A VERY LARGE PART of the Bible is concerned with foretelling the future. First of all, there are the ‘books of the prophets’: no fewer than 17 out of the 39 books of the Old Testament. There are, in addition, those parts of other books—for example, Balaam’s prophecy (Numbers 22–24), and Jesus’ Mount Olivet prophecy (Matthew 24)—which are prophetic.
But besides those chapters or books that can be called prophecies, there are a large number of statements in other parts of the Bible which are prophetic—for example God said to Abraham ‘You shall be the father of a multitude of nations’ (Genesis 17:4); and He told David of his descendant, ‘I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever’ (2 Samuel 7:13).
The Purpose of Prophecy
What is the purpose of prophecy? It is usually thought of as the prediction of future events, but in fact prophecy in the Bible sense has a two-fold meaning:
- forthtelling (speaking forth, or speaking out, on God’s behalf—not necessarily predicting events);
- foretelling (showing forth events destined to happen in the near or distant future).
Isaiah, for example, writes forthtelling Israel’s place as God’s witnesses (chapters 42 & 43); he also foretells the sufferings of the Messiah (chapter 53). There are a few Bible prophecies in the form ‘This or that will happen so many years from now’: Jeremiah’s prophecy of 70 years’ captivity in Babylon (25:11) is an example of this.