For years I have been using a yearly Bible reading plan that propels me through the major and minor prophets for the last few months of each year. A few years ago (and pretty much every year since) I found myself lost in the sea of imagery, language, and lessons that I didn’t have a clue about.
It is hard to love reading Scripture that seems so far away from life in the twenty-first century. There’s Ezekiel, the intrepid prophet. He was naked, cooked his food over dung, and lay on each of his sides for some time. There’s Jeremiah, the sorrowful man whom nobody in Israel listened to, but had not problem dragging him off to Egypt. There’s Hosea, who had to marry a prostitute, one he could not change (let that be a lesson, ladies and gentlemen). There’s Jonah who ran away, Daniel who went through the Babylonian wringer and came out on top, Isaiah who had to name his children some very complicated, symbolic names, Amos the shepherd, Haggai, Zephaniah, Nahum, Micah, and all the rest. Each prophet was sent by God during specific times and with specific messages about Israel’s faithlessness, disobedience, and idolatry.
That year when I was lost in the prophets, I started to pray that the Lord would give me a love for reading them., and I prayed that he would give me understanding. Each year since then, when I close in on the prophet-reading marathon that starts mid-September, I start praying that my heart would be ready to read the prophets and learn from them.
One of the most amazing and humbling blessings from the Lord in my life is that he so answers my prayer (even when they are uttered in desperation). I went from dreading reading through the prophets to being excited to read them. There is a lot to learn there, but blazing through without actually paying attention is not worthwhile.
The prophets are rich and layered with messages and meaning. Yet the most beautiful component of all is that they point to Jesus. Isaiah prophesies Jesus’ virgin birth. Micah tells of Bethlehem. Hosea foretells the calling of God’s Son out of Egypt. Zechariah shows Israel’s coming King. Jeremiah anticipates the New Covenant. Isaiah prophesies again but this time about the Suffering Servant.
During a time when Israel had nothing to recommend herself to God, when she didn’t know how to be merciful and acknowledge God and instead made effusive sacrifices and burnt offerings (Hosea 6), prophets were sent by God to bend their hearts and minds to the hope that was coming in the Messiah.
There were 400 years of silence following the words of Malachi. That means 400 years of silence about the promised Messiah, 400 years of waiting for the Messiah, 400 years of generations to either forget or remember God’s promises.
Christmas is a time to commemorate the breaking of 400 years of silence, to meditate on the fulfillment of Scripture, and to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Reading the major and minor prophets should not be an end-of-year chore. Christmas is the perfect time to read the prophets.