This ten-week Bible study leads participants through the Old Testament prophetic books, showing how they point to the true and living Word of GodJesus.
About the Author
Nancy Guthrie teaches the Bible to women at her church, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and at conferences worldwide. She and her husband, David, are the cohosts of the GriefShare video series used in more than 10,000 churches nationwide and also host Respite Retreats for couples who have experienced the death of a child. Guthrie is also the host of Help Me Teach the Bible, a podcastfrom the Gospel Coalition.
Read an Excerpt
An Introduction to the Prophets
The Word of the Lord
Do you, right now, have a smartphone within your grasp? Have you checked to see if you've had a message in the last fifteen minutes? If you're like me, you can hardly stand to see that red light blinking and not look to see what the message is. Maybe you've read or heard some of these self-tests to see if you are developing an unhealthy addiction to your device:
* If you're driving around town and discover that you forgot your phone, do you find yourself becoming very unsettled about what messages you may be missing?
* Have you ever almost rear-ended someone or run off the road because you were trying to read a text or type one?
* Have you ever completed a transaction at a store without once speaking to the person waiting on you because you were talking on your phone?
* Have you put your phone on vibrate at the movie theater or at church rather than turn it off, even though you're not expecting anything important?
* Have you developed a habit of checking your phone every few minutes whether or not you've heard a tone or seen a flashing light, just in case you've missed something?
* Do you find that you feel a surge of significance when you get a message and a tinge of disappointment when there are no new messages? And here's the real kicker:
* Have you ever answered your phone while in the bathroom and had to delay flushing so you would not give yourself away?
Is it not embarrassing to think about how desperate we are to make sure we don't miss any messages? Someone out there — anyone out there — may have something to tell us, and we simply must know now. Sometimes our desperation to read a message is almost as if it were a message straight from God himself.
And then we realize — God has sent us a message, the most important message we will ever receive. The Bible, though written by human authors, is God speaking. And what is most amazing about the Bible is that it is not just a record of what God has said in the past. When we read the Bible, it is God actively speaking to us right now. The book of Hebrews begins with these words:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke ... (Heb. 1:1)
I have to stop right there so that we can think about what this means: God spoke. Perhaps this has been drained of wonder for us. God — the God whose word has the power to call planets and plants and people into existence, who from eternity past has existed in unfathomable splendor — has condescended to distill his thundering voice into human language. This God has sent us a message about how life in his world works and why it doesn't always work well and what he has done and will do about it.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets. (Heb. 1:1)
Who were the prophets? The first prophet was Moses. Before Moses, God communicated directly with the heads of individual families by visions and dreams or by appearing to them and speaking. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph all received these kinds of personal revelations. Rather than having another person bring them the word of God, the Lord himself spoke directly to them in a variety of ways. But by Moses's day, the twelve sons of Jacob had burgeoned into a populace of six hundred thousand heads of families. How would God speak to this huge crowd of people? Through Moses, God began to speak to the nation through a spokesperson known as a prophet.
After Moses, God spoke through a number of other prophets. After Moses, the one who really catches our attention is Samuel. He prophesied during the time of the judges. Samuel as God's prophet anointed the first king of Israel, Saul, and then the great king of Israel, David. And, really, the rise or expansion of the number of prophets in Israel coincides with the rise of the monarchy in Israel.
We tend to think of Israel's kings through the lens of other kingships in history — as having absolute power. But that is not how it was supposed to work in ancient Israel. The prophet was the one who anointed and installed the king. The prophet was to stand in the counsel of God and then give direction to the king from God. Much of what the prophets said in their day to the king and to the people is written down in the Prophetic Books of the Old Testament — books that go by the prophet's name, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, Hosea, and Micah. Over one hundred times in the Historical and Prophetic Books of the Old Testament we read that "the word of the LORD came" to a prophet. The prophets did not communicate their own ideas or agendas. They were called by God to be spokesmen for God.
