Jeremiah 26:4-5 (ESV)
4 You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, 5 and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, 6 then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.’ ”
Here is a quick thought on the prophets of the Old Testament. Look at what God told Jeremiah to prophesy to the people. The word pretty much said that, if Israel does not begin to obey the commands of God, God will enact a particular punishment on the nation. I would hasten to say, without any actual measure, that this is the theme of most Old Testament prophecy.
Here is what I think we need to consider. Jeremiah was not communicating anything that should have been new to the people. In Deuteronomy, the nation of Israel had been reminded that if they obeyed the laws of God, they would be blessed, but, if they rebelled, they would be punished. The prophets’ job, then, was to communicate to Israel the way in which God would enforce the very laws that he had already given and they had already agreed to as a nation long ago.
Gordon Fee says the following about the prophets in How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), page 184:
Through them God announced his intention to enforce the covenant, for benefit or for harm—depending on the faithfulness of Israel—but always on the basis of and in accordance with the categories of blessing and cursing already contained in Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 4; and Deuteronomy 28-32. If you will take the trouble to learn those chapters from the Pentateuch, you will be rewarded with a much better understanding of why the prophets said the things that they did.
Understanding that the prophets most often spoke for God as they applied his already-given law to the present situation may be very helpful in opening our understanding of their words. The prophets are not as mystical as we often think. Yes, they spoke for God in a different way than a New Testament preacher may speak. But they did not often spend their time predicting the future in ways that are not basically God saying, “OK, I promised that this would happen if you did not obey, and here is how I’m going to actually do what I promised.”
We learn from the prophets that God is faithful, that he keeps his word, and that he enforces his laws. We learn that God does not ignore his promises. We see that God wants his people to hear his commands and to be challenged to obey them. God also wants his people to hear his promises of blessing and to be encouraged by those promises to faithfully follow him.
So, Christians, let’s be careful with the prophets. Let us not make them mystical giants who were hearing brand new, never heard of, predictive revelation all the time. Yes, they did hear such things from God and communicate it from time to time. But, when you read the prophets, what you most often see is them applying the already-given promises of God to the present situation as God led them to do so.