Read Any Good Prophets Lately?
There are seventeen books of the Prophets in the Old Testament. They do not, however, represent seventeen individual prophets, because there was no prophet named “Lamentations.” I know this, because I am attempting to teach all these books to kids in the latest DVD I’m writing, the ninth in the “What’s in the Bible?” series.
They say the best way to learn something is to attempt to teach it, and I have definitely found this to be the case. Before I set out to write this script, I don’t think I could have even told you there were 17 books of the Prophets, much less that they represent sixteen prophets, not seventeen. So, forced to really dig into every one of these seventeen books, I’ve learned all sorts of things.
Isaiah tells us about the Messiah. Poor Ezekiel once had to convey a message from God by lying in the street for more than a year staring at a brick, eating bread cooked over poop. (Why isn’t THAT story in our children’s Bibles?!? Kids would LOVE that!) Jeremiah is the first person in Israel to talk about a NEW covenant, and the fact that God’s words in this new covenant won’t be written on stone tablets, but rather on the hearts of his children. God’s word. Written on our hearts. Interesting, huh?
The trick of teaching the prophets, whether in a DVD series or in a Sunday School classroom, is that they represent a sort of doubling back through Israel’s history. They’re reruns. If you’ve taught through the Historical Books, you’ve already covered everything that happens to Israel. The only new stories in the prophets involve guys in big fish, lions’ dens and fiery furnaces, which, while fun to tell, aren’t necessarily the key points being made in the books of the Prophets.
So what ARE the key points? And how do we find the lessons that really need to be taught? That’s where the New Testament comes in. As vital as the historical books may be, the authors of the New Testament spend much more time quoting from the prophets – picking up these important themes like “messiah” and “new covenant.” And this is where we see the entire Bible come together. Why teach the story of Jonah? Because it’s fun and exciting? How about because the New Testament uses Jonah as a symbol for Christ and his emergence from the ‘big fish” after three days as a foreshadowing of Christ’s resurrection?
And what about this odd concept of God’s word being “written on our hearts?” Paul picks up the theme in 2 Corinthians where he says the Corinthian believers are a “letter from Christ,” “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Cor. 3:3 ESV)
Suddenly, Jeremiah’s cryptic prediction leaps to life. The early Christians were not simply to follow the law as it had been written down by Moses, dutifully trying to behave as God had commanded. That was the OLD covenant. Under the NEW covenant, the amazing gift of the Holy Spirit would change their lives as they walked in relationship with Jesus. Transform their characters over time to ever more closely resemble the character of Christ. The new covenant, according to Paul, gives us the opportunity to become new creatures. Thinking and acting in new ways. With ethical, moral, and spiritual “super powers,” if you will. Is that awesome, or what? What kid doesn’t want super powers?!?
The point being, this concept jumped to life for me as I read 2 Corinthians last week in my devotions primarily because Jeremiah’s prediction was still in my mind from my study of the prophets a month earlier. My reading of the New Testament became richer because of my unintentionally-enhanced familiarity with the prophets, and my appreciation of the prophets has increased as I see their themes picked up and developed by Paul and the other New Testament authors.
The Bible is a WHOLE. The Pentateuch shows us the source of our human predicament, and the genesis of God’s solution. The Historical books teach us that human effort alone can’t solve the problem – even if we have a detailed list of everything God wants us to do. We still can’t do it. And the Prophets lay the groundwork for God’s miraculous solution. The Prophets plant seeds that won’t spring to life until the 1st century, as Jesus walks with his followers post-resurrection and unpacks all of Scripture – causing their hearts to “burn” with excitement. And along comes Paul and the others – taking pictures of the beautiful theological bouquets that have sprung from those seeds planted by prophets hundreds of years earlier.
So read the prophets. And teach the prophets. And show kids how the entire Bible comes to life – how everything fits together. Even the part with the guy and the brick and the poop bread, which will undoubtedly become their new favorite Bible story.