Understanding the Prophets

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Understanding the ProphetsThe prophetic book of Isaiah is divided up into 3 main sections of prophetic visions:  Chapters 1-35 are one section and chapters 40-66 are a second group of visions.  In the middle (as a sort of interlude) we are retold the history of the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib, king of Assyria; the account of the Lord defeating Assyria and protecting Judah; the sickness and recovery of King Hezekiah; along with his many mistakes.  This is a rehashing of the account previously recorded in 2 Kings 18-20.

While reading through the first section of Isaiah’s prophecies, you may have found it difficult to follow what Isaiah is saying.  While it is clear that he is speaking as a mouthpiece of God, delivering a message of warning to Israel, it is many times a bit challenging to determine if the vision refers to past or future events.  It is this challenge which has led many to superimpose interpretations upon the Biblical text which either stretch the original meaning or simply do not make sense at all.

To assist – here are 10 basic rules to follow when reading/interpreting prophecy:

1.      Understand that God isn’t trying to hide Truth from us.

2.      The language of the Bible is not mystical – apply the same meanings as you normally would in everyday conversation.

3.      Do not change the literal meaning of words to make them more “spiritual”.

4.      Do not search for “hidden meanings” behind the text.

5.      Understand that prophecy can be understood as it appears – simply a record beforehand of things to happen sometime after it was spoken.  History in advance!

6.      Prophecy does not have to be fulfilled before it can be understood (as some teach).  The meaning of Scripture is clear.

7.      Do not change the obvious meaning of Scripture unless other Scripture interprets it that way.

8.      Assume the literal meaning is the only meaning unless a double meaning is clearly stated. Sometimes prophecy does have a double reference – but other times a future event is written as if it happened immediately, yet thousands of years have in fact gone by between events.

9.      Recognize that the main role of a prophet is to instruct God’s people in righteousness.  Although the visions many times foretell future events, the main point is to rebuke, instruct, correct, edify, and exhort God’s people.  If the interpretation doesn’t follow that guideline then it isn’t correct.

10.  Most importantly, understand that the prophet’s vision was given during a REAL time in history.  Knowing the manners, customs, idioms, and expressions of that time/culture will go far in assisting you with understanding the meanings of the words of prophecy.

Prophecy is a vital part of Scripture that should be studied and interpreted by any follower of Jesus.  The foretelling of future events can be a powerful tool in not only introducing someone to Jesus – but also maturing believers as well.  The main purpose of the OT prophetic writings was to warn God’s people of impending judgment, exhorting them to repent of their current behavior, and instructing them in how to return to a life of obedience.

It is a ploy of Satan to twist this section and make it appear confusing to the average Christian in an attempt to discourage the deep study of Scripture.  Instead, if you approach this section of Scripture in the light we have discussed you will come to appreciate the beauty of the words of prophecy, the urgency of the Prophet, and the power of the prophetic visions they saw.

Be Fruitful & Multiply,



10 Visions of Isaiah

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Isaiahs BurdensOne of the difficult parts when it comes to understanding the writings of the Prophets is their habit of speaking in two different times… their present and the future.  Many times they will interchange their visions – vacillating between events that will happen in just a few years to those that have yet to happen in our future.  Many books and teachings have been composed which seek to bring clarity and interpretation to these writings… an act still ongoing to this day.

Isaiah is relaying 10 visions he has seen regarding the future of 10 major cities of his day.  He records these through chapters 13-23 of his book… noting much calamity and destruction – some of which is almost too much for him to bear (Isaiah 21:2-4). Those 10 cities are:

     1. Babylon (ch. 13 & 21)

     2. Canaan (ch. 14)

     3. Moab (ch. 15-16)

     4. Damascus (ch. 17)

     5. Ethiopia (ch. 18 & 20)

     6. Egypt (ch. 19-20)

     7. Dumah (ch. 21)

     8. Arabia (ch. 21)

     9. Jerusalem (ch. 22)

     10. Tyre (ch. 23)

To get a good idea of the destruction Isaiah is seeing – lets look for a moment at his vision for Jerusalem as recorded in Isaiah 22.

Jerusalem is the city known as the “Valley of Vision” (vs 1).  Isaiah reveals that the citizens of Jerusalem are starting to panic due to reports of a coming invasion by a massive army.  This army is headed up by the Assyrians, and this situation is fully recorded for us in 2 Chron 32 et al.   Isaiah notes that they are gathering on their housetops (vs 1).  In Jerusalem the houses have flat roofs and the family would gather there in important times (much like we gather in the streets today).   On the housetops one could see with a better view… and witness the commotion of the massive army on their doorstep.

So great was the fear of the people of Jerusalem that they were cowering.  Their leaders were captured and destruction was imminent (vs 3).  Isaiah also sees the cities of Elam and Kir involved int he battle against Jerusalem (vs 6).  These are both cities in Persia/Medes and speak of them working with the Assyrians.  (200 years later the Persian/Medes would break from Assyrian control).  The valleys surrounding Jerusalem were “full of chariots” (vs 7) – truly a hopeless situation.

Isaiah next speaks of the efforts by the Jews to protect themselves – from weighing their military (vs 8), to securing the city water supply (vs 9-11), to tearing down houses to use the material to reinforce the walls (vs 10).  Yet, they failed to turn to the Lord for His protection through fasting and prayer (vs 11-12).  Instead, the people of Jerusalem held parties and indulged in pleasure, viewing their lives as over (vs 13).  The Lord has Isaiah specifically call out the Treasurer of Jerusalem – Shebna – who was building a tomb for himself among the rocky heights (as the rich people do).  Isaiah tells him that he will not be buried in that fancy tomb – but instead will die in a foreign land due to being taken into captivity (vs 15-19).  In his place, God will set Eliakim as ruler in Jerusalem (This was fulfilled in 2 Chr 36:4).

As in many of the visions seen by Isaiah – these predictions would come to pass only a few short years later.  God had sent the Prophets to His people to warn them – to turn back to Him in repentance.  Unfortunately, as we have seen, most of the time they ignored the warnings and looked tot heir own defense.  As you read through these prophetic declarations of doom – join me in determining to heed from histories examples, humble ourselves before the Lord, and place Him first in our lives!

Be Fruitful & Multiply,