time.
B. The prophets were send to God’s people in Israel
1. But as they dealt with the sins of a nation, we see the principles God uses in dealing with sin.
2. I was reading an article called “Ancient Prophets in a Modern World” by Homer Hailey.
a. Much of this lesson is based on points that he made – made in 1952!
b. He thought it bad then. We know that it was just barely beginning.
3. With prosperity came a lax attitude toward God.
a. Politicians rounded power in their offices by separating religion from political laws
b. Moral decisions decay as a lack of belief became rampant
c. Religious leaders aren’t really religious anymore.
d. Civilization becomes uncivilized.
C. Eventually there will be an accounting. The harvest is determined by what was sown.
1. Let us study the prophets to learn of the failures which brought ruin upon Israel
2. Then we will be warned. We can face the immoral without fear. We can call for an awakening in our own time.