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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
a person who acts as the organ of divine communication with men, especially with regard to the future. He differs from a priest in representing the divine side of this mediation, while the priest rather acts from the human side. The following article therefore discusses chiefly the personal relations of the prophet himself. (See PROPHECY).
I. The Title in Scripture. — The ordinary Hebrew word for prophet is נָבַיא (nabi), derived from the verb נָבָא, connected by Gesenius with נָבִע, "to bubble forth," like a fountain. If this etymology be correct, the substantive would signify either a person who, as it were, involuntarily bursts forth with spiritual utterances under the divine influence (comp. Psalms 40:1, "My heart is bubbling up of a good matter"), or simply one who pours forth words. The analogy of the word נָט ִ (natdph), which has the force of "dropping" as honey, and is used by Micah 2:6; Micah 2:11, Ezekiel 21:2, and Amos 7:16 in the sense of prophesying, points to the last signification. The verb נָבָא is found only in the niphal and hithpael, a peculiarity which it shares with many other words expressive of speech (comp. loquifari, vociferari, concionari, φθἑγγομαι , as well as μαντεύομαι and vaticinari). Bunsen (Gott in Geschichte, p. 141) and Davidson (Intr. Old Test. 2, 430) suppose nabi to signify the man to whom announcements are made by God, i.e. inspired. Exodus 4:1-17 is the classical passage as to the meaning of this word. There God says to Moses, "Aaron shall be thy נָבַיא (nabi) unto the people, and thou shalt be unto him instead of God." The sense is. "Aaron shall speak what thou shalt communicate to him." This appellation implies, then, the prophet's relation to God: he speaks not of his own accord, but what the Spirit puts into his mouth. Thus נָבַיא (nabi) is an adjective of passive signification: he who has been divinely inspired, who has received from God the revelations which he proclaims. But it is more in accordance with the usage of the word to regard it as signifying (actively) one who announces or pours forth the declarations of God. The latter signification is preferred by Ewald, Havernick, Oehler, Hengstenberg, Bleek, Lee, Pusey, M'Caul, and the great majority of Biblical critics. We have the word in Barnabas (בִּרנָבַיא ), which is rendered υἱὸς παρακλήσεως (Acts 4:36), one whom God has qualified to impart consolation, light, and strength to others. Augustine says, "The prophet of God is nothing else nisi enunciator verborum Dei hominibus. So Heidegger, "Nabi is properly every utterer of the words of another, not from his own, but from another's influence and will."
Two other Hebrew words are used to designate a prophet-— רֹאֶה (nre/b) and חֹזֶה (chozeh)-both signifying one who sees. They are rendered in the A.V. by "seer;" in the Sept. usually by βλέπων or ὁρῶν, sometimes by προφήτης (1 Chronicles 26:28; 2 Chronicles 16:7; 2 Chronicles 16:10). The three words seem to be contrasted with each other in 1 Chronicles 29:29. "The acts of David the king, first and last, behold they are written in the book of Samuel the seer (roeh), and in the book of Nathan the prophet (nabi), and in the book of Gad the seer (chozeh)." Roeh is a title almost appropriated to Samuel. It is only used ten times, and in seven of these it is applied to Samuel (1 Samuel 9:9; 1 Samuel 9:11; 1 Samuel 9:18-19; 1 Chronicles 9:22; 1 Chronicles 26:28; 1 Chronicles 29:29). On two other occasions it is applied to Hanani (2 Chronicles 16:7; 2 Chronicles 16:10). Once it is used by Isaiah 30:10 with no reference to any particular person. It was superseded in general use by the word nabi, which Samuel (himself entitled nabi as well as roeh [1 Samuel 3:20; 2 Chronicles 35:18]) appears to have revived after a period of desuetude (1 Samuel 9:9), and to have applied to the prophets organized by him. The verb רָאָה, from which it is derived, is the common prose word signifying "to see:" חָזָה — whence the substantive חֹזֶה (chozeh) is derived-is more poetical, q.d. "to gaze." Chozeh is rarely found except in the books of the Chronicles, but חָזוֹן is the word constantly used for the prophetical vision. It is found in the Pentateuch, in Samuel, in the Chronicles, in Job, and in most of the prophets. In 1 Samuel 9:9 we read, "He that is now called a prophet (nabi) was beforetime called a seer (roeh);" from whence Stanley (Lect. on Jewish Church) has concluded that roeh was "the oldest designation of the prophetic office," "superseded by nabi shortly after Samuel's time, when nabi first came into use" (ibid. 18, 19). This seems opposed to the fact that nabi is the word commonly used in the Pentateuch, whereas roeh does not appear until the days of Samuel. The passage in the book of Samuel is clearly a parenthetical insertion, perhaps made by the nabi Nathan (or whoever was the original author of the book), perhaps added at a later date, with the view of explaining how it was that Samuel bore the title of roeh, instead of the now usual appellation of nabi. To the writer the days of Samuel were "beforetime," and he explains that in those ancient days — that is, the days of Samuel — the word used for prophet was roeh, not nabi. But that does not imply that roeh was the primitive word, and that nabi first came into use subsequently to Samuel (see Hengstenberg, Beitrage zur Einleitung ins A. T. 3, 335). Stanley represents chozeh as "another antique title;" but on no sufficient grounds. Chozdh is first found in 2 Samuel 24:11; so that it does not seem to have come into use until roeh had almost disappeared. It is also found in the books of Kings (2 Kings 17:13) and Chronicles (frequently), in Amos 7:12, Isaiah 19:10, Micah 3:7, and the derivatives of the verb chazah are used by the prophets to designate their visions down to the Captivity (comp. Isaiah 1:1; Daniel 8:1; Zechariah 13:4). The derivatives of raah are rarer, and, as being prose words, are chiefly used by Daniel (comp. Ezekiel 1:1; Daniel 10:7). On examination we find that nabi existed before and after and alongside of roeh and chozeh, but that chozehl was somewhat more modern than roeh.
Whether there is any difference in the usage of these three words, and, if any, what that difference is, has been much debated (see Witsius, Miscell. Sacra, i, 1, § 19; Carpzovius, Introd. ad Libros Canon. V T. 3, 1, §2; Winer, Real-Wortenbuch, art. "Propheten"). Havernick (Einleitung, Th. i; roeh. i. § 56) considers nabi to express the title of those who officially belonged to the prophetic order, while roeh and chozeh denote those who received a prophetical revelation. Dr. Lee (Inspiration of Holy Scripture, p. 543) agrees with Hivernick in his explanation of nabi, but he identifies roeh in meaning rather with nabi than with chozeh. He further throws out a suggestion that chozeh is the special designation of the prophet attached to the royal household. In 2 Samuel 24:11, Gad is described as "the prophet (nabi) Gad, David's seer (chozeh)," and elsewhere he is called "David's seer (chozeh)" (1 Chronicles 21:9), "the king's seer (chozeh)" (2 Chronicles 29:25). "The case of Gad," Dr. Lee thinks, "affords the clew to the difficulty, as it clearly indicates that attached to the royal establishment there was usually an individual styled "the king's seer," who might at the same time be a nabi." The suggestion is ingenious (see, in addition to places quoted above, 1 Chronicles 25:5; 1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 29:30; 2 Chronicles 35:15), but it was only David (possibly also Manasseh, 2 Chronicles 33:18) who, so far as we read, had this seer attached to his person; and in any case there is nothing in the word chozeh to denote the relation of the prophet to the king, but only in the connection in which it stands with the word king. On the whole, it would seem that the same persons are designated by the three words nabi, roeh, and chozeh the last two titles being derived from the prophets' power of seeing the visions presented to them by God; the first from their function of revealing and proclaiming God's truth to men. When Gregory Naz. (Or. 28) calls Ezekiel ὁ τῶν μεγάλων ἐπόπτης καὶ ἐξηγητὴς μυστηρίων, he gives a sufficiently exact translation of the two titles chozeh or roeh, and nabi.
Sometimes the prophets are called צוֹפַאַים (tsophiim), i.e. those who espy. explore for the people, a "watchman" (Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 3:17; Ezekiel 33:7). Such also is the usage of שׁוֹמֵר (shomer), i.e. "a watchman" (Isaiah 21:11; Isaiah 62:6); and roiim, i.e. shepherds (Zechariah 11:5; Zechariah 8:16), in reference to the spiritual care and religious nurture of the people. Other names, as "man of God," "servant of Jehovah," and now and then "angel," or "messenger of Jehovah," etc., do not belong to the prophets as such, but only in so far as they are of the number of servants and instruments of God. The phrase "man of the Spirit" (רוִּח, Hosea 9:7) explains the agency by which the communication came. In the appointment of the seventy elders the Lord says to Moses, "I will take of the Spirit which is upon thee, and will put it on them" (Numbers 11:17). So with regard to Eldad and Medad, "the Spirit rested upon them,... and they prophesied in the camp." The resting of the Spirit upon them was equivalent to the gift of prophecy (see 2 Peter 1:21).
The word nabi is uniformly translated in the Sept. by προφήτης, and in the A.V. by "prophet." In classical Greek, προφήτης signifies one who speaks for another, specially one who speaks for a god, and so interprets his will to man (Liddell and Scott, s.v.). Hence its essential meaning is" an interpreter." Thus Apollo is a προφήτης, as being the interpreter of Zeus (Eschylus, Eum. 19). Poets are the Prophets of the Muses, as being their interpreters (Plato, Phcedr. 262 d). The προφῆται attached to heathen temples are so named from their interpreting the oracles delivered by the inspired and unconscious μάντεις (Plato, Tim. 72 b; Herod. 7:111, note [ed. Bahr]). We have Plato's authority for deriving μάντις from μαίνομαι (l.c.). The use of the word προφήτης in its modern sense is post-classical, and is derived from the Sept.
From the mediaeval use of the word προφητεία , prophecy passed into the English language in the sense of prediction, and this sense it has retained as its popular meaning (see Richardson, s.v.). The larger sense of interpretation has not, however, been lost. Thus we find in Bacon, "An exercise commonly called prophesying, which was this: that the ministers within a precinct did meet upon a week-day in some principal town, where there was some ancient grave minister that was president, and an auditory admitted of gentlemen or other persons of leisure. Then every minister successively. beginning with the youngest, did handle one and the same part of Scripture, spending severally some quarter of an hour or better, and in the whole some two hours. And so the exercise being begun and concluded with prayer, and the president giving a text for the next meeting, the assembly was dissolved" (Pacification of the Church). This meaning of the word is made further familiar to us by the title of Jeremy Taylor's treatise On Liberty of Prophesying. Nor was there any risk of the title of a book published in our own days, On the Prophetical Office of the Church (Oxf. 1838), being misunderstood. In fact, the English word prophet, like the word inspiration, has always been used in a larger and in a closer sense. In the larger sense our Lord Jesus Christ is a "prophet," Moses is a "prophet," Mohammed is a "prophet." The expression means that they proclaimed and published a new religious dispensation. In a similar, though not identical sense, the Church is said to have a "prophetical," i.e. an expository and interpretative, office. But in its closer sense the word, according to usage, though not according to etymology, involves the idea of foresight. This is and always has been its more usual acceptation. The different meanings, or shades of meaning, in which the abstract noun is employed in Scripture have been drawn out by Locke as follows: "Prophecy comprehends three things: prediction; singing by the dictate of the Spirit; and understanding and explaining the mysterious, hidden sense of Scripture by an immediate illumination and motion of the Spirit" (Paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 12, note, p. 121 [Lond. 1742]). It is in virtue of this last signification of the word that the prophets of the New Test. are so called (1 Corinthians 12); by virtue of the second that the sons of Asaph, etc., are said to have "prophesied with a harp" (25:3), and Miriam and Deborah are termed "prophetesses." That the idea of potential if not actual prediction enters into the conception expressed by the word prophecy, when that word is used to designate the function of the Hebrew prophets, seems to be proved by the following passages of Scripture: Deuteronomy 18:22; Jeremiah 28:9; Acts 2:30; Acts 3:18-21; 1 Peter 1:10; 2 Peter 1:19-20; 2 Peter 3:2. Etymologically, however, it is certain that neither prescience nor prediction is implied by the term used in the Hebrew language. But it seems to be incorrect to say that the English word was "originally" used in the wider sense of "preaching," and that it became "limited" to the meaning of "predicting" in the 17th century, in consequence of "an etymological mistake" (Stanley, Lect. 19, 20). The word entered into the English language in its sense of predicting. It could not have been otherwise, for at the time of the formation of the English language the word προφητεία had, by usage, assumed popularly the meaning of prediction. We find it ordinarily employed by early as well as by late writers in this sense (see Polydore Virgil, Hist. of England, 4:161 [Camden ed. 1846]; Coventry Mysteries, p. 65 [Shakespeare Soc. ed. 1841]). It is probable that the meaning was "limited" to "prediction" as much and as little before the 17th century as it has been since.
II. The Prophetical Order. —
1. Its Historical Development. — Generally speaking, every one was a prophet to whom God communicated his mind in this peculiar manner. Thus, e.g. Abraham is called a prophet (Genesis 20:7), not, as is commonly thought, on account of general revelations granted him by God, but because such as he received were in the special form described; as, indeed, in chap. 15 it is expressly stated that divine communications were made to him in visions and dreams. The patriarchs as a class are in the same manner called prophets (Psalms 105:15). Moses is more specifically a prophet, as being a proclaimer of a new dispensation, a revealer of God's will, and in virtue of his divinely inspired songs (Exodus 15; Deuteronomy 32, 33; Psalms 90); but his main work was not prophetical, and he is therefore formally distinguished from prophets (Numbers 12:6) as well as classed with them (Deuteronomy 18:15; Deuteronomy 34:10). Aaron is the prophet of Moses (Exodus 7:1); Miriam (Exodus 15:20) is a prophetess; and we find the prophetic gift in the elders who "prophesied" when "the Spirit of the Lord rested upon them," and in Eldad and Medad, who "prophesied in the camp" (Numbers 11:27). At the time of the sedition of Miriam, the possible existence of prophets is recognised (Numbers 12:6).
