This weekend I have been in Latvia surrounded by snow and immersed the Old Testament Prophets.
If I might be allowed a confession, I have always found the Old Testament Prophets some of the most difficult books to preach on.
There are a variety of reasons for this. These include the fact that the Major Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are long, complex, and come from a distant time and place. Daniel, which is not strictly included in the prophets, but in the third section of the Hebrew Bible, The Writings, is in mainly places like a crazy sci-fi movie.
I also have a painful memory of trying to preach through the book of Jeremiah.
Mercifully I had the wisdom to give up after Chapter 10. Many people in the congregation had the wisdom to give up well before that!
Scarred for life by this traumatic preaching experience, I gave the prophets a wide berth, apart from a few sorties into Isaiah and a series on the briefer and surer ground of the book of Jonah.
I must be getting over the nervousness and trauma because in the past ten years I have been more adventurous in exploring these books.
Preparing for this course had further whetted my appetite and I think I will take any opportunity that I get in the future to hang out with this stimulating group of preachers.
I guess that the main attraction for me in the prophets is that they are preachers.
They do what preachers do.
Prophets listen to God.
Their voice is an echo of God’s voice. It is a message that often says, “Thus says the Lord.”
Prophets carefully excavate God’s word.
The handbook for the prophets is the five books of Moses. In this sense their message is unoriginal. Their message calls Israel to remember their identity as God’s people, remember the covenant relationship that they have with God, and remember to take it seriously every day as they faithfully seek to love God with all they are and love their neighbour as themselves.
Prophets creatively seek imaginative ways to communicate God’s word.
Prophets use vivid, often poetic, language, evocative imagery, symbolic action, and penetrating application to connect with the people of their day.
Prophets come in many shapes, sizes and styles.
There is the magisterial Isaiah whose elegant prophecies gain access to royal palaces as he speaks truth to power. Isaiah points so often to Jesus that his Prophecy has been called” “The Fifth Gospel.”
There are the visceral prophecies of the “Weeping Prophet” Jeremiah who seems to be constantly on the edge of a nervous breakdown as he issues stern warnings, while managing to bring messages of searing hope.
There is the priest Ezekiel, who creatively communicates using the language of temple, sacrifice and worship, and there is Amos who employs the simple rustic language of a farmer.
O, and of course there is Jonah, the preacher who found it hard to be on the same page as God and felt like he wanted to run away.
There is an Old Testament prophet that will resonate with every preacher, every setting, and every time.
Join me in exploring their diverse, formidable, but rewarding world.