Our study of the Old Testament thus far has been largely concerned with the history it relates. Yet we should realise that twenty-two of its thirty-nine books are either poetry or prophecy and it is these that we shall study in this lesson.
The poetry of the ancient Hebrews did not have metre or rhyme as does that to which we are accustomed. It consisted rather of rhythmic thought in which the same ideas would be repeated in successive statements in different words.
There are five poetical books in the Old Testament – Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. Solomon was the author of the last three. Of the 150 Psalms, 73 are ascribed to David and it is likely that he wrote several of the anonymous Psalms. The authorship of Job is unknown.
The Book of Job is the story of a righteous man by that name who lost everything he had – children, wealth and health – but still remained faithful to God.
Much of the book is in the form of a debate between Job and his friends who tried to convince him that his plight was the result of his sin. Job protested his innocence and for his faithfulness to Jehovah was rewarded with greater blessings than he had possessed before his affliction.
One of the best loved books in the entire Bible is the Psalms. Although the Psalms are often found at the end of New Testament copies, they actually belong to the Old Testament. A ‘psalm’ is a song of praise.
Some of the Psalms have been set to music and are sung by Christians today. Originally the book was divided into five sections. The shortest and middle chapter in the Bible is Psalm 117 while Psalm 119 with 176 verses is the longest.
It has been said that Solomon wrote the Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) when young, Proverbs when middle-aged, and Ecclesiastes when old. This may be true. The Song of Solomon is a beautiful song of wedded love.
Proverbs is a group of unconnected wise sayings, many of them familiar to us all. Ecclesiastes is the most pessimistic book in the Bible. It was written after Solomon had unsuccessfully tried everything in an effort to find happiness.
He begins with the thought, ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless,’ Ecclesiastes 1:2, and ends by concluding, ‘Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man,’ Ecclesiastes 12:13.
The seventeen Old Testament books of prophecy may be divided into five major prophets and twelve minor prophets, so called because the books of major prophecy are of greater length than the minor.
So far as we know they were all written by the men whose names they bear except Lamentations which was written by Jeremiah.
The prophets were the messengers who brought God’s word to man. Most of them lived during the troublesome times when Israel was turning to idolatry.
Some were priests and others were of royal blood. Their message was divinely inspired and often was written in symbolic language. Not all of the prophets wrote books. Two of the greatest, Elijah and Elisha, have left us no written record.
The prophets were the conscience of Israel. Their mission was to try to save the nation from idolatry and, failing in this, to warn that it would be destroyed. But they held out a ray of hope. A REMNANT of Israel would be saved out of which there would come an influence to bring the world to Jehovah.
This influence they call THE BRANCH, a prophecy of the coming of Christ, a branch out of the family tree of David who became the Saviour of the world.
Although the books of prophecy contain some history and much warning and exhortation, there is also a predictive element. They foretell the destruction of such great cities as Nineveh and Babylon, and dwell at length on the coming of the Messiah, or Christ, who would be a deliverer and establish his kingdom.
The fulfilment of these many prophecies strengthens our faith in God, in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and in the Bible as the inspired word of God.
Foremost among the major prophets was Isaiah. Since much of his message deals with the coming of Christ, he has been called the ‘messianic prophet’.
He correctly predicted that the Messiah would be of the seed of David. The 53rd chapter of his book is probably the most beautiful prophecy of Christ in the Bible.
Jeremiah was the ‘weeping prophet’ as the title of one of his books, Lamentations, indicates. He warned Judah to repent, forecasting its destruction if it did not. A bachelor, he was fearless in his preaching and often imprisoned. Ezekiel and Daniel were prophets during the Babylonian captivity.
Ezekiel’s writings are highly symbolic and somewhat difficult to understand. The book of Daniel, on the other hand, contains considerable history as well as predictions pertaining to the future of Babylon and Persia.
It was he who so clearly foretold the establishment of the kingdom of Christ by saying, ‘And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set in a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever,’ Daniel 2:44.
Joel was possibly the first prophet to leave us a book. Jonah was sent to warn the wicked city of Nineveh to repent. It did, but 150 years later the Lord found it necessary to send Nahum to repeat the warning. This time it did not repent and was destroyed.
The prophecy of Obadiah, only one chapter long, is also directed against a neighbouring country, the land of Edom, south-east of the Dead Sea. The forecast of its doom was remarkably fulfilled in the utter destruction of the nation.
The prophets Amos and Hosea were contemporaries who bore a special message to the northern kingdom of Israel. Amos, a herdsman, did not confine his warnings to Israel, however, but also pronounced his woes upon Judah and other nations.
Hosea used the tragedy of his own life to show that as his wife had proved unfaithful to him, so Israel had committed spiritual adultery in its unfaithfulness to the laws of God.
Zephaniah and Micah were both sent to Judah. They denounced the sins of God’s people, but still held out hope for them. Micah declared that the Messiah would come from the little village of Bethlehem.
The justice of God is vindicated in the warnings of Habakkuk who lived during the beginnings of the Babylonian oppression of Judah. The keynote of the book is expressed in the thought, ‘The righteous shall live by faith,’ Habakkuk 2:4 – A.S.V.
The prophets Haggai and Zechariah were sent to the Jews to inspire them in the rebuilding of the temple after the return from Babylonian captivity.
The Book of Zechariah is strongly messianic. Among other things it foretold that Christ would be sold for thirty pieces of silver. Malachi closes the Old Testament with a denunciation of the vain worship of the Jews and a promise that God would send Elijah the prophet before the day of the Lord. This was a prediction that John the Baptist would precede the Christ.
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