And, amazingly, though the books by the prophets were God's message to his people in their day, they are no less God's message for you and me today. But can we be honest about the Prophetic Books? Aren't they, in some ways, the most difficult part of the Bible to grasp? Aren't they the books of the Bible that most of us know the least about? If I asked you to give me a sentence describing what Lord of the Flies or The Scarlet Letter or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is about, I imagine you'd be able to tell me. But, if you're like me, you'd probably have a harder time describing what the books of Micah or Ezekiel or Malachi are about, wouldn't you? Many of us would say that the Bible is the most important book in our lives, and yet there are parts of it we've been content to not really know about. But we want that to change. So, perhaps we should just deal up front with the problems we are going to have to overcome if we want to hear God speaking to us through the Old Testament Prophetic Books.
The Problems with the Prophets We Must Overcome
What is it that makes the Old Testament Prophetic Books difficult to read and understand?
First, we're unfamiliar with the history and geography. If you or I were reading something that had references to the Depression or 9/11 or to the Rockies or the Big Apple, we would have no trouble understanding these references because they entail history and geography we are familiar with. But when we read that Isaiah sees a warrior coming from Edom in crimson garments, we don't get what this means because we don't know that Edom represents the enemies of God and of God's people throughout the Old Testament. When Amos talks about the "cows of Bashan" (Amos 4:1), we don't laugh out loud as we should. We don't immediately get that those "cows" were rich, lazy women who didn't care about the poor, because we're unfamiliar with the sociopolitical landscape of his day.
Likewise, because most of us lack a basic mental picture of the geography of countries and cities of the ancient Middle East, these geographical references don't immediately register. You may not have spent a lot of time looking at the maps at the end of your Bible. But a little time spent with the maps will be a great help to you in grasping what is being said in the Prophetic Books. To help you with this, a map that shows the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah (p. 21) and a wider map that shows Assyria and Babylonia in relation to Israel and Judah (p. 164) have been included in this book.
I grew up going to Sunday school, learning all the stories of the Old Testament. But as grateful as I am for this background, somehow I never really grasped how those stories fit together. My knowledge of the history of the Old Testament was a mishmash of kings and kingdoms and battles and exiles that I made little sense of for most of my life. Maybe you have had the same experience. So let's take a minute to nail down the most basic history we need to grasp to make sense of the Prophetic Books — and, really, the whole of the story of the people of God.
Remember that the Israelites came into the land as twelve tribes and eventually were given a king. There was Saul, then David, and then Solomon. After King Solomon died, the kingdom of Israel split into two kingdoms. The ten tribes in the north were called "Israel" and are sometimes referred to as "Samaria," which was the name of their capital. And the two tribes in the south — Judah and Benjamin — were called "Judah" and are sometimes referred to as "Jerusalem," which was their capital. Eventually the northern kingdom was conquered by Assyria and taken into exile and never really returned but was essentially folded into other people groups. Two hundred years later, the southern kingdom, Judah, was taken into exile in Babylon, and eventually a small remnant of those exiles from Judah returned to the land and were then known as "Jews."
Some of the prophets prophesied during the days before the northern kingdom was taken into exile. We'll start next week with Jonah, who prophesied to the northern kingdom. There are also prophets who prophesied in the southern kingdom before and after the northern kingdom went into exile. Those prophets constantly called Judah to look at what had happened in the northern kingdom to avoid the same experience. But they didn't. So we also have prophets who prophesied to the people of Judah living in exile in Babylon and a couple who prophesied to those who eventually returned to Jerusalem.
But this brings up another obstacle we have to overcome to study the Prophetic Books. You and I tend to prefer reading our history from beginning to end, in chronological order. So we might expect that the Prophetic Books that appear earlier in our Bibles were written first. But the Prophetic Books are not placed in our Bibles in chronological order, and the material within the books is not always presented in chronological order. These books were written by ancient Eastern writers who organized material differently than we do.
