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Chapter 3

THE PROPHETS AND THEIR FUNCTION

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Section Titles
Men God Used
Function of the Prophets
SUMMARY
FOR STUDY AND DISCUSSION
SELECTED REFERENCES


It is difficult to imagine a more diverse group of personalities than the ancient prophets. Besides their individual differences, with their work spread over a period longer than from the breakup of the Roman Empire to the present, there was little in their times or environment to draw them to unity. Who could have differed more than one man who had been drawn out of a nation of idolaters, and another who had been reared from childhood in the precincts of God's tabernacle? What more varied attitudes could have developed than those of a man trained for twenty-eight years to occupy the throne of the greatest nation of the day and those of a simple herdsman called to bear a message to a rebellious neighboring nation? There is no indication that God chose men of any particular kind of background, personality, talents, or education. He chose the man he could use best at the moment, or the one He could best prepare for future service. He apparently disregarded any set pattern, and gave attention only to the suitability of the man for the task. Some of the reasons for this procedure seem obvious, others are somewhat obscure.

Paul reveals something of the problem that faced him in his attempt to reach as many persons as possible in his generation. “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, … that I might gain them that are without law. To


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the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. A message to go to every nation, and tongue, and people must not be built in a restricted manner. Many minds, talents, personalities, environments, and lines of activity must lend their influence to make the message appealing to so wide a field.


Men God Used

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Among the workers for God there is a place for every kind of person who is willing to let himself be used. Race, nationality, or environment forms no barrier. Since our attention at present is focused on the Bible, naturally most of the men considered will be Hebrews; but God is not limited except as men disqualify themselves for His service.

The prophets did not differ greatly from other men. Even Elijah, one of the two of whom it is recorded that he was taken to heaven without seeing death, is spoken of by another prophet as “a man subject to like passions as we are.” James 5:17. Paul and Barnabas placed themselves in that same classification after the Lycaonians declared, “The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.” Acts 14:11. See verse 15. Not only were prophets subject to like passions as we are, but, like Moses at Kadesh and David in his dealings with Uriah the Hittite, at times they were overcome by temptation and sinned against God. Elijah became discouraged and wished that he might die; Jonah was despondent when his prediction was not fulfilled. Abraham twice misrepresented his true relationship with Sarah because he was afraid. The list might be extended, not to excuse similar sins in ourselves, but to show that God does not create a special kind of man as a prophet. These were men among men whom the Lord used as best He could.

One of the most notable characteristics of the Bible is that it fits the needs of every individual in every generation. No one


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can justifiably say that because of the point of view from which it was written it does not touch his case or problems. The true Author planned it thus. Each book bears the marks of the background, education, personality, and experience of its writer. Each portion of the record yields a richer harvest of spiritual truth when we learn of the life of the man behind it. Without any attempt at the moment to compare or contrast these lives, we will note something of the background, lifework, and personality of some of these Bible prophets, so we may see the variety of men God used to accomplish His purposes.

Abraham. Although Abraham wrote no book of the Bible, he holds a prominent place in both Old and New Testament thinking. When the Lord spoke to Abimelech, king of Gerar, in a dream He called Abraham a prophet. Genesis 20:7. His name is used repeatedly in connection with the promises of inheritance in the land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 1:8), the perpetuation of the worship of the true God (Exodus 3:15), and the final inheritance of the whole world by the righteous (Romans 4:13). Much of what was revealed to Abraham through the prophetic gift seems to have been related to these three thoughts.

Recent archaeological excavations have shown that Abraham's home city, Ur of the Chaldees, was a wealthy city with a high degree of cultural development. Abraham himself was probably well educated, and the Bible record seems to indicate that the family was prosperous. Unfortunately some of the members of the family fell into the idolatrous ways of the city, and even Terah, Abraham's father, served other gods in Ur. Joshua 24:2. At an advanced age Abraham was called to leave the culture and comparative ease of Ur and go into a land of which he knew nothing. He was unaware of his goal, but he was ready to follow God's leading.

Subsequent events reveal much of the character and personality of this man who became “the Friend of God.” James 2:23.


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He led his household in spiritual activities. His unselfishness is demonstrated in his dealings with Lot. The firmness of his faith is commended in Hebrews 11, despite the failures recorded in Genesis. God used him and his son to give one of the clearest pictures of what the sacrifice of the Son of God meant to both the Father and the Son. Abraham was widely and favorably known among the surrounding tribes in Canaan. He was a man of stature and influence.

