The list of most visited verses was of itself perhaps not very surprising (the top five verses were John 3:16, Jeremiah 29:11, Philippians 4:13, Romans 8:28 and Psalm 23:4). More illuminating is the chapter by chapter graphic produced by BibleGateway showing exactly which Bible chapters saw the most search traffic.
That chapter by chapter chart showed clear visitor focus on the Gospels and Epistles, on Genesis, Exodus, Psalms and Proverbs. But even though the numbers show a much greater focus on New Testament books compared to those of the Old Testament, there were some noticeably neglected areas within the Old Testament itself.
As BibleGateway’s Andy Rau wrote in a recent Christianity Today article (which you can read here): “There's a particularly noticeable engagement gap regarding the books of the Old Testament prophets, whose words and actions are connected to specific (and lesser-known) moments in the history of Israel.”
This apparent neglect of prophetic writings is also reflected in the fact that the Book of Revelation appears to be BibleGateway’s least visited book (or certainly one of them) in the New Testament.
Why would the Bible’s prophetic writings be relatively neglected by millions of Christians in this way? The answers are probably complex. Certainly many find the symbolism and verbal imagery utilized by some of the prophets to be somewhat daunting and difficult to understand. Prophecy can seem like an almost alien literary genre for those unused to reading the Bible, and many shy away from the prophetic books for that reason alone. In other cases people have been “burned” by unsuccessful modern interpretations of prophecies and by the commonly perceived “wild eyed and mystical” nature of the prophets themselves.
Yet despite whatever reasons people may have for avoiding them, the prophetic books of the Bible are unquestionably worth the investment of the modern Christian’s study time. The Hebrew prophet or Nabi was not just a deliverer of oracles of impending or distant events – the prophet was primarily a spokesperson for God who delivered many kinds of messages. Think about just three types of messages found in the prophetic books that you may not have considered as much as you might:
1) The prophets are the unequaled commentators on social justice in the ancient world. A great deal of what many of the prophets have to say is regarding social problems of their day that are just as real in ours. Read Amos 5:7-24 for just one example.
2) The Old Testament prophets speak constantly to God’s covenant relation with ancient Israel. The prophets were the spiritual “marriage counselors” addressing problems of the divine husband-wife community of that covenant. Their inspired advice is often just as relevant to our relationship with God today, even if the details may be different. And yes, some of what the prophets say is good marriage advice on the human marriage relation level too (Malachi 2:14-16).
3) Not all prophecies are of doom and gloom! Many prophecies speak of restoration and renewal of the human relationship with God (see Isaiah 60, for example), and these find their apex in the many predictions of the promised Messiah. Just reading all the Old Testament messianic prophecies can be tremendously illuminating and faith strengthening. If you have never hunted down these prophesies in the Old Testament, at least work backwards by reading the New Testament and checking the scripture cross references or notes of your Bible (use a version on BibleGateway if your Bible doesn’t have them). Whenever you come to words regarding the Messiah in quotes, read the cross referenced passages in context, looking at the section of Scripture in which they appear. You may be surprised how much more the prophets say regarding Christ that did not find its way into the New Testament quotations.
These points are not meant to diminish the lasting value of other things found within the prophetic writings – including even the darkest oracles delivered against people and cities long disappeared. We understand that all Scripture was inspired and is of value (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but we don’t always read the Bible keeping that in mind.
If you are new to reading the prophets, try starting with one of the minor prophetic books – ideally Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. Take a look at the article "Malachi: A Story of Love and Legal Proceedings" on our sister site here, then try reading Malachi and judging how much of value you found within the book. Or take a look at the Jonah story from a new angle by reading our article "A Tale of Two Prophets" here, then read Jonah and Nahum.
If you have read the prophets before, but have neglected reading them recently, give them another try. Setting up specific goals for study – such as looking for the three points mentioned above – can help demonstrate just how much of value there is in these amazing books.
In the Christianity Today article we mentioned earlier, Andy Rau urged BibleGateway visitors to give the prophetic books some time this year. We agree. It’s invariably an investment of time that is amply rewarded. In fact, if you read them, you may wish you hadn’t avoided them as long as you did.