If you will open up your Bible to the contents page, you'll see that in the Old Testament we have the five books of Moses, from Genesis through Deuteronomy; then the Historical Books, from Joshua through Esther; and then the Wisdom Books, from Job through Song of Solomon. Following those books, we have the Major and the Minor Prophets, from Isaiah through Malachi. We might assume that everything we read about from Isaiah through Malachi happened after what we read about in the preceding books. But in reality we can lay the content of the prophets over the content of 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah in terms of dating. The prophets prophesied at the time of the events described in the Historical Books.
We might also assume that because Isaiah is the first of the Prophetic Books, he was the first prophet to write his book. But he wasn't. The book of Isaiah is first because it is the longest. The next book, Jeremiah, is the next longest book. The Major Prophets are major because they are longer, and the Minor Prophets are minor not because they are less important, but because they are shorter.
Because we want to grasp the historical setting these books were written in so that we can better understand their message, we're going to go in chronological order instead of biblical order. We won't be able to explore each of the sixteen Prophetic Books, but we'll cover nine of them over the course of our study.
So our unfamiliarity with ancient geography and history as well as our love for chronology makes understanding the Prophetic Books a challenge, but hopefully we're already getting a better grasp of that. A second reason we struggle to understand the Prophetic Books is that we're easily bored or confused by their repetitive oracles. As we work our way through the Prophetic Books, we'll see that some of them tell us a story — such as that of the prophet Jonah and that of Daniel and his friends. But much of the content in the Prophetic Books is made up of oracles. Some of the oracles are like sermons or extended poems. Others are in the form of a dialogue between the prophet and God or a description of a visionary experience given to the prophet by God. Many of the Prophetic Books are collections of oracles of a particular prophet, selected from a lifetime of prophetical ministry — kind of like a "greatest hits" album by your favorite recording artist. It can be difficult to know where one oracle ends and another begins, and the content of the oracles can seem repetitive. But recognizing and identifying these repeated elements will actually help us. There are really only three major themes, and they are reiterated throughout the Prophetic Books: sin, judgment, and hope.
The prophets weren't really telling the king and the people to do anything new. Instead, they were like prosecutors in our legal system, charging the people with crimes against God's law, the Ten Commandments. We're going to find that the prophets repeatedly pointed out the ways God's people were not obeying the commandments that had been given long before through Moses. The prophets reiterated the same promised blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience that Moses had revealed back in Deuteronomy. The prophets confronted God's people about having other gods before Yahweh, bowing down to graven images, taking the Lord's name in vain, and treating the Sabbath like any other day. The prophets indicted God's people for dishonoring their parents and for murder, adultery, theft, lying, and coveting.
But the prophets were after more than just rigid obedience to the law. They called God's people to love the Lord, which is and always has been the heart of real obedience to God's law. They point out all the things that the people loved in place of God, including: bribes (Isa. 1:23), sleep (Isa. 56:10), foreign gods (Jer. 2:25), lies (Jer. 5:31), playing the prostitute (Ezek. 23:14, 17), sacred raisin cakes of other gods (Hos. 3:1), shameful ways (Hos. 4:18), bringing offerings to centers of false worship (Amos 4:4–5), and evil (Mic. 3:2). The only cure for this wholehearted departure into sin lay in their return to an all-consuming love for the Lord. That's what the prophets called them to.
A third thing that makes the Prophetic Books challenging is that we have a misunderstanding about what prophecy is. We tend to think of a prophet as someone who predicts the future, much like a fortune-teller or psychic. And it is true that there was an element of prediction in the Old Testament prophets' job and message. They spoke of coming judgment, the exile, and the future restoration of a faithful remnant to the land. But the prophets did not make their predictions primarily to inform the people of their day about the future; rather, the predictions were meant to encourage the people of God to form the future. Their predictions were often conditional, intended to act as incentives toward repentance and obedience.
These are some of the things that make the Prophetic Books challenging to grasp, and you might think of others. So what makes them worth our investment over the weeks to come? I want to suggest several reasons we should lean in to listen to the message God gave to his people through his prophets.
