Dear Church Family,
On Sunday mornings at 9:15-10:15 am in the sanctuary, we have Sunday school for all ages. We are using a video series called “He Gave Us Prophets,” combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons that we are using for this class, you may find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing the summaries that I’ve been writing in these weekly emails, you may find those on the HCPCA church website here: https://www.hillcountrypca.org/pastors-blog/category/he-gave-us-prophets.
Continuing with these reviews, here is a summary of some of the things that we learned and covered in our most recent Sunday school class.
In the first half of this lesson, we learned that when thinking about the purposes of prophetic predictions in the Bible, it’s important to keep together both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. And, it’s helpful to understand that many of the predictions which prophets made in the Old Testament were contingent upon human response (Jeremiah 18:5-10). In the second part of this lesson, we learned about the scale of certainty regarding the outcome of prophetic predictions, as well as the intended purpose of predictions.
Certainty of Predictions
Prophetic predictions made by the prophets may be thought of as having a scale of certainty regarding their outcome:
1. Conditional Predictions: these types of predictions were explicitly declared to be contingent upon how the people of God responded to the Lord; often, these conditional predictions were set forth in the form of if/then statements. For example: (Isaiah 1:19-21) “‘If you consent and obey, You will eat the best of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword.’ Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
2. Unqualified Predictions: these types of predictions were simple statements about the future with no explicit conditions being mentioned; however, how people responded to was still very important. For example, Jonah preached to Nineveh, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed” (Jonah 3:4). But, when the people of Nineveh repented, God responded by not destroying the city (Jonah 3:5-10).
3. Confirmed Predictions: these types of predictions were confirmed by either words (usually repetition) or signs. For example, in the first two chapters of Amos, the Lord repeats the phrase, “I will not revoke…” the judgment that He has declared for the sins of the people (Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6). The Lord also showed that He was very determined to carry out a prediction also by way of a sign. In fact, through Isaiah, the Lord told King Ahaz to ask for a sign that he might know the seriousness of a prediction (Isaiah 7:11).
4. Sworn Predictions: these types of predictions take the form of divine oaths and show that the Lord intends in no uncertain terms to bring about what has been foretold. For example: (Amos 4:2) “The Lord GOD has sworn by His holiness, ‘Behold, the days are coming upon you When they will take you away with meat hooks, And the last of you with fish hooks.’”
Goals of Predictions
Unfortunately, many people believe that the prophets of the Old Testament were simply prognosticating, or foretelling future events that could not be changed. But, as we have just seen, only those predictions that were sworn by divine oaths were immutably fixed. The goals of prophet predictions were not intended to simply predict the future. Rather, they were intended to illicit a response from God’s people. And, it would seem that the people who heard these prophecies knew that this was the case.
1. “Who knows?”
For example, on at least three different occasions, when people heard a prophetic prediction, they did not simply assume that the outcome of that prediction was fixed (2 Samuel 12:14 à 2 Samuel 12:22; Jonah 3:4 à Jonah 3:9; Joel 2:1-11 à Joel 2:14). In each of these examples, a prophetic prediction was made. But then, the hearer responded by taking a certain action and declaring something like, “Who knows? The Lord may be gracious and relent.”
2. Twofold Reaction
The prophets of the Old Testament generally made their predictions in the hopes of eliciting a response or reaction from the people.
On the one hand, when a prophet proclaimed the judgment of the Lord against the sin of the people, they knew that if the people continued in their sin, the judgment would certainly take place or even be increased; however, the prophets hoped that the people might repent and turn to the Lord in hopes that the Lord would relent from His judgment.
On the other hand, when a prophet proclaimed the blessing of the Lord, they knew that if the people rebelled and disobeyed the Lord that He would withhold His blessing; however, if the people continued to faithful serve the Lord, He would grant them the promised blessing.
The goal of the prophetic predictions was not intended to merely prognosticate or foretell the future, but to activate the people of God to repent and obey the Lord.
During our discussions in Sunday school this last Sunday, I asked the question, “How can we tell the difference today between a true and false prophet?” One of the young people in our church wisely answered, “That’s easy. There are no more true prophets today.”
That’s an important thing for us to remember as we study the prophets of the Old Testament. Since the closing of the canon of Scripture in the first century A.D., there are no more prophets who speak for the Lord. God has sent the final prophet – and only prophet that we need – in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. For, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch