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by Emmanuel Itapson & George E. Janvier

prepared by:


March 2013


It is pertinent to have a good understanding of hermeneutics in order to have a correct content and context concepts in the interpretation of the prophets.

Because the Bible is quite uniquely different from all other types of literature – its divine Authorship and inspiration, being the major distinguishing feature and prominent hallmark, the interpretation requires divine guidance.

Inspiration is the act of the Holy Spirit in leading a man to record the message of God in written documentary while Interpretation is the act of a man in determining the meaning as intended by God in the original passage and how it applies to us today. Interpretation involves skill, but more critically involves Spirit in keeping to rightness.

The grammatico-historical method is generally applicable in Biblical hermeneutics to both basic, broad types of writings contained in Biblical literature. Categorized broadly as prose and poetry. Further insights is gained when there is understanding of the literature type being interpreted.

Features of Old Testament prophecy:

• Bible prophecy is for both CURRENT as well as COMING applications.

• Because Bible prophecy is rooted heavily in historical events, Biblical scholarship is therefore better approached by studying and interpreting prophecy when events are studied in their historical contexts.

• Bible prophecy is also generally interwoven into the cultural context of the day.

• Biblical has present (immediate) application to the Jews and future (Remote) application to the Gentiles.

• Bible prophecy is often written in figurative (symbolic) language. Literature types within the prophets include: Historical, Poetic and Visionary (futuristic) material.

• Different interpretative skills are employed for prophetic historical writings as against visionary poetic writings. Another feature of interpretation is Hebrew parallelism.

A common mistake to avoid is looking for modern day fulfillment in a prophecy that has already been fulfilled. Another error committed is interpreting poetical passages as though they were historical and literal.

Understanding and appropriating the message of the prophets for us today requires a consideration of the historical-social context and content of what they said. The principle and precept (teaching) can be prayerfully derived and applied.


To understand Old Testament prophecy is to understand the Prophets; and to understanding the Prophets is to understand the peculiarities of their personalities and their periods. It is critical in getting a clear picture of the prophets in order properly combine the man, his message and his moments.

TIMES: the span of the O.T prophets is about 1,000BC (the time of the prophet Samuel to about 425BC – that is Malachi). The entirety of the time is characterized by a variety of circumstances such as obedience or disobedience to God. From good (following God) to bad (following and serving idols)

Conditions: Generally, the prophets ministered in difficult times because general declension and deterioration were noticeable.

Themes: Two major themes run and echo through the Prophets. These are (1) Judgment and (2) Hope. Eleven prophets mention Hope and six mention Salvation.

Focus: far beyond the historical messages of the prophets to the Jews and Gentiles is a more profoundly powerful message – this is a message pointing uniformly to Jesus Christ.

Before the prophetic office and ministry was established in Israel, there were
“seers” (I Samuel 9:9)


The Prophets were people from different backgrounds, lineages, occupations, temperaments, ages and so on. They were men whose greatness is not measured by positions, possessions, power or prestige, but in their witness of goodness, humility, service and character. They were men of faith, committed to voicing out the message of God regardless of outcomes. They were men of courage who overcame the fears and doubts of being used of God.


Generally the Holy Spirit relayed messages to them directly through dreams, revelations, definite impressions and convictions. (Numbers 12:6; 11:17)

Apostle Peter in the New Testament clarifies this strategic role of the Holy Spirit in the conveyance of prophecy, to eliminate the subjectivity to human ingenuity and ability (2 Pet. 1:21)



No other Old Testament is better known than Isaiah, the son of Amoz. He lived in Jerusalem and began to prophesy sometime shortly before the death of king Uzziah (739 BC) until after the death of Sennacherib (681BC) – spanning over 50 years of ministry.

Like several true prophets, Isaiah did not have an easy ministry. He was called and commissioned to reach and preach to a people whom God assured him would neither listen or hearken to him. He undauntedly spoke boldly to kings and peoples of Judah.

Scholars debate the singularity of the authorship of the book of Isaiah because of the obvious division into 3 parts (Chapters 1-39; 40-45 and 56-66). This is supposed to indicate disunity in the book and therefore reason to suggest at least 3 authors.

The overall chapter divisions are treated, highlighted in outlines as follows:

Chapters 1-5 – Coming Judgment on Judah. Judah, and indeed the entire nation had been described as rebellious children. They remained very recalcitrant even after deportation and devastation.

Chapter 6 – Isaiah’s Vision of God. Thus is clearly one of the most awe-inspiring passages in the book of Isaiah. The political and spiritual landscape was frightening with imminent destruction and captivity from Assyria and coupled with Judah’s commitment to continuity in iniquity – unmitigated judgment was imminent.

In the light of God’s holiness, the prophet Isaiah saw himself for who he truly was. This life-transforming experience guided and guarded Isaiah all through his ministry.

Chapter 7 -12 – Highlights hope in Troublous Times

Chapters 13-23 – Judgment on the Nations

Chapters 24-35 – Judgment, Warning and Rescue

Chapters 36-39 – a Historical Interlude

Chapters 40-55 – Hope through the Servant

Chapters 56-66 – The Coming Glory

Some major themes in Isaiah include: God’s Holiness, the Remnant, the Servant of the Lord and Relationship to the New Testament.



Jeremiah’s problem was his having to deal with a doggedly hardened people, who were committed to the corruption and idolatry and rigid refusal to return to the right way. The pride, politics and perverseness of the people prevented the profitability of the Word.

The major theme of Jeremiah was JUDGMENT. The judgment included the people and nation of Judah, the city of Jerusalem and all the nations surrounding Judah, and of course the Babylonians themselves. The people are judged for refusal to repent and return to God.

Outline of the Chapters:

Chapter 1 – The Call of Jeremiah

Chapters 2-35 – Warnings of Judgment – this is a mixture of Judgment, restoration, and the sufferings of the prophet Jeremiah. Components of the problems are: the Place of Worship (Temple); the Priests and the People.

Chapters 36-38 – The Sufferings of Jeremiah

Chapters 39-45 – From Jerusalem to Egypt

Chapters 46-51 – Judgment on the Nations

Chapter 52 – Review of the Fall of Jerusalem


Six themes are identified and these include:

i. The coming judgment and destruction of the nation and Judah

ii. The abuse of the Jewish religious system

iii. Jeremiah’s internal and external sufferings

iv. Repentance of the people and return to the land of Judah

v. Jeremiah’s heart for God in spite of judgment on God’s people

vi. The new covenant between God and His people



The book of Lamentations is the reflection of a man with a tender heart who has experienced great tragedy. Although the writer does not identify himself, but it is clear from the text that the writer is Jeremiah. This is also the accepted ancient tradition of the Jews.

Jeremiah lived north of Jerusalem in his village Anathoth. Jeremiah knew the beauty of Jerusalem that was now undergoing subjectivity to captivity. He laments the place and the people who dwell there.

Outline Highlights of the Chapters:

Chapter 1 – Jerusalem is gone!

Chapter 2 – Recounting the Lord’s anger

Chapter 3 – Hope in the Lord God

Chapter 4 – An old Testament Low Point – the depths of the suffering for sin, rebellion and idolatry. No hope is given, no light is seen.

Chapter 5 – A prayer of Hope

Relationship of Lamentations to the New Testament:

Although not directly quoted in the New Testament, the book of Lamentations has at least three of the major themes in the New Testament: (1) The seriousness and Price of Sin that must be paid (2) the Sin of leaders were a major cause of the fall of the people and (3) God will restore all those who repent and return to Him in humility.



The name Ezekiel means “God will strengthen”. He was a priest who was called into the prophetic ministry. He was one of the captives taken to Babylon in 597BC. His priestly background no doubt informs some of his emphasis on the Temple and true worship.

Highlights of the Chapters:

Chapters 1-3 – The Vision and Call of Ezekiel

Chapters 4-24 – God’s judgment on Judah and Jerusalem

Chapters 25-32 – Judgment against the Nations

Chapters 33-48 – Future Hope for God’s People

Relationship of Lamentations to the New Testament:

The New Testament has many quotations or allusions to Ezekiel. At least 65 are recognized and 48 of them are found in the book of Revelation, whose close affinity to the Book of Ezekiel is unmistakable.



The name Daniel (in Hebrew and Aramaic) means “God is my Judge”. He was a teenager when Nebuchadnezzar took the first captives to Babylon in 605BC, but he lived to be an old man in Babylon. This is the only book in the Old Testament that is written in two different languages. Chapters 2:4-7;28 were written in Aramaic, the international business language of the day, while the other parts were written in Hebrew.

