9 Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me:
“Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.
10 “See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To root out and to pull down,
To destroy and to throw down,
To build and to plant.”
In a little while, I will be heading off to a Bible study on the book of Revelation. We’ve been studying John’s visions verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter for most of a year, and I expect we’ll be in Revelation for all of next year, too. It’s the kind of Scripture that demands careful attention. But why do we study prophecy? More importantly, why was it written in the first place?
1 Corinthians 13:9-12
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
Whatever prophecies we have in the Bible are just a part of the whole of God’s plan. They are incomplete, a child’s version of the wisdom of God. But God Himself intended that we have these words to know and to understand–as best we can understand them–and so the question still remains, “Why?” Let us look at today’s verses from the book of Jeremiah to answer that question.
Jeremiah was a young man when the Lord called Him out to speak to the people. Like Moses before him, Jeremiah claimed he didn’t have the gift of eloquent speech, that the people would probably not listen to him. (Exodus 4:1-12, Jeremiah 1:6) However, just as the Lord had done with Moses, so He promised Jeremiah that He would give the young prophet the words to say. And as we see in today’s verses, God went on to explain WHY He gave those words to Jeremiah.
Reading the books of prophecy in the Bible, we often see a tension at work between two things. On the one hand we see the prophet revealing God’s judgment, the wrath and discipline He will visit upon the people. And on the other side we see the Lord revealing His plan for mercy and hope, His plan even for salvation. That may seem a little simplistic, but there is one final component we ought to remember: in any prophecy concerning God’s wrath, there is contained an explanation for the reasons for His wrath, and in any prophecy concerning His salvation, there is contained the consequences for failing to follow His plan for us.
15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil,
16 “in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess.
17 “But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them,
18 “I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess.
19 “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;
20 “that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”
Here in Jeremiah 1:10, we see that same dynamic explained. The words of the prophet are meant to:
•Root out: “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.” (Matthew 15:13b)
•Pull down: “For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:43-44)
•Destroy: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10)
•Throw down: “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:2)
In other words, the prophet is to warn about the destruction of human ways, human ideas, and human institutions–to warn, in fact, about the destruction of the earth itself. The prophet is to tear these things down, to show them for the sham they are, to reveal their inadequacies and weakness, to destroy them in the minds and hearts of the people who will listen. Our rootless philosophies will be torn up, our unrepentant churches will be pulled down, our society and our world will be destroyed, and the things we held sacred in the place of our God will be thrown down with not one brick of our traditions left standing on another.
And in its place, the prophet is to:
•Build: “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)
•Plant: “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:23)
Just as the prophecies of the Bible are meant to warn us of God’s wrath, to outline (but not detail) His plan for the future, so, too, are those same prophecies meant to show us how to build upon the solid foundation of Jesus Christ, to make our hearts fertile ground for the seed of the Word of God.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Contrary to the way in which some pastors try to use prophecy today, the prophecies of the Bible, as terrifying and alarming as they are, are meant to help us GROW in the Lord, not just to frighten us into submission to the will of God.
2 Peter 3:11-12
11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,
12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?
What manner of people ought we to be in holy conduct and godliness? Will we be the ones who are easily uprooted, the ones whose traditions and institutions are torn down, the ones who will be destroyed when the world is melted “with fervent heat”? Or will we be the ones who opened our eyes and our ears to see and hear the truth of God? Will we be the ones who founded our lives on the gospel of Christ? Will we allow the seed of the Word of God to fall on stony ground, on shallow soil, or among thorns in our lives? Or will we instead allow it to take deep root so that we may be grafted onto the holy vine who is Jesus Christ, so that we are branches–brothers and sisters–of the Son of God Himself?
What is the purpose of prophecy? Yes, it is meant to warn us and remind us of God’s promises–promises both to punish the wicked and to reward the obedient. But ultimately the purpose of prophecy is to help us grow in our faith in the Lord, to build us up so that no wind nor tide of men’s ways can shake us. If we will listen and heed the words of prophecy and of the Lord Jesus Himself, then we will overcome this world, for He who is within us is greater than he who is within the world. (1 John 4:4) What happens to those who overcome? Let’s look to prophecy to see:
•”To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7b)
•”He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:11b)
•”To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17b)
•”And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations–
‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron;
They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’–
as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.” (Revelation 2:26-28)
•”He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” (Revelation 3:5)
•”He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” (Revelation 3:12)
•”To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Revelation 3:21)
Let us therefore be planted in Jesus Christ, built up in His holy name, founded upon the solid rock of the gospel. Let us take the Word of God and let it grow within our lives. Let us listen to prophecy as it tears down the false idols and sin of our lives, and allow that same prophecy to plant the Word within us, to build us up in Christ’s image. And then, when our time comes to stand before the King of glory, we will be able to say we have overcome this world through Jesus Christ who strengthens us. We will join the elders around the throne and sing this prayer:
Blessing and glory and wisdom,
Thanksgiving and honor and power and might,
Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 7:12)