Important Ground Rules for Applying the Message of the Prophets
1. Do not draw unnecessary conclusions.
Remember the genre of writing. Consider whether the text is narrative, poetry, or oracle, and respond accordingly.
2. Do not get bogged down with back-story
Remember that like every other book of the Bible, the prophetic books were written to a specific people at a specific time. Their time-distant utility lies in their ability to provide a snapshot of how God is working in those lives in that time. Our task is to translate the principles being taught for our time and place.
3. Learn to find and apply what is useful.
The prophets are not reformers, they are restorers. They are not trying to fix the outward forms of religion, but the heart of the people behind it. Where their indictments ring true, we can apply their teachings. Where their teaching is time-specific, we can still see God at work in those principles in that day and time, but we might or might not find an application in our own lives.
What a Prophet is Not
1. A proponent of new ideas
The work of the prophet is not to create something new, but to bring back what was established in the first place. Prophets are not reformers, they are restorers. See Deuteronomy 13:1-5
2. Isolated from the people they talk to.
Prophets spoke to a particular time and place, but they did so as part of that culture. As part of the people of God, the prophets would sometimes talk to God on behalf of the people they served. See Jeremiah 9:1-2
3. Solely a purveyor of doom
The call of God to His people for restoration is good news, especially for those who are on the outside looking in at the status quo. Typically the ones who have the most to fear from prophecy are the ones who have the most to lose, namely the rich and powerful. But in the end, even those who lose their wealth and status as a result of prophecy have the same opportunity to be restored as everybody else. The choice is that of the rich young ruler; dedicate everything you have and are to God and be a part of His work in the world, or go away sorrowful and be excluded from God’s restoration. See Isaiah 61:1-3
What a Prophet Is
1. Messenger from God
Real prophecy is not spoken as a way to make money or to curry favor with the powerful. There were those in Old Testament times whose job it was to convince the king that the deity du jour approved of whatever it was the king wanted to do anyway. The prophetic message is one that must be taken seriously. See Amos 7:10-17
2. Embodiment of the message
The lives and activities of the prophets are often illustrative of the messages they proclaim. A hypocritical prophet – one who is unwilling to live with the implications of what he is teaching – is no prophet at all. See Ezekiel 5:1-4
3. Mediator of the covenant
The job of a prophet is not just to go to the people on behalf of God. God has angels He can use for that purpose if He needs to. A prophet takes that role one step further by going to God on behalf of the people. In his prayers, He speaks not just for Himself but also for the people He serves. His role is similar to that of a priest, who acted as a divinely-appointed middle man between a holy God and sinful people. See 1 Peter 2:9-10.