Moses. Born into the home of slaves at a time when all male children of the Israelites were condemned to die, Moses' life was protected by the favor of the daughter of the pharaoh of Egypt. The child's early years were spent in his own home, but his parents were constantly aware that soon he would leave that home for the royal palace. Every effort was made to prepare him to stand true in the time when he would be exposed to pagan customs, society, and religion. Then came the years in the court of Egypt with their broad civil and military training. Every enticement was offered the young adopted prince, but he made his choice on the basis of eternal values rather than on the fleeting “pleasures of sin.”

Principles of truth had become so firmly implanted in the life of the young Moses that later influences could not turn him from them. Despite Egypt's offers, Moses adhered to his faith in God. He was willing to risk everything to accomplish what he thought God wanted him to do for the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage. His remarkable adaptability is revealed in Exodus 2:21, describing Moses' attitude toward his life in the wilderness after his escape from Egypt: “And Moses was content to dwell with the man.” The change from the constant activity of the royal court and the army headquarters to the quiet solitude of a desert dwelling would not have brought contentment to many a man with the energy and capability of Moses. Few princes of a powerful royal house would have been content to spend their days as shepherds. Instead of


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attendants gratifying his every wish, he now cared for the needs of a flock of sheep. His home was a tent instead of a palace. In these circumstances Moses spent forty years under the tutorship of God to prepare him to serve as leader of his people. All this background contributed to the formation of an unusual type of character and personality. Moses came out of his training period a kind, considerate, compassionate man with rare abilities as an organizer, administrator, lawmaker, and judge. His dependence was on God, and faith was a reality in his life.

Samuel. In his youth Samuel left his parents and home as did Moses, but instead of being taken to the royal court of a pagan king this boy went to live with the high priest at the sanctuary of God. Although the environment would ordinarily be thought to be the best possible, it must be remembered that Eli had utterly failed in the rearing of his own sons. The Lord accused Eli of not restraining his sons and of honoring them above God. But while he was still a child, Samuel grew in favor with both the Lord and men. As the years passed, “all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord.” 1 Samuel 3:20. Surrounded by the obvious corruption existing in the lives of many of the priests, Samuel maintained strict integrity and purity of character. Although he lacked the firm, guiding hand of an earthly father, he developed into the strong man who could in old age demand of the people: “Witness against me before the Lord, and before His anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you. And they said, Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken aught of any man's hand.” 1 Samuel 12:3, 4.

As priest, prophet, and judge, Samuel had led the people fairly, sympathetically, and honestly. Yet he had to listen to


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their demand for a king to be appointed over them, and at God's direction he anointed the king. Instead of resenting the loss of authority, the prophet became the friend and counselor of the new king; and he loved Saul like a son. Samuel ranks high among the great men whose lives are pictured in the Scriptures.

David. Were there no other characterization of David than the words of Samuel, one might well visualize the kind of man he was. “The Lord hath sought Him a man after His own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over His people.” 1 Samuel 13:14. As a young man, David enters the Bible story when God directs Samuel to anoint him to be king over Israel. The tales of his bravery in combat with wild animals and with men are well known. His rise from shepherd to the throne was a perilous time, and it gave abundant opportunity for him to develop strong traits of character and an abiding confidence in God. Though filled with youthful enthusiasm and eager to press forward, David was willing to wait for God to designate the time when he should occupy the throne. He refused to take things into his own hands and kill Saul. His later sin reveals the constant danger confronting even the most earnest Christian. His recovery is a demonstration of the long-suffering of God and the power of His grace.

Few men have shown a wider range of capabilities than David. As musician, poet, singer, military man in both subordinate and commanding positions, lawmaker, counselor, king, architect, organizer, and executive, he revealed large native abilities well developed through education and experience. His psalms indicate deep insight into the working of the human mind, a practical knowledge of spiritual realities, and a personal acquaintance with God.

Amos. Under inspiration of the Spirit of God, a rugged herdsman of Tekoa became a heroic messenger for the Lord. Amos must have led his sheep over some of the same hills


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where David had spent his youth and where he had been a fugitive. He was an outdoor man who had lacked the opportunity for education in the schools of the prophets; but he was sturdy and fearless. Amos is a striking example of the way God can take a man who is technically untrained and make him an effective worker. Little is said of the man himself, but his words help us to penetrate his thinking.

When Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, tried to send Amos home to Judah to do his prophesying, the herdsman-prophet made no defense other than that God had called him from the flock and had said, “Go, prophesy unto My people Israel.” The prophet clearly implied that he was not in Israel from personal choice, and that he would stay until his work was done, for God had sent him. See Amos 7:10-17. His knowledge of outdoor life echoes in figures of speech through the book, and the type of illustrations reveal the mind of the man. The tempest and whirlwind (1:14), the height of the cedar, the strength of the oak (2:9), the cart full of sheaves (2:13), the lion roaring in the forest (3:4), the bird in the snare (3:5), the remains of a sheep snatched from a lion (3:12), the kine of Bashan (4:1), the palmerworm and the drought (4:7-10), proclaim the individualistic thinking, the powers of observation, and the spiritual insight of the prophet. Much of this grew out of his early training and environment. The response of the man to the call of God, and the brilliant way in which he discharged his responsibility place him high in the ranks of a notable company of men of God.

Daniel. “And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed, and of the princes; children in whom was no blemish, but well favored, and skillful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue


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of the Chaldeans.” Daniel 1:3, 4. Little needs to be added to this Spirit-prompted characterization to gain a picture of the kind of person Daniel was. Handsome of feature, sturdy of body, brilliant of mind, he received the best education available to a Hebrew lad of the royal line. His mind was stored with the Scriptures, and his character developed in harmony with its principles.

In Babylon, Daniel rose from the status of prisoner of war to prime minister, and he held that position under the kings of two rival empires. His firmness to principle has become proverbial; his wisdom and tact command respect. From our point of view it is almost inconceivable that a man who, on the night of the collapse of the Babylonian kingdom was its “third ruler” (Daniel 5:29), should soon afterward be made chief aide to its conqueror. “It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over the whole kingdom; and over these three presidents; of whom Daniel was first…. Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.” Daniel 6:1-3. Because of their association with Daniel, mighty rulers were led to acknowledge the power of Daniel's God. “The king [Nebuchadnezzar] answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets.” Daniel 2:47. “Then King Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages…. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for He is the living God, and steadfast forever, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall be even unto the end.” Daniel 6:25, 26.

Through this man, whose confidence in God remained unwavering whether he faced monarchs or lions or enemies in high places, the Lord chose to reveal long-term prophecies that reach from Daniel's time to the day when “the kingdom


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and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High.” Daniel 7:27. His character ranks him among the noblest of the royal line of the kingdom of God. His revelations classify him as unsurpassed in importance among the prophets. His unchanging constancy in the things of God, his control of his mental and physical powers, his dignity and courtesy, set him before us as an exemplar among men and prophets.

Paul. A “Hebrew of the Hebrews,” “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee,” was the way Paul described his ancestry and religion. Paul knew no method of working other than to throw every energy into doing the task at hand. Study in the school of Gamaliel, persecution of the hated Christians, as the apostle to the Gentiles, preaching Christ—each, in turn, received the same fervent devotion. His brilliant mind, superior education, pure Hebrew ancestry, Roman citizenship, thorough conversion, and unflagging zeal made Paul the kind of man God could use for one of the most difficult tasks ever to face any man—introducing Christianity to the Gentile world.

Of all Christian preachers, other than the Saviour Himself, Paul has commanded the greatest respect. His clear grasp of the principles of righteousness by faith in contrast with attempts to be saved as a reward for good works grew out of the two phases of his own life experience, as a Pharisee and as a servant of Jesus Christ. His ability as preacher, teacher, and apologist sets him apart from the preacher multitude, and declares him to be in a classification where he has few companions. His fearlessness and conclusiveness in dealing with heresies left both legalists and antinomians with little argument to support them. Paul might well have added to his description of himself that he was “a preacher of preachers,” and the “teacher of teachers.”

These few incomplete biographical notes are intended to


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start the thinking of the student upon the men God chose to serve Him as prophets. Nothing in a man's background, education, or occupation in itself excluded him from being called to the sacred office. In fact, it appears that it was part of God's plan to choose men from as wide a range of heritages and as diverse characteristics as possible in order to make an appeal with the gospel message to every kind of mind. The man's nature and personality in no wise altered the import of his message or the fact of its inspiration.


