Q&A: Conditions on Prophetic Passages

Conditions on Prophetic Passages

Why does God sometimes put conditions on his prophecies?

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Answer

God puts conditions on his prophesies and the prophets in some sense to remind us that God's interaction with his people is a lived and dynamic interaction. It's a relationship. It's a covenant. It's a covenant that he's determined to enter into with people. And so, when God makes a prophecy or gives a prophetic announcement against his people, he will put conditions into that, at times, to provide again that dynamic relationship that gives room for real response in time and space. And those responses matter. And sometimes these qualifications that are made are qualifications that are reminders — "I've claimed you. You're mine. Come back to me." You see this throughout Jeremiah's prophecy from beginning to end. "Why is this bad thing happening to us?" they ask in Jeremiah in his book, and the answer is "because God has claimed you and you've turned away from him." So these conditions are given to the people to remind them of their covenantal relationship with God and their commitment to that. And sometimes, these qualifications are stated in very clear ways, and sometimes they're unstated qualifications. I think the most famous one is in Jonah. Jonah gives us the smallest sermon in history. "Forty days and Nineveh is destroyed!" But then the people of God scratch that the Ninevites actually, the pagans turn and God relents from his judgment. I think what you see there is a prophetic statement that has an unstated qualification. And when you get into Jonah chapter 4, you can see that Jonah's not real happy about the fact that God pulled back, he relented from his destructed his destruction toward the Ninevites. And the reason why Jonah was angry — and I think this gets at the heart of these prophetic qualifications — the reason why Jonah was so angry was because he knew the character of God. God's gracious. "You're compassionate. I knew that you were quick to forgive, and you're doing it with the wrong people" — in the book of Jonah. So, these qualifications that come into the prophetic announcements are rooted in a covenantal relationship with God and his people.

Answer by Dr. Mark Gignilliat

Mark Gignilliat is the Associate Professor of Divinity Old Testament at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama and has published articles in Scottish Journal of Theology, Horizons in Biblical Theology, Westminster Theological Journal, Biblica, The Journal for Theological Interpretation, Zeitschrift fr die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, and International Journal of Systematic Theology.