I’m not sure there is a ‘correct’ way to approach YHWH’s Prophetic Word, but I’m pretty sure there is a responsible way to do it. Too many people try to seize hold of prophecy; to make it something of their own design, under their control. I know of at least one such man, and what he has done with prophecy is nothing short of blasphemy. Others seek to use prophecy as some sort of crystal ball by which they can tell the future. There are even people who have built their own apostate religions around small sections of prophecy. All of these have at least two things in common. They seek to use YHWH’s Prophetic Word for their own prestige or material gain, and they all deceive or lead people away from YHWH. So, while I cannot say that I know the ‘correct’ way to approach prophecy, I am pretty sure I can tell when it is being done irresponsibly.
Before I go any farther, let me make a few things as clear as I possibly can. I trust that you will accept that I am being sincere, and that this is the truth:
I am not and will never claim to be a prophet, at least, not in the sense that most people think of when they think of the prophets.
I am not and will never claim to have any special insight or revelation.
And I do not ever wish to be found among those who approach YHWH’s Prophetic Word in an irresponsible manner.
Now, with that said, let me start by explaining how I believe we should approach YHWH’s Prophetic Word.
First — and this should go without saying — we need to approach prophecy with the utmost sense of humility. By that, I mean we must understand that this is YHWH’s Prophetic Word, not ours. I take this part so seriously that I even feel uncomfortable using terms like ‘my interpretation.’ When we interpret something, we invariable apply something of our own will onto whatever it is we are trying to understand and I do not wish to do this with prophecy. This is why I try to say, ‘this is my understanding.’ While it may seem like a fine hair to split, there is a difference between trying to interpret or read the mind of the prophet and just trying to understand what the prophet was trying to tell us. In the first case, you will end up applying some aspect of your own will onto the prophet’s words. But, when you just try to understand, you are passive and, often times, you will find yourself admitting you do not understand. This is perfectly acceptable, especially when dealing with prophecy. In fact, we should be willing to say we don’t understand about a great deal more of Scripture than we do. So, for me, humility is the first and most important thing we need to have when we study prophecy.
Second, we need to learn to let the prophet speak. This goes hand-in-hand with learning to control our urge to insert ourselves into Scripture. Contrary to what so many believe, when they recorded YHWH’s prophecies, the prophets had specific messages they were trying to convey. By this, I mean they knew what they were trying to tell us, and that is what they intended to do. They were not just writing something and leaving it for others to ‘interpret’ however they wished. If that were the case, then the whole of Scripture falls apart. Therefore, we must learn to let the prophets speak to us, and this means that we must learn as much as we can about the culture in which they lived. In the case of prophecy, this means learning as much as we can about the mindset of those living in the Ancient Near East (ANE); about the Hebrew culture, and about TORAH — in that order. These are the things that make up the back story behind all of Scripture. They are the greater context in which every word of Scripture is written. If we do not know them, we will never be able to properly understand the messages contained in the Scriptures, and that includes prophecy.
Third, we need to learn the prophetic language. I know of many solid Bible scholars who deny that prophecy has its own language, but this denies what is clearly written. To begin with, prophecy contains many words that indicate we are dealing with a symbolic and/or allegorical language. When the prophet uses the words, ‘like,’ or ‘as,’ he is signaling a comparison, not a literal depiction. The next key is to pay attention to the prophecy. If you do, you will find that the prophet almost always interprets these symbols or allegories for you. But there’s more. Numbers and events can also have a prophetic meaning. For example: much of king David’s life story is allegorical or pointing to that of the Messiah. Likewise, the number five often points to TORAH, the number three to the Godhead, the number seventy to the members of the Royal Court in Heaven, and so on and so forth. These last aspects of prophecy are seldom as clear as the symbolic meanings, both in how easy they are to notice and how they should be understood. This is why we must study the prophetic language: so that we will better understand the message that the prophet is trying to share with us.
Fourth, we must hold our understanding of prophecy in an open hand, so-to-speak. By this, I mean that, even when we think we understand something correctly, we must not become too attached to that understanding. As we grow, we might find that we have to tweak, or even let go of that understanding. In fact, changing our understanding of prophecy should become a regular thing in our spiritual life. Scripture tells us that YHWH gives us understanding line upon line, precept upon precept. This means, our understanding will grow as we study. Therefore, if we are growing in our faith, we should find ourselves in a constant state of coming to understand YHWH’s Prophetic Word, but never actually reaching a complete or perfect understanding — at least, not this side of eternity, anyway.
Fifth, we must remember to take the whole of Scripture — not just prophecy — into account. We cannot build an understanding around one aspect of prophecy if that understanding ignores or, worse, contradicts another part of Scripture. Our understanding of both Scripture and prophecy must be consistent. In fact, looking for inconsistencies and apparent contradictions can be one of your most powerful tools when you are trying to understand YHWH’s Prophetic Word. Therefore, always work to make sure you are ‘swallowing Scripture whole,’ so-to-speak. Watch for inconsistencies and contradictions and learn to use them in your study of prophecy.
Finally — and maybe most importantly — a few prophecy ‘don’ts.’
Don’t study prophecy to try and predict the future. Rather, use it to recognize spiritual seasons, or patterns in YHWH’s way of working in this world.
Don’t hold too tightly to anything concerning your understanding of prophecy. Rather, be ready to let it all go and start again — just so long as it is actually supported by the Scriptures.
Don’t be too quick to ignore or dismiss the understanding of others. Remember, scripture tells us, ‘to each is given a little.’ You might find you need the pieces that other brother or sister has to share. Just be sure to test their understanding against the whole of Scripture.
As believers, we must learn to teach prophecy, but to do so with great care. When we use prophecy carefully, and responsibly, it can be a very powerful argument for YHWH and Yeshua’s Gospel. In fact, the whole process of making disciples of the nations relies on the proper teaching of prophecy. Therefore, every believer must study prophecy with great care so that, when the time comes, they will know how best to use it to convince others that YHWH is the One True Living God and that Yeshua is His Son, and the Messiah. However, we must be very careful not to teach prophecy in a way that might lead others away from Yeshua and the Kingdom of YHWH. There is much more to how we should approach prophecy. I have shared just a general outline of the principles I employ to aid me in my study of prophecy. Hopefully, the principles I’ve shared here will help others to study and teach prophecy in a way that will be pleasing to YHWH.