Hear now My words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make Myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. Num. 12:6.
This statement explains the operation of what the Scriptures elsewhere call the gift of prophecy. 1 Cor. 13:2. It also explains the following scripture: The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. 2 Peter 1:21.
The gift of prophecy is one of the special gifts of God extended through the Holy Spirit to the human family. 1 Cor. 12:4-11. This gift is also called the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 12:17), which is defined by the same inspired writer to be the spirit of prophecy. Rev. 19:10. The term, the prophetic gift, which we shall constantly employ, is thus clearly identical in meaning with the several Biblical expressions here cited.
God's purpose in providing and bestowing the prophetic gift is clearly to re-establish and maintain communication with man, who has been estranged and separated from Him through sin. This gift operates through prophets, by means of visions, dreams, inspiration, and revelation. The product, prophecy, is a divine message from God to the human family. The great Book called the word of God (Heb. 4:12) and the Holy Scriptures (Rom. 1:2) came to mankind through the gracious operation of the prophetic gift (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).
The prophetic gift is not the message itself, nor is it the gospel; neither is it the Bible. Rather, it is the method, the process, the means, by which the divine message comes from God to man. It is an essential and inseparable part of the great plan of redemption. The gift, therefore, dates back to the day when the Lord resumed communication with Adam after his banishment from Eden. This gift has never been withdrawn; it still remains God's abiding gift to the human family. Through this channel He has been revealing Himself and giving His messages to the
world, ever since our first parents left their Eden home. There have been periods, some short and some long, when the gift has not been manifested in open vision (1 Sam. 3:1), but the gift has never been permanently withdrawn. At such times as God has deemed best, the manifestation of the gift has reappeared, and through the medium of visions and dreams prophets have brought divine messages to the Lord's needy people.
In the operation of the prophetic gift, it is the Lord who must call the prophet. He must give the vision or speak through the dream. He must impart the inspiration, and make the revelation of His divine will and purpose. In the days of Moses He promised that He would do so, and centuries later He said, I have also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets. Hosea 12:10.
It is freely acknowledged that while the meaning of the statements regarding this plan of communication is plain, the varied and manifold processes of the plan are well-nigh impossible for the mind to grasp. Just how God makes Himself known to the prophet in a vision and speaks to him in a dream is one of the many mysteries in the great plan of redemption. Yet He does this with the greatest clearness and certitude to the prophet; and the genuineness of the revelation thus made is confirmed.
That the operation of the method used is mysterious and beyond the grasp of the human mind does not constitute evidence that the revelations are not made just as the prophet claims. The world is full of mysteries. Everywhere we behold effects, the causes of which we do not understand and cannot explain. The incarnation and the resurrection of the Son of God, who had created the worlds, are baffling mysteries to our finite minds; yet our very hope of redemption is built upon them.
The call to the prophetic office, the character and responsibilities of the prophet, the visions, dreams, inspiration, revelation, and authority of the messages revealed, are all questions of vital importance and of deepest interest. Says one:
The importance of this subject [prophecy in the Old Testament] cannot well be overestimated, for a proper conception of it is necessary to a clear understanding of the very basis of Christianity. This fact has been so fully recognized that Christian scholars in all ages have found this a profitable and an almost inexhaustible field for research.The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopedia and Scriptural Dictionary, Vol. III, art., Prophecy, p. 1391. Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1909.
The call to the prophetic office comes from God to the individual chosen. It comes in different ways, but always with convincing power and authority. Of the prophet it may be truthfully said: No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. Heb. 5:4. Men may be chosen by men to fill official positions in the church of God, but they cannot be made prophets by men. Another writer has appropriately said: The prophets did not inherit the office nor receive it by human appointment, but were chosen, prepared, and called of God; and the call was often heart-searching.
It is a serious and perilous thing for one whom the Lord has not called to this sacred office to attempt to place himself there. Yet through the centuries some have done this daring thing, as we know from the following statement: I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that use their tongues, and say, He saith. Jer. 23:21, 31. Of one who presumptuously assumed this very sacred responsibility we read: Then said the prophet Jeremiah unto Hananiah the prophet, Hear now, Hananiah: The Lord hath not sent thee; but thou makest this people to trust in a lie. Therefore thus saith the Lord: Behold, I will cast thee from off the face of the earth: this year thou shalt die. Jer. 28:15, 16.
