Chapter OneProphecy and Prophets
TITLES OF A PROPHET 2 Old Testament Titles Prophet Seer Man of God Servant of the Lord Messenger of the Lord Old Testament Terms New Testament Terms
TRAITS OF A PROPHET 4 The Prophet Must Be Called The Prophet Must Be Courageous
TASKS OF A PROPHET 5 Reformers Statesmen Watchmen Intercessors Comforters and Encouragers
THEMES OF A PROPHET 8 Impending Judgment Social Reform Condemnation of Idolatry The Coming of Messiah and His Kingdom
THE TEST OF A PROPHET 10 The Seven Distinguishing Marks of a True Prophet
THE TABULATION OF THE PROPHETS 11
FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
Twenty-seven percent of the Bible's content can be characterized as prophecy, and 20 percent of its books are prophetic. These facts alone make knowledge of Bible prophecy indispensable to anyone wanting to understand what the Bible is all about. However, this information also presents quite an overwhelming challenge. Trying to understand and digest this much material is like traveling through a maze. Where do we start? What is Bible prophecy? Who or what is a prophet?
For many people, Bible prophecy is all the negative, catastrophic, cataclysmic warnings about how God is going to destroy everything someday. And prophets? They are those strange people wearing strange clothes, eating strange foods, preaching strange sermons, and doing strange things that no one understands. The popular image of a prophet is of some crusty old sage gazing into a crystal ball.
Since this book is about Bible prophecy, let's start by getting acquainted with the men and women the Bible calls prophets and prophetesses. Let's find out who they are, what they said, and how one could verify their authority.
TITLES OF A PROPHET
The title for any job usually reveals a lot about the person who fills that position and what he or she does. For instance, people call me a pastor, teacher, minister, elder, or reverend-and sometimes a few names I can't repeat here. Each of these titles gives people insight into the job I fulfill. Likewise, the Bible contains several titles for the office of prophet that help us to understand who these people were and what they did.
Old Testament Titles The English translations of the Old Testament use five main titles for those who spoke on God's behalf. Each of these titles emphasizes a different aspect of the prophet's job description.
PROPHET This title, the most commonly used, emphasizes that the person was an authoritative spokesman for God.
SEER This word focuses on the way in which the prophet received God's message.
MAN OF GOD This title identifies the prophet as one who knew God and one whom God had commissioned for a specific task.
SERVANT OF THE LORD This term stresses the close relationship between God and his faithful messenger.
MESSENGER OF THE LORD This term focuses on the mission and the message rather than on the person. It emphasizes the fact that God sent a prophet to deliver a message-the word of God.
Old Testament Terms Three Hebrew words in the Old Testament are translated "prophet" or "seer." The first two terms occur less frequently than the third. The first term, ro'eh, appears only twelve times, and the second term, hozeh, appears eighteen times. These words are both "revelational" terms. They come from words that basically mean to see, look at, or behold. The prophet or seer, therefore, is one who can see things that others cannot. The prophet is one to whom God directly and uniquely reveals his word and his will-usually through dreams or visions.
The third term, nabbi', appears 309 times in its noun form and almost 600 times in its verb forms. When we trace this term through the Old Testament, it becomes clear that nabbi' refers primarily to one who speaks for someone else, someone who acts as a "mouth" for another (Exod. 7:1). Whenever God assigned a specific task to a prophet, the assignment always focused on speaking God's message. Therefore, the basic meaning of the term nabbi' is "to speak God's message," to be a "speaker for God," "one who is a spokesman for God" (Deut. 18:18; Jer. 1:7; Isa. 1:20). The nabbi' was a divinely inspired preacher who faithfully spoke the message God had revealed. When the prophet spoke, God spoke.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN "PROPHET" AND "SEER"
NAME BASIC CONCEPT FOCUS EMPHASIS
Prophet Spokesman Proclamation of Output (what he does) divine revelation
Seer One who Sees Reception of divine Input (how he knows) revelation
New Testament Terms The primary New Testament term for a prophet or prophetess is the Greek noun prophetes, and the Greek verb propheteuo means "to prophesy." These words, like their Old Testament counterparts, refer to one who speaks for God, one who speaks the word and will of God. The New Testament prophet brought God's word to his fellowman.
TRAITS OF A PROPHET
It was a great and distinct honor to be a prophet of the living God. That's why there were so many false prophets in Israel. Prophets anointed kings, performed miracles, and predicted the future. But at the same time, a prophet's assignment could also bring great danger, difficulty, and even death. The prophet was called to speak God's undiluted, uncompromising, unvarnished message to an often rebellious people. This frequently brought reproach, fierce opposition, harsh criticism, and even execution to the man of God. For this reason not just anyone could be a prophet. There were at least two major qualifications that a person had to possess in order to be a true prophet of God.
The Prophet Must Be Called. Unlike the offices of king and priest, the office of a prophet was not inherited by being born into a prophetic family or tribe. The son of a prophet did not automatically receive a commission as a prophet. Rather, God individually selected and called each prophet to a specific work that God wanted accomplished. The divine call is what made a man a true prophet, and the lack of this call is what made so many false prophets. Here are just a few examples of the divine call of a prophet.
* Moses received the call at the burning bush (Exod. 3:4).
* Isaiah responded to the divine call through a vision he had of the Lord high and lifted up in the temple (Isa. 6:1-8).
* Jeremiah was called by God as a prophet while still in his mother's womb (Jer. 1:5).
* Ezekiel was called by God near the Kebar River in Babylon (Ezek. 1:1; 2:2-3).
* Amos remembers his call in Amos 7:14-15.
The Prophet Must Be Courageous. In light of the rigors and responsibility of this office, the prophet had to be a special kind of person. The prophet had to be a bold, fearless individual. He had to be able to handle both persecution and praise, both accolades and antagonism. Leon Wood summarizes the courage needed by a prophet:
A person had to be an outstanding individual to qualify as a prophet. Prophets had to be people of outstanding character, great minds, and courageous souls. They had to be this by nature and then, being dedicated to God, they became still greater because of the tasks and special provisions assigned them. Thus they became the towering giants of Israel, the formers of public opinion, the leaders through days of darkness, people distinguished from all those about them either in Israel or the other nations of the day.
Let's look at some of the tasks God assigned to his prophets.
* Samuel's first task as a prophet was to inform the high priest Eli that God had rejected his house (1 Sam. 3:4-18).
* Nathan had to confront King David about his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:1-12).
* God gave David a choice of three punishments for his sinful census (2 Sam. 24:10-17).
* Elijah warned King Ahab of a terrible drought and famine (1 Kings 17:1).
* Jonah called the wicked city of Nineveh to repentance (Jon. 1:2; 3:1-2).
TASKS OF A PROPHET
When most people think of the job description for a prophet, they immediately think of dramatic dreams and visions of the future apocalypse. The common image of a prophet is of a predictor and prognosticator. Biblical prophets foretold the future with 100 percent accuracy and announced the coming Messiah, the coming of Antichrist, and the end of the world. This aspect of the prophet's ministry is often called "foretelling." The prophet was God's mouthpiece and spokesman for predicting and previewing the future of Israel and other nations.
This future-predicting aspect of the prophet's mission-the unfulfilled Bible prophecies of the last days or end times-is the primary focus of this book. However, it is important to remember that the prophets also had a powerful, pertinent message for the people of their own day. This aspect of the prophet's ministry is sometimes called "forthtelling." The prophet echoed forth God's message to his or her own generation.
In both of these aspects of the prophetic office, the overall purpose was the same. Whether the prophet was forthtelling to the people of his or her own day or foretelling about future events, the goal was to call people to trust the Lord, obey God's Word, and submit to his will for their lives. In essence, the ministry of the prophet was to call people to live their lives in conformity with God's law.
