The books so designated form a distinct and most important part of scripture. Prophecy usually implied a ruined state of things among God's people, calling for His intervention. Some of the prophecies are appeals, reminding the people of what God had done for them, and declaring how willing and ready He was to bless them if they would be faithful to Him; though interwoven with this are constant predictions of that which will be for the blessing of Israel in the future, after they have for the time been set aside. Others strictly allude to events which were then or are still future. As a whole the prophets refer to Israel as an inner circle, or chief platform, on which the dealings of Jehovah were and will be developed, and with which the Messiah is in immediate relation. The nations formed an outer circle, and were regarded more or less according to their relations with the twelve tribes. These nations are sometimes spoken of as being God's instruments by whom He punished His own people, they themselves having afterwards to bear the punishments of God. Beyond and above all, there is God's universal government; in which everything is in result to be made subject to the Messiah, while God's promises are made good to Israel, for all Israel will again be brought into blessing, with Jehovah in their midst surrounded with glory, and the nations will be blessed with them.
The Prophetic scriptures naturally fall into three divisions.
1. Those that were given to Israel while still a nation, though divided into two parts, extending to the complete break up of Judah.
2. Those referring to the times of the Gentiles, which began with Nebuchadnezzar, and, continuing beyond the days of the Messiah on earth, are still running on: these are almost entirely given in Daniel.
3. Those given after a portion of Judah had returned from exile, when they were helped by the prophecies of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, which present the time of the Messiah on earth, and go even beyond to future blessing.
To these may be added the prophecies in the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Revelation, embracing the judgements of God upon apostate Christendom and the nations generally; the final overthrow of Satan, and universal blessing, ending with the judgement of the dead and a glorious outlook into the eternal state.
It will not be inappropriate here to add a few words as to the relative position, in point of time, of the various O.T. prophetic scriptures. It may be premised that the burden of the prophets Obadiah, Jonah, and Nahum has special reference to Edom and to Nineveh, that is, to peoples that were always hostile to Israel. There is but little whereby to fix precisely the dates of Joel and Habakkuk. Of the remainder, Hosea, Amos, and Isaiah are anterior to the captivity of the ten tribes. The visions of Isaiah, however, have reference to Judah and Jerusalem. It appears probable, whatever may be the reason, that the testimony commonly known as "the prophets" began in the time of Jeroboam 2 king of Israel, Uzziah being his contemporary in Judah. The introduction of prophetic scripture indicated that the ordinary relations of the people with God had broken down, Lo-ammi being prophetically written upon them.
Others follow closely, as Micah, who prophesies concerning Samaria and Jerusalem, though no personal reference is made to a king of Israel; and, either before or contemporary with the captivity of Judah, Jeremiah and Zephaniah. The prophets Ezekiel and Daniel speak from the land of Chaldea, when all present hope was over for both Israel and Judah, and the times of the Gentiles had set in. After the return from the captivity we have Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The testimony of the prophets extended thus over a period of from three to four hundred years.
The approximate dates of each of the prophets may be seen in the tables of chronology under KINGS.
The Books of Isaiah and Jeremiah are remarkable, the former as being the most comprehensive of the prophecies, taking up almost in order the various moral questions involved in God's dealings with Israel, and giving what may be described as a general prophetic framework; and the latter as bringing out, in a peculiarly touching way, the feelings induced by the Spirit of Christ in regard of God's people when, there being no remedy, the end was come.
Two remarks of great importance as regards prophecy may be made: first, that no prophecy carries its own interpretation: each has to be understood in its place and relation to the whole system of prophecy. Secondly, that the scope of all prophecy takes us on to the day of the Lord; the judgement of the nations and of the wicked in Israel; the establishment of the kingdom; and the reunion of Israel and Judah under the Lord their righteousness. This is the great end of God's ways on earth. This recovery and blessing by God of His ancient people, in their Messiah, may be said to be a golden thread running through all the prophets. It was ever before God, and shines out everywhere.
It is of the greatest importance, both for the right understanding of these scriptures, and for a true appreciation of what Christianity is, to see that the church has no place in the prophets. In the church there is neither Jew nor Gentile, and the prophets recognise both, while carefully maintaining the distinction between them. Prophecy treats of the earth and of the government of God and its issue: the Christian belongs to heaven, and he will reign with Christ in the kingdom. In the A.V. of the O.T. the headings of many of the chapters are misleading: the church often spoken of in them is never found in the text; Christ is there, and the manifestation of God; and the scriptures which develop His ways, and speak of the sufferings and the glories of the One to whom the Christian is united, are of deep interest to him, though he himself may not be immediately spoken of.
Some Christians, though they know and enjoy certain portions of prophecy., without seeing its reference strictly to the remnant of Israel, fail to study the prophets. Not a few deem the study to be unprofitable — the subject is too mysterious, they say, and commentators differ so widely in their interpretation! One great hindrance to the understanding of the prophets is that they are not allowed to mean what they say. To allow Israel to signify Israel in its punishment, its restoration, and its future earthly glory, at once clears away a mass of difficulties. Many sayings of the Lord and other parts of scripture cannot be understood unless a true outline of prophecy be grasped; and if this be understood, none of the moral teaching and consolation as to the unchangeable nature and ways of God will be lost.
The twelve prophets that follow the Book of Daniel are often called THE MINOR PROPHETS, simply because they are shorter than the others, and not as being in any respect inferior.
The following are some prophetic events that await fulfilment:-
1. The rapture of the saints, when the dead in Christ will be raised, the living changed, and death swallowed up in victory. 1 Corinthians 15:51,52
; 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17
2. The return of a portion of the Jews to Palestine, who in unbelief will rebuild the temple, and re-establish their ordinances. Isaiah 17:10,11
; Isaiah 66:1-3
; Revelation 11:1,2
3. The resuscitation of the Roman empire, ten of the western powers being more or less under one head. It will at first exercise a protectorate over the Jewish nation. Isaiah 28:14-18
; Daniel 2:40-43
; Daniel 7:7,8
; Daniel 9:27
; Revelation 17:7,8,10
4. The apostasy and the revelation of the man of sin. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12
5. The full development of the Romish ecclesiastical system, which at first as a harlot dominates the empire, but afterwards is destroyed by the ten kings. 2 Timothy 3:1-9
; 2 Timothy 4:3,4
; 2 Peter 2:1-3
; Jude 3,4,11 ; Revelation 17:1-6,16
6. The casting out of the devil and his angels from heaven, when Satan will energise the beast (head of the Roman empire) and the false prophet (Antichrist): they will persecute the pious Jews, will abolish the worship of Jehovah at Jerusalem, and enforce idolatry and the worship of the image of the beast everywhere. Thus there will be formed a trinity of evil. Daniel 7:19-25
; Daniel 9:27
; Daniel 11:36-39
; 2 Thessalonians 2:4
; Revelation 13:1-18
7. The appearing of the Lord with the heavenly saints to judge His enemies, and to deliver His earthly people. Daniel 2:34,35,44,45
; Matthew 24:30
; 1 Thessalonians 4:14
; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10
; Revelation 19:11-21
8. The gathering of the ten tribes after the coming of the Lord so that all Israel will be reunited in the land, under the sceptre of the Lord, He being the Antitype of David. They will be attacked in their land by Gog (Russia) who will be utterly destroyed. Isaiah 11:11-14
; Ezekiel 36 , Ezekiel 38 , Ezekiel 39 ; Daniel 12:2,3
; Romans 11:26,27
9. The binding of Satan; the creation will be delivered from the bondage of corruption, and Christ will reign over the earth a thousand years in peace, being Antitype of Solomon. Psalm 72:8,17
; Isaiah 2:4
; Isaiah 11:6-9
; Isaiah 25:6-8
; Habakkuk 2:14
; Zechariah 14:9
; Romans 8:21,22
; Revelation 20:1-6
10. The loosing of Satan for a short time, who will again deceive the nations: they will attack the saints on earth and Jerusalem; but the enemy will be destroyed by fire, and Satan be cast into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:7-10
. The eternal state will ensue.