It is likewise perilous for one called to that high office to be disobedient to the instruction given him. This is clearly revealed by the following account:
Behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord unto Bethel . And the king said unto the man of God, Come
home with me, and refresh thyself, and I will give thee a reward. And the man of God said unto the king, If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place: for so was it charged me by the word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest. So he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Bethel. 1 Kings 13:1-10.
But while pursuing his journey homeward, this man of God was again tempted to disobey the divine orders, and he yielded to the urgent appeal of another to go to his home and eat bread. Verses 15-19. Having accepted this hospitality in disobedience to the instruction of the Lord, he departed for his home. And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him: and his carcass was cast in the way. And it was said by those who found the dead prophet: It is the man of God, who was disobedient unto the word of the Lord. Verses 24, 26.
The prophet Jeremiah gave a most impressive account of the call that came to him:
The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations . Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak . 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. Jer. 1: 4-9.
Of his call to the prophetic office, Amos declared:
I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was a herdman, 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, 15.
In only one instance recorded in the Scriptures was the divine call sent through a messenger instead of being given directly by the Lord Himself, and that was through direct, divine instruction. It was the call to Elisha. To the prophet Elijah the Lord said:
Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and
he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him. And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and ministered unto him. 1 Kings 19:16, 19-21.
It is therefore obvious that in whatever way the call came to men, it was clear, convincing, and imperative. Paul, who was a prophet, an apostle, and an evangelist, was so deeply impressed by the call that came to him that he cried out: Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! 1 Cor. 9:16.
The word prophet, as used in the Old Testament, comes from two Hebrew words which have different shades of meaning. One of these words is roeh, which means to see. It is rendered seer in 1 Samuel 9:9. Let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer.
The word seer, by which the prophet was originally called, implies that visions were the original mode of revelation to the prophets. These visions, in the case of the prophets of the Old Testament, were almost always presented in images peculiarly appropriate to the age or the person to whom they appear, and almost always conveying some lofty conception of the divine nature.History of the Jewish Church, Dean (Arthur Penrhyn) Stanley, Vol. I, p. 380. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1891.
According to the meaning of this Hebrew word, a prophet is one who sees, one whose sight pierces through the veil that hides the world of divine things, or one for whom this veil is lifted occasionally so that he obtains an inner knowledge of the realities beyond.A New Standard Bible Dictionary, art., Prophet, p. 739. New York and London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1925.
The lifting of the veil, then, that hides the world of divine things, and so brings to the prophet an inner knowledge of the realities beyond, is the essential purpose of the prophetic gift. What a marvelous and precious boon for mankind!
But the prophet's sight, or seeing, of the divine realities of the world beyond is not sufficient for poor, blind, confused humanity. What is revealed to the prophet must be declared
to others, if they are to be benefited. This further essential part of the prophet's responsibility is clearly expressed by another Hebrew word, nabi, which means to speak forth. Hence the prophet is also a man of speech, one who gives forth words.
The difference, then, between those two Hebrew words from which we get our word prophet is clear. The first relates to the way the prophet gets his message; the second relates to the impartation of the message he receives. The two shades of meaning of these Hebrew words are united in our English word prophet, which is itself spelled over from the Greek, meaning literally for-speaker, or forth-speaker. Hence the word prophet has a twofold meaning,seer and proclaimer. These are the two distinctive and essential phases of the prophetic gift, and they are both very clearly set forth in the Scriptures, as will be observed from the following statement by the prophet Daniel:
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters. Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night. Dan. 7:1, 2.
Daniel was a prophet. The Lord appeared to him in a vision, and spoke to him in a dream. What he saw and heard he wrote in a book. In this way he made known what was revealed to him; and even the generation now living is being greatly blessed by the messages that came to him through the prophetic gift.
The special and responsible service to which a prophet is called is very clearly and forcefully expressed in the instruction given the prophet Ezekiel: Son of man, behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, and set thine heart upon all that I shall show thee; for to the intent that I might show them unto thee art thou brought hither: declare all that thou seest to the house of Israel. Ezek. 40:4.
Thus the central idea of the word [prophet] is, one to whom God reveals Himself and through whom He speaks. The revelation may or may not relate to the future. The prophet is a
forth-teller, not necessarily a fore-teller. The essence of the prophetic character is immediate intercourse with God.Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. I, pp. 325, 326. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906.
Volumes have been written by eminent Christian scholars who have given exhaustive study to the prophetic gift and its varied manifestations. Their writings present very clearly and fully the many aspects of the service to which prophets have been called. Helpful articles by these writers abound in standard reference works, from which we draw freely in this volume. Note the following:
The true prophet is one who is lifted up by the Spirit of God into communion with Him, so that he is enabled to interpret the divine will, and to act as a medium between God and men.Dictionary of the Bible, James Hastings, art., Holy Spirit, Vol. II, p. 403 (1899 edition).
The prophet is a speaker of or for God. His words are not the production of his own spirit, but come from a higher source. For he is at the same time, also, a seer, who sees things that do not lie in the domain of natural sight, or who hears things which human ears do not ordinarily receive.International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. IV, art., Prophecy, p. 2459. Chicago: Howard-Severance Company, 1915.
In both the Old and the New Testament the prophet is the divine messenger who communicates to man the revelation which he has received from God. Peter and Paul and John are among the prophets as well as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, while our Lord Himself stands at the head of the glorious company.The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopædia and Scriptural Dictionary, Vol. III, art., Prophecy, p. 1391.
The following passage sets forth the great service the prophets rendered mankind wherever their lot was cast and in whatever generation they acted as mouthpieces for God.
The prophets were the moral and religious teachers of their nation, authoritative preachers of righteousness. Statesmen who guided the religious life which lay at the foundation of the nation's welfare, the counselor of kings, revivalists and reformers who awakened the religious life of the people, forewarners of the certainty of the divine judgment on sin, proclaimers of the divine ideals, the golden age toward which the
nation was to move.The International Bible Dictionary, art., Prophets, p. 532. Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1912.
I the Lord will make Myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. This direct statement by the Lord in Numbers 12:6 gives visions and dreams an approved place in the revelation of the gospel, and also in its proclamation and ultimate triumph.
Back in the patriarchal age, this method of communication between the Lord and the human family was known to the patriarch Job, who said:
God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; then He openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, that He may withdraw man from his purpose, and his pride from man. Job 33:14-17.
Much has been written by students of the Scriptures about prophetic visions and dreams,what they were, how they came to the prophets, how they were treated by the people, and how they were tested as to their verity and genuineness. One writer says:
The visions recorded in the Bible stand alone, in the history of religions, for purity and righteousness. They were never vain; never meaningless vagaries or lying wonders. They always have a clearly discernible moral and didactic content. They were often predictive, upon which fulfillment has set the seal of truth. They belong to an age of revelation and came to men who in manifold manner proved themselves to be vehicles of revelation.A Dictionary of the Bible, John D. Davis, art., Visions, p. 766. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1903.
Just what distinction exists or should be drawn between visions and dreams is not very clear. Thus:
It does not seem possible to draw any very precise distinction between the prophetic dream and the prophetic vision. In the case of Abraham (Gen. 15:1) and of Daniel (Dan. 7:1), they seem to melt into each other.Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical
Literature, McClintock and Strong, Vol. VIII, art., Prophet, p. 646. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1896.
Regarding the action of the mind of the prophets when in vision, this writer says further:
In the case of visions the scenery passed before their mind, something like a panoramic view of a landscape, gradually unfolding, in symbolical imagery, forms of glory or of gloom; accompanied with actions of a corresponding character, not unfrequently exhibiting, as in actual occurrence, the future and distant events.Id., p. 648.
The Lord says of the prophet: I will speak unto him in a dream. Of this way of communication between God and man, one expositor says:
Whatever may be the difficulties attending the subject, still we know that it has formed a channel through which Jehovah was pleased in former times to reveal His character and dispensations to His people . How God revealed Himself by dreams, and raised up persons to interpret them, the Scriptures abundantly testify. Under the three successive dispensations we find this channel of communication with man adopted.The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopædia and Scriptural Dictionary, Vol. I, art., Dream, pp. 540, 541.
