The Difficulty of Prophetic Books

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Question
What makes prophetic books so difficult to understand?
Answer
The prophetic books are particularly difficult to understand for a number of reasons. One of the main reasons is that most of the prophetic books are written in poetry, and Hebrew poetry is a lot more difficult to understand than Hebrew prose for a number of reasons, including the differences in syntax, differences in vocabulary. We might be able to understand all the words and still not be able to put them together in a meaning that we can be really confident of. The organization of prophetic books is not that similar The organization of prophetic books is not like the way Western literature is organized. It doesn't have such a clear logical structure or even a chronological structure. It does have structure of its own, but a lot of times the structure is based on formal cues that we wouldn't regard as very logical cues. We would regard them as superficial. There's transitions between speakers. Sometimes we don't know, the text will say "I," and we won't know who's speaking, or "you," and we won't know who's being addressed. As part of being poetic, the books are full of images and metaphors that shift and change in almost a dreamlike fashion that makes it hard for us to follow. Still another reason why the prophetic books are difficult to understand is just the nature, the mysterious nature to us of prophetic inspiration. Prophets saw themselves as speaking the very words of God. They weren't their own words. They were authoritative messengers, diplomats from the Lord, and they weren't speaking their own words. And that's very difficult for us to understand, even though we can compare a prophet like prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel and analyze their language and see, well, they have a lot of similar themes to one another, but they speak a very different language. So, we could say that the language of Jeremiah is very much reflects the personality of Jeremiah, or the language of Ezekiel very much reflects the personality of Ezekiel. And yet, those prophets were very conscious that those words were nevertheless not their own words, but the words of the Lord. And I think in spite of many attempts by scholars to psychologize that inspiration, it really is an indigestible lump from a modern point of view. It's just opaque to us, prophetic inspiration.

Answer by Dr. Douglas Gropp