Function of the Prophets

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What use did God make of these men of diversified talents, experience, training, and education? What was the range of the activities of prophets in carrying out their prophetic function? In consideration of the exercise of the prophetic gift, attention has been focused so largely on the element of prediction that many times the broader aspects of the function of the prophets have been obscured or entirely lost from view. Theirs was a broad work, by no means restricted to foretelling the future. These were men who filled an important place in the history of God's people, not only because of their multiplied responsibilities in the community or nation, but because of the nature of the messages sent to the people through them. Not only were they used to reach the professed people of God; they were delegated to carry the word of the Lord to the world.

Spoke for God. The primary reason for the calling of a prophet was that he might serve as a mouthpiece for God. He was to say to the people what God would say if He should veil His glory and come personally among them as a man. The people's needs were numerous and diverse. Messages were needed by individuals, families, cities, and nations. To God's personal representative, the prophet, was entrusted the responsibility of delivering the messages.


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Revealed God's purposes. “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets.” Amos 3:7. In the purposes of God, His plans are revealed to His people so that they might know how to co-operate with them. Long ago Christians would have given up in despair had it not been for the assurance, “I will come again.” John 14:3. To the Old Testament believer the promise of the coming Messiah was his sustenance when he saw the sin of his nation and the decay of its leadership. To the bitterly disappointed and disillusioned Israelites in Babylonian captivity Jeremiah's prediction of deliverance at the conclusion of seventy years of bondage was a star of hope. Insight into God's purposes for the future was intended to strengthen and encourage, to fortify and prepare men and women to meet the crisis. There were times when the most courageous hearts would have failed had it not been for the repeated assurances of the Lord's purpose to bring deliverance.

Because God can penetrate the future and man cannot, the Lord has used His knowledge of the future as one of the evidences that He is God. The striking nature of the predictions has directed such attention to them that other, equally important, phases of the work of the prophets have received scant thought. To many, “prophet” connotes “predictor.” When one recognizes the broader nature of the prophets' work he gains a better understanding of God's plan and has a deeper confidence in it.

Strengthened and guided rulers. An Assyrian army over which Sennacherib had placed Rabshakeh (Isaiah 36:2) surrounded the city of Jerusalem. Rabshakeh mocked Hezekiah and scorned the God of Israel. Hezekiah in his terror and grief sent a group to talk with Isaiah and to seek counsel from the Lord through the prophet. “And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of


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the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumor [report], and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.” Isaiah 37:6, 7.

How courage and strength must have surged through Hezekiah when his servants hurried back with the word, “Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid.” Had there been no explanation of the Lord's plan attached to the message, Hezekiah would have been strengthened by the assurance that the Lord had promised to be with him in the crisis.

When David decided that he wanted to build a house for the Lord, he talked his plan over with Nathan the prophet. Nathan instantly agreed that the plan was a wise one, and he encouraged David to go forward with it. But this was not according to God's purpose, and that night the Lord spoke to Nathan and told him to give David the message that his son was to build the Lord's house. 2 Samuel 7. The word of the prophet was accepted as the word of the Lord to guide the king, and his cherished plan was abandoned. David's disappointment was at least partly relieved by the fact that he was permitted to gather materials for the temple, even though he was not to undertake its building. 1 Chronicles 22:14.

In war or peace, prosperity or adversity, the leaders who wished counsel might have it. Unfortunately many sought no help, and others to whom it was sent rejected it. Men in places of leadership were particular objects of God's concern. He made every approach possible to reach them and to give them the aid He knew they needed, even if they recognized no need themselves. He wanted them to be steadfast in their allegiance to Him and in upholding the high principles of the theocratic government. He desired to direct them so that they would make no mistakes in their leadership. With such backing and counsel, every one of the kings of ancient Israel might have made his reign an outstanding success and the people would have been greatly blessed.


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Encouraged the people to faithfulness. “If ye forsake the Lord,” Joshua warned the people shortly before his death, “and serve strange gods, then He will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that He hath done you good…. Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel.” Joshua 24:20-23.

“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Revelation 2:10. This was the Lord's encouraging message to His faithful children as given through John the revelator.

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.” Luke 16:10. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” were the words of the greatest of the prophets. Matthew 25:21.

Frequently words of encouragement are interwoven with reproofs and rebukes; seldom are they found standing alone. There are always new steps forward to be taken by God's people. One of the leading activities of the prophets was to encourage the people to hold fast the ground they had already gained and press on to new accomplishments. Every forward step meant that some fault needed to be overcome, some weakness strengthened, some desire subdued. Encouragement could in no way be separated from the instruction and reproof that also came through the messengers.

Protested against evils. Whether their burden was to resist social injustice, to root out idolatry, or to protest against immorality, the prophets were equally vigorous in their approaches. At times it seemed to the prophet that no other dissenting voice than his was raised, but in such a case his responsibility was increased rather than lessened. The prophet's protests were God's protests, and were delivered regardless of consequences.

“Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand. And they covet fields, and take


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them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage. Therefore thus saith the Lord; Behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks.” Micah 2:1-3.

“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings…. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house.” Malachi 3:8-10.

“Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.” Hosea 4:1, 2.

In imagination we can see the prophets standing alone, as did Jesus in the court of the temple, proclaiming: “Take these things hence; make not My Father's house an house of merchandise.” John 2:16. Usually their words of protest were not their own, but were prefaced with “Thus saith the Lord.” Perhaps they would not have had courage to speak out if it had been left to their own initiative, but as God's spokesmen they could not refrain. At one time Jeremiah decided that he would speak no more. “Then I said, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name. But His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” Jeremiah 20:9. Evil was rampant in Israel and Judah during the lifetime of most of the prophets, and through these men the Lord maintained a constant protest against corrupt practices and personal sins.

Directed activities. Destruction and building were both essential parts of the work of a prophet. The dual responsibility is well expressed in the Lord's commission to Jeremiah: “See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms,


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to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:10. Many a modern city is engaged in a slum-clearing project in which handsome buildings replace dilapidated tenements. First, the ground must be cleared of the old before the new can be built. Tearing down is as essential as building up. Although it may appear that the words of the prophets were more of tearing down than of building, it must be remembered that this task had to be performed repeatedly. It is easier to allow a building to slip into decay than it is to keep it new in appearance. Each time the old timbers must be removed and replaced before more new building can be done. In every forward move in God's work the prophets were present, either in positions of leadership or in close counsel with the leaders.

As a prophet, Moses directed the building of the sanctuary. The Holy Spirit, through whom the prophets were guided, gave David detailed plans for the construction of the house of God that became Solomon's temple. 1 Chronicles 28:11, 12. In the days of the rebuilding of the temple, after the Babylonian exile, “Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.” Ezra 5:2. On the Day of Pentecost the spirit of prophecy possessed the apostles and directed them in the establishment of the early Christian church. Paul was called to enter new territory and to open new areas for the preaching of the gospel. He went forward or held back as the Spirit indicated that he should do.

It is not difficult to trace through the Old and New Testaments the direct influence of the prophets in the constructive activities of God's people. The tragedy of the situation is that their counsel was seldom fully heeded. Had the instruction of the Lord, given through the prophets, been followed, the neighbors of Israel would have said, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” Deuteronomy 4:6.


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Taught. The prophets were not classroom teachers as such, although some of them seem to have taught in this fashion. However, it was through them that the people learned the principles of the kingdom of heaven. They made plain the high standard required of all God's people. Their sermons were teaching sermons, filled with practical, helpful instruction. So fully does the Bible, given through the prophets, set forth the kind of life and character exemplified by Christ that it shares with Him the name “the Word.” Precept is laid upon precept, and line is added to line to round out the concept of a godly life. In true teaching fashion, problems are approached repeatedly from a variety of angles so that none need fail to understand how to apply the principles in his own life. To give this instruction to all generations “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Peter 1:21.

Other responsibilities. It can also be shown that the men God chose as prophets served their nation as consultants and counselors for every phase of individual and national activity. In addition, they gave warnings of what would result from certain courses of action. They reproved sin in individuals and in the nation as a whole. They pronounced the judgments of God as consequences of sinful policies and evil conduct. There was no matter too small or too large to warrant the attention of God through the prophet, no corner so dark that light could not penetrate it and help be given. At times the performance of miracles figured prominently, as in the days of Elisha. Again, the preaching ministry was outstanding, as in the experience of Samuel and Jeremiah. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, these men did all the things that needed to be done. They were serving in God's stead, speaking for Him, acting for Him, representing Him before their fellow men.

The ministry of the prophets was not limited to the Hebrew nations. Through some of the prophetic messengers the Lord tried to win the Gentile nations to the truth. Abraham was sent


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to witness for the true God in Egypt, where multiplied deities were worshiped. At least partly because of the failure of Abraham it was necessary for the Lord to send Joseph, and later to raise up Moses to give the Egyptians opportunity to learn of the true God. The story of Jonah is highlighted by the repentance of Nineveh in response to the preaching of the reluctant prophet. Daniel's prophetic ministry led to his elevation to one of the highest positions in Babylon, and resulted ultimately in the conversion of its greatest monarch. In freedom or captivity Paul reached out into Asia Minor, Greece, some of the Mediterranean islands, and Rome. All these and others, undoubtedly many unmentioned in the Bible, touched the lives of the nations with the word of the Lord. “Go ye into all the world” is not only a last-day injunction; it has been the Lord's objective for His people in every generation.

Prophets, then, were not unlike other men. They were men who needed the converting power of the Holy Spirit, who struggled with the temptations that are common to men, and they sometimes lost the battle in their own lives. They were men whose sorrows affected their lives as deeply as ours move us. They married, reared families, taught their children and learned from them, rejoiced in their triumphs, and grieved over their failures. They knew what it meant to see beloved children turn from the Lord. At least one knew what it meant to have an unfaithful wife. Another was not permitted to grieve over the death of his wife. They became weary and discouraged as did other men, and at times they chafed under the tasks the Lord gave them.

If you had lived in ancient Palestine, a prophet might have been your father. If so, he would have held you on his knee, smiled at you, talked to you, played with you as fathers always have. Or he might have been your next-door neighbor with whom you would have visited while he hoed his garden. Or you might have climbed trees with him when he and you were boys.


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At the same time prophets were men in whom the Lord placed great confidence. A sense of responsibility weighed heavily on them. Whether they came from the royal palace, the plow, the herd, or the service of the temple, an inner compulsion made it impossible for them ever to be unconscious of their calling. These prophets were carefully chosen with attention given to their talents, weaknesses, and mental quirks. They were individuals whose personalities might be classified today as introverted or extroverted. Sometimes the tasks to which they were called were extremely distasteful to them, but God knew His men and used them to the extent of their abilities, even empowering them to go beyond what they or we would consider possible.

These little insights lurk everywhere through the Scriptures. When we find them, they make the men of the Bible, and the Bible itself, warmer and more alive. They enable us to put ourselves into the Bible picture to see how we belong to it and it to us. Far from taking away any of the dignity of the men or the solemnity of their messages, these pictures open doors of understanding that might otherwise be closed permanently to us. If we consider the ministry of Jesus, and then try to understand how God called men in many generations from all walks of life, and sought to accomplish through them as much as possible the same kind of ministry that Jesus performed, we will begin to gain a more adequate view of the significance and function of the Bible prophets.


SUMMARY

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1. God used a varied group of men to achieve His purpose of reaching nations and individuals.

2. The prophets came from various walks of life and engaged in a variety of occupations.

3. Varied backgrounds and training were useful to the Lord, and made the men of greater service.


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4. While prediction of coming events figured prominently in a prophet's work, his function was much broader and more varied than this.

5. The humanity of the prophets helps us to better understand them, their work, and their messages.


FOR STUDY AND DISCUSSION

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1. Are there any particular types or classes of men who appear to predominate among the Bible prophets?

2. Choose a Bible prophet and prepare a character sketch entirely on the basis of what you read about him in the Bible.

3. Which prophets seem to have differed most from other prophets in personality, background, and training? Have the differences been revealed prominently in their writings?

4. Which man appears to have been the most unlikely prospect to make a good prophet? Which seems to have had the best preparation and possibilities?

5. List several ways other than those mentioned under “Function of the Prophets” in which prophets were used by God in His dealing with the nations. Give an example of each.

6. Which prophets seem to have carried on the broadest work, and which presented the most varied types of messages?

7. What is there about the prophets that makes them seem most real and personal to you?


SELECTED REFERENCES

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Daniells, A. G., The Abiding Gilt of Prophecy, pp. 36-172.

Haynes, Carlyle B., The Book of All Nations, pp. 63-72.

Von Orelli, C., “Prophecy,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, PP. 2459-2466. (See also articles under names of prophets.)

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