Centuries before Christ was born, Obadiah prophesied that Edom would be completely defeated and displaced (Obadiah 1:2-9), Micah foretold that Judah would go into captivity to Babylon (Micah 4:10), and Nahum forecast that Nineveh would be buried (Nahum 1:14). All these were fulfilled even before Christ came. Many such predictions made in the prophetic books of the Bible have already been fulfilled. How do they relate to or inform us as Christians? Are they just history lessons?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 informs us that all Scripture — including fulfilled prophecy — is profitable and instructive for us and prepares us to serve the Lord. So, besides teaching history, what are we to gain spiritually from these prophecies?
2 Timothy tells us that all Scripture — including fulfilled prophecy — is profitable and instructive for us and prepares us to serve the Lord
There are different types of prophecies, such as judgment speeches, salvation oracles, salvation announcements, and calls to repentance. Most of the ones already fulfilled are judgment speeches. The general form of a judgment speech is “Accusation and Announcement”. The Accusation describes what the people did wrong (their sin) and typically has two parts: a statement of what God did for the people and a description of how the people responded sinfully (Amos 2:10-12). The Announcement shows what will happen to them because they sinned.
When we read the Accusation, we can see what God values, what He expects from us, and what He considers sinful. Sins fall into two general categories, the same ones we see in the Ten Commandments: wrong thinking and behaviour in our relation to God, and wrong thinking about and mistreatment of people.
In the Accusations, we observe the same recurring sins, such as following things that take the place of God in our lives (Habakkuk 2:18-19), worshipping God out of ritual rather than relationship (Isaiah 1:11-15), oppressing the vulnerable (Amos 2:6-8), carrying out violence (Micah 2:1-2), stealing (Isaiah 1:23), engaging in adultery (Jeremiah 5:8), rejoicing at someone else’s trouble (Obadiah 12), cheating in business or the marketplace (Micah 6:10-11), or acting unjustly in the legal system (Amos 5:12).
The same sins are mentioned in Moses’ law, Psalms and Proverbs. The prophets were not inventing new or unique standards, but principles that God had always upheld.
The prophets were not inventing new or unique standards, but principles that God had always upheld
When we read the Announcements, on the other hand, we see God’s responses to sin, which are consistent basic principles (though specifics may vary). These responses teach us about Him. We learn that wealth and other forms of security will not prevent Him from punishing people and nations (Isaiah 10:3; Zephaniah 1:18).
Further, we learn that no power is strong enough to effectively resist Him (Amos 2:14-16). We also glean that He is angry with those who treat others unfairly (Isaiah 10:1-4) and allows human adversaries to defeat such oppressors (Habakkuk 1:5-11) and to plunder what they unjustly took or achieved (Zephaniah 1:13). God will also cause illness (Ezekiel 5:12), allow injurious conflict (Isaiah 9:21; Zechariah 11:9), or send drought and famine (Amos 4:6-8).
We should be cautious about saying that all hardships in our world are acts of judgment for particular people. We also know that such troubles sometimes come upon people for doing what is right, as in the case of Job (Job 1:13-19), Jacob (Genesis 31:36-41), David (Psalm 3:1-2; 18:4-5), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 37:11-21). Persecution can also result from following Christ’s ways (Matthew 5:11).
If the suffering person did not sin, then their hardship is not an act of judgment. While we should always examine ourselves amidst hardship, God may not reveal a sinful cause for that hardship to us. Still, when people live in sin, they can anticipate what will happen to them based on the Announcements.
While we should always examine ourselves amidst hardship, God may not reveal a sinful cause for that hardship to us
Some Accusations and Announcements relate specifically to Israel under the Mosaic Covenant made at Mount Sinai (e.g. Isaiah 58:13; Jeremiah 17:27), but others have a broader audience. Obadiah’s prophecy about Edom was fulfilled, but in Obadiah 15, the Lord warned that this kind of judgment for evildoers would happen to all nations. Micah’s prophecy of Judah being uprooted from their land can be applied to other nations (Zephaniah 2:13-15). Micah also said that Judah would return and that other nations — though not all nations, as Malachi 1:4 clarifies — might as well (Zephaniah 3:8-9). Nahum’s prophecy of Nineveh’s doom applies to many nations (Isaiah 13-23; Jeremiah 46-51; Ezekiel 25-32).
As Christians, there is much that we can continue to learn about God through fulfilled prophecies.
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