Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
NUMBER 12, PAGE 3-5a

Studying The Prophets

Homer Hailey — Florida College

A very rich, but sorely neglected mine of spiritual wealth, is that portion of the Bible known as "the writing of the Prophets." Jesus and the apostles, in their preaching, teaching, and writings, constantly referred to and appealed to these. Modern speculators have had a field day in their perversions and misuse of prophecy, confusing and misleading the people of our generation. Christians generally have neglected this portion of scripture. Others have intended to study the prophets; but for lack of understanding where to begin and how to proceed, never get started. Then there is the disposition to procrastinate, putting off into the future, till the present is gone and the study never made.

What are some essentials to the study of the prophets? First, an intense desire to know of God in its entirety is imperative. Second, one must have a purpose which motivates. And third, there must be a willingness to do some hard work. The desire should come from the relation that one sustains to God as a Christian; such a relation should impel one to know all that he can about God and His ways. The purpose which further motivates should be found in the desire better to understand the words of Jesus and the apostles, and to meet the errors of prophetic speculators. The disposition to hard work may have to come at the price of sacrificing something else that one wants to do. With the desire and purpose stimulated, how shall one proceed in the actual study?

Where To Begin

It is best to begin with the Minor Prophets. This has several advantages. First, they are short, deal with only one or two major theses or objectives. In these one does not get lost in the forest. He is better able to follow the prophet and to grasp his message and teaching.

Another advantage is that the minor prophets cover a total period of approximately four hundred years, which gives to the student an overall concept of the period of Hebrew history from near 840 to 440 B.C.

A third advantage is that in the study of the twelve minor prophets the student comes to see various and multiplied problems in a shorter context. Also, he finds expressions used by the prophets in these shorter contexts which enable him to proceed more rapidly when he comes to study the major prophets.

Chronological Arrangement

The student will find it to his advantage to study the various writings of the prophets in chronological order. In conjunction with his study in this order he should parallel his study with that section of the books of Kings and Chronicles that deal with the historical background of the period covered by the particular prophet.

The dates of only two of the minor prophets are uncertain: these are Obadiah and Joel. Some place Obadiah about 845 B.C.; while others place the book in the general period of the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon, 586 B.C. Joel also is placed early by some writers, ca. 830 B.C., while others place the time anywhere from before the fall of Samaria (722 B.C.) to the post-exilic period.

A good working arrangement is to consider the time of the three early books as follows: Obadiah, who foretold the doom of Edom and endurance of Israel, ca. 845 B.C.; Joel, whose theme was "the day of the Lord," ca. 830; and Jonah, who was sent by Jehovah to warn Nineveh, near 780 B.C.

The second group, the 8th century prophets, are Amos, who was sent from Tekoa to Bethel to prophesy against Israel and Samaria, preached in or near 755 B.C. Hosea, who also prophesied in Israel against the corruptions of his day, was slightly later than Amos, in the general period of 750-725 B.C. Micah, a native of a village some twenty-two miles south-west of Jerusalem, is placed in the period 735-700 B.C.

The third group, the 7th century prophets, are Zephaniah, who foretold the coming of a general world judgment, prophesied about 630-625; Nahum, in the general period 625-612 B.C., who foretold the fall of Nineveh and of the Assyrian empire; and Habakkuk, ca. 625-606, who warned of the coming of the Babylonians as God's instruments of judgment against Judah.

The final group would be the 6th and 5th century prophets, after the Babylonian captivity and return: Haggai, 520-18; Zephaniah, 518 B.C. into an unknown date for the latter part of the book; and Malachi, in the period between 444-432. Haggai and Zephaniah should be studied in the historical background of Ezra 1-6; and Malachi in the light of Ezra 7-10 and the book of Nehemiah.

A study of these should then be followed by a study of the major prophets: Isaiah, 740-700 B.C., of the Assyrian period, who sought to prepare the people for the Babylonian captivity that would come over a hundred years later. Jeremiah, 627-587 B.C. (or later), was the prophet of the early Babylonian period, into the captivity. His work was in Judah. Ezekiel and Daniel were both carried into Babylon, and prophesied there; Ezekiel, 593 to 570; Daniel covered the entire period, from shortly after 605 to the return, 536 B.C.

For What To Look

One should realize that the prophets were more than "fore-tellers;" they were more accurately "forth-tellers." They were the "mouth" of God, in whose mouth He put His word (cf. Ex. 4:16; 7:1; Deut. 18:18-19). As one studies these spokesmen for God, he should keep in mind three things:

First, what were the prevailing conditions of the day in which the prophet spoke: spiritual, moral, social, and political; and how did the prophet strive to meet these conditions. One will not that however low the state of the people, or how immoral the conditions, the answer was to be found in pointing the people back to God. The preaching of the prophets was always "God-centered." Only by giving heed to the divine warning and a return to God was hope to be had.

Second, one should constantly be mindful of "God and the nations," of his rule among the heathen and the impending judgments against the pagan world powers. An understanding of the principles of divine judgment among these will enable one to read "the signs of the times" today. For on the basis of God's immutable character, and the unchangeable principles by which He acts, one can anticipate the coming judgments against the nations today. God and principles do not change.

Third, the student should be conscious at all times of the Messianic hope: the coming of one who would rule in righteousness over a kingdom of righteousness. This kingdom should be spiritual in its nature, and one that would stand for ever, without invasion from any foreign conquering power. Sometimes the prophecies of the return from captivity blend on into the messianic king and kingdom, completely ignoring the intervening period between.

Some Helps

A good syllabus to serve as offering guide-lines will be found helpful, especially in the beginning of one's study. Commentaries are useful, but must be used with discrimination. One must look to conservative helps as over against the liberal writers, or pre-millennial writers, whose writings are always slanted. A good history of the foreign background will also be found helpful. Learn to compare statements of one prophet with those of other prophets, and with the application and use of the prophet by New Testament speakers or writers.

One is sure of an interpretation or fulfillment of a prophecy when in the New Testament he finds a speaker or writer who says, "This is that spoken by the prophet..." Other New Testament writers may use a statement from a prophet in which there is a parallel situation, or the application of a principle. When the fulfillment of a prophecy is conditioned, and the condition is not met, the prophecy is never fulfilled. One should remember this when someone says, "This prophecy has never been fulfilled, therefore we must look for its fulfillment in the future." These will never be fulfilled, for the conditions were not met.

There are expressions one will soon learn to observe, which will prove useful in his study. The expression, "day of Jehovah" or "day of the Lord," always points to a day of judgment: the judgment of Judah, Israel, or a heathen nation or nations. Do not look for prophecies to extend beyond the coming of Christ and His kingdom, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the "fourth" world empire — the Roman. All prophecies of a specific nature found their fulfillment in these.

Another expression to observe is "the latter days." This seems always to point to the present Messianic era. Therefore when a prophet speaks of "the latter days," one may safely conclude that here he is looking to the present time of Christ.

"In that day" should always be observed in the light of its context. It looks to the period of the context, whether immediate or in the distant future. The context determines the use.


Do not become discouraged, grapple with the particular book until you feel that you have both some understanding of its teaching and message, and an acquaintance with the man who wrote it. Do not speculate. If you do not understand what the prophet is saying and teaching, you may consider several possible answers or explanations of be correct. When this is true, lay the answers back in your mind and come back to the passage later. Time and continued study may eventually bring the answer. There are some sections, that one may feel that he never understands. When this is true, be content with that which you do know, but not satisfied. This lack of satisfaction will keep one continuing his study through life. — Temple Terrace, Florida 33617