This carefully worded analysis is given by W. Morgan:
In early Hebrew religion the vision had its closest affinity with the dream,by which probably the conception of its character was determined,and the two are usually coupled as the ordinary sources of prophetic oracles . In both dream and vision what carried religious significance was the fact that the presentation did not come through the ordinary sense channels, or as a product of the mind's conscious activity. On this account it was accepted as a revelation from God . At such moments an issue becomes clear, a truth breaks on the mind, a resolution is formed. The result is sometimes presented as if it had come to the prophet in a manner analogous to sense experience,the prophet sees, hears, questions, replies,but the broad sense in which vision is used makes it clear that the pictorial image was not the source of his knowledge or resolution, but rather that the truth, having taken possession of his mind and heart, created the vision as its
imaginative clothing. Even a Verbal message, with no reference to a voice or appearance, is spoken of as a vision.Dictionary of the Bible, James Hastings, art., Vision, p. 871. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1909.
The practical working of this plan of helping poor, faulty, misguided humanity was remarkably fulfilled on one occasion in the life of Abraham. Without being aware of it, Abimelech, king of Gerar, was about to do Abraham and Sarah his wife a great wrong. Although Abimelech was not a prophet, God came to him in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man. Abimelech answered, In the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this. And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against Me . Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet. Gen. 20:3-7.
David, under divine inspiration, evidently referred to this experience when reciting the Lord's care for His people: When they went from nation to nation, and from one kingdom to another people; He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, He reproved kings for their sakes, saying, Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm. 1 Chron. 16:20-22.
The following is a clear statement of how the prophetic gift operates on the mind of the prophet in vision or dream:
To us, visions and dreams may appear ill-fitted to serve as vehicles for divine communications. We may not be able to discern God's reasons for choosing them. But that He has chosen them is certain . In a vision or divinely given dream, images or ideas, either filling the mind or passing in procession before the consciousness, completely engage the attention of the person without admixture of other thoughts. The mind is thus entirely in the control of the agency making the revelation. And it should be pointed out in this connection that such revelations, together with their contents, are determined by a power outside the recipient's own will. The intellectual or spiritual quality of a revelation thus received is not derived from the recipient, but from its divine Giver .
When the mind is unoccupied by the cares of waking consciousness, when it is quietly at rest, untroubled by the thoughts that fill it at other times, then the Spirit of God takes full and complete possession, and causes to pass before it the ideas or the images of thought that constitute the divine revelation to be made . This control is always complete and compelling. Under it, the prophet becomes the one moved, not the mover, in the formation of his message. This is what Peter means in his well-known declaration: For no prophecy ever came by the will of man; but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:21, A. R. V.
As these messages given through the gift of prophecy are produced by the operation, and determined by the control, of the Spirit of God, the result is raised above anything that could by any possibility be achieved by mere human powers or human wisdom. Its origin, and the Spirit-controlled method of its transmission, constitute it entirely a supernatural product . The instruction given through the gift of prophecy originated in heaven, and is the voice of God to His people. It was given to the church to be heeded and followed, and it came to us under the full direction and control of the Spirit of God. It is a most wonderful privilege to have this gift, and it results in most wonderful blessings to follow its instruction. Divine leadership and divine guidance are the happy lot of the movement that possesses the gift of prophecy.The Gift of Prophecy, Carlyle B. Haynes, pp. 77, 78, 81, 82.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. 2 Tim. 3:16. This statement lifts the prophetic gift to the highest possible service for mankind. The apostle Peter declares: No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. 2 Peter 1:20, 21.
Another passage explains this matter more fully: Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 1 Peter 1:10, 11.
From these passages we must conclude that the prophets were inspired by the Spirit of Christ; that by this inspiration the purposes of God were revealed to them; and, that they testified to the world that which had been revealed to them. The Scriptures came from God by this divine inspiration. Thus the supreme, incomparable word of God came to the world through the prophetic gift, operating through the prophets.
