How do you read OT judgement prophecies?

DisasterWhat do you do when you come to those judgement prophecies when you’re reading through the Old Testament? You’ve made it through the instructions about the tabernacle in Exodus, you’ve ploughed through the laws of Leviticus, you’ve wandered your way through the mysteries of the Song of Solomon and Job’s laments- but now you hit your final roadblock of the Old Testament: the judgement prophecies.

For example, you come to Jeremiah chapters 46-52, and you get long chapters describing in some details all the disasters that will fall upon the Egyptians (ch46), the Philistines (ch47), the Moabites (ch48), the Ammonites (ch49), and finally in chapters 50-51, the Babylonians gets a double dose of two long chapters devoted to the disasters that are coming their way.

How do we read these chapters? What possible good can there be for us in these chapters? It’s not just Jeremiah either. We find similar blocks of chapters in numerous other Old Testament prophecies. They are not exactly inspiring, there are no great words of wisdom, inspiration, or motivation to be found here. The only good news in these chapters appears to be that Australia doesn’t get a mention. Here are five suggestions to help you when you come to these sorts of chapters.

1.Read these chapters at a faster pace than usual. Some Bible passages should be read slowly, like Ephesians 1, which is loaded with doctrinal truth and food for the soul to meditate on. However, some chapters are better treated like a like a painting, which you need to step back from to get the big picture, rather than have every brushstroke examined at close range.  It is ok to zoom out and look at the big picture of what these chapters are saying and thus read them at a faster pace.

2. Recognise these chapters are a response to human evil. Why are these chapters so dark and dreary? Because humanity often is very dark and dreary. Think about ISIS. The last 12 months our western media has taken great delight really in updating us on how we have been systematically wiping out ISIS- not negotiating with them, not trying to reform them- just eliminating them. Why? Because these guys have a barbaric and brutal culture, based on what was commonplace 1300 years ago.

Now these judgement passages are doing exactly the same- responding to barbaric cultures which brought terrible suffering on their enemies 2 ½ thousand years ago.  So when you read these dark and dreary chapters, you should be reminded of how dark the human heart can be, and that we should never underestimate our own potential sinfulness. Think about the history of Germany and Japan today. Today they are very civilized and respectable nations. Just 80 years ago, they were guilty of horrendous acts of systematic barbarity across their whole society. This is a sadly common trait of humanity which keeps resurfacing in history. These chapters should remind us and warn us of the capacity for evil which is present in the human heart.

3. Recognise the various reasons given for the coming disaster. As we read these chapters, we can take note of the specific sins of the peoples. For example, we can note the warnings given in Jeremiah 48:7 about trusting in our riches, or in 48:29 about the sin of pride. We can observe and take heed to the warnings of the Lord about the sins which lead to the downfall of nations: sins like pride, violence, complacency, and idolatry.

4. Recognise that this is a glimpse of the end of the world. You often get this little phrase “in those days” in these chapters. In which days? Well, it’s hard to say. Some are already fulfilled in history. For some, their fulfillment probably happens in a very broad sense in the future. Some may have a specific sense in the future. But broadly, what we have here is a picture of the judgement of God which the nations who do not know God face. So, as a general application of these passages, we should be caused to soberly reflect upon the truth of the judgement of God coming upon those who don’t know God.

5. Finally, we can identify ourselves with the remnant often specified in these passage. Amidst all the dark days that are coming, often there is a reference to some “survivors”. Even amongst the judgements on the pagan nations- there are little snippets of hope given about their future. For example- at the end of the judgement passage about the Moabites in 48:47, it says, “Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in days to come”. Personally the way I see these being fulfilled is possibly in a historically national way, but also as the gospel spreads to all corners of the earth, and Gentiles are accepted into the people of God in the New Testament.

More than that, we are also given reminders that even though many of God’s people go through tremendous suffering, there will be a remnant who survive. See for example Jeremiah 46:27-28. We are identified as being part of such a remnant in Acts 15:16-17, quoting the Amos 9:11-12 remnant prophecy. Christ is the ultimate survivor of the judgement of God- the one who died for his people, but yet returned to life and prospered (Isaiah 53:8-12). Because we are in Christ, we know that we too will ultimately survive and prosper through all the judgements that are to come before this world is done away with. Look out for the “remnant” verses in these passages, and put your trust in the promise implied for us in these- that because of Christ’s victory, we know our future is secure, no matter what disasters may occur around us.

Hopefully these five principles may help you as you read these chapters, and give you some truths to look out for. All scripture is certainly inspired by God, so let’s continue to read these chapters and benefit from them in the way they were intended!


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