OT Prophets Main Messages – Chart
by David Tavender
Click on the image or the link to enlarge this chart. Additional explanatory notes are below.
About this chart:
In terms of chronology, the 17 prophecy books of the OT may be categorized into “Pre-exile”, “Exile” and “Post-exile”. The “exile” being referred to is that of Judah, around 586 B.C. (give or take 20 years), when most of that nation’s people were removed from their land by Nebuchadnezzar and taken to Babylon.
The messages contained within the OT Prophecy books themselves reflect the conditions in force at the time of writing, depending on which of these three periods is the setting for the prophet delivering his message. Before the exile, there were repeated warnings about a coming judgement. During the exile, there is contemplation about the disaster which had befallen the people, and the fact that the Jews no longer had a homeland. After the exile, Jews were allowed to return to their homeland, and matters such as the rebuilding of the temple and other issues are spoken of.
In the same way that your region’s newspaper today reflects the times, events and conditions in force where you live, the OT prophetic books do the same by reflecting the times, events and conditions in which they were written. All too often, Christians today either ignore or forget the broad context, and these prophecies are applied ad hoc to the church, resulting in all sorts of baseless predictions being published or proclaimed from the pulpit – none of which ever come to pass, because they generally weren’t meant to be directly about Christians today. This is not to say that we can’t learn great truths and see applications for our lives here and now, but we should be aware that, in most cases, there were specific situations in Judah’s history being addressed by the OT prophets.
It is well worth the effort to check the status of these prophecies before attempting to draw too many conclusions about their interpretation. A couple of starting suggestions are:
- Ask yourself, “Did this prophet write during Pre-exile, Exile or Post-exile times?”. Refer to the chart linked to this page for a guide.
- Ask yourself, “What was happening in Judah and Israel’s history at the time that the prophet was writing?”. To answer this, you will need to familiarise yourself with the storyline of the OT from Solomon’s time onwards. The relevant sections of history relating to the prophetic writings are worth being consulted, and they are: 1 & 2 Kings; 2 Chronicles; portions of Isaiah, Jeremiah & Daniel; Ezra; Nehemiah. There are others, but these writings will provide most of the necessary historical background during which the prophets wrote. If you don’t know the circumstances of where and when the prophet was writing about, an incorrect interpretation of that prophet’s writings will almost certainly follow. This chart showing the prophets and the corresponding reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah may also be of help (click on the image below to enlarge it).
Interpreting the writings of these prophets is not always easy, but there is some rhyme and reason to it all. You will find that addressing those two questions alone settles many interpretation issues with the prophetic books of the OT.