Profiting from the Prophets
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction,for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 NAS).
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The prophets hold a special place in our heart. They had the thankless job of delivering God’s messages to a rebellious and stiff-necked people. As a result, they suffered some of the most severe persecutions. We will consider three of the four Major Prophets from the Old Testament. We will look to their examples and examine their faithfulness to the Lord in their struggle. Through their experiences we can profit from these prophets as we consider how they sought the will of God, submitted to it, and were developed beautifully during their service to God.
Isaiah, A Sanctified Servant
Isaiah was sincere, bold, optimistic, and extremely dedicated to his work. The Apostle Paul described Isaiah as one who “crieth” (Romans 9:27), an indication of his sincerity. The Apostle Paul also tells us that the holy spirit spoke “through Isaiah” (Acts 28:25), and describes him as “very bold” (Romans 10:20).
Isaiah was the voice through which God communicated with King Hezekiah during that king’s terminal illness (Isaiah 38). In an experience where many would be tempted to editorialize God’s messages with their own opinions, we see Isaiah’s strength of character in delivering God’s messages accurately and confidently. God answered King Hezekiah’s prayer through the mouth of Isaiah and King Hezekiah’s submission to the prophet Isaiah is a testimony to Isaiah’s lovely and engaging character.
When we reflect on the amount of prophetic information that Isaiah delivered and then consider the sanctified life God asked him to lead, we cannot help but make comparisons to the abundant resources that we enjoy in our own life. We are comparatively rich in both knowledge and understanding, partly because of Isaiah’s work. We are humbled by the great work that Isaiah was able to accomplish in his day.
The name Isaiah means “the salvation of Jehovah.” This is the same definition as the names “Joshua” and “Jesus” and it is interesting that Isaiah was privileged to prophesy about Jesus (Isaiah 53). Today, so late in the stream of time, we are privileged to understand Isaiah’s Messianic prophecies for we see many of them fulfilled right before our eyes.
Isaiah prophesied about the coming Jewish Messiah, the future earthly kingdom of Christ, and Israel’s role in that Kingdom. His prophesies are some of the most beautiful and poetic of the promises of God (Isaiah 1:29, 7:14, 9:1-6, 26:9,35,53). Indeed, Isaiah is considered by many contemporary scholars to be the Shakespeare of the Bible.
We know little of Isaiah’s personal life. He was the son of Amoz (Isaiah 1:1, 2:1). His wife was called “the prophetess” (Isaiah 8:3). His ministry extended from the death of King Uzziah through the kings of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1, 6:1). His prophecies included important historical information regarding the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian kingdoms, including Israel’s captivity in Babylon and Judah’s restoration during the Persian period.
Isaiah also provides interesting historical detail of Judah’s interactions with other nations such as a war with Ephraim (Isaiah 7:1 to 8:18), a siege against Ashdod (Isaiah 20), and the invasion by Sennacherib (Isaiah 36-39). Isaiah gave us a fascinating personal testimony of grit and courage in the face of danger when he encouraged King Hezekiah to resist the Assyrians (Isaiah 37:1-7,14). We do not have a direct record of death. (1)
The book of Isaiah is the most quoted of the Old Testament prophets by New Testament writers (almost 40 times). Jesus himself quoted from Isaiah seven times and even applied Isaiah’s Messianic prophecies to himself (Isaiah 61:1,2, Luke 4:16-22, Luke 22:37, Isaiah 53:12). Philip the evangelist quoted from Isaiah 53 when teaching the Ethiopian Eunuch that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 8:32, Isaiah 53:7). Paul’s decision to go preach to the Gentiles is bolstered by a quotation from the prophet Isaiah (Acts 13:47, Isaiah 49:6). Paul used Isaiah’s prophecy to teach the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:54, Isaiah 25:8), and Isaiah records the promise of the future salvation of all of Israel (Romans 11:26, Isaiah 59:20).
Isaiah did not shrink from doing what he knew to be right. He trusted in God rather than being guided by his own doubts and interpretations. Those of us who have the Gospel Age gift of prophecy (2) might consider modeling their ministry after Isaiah’s faithfulness in his Jewish Age ministry. If we have the gift of communication, we should use it diligently and consistently like Isaiah. If we do not have the quality of optimism in our temperament, perhaps we can learn from Isaiah’s often desperate circumstances and consider how truly rich we are in faith, hope, and knowledge. We have everything working in our favor to allow us to do the work of God and thereby contribute to our own sanctification. All we have to do is follow Isaiah’s proactive example.
(1) Tradition suggests that Isaiah was the one Paul had in mind as “sawn asunder” in Hebrews 11:37, and that this occurred during the reign of Manasseh (editor).
(2) That is, public speaking (editor).
