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Genre: Prophecy October 14, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
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Hello again. We continue this week with a look at the prophetic genre. Prophecy is a huge part of the Bible and as such the prophetic genre makes up a large portion of the Bible. Although there is some prophecy in the New Testament (NT) , I am devoting this blog specifically to the Old Testament (OT) view of prophecy and the special characteristics of this genre.

OT Prophet vs. NT Prophet

Although the wording is the same, there is a difference between a prophet in the OT and a prophet in the NT. In the OT the prophet was a man (or woman) raised up by God to bring a proclamation to a person or a group of people. They could only prophesy when the Spirit came upon them. They’re message was usually repentance and there were only a select few who could be prophets. The books of prophecy usually have a call narrative in them, which shows their call and commision by God (like Isaiah in Isaiah 6). The prophetic office was extremely serious and if a person claiming to be a prophet said something that didn’t happen that person would be stoned. The prophets would usually speak their proclamations, but sometimes they would use visual aids to get their point across, and some even became living visual aids to show what God was saying. Basically, they delivered the message of God to the people.

In the NT we see the role of the prophet ending. John the baptist is considered the last OT prophet. When Jesus ascends to heaven the Holy Spirit comes as and changes everything. In Joel 2:28 there is a prophecy saying that the Spirit is not just for certain individuals anymore, but for everyone. On the day of Pentecost the Spirit came in and filled all who were there. Because the Spirit now indwells the believer we all have the potential to prophesy. Prophecy is no longer a profession, but a gift. If you desire the gift of prophecy and ask God, He will give it to you. But, just having the gift of prohesy does not put you in the category of a prophet. In the NT there is also the office of the prophet. This office is reserved for those who God specifically chooses and who are recognized in the community as a prophet. These people speak more specific words, they exercise their gift on a regular basis and will usually bring proclamations to large groups of people, whether churches or nations.

Characteristics

The prophetic genre deals with the words the prophets are speaking. While narratives describe actions, prophecies proclaim the messages of God. So, the first thing to recognize is that these texts are words from God to people. The prophet simply speaks whatever God tells Him to. Occasionally the message will be in given in pictures or illustrations. Either way, when we come to a prophetic text we should be looking for the general message God is trying to get across. There are a lot of prophecies directed toward the surrounding nations Israel came in contact with. And there are also many prophecies directed to God’s people. Which leads to the second point which is to find out who the message is directed toward. Is it a single person, a king, an entire nation or only half a nation (like the northern or southern kingdoms of Israel)? If possible find the narrative passages that correspond with the prophesy. This is where a concordance comes in handy. But, even if you don’t look at the specific context the prophet was speaking to, you can get a pretty good idea of what was going on by looking at the message the prophet is conveying.

Most of the prophetic genre focuses on calling people to repentance, but there are also a lot of passages that show how God will treat those who listen to the message and repent. We need to be careful not to focus only on the promises of redemption or blessing without taking them in their full context. There are definitely universal unmerited promises that God freely gives because of His mercy, but most of the promises in the prophetic genre only come to the people after they turn from all their wickedness. They don’t get to live the same way and expect to be blessed by God. So, when reading the texts of divine blessing look to see what God is calling the people to do. How does He want them to live and act differently?

Although prophecy is different from poetry it does have some similar elements. The prophetic texts are rich in figurative language. God uses a lot of analogies to show the people how they are acting. When you come across an analogy, take a moment to reflect on why it is being used? What is the comparison being made? How would this picture strike the people back then? Most importantly, don’t take these analogies or figures of speech literally. These texts are not trying to describe the world around us. They are divinely inspired messages designed so that the people not only hear the message, but remember it. They are emotive and urgent in nature.

The prophets spoke what they heard. Their prophecies were calls to repentance but also they spoke of things to come. Because they were simply speaking what they heard they did not necessarily distinguish between different events. Sometimes two things may seem to be concurrent, but in actuality they could be separated by 100’s or 1000’s of years. One prophecy could be talking about more than one event. For example in Joel 2:28-32 it starts with the promise of the Spirit and ends with signs in the heavens and God delivering people. In the passage it is a smooth transition and seems to be talking about the same event. If we look to Acts 2 we can see that Pentecost was the fulfillment of the first part of this prophecy and the rest is yet to come.

To summarize:

1 – figure out who the message is for

2 – what is the message

3 – what is the proper response to the message

4 – how can this message apply today

5 – what figures of speech/illustrations are used to convey this message

Reflection

At the end of the book of Jonah, God causes a vine to grow up and provide shade for Jonah, then he causes a worm to come up and eat the vine. What is the message God is trying to convey to Jonah through this illustration?

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Comments»

1. Quintin - January 5, 2015

Hello! Quick question. What would you say to the folks that say this “This is not right.
There are no more apostles.
They died.
There are no more prophets.
They died.
Read. 1Corinthians 13-14
Revelation 22.
Hebrews chapter 1
Jesus Christ is the Word.
John chapter 1
The only gifts that remain are faith hope and love.
Ephesians chapter 2:19-22 tells us the Apostles and prophets laid the foundation of the church and Jesus Christ is the Chief corner stone.
The foundation has done been laid.
We now preach the Gospel and doctrine that has been laid by Jesus Christ and the prophets and apostles.”

TJ Friend - January 6, 2015

Thanks for the comment. This is a great question! I will do my next post on this topic. Thanks for the inspiration. I will try to get it out in the next few days. Just a quick response though. I believe the gifts (including prophecy) are still for today. I will try to address all these passages when I do my full response. Thanks again.


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