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Old Testament Survey

The Prophets

Deut. 18:15
The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;

As we leave Song of Solomon and turn to Isaiah we move into the last section of the Bible, the world of the prophets. We emphasized earlier the necessity of keeping the prophets in their historical settings and it was pointed out where each of them probably played their role in God’s history. In this brief introduction to the prophets we will consider who they were and what prophecy really means in Old Testament terms.

In the Greek,

Prophecy in its broad sense means a message from God. Notice that this message need not be foretelling some future event. Unfortunately, the idea of foretelling is the meaning most often connected with prophecy today. We should be mindful of Paul’s words on spiritual gifts.

1 Cor. 14:3
But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.

The prophet has always been God’s voice to men, designed to exhort and encourage the people. Sometimes, in this process, God would use the prophets to reveal things of the future. A careful review of Scripture will show this revealing (or prophecy) always carried a present purpose of edification, exhortation, encouragement, or comfort for the people.

God’s Voice

There is much confusion about the exact meaning of the Hebrew word translated as prophet. Along with being called prophets, these spokesmen of God are also called seers, watchmen, men of God, messengers, and servants of the Lord. While the general meaning of prophet is “one who calls or announces,” some of the other terms are connected with a word meaning “to see what does not lie in the arena of natural sight.” This gives the view of the supernatural prophecy most often spoken of in today’s world. Still, your review of the history books should make it clear that the primary role of the prophet was that of acting as “God’s authorized spokesperson.”

What is the purpose of the prophets then?

First, and foremost, the prophets were the preachers and evangelists of their day. They wondered the country side “speaking God.” As the priesthood fell from God’s favor into the mud of the world, God would bring forth His spokesman to “tell it like it is.” Their message was one of rebuking sin, calling for repentance, and pleading for a return to God so the people could walk God’s way.

“Forth-telling” is insight into the meaning of God’s will. It is exhortative, a call to obey.

“Fore-telling” involves foresight into the plan of God. It is predictive in content and is a call to encourage the righteous and warn the unrighteous.

Second, they were the predictors of future events. While at times these predictions dealt with specific details, most of the time the prophecy was related to the message of repentance. Sin must be punished and if the people would not get right with God, God would send punishment. This need to judge sin becomes the foundation for most prophecy. The message is one of judgment, deliverance, and salvation. This is pictured in terms of a future reign of the Messiah.

Predicting the future is not a way of satisfying man’s curiosity. The point of prophecy is to authenticate the messenger of God, thus, showing the messenger’s words about God are true. It is, then, a means of authenticating God. God knows and controls the future. The prophecy, like miracles, would prove the trustworthiness of the predictions. Indeed, the test of a true prophet was whether or not his predictions occurred. The failure of a prediction was proof it had not arisen with God (Deut 18:2-22).

Remember that all of prophecy, foretelling or forth-telling, is a message to a historical people. God&s ongoing plan of redemption is always at work, so all prophecy is an unveiling of God&s plan. The foretelling prophecy was always connected to the current situation of the prophet and the nation. It is clear that the human author understood his message in the historical setting in which it was given. What is not as clear is if the prophet knew the prediction also applied to a future event. In many cases only God understood the final point of the message to be Christ or the end times.

God also viewed the prophets as his watchmen (Ezek 3:17). They were the true guards of Israel. Their task was to warn against apostasy and warn the people of current events which indicated a falling away of the nation from God.

At least one writer has characterized the role of the prophets as that of being the prosecuting attorney of God, bringing indictments against the people of Israel for the violations of the Mosaic covenant. This picture gives a great view of the true function of the prophet.

Major v. Minor

Lamentations is generally included with the major prophets because it was written by Jeremiah.

The writings of the Old Testament are generally divided into the sections of the major and minor prophets. The major prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, while there are twelve minor prophets. This division is based not upon the actual importance of the prophets but rather the relative length of their writings. The longer authors are the major prophets, while the shorter books comprise the minor prophets.

The message of all the prophets is the same. In modern terms, it calls for an end to “lip service” only toward God. The call is one to obedience. If repentance must come first, then let it come. All predictive messages arise from this overall word from God. If a prediction was made, it was to the people of the prophet’s day and was related to a call for repentance. The prophets did not foretell for the sake of curiosity or their own satisfaction. The prophecies all related to God’s message to the people of that day.

2 Chron. 7:14
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

This was the message of the prophets.

The interpretation of prophecy must be made in the context in which it was originally given. Almost all prophecy had two meanings, a near and a far. The near meaning applied to the day of the prophet. The far meaning relates to an event in the life of Christ. The destruction of Babylon, for example, by Mede-Persia was an event in the life of Israel. But the final destruction of the nations, including “Babylon” is an eschatological event which occurs at the Second Coming of Christ. So, too, most, if not all prophecy carry this two prong meaning.

Who Were the Prophets?

There is no real pattern to the “creation” of a prophet. The man of God was always around, lurking somewhere in the shadows ready to deliver God’s message. While Jesus is the supreme example, God always had a prophet in the wings ready to come forth. Not all of the prophets reduced their exhortations and predictions to writing. Some found their writings used in the royal courts but not in the pages of the Bible. All dealt with the moral and religious life of his own people.

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. 6 Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. 7 But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. 8 Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. 9 Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. 10 See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.

So, who were the prophets? They were fore-runners of Christ. Christ is the ultimate prophet. He displays the characteristics of a true prophet:




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