When the Mosaic economy had been established, a new element was introduced. The sacerdotal caste then became the instrument by which the members of the Jewish theocracy were taught and governed in things spiritual. Feast and fast, sacrifice and offering, rite and ceremony, constituted a varied and ever-recurring system of training and teaching by type and symbol. To the priests, too, was intrusted the work of "teaching the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses" (Leviticus 10:11). Teaching by act and teaching by word were alike their task. This office they adequately fulfilled for some hundred or more years after the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. But during the time of the Judges the priesthood sank into a state of degeneracy, and the people were no longer affected by the acted lessons of the ceremonial service. They required less enigmatic warnings and exhortations. Under these circumstances a new moral power was evoked- the regular Prophetic Line. Special functionaries of this kind had from time to time already appeared. In the days of the Judges we find that Deborah (Judges 4:4) was a prophetess; a prophet (Judges 6:8) rebuked and exhorted the Israelites when oppressed by the Midianites; and in Samuel's childhood "a man of God" predicted to Eli the death of his two sons, and the curse that was to fall on his descendants (1 Samuel 2:27). But it was now time for a more formal institution of the prophetic order. Samuel, himself a Levite, of the family of Kohath (1 Chronicles 6:28), and certainly acting as a priest, was the instrument used at once for effecting a reform in the sacerdotal order (1 Chronicles 9:22), and for giving to the prophets a position of influence which they had never before held. So important was the work wrought by him that he is classed in Holy Scripture with Moses (Jeremiah 15:1; Psalms 99:6; Acts 3:24), Samuel being the great religious reformer and organizer of the prophetical order, as Moses was the great legislator and founder of the priestly rule. Nevertheless, it is not to be supposed that Samuel created the prophetic order as a new thing before unknown. The germs both of the prophetic and of the regal order are found in the law as given to the Israelites by Moses (Deuteronomy 13:1; Deuteronomy 18:20; Deuteronomy 17:18), but they were not yet developed, because there was not yet the demand for them. Samuel, who evolved the one, himself saw the evolution of the other. It is a vulgar error respecting Jewish history to suppose that there was an antagonism between the prophets and the priests. There is not a trace of such antagonism. Isaiah may denounce a wicked hierarchy (Isaiah 1:10), but it is because it is wicked, not because it is a hierarchy. Malachi "sharply reproves" the priests (Malachi 2:1), but it is in order to support the priesthood (comp. 1, 14). Mr. F. W. Newman even designates Ezekiel's writings as "hard sacerdotalism," "tedious and unedifying as Leviticus itself" (Hebr. Monarch. p. 330). The prophetical order was, in truth, supplemental, not antagonistic, to the sacerdotal. (See SAMUEL).
Samuel took measures to make his work of restoration permanent as well as effective for the moment. For this purpose he instituted companies, or colleges of prophets. One we find in his lifetime at Ramah (1 Samuel 19:19-20); others afterwards at Bethel (2 Kings 2:3), Jericho (2 Kings 2:5), Gilgal (2 Kings 4:38), and elsewhere (2 Kings 6:1). Their constitution and object were similar to those of theological colleges. Into them were gathered promising students, and here they were trained for the office which they were afterwards destined to fulfil. So successful were these institutions that from the time of Samuel to the closing of the Canon of the Old Test. there seems never to have been wanting a due supply of men to keep up the line of official prophets. There appears to be no sufficient ground for the common statement that after the schism the colleges existed only in the Israelitish kingdom, or for Knobel's supposition that they ceased with Elisha (Prophetismus, 2, 39), nor again for Bishop Lowth's statement that "they existed from the earliest times of the Hebrew republic" (Sacred Poetry, lect. 18), or for M. Nicolas's assertion that their previous establishment can be inferred from 1 Samuel 8, 9, 10 (Etudes Critiques sur la Bible, p. 365). We have, however, no actual proof of their existence except in the days of Samuel and of Elijah and Elisha. The apocryphal books of the Maccabees (1, 4:46; 9:27; 14:41) and of Ecclesiasticus (36:15) represent them as extinct.
The colleges appear to have consisted of students differing in number. Sometimes they were very numerous (1 Kings 18:4; 1 Kings 22:6; 2 Kings 2:16). One elderly, or leading prophet, presided over them (1 Samuel 19:20), called their father (1 Samuel 10:12), or master (2 Kings 2:3), who was apparently admitted to his office by the ceremony of anointing (1 Kings 19:16; Isaiah 61:1; Psalms 105:15). They were called his sons. Their chief subject of study was, no doubt, the law and its interpretation; oral, as distinct from symbolical, teaching being henceforward tacitly transferred from the priestly to the prophetical order. Subsidiary subjects of instruction were music and sacred poetry, both of which had been connected with prophecy from the time of Moses (Exodus 15:20) and the Judges (Judges 4:4; Judges 5:1). The prophets that meet Saul "came down from the high place with a psaltery and a tabret, and a pipe and a harp before them" (1 Samuel 10:5). Elijah calls a minstrel to evoke the prophetic gift in himself (2 Kings 3:15). David "separates to the service of the sons of Asaph and of Heman and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps and with psalteries and with cymbals.... All these were under the hands of their father for song in the house of the Lord with cymbals, psalteries, and harps for the service of the house of God" (1 Chronicles 25:16). Hymns, or sacred songs, are found in the books of Jonah 2:2, Isaiah 12:1; Isaiah 26:1, Habakkuk 3:2. It was probably the duty of the prophetical students to compose verses to be sung in the Temple (see Lowth, Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, lect. 18). Having been themselves trained and taught. the prophets, whether still residing within their college or having left its precincts, had the task of teaching others. From the question addressed to the Shunamite by her husband, "Wherefore wilt thou go to him to-day? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath" (2 Kings 4:23), it appears that weekly and monthly religious meetings were held as an ordinary practice by the prophets (see Patrick, Conmm. ad loc.). Thus we find that "Elisha sat in his house" engaged in his official occupation (comp. Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 14:1; Ezekiel 20:1), "and the elders sat with him" (2 Kings 6:32), when the king of Israel sent to slay him. It was at these meetings, probably, that many of the warnings and exhortations on morality and spiritual religion were addressed by the prophets to their countrymen. (See PROPHETS, SCHOOLS OF).
