If you examine the Bibles of even the most diligent students, you may find a telltale band of white on the paper edges about halfway through. That mark of cleanness shows how seldom fingers touch the Old Testament Prophets. Although those 17 books fill about a fifth of the bulk of the Bible, they often go unread.

Why? I put that question to a Bible study class, and one young Christian bluntly summed up the class’s sentiments: “The Prophets are weird and confusing, and they all sound alike.” As I thought about his answer, I realized that he had captured the very problems that kept me away from the Prophets for many years.

Weird, yes. I gained my first impressions as a child at summer “prophecy conferences.” Banners hung across the platform—white bed sheets that were stitched together and filled with crude drawings of science-fiction animals. The drawings depicted visions from Daniel and Revelation, and speakers wielding long pointers would expound on the meaning of the various toes and horns and eyes. They were a strange lot, the prophets.

Confusing? Indeed. Each speaker had a private theory on how many months we Christians would have to suffer, and where on Earth the Antichrist was growing up even as we met together. Later, when I read a little church history, I learned that speakers had made such claims in the 1940s when Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini seemed to vie for the role of Antichrist; and in the 1840s when believers gathered on mountain-tops to await Christ’s return; and in the 1400s and the 400s and even in the first century A.D. All of them gave convincing reasons why the coded prophecies in the Bible would find fulfillment in their own day. If no one can agree on the Prophets’ ...

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