We know of a few big names like Isaiah and Daniel and possibly Elijah or even Jeremiah. If you know the books inside the Bible you would know 17 of them are called books of the prophets. They all bear the name of the prophet some of whose exploits are covered therein. Except of course, Lamentations. Not a prophet but a book of laments (passionate expression of grief, sorrow or complaints) possibly written by Jeremiah
I don’t know about you but for me, there are lots of questions that spring to mind about prophets. So, I couldn’t help reading through the Scriptures on a ‘seek and go find’ as much as I could about prophets. As a result, this post is sharing what I found
What kind of person was made a prophet?
Prophets were normal people called (or told) by God to relay messages from God to His people. Whilst most spoke the message some did very unusual things to enact the message. So, firstly, they had a relationship with God strong enough to know they were hearing from Him. Secondly, they were faithfully obedient to the Lord. Oh, except Jonah who tried to run away rather than accept his mission. Their level of obedience enabled them to bravely speak against the nation’s leaders and confront the ungodly behaviour of the people. Consequently, their obedience placed them in danger. The rebellious hated the prophet’s message and some accused the prophet of treason. For example:-
“.. they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.” (Jeremiah 38:6). Also, “When the priest Pashhur …. heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, he had Jeremiah … beaten and put in the stocks”
(Jeremiah 20:1-2). For others it was worse, … “While Jezebel was killing off the LORD’S prophets…..” (1Kings 18:4)
The Scriptures identify the background of only some of the prophets.
Amos declared “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ ” (Amos 7:14-15)
Prior to becoming a prophet Jeremiah was a priest, Ezra was an Israelite scribe and teacher, Deborah was a judge and Moses was a prince of Egypt
Indeed, Deborah, a female prophet (prophetess). She was not only a judge leading the nation and guiding the leader of the army but also a prophetess delivering messages from God. “Deborah, ….. was leading Israel …… sent for Barak ….. and said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men ….. I will lure Sisera, …. and give him into your hands’ ”. Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” Deborah said, “I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honour will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman.” (Judges 4:4-9)
[N.B. Deborah was a prophetess, not the prophetess. She was not the only one!]
The strangest, most unlikely prophet was probably Balaam. He was not even an Israelite. He worked with the Moabites who wanted to drive the Israelites away (Numbers 22:11). Yet he received messages from God and acknowledged God’s authority (Numbers 22:18). But when Balaam started going his own way God set him back on track (for a while at least) — by talking through his donkey (Numbers 22:21-39)
Women as well
As noted, Deborah wasn’t the only one. There are other references to named prophetesses:-
Miriam — Aaron’s sister (Exodus 15:20)
Huldah (2Kings 22:14)
Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14)
Anna (Luke 2:36)
Philip’s 4 daughters (Acts 21:9)
What did the prophets do?
God explained the role of a prophet in Deuteronomy 18:14-22. “.. I will raise up for them a prophet like you [Moses] from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18)
“If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself [God] will call him to account”
(Deuteronomy 18:19). So it was as if God was speaking
The 16 prophets featured in the books of the prophets brought mainly words of warning, judgement and deliverance. The judgements included capture and exile by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Many emphasised God’s sovereignty and spoke to the idolatry, rebellion and general disobedience of the nation (north and south)
Some prophets didn’t just speak the message
Some prophets acted out God’s message in some very ‘bizarre’ ways
“…Ahijah the prophet of Shiloh met him [Jeroboam] on the way, … Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. Then he said to Jeroboam, ‘Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the LORD, … says: “See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes…” ’ ” (1Kings 11:29-31)
When Ezekiel symbolised the coming siege of Jerusalem God instructed him to lie on his left side for 390 days. These represented the years of Israel’s sin. Then on his right side for 40 days for the years of Judah’s sin (Ezekiel 4:1-15). All the while tied up with ropes and using some pretty crazy fuel for cooking.
The Lord told Hosea to marry an adulterous wife. He told them what to call their three children. Names*1 that reflected the ominous message God had for the house of Israel and of Judah (Hosea 1:2-11)
[see Footnote *1 at the bottom of the post]
In the New Testament … a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’ ” (Acts 21:10-11)
Several prophets prophesied in song and using musical instruments:-
“David, together with the commanders of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals” (1Chronicles 25:1). “Jeduthun, … prophesied, using the harp in thanking and praising the LORD” (1Chronicles 25:3)
Some prophets performed miracles
Sometimes, prophets performed miracles for emphasis, or authenticity or to demonstrate God’s compassion
God performed several well-known miracles through Elijah. Most notably during the “showdown” between an animal sacrificed to God, and an animal sacrificed to the idol Baal. To demonstrate God’s reality and power, Elijah called for God to send fire down from heaven. The prophets of Baal failed to raise a squeak for all their shouting and dancing. However, the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the entire altar, rocks and all not just the sacrifice (1 Kings 18:16-39)
God also had Elijah raise a widow’s son from the dead! (1 Kings 17:17-24)
Elisha, the protégé of the prophet Elijah, also was an agent of miracles including making an axe head float in water
(2 Kings 6:1-7) and curing someone of leprosy (2 Kings 5)
Lots of prophets did prophesy about the future
The familiar words of the psalmist to the Lord: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105) basically tell us that the Bible is our guide. Showing us where we are heading and at least where to step next.
