How to Study the Prophets: A 3-Minute Boot Camp

 

Welcome to the 3-Minute Boot Camp for Studying the Prophets. The 17 Old Testament prophetic books – Isaiah through Malachi – make up more than 25% of the books of the Bible, so you’ll want to learn how to read these effectively.  Unfortunately, there are four things that kill the average Bible student’s ability to really understand these prophetic books. Luckily, there is an easy four-step remedy.  Go!

STEP 1: DIVISION. You must know that the united nation of Israel split in half in a civil war disagreement. Read about it in 1 Kings 12:1-24. Ten tribes joined the northern kingdom and called themselves “Israel.” Three tribes joined the southern half of the country and called themselves “Judah.” Pretty much every one of the 17 prophetic books was written to either Israel (northern kingdom) or Judah (southern kingdom) — sometimes to both kingdoms.  When you’re reading the prophets and you see it refer to either “Israel” or “Judah,” now you’ll know what they’re talking about.  (See table below.)

STEP 2: EXILE. You must know that two major exiles took place in the Promised Land during the times of the Old Testament prophets. First, the Assyrians came and sent the northern kingdom of Israel into exile (see 2 Kings 17:1-23). Then around 135 years later the Babylonians came and took the southern kingdom of Judah into exile in Babylon (see 2 Chronicles 36:11-20). The people of Judah were in exile in Babylon for 70 years and then they returned to their homeland (see 2 Chronicles 36:21-23).  Many of the prophets spend their time warning their listeners to turn from sin or risk exile.  (See table below.)

STEP 3: CONTEXT. When you go to study a prophetic book, you should first understand the context. Ask the following questions to determine context: Who wrote this book? Who is it to? When was it written? The “When was it written?” question can have four answers: (1) before the Assyrian exile; (2) after the Assyrian exile but before the Babylonian exile; (3) during the Babylonian exile; (4) after the Babylonian exile.  For example, the book of Daniel was written from the land of Babylon during the 70-year Babylonian exile. (See table below.)

STEP 4: FUTURE.  You should know that quite a bit of the material in the prophetic books talks about things that will happen in the future — even in our (the readers) future!  Revelation 19:11-21:4 tells us that Jesus will one day return to earth, and He’ll actually reign on this planet as king for around one thousand years before He takes all of the believers to Heaven for good.  (Make sure to read it for yourself.)  We must know about His plan to reign on earth after His return so that we will know what the prophets are referring to when they prophecy about that thousand-year reigning period.  (Read Zechariah 14 as an Old Testament example of Jesus’ upcoming return and spectacular reign on earth.)

Carefully follow these four steps and you’ll be on your way to mastering the prophetic books of the Bible.  And there’s your 3-Minute Boot Camp.

 

Prophet Written To Date Time Category
Jonah Assyria 820-804 Before Assyrian Exile
Amos Israel 810-785 Before Assyrian Exile
Joel Judah 800 Before Assyrian Exile
Hosea Israel 785-725 Before Assyrian Exile
Micah Israel 749-722 Before Assyrian Exile
Isaiah Judah 740-681 Before Assyrian Exile
Northern Kingdom of Israel Destroyed by the Assyrians 722
Nahum Assyrian 661-612 Before Babylonian Exile
Zephaniah Judah 630 Before Babylonian Exile
Jeremiah Judah 625-582 Before Babylonian Exile
Habakkuk Judah 610-599 Before Babylonian Exile
Jerusalem is Attacked in Three Waves and Ultimately Destroyed by the Babylonians 605, 597, 586
Daniel To the Captives in Babylon 605-534 During Babylonian Exile
Ezekiel To the Captives in Israel 592-570 During Babylonian Exile
Lamentations Spoke from Jerusalem to the Captives in Babylon 586 During Babylonian Exile
Obadiah To the Edomites 585 During Babylonian Exile
Babylon is Conquered by Cyrus of Persia, and Jews are Allowed to Return to Jerusalem 539
Haggai To the Returned Exiles of Babylon 520 After Babylonian Exile
Zechariah To the Returned Exiles of Babylon 518 After Babylonian Exile
Malachi To the Returned Exiles of Babylon 430-400 After Babylonian Exile

 

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