When we try to grasp God’s activity in the nations, we sometimes say we need a “prophetic” perspective of the nations. By that we mean we need God to speak spontaneously to us to help us make sense of His work in the nations. Though God does at times speak specifically to the church, what we primarily need is not necessarily a “prophetic” perspective, but rather a biblical perspective. We need to view the nations through the whole counsel of Scripture.
When we think of the prophetic gift, we tend to think of the gift that the New Testament calls the “Word of Knowledge.”(See 1 Corinthians 12:8.) This is a precious gift where a speaker is spontaneously given something they have not considered or could not have known about a person or a situation. This is incredibly valuable, but it is not the entirety of what it means to be prophetic.
When we look at the prophets in the Scripture, we find they did not give their oracles in a vacuum. When the prophets prophesied, they did not bring a new message. They spoke according to the covenants—the Scripture—that had already been given. When Jeremiah spoke his oracles against Judah he was not shocked by the core message. It was simply an application of Scripture. The prophets first and foremost were men soaked in the Scripture. This foundation is vital, because the most difficult part of prophecy is the interpretation. To interpret prophecy correctly, the interpretation must be according to Scripture.
We tend to assume that being prophetic is primarily about revelation beyond the Scripture, but the foundation of the prophetic is bringing a message that comes out of the Scripture. This is why Daniel did not attribute the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar to Jeremiah or Ezekiel’s oracles, but rather to what had been written in the Scripture centuries before:
As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. (Daniel 9:13)
The prophets were given unique information by God, but the vast majority of what they wrote and what they were given was the application of Bible verses in their generation. What God spoke to them instructs us on how to apply the Scripture in a specific generation. They instruct us in what it means to interpret history biblically.
We must soak ourselves in the prophets in order to learn how to apply the Scriptures in our generation. When the prophets spoke of judgment they spoke according to the covenants. When they spoke of deliverance, they spoke according to the covenants. They did not introduce radical new concepts that had not been previously revealed in Scripture. By studying the way they applied the Scripture, we learn how to properly apply Scripture in our generation.