Much of the prophecy in the Bible revealed important aspects of the future. In fact, Derek Prince has observed that “at least one-quarter of the Bible is predictive prophecy” (Prophetic Guide to the End Times, page 9, 2016)
Daniel, prophesied directly to several kings of Babylon that their reigns were coming to an end. See Daniel 2 – identifying and interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel 5 – reading the writing on the wall for Belshazzar. He interpreted his own dreams and visions and proclaimed that God had very specific plans for Israel—plans that would restore their independence and break them free from oppressive rule. Daniel also prophesied regarding the distant future of the earth, the end of the age
(Daniel 7-12), similar to the prophetic words in the book of Revelation
Many of the well-known prophets also made ‘long-range’ prophecies of specifics about the coming Messiah including details of His birth, rejection, betrayal and crucifixion. Check out these few for interest ….
For How Long did Prophets Prophecy?
For those about whom we have some detail almost all prophesied most of their adult life. In some cases, like Micah that could be up to around 65 years
Historians propose Jonah ministered as a prophet for half a century even though his Biblical record relates only one prophetic mission
There is skeletal information about the duration of the other prophets’ ministries but from what we do have the shortest ministry may have been that of Amos ~10 years
In the BibleGateway Blog , Craig T. Owens presented a helpful time chart delineating the Old Testament prophets and kings of Israel and Judah
So, how many prophets were there?
I have to admit, reading through the Old Testament and noting all the prophets mentioned was a real ‘eye-opener’. I knew there were more than just the 16 in the books of the prophets in the Bible. But how many do you think there are?
All up I found 60 prophets named, or identified as a named person’s son. The list starts with Abraham when God told Abimelech Abraham was a prophet …..“Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, …. “ (Genesis 20:7). However, some argue that Noah was a prophet because God spoke to him about the future. Then, they suppose he preached judgment against the people around him because of Hebrewa 11:7 … “By his faith he condemned the world”… at least by acting out the Word from God
Many of their messages were about (in the big scheme of things) ‘trivial’ day-to-day matters and often just for an individual. For example, Gad told David to move from his stronghold into Judah (1Samuel 22:5) and God told David through Nathan, what to name his child (2Samuel 12:25)
There were prophets in the New Testament but we have no idea of the content of their prophecies – not added to Scripture. For example, “Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers” (Acts 15:32), Gentiles in Antioch
Unidentified persons prophesying
70 elders upon whom the Holy Spirit rested, prophesied (Numbers 11:24-30)
[We have no idea of the content of their prophecies. Interestingly, those elders did not prophesy again (vs 25)]
Further, in 1Samuel 10:6-13 Saul met “a procession of prophets” and “joined in their prophesying” when “the Spirit of God came upon him in power”
[We have no idea of the number of prophets in the procession let alone the content of their messages or Saul’s]
Another time, when “… [Saul] sent men to capture [David] … … they saw a group of prophets prophesying, with Samuel standing there as their leader, the Spirit of God came upon Saul’s men and they also prophesied. Saul was told about it, and he sent more men, and they prophesied too. Saul sent men a third time, and they also prophesied. Finally, he himself left for Ramah and went to the great cistern at Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” “Over in Naioth at Ramah,” they said. So Saul went to Naioth at Ramah. But the Spirit of God came even upon him [Saul], and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth. He stripped off his robes and also prophesied in Samuel’s presence. He lay that way all that day and night. ….. ” (1Samuel 19:20-24)
[We have no idea of the number of prophets in the group, how many men Saul sent and certainly no idea of the content of all their messages let alone Saul’s]
In 1Kings 13:11 ff we read of “a certain old prophet living in Bethel”
[We aren’t told who he was nor what his prophecies were. We only know what these verses tell us of this interaction with an unnamed man of God]
100+ prophets in Israel
In the time of king Ahab “while Jezebel was killing off the LORD’S prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water” (1Kings 18:4)
[We aren’t told who they were nor what their prophecies were]
“By the word of the LORD one of the sons of the prophets” brought a condemning word to king Ahab because of his disobedience (1Kings 20:35-43)
Companies of Prophets – now that’s a few
“The company of prophets at Bethel” asked Elisha if he knew the Lord was going to take his master that day. He did and asked them not to talk of it (2Kings 2:3). “The company of prophets at Jericho” asked Elisha the same question. He gave the same response (2Kings 2:5)
We aren’t told who the prophets were or how many in each company but we do know that there were more than 50 men in the company at Jericho (2Kings 2:7). Even though they were full-time prophets we have no idea of any other messages from these companies of prophets. How much more would they have said over the years!