Jeremiah, God’s Word in his Bones
The name Jeremiah means the “exalted of Jehovah,” a fitting name for a prophet who was set apart by God himself to be a prophet before he was even born (Jeremiah 1:5). Jeremiah was beset by many difficult physical and psychological experiences as a result of his prophetic work. But Jeremiah persevered in spite of his extreme spiritual trauma. Jeremiah wanted to experience everything and he was given much including the responsibility of prophesying the chronology of the Babylonian captivity. Little did he know that this prophecy would be an important link in the prophetic chain. The prophet Daniel later prayed for more understanding about Jeremiah’s time prophecy.
In contrast to Isaiah and others, Jeremiah provided more detail about himself in his book than any of the other prophets. If Jeremiah had been writing a novel, he would have been the hero of his own story. Jeremiah’s prophecies approximate an autobiography as he writes about more of his personal experiences, setbacks, and persecutions than other prophets. This is an interesting contrast with the temperaments of the other prophets and perhaps provides encouraging insight into the many different types of people God recruits to do His work.
Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry started when he was young, possibly about 20 years of age (Jeremiah 1:6). At first, Jeremiah was reluctant, but overcame his hesitation and succeeded in the strength of God. Jeremiah attempted to
excuse himself from the ministry because of his youth. However, he subsequently experienced several providential overrulings from God that encouraged him to accept his role as a prophet (Jeremiah 1:9, 23:18). This is an important lesson for those of us who have difficulty accepting the role for which God calls us.
Beyond the first stage of his life, Jeremiah’s ministry was very difficult. The people of his own town plotted to kill him (Jeremiah 11:19, 21), his family opposed him (Jeremiah 12:6), he never married (Jeremiah 16:2), and he only had a few friends (Jeremiah 20:7). He eventually grew silent, discouraged (Jeremiah 8:18), and he was severely persecuted (Jeremiah 15:10,11, 15-21).
Jeremiah prophesied during the reigns of three of the last Kings of Judah and was a contemporary of the prophet Zephaniah. Though Jeremiah was silent during the period of Josiah’s reforms, his prophesies during the reigns of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah were some of the most hard-hitting and judgmental of the prophecies toward Israel and Judah (Jeremiah 1:1-4). Even after the Temple had been refurbished, the apostasy was so great in Judah that Jeremiah compared it to the unfaithful Israelite nation. “And the LORD said to me, Faithless Israel has proved herself more righteous than treacherous Judah” (Jeremiah 3:11 NASB).
Both houses of Israel were on Jeremiah’s mind and his prophecies were directed to both. Due to the nature of his prophecies, he was imprisoned more than once (Jeremiah 32:2, 37:15, 37:20,21, 38:1-6,13,28). Jeremiah chose to stay with the remnant of the Jews rather than to take a home offered to him by the King of Babylon (2 Kings 25:22, Jeremiah 39:13,14, 40:4-6).
But instead of a comfortable home in Babylon, Jeremiah was taken captive by rebellious Jews and then taken to Egypt where he continued to prophesy until his death (2 Kings 25:26, Jeremiah 42:1-43:7). Jeremiah warned his Jewish brethren that they would not escape God’s punishment by fleeing to Egypt, but the people refused to heed the message (Jeremiah 43:8-44:30). Like Isaiah, the scriptures do not indicate the time or the circumstances of Jeremiah’s death. For someone whose priestly birth was noted so carefully at the beginning of his prophecy, it is strange that his death was not recorded in either of his books.
From Jeremiah we learn to persevere in the face of persecution. Like Jeremiah, we should recast our difficult experiences and failures as opportunities to learn, then use them as teaching tools through story to encourage others. Like Jeremiah, the value of our experiences can have a generational impact. Personal mentoring and testimony meetings are great opportunities for us to share the value of our experiences. Like Jeremiah’s example to us, we can uplift a wilting heart or stimulate a curious mind by telling the stories of God’s deliverances in our life. Jeremiah makes God’s power in his life personal and so can we!
Daniel, Integrity and Consistency
Daniel’s name means “God is my Judge,” “judged of God,” or “judgment of God.” God’s judgment of Israel and the Gentile nations is one of the key subjects of his prophecy. We know nothing of Daniel’s early life except that he was captured and taken away captive, evidently during his teen years (Daniel 1:4). This was during the first invasion of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, who shortly thereafter became king of Babylon3 (Jeremiah 25:1, 46:2, Daniel 1:1). We are told that the capture of Daniel and his subsequent training was because he was of related to the royal family, and was a promising talent that could be useful in Babylon (Daniel 1:3).
From an early age, Daniel’s conscientiousness gave him the willpower to abstain from food from the king’s table. His strength of character also kept him from being defiled with idolatry. Daniel grew in strength and wisdom, perhaps as a result of his adherence to the Mosaic Law (Daniel 1:8-16). God endowed the prophet Daniel with the remarkable gifts of wisdom, knowledge, a scientific mind, and the ability to learn languages. “And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of the eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes; Children in whom was no blemish, but well favored, and skillful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:3-4).
