How often have we heard that “history repeats itself”? It does—time and time again.
The Old Testament is divided into three main sections: the law, the prophets and the psalms, or writings (e.g. Luke 24:44). The prophets include what are classified as the “major” and “minor” prophets. There also are the “former prophets,” comprised of the biblical books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. These were originally just two books: Joshua-Judges and the Book of Kings. They are all tied together; you need to understand them individually and as one prophetic unit.
These books record a broad sweep of history of the nation of Israel—from the time the Israelites entered the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua until the two parts of the divided kingdom, Israel and Judah, were conquered and taken into captivity. There is a special message in all the former prophets. They are mostly about history, but they are called formerprophets for a reason. The word former simply means that they are the earlier prophets. These books were written by prophets and are filled with end-time prophecy.
The message in Joshua and Judges is unique: If nations would follow Joshua’s way, then things would go well for them. The nations would have to look to Moses and the law of God. If, on the other hand, our modern nations of Israel chose to live as Israel did during the time of the judges—when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes”—then there would be disaster! The books of Joshua and Judges contain prophecy of how we shall succeed or fail.
The books of Kings and Samuel teach us how to be kings and priests. If people today followed these books, our nations would not be in the terrible condition they are today. These books record how to succeed or fail as God’s nation. They are a strong witness that if a nation goes the same way as ancient Israel, everything will fall apart.
How much more do all these books apply to God’s Church!
For all the years I was in the Worldwide Church of God, even at Ambassador College, I heard only one message about the former prophets, and it was given by Dr. Herman Hoeh. I thought it was fascinating. I wanted to hear more about the subject but never did.
The former prophets contain critical prophetic understanding for God’s Church today. They teach us how and why 95 percent of God’s people have rejected God in this Laodicean or lukewarm era. These books also prepare us to help Christ lay a solid spiritual foundation when He ushers in the wonderful World Tomorrow.
Traditional Christianity, and even many of God’s lukewarm people, say that the former prophets contain only history. Basically they are saying that these books are of limited value for us today. Such reasoning is ignorant and spiritually dangerous. Describing the former prophets as mere history damages people’s faith.
There is a lot more to these books than just history. The former prophets contain many vital spiritual lessons for us today that we need to understand. These books teach us about leadership. They teach us how to build faith. They give instruction especially pertinent to the ministry.
Many authorities call history our most effective teacher. There is a lot of truth to that statement. Napoleon Bonaparte said that if you want to be a great general, you must study the great generals of the past. That is good advice for us spiritually as well. Bible history is the greatest history of all because it’s God’s history. We have to learn about these spiritual warriors of the past. We need to learn about Joshua and Samuel, and about David—who has the greatest, longest biography in the Bible. We should understand why Saul failed even though he had such a great opportunity. We need to know about Elijah and Elisha.
What were these powerful leaders all about? We must learn from our own history! It really is prophetic history and even more, as we will see.
The former prophets contain a lot of direct prophecies—pivotal prophecies that are especially for this end time. We will show you very direct prophecies for today from these books.
The former prophets also give us indirect prophecies. Of course these books record history, but it is history that, in most cases, alsobecomes prophecy. For example, it shows how the state of religion in ancient Israel revealed the state of the nation. So if we have the same or similar religious problems today, this is an indirect prophecy of what is happening in the end-time nations of Israel, which are primarily America and Britain. (If you have not proved this important truth, study our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy.) These books show that if we live the same lifestyles our forefathers did, we will attain virtually the same results—good or bad. History becomes prophecy. Not all prophecy is history, but a lot of history becomes prophecy. History prophesies the fate of nations—whether they will thrive or collapse!
This is “a law of history.” (See the appendix for a deeper understanding of this essential subject.) It’s not about luck or happenstance. It is a law of history. If we break that law, the law breaks us!
As long as we reject our history, we will never accept Bible prophecy. That means God must punish us as never before. The instrument God will use is rising quickly in Europe (Isaiah 10:5-7).
