Once in a while, in my Bible reading, I get tired of visiting New Testament books. And that’s okay; there’s a wealth of truth and perspective to be found in the Old Testament, too. Lately, I’ve been reading the book of Ezekiel. In addition to being one of the most explicit books in the Bible, it’s also chock-full of all the infamous “doom and gloom” found within the prophetic books. It’s very easy to read a few verses and frown, thinking, “Why am I reading this again?”
The prophetic books can be tough to read, for sure. But there are some very important things to learn about God through them. Using Ezekiel as an example, here are three reasons why these books are important to us as Christians today.
God wants to make himself known.
The book of Ezekiel contains many separate oracles, but there is a very common thread between them. After giving a specific judgment and declaring what He was going to do, God would announce His reason for it: “So that they will know that I am the Lord.” This is so prevalent throughout the book that the ESV commentary calls it the “recognition formula”. Whenever God judged either the people of Israel and Judah, or a foreign nation, he promised to take action, and when He fulfilled the prophecy spoken through His servant, the people would recognize that it was God who had done these things. God wants people to acknowledge that He is moving and working. He wants the credit for fulfilling His Word– and rightfully so! It’s a shame that the people to whom God brought judgment had to learn the hard way, but their hearts were so hard that they made it one of their cardinal sins to deny the Creator. God will not be denied forever.
But there’s even more to it than that. Through the mouths of the prophets, God threatens and condemns, pleads and laments, comforts and consoles. He communicates a wide range of His own desires and emotions, displayed openly for all to see. He is speaking and expressing in a very real way, and we don’t want to miss that. This is our unfathomable God, raw and exposed, and He did that on purpose. God wants to make himself known.
I also want to add that it’s easy to forget that when we see the term “the Lord”, where “Lord” is in small capital letters, God is identifying Himself by His holy name. “So that they will know that I am the Lord” should be read, “So that they will know that I am Yahweh.” God did not demand that we revere him by a title only, to emphasize the gulf between man and God; instead, He gave us His name, which is personal– as evidence of the relationship He desires.
God wants people to repent.
It’s a common misconception that God seems to revel in the destruction He promises in the prophetic books. Prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins believe that the wrathful God of the Old Testament is full of spite and hatred toward people because of the relentless onslaught of judgments God appears eager to pronounce. But that is simply untrue, and God proves it in Ezekiel 18. Verse 23 says, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” And again in verse 32: “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” While it is true that God made some judgments He declared to be unchangeble and inevitable (Ezekiel 8:18), He also told Ezekiel– not once, but twice– of his position as a watchman for His people (Ezekiel 3:16-21; 33:7-9), to give warning so that the people could hear and repent. One of the primary reasons God wanted His people to hear these prophecies was to convict them of their sins and cause them to turn back to God. God did not promise destruction because He eagerly anticipated excercising His wrath; on the contrary, He warned of His coming wrath because He anticipated His people turning back to Him in repentance. As a holy and just God, He must punish sin, but that doesn’t mean He enjoys it. In His own words, He would rather sinners come to Him in repentance than be destroyed. He may be just, but He promises not to remember the sins of one who repents. The reason that this is possible is the focus of the third point…
God wants to point forward to Jesus Christ.
The prophetic books, along with some of the Psalms, formed the foundation of God’s revealed plan of salvation by prophesying about the coming Savior. In the midst of all of the destruction that came upon God’s people because of their rejection of Him, God promised a hope for the future: “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken. I will make with them a covenant of peace…” (Ezekiel 34: 23-25) At the time, the people looked forward to a human king of David’s lineage to rule them in a time of peace, but God had something even better in mind. Today, we have the privilege of knowing Jesus as the fulfillment of this and every other prophecy in God’s Word, a heavenly king who bore our sins for all time and took upon himself the full wrath of God, so that even in the past, those who repented could be forgiven. Together with the revealed Gospel, these prophecies give us a complete picture of God’s love and faithfulness in the midst of our sinfulness.