The schools of the prophets were thus engaged in what we may call pastoral functions, rather than in the disclosure of things to come; their office was to bring home to men's business and bosoms the announcements already made. Selected from the Levitical and priestly classes, they performed services chiefly of a priestly character (1 Samuel 9:13), but presided over devotional exercises and gave spiritual instruction. We may regard Elijah as the type of the whole prophetical order at this period; "a man of heroic energy in action, rather than of prolific thought or excellent discourse. Power was given him to smite the earth with plagues (Revelation 11:6). When an impression had been made by these extraordinary displays of power, a still small voice was heard to quicken the people to newness of life." If we pass on to the religious teachers who are associated with the name and age of David — Nathan, Solomon, and others, who composed the Psalms — we shall see that these aimed at the religious education of their contemporaries by a pure stream of didactic and devotional poetry. Their object was to advance the members of the ancient economy to the highest degree of light and purity which was attainable in that state of minority. The predictive element crops out most distinctly in the Messianic psalms, which point to the ultimate completion of the kingdom in David's Lord, and the universal reign of righteousness, truth, and peace. When these efforts failed to stem the tide of corruption and to rescue the chosen people from disorder, ancient prophecy assumed the form of specific prediction. The moral element is chiefly seen in denouncing the iniquity and unrighteousness of the age, but the distinctive characteristic is that, in exposing the evils which prevailed, they directed the eye to the future. This band of religious teachers who are popularly spoken of as "the prophets" commenced with Hosea soon after the ministry of Elijah and Elisha. Hosea's labors commenced in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam II, king of Israel, and were prolonged to the time of Hezekiah, comprising more than sixty years, so that with him were contemporary Amos, Jonah, Joel, Obadiah, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum. Next to these in order of time cane Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Habakkuk, Zephaniah. The last three were Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. From these we derive our amplest materials for comparing the anticipations of prophecy with the subsequent events of history. Thus the prophets of the Old Covenant form a regular succession; they are members of an unbroken continuous chain, of which one perpetually reaches forth the hand to the other. (See PROPHETS, MAJOR, AND MINOR)
In the first book of the Maccabees (9:17) the discontinuance of the prophetic calling is considered as forming an important era in Jewish history (see Stemann, De TerDmino Prophetarum [Rost. 1723]), while at the same time an expectation of the renewal in future ages of prophetic gifts is avowed (1 Maccabees 4:46; 1 Maccabees 14:41). After the Babylonian exile the sacred writings were collected, which enabled every one to find the way of salvation; but the immediate revelations to the people of Israel were to cease for a while, in order to raise a stronger longing for the appearance of the Messiah, and to prepare for him a welcome reception. For the same reason the ark of the covenant had been taken away from the people. The danger of a complete apostasy, which in earlier times might have been incurred by this withdrawal, was not now to be apprehended. The external worship of the Lord was so firmly established that no extraordinary helps were wanted. Taking also into consideration the altered character of the people, we may add that the time after the exile was more fit to produce men learned in the law than prophets. Before this period, the faithful and the unbelieving were strongly opposed to each other, which excited the former to great exertions. These relaxed when the opposition ceased, and pious priests now took the place of prophets. The time after the exile is characterized by weakness and dependence; the people looked up to the past as to a height which they could not gain; the earlier writings obtained unconditional authority, and the disposition for receiving prophetic gifts was lost. About a hundred years after the return from the Babylonian exile, the prophetic profession ceased. The Jewish tradition uniformly states that after Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi no prophet arose among the Jews till John the Baptist woke afresh the echoes of a long lost inspiration as the prelude to a new dispensation. For its resumption under the New Test. economy, see § 10 below.
