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Literary Analysis of the Prophets, Part 2

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 #6b –Communication with People

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. In the most recent second part of this lesson, we examined how the prophets communicated with people.

Communication with People

The main purpose of the prophets was to be God’s emissaries by speaking to kings and to the people of the visible covenant community. In speaking on behalf of God to the people, the prophets employed three basic forms of commutation: (1) speeches of judgment, (2) speeches of blessing, and (3) mixed speeches.

(1) Speeches of Judgment

Prophetic speeches of judgment are usually broken down into three kinds:

a. Judgment oracles: containing two part (the accusation of sin and sentencing of God).
b. Woe oracles: containing three parts (introductory expression of woe, the accusation, and sentencing of God).
c. Lawsuits: a much more elaborate speech of judgment containing several elements (summons to court, identification of witness, review of God’s kindness to His people, accusation of sin, response from the accused, and sentencing of God).

(2) Speeches of Blessing

There are basically two ways in which the prophets would typically announce divine blessings:

a. Judgments against the enemies of God’s people.
b. Direct blessings for God’s people.

(3) Mixed Speeches

As the name of this category of communications to the people implies many times the prophets mixed statements of blessing and cursing together. Here are just some of these kinds of mixed speeches:

a. Judgment-salvation Oracles: judgment is threatened against some and blessings are offered to others in the same speech.
b. Call to repentance: in the midst of the warnings of judgment and promises of blessing, the prophet will call the people of God to repent of their sin and rebellion.
c. Call to war: prophets would often call God’s people to war, especially to defend themselves against other nations.
d. Prophetic disputation: this form of communication entails disputing or arguing with other (especially, false) prophets.
e. Parables: imagery or illustrative stories which were used to announce God’s threat and judgment or promised blessing.

Mosaic Precedent for Law-court Patterns in the Prophets (Genesis 3:8-14)

One of the interesting things that we discussed in class was the literary background of these sorts of prophetic speeches to the people. Of course, there are contemporary examples of such speeches found in the surrounding nations of Israel; however, the prophets were ultimately dependent upon the patterns already laid down in Scripture for the ways in which they communicated with the people. The prophets’ messages were based upon the writings of Moses in the Pentateuch.

For instance, immediately following Adam and Eve’s initial sin and fall in the garden of Eden, Genesis 3 records for us a basic law-court trial:

Genesis 3:8 – God the Judge enters the courtroom
Genesis 3:9-13 – God summons and questions the accused (Adam and Eve)
Genesis 3:14-19 – God sentences the guilty (the serpent, Eve, and Adam)
Genesis 3:20 – Response of the accused
Genesis 3:21-24 – Blessing and dismissal of the guilty

Conclusion

Having examined both the historical setting and literary aspects of the writings of the prophets, in the next lesson we will begin to learn how to properly interpret and apply these texts of the Old Testament. Specifically, we will begin by learning about the different kinds of predictions that the prophets made.

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