The Message of the Prophets We Must Hear
The first reason we need to study the Prophetic Books is that we struggle with the same sins they struggled with: idolatry, disregard for God's law, empty religiosity, being in love with the world, hard-heartedness, greed, lack of concern for the poor, and presumption as members of the covenant community. If you read that list and really don't see your own sin in it, that doesn't mean this study isn't for you. In fact, it might mean that this study is even more important for you. We are so very practiced in denying our sinfulness. We rationalize and minimize and relabel our sins so that they don't even come up on our radar. Maybe you and I need to hear repeatedly about the sins that break the heart of God so that conviction will penetrate our well-rehearsed denials. Maybe, as Israel's and Judah's sins were exposed so that they might come to repentance, our sins will be exposed so that we will come to repentance.
So, first, we struggle with the same sins they struggled with, and second, we are subject to the same judgment. God's judgment on his people in the time of the prophets meant that they lost their inheritance in the land, they were exiled from the rest that God provided, and God's presence was withdrawn from their midst. And, my friend, we are subject to that same judgment. No one who claims to be part of the people of God yet lives in ongoing, unrepentant rebellion against the commands of God can anticipate inheriting all that God has promised or enjoying the rest that God provides. Instead, he or she can anticipate an eternity away from the presence of God.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Word of the Lord"
Copyright © 2014 Nancy Guthrie.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Before We Get Started: A Note from Nancy 11
Week 1 An Introduction to the Prophets
Teaching Chapter: The Word of the Lord 17
Discussion Guide 32
Week 2 Jonah
Personal Bible Study 37
Teaching Chapter: Questions God Asks 43
Looking Forward 57
Discussion Guide 59
Week 3 Hosea
Personal Bible Study 63
Teaching Chapter: Our Holy Husband 69
Looking Forward 83
Discussion Guide 85
Week 4 Micah
Personal Bible Study 89
Teaching Chapter: Law and Order 94
Looking Forward 108
Discussion Guide 110
Week 5 Isaiah
Personal Bible Study 115
Teaching Chapter: There Are Some Things You Can't Unsee 119
Looking Forward 132
Discussion Guide 134
Week 6 Habakkuk
Personal Bible Study 139
Teaching Chapter: Feeling Pretty Good about Myself 143
Looking Forward 156
Discussion Guide 158
Week 7 Jeremiah
Personal Bible Study 163
Teaching Chapter: I Pledge My Allegiance 170
Looking Forward 183
Discussion Guide 185
Week 8 Daniel
Personal Bible Study 189
Teaching Chapter: What You Need to Know 194
Looking Forward 208
Discussion Guide 210
Week 9 Ezekiel
Personal Bible Study 215
Teaching Chapter: The House That Built Me 221
Looking Forward 234
Discussion Guide 236
Week 10 Malachi
Personal Bible Study 241
Teaching Chapter: The Problem and the Promise 245
Looking Forward 258
Discussion Guide 260
What People are Saying About This
“It’s not hyperbole to say, ‘It’s about time.’ While there are good books out there telling pastors how to preach Christ from all the Scriptures, there have been very few Bible studies for laypeopleespecially for womenalong these lines. Nancy Guthrie does an amazing job of helping us to fit the pieces of the biblical puzzle together, with Christ at the center.”
Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California; author, Justification (New Studies in Dogmatics)
“I am thankful to God to be able to offer Nancy Guthrie’s series Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament to the women of our church. For too long studies have led us only to see what we are to do. Now we can see through the pages of this series what Jesus has done! With Nancy’s help, the story of redemption jumps off the pages of the Old Testament, and the truths of the gospel are solidified in women’s hearts and lives.”
Jo Coltrain, Director of Women’s Ministry, First Evangelical Free Church, Wichita, Kansas
“Nancy takes us by the hand and the heart on an exegetical excursion to see Christ in the Old Testament. The beauty of Guthrie’s writing is that you are certain she has met him there first.”
Jean F. Larroux, Former Senior Pastor, Southwood Presbyterian Church, PCA, Huntsville, Alabama
“There are many great Christian books, but not many great Bible studies. Nancy is a master of getting the Word of God into the mouths, hearts, and lives of her students. I cannot wait to share this study with my people.”
Donna Dobbs, Women and Children’s Director, First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi