Human Reactions to Predictions

What do we learn about the influence of human reactions to predictions in the story of Jonah?

Answer:

The Lord, in general terms, declares these words in Jeremiah 18:7-10:

If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it (Jeremiah 18:7-10).

The Lord here sets a general principle that he could give promises or prophecies of goodness or benevolences to a certain nation. But if this nation does not submit to the Lord and does not live according to his laws and commandments, the Lord will not fulfill the promise or the prophecy he said, and he will not do them good. And on the other hand, if he prophesied to destroy certain people, and this people returned and repented, the prophecy of destruction and devastation would not be fulfilled.

One of the clearest examples for that is Jonah. When Jonah went to Nineveh, the prophecy was, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” in 3:4. We already know from the book of Jonah that the city was not overthrown after the forty days, because a contingent event happened after Jonah said the prophecy. The people repented and returned to the Lord. The prophecy was not fulfilled in Jonah’s days. It was postponed and fulfilled in Nahum’s days, who came and declared the destruction of Nineveh. It was not fulfilled directly in the timeframe or the era Jonah mentioned. Jonah himself told us in 4:2 that he knew that if the people repented, the Lord would be gracious and merciful, forgiving iniquity and transgression. Therefore, Old Testament prophecies have implicit conditions, if not explicit. If the people interacted positively with the prophecy through obedience, the destruction that the prophecy might have indicated would not happen, and vice versa. If the people negatively interacted through rebellion and disobedience, the good that the Lord had previously promised would not happen.

Prophecies are Conditional

Why is it that some prophecies in Scripture don’t come to pass as predicted?

Answer:

Some prophecies in Scripture don’t come to pass as predicted because prophecies are conditional, with either explicit or implicit conditions. So, the response of the people towards these conditions determines the way in which the prophecy is fulfilled. Let’s take an example of explicit conditions. In Isaiah 1:18-20, the prophet says,

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword (Isaiah 1:18-20).

Here, we see very explicit conditions. “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” There will be blessings. But if you refuse, there will be punishment — “you shall be eaten by the sword.” This is an example of a prophecy with conditions based on obedience or disobedience that will bring judgment. We also find an example of implicit conditions in Jeremiah 7:5-7, where the prophet says,

For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever (Jeremiah 7:5-7).

The conditions listed here include not oppressing “the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow.” If these conditions are fulfilled, the promise is to let them dwell in that place, in the land that God gave to their fathers. The implicit condition here is that if they do oppress the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow, if they act on the contrary, the prophecy will not be fulfilled. He will not let them dwell in the land that he promised to their fathers. So, the way the people respond to the explicit and implicit conditions in the prophecies determines the way in which a prophecy will be fulfilled, according to its conditions.

Cows of Bashan in Amos 4

What is the significance of the cows of Bashan in the oracle of judgment from Amos 4?

Answer:

The Bashan region existed to the northeast of the Jordan River and was famous for its fat herds of sheep and cows. The metaphor of “the cows of Bashan” is used many times in the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 22:12 says, “Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me.” The metaphor here is used to describe the enemies that oppressed and harmed the people. In Amos 4:1,

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria. Who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, “Bring, that we may drink!” (Amos 4:1).

It is talking here about the women of Samaria who asked their husbands for more prosperity. And they oppressed the poor and crushed the needy. In the history of Israel, when men’s leadership was declining, it was sort of God’s judgment over the people to appoint women or infants over them. “Infants” here refers to immature leadership. We can see an example of this in Isaiah 3:12:

My people — infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them (Isaiah 3:12).

So what happened during the days of Amos was that the women of Samaria mistreated the poor, oppressed the poor and abused the miserable and the needy. Therefore, the prophet described them as the fat cows of Bashan who abused others and asked for more things from their husbands, more wealth and properties, while abusing and oppressing the poor and the weak.

Historical Context of Isaiah 7

How does understanding the historical context help us interpret Isaiah 7?

Answer:

Understanding the historical context of Isaiah 7 and 8 helps us to interpret the text correctly in several ways. The historical context shows that, at that time, Rezin, the king of Syria, and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, the king of Israel, made a coalition and came to wage war against Judah. At that time Ahaz was the king of Judah. Ahaz was afraid and confused. The reason for this war was that Judah refused to join Syria and Israel in their coalition against Assyria. The Lord comforted Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah and told him not to be afraid of these two kings — Rezin and Pekah — not to fear Syria and Israel. The Lord told him to ask for a sign. Yet, Ahaz refused to ask for a sign. So, the Lord gave him the sign of Immanuel and informed him directly in 7:16,

For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted (Isaiah 7:16).

There is a reference here that Assyria is coming and will lay waste to the land and its two kings, Rezin and Pekah; this is in chapter 7. In chapter 8, the picture gets clearer that the sign the Lord gave to king Ahaz — the sign of Immanuel — was fulfilled in chapter 8 in the birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz. In 8:4 we read:

For before the boy knows how to cry “My father” or “My mother,” the wealth ofDamascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria (Isaiah 8:4).