Although the book of Daniel has some historical narrative and is overwhelmingly concerned with history, it is not a historical book like Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. Daniel articulates a worldview of history, not only Israel’s, but also the world’s. the dating of the book is a point of intense debate among scholars.

Highlights of the Chapters:

Chapters 1-6 – Experiences at the Babylonian Court. Chapter 2 narrates Daniel’s first test. He succeeds in telling (recalling) and interpreting king Nebuchadnezzar’s forgotten dream. It was a great Image of successive empires of world powers.

The Nations in Question:

• Daniel identified the HEAD of Gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as Nebuchadnezzar himself and the Babylonian empire.

• The CHEST AND ARMS of Silver represent the Medo-Persian coalition that overthrew Babylon in 539BC.

• The BELLY of Bronze refers to the Grecian empire.

• The LEGS of iron represent the Roman empire

• The FEET, mixture of iron and clay are perhaps reflective of fragmentation of legs of iron.

All the kingdoms were finally brought to an abrupt end by God (Daniel 2:44), as a rock, cut from the mountains by no human hand hit the feet of the image and crushed the kingdoms to pieces!

Chapters 7-12 – The Courses of the Nations

Chapter 9 is particularly between Daniel’s intercessory prayer and yet another vision.

Daniel concludes with a hopeful end for the Righteous. Even though the end shall be a time of great trouble, the righteous are assured of resurrection into justification and eternal rewards in resplendent shining glory.



Hosea’s name means “Salvation”. He prophesied primarily to the northern Kingdom (Israel) even though there are references to Judah.

The book of Hosea draws attention especially because of the story of the prophet. It is considered awkward that God will instruct the prophet to marry an adulterous wife.

Highlights of the Chapters:

Chapters 1-3 – Hosea’s marital Relationship

Chapters 4-13 – Israel tried and found guilty

Chapter 14 – A Hopeful End

Relationship to the New Testament:

The use of marriage in Hosea mirrors theGod-human covenant relationship as used in the New Testament to describe the mysterious relationship between Christ and His Church. Several place in the New Testament quotes Hosea directly.



Not much is known about the prophet Joel except that he is the son of Pethuel (Joel 1:1). The name Joel means “The Lord is God”. There are suggestions that Joel might have been a priest because of his concern for Temple sacrifices. These suggestions however cannot be sustained on account of a few instances of the references.

Joel was concerned that Israel was taking God for granted. The Holy God would however not let sin go unpunished, even among His own people. As a result judgment was inevitable.

Highlights of the Chapters:

Chapter 1 – A Devastating Locust Plague. Joel opens with this terrifying imagery of judgment

Chapter 2 – A Devastating Invasion –. Like the invading locust, the invading army would leave nothing standing after them!

Chapter 3 – The Nations Judged. The day of the Lord would be a day of judgment on the nations. God will turn His attention on the nations that persecuted and brutally destroyed His people.



Amos means to “carry a load or a burden”. This name turns out to be most appropriate for the prophet who felt burdened by the combination of Israel’s moral and social sins. Because Tekoa, where he lived was barren, he earned a part of his living by keeping sheep. Some other time of the year, he would travel to the western part of the country to work as a gatherer of sycamore fruits. Suddenly he received the call he could not resist. He was not a “professional” in prophetic ministry, but his ministry was profoundly important. Amos was undoubtedly an eloquent preacher whose message could not be ignored by his hearers (Amos 7:10)

Highlights of the Chapters:

Chapters 1-2 – Indictments Against the Nations

Chapters 3-6 – The Case Against Israel

Chapters 7-9 – Visions of Judgment

The New Testament reechoes Amos’ concern for social and economic justice.



Obadiah wrote the shortest book of the whole Bible. Very little is known of this prophet other than that his name means “Servant of the Lord”. The theme of Obadiah is judgment on the nations of Edom – the descendants of Esau.

Israel had had historical problem with Esau (from the story in Genesis 25:19) and this lasted into many generations.

Commentary on Obadiah:

Verses 1-10 – reveals the judgment is a result of Edom’s violence against Isarel.

Following this is a promise to the people of God.

Obadiah speaks out against Unforgiveness between people. The Edomic tribe had never forgiven Jacob (Israel) for deceiving and defrauding Esau their forefather of his birthright and Blessing.

