|Series Theme: Bible Study Approaches|
Title: 13. How to Study Prophecy (2)
A page that explains a variety of approaches to Studying the Bible
On this page we introduce learning to study prophecies in the Bible.
As a continuation from the first page, this Study gives guidance as to how to approach studying prophetical passages in Scripture.
1. To WHOM was the Prophecy addressed?
Many OT prophecies were to the nation of Israel while it was split into: -
i) the northern kingdom, capital Samaria (with 10 tribes) - often referred to simply as "Israel"
ii) the southern kingdom, capital Jerusalem (with 2 tribes) - often referred to by Jerusalem , or by its leading tribe, Judah
The name “Jacob" is often used to refer to the nation and remind them of their humble origins.
b) Other Nations
God also spoke to a number of other nations as well as Israel , and an observation of the prophecies against them gives some indication of what was happening in them, for example:
Egypt : Isa 19,20 / Jer 46 / Ezek 29,30,32
Tyre : Isa 23 / Ezek 27,28
Ammon : Jer 49:1-6/ Ezek 25:1-7
Moab : Isa 15,16/ Jer 48 / Ezek 25:8-11
Edom : Jer 49:7-22/ Ezek 25:12-14
Philistia : Isa 14:28-32/ Jer 47/ Ezek 25:15-17
Babylon : Isa 13, 14:1-23, 21:1-10/ Jer 50,51
Assyria : Isa 14:24-27
2. WHY was the Prophecy given?
When God spoke He had a REASON. It may include:
a) Declaration of present wrongs e.g. Isa 1:2-4
b) Warning of what will happen if wrongs not stopped e.g. Isa 1:18 - 20
c) Declaration of what WILL happen in the future e.g. Isa 2:1-4
3. Seek to find GOD'S TIME SCALE
God looks into time from outside of it (i.e. from eternity). When a prophet caught the heart of God and prophesied, he often caught things far into the future. Therefore:
a) the prophecy may have a fulfilment in the near future AND distant future e.g. Isa 7:13-16/ Mt 1:22,23
b) the prophecy may have at least two fulfilments e.g. Joel 2:28 -32 fulfilled in part at Pentecost (Acts 2:16 -21) and, we believe, will be further fulfilled at the end of the age (because it has not yet been completely fulfilled.
4. What SCRIPTURAL FULFILMENT can you find?
Sometimes the fulfilment can be clearly seen in scripture either because:
a) it is obvious
e.g. 1 Sam 10:1-12 Samuel predicting immediate future
Dan 4:4-37 Nebuchadnezzar (note it comes in a dream)
b) the inspired writer says it was a fulfilment e.g. Jer31:15 / Mt2:17,18
It is safer to emphasise what SCRIPTURAL fulfilment can you find, because lack of clear fulfilment may lead to the temptation to arrive at erroneous conclusions.
In respect of the end time prophecies in Daniel and in Revelation, Christians are prone to the error of creating division by holding different interpretations when it has not been made absolutely clear.
Although we may hold an opinion as to an interpretation of end time events, we should NOT hold them so dogmatically that we separate ourselves from other sincere believers who understand the interpretation in a different way.
5. What does the Prophecy reveal ABOUT GOD?
Above all else, prophecy should reveal the greatness and glory of God, so that our understanding of Him is increased and our relationship with Him deepened.
Particularly when reading the book of Revelation, see that God is sovereign and all the times are in His hands. Let that truth touch your heart.
6. Look for BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION of SYMBOLS used
a) Often the same passage will give its own interpretation e.g. Rev 12:1-8 shows a dragon. Verse 9 identifies it.
b) Frequently other Scripture gives a clue e.g. Rev 5:6 shows a lamb as if slain - Jn 1:29 identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God.
7. Observe prophecy in NON-PROPHETICAL BOOKS
Because God is frequently talking with His people, we find prophecy in many of the books we would consider 'non-prophetical', for example:
Gen 12:2 - Abram to be a father of a great nation
Gen 15:13-16 - Four hundred year warning of the Exodus from Egypt
Ex 4:21 - Warning of Pharaoh's hardness
Josh 1:2-5 - Promise of victory for Joshua
1 Sam 3:11-14 - Judgement on Eli's priestly family
1 Sam 9: 15,16 - Short term prophecy to Samuel
1 Sam 10:2-6 - Short term prophecy to Saul
A short study of these passages will indicate that God is frequently speaking to and through His people. In each of the above cases God is revealing His purpose for the immediate or distant future so that His people may be aware of and fully participate in His plans and purposes.
We should not, therefore, limit our consideration of 'prophecy' to the 'big books of prophecy' in the Bible, but note that God brings His word in this manner in many other books as well.