Once again, we see that this sign was fulfilled. And the Lord assured Ahaz not to be afraid of Israel and Syria because both would be exiled through the strong Assyrian empire. The Lord was saying to him, “Do not worry! Trust! The Lord is your helper and sustainer.” This is the historical context, which is very important to understand in order to know the details of Isaiah 7 and 8.

Prophets’ Use of Symbolic Actions

Why did prophets sometimes use symbolic actions in their prophecies?

Answer:

Prophets sometimes used symbolic actions in their prophecies to illustrate the Lord’s message to the people in a visual and clear way, without any ambiguity. One of the prophets who used many symbolic actions in the Old Testament is Ezekiel. Let me give some quick examples. For example, in Ezekiel 5:1-4, the Lord commanded Ezekiel to shave his head and beard, to weigh the hair, and to burn part of it in the fire as a sign of the coming destruction and devastation of Jerusalem. In Ezekiel 12:1-7, the Lord commanded Ezekiel to prepare baggage, and to go out in the sight of the people, to walk in front of them while carrying his baggage. This was a sign to tell them to be prepared for the coming exile, to say that, “All of us are going into exile.” In the same chapter, in verse 6, the Lord said to the prophet, “I have made you a sign for the people.” So, through this behavior, he is a clear picture, a sign, and a visual illustration of what the Lord wants to say to the people. Another example is in 24:15-27. Here, the Lord told Ezekiel that he would take away from him the delight of his eyes, his wife. He commanded him not to mourn or weep over his wife! The people were astonished and asked him in verse 19,

Will you not tell us what these things mean for us? (Ezekiel 24:19).

It says twice in the same chapter, in verse 24,

Thus shall Ezekiel be to you a sign (Ezekiel 24:24).

And verse 27,

You will be a sign to them (Ezekiel 24:27).

So, the symbolic actions that took place in the lives of the prophets were one of the means the Lord used to send his message in the clearest possible way to the people, hoping that the people might repent and return to the Lord.

Prophecies As Historical Narratives

Why did prophets write some of their prophecies as historical narratives?

Answer:

Many parts of the Prophets were written as historical narratives, in particular as biographies and autobiographies of the prophets themselves. This is because there can’t be a separation between the ministry and the personal life of the prophet in the Old Testament. The Lord raised up the prophet among the people to be a pattern and type of the people’s lives, and his personal life was a message to the people. As we see, for example, in Hosea, where the Lord commanded the prophet to marry “a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom,” to embody, through the personal life of the prophet, the message the Lord wanted to deliver to his people. So, we can’t split the personal life of the prophet and his circumstances, such as his marriage, from the message the Lord wanted to deliver to the people. The prophet, through his life and words, was the message to the people. In addition, the benevolence the Lord showed to the prophet displayed the type of blessings God offered to his people. So, the way the Lord dealt with the prophet illustrated before the people what the Lord was doing with them. The life of the prophet and the way God worked in his life was a figurative image of the way God was dealing with his people.

Identifying Prophetic Literature

How can identifying the different kinds of literature that appear in the prophetic books help us interpret them more responsibly?

Answer:

Identifying the genre is extremely helpful to us in interpreting the Prophets. There’s an important verse in the book of Exodus 33:11 that says, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Another important reference is in Numbers 12:6-8, which says that the Lord spoke to Moses “mouth to mouth,” but to the prophets God spoke in visions, dreams, and riddles. These two references help us understand that Moses’ writings contain direct revelations from God that do not include riddles, visions, or dreams. They do not have rhetorical devices like imagery, symbols, or metaphors as we would expect to find in prophetic books. In the Prophets, God more frequently speaks through dreams, visions, and riddles. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews also says that God spoke by the prophets in many ways. So, when we come to the writings of the prophets, we would expect and anticipate finding rhetorical devices like imagery, metaphors, and symbols, because of the nature of divine revelation through the prophets, which involves, as I said, dreams, riddles, and visions… Let me give an example, or some examples, for this. In Ezekiel 17, Ezekiel speaks a parable or a story of the two eagles and the vine. This is an example of a riddle or allegory through which the Lord speaks to the people. We also see symbolic actions that the prophets performed to send a message to the people. For example, in Isaiah 20, the Lord asked Isaiah to walk naked and barefoot for three years. The Lord asked Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 27 and 28, to put a yoke on his neck as a symbol of putting the people under the yoke of the exile. In Ezekiel 4, the Lord asked Ezekiel to lie on his left side for 390 days and on his right side for 40 days. Such symbolic actions, proverbs, and stories, which are found in the Prophets, help us understand the genre. We can anticipate finding more symbols and poetry in the Prophets. So identifying the genre helps us understand the best approach to interpret prophetic texts.