Obadiah also has a message concerning God’s rule on earth. Persecutors of God’s people will eventually face God’s judgment.



Unlike other prophetic books, the book of Jonah is a short story about the prophet himself. Jonah was indeed a prophet who actually lived and ministered (prophesied) during the reign of Jeroboam II, king of Israel. He was a contemporary of Hosea and Amos.

Highlights of the Chapters:

Chapter 1 - Direct definite directive from the Lord God. Jonah is commissioned to go preach “warn” the people of Niniveh of impending judgment because of their great sin and wickedness. Jonah decides to run “away from the Lord”. Boarding a ship headed the opposite direction. The Lord sends a great wind against the ship and everyone’s life is in jeopardy. The passengers and sailors fight the wind until Jonah reveals his identity and offers to have them throw him into the raging sea to appease God and save their lives.

Chapter 2 – This chapter is almost entirely Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving and deliverance. He repents and God restores him.

Chapter 3 – Jonah is recommissioned and at his preaching, the entire city repents!

Chapter 4 – Having known the predictable outcome – divine mercy to the penitent and truly repentant, Jonah is irate for God’s forgiveness to the people of Nineveh.

God uses several things to teach Jonah first-hand lessons.

Relationship to the New Testament:

In Matthew 12:39-41 Jesus referred to the experience and preaching of Jonah as an indictment against unbelief. In response to the sign-seeking erring Jewish leadership and people, Jesus spoke of His own death, burial and resurrection as the ultimate sign that God’s judgment was at hand.



He was from a small village, and humble background. He was probably a farmer and lived a normal life until God called him into ministry (service). Micah must have been a faithful servant of God regardless of his circumstances and his living in a corrupt Jewish nation.

Several major events occurred before and during the times of Micah. The splitting of the kingdom after the death of Solomon, the Nation’s slumping into gross idolatry, as well as Micah’s witnessing of the destruction of Judah up to the gates of Jerusalem. Judah was overrun by the Assyrians, but Jerusalem was spared by a miracle of God’s grace.

These events are a reflection of God’s judgment on His people and the need for repentance and restoration before such calamities continues. God used outside pressures to restore His own people, but they refused to learn and repent.

Highlights of the Chapters:

Chapter 1 – The Setting

Micah begins his writing with the historical facts of his times. He quickly gets to the bad news that God is angry with His people. The Jews had turned from following God with all their hearts and returned to evil and pagan practices. Prophetic pronouncements are made against Samaria and Judah. No message of hope is given in chapter one.

Chapter 2 – Sin, Judgment and Hope

Wicked businessmen had gotten into corrupt deals for their sinful gain. Evil plans and plots were executed against others. Fraudulent acts of people and false prophets were exposed and condemned. Hope is given (Micah 2:12) after long self, sin-instigated calamitous occurrences.

Chapter 3 – Bad Leaders

The people suffer when bad leadership is enthroned. “Rulers” – the Leaders were the focus of this chapter. Various heinous crimes were perpetrated by those leading the populace astray. For this, judgment was to fall.

Chapter 4 – Shift in Time

The prophet now shifts from the low moral state of the times, to a time in the future of hope and restoration.

Chapter 5 – Judgment and Hope.

Once again the prophet mixes hope with judgment. The present judgment will come in the form of the Assyrian empire.

Chapter 6 – God’s Case- No Appeal

Here, God recounts His mercy to His people. Unfortunately, the people did not listen. Micah closes this chapter declaring God’s vengeance on the disobedient.

Chapter 7 – Hope

Micah’s personal resolve and consecration reflective of his deep spirituality closes the book. Micah 7:7 – “But as for me, I will watch in hope for the Lord, I will wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me”. Micah has full confidence in God as his prayer in Micah 7:18-20 reveals.



Not much is known about the prophet Nahum. His name means “comfort” even though his message is an uncomfortable one. He spoke small words of comfort to Judah but his message was directed entirely towards Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian empire. His message was ‘total destruction’ of Nineveh. This is opposite the message preached by Jonah 150 years before Nahum.

Highlights of the Chapters:

Chapter 1 – The Destruction of Nineveh

Chapter 2 – Nineveh will fall

Chapter 3 – Nineveh’s Destruction

Nahum is not mentioned by name in the New Testament but one verse appears in the book of Romans. Here Paul alludes to both Nahum 1:5 and Isaiah 52:7 – “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”



Little is known about the man with the unusual name of Habakkuk. He is not mentioned in the Bible outside his own writings. The exact meaning of Habakkuk is not clear and may probably mean “embrace”. Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Nahum and Jeremiah were all prophets who spoke at about the same time.