Volumes have been written regarding the inspiration by which the word of God came to prophets. One writer says: By inspiration in the theological sense is meant that influence of the Spirit of God upon the mind of the sacred writers by which He communicated the knowledge of religious truths or future events, and guarded them against error in delivering these truths to others, either orally or by writing.
The consciousness and the certainty of the prophets concerning the manifestation of the Spirit of God within them is explained in the following statement:
Inspiration is a term employed to designate the divine origin of Holy Scripture . The interior process of the Spirit's action upon the minds of the speakers or writers was of course inscrutable (John 3:8) even to themselves. That they were conscious, however, of such an influence is manifest from the authority with which they put forth their words; yet, when they sat down to write, the divine and the human elements in their mental action were perfectly harmonious and inseparable (Luke 1:3).Cyclopaædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, McClintock and Strong, Vol. IV, art., Inspiration, pp. 611, 613.
As an action of God, working through His Spirit, the communication of revelation to the human mind and His guidance of it to the moment of its expression in words, either oral or written, has been called inspiration. The fact of such inspiration is unmistakably presented in the Bible.A New Standard Bible Dictionary, art., Revelation, p. 771.
Taken together, these paragraphs give a clear, comprehensive definition of inspiration.
Revelation is a disclosure of something that was before unknown; and divine revelation is the direct communication of truths before unknown from God to men. The disclosure may be made by dream, vision, oral communication, or otherwise.Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, McClintock and Strong, Vol. VIII, art., Revelation, p. 1061.
The real, ultimate purpose of the prophetic giftits prophet, vision, dream, and inspirationis a revelation of God and His purposes to men. I the Lord will make Myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. Num. 12:6. When this takes place, a revelation is made, as expressed in the following scriptures and comments:
The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. Deut. 29:29.
All things in the mind and purpose of God are inscrutable secrets to men until God reveals them. That He is pleased to make such revelation He gives the assurance, Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets. Amos 3:7.
Besides this external or objective revelation, there was an inward revelation given in the mind of man. In this case the Deity possessed the man, inspired him, and spoke through him.Dictionary of the Bible, James Hastings, art., Prophecy and Prophets, p. 107.
For example, we read as prefacing the full instruction regarding the Flood and the building of the ark: God said unto Noah, Gen. 6:13.
Again, The Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect . And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him. Gen. 17:1-3. This would appear, at first thought, to be a personal, visible appearance, and a direct oral conversation. Yet it may have been in a vision, for we have a similar statement in the fifteenth chapter; but there it is plainly stated that the interview was in a vision: After these things the word of the Lord
came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram. Gen. 15:1. However, in the eighteenth chapter it is clearly recorded that angels came to Abraham in the form of men, partook of food, and revealed to him God's purpose to destroy the city of Sodom.
Thus it appears that at times the Lord, and also angels, came to prophets in person, and held oral conversation with them when they were in their normal state. But the general method, the one used more than any other during the many centuries of human history, has been through visions and dreams.
From the evidence thus far considered it seems certain that the prophetic gift was imparted and set in operation just after the Lord had made known His merciful decision to give man, whom Satan had ruined, a chance to be redeemed. Gen. 3:15. We can easily believe that Adam and Eve were not long left in the unutterable sorrow into which they had been plunged, without a message from God.
Thus we are led to the inescapable conclusion that the prophetic gift was chosen and ordained of God for the benefit of all the world, and for all time. It belongs to the church today, as much as in the ages gone by, and is sorely needed.
The Bible, the greatest and best of all books, came to the human race from God through the prophetic gift imparted to men of His choosing. The conception of the prophets regarding the divine product given to the world through them is clearly and truthfully presented in the following statement:
The Bible writers do not conceive of the Scriptures as
a human product breathed into by the divine Spirit, and thus heightened in its
qualities or endowed with new qualities; but as a divine product produced
through the instrumentality of men. They do not conceive of these men, by whose
instrumentality Scripture is produced, as working upon their own initiative,
though energized by God to greater effort and higher achievement, but as moved
by the divine initiative and borne by the irresistible power of the Spirit of
God along ways of His choosing to ends of His
appointment.The International Standard Bible
Encyclopaedia, Vol. III, art., Inspiration, pp. 1479,