2. Manner of Life of the Prophets.— The prophets went about poorly and coarsely dressed (2 Kings 1:8), not as a mere piece of asceticism, but that their very apparel might teach what the people ought to do; it was a "sermo propheticus realis." Comp. 1 Kings 21:27, where Ahab does penance in the manner figured by the prophet: "And it came to pass, when Ahab heard these words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh and fasted" (see Nicolai, De Prophetarum Vestitu [Magdeb. 1746]; Zacharia, De ProphetaTumn labitu [Sodin, 1756]). The general appearance and life of the prophet were very similar to those of the Eastern dervish at the present day. His dress was a hairy garment, girt with a leathern girdle (Isaiah 20:2; Zechariah 13:4; Matthew 3:4). He was married or unmarried as he chose; but his manner of life and diet were stern and austere (2 Kings 4:10; 2 Kings 4:38; 1 Kings 19:6; Matthew 3:4). Generally the prophets were not anxious to attract notice by ostentatious display; nor did they seek worldly wealth, most of them living in poverty and even want (1 Kings 14:3; 2 Kings 4:1; 2 Kings 4:38; 2 Kings 4:42; 2 Kings 6:5). The decay of the congregation of God deeply chagrined them (comp. Micah 7:1, and many passages in Jeremiah). Insult, persecution, imprisonment, and death were often the reward of their godly life. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says (Hebrews 11:37): "They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented" (comp. Christ's speech, Matthew 23:29 sq.; 2 Chronicles 24:17 sq.). The condition of the prophets, in their temporal humiliation, is vividly represented in the lives of Elijah and Elisha in the books of the Kings; and Jeremiah concludes the description of his sufferings in the 20th chapter by cursing the day of his birth. Repudiated by the world in which they were aliens, they typified the life of him whose appearance they announced, and whose spirit dwelt in them. They figured him, however, not only in his lowness, but in his elevation. The Lord stood by them, gave evidence in their favor by fulfilling their predictions, frequently proved by miracles that they were his own messengers, or retaliated on their enemies the injury done them. The prophets addressed the people of both kingdoms: they were not confined to particular places, but prophesied where it was required. For this reason they were most numerous in capital towns, especially in Jerusalem, where they generally spoke in the Temple. Sometimes their advice was asked, and then their prophecies take the form of answers to questions submitted to them (Isaiah 37; Ezekiel 20; Zechariah 7). But much more frequently they felt themselves inwardly moved to address the people without their advice having been asked, and they were not afraid to stand forward in places where their appearance, perhaps, produced indignation and terror. Whatever lay within or around the sphere of religion and morals formed the object of their care. They strenuously opposed the worship of false gods (Isaiah 1:10 sq.), as well as the finery of women (3, 16 sq.). Priests, princes, kings, all must hear them — must, however reluctantly, allow them to perform their calling as long as they spoke in the name of the true God, and as long as the result did not disprove their pretensions to be the servants of the invisible King of Israel (Jeremiah 37:15-21).
As seen above, there were institutions for training prophets; the senior members instructed a number of pupils and directed them. These schools had been first established by Samuel (1 Samuel 10:8; 1 Samuel 19:19); and at a later time there were such institutions in different places, as Bethel and Gilgal (2 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 4:38; 2 Kings 6:1). The pupils of the prophets lived in fellowship united, and were called "sons of the prophets;" while the senior or experienced prophets were considered as their spiritual parents, and were styled fathers (comp. 2 Kings 2:12; 2 Kings 6:21). Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha are mentioned as principals of such institutions. From them the Lord generally chose his instruments. Amos relates of himself (Amos 7:14-15), as a thing uncommon, that he had been trained in no school of prophets, but was a herdsman, when the Lord took him to prophesy unto the people of Israel. At the same time, this example shows that the bestowal of prophetic gifts was not limited to the school of the prophets. Women also might come forward as prophetesses, as instanced in Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah, though such cases are of comparatively rare occurrence. We should also observe that only as regards the kingdom of Israel we have express accounts of the continuance of the schools of prophets. What is recorded of them is not directly applicable to the kingdom of Judah, especially since, as stated above, prophecy had in it an essentially different position. We cannot assume that the organization and regulations of the schools of the prophets in the kingdom of Judah were as settled and established as in the kingdom of Israel. In the latter, the schools of the prophets had a kind of moastic constitution: they were not institutions of general education, but missionary stations; which explains the circumstance that they were established exactly in places which were the chief seats of superstition. The spiritual fathers travelled about to visit the training-schools; the pupils had their common board and dwelling, and those who married and left ceased not on that account to be connected with their colleges, but remained members of them. The widow of such a pupil of the schools of prophets who is mentioned in 2 Kings 4:1 sq., considered Elisha as the person bound to care for her. The offerings which, by the Mosaic law, were to be given to the Levites were by the pious of the kingdom of Israel brought to the schools of the prophets (4:42). The prophets of the kingdom of Israel thus in some sort stood in a hostile position to the priests. These points of difference in the situation of the prophets of the two kingdoms must not be lost sight of; and we further add that prophecy in the kingdom of Israel was much more completed with extraordinary events than in the kingdom of Judah: the history of the latter offers no prophetical deeds equalling those of Elijah and Elisha. Prophecy in the kingdom of Israel not being grounded on a hierarchy venerable for its antiquity, consecrated by divine miracles, and constantly flavored with divine protection, it needed to be supported more powerful, I and to be legitimized more evidently. In conclusion, it may be observed that the expression "schools of the prophets" is not exactly suited to their nature; as general instruction was not their object. The so-called prophets' schools were associations of men endowed with the spirit of God, for the purpose of carrying on their work, the feeble powers of junior members being directed and strengthened by those of a higher class. To those who entered these unions the Divine Spirit had already been imparted, which was the imperative condition of their reception. (See PROPHETS, SONS OF).
III. The Prophetic Functions. — These have already been in part glanced at, but the importance of the subject demands a fuller exposition. To belong to the prophetic order and to possess the prophetic gift are not convertible terms. There might be members of the prophetic order to whom the gift of prophecy was not vouchsafed. There might be inspired prophets who did not belong to the prophetic order. As we have seen above, the inspired prophet generally came from the college of the prophets, and belonged to the prophetic order; but this was not always the case. In the instance of the prophet Amos, the rule and the exception are both manifested. When Amaziah, the idolatrous Israelitish priest, threatens the prophet and desires him to "flee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread and prophesy there, but not to prophesy again any more at Bethel," Amos in reply says "I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdsman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit: and the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go prophesy unto my people Israel" (Amos 7:14). That is, thought called to the prophetic office, he did not belong to the prophetic order, and had not been trained in the prophetical colleges; and this. he indicates, was an unusual occurrence (see J. Smith On Prophecy, ch. 9).