British and American leaders have been utterly contemptuous of World War ii history that cost 50 million lives! Our nations will pay dearly for such dangerous contempt of history. But an even worse problem is that our religious leaders have forgotten our spiritual history. They don’t even know that America, Britain and the Jews in the Middle East are all a part of biblical Israel. The Israelites were the only people who ever had a history with God!
“Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition,upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Israel’s history was recorded for our instruction. The lessons of the former prophets were written for you and me! There is no excuse for people to call them just history.
Primarily for Us
Some commentaries describe the former prophets as descending partly from oral tradition. This damages people’s faith! Oral tradition could be almost anything. In fact, the Catholic Church says tradition eclipses the Bible in authority. That is human reasoning run amok. Even in God’s Church today, we don’t rely on oral tradition: If I am going to talk about Herbert W. Armstrong, the founder of our mother-church, something he said or a doctrine he proved, I always look back at the record to see what he said. I don’t rely on my memory. We quote his writings and the scriptures he used.
In this end time, 95 percent of God’s people have gone astray because they failed to follow Mr. Armstrong’s example as he followed Christ. They forgot their own recent history of success. Now they are scattered and ineffective. God is not leading them to do His Work. (For more information, request a free copy of Malachi’s Message.)
Ephesians 3:5 says God reveals truth only to His prophets and apostles. Ephesians 2:20 says that this is all “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” God revealed prophecy only to prophets in the Old Testament. Prophets certainly wrote the books of the former prophets. The writing prophets usually were the most outstanding in the work they did for God. Much of the content in these books is about prophets, and it was all written by prophets. So they are all prophetic history.
Ambassador College instructors thought that Isaiah probably orchestrated the epic production of these books of the Bible. But I think the actual orchestrator was Jeremiah—though there were several writers involved. The most important thing is that these authors were inspired by God.
In Luke 24:25, Christ spoke these strong words of condemnation: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” Do you believe all that the prophets have spoken? Christ called these people fools for failing to do so.
What prophets was Christ talking about? Verse 27 says, “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” He went all the way back to the Pentateuch and then the former prophets. Christ was very condemning of those people for not understanding what was in these books, including the former prophets. So we had better learn everything we can about these books and everything in the Bible that God leads us to understand. We don’t want Christ calling us fools. God wants us to be Bible-educated people.
The former prophets are mostly prophetic. They contain spiritual history that is primarily for us today. God inspired these books mainly for our day—just before Jesus Christ’s Second Coming. The more I study into it, the more I believe these books are specifically for the Philadelphia Church of God (pcg)! Otherwise, why didn’t we understand it more when Mr. Armstrong was alive? We understood parts of it, but we need to understand it a lot better. God is adding more to our knowledge all the time.
We will never understand the lessons God wants to teach us if we don’t study the former prophets. But few people heed God’s warnings. And we are going to pay the ultimate price if we don’t learn these God-inspired lessons!
Former Prophets Source Material
God ensured the material in the former prophets was recorded and preserved mainly so that we could understand it in the last era of God’s Church—the era that leads directly into the coming of the Messiah. It simply wasn’t understood to this degree in the Philadelphia era. We are beginning to see more and more why it is mainly for us. We must proclaim the prophecy today. We must also get prepared to teach the former prophets to the entire world.
It took a lot of intensive study by the writers to collect this invaluable instruction for our education! In discussing the book of Kings, the Cambridge Bible explains: “The compiler specifies three sources from which his narrative is drawn: 1) The Book of the Acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41) as the authority for Solomon’s reign. 2) The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah, which is mentioned 15 times …. 3) The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, quoted 17 times” in Kings. The writers and compilers of the former prophets had many written sources—not just oral tradition. They had to deeply study the prophetic books and the history of the prophets in order to put it all together in the manner God wanted.
We can learn more about these three sources by comparing the history in the former prophets with what is recorded in the book of Chronicles. For example, this is what the Cambridge Bible notes about the first of them, The Book of the Acts of Solomon: “The chronicler [the compiler of Chronicles] adheres so closely to the language of Kings throughout the history of Solomon that a comparison at once convinces us that he drew his narrative from the same documents as the earlier compiler,” referring to The Book of the Acts of Solomon. But he actually lists his sources in 2 Chronicles 9:29: “Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, first and last, are they not written in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and in the visions of Iddo the seer against Jeroboam the son of Nebat?”
In other words, this book about Solomon consisted of the writings of these three prophets: Nathan, Ahijah and Iddo. Here is how the Cambridge Bible explains it: “‘The Book of the Acts of Solomon’ comprised three works written by prophets contemporary with Solomon and which embracing the whole period of his reign were naturally soon gathered into one treatise and called by one collective name.” The sources used by the compiler of the former prophets included the Book of the Acts of Solomon—which relied on source material written by prophets who were right there with Solomon! God-inspired men gathered all this material together to make a bigger book. Then that was used in composing the former prophets.
This process was much more thorough than mere oral tradition. This history was recorded in much the same way we write history today—with one big difference: It was inspired by God!
The second of these three sources, The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah, has a similar story. The material it covers included the reign of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:29). Yet the source material for that history cited in 2 Chronicles 12:15 includes “the book of Shemaiah the prophet, and of Iddo the seer.” So Iddo the seer contributed to that volume as well. Do you know anything about Iddo? You should—he was one of the sources of the former prophets! (The word seer was replaced by the word prophet.)
Later, God-inspired men combined those two books about the history of the kings of Judah with others, including some about the history of Israel’s kings (e.g. 1 Kings 14:19). “Now the rest of the acts of Jehoshaphat, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Jehu the son of Hanani, who is mentioned in the book of the kings of Israel” (2 Chronicles 20:34). Here the book is listed as the kings of Israel, but later it was changed to the kings of Israel and Judah. And still more details of the history were taken from the writings of Isaiah and other prophets of God.
These men kept building their history because of how important it is! Clearly this history was extremely critical and meaningful to the righteous scholars of ancient Israel! If only modern Israel valued it so highly!
History Recorded by Prophets
King David created offices to ensure all this invaluable history was recorded and preserved. “Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer” (1 Chronicles 29:29). The men who wrote the former prophets and Chronicles were highly educated. They knew their Bibles and God’s history and prophecy. These prophets all recorded that history of David. They kept the flame of David’s throne shining brightly for any followers of God!
In David’s administration, the prophets were the historians. Very few, if any, Bible scholars will accept that. One says that the prophets and the priests wrote the history. That is false! Where in the Old Testament do you read about a priest writing a book of the Bible or compiling it or canonizing it? It was done by prophets! Of course the priests had an important job, but they weren’t prophets! Prophets and apostles—that is where the revelation was for ancient Israel and is for spiritual Israel (or the true Church) today! (Ephesians 2:20; 3:5). Of course, God used some priests, like Ezekiel and Ezra, as prophets. Yet they say, Well, don’t give all the credit to the prophets. In 2 Kings 22:4 and 14, you can see the high priest, Hilkiah, having to go to a well-educated prophetess to interpret something for them. God had to reveal it. All truth is revealed—that is the way it has always been. Priests have a role, but it isn’t that of a prophet.
Education was of great importance in these former prophets. Samuel, Elijah and Elisha were educated! Their schools were small because most of the nation wasn’t following the godly education, but that history—and even their regard for godly education—was recorded for us today.
I believe Jeremiah tied the former prophets all together. But we are not looking for Jeremiah in these books. We are looking for God all the way through. God put that history together! Yet people in the world give it names like “Hebrew history.” Even that can be watering down the truth of God. It isn’t history of the Hebrews—it’s the history of God and of what He is doing on Earth! That history was arranged and inspired by God Himself!
God is trying to educate us to teach the whole world and to work at headquarters with Jesus Christ for all eternity. That is why we were chosen to do this Work! That is a towering responsibility—one we must be educated to fulfill.
“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name” (Malachi 3:16). Even this will be somewhat of a history book that God has for those who remembered what God taught them.
We are here to do a Work today and to be prepared to do a far bigger Work. We have to qualify to sit on David’s throne with Christ! And what wonderful material God gives to help us in these books that show how to become kings for God. We have to keep getting more deeply into the Scriptures and into the mind of God to better understand what He is teaching us in the former prophets. He really does want us to become educated kings and priests!