In 2Kings 3:13, “Elisha said to the king of Israel, ‘… Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother.’” Imagine having your own personal prophet bringing you messages from God. But multiple prophets? Did every king’s parents each have multiple prophets? We’re not told but amazingly at least one did
As previously indicated, prophets are also mentioned in the New Testament. Other than those already mentioned, “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and ….” (Acts 13:1)
[We aren’t told who they were nor what their prophecies were]
The list goes on but we get the picture. 100s of prophets but not one word of their prophecies added to Scripture. There is no hint that they were false prophets, far from it. Just that the words they were bringing from God were personal or for specific purposes/situations but not part of God’s Words of Salvation included in the Bible. Indeed, the books of the prophets included in the Scriptures don’t hold every message they brought throughout their ministry
a) There is a very popular belief that prophets and prophecy can’t exist now because we have the Bible. The reckoning is based on the fact that the Bible is the complete Word of God and must not be added to (Revelation 22:18)
b) The prophets of yesteryear ministered for several decades. No ‘books of the prophets’ in the Bible is likely to record all the exploits and messages of that prophet. Not even the 66 chapters of Isaiah could contain some 52 years of a prophetic ministry – the generally agreed duration of Isaiah’s ministry
c) 100s of prophets are recorded as prophesying as well as non-prophets prophesying under the power of the Holy Spirit. Not a syllable of what they were saying or enacting was added to the Scriptures
d) “These men are not drunk, ….. this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, …… Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy …. ” (Acts 2:15-18)
e) “And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” (Revelation 11:3)
f) In terms of the ministry role of prophecy in the church or the Holy Spirit enabling individuals to prophesy, see the earlier post … what’s with the gifts?
Prophecy was so much more an everyday ministry role than I have heard preached or realised. This exercise reinforced my belief that we, at least I, really don’t spend enough time delving into the Word
Anyhow, I also found that the content of prophecies recorded in Scripture is barely even a morsel of the prophecies alluded to in the Bible. Messages were given to individuals, to leaders, to people groups and the whole house of Judah and the house of Israel by so many prophets
So much, possibly a majority, of the prophecies were not recorded so maybe they were words from God not about salvation, restoring the relationship between God and us. Maybe just personal words for individuals as some examples in the Scriptures record
For me this means the belief that any prophecy today would guaranteed be from an evil source because it would be adding to Scripture is, well, hard to embrace. Whilst it may be argued logically. It is based on the false premise that every prophecy was, is and should be recorded in the Scriptures. That every word spoken to man by God is recorded in the Bible. This proposition is not supported by the Scriptures themselves. But of course, it is not an issue of salvation! No criticism of anyone who sees it differently
… just sayin’
PS Initially I didn’t mention this because I take it for granted …. BUT …. we must make a crucial distinction. The ministry gift of prophecy, comes from human agents and must be judged by Scripture. However the prophetic word given in Scripture is not to be judged as such. There is a great difference. “… the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times” (Psalm 12:6). The written, prophetic word of God is totally and absolutely authoritative, and Peter says
[see 2 Peter 1:12-21] we do well to pay attention to it. In other words, it is in our best interests because, if we fail to do so, we are depriving ourselves of an important provision of God for our lives.
On the other hand, Paul mentions twice that current words of prophecy must be ‘weighed’ against Scripture. “Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1Thessalonians 5:20-21) [the implication is that some may be bad – to be ignored]. That’s a example of the need for discernment and asking Holy Spirit to reveal Truth. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “Two or three prophets should speak and the others should weigh carefully what is said” (1Corinthians 14:29)
Footnote 1* – Hosea was to name his children:
son – “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel” (Hos 1:4-5)
daughter – “Call her Lo-Ruhamah, for I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, that I should at all forgive them. Yet I will show love to the house of Judah; and I will save them” (Hos 1:6b-7) Lo-Ruhamah = No Mercy, No deep love
son – “Call him Lo-Ammi, for you are not my people, and I am not your God” (Hos 1:9) Lo-Ammi = not my people
- The Holy Bible, New International Version®. Pradis CD-ROM Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984.
- Prophetic Guide to the End Times – Facing the Future Without Fear, Derek Prince, published by Derek Prince Ministries-UK 2016
- Prophet Time Chart Craig T. Owens, BibleGateway Blog
Old Testament prophets and kings of Israel and Judah
- Image: Saul with Samuel and prophets courtesy nicebynise.com
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