1. In a general way, we may indicate that the sphere of action of the prophets was absolutely limited to Israelites, and there is only one case of a prophet going to the heathen to preach among them — that of Jonah sent to Nineveh. He goes, however, to Nineveh to shame the Hebrews by the reception which he meets with there, and acting upon his own nation w as thus even in this case the prophet's ultimate object. Many predictions of the Old Test. concern, indeed, the events of foreign nations, but they are always uttered and written with reference to Israel, and the prophets thought not of publishing them among the heathens themselves. The conversion of the pagans to the worship of the true God was indeed a favorite idea of the prophets; but the Divine Spirit told them that it was not to be effected by their exertions, as it was connected with extensive future changes, which they might not forestall.
That the Lord would send such prophets was promised to the people by Moses, who by a special law (Deuteronomy 18:1) secured them authority and safety. As his ordinary servants and teachers, God appointed the priests: the characteristic mark which distinguished the prophets from them was inspiration; and this explains the circumstance that, in times of great moral and religious corruption, when the ordinary means no longer sufficed to reclaim the people, the number of prophets increased. The regular religious instruction of the people was no part of the business of the prophets: their proper duty as only to rouse and excite. ‘ The contrary — viz. that a part of the regular duty of the prophets was to instruct the people-is often argued from 2 Kings 4:23, where it is said that the Shunamitess on the sabbaths and days of new moon used to go to the prophet Elisha; but this passage applies only to the kingdom of Israel, and admits of no inference with respect to the kingdom of Judah. As regards the latter, there is no proof that prophets held meetings for instruction and edification on sacred days. Their position was here quite different from that of the prophets in the kingdom of Israel. The agency of the prophets in the kingdom of Judah was only of a subsidiary kind. These extraordinary messengers of the Lord only filled there the gaps left by the regular servants of God, the priests and the Levites: the priesthood never became there utterly degenerate, and each lapse was followed by a revival of which the prophets were the vigorous agents. The divine election always vindicated itself, and in the purity of the origin of the priesthood lay the certainty of its continued renewal. On the contrary, the priesthood in the kingdom of Israel had no divine sanction, no promise; it was corrupt in its very source: to reform itself would have been to dissolve itself. The priests there were the mercenary servants of the king, and had a brand upon their own consciences. Hence in the kingdom of Israel the prophets were the regular ministers of God: with their office all stood or fell, and hence they were required to do many things besides what the original conception of the office of a prophet implied-a circumstance from the oversight of which many erroneous notions on the nature of prophecy have sprung. This led to another difference, to which we shall revert below, viz. that in the kingdom of Judah the prophetic office did not, as in Israel, possess a fixed organization and complete construction.
In their labors, as respected their own times, the prophets were strictly bound to the Mosaic law. and not allowed to add to it or to diminish aught from it. What was said in this respect to the whole people (Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 13:1) applied also to them. We find, therefore, prophecy always takes its ground on the Mosaic law to which it refers, from which it derives its sanction, and with which it is fully impressed and saturated. There is no chapter in the prophets in which there are not several references to the law. The business of the prophets was to explain it, to lay it to the hearts of the people, and to preserve vital its spirit. It was, indeed, also their duty to point to future reforms, when the ever-living spirit of the law would break its hitherto imperfect form, and make for itself another: thus Jeremiah 3:16 foretells days when the ark of the covenant shall be no more, and (Jeremiah 31:31) days when a new covenant will be made with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. But for their own times they never once dreamed of altering any, even the minutest and least essential precept, even as to its form; how much less as to its spirit, which even the Lord himself declares (Matthew 5:18) to be immutable and eternal! The passages which some interpreters have alleged as opposed to sacrifices as instituted by the Mosaic law have been misunderstood; they do not denounce sacrifices generally, but only those of the Canaanites, with whom sacrifice was not even a form of true worship. but opposed to the genuine and spiritual service of God.
2. More specifically, the sixteen prophets whose books are in the Canon have that place of honor because they were endowed with the prophetic gift as well as ordinarily (so far as we know) belonging to the prophetic order . There were hundreds of prophets contemporary with each of these sixteen prophets; and no doubt numberless compositions in sacred poetry and numberless moral exhortations were issued from the several schools, but only sixteen books find their place in the Canon. Why is this? Because these sixteen had what their brother collegians had not — the divine call to the office of prophet, and the divine illumination to enlighten them. It was not sufficient to have been taught and trained in preparation for a future call. Teaching and training served as a preparation only. When the schoolmaster's work was done, then, if the instrument was worthy, God's work began. Moses had an external call at the burning bush (Exodus 3, 2). The Lord called Samuel so that Eli perceived, and Samuel learned, that it was the Lord who called him (1 Samuel 3, 10). Isaiah 6:8, Jeremiah 1:5, Ezekiel 2:4, Amos 7:15, declare their special mission. Nor was it sufficient for this call to have been made once for all. Each prophetical utterance is the result of a communication of the divine to the human spirit, received either by "vision" (Isaiah 6:1) or by "the word of the Lord" (Jeremiah 2:1). (See Aids to Faith, essay 3, "On Prophecy.") What, then, are the characteristics of the sixteen prophets thus called and commissioned, and intrusted with the messages of God to his people?
(1.) They were the national poets of Judaea. We have already shown that music and poetry, chants and hymns, were a main part of the studies of the class from which, generally speaking, they were derived. As is natural, we find not only the songs previously specified, but the rest of their compositions, poetical, or breathing the spirit of poetry. Bishop Lowth "esteems the whole book of Isaiah poetical, a few passages excepted, which, if brought together. would not at most exceed the bulk of five or six chapters," "half of the book of Jeremiah," "the greater part of Ezekiel." The rest of the prophets are mainly poetical, but Haggai is "prosaic," and Jonah and Daniel are plain prose (Sacred Poetry, lect. 21). The prophetical style differs from that of books properly called poetical, whose sublimity it all but outvies, only in being less restrained by those external forms which distinguish poetical language from prose, and in introducing more frequently than prose does plays upon words and thoughts. This peculiarity may he explained by the practical tendency of prophetical addresses, which avoid all that is unintelligible, aid studiously introduce what is best calculated for the moment to strike the hearers. The same appears from many other circumstances, e.g. the union of music with prophesying, the demeanor of Saul when among the prophets (1 Samuel 10:5), Balaam's description of himself (Numbers 24:3) as a man whose eyes were opened, who saw the vision of the Almighty, and heard the words of God, the established phraseology to denote the inspiring impulse, viz. "the hand of the Lord was strong upon him" (Ezekiel 3:14; comp. Isaiah 8:11; 2 Kings 3:15), etc. (See § 6, below.)
(2.) They were annalists and historians. A great portion of Isaiah, of Jeremiah, of Daniel, of Jonah, of Haggai, is direct or indirect history.
(3.) They were preachers of patriotism; their patriotism being founded on the religious motive. To the subject of the theocracy, the enemy of his nation was the enemy of God, the traitor to the public weal was a traitor to his God: a denunciation of an enemy was a denunciation of a representative of evil; an exhortation in behalf of Jerusalem was an exhortation in behalf of God's kingdom on earth, "the city of our God, the mountain of holiness, beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, the city of the great King" (Psalms 48:1-2).
(4.) They were preachers of morals and of spiritual religion. The symbolical teaching of the law had lost much of its effect. Instead of learning the necessity of purity by the legal washings, the majority came to rest in the outward act as in itself sufficient. It was the work, then, of the prophets to hold up before the eves of their countrymen a high and pure morality, not veiled in symbols and acts, but such as none could profess to misunderstand. Thus, in his first chapter, Isaiah contrasts ceremonial observances with spiritual morality: "Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them... Wash ye, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:14-17). He proceeds to denounce God's judgments on the oppression and covetousness of the rulers, the pride of the women (ch. 3), on grasping, profligacy, iniquity, injustice (ch. 5), and so on throughout. The system of morals put forward by the prophets, if not higher or sterner or purer than that of the law, is more plainly declared, and with greater, because now more needed, vehemence of diction. "Magna fides et grandis aldacia prophetarum," says St. Jerome (In Ezekiel). This was their general characteristic, but that gifts and graces might be dissevered is proved by the cases of Balaam, Jonah, Caiaphas, and the disobedient prophet of Judah.
(5.) They were extraordinary, but yet authorized, exponents of the law. As an instance of this we may take Isaiah's description of a true fast (Isaiah 58:3-7); Ezekiel's explanation of the sins of the father being visited on the children (ch. 18); Micah's preference of "doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God," to "thousands of rams and ten thousands of rivers of oil" (Micah 6:6-8). In these, as in other similar cases (comp. Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21), it was the task of the prophets to restore the balance which had been overthrown by the Jews and their teachers dwelling on one side or oil the outer covering of a truth or of a duty, and leaving the other side or the inner meaning out of sight.
(6.) They held, as we have shown above, a pastoral or quasi-pastoral office.
(7.) They were a political power in the state. Strong in the safeguard of their religious character, they were able to serve as a counterpoise to the royal authority when wielded even by an Ahab.
(8.) But the prophets were something more than national poets and annalists, preachers of patriotism, moral teachers, exponents of the law, pastors, and politicians. We have not yet touched upon their most essential characteristic, which is that they were instruments of revealing God's will to man; as in other ways, so, specially, by predicting future events, and, in particular, by foretelling the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the redemption effected by him. There are two chief ways of exhibiting this fact — one is suitable when discoursing with Christians, the other when arguing with unbelievers. To the Christian it is enough to show that the truth of the New Testament and the truthfulness of its authors, and of the Lord himself, are bound up with the truth of the existence of this predictive element in the prophets. To the unbeliever it is necessary to show that facts have verified their predictions.
(a.) In Matthew's Gospel, the first chapter, we find a quotation from the prophet Isaiah, "Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel;" and, at the same time, we find a statement that the birth of Chri
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Prophet'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/p/prophet.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27