The theme of Habakkuk’s message is. “we can be confident of God’s sovereignty but the people’s sin must be judged” Judah was at its lowest point spiritually (religiously). The prophet reiterates divine justice by the principle of “the wicked rulers will not go unpunished”

Highlights of the Chapters:

Chapter 1 – Habakkuk’s many questions. The prophet questions the coming judgment on God’s people. Asking God about the violence and injustice that he sees and seems more perplexed that judgment against God’s people would be meted out through a morally worse and much more sinful godless and heartless nation!

Chapter 2 – God answers Habakkuk’s questions. Divine response reassures the prophet of the justness of God and the perfectness of His purpose and timing.

Chapter 3 – Habakkuk’s Prayer. He remembers God’s mighty gracious dealings with His people - in history through miracles of mercies. He reasserts his full confidence in God and expresses joy in the Lord (Hab. 3:17-19)



Not much is known about Zephaniah other than his family line (Zeph. 1:1). More is known about his times as indicated from parallel writings such as Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Nahum and from 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. The name Zephaniah means “Jehovah treasures”. He gives clue to the timing of his prophecy “during the reign of Josiah”.

Zephaniah has a message of judgment on all nations but mercy for God’s people. Many of the nations will be utterly destroyed but God’s people will have a righteous remnant.

Highlights of the Chapters:

Chapter 1 – Judgment on all the people

Chapter 2 – Judgment of the Nations

Chapter 3 – Judgment on Jerusalem (Leaders)

The New Testament themes of destruction, judgment for sin, and God’s mercy are paralleled in Zephaniah. The Apostle Peter summarizes this thematic parallel in 2 Peter 3:1-18.



Haggai and Zechariah are the first of the prophetic writers to write after the seventy-year exile of the Jews to Babylon. Haggai was a man of vision for the work of God. He wanted to see the Temple of God rebuilt and restored. Haggai means “festive” or “My feast” (probably referring to Yahweh’s)


An understanding of the place and importance of the Temple in Jerusalem to the Jews is crucial to the appreciation of the passion of the Jewish people, and here, especially of the prophet to see the Temple in its grandeur and glory again, right from the first Temple built by Solomon to the Second one under Zerubbabel, and much later the improved second temple by Herod the Great.

Highlights of the Chapters:

Chapter 1 – Haggai’s message to the people.

Chapter 2 – Haggai’s message to the Leaders.

Chapter 1 – Haggai’s message to the people.



Zechariah is another prophet about whom we know very little. He came on the Jewish religious scene in a time of great need. As a contemporary of the prophet Haggai, he spoke of the lon-term rule of Israel and Judah, and finally the end time’s rule of the Messiah. Zechariah combines many literary styles in his writings.

Highlights of the Chapters:

Chapter 1-6 – Zechariah’s Encounter with Angels – expressed variously as visions and revelations as well as communications with angelic beings sent by God to him.

Chapter 7-14 – Zechariah’s Encounter with God – through His Word, and manifold manifestations of His glorious presence. This culminates in the coming Day of the Lord, when the Messiah would manifest Himself in Majesty.



The book of Malachi brings to a close the Old Testament and the writing prophets. After Malachi, the Bible enters into a period called the “400 years of silence” or the “inter-testamental period”

We do not know much about the man Malachi. His name aptly means “My Messenger” which actually played out its significant meaning. Malachi was bringing a message from God to the Jews who were living in Jerusalem.

Highlights of the Chapters:

Chapter 1 – Abuses of the Religious System

Chapter 2 – Like Priests, Like People!

Chapter 3 – Hope for the Future

Chapter 4 – The day of the Lord

The prophet Malachi is not mentioned in the New Testament but several of his passages are. Malachi 3:1 was fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10). John the Baptist’s preaching ministry prepared the way for Jesus as “the Voice of one crying in the wilderness…”

A second passage relates to Elijah appearing before the coming day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5) which is found in Matthew 11:13,14.

The great themes of Malachi (Day of the Lord, judgment, sin, bad leadership) are all reflected in various passages of the New Testament.

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