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Why Study Prophecy?

by Kenneth V. Ryland
Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a prophecy roundtable via the miracle of modern telecommunications. We were in rapt conversation about the "fourth beast" and where all the events of Daniel 11 fit in the prophetic timetable of human history. Some of the information was truly inspiring because it made plain the exactness with which God detailed the future to His prophet Daniel.
While preparing for this discussion, the thought occurred to me that we were not just participating in an academic exercise. Even though with studied gaze we viewed how prophecy was transformed into history, to the people who witnessed the unfolding of these divinely foretold events, the prophecies were anything but academic. And, to those who knew the Bible and its God, the march of these predicted events was truly an astoundingly beautiful, and often terrifying, testimony to the very real, personal activity of their Almighty Creator in shaping their lives and the politics of the nations that surrounded them.
This brings us to the point of why we study prophecy. We want to know about ourselves. Did God speak of me and my family -- my nation -- through His prophets? How will the unfolding of prophecies yet unfulfilled impact me and the ones I love? Just as those in past ages saw the day that prophecies turned real, will we see the same in our day?
The fascination with prophecy stems not just from what we think we will learn about ourselves and those most dear to us, but from the fact that throughout the Bible we have an entire catalog of prophecies that have already been fulfilled, and that gives us a sense of certainty that since God was true to His word in ages past, He will be true to it in our time.
Biblical prophecy is true because God is both reliable and predictable. And, much of what the Bible predicts about the future is the natural response of God's immutable and holy character to overflowing corruption, degradation, and defiance of any godly restraint. In biblical terms any such morally debased society deserves to die -- even the one in which we live. So, what we want to know most from Bible prophecy is "Will my nation be destroyed because of all its sins?" If it appears that God's judgment is against us, is there a way that I can avoid being punished with the rest of society? Will it be possible for me to save my family?
These are the types of questions that make Bible prophecy meaningful to us. What gives these questions relevance is that we can look at history and see that God has indeed carried out judgments against certain societies not just "to fulfill His purpose" (whatever that means), but to eliminate the perpetrators of evil. Very often prophets shouted warnings to the people that unless the evildoers quickly reversed course and stopped their moral debauchery and idolatry, God would act to destroy them. We see this theme played over time and again by Israel's and Judah's prophets.
What we are all wondering is "Has our nation gone too far?" Will we be able to reverse course before God's judgment hammers us and our children? Is there a way to turn all this around enough to avoid the judgments that God said would come upon a people who, after declaring to the world that their nation was created by an act of God for the purpose of the advancement of the Gospel, have slapped their Creator in the face with their wanton immorality, destruction of human life, and rampant corruption.
I am reminded of Solomon, who during the latter part of his life turned himself and the nation from God to idols. Here is God's response to Solomon in 1 Kings 11: "So the LORD became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the LORD God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the LORD had commanded. Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, 'Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant. Nevertheless I will not do it in your days, for the sake of your father David; I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However I will not tear away the whole kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of my servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen.' Now the LORD raised up an adversary against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite; he was a descendant of the king in Edom. (vv. 9-14)
Is the Lord beginning to raise up enemies against our nation also?
Yes, many Christians are concerned about what prophecy holds for our country because the Judge of the Universe is predictable, and we can see His dealings with Israel -- how He made them pay for their idolatry and treachery. This is what makes prophecy relevant to us today. This is why it is important to study prophecy. Not only do we gain a glimpse of the future, but we awaken to the real need to straighten out our lives and our relationship with God before the time for that runs out.
The thing that we all fear, and rightfully so, is that we will not heed the prophetic warnings as Nineveh did, but will live to witness the words of Ezekiel 22 fulfilled in our nation in our time:
"'The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,' says the Lord GOD." (vv. 29-31)
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