(3) Josephus records that during this campaign, which occurred in the last year of the rule of his father, Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar received news of his father’s passing, whereupon he committed the prisoners
to others for deportation, and himself raced across the desert to Babylon with a small entourage in order to secure his throne. (Against Apion 1:19).
Daniel’s prophecies are startlingly accurate and this has resulted in a modern-day scholarly dispute about their authenticity. Some scholars believe that Daniel’s prophecies were written after the historical events actually occurred and therefore discount God’s inspirational influence over Daniel. However, it is an indisputable fact that part of Daniel’s prophecy was originally written in the Chaldean language (Daniel 1:4 to 7:28), which supports the authenticity of his writings. We may be sure that all of Daniel’s prophecies are authentic especially since we see them fulfilled in our day too!
Daniel’s knowledge, wisdom, and ability to interpret dreams became known to the King. The King made him a minister of the foreign Babylonian empire as well as the head of the Magi (Daniel 2:48). Perhaps it was this same school of Magi which centuries later followed the star of Bethlehem to find the one who was to be born of the Jews (Matthew 2:1,2, 7-12). If so, we see Daniel’s ability to live in the present as well as plant seeds for future generations that would result in one of the most successful and far-reaching impacts in all of scripture. According to the Queen, Daniel was unmatched in integrity and talent (Daniel 5:11,12).
After the Persians conquered Babylon, Daniel was promoted to be one of three top governors of the Persian Empire (Daniel 6:2). His fortitude and faithfulness served him when he was cast into the lion’s den as the result of a deceitful and hateful secret pact. His crime? Praying three times a day to God (Daniel 6:10-23). Would we be able to walk to the lion’s den like Daniel? What a noble example of faithfulness even in the face of unjust persecution for righteousness!
The prophet Ezekiel was a contemporary of Daniel who noted that Daniel was an excellent example of righteousness and wisdom (Ezekiel 4:14,20,28:3). It is even more astounding to note that Ezekiel most likely wrote this evaluation before Daniel had written any of his prophecies. Jesus quoted Daniel’s prophecy about the “abomination of desolation” (Matthew 24:15, Daniel 11:31, 12:11).
Daniel lived until Cyrus the Persian ascended the throne (Daniel 6:38). Daniel’s last prophecies were in the third year of Cyrus (Daniel 10:1,4) and showed his continued passion and concern for his fellow Jews (Daniel 9:2-20).
Now that we can look back on history and see Daniel’s prophecies fulfilled, we should note the faith and fortitude of the prophet as an encouragement for us to remain faithful to the promises of God which have already come true, and look forward, full of faith, to those which are yet to be fulfilled.
Let us look to the faithful examples of these great men of God. They were God’s mouthpieces to Israel but also to us. They pleaded with Israel to repent and Israel refused. Let us not make Israel’s mistake too.
Israel’s story is not over and neither is ours. “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham my friend, you whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its remotest parts and said to you, You are my servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you. Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:8-10).
Like the Apostle Peter, let us learn from their messages and fervently seek God’s will in our lives. “Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. … So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts”
(2 Peter 1:12-19).
As children of the same God, let us review the examples of the faithful of the past. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Let us also remember to learn from the examples of the faithful brethren amongst us today and treat them as God’s mouthpieces to us.
One of the reasons why God recorded the lives of the prophets was to strengthen ours. Perhaps God knew that just like them, there would be times when we might consider our path too difficult, times when the Adversary would press us to give up and times when we may consider losing our integrity for temporary comfort (Hebrews 12:3).
Just like the faithful men and women of the past, we are strengthened and encouraged again and again. Just like them, we realize that our calling is to serve our Lord, no matter what the circumstances. Just like them, we are reminded through their examples that His laws and His teachings are like a burning fire shut up in our bones (Jeremiah 20:9). His love consumes us and we realize that the trials of this life cannot be compared with the present or future riches in Christ (Romans 8:18).
The phrase “inspired by God” used in our theme scripture comes from the Greek word theopneustos, meaning “God breathed.” The Apostle Paul assures us that the entire Bible was inspired and directed by God for our benefit. This highlights the amazing power of the scriptures that is working on our behalf; to guide us into the truth (Psalms 119:105, Hebrews 4:12). Just like the prophets, God can also breathe understanding into our lives as we read their inspired words. God promises to reward us with this gift of application if we live our lives according to what we learn in scripture (Isaiah 52:11,12). Our new life that follows will be the evidence of God’s personal assistance to help us profit spiritually in our daily lives (Ephesians 4:15,16). May God richly bless you too!
Categories: 2016 Issues, 2016-January/February