It is also important to understand that even in the forthtelling function of the prophet, the foretelling element is always present to some degree. When the prophets spoke to their contemporaries about current situations, they generally included warnings and encouragements about the future in their message. Almost every prophet appears first as a foreteller. The notion of prediction seems to be the very essence of the prophetic office and function (Deut. 18:20-22). Nevertheless, while always recognizing the future aspect of all prophecy, it is important for us to also remember the important function of the prophets to their contemporary society.
In the Scriptures there are at least five specific tasks, functions, or missions that the prophets fulfilled as they announced God's message to the people of their day. Let's briefly consider the five functions of forthtelling:
Reformers The prophets served as reformers. They consistently called the people to obey the law of God. The prophets were ethical and moral preachers who denounced all the moral, religious, and social evils of the day. The prophet of God was called on to fearlessly rebuke idolatry, marital infidelity, oppression of the poor and needy, injustice, and social, moral, and political corruption. The prophets called people to turn back from their sinful ways and to live in conformity to God's Word.
Statesmen The prophets confronted kings and played the role of statesman in national affairs. Interestingly, the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David, were also prophets. But the two roles even in that day were clearly separate. The prophet Samuel confronted Saul about his disobedience (1 Sam. 15:13-23), and the prophet Nathan confronted David when he committed murder and adultery (2 Sam. 12:1-12).
Watchmen The prophets served as watchmen among the people. God raised up the prophets to point out the people's religious apostasy and to trumpet forth warnings of judgment for the people's failure to turn from idolatry.
Intercessors The prophets served as intercessors for God's people. While the priests were the primary intercessors, offering sacrifices for the people, the prophets also assumed this role, apart from sacrificial and ceremonial activity. There are numerous instances of prophets praying for the needs of people.
1 Kings 13:6 An anonymous man of God prayed for King Jeroboam. 1 Kings 17:17-24 Elijah prayed for the widow's son. 2 Kings 4:18-37 Elisha prayed for the son of the woman from Shunem. Jeremiah 7:16; 14:7 Jeremiah continuously prayed for God's mercy on the rebellious nation. Amos 7:2 Amos asked God to forgive Israel.
Comforters and Encouragers The prophets comforted and encouraged God's people. Prophets are often caricatured as negative doomsayers who spent all their time going around lambasting people for their sins. As we have seen, this was certainly a principal part of their calling. But we often forget that a key aspect of the prophet's ministry was to console and comfort. First Corinthians 14:3 says, "One who prophesies is helping others grow in the Lord, encouraging and comforting them." The prophets were called by God again and again to remind the people of his faithfulness, love, mercy, and compassion. By urging the people to conform their lives to God's law, the prophets edified and encouraged the Lord's people. In Isaiah 40:1-2, the Lord tells the prophet, "'Comfort, comfort my people,' says your God. 'Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and that her sins are pardoned.'"
The prophet Nahum, whose name means "comfort" or "consolation," brought comfort to the nation of Israel by predicting and previewing the savage destruction of the wicked city of Nineveh. (Nahum is often called the book Jonah would like to have written.) In this short book of three chapters, Nahum clearly presents judgment and comfort side by side. This is not unique to Nahum. While almost all the prophets spoke about God's judgment and wrath on the unrepentant, many also closed their message with the promise of a glorious future in the messianic kingdom. So even in the midst of judgment, there is a beautiful message of hope, comfort, and encouragement. Hobart Freeman summarizes the task of the prophet in this way:
The prophets boldly rebuked vice, denounced political corruption, oppression, idolatry and moral degeneracy. They were preachers of righteousness, reformers, and revivalists of spiritual religion, as well as prophets of future judgment or blessing. They were raised up in times of crisis to instruct, rebuke, warn and comfort Israel, but interwoven with their ethical and moral teaching are to be found numerous predictions of future events concerning Israel, the nations and the Messianic kingdom.
THEMES OF A PROPHET
As you can imagine, the messages the prophets spoke were as varied as
the situations they encountered. Yet there are several key themes in the
prophetic messages, repeated with amazing regularity throughout