Have you ever heard people talk about “prophecy”? Some people love it, but some think it’s unnecessary and, well, “hard to digest.” This is kind of funny, since two famous Bible prophets, Ezekiel and John, were told to eat a scroll and then tell others about what was written on it. Ezekiel said the scroll tasted sweet. For John, the scroll started out sweet like honey, but turned bitter in his stomach. Why would prophecy be sweet for one person and make someone else’s stomach hurt? And who would eat a book, anyway?
First, let’s cover some basics. What is prophecy, and why does it matter? A prophet is someone chosen by God to share a message of instruction or warning or predict the future. Prophecy is the name given to that message. The Bible contains lots of prophecy. Some prophecies are tucked into unexpected places. There are at least 14 about Jesus’ crucifixion in Psalm 22 alone, and every single one came true. What sweet prophecies! They teach us that we can trust fully in God’s Word. As David exclaimed: “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:103).
Then there are “wow” types of prophecies, like the water ditch prophecy. You can read the story in 2 Kings 3:16-24. Jehoram, king of Israel, and his allies journeyed seven days into the wilderness on their way to fight the king of Moab. They discovered that there was no water for the troops or animals. Oops! Elisha the prophet reluctantly came to the rescue and shared God’s action plan. Dig ditches all over the valley! To prove this was not a coincidence, God said there would be no wind or rain, yet the valley would be filled with water enough for every person and animal. Oh, and I’ll give you victory over the Moabites as well, He said. The valley filled with water, just as God had promised, and the Moabites were defeated by an optical illusion. Wow!
How about the prophecy that predicted a ruler named Cyrus would help rescue God’s people from their captivity in Babylon more than 100 years before it happened? (See Isaiah 44 and 45.) Wow! Excavations at Babylon in the 1800s led to the discovery of a clay barrel, known as the Cyrus Cylinder, which confirmed the biblical story.1
Other prophetic writings seem kind of confusing and are written in a sort of code language. Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John, who wrote Revelation, all had visions in which they saw strange sights, sounds, and symbols. Think flaming wheels, four-headed beasts, or giant grasshoppers (locusts) with lions’ teeth. Sounds interesting, but not for those who tend to have nightmares.
God definitely doesn’t want to scare us. The Bible says “Fear not” and “Do not be afraid.”2 Why all the strange and scary symbols? Well, what if you were a four-star general and wanted to get a very important message across enemy lines to some prisoners to tell them about a rescue operation—one that would save them from certain death. Writing in code language makes a lot of sense during a war. Young friends, we are in an epic war! Which brings us to the second half of our question from the beginning. Why does prophecy matter?
Prophecy is not just for predicting the future and showing that God’s Word can be trusted. The main purpose of prophecy is to help you get to know the God of creation, who holds the future and wants you to live forever with Him. He loves you so much He gave His life to save you. What sweet words! Studying prophecy also leads to hard choices. It uncovers dishonest traps Satan puts in our way. Prophecy is often a loud warning. Watch out! Destruction ahead! Through prophecy Jesus is calling us to change and turn away from the sin that will destroy us. An honest study of prophecy affects people’s lives. It either brings them closer to Jesus or turns them away. God’s words are sweet when we accept them fully and let them change us. At the same time, it can be a painful process that feels a little bitter.
No, you don’t need to eat any books. But do taste and see that the Lord is good! That means read God’s Word, pray, and trust Him with every decision. God promises if you read, hear, and take to heart His words, you will be blessed, now and forever.
1 Ira M. Price, The Monuments and the Old Testament (Chicago: Christian Culture Press, 1902), p. 234.
2 Psalm 91:5; Isaiah 41:10, 13; Matthew 10:31; Revelation 1:17.