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Literary Analysis of the Prophets, Part 1

Dear Church Family,

On Sunday mornings at 9:15-10:15 am in the sanctuary, we have Sunday school for all ages. We are using a video series called “He Gave Us Prophets,” combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons that we are using for this class, you may find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing the summaries that I’ve been writing in these weekly emails, you may find those on the HCPCA church website here: https://www.hillcountrypca.org/pastors-blog/category/he-gave-us-prophets.

Continuing with these reviews, here is a summary of some of the things that we learned and covered in our most recent Sunday school class.

Overview of Lesson #6a – Historical Narratives and Communication with God

In this lesson, we learn that the literary genres (or types of writings) in the prophets may be divided into basically three categories: (1) historical narratives, (2) communication with God, and (3) communication with people. In the first part of this lesson, we examined the first two kinds of literature.

(1) Historical Narratives

Historical narratives are simply the relating of a history, either from the perspective of the prophet himself (autobiography) or by someone else (biography). The book of Jonah is a good example of a biographical historical narrative which is written about Jonah by another writer. The book of Daniel contains both biographical historical narrative (Daniel, chapters 1-6) and autobiographical historical narrative (Daniel, chapters 7-12).

Within these historical narratives, there are several different kinds of content. The “prophetic call” recounts how the Lord called and commissioned a prophet to be His emissary to the people (e.g., Isaiah experience in the heavenly throne room in Isaiah 6). “Symbolic actions” are when a prophet performed certain actions which were intended to communicate a message to the people (e.g., Jeremiah’s burying his linen belt (Jeremiah 13:1-11) or Hosea’s naming of his children was intended to communicate messages to God’s people). “Vision reports” are those portions of the prophets in which the prophet would give a detailed description of a vision that the Lord had given him (e.g., Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37)). Finally, the prophets often simply describe the “historical background” or events that took place during their ministry (e.g., Isaiah 7-8 describes the events surrounding King Ahaz’s deliberations and preparations for an impending invasion).

(2) Communication with God

The prophets often recorded their prayers – the ways in which they communicated with the Lord. These prayers were intended to help the people of God to pray in a proper manner. Thus, the recorded communications with God in the prophets included both prayers of lament and prayers of praise.

In prayers of lament, prophets would often speak to the Lord in prayer, lamenting over either the sins of the people or the judgments that the Lord had sent upon the people because of their sin. For instance, Habakkuk prays to God lamenting over the sins of the people in their ignoring his law and perverting justice:

“Why do You make me see iniquity, And cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:3-4)

In prayers of praise, the prophets praise the Lord for both His judgments and His blessings. In example, in the closing verses of Habakkuk, the prophet praises the Lord in the midst of the a famine and difficult times, while also expressing confidence in the God’s faithfulness and ability to save:

“Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds' feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Conclusion

In our class on Sunday, we discussed how the writings of the prophets – like portions of the Psalms, as well – teach us how to properly lament, to repent and mourn over our sinfulness and sins. But, we also learn how to appropriately praise the Lord, even in times that are difficult and trying, knowing that “The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.” (Lamentations 3:22-25)

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch