Among the last words of David, the statesman-prophet, were these: “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue.” 2 Samuel 23:2. He was one of the “holy men of God” who “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Peter 1:21. When these men were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak, they gave their messages as words from God. The Bible idea of a prophet is that he is a spokesman for the Lord.
In almost every instance in the Old Testament the word prophet is translated from the Hebrew nabi. The Old Testament usage of the word gives a clearer concept of its meaning than does philology. In Exodus 7:1, 2, the thought is apparent: “And the Lord said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land.” Moses was to stand in relation to Pharaoh as God stood in relation to the people. Aaron was to be Moses' mouthpiece, and God would communicate His will to Moses. Moses would pass the word along to Aaron, and Aaron would speak forth the message to Pharaoh. While this was not the Lord's usual way of working, it portrays vividly the function of the prophet as a speaker of a message received from a higher source than his own thinking.
Deuteronomy 18 presents a prophecy that was completely fulfilled only in the ministry of Jesus. It serves as a basic passage to help in understanding the work of a prophet. The heart
of the matter is expressed in these words: “I … will put My words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” Deuteronomy 18:18. The “prophet” referred to in the verse is a nabi—a man who speaks forth God's message.
Notice the sequence in the conversation between God and Jeremiah when the Lord called Jeremiah to be one of His prophets. “Before I formed thee … I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5. “Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.” Verse 6. As soon as the Lord told him he was to be a prophet, Jeremiah's mind turned to speaking. He felt that he could not accept the responsibility because of his lack of ability to proclaim God's message. The Lord recognized the same significance in the call to the prophetic office. “Say not, I am a child: … 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.” Verses 7-9. Even more to the point was the Lord's later word to Jeremiah, “Thou shalt be as My mouth.” Jeremiah 15:19. God was fulfilling the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:18, that He would put His words into the mouth of the prophet, and that the messenger should speak all that he was commanded.
Amos, the herdsman of Tekoa, had had no thought of prophetic service. But, as he explained to Amaziah when that priest tried to stop him from prophesying, the Lord took him as he followed the flock and said, “Go, prophesy unto My people Israel. Now therefore,” he commanded Amaziah, “hear thou the word of the Lord.” Amos 7:15, 16. Then, in spite of Amaziah's protests, Amos spoke a “thus saith the Lord” concerning the future of the priest and his family. This was not Amos's message, but God's. Amos, as a speaker in the Lord's stead, was merely giving information that the Lord Himself would have given if He had spoken personally to the priest of Bethel.
The same thought is borne out in the language of the New
Testament. There the Greek word translated prophet is prophetes, and means “one who speaks forth.” In most cases the New Testament usage of the word makes reference to prophets of Old Testament times. Prophetes is used as the equivalent of nabi; both words infer a recognition of the prophet as a speaker for God. Commenting on the appearance of the angel to Joseph before the birth of Jesus, Matthew said, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet.” Matthew 1:22, R.S.V. Peter, speaking to the people at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, told them of the death and resurrection of the Prince of life. Then he continued, “But those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all His prophets, that Christ should suffer, He hath so fulfilled.” Acts 3:18. A moment later he told them of the refreshing to come, which was to be followed by the return of Jesus. He declared that the restitution of all things would come, “which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” Acts 3:21. God speaking through the mouths of men who were delegated to speak for God—this has been heaven's way of making known to mankind His purposes and will.
Another term is introduced in x Samuel 9:9, which is used synonymously with the Hebrew word nabi to designate a prophet. “Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he spake, Come, and let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a prophet [nabi] was beforetime called a seer [roeh].” A seer is one who perceives things that do not lie in the realm of natural sight or hearing. Although used synonymously to indicate a person who possesses the prophetic gift, the two words illustrate basically different phases of the experience of the prophet. “Seer” denotes the reception of the message from God by the prophet. It indicates that God has opened to the view and hearing of the prophet that which is indiscernible to one who does not possess the prophetic gift. Similar in meaning is another Old Testament word translated “seer.” Chozeh is derived from a word meaning “to see” or “to behold.” From
the same source comes the word for “vision,” in the sense of a divinely inspired vision. Here is another indication of the fact that the prophet sees supernaturally. These two words are used as synonyms in Isaiah 30:10. “Which say to the seers [roeh], See not; and to the prophets [chozeh], Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits.” Both terms generally stress the reception rather than the delivery of the message, although it is difficult at times to make any distinction.
To summarize the terms used to designate prophets, we may say that nabi serves as the principal Old Testament word for this purpose. Its New Testament equivalent is prophetes. Both words have as their primary meaning one who declares the message received from God by divine inspiration. The other two words used, roeh, and chozeh, emphasize the receiving of the revelation by divinely enlightened vision. Even when the latter words are used, the obvious function of the terms is that of declaring the message received by inspiration. Thus we see that while the words give us various insights into the relationship of the prophet to God's message, all the words designate the prophet in his office as spokesman for God.
As an individual the prophet was fundamentally no different from any other devout follower of God. There was something that set him apart from the crowd, however, and that was his unusual relationship with God. No man who had ever had a vision of the throne of God, and had the privilege of conversing with the angels, or of hearing his name called by the divine voice to the prophetic office, could again be the same man. As a young man, Isaiah in vision saw “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” Isaiah 6:1. That gave him the clearest insight he had ever gained of his spiritual condition. Almost immediately conviction caused him to cry, “Woe is
me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips: … for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Verse 5. His desire for cleansing was granted, and he was told, “Thy sin [is] purged.” Then followed the Lord's inquiry, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Isaiah's response was instantaneous, “Here am I; send me.” Verse 8. How could his answer have been other than it was, after such a vision? The call did not settle all of the young prophet's problems; it did not assure him of success in every enterprise. But from that time forward Isaiah could never forget that he was God's man.
A careful study of the written and spoken language of the prophets reveals a subtle blend of awe and intimacy in their attitude toward God. Isaiah's vision of the might and glory of the Lord, such as had not been vouchsafed to others, inspired in him a reverence and veneration unknown to other men. Small wonder that the Scriptures are the most exalted literature known to man. Isaiah exclaims: “O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt Thee, I will praise Thy name; for Thou hast done wonderful things; Thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.” Isaiah 25:1. But the love of God was revealed in a marked manner, as was His willingness to be questioned and reasoned with. Therefore, the prophet feels free to ask, “Where are thy zeal and thy might? The yearning of thy heart and thy compassion are withheld from Me.” Isaiah 63:15, R.S.V. Attention given to the books of Jeremiah and Habakkuk with these thoughts in mind will also be rewarding.
How the hearts of these men of God must have swelled with holy joy as they realized that they had been selected from the millions of earth to receive the divine word and to be God's personal representatives to circulate that word. How this partnership must have caused them to search their lives to remove anything that might be unworthy. How their attitude toward their fellow men must have changed as they began to look at them through God's eyes and see for the first time what had been hidden from their view.
The prophets came to be close friends with the Most High God. What did this relationship mean to the Lord? It meant that He had fellowship with men, which approached, as nearly as possible, the intimacy of the days in the Garden of Eden. It meant, too, that He had a personal representative to instruct men. There seems to have been a special tie between the Lord and His prophets. We can sense the warmth of the declaration, “But thou, Israel, art My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham My friend.” Isaiah 41:8. “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after Mine own heart.” Acts 13:22. This expresses the Lord's delight in the psalmist. The angel told Daniel the reason for the swift response to his plea for understanding of his vision. “I am come to show thee; for thou art greatly beloved.” Daniel 9:23. Of Enoch it is said that he “walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” Genesis 5:24. Manifestly the Lord found pleasure in His association with those He chose for His special service.
Nowhere in the Bible is there an exact description of how God proceeded to give the prophet the revelation He wanted conveyed to the people. The concept we form is the result of incidents and descriptions which reveal to us the way God must have worked in the majority of cases.
A pattern for the giving of a prophecy is found in the early verses of the book of the Revelation. Here are the steps or agencies through which the revelation came to the prophet and eventually to the people. “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John: who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw…. John to the seven churches which are in Asia.” Revelation 1:1-4.
This was a revelation which was given—
Descriptions given elsewhere in the Scriptures fit well into this pattern except in one detail. The question may be asked immediately, What about the part played by the Holy Spirit? Does not Peter say that “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost”? 2 Peter 1:21. The work of the Spirit is not mentioned in the Revelation passage. Is this not something different from what has taken place in the experience of the other prophets? It would appear that the place of the Holy Spirit in the giving of prophecy is so fully presented in other portions of the Bible that there was no necessity for presenting it again in the introduction to the Revelation. But lest there be any mistake as to the source of the message he is bringing, John immediately goes on (Revelation 1:4, 5) to express a salutation from the Father (“Him which is, and which was, and which is to come”), the Holy Spirit (“the seven Spirits which are before His throne”), and the Son (“Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness”). Thus it appears that the Spirit must be closely connected with each step in the giving of the prophecy.
Of the members of the Godhead, Christ is the One entrusted with the responsibility of seeing that the planned communications reach man. Since the entrance of sin, all communication from heaven to man has been through Christ. He is the link between earth and heaven, the ladder on which the angels ascend and descend. John 1:51. Obviously the message would not need to be guarded while it was in Christ's hands, but as soon as it passed from the divine being into the hands of a created being, even though that created being was an angel, it would need special attention and protection. It seems that in
the transfer of the message from the angel to the prophet, the Holy Spirit was present to safeguard the transaction.
“He sent and signified it by His angel,” appears to indicate that there was a particular angel through whom Christ carried on this ministry. It is interesting that the only angel whose name is given in the Bible is mentioned in connection with the giving and explanation of prophecy. In fact, the only times he is called by name are in connection with the giving of prophecies. Only two of these, however, are communications to an individual who is recognized as a prophet. In Daniel 8:16 the angel was instructed, “Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision.” Later, after the prophet had prayed for enlightenment, he commented, “Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation.” Daniel 9:21. Other messages given by Gabriel are recorded in Luke 1:19, 26. It appears that Gabriel served in a special way as a messenger. It is logical to conclude that he is the one referred to as “His angel.”
The office of the Holy Spirit in the giving of prophecy, and His close relationship with Christ is made prominent in the passing on of the communication to the prophet. Numerous statements describe the action of the Holy Spirit as He prepared the prophet to receive his message. The prophets clearly recognized the working of the Spirit in their experience. They emphasize how they speak the Spirit's message rather than describe how the Spirit gave the message. A few describe the coming of the Spirit to them, as is exampled by the one who recorded Saul's experience. “And when they came thither to the hill, behold, a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.” 1 Samuel 10:10. (Italics supplied.) “And the Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded: and he went out to meet Asa.” 2 Chronicles 15:1, 2. Ezekiel speaks of this experience more frequently than do any of the other prophets. “And the Spirit
entered into me when He spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard Him that spake unto me.” Ezekiel 2:2. “Then the Spirit took me up.” Ezekiel 3:12. “So the Spirit lifted me up, and took me away.” Ezekiel 3:14. “Then the Spirit entered into me, … and spake with me.” Ezekiel 3:24. “The Spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem.” Ezekiel 8:3. “And the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and said unto me, Speak; Thus saith the Lord.” Ezekiel 11:5. “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the Spirit of the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:1. Speaking of the last days, Joel quotes the Lord as saying, “I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh.” Joel 2:28. John tells how the Revelation came to him. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.” Revelation 1:10.
Some of the physical and mental results of the coming of the Spirit upon the prophet will be studied a little later. The prophets clearly recognized the power that controlled them at the time they received a divine revelation. Their experience was real to them, fully as real as their ordinary everyday activities. There was no question regarding the source of their revelations.
What happened when the Spirit of God came upon a prophet and gave him a communication from heaven? “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.” Numbers 12:6. The experience of Daniel at the time of what must have been one of his last visions gives an insight into what happened in the reception of a vision by one prophet. In the third year of Cyrus, Daniel was beside the river Hiddekel. Daniel 10:4ff. While the prophet was there he saw in vision a glorious being who had come to speak to him. The description of the being is similar to that given of Christ in other passages. Daniel was accompanied by a group of men, but they did not see the vision, although they were aware that
something unusual was taking place, and they ran to hide themselves. Daniel then describes in detail his reaction to the appearance of the heavenly being.
“Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. Yet heard I the voice of His words: and when I heard the voice of His words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground. And, behold, an hand touched me, which set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands. And he said unto me, O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright: for unto thee am I now sent. And when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling…. And when he had spoken such words unto me, I set my face toward the ground, and I became dumb. And, behold, one like the similitude of the sons of men touched my lips: then I opened my mouth, and spake, and said unto him that stood before me, O my lord, by the vision my sorrows are turned upon me, and I have retained no strength. For how can the servant of this my lord talk with this my lord? for as for me, straightway there remained no strength in me, neither is there breath left in me. Then there came again and touched me one like the appearance of a man, and he strengthened me, and said, O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong. And when he had spoken unto me, I was strengthened, and said, Let my lord speak; for thou hast strengthened me.” Daniel 10:8-19. (Italics supplied.)
Summarized, the experience was like this:
1. A glorious being appeared to Daniel.
2. The prophet lost his strength and fell to the ground in a deep sleep.
3. Despite the sleep, he heard the voice of the angelic being.
4. In the vision, and possibly in physical action, the prophet
arose to his hands and knees and then to his feet when the being touched him.
5. At first he was dumb; but when his lips were touched, he was enabled to speak.
6. He did not breathe.
7. Strength was given to him.
To supplement the story of Daniel's vision, we may use an item from the record of Balaam found in Numbers 24. Balaam was not a true prophet of the Lord at this time, but God was using him to speak prophetically, and apparently his physical experience resembled that of Daniel. When telling the message that God had given him, he spoke of himself as the one who “saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open.” Numbers 24:4. Twice the mention of the eyes being open during the “trance,” or vision, is repeated. This may have been a part of the experience of Daniel, even though he does not mention it specifically. If so, it is obvious that even though his eyes were open, he saw only he vision.
Paul speaks of seeming to be “caught up into paradise,” and of hearing “unspeakable words.” It was impossible for him to tell whether he was “in the body” or “out of the body.” 2 Corinthians 12:2-4.
There is no evidence in the Bible that all of these phenomena always accompanied the visions of every prophet. In fact, they probably did not. Therefore, they cannot be used as a basic test of a prophet's experience. However, the presence of some of these characteristics do serve as strong evidence that his communications are of supernatural origin. It is unwise to place great emphasis on the physical manifestations in attempting to demonstrate whether or not any individual is a true prophet, for these may be more easily counterfeited than the other evidences called for in the Bible. The Lord has not made these physical evidences the test of the professed prophet, but they must be taken into consideration.
Visions and dreams. When we return to a study of Numbers 12:6 we notice the Lord's declaration regarding the ways He revealed Himself to the prophets in ordinary circumstances. “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.” No clear line of distinction is drawn between the prophetic vision and the prophetic dream. It is recognized that there are false visions and dreams, but the terms used to describe the true prophetic vision seem at times to be used interchangeably.
Although there is no discernible difference between the type of subject matter presented to a prophet in a vision and in a prophetic dream, Daniel's emphasis in chapters 7 and 8 is worthy of careful note. In Daniel 7:1 he tells how he had “a dream and visions of his head upon his bed.” Then three times more in the chapter he speaks of the night vision in these words: “I saw in my vision by night;” “I saw in the night visions;” “I saw in the night visions.” Verses 2, 7, 13. In chapter 8 Daniel speaks differently: “A vision appeared unto me” (verse 1); “And I saw in a vision; … and I saw in a vision” (verse 2); “when I … had seen the vision” (verse 15); “make this man to understand the vision” (verse 16); “at the time of the end shall be the vision” (verse 17). The prophet does not explain his reasons for making this distinction between a night vision given him in a dream, and another vision covering much of the same subject matter from a different viewpoint. However, it is apparent that to him the two visions were of equal import and value. The prophetic dream and the vision attended by physical manifestations were revelations of the divine will to the prophet, and one cannot be placed above the other as a method of communication from the Lord to the prophet.
Daniel, in his vision recorded in chapter 10, tells of being in a “deep sleep,” yet he is able to hear the words spoken to him. He was unconscious of his natural surroundings, but fully aware of what was being shown him and told him in the
vision. It was essential, of course, that in some fashion the Lord should safeguard the revelation so that it might not be confused by the interference of other thoughts in the mind of the prophet. The Holy Spirit came upon the prophet and prepared him to receive the vision by closing his mind to any impressions other than the ones to be brought supernaturally. In a sense he was insulated from the world about him so that the Spirit might have free access to his mind. The prophet's entire attention was focused on what he was being shown. The presence of other persons around him, the pressures and problems of daily living and witnessing for God, war, confusion, opposition, persecution, physical suffering—none of these could affect the prophet's view or mar the clarity of the picture. The seer must know that what he had seen was all supernaturally revealed, and not an admixture of revelation with natural impressions and dispositions. And, for the Lord's purposes, it was necessary that the message should be received undistorted.
At times the prophet was taken in vision from the place where he was to distant localities. His physical body was not transported to these spots, but the things he saw were as real and vivid as though he were present in the flesh and viewing them with the natural eye. Ezekiel describes several such instances. “And he put forth the form of an hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the Spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy. And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, according to the vision that I saw in the plain.” Ezekiel 8:3, 4. The rest of the chapter describes in graphic detail the corrupt condition of the temple and many of its priests. So far as Ezekiel was concerned, he was in Jerusalem, walking through the court of the temple, digging a hole in the wall, entering doors, or shuddering at the abominations he saw portrayed.
Through chapters 9-11 Ezekiel continues to record the events shown him in the vision. Then he comments, “Afterwards the spirit took me up, and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea, to them of the Captivity.” Ezekiel 11:24. Still in vision, Ezekiel was returned to the land of the Captivity. In concept he had traveled hundreds of miles and viewed startling events; in actuality he had not left Babylon. His remark at the conclusion of the vision indicates his recognition of this fact. “So the vision that I had seen went up from me.” Ezekiel 11:24. The book of Ezekiel sheds more light than any other book of the Bible on how visions affected the prophet.
Since the message was not the prophet's own, it was not his to say what should be done with it when he had received it. There were times—no doubt many times—when the prophet did not understand the significance of the message entrusted to him. Particularly was this true when the communication contained predictions of future events. For instance, the Old Testament records hundreds of predictions pointing to the first and second advents of Christ. We have not yet seen the fulfillment of all of these, and we cannot fully understand any particular one of them until it has been fulfilled. It is possible that the picture flashed before the eyes of the prophet enabled him to grasp more fully than we can the meaning of some of the prophecies, but in speaking of the great objective of our faith, that is, the salvation of our souls, Peter says, “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. The prophets were students of their own prophecies in order that they might grasp all that it was possible for them to
know at the time; but failure to understand a message did not excuse them from delivering it as God instructed them to do.
Again, there were occasions when the prophet was certain in his own mind that the people would reject the word that he was to bring to them. But the acceptance or the rejection of the message was not his responsibility. It was his duty to deliver the communication and leave the results with the Lord. When the Lord commissioned Ezekiel for his work, He gave as one of His reasons for sending the prophet to Israel, “For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God. And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, … yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them. And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words…. And thou shalt speak My words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear: for they are most rebellious. But thou, son of man, hear what I say unto thee; Be not thou rebellious like that rebellious house.” Ezekiel 2:4-8. The attitude of the people constituted no excuse for the prophet to withhold his message.
On occasion the prophet was instructed exactly where he should go to deliver his message. “Thus saith the Lord; Stand in the court of the Lord's house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the Lord's house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word.” Jeremiah 26:2. Note that the prophet is instructed to give the complete message. To Jonah the word was, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it.” Jonah 1:2. Isaiah was instructed, “Go forth now to meet Ahaz; … and say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted.” Isaiah 7:3, 4.
The Lord knew what He wanted done with the messages He sent. The prophets could not see the results of the delivery of these communications except as the Lord revealed them. Unaware, as they were many times, of the real significance of
the words they were to deliver, their complete confidence in the One who had called them to the prophetic office is demonstrated repeatedly. They occupied places of prominence in the nation, for thousands of persons became aware of their words. Only a clear recognition of the fact that the messages were not their own, and a boundless confidence in their Author, could have given men the courage to stand before their own kings and before foreign rulers to proclaim the word of the Lord. Many of the proclamations were not complimentary and were likely to antagonize the listener against the prophet. A message of encouragement in the days of the restoration after the Babylonian Captivity summarizes well the relation of the prophet to his message: “Then spake Haggai the Lord's messenger in the Lord's message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the Lord.” Haggai 1:13. (Italics supplied.)
Even as the Lord called different types of persons to be His prophets and sent various kinds of messages through them, so He employed many methods in delivering the prophecies to the people. What we know of the messages of the prophets has come to us through the portions recorded in the Bible. However, all messages were not presented originally in written form. Many of them must have been sermons or discussions which were later recorded. Some were written as letters to friends, or church groups, or as official communications of kings to their subjects. Some of the communications recorded by the prophets were not originally given by the prophets themselves. The Lord has had preserved in written form the portions of the messages He sent in ancient times which are of particular help to us. 1 Corinthians 10:11. There were three basic methods of delivery:
Oral delivery. Perhaps the best remembered of the forms of delivery is that of the regular sermon type of presentation. These were not always formal sermons, but they were at least oral presentations before a group of persons for the purpose of instructing, warning, or rebuking them. Among these are Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7); Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2); Paul's declaration before Agrippa (Acts 26); Moses' review of the history of Israel (Deuteronomy); Amos's denunciation of the nations (Amos 1, 2); Jonah's proclamation to Nineveh (Jonah 3:4). It is not always possible to know certainly whether or not a particular message was first delivered in this form, but this seems to be indicated in large portions of the messages of the prophets.
In addition to these more formal oral presentations, there were interviews with the prophets in which answers to specific questions and problems were desired from the Lord. We have already mentioned Hezekiah's inquiry of Isaiah and the prophet's response. Isaiah 37. At the time of Ezekiel's vision recorded in chapters 8 to 11, he mentions that “I sat in mine house, and the elders of Judah sat before me.” Ezekiel 8:1. Later he tells of another visit and its purpose in these words: “And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the Lord, and sat before me.” Ezekiel 20:1. Jesus' disciples “Came unto Him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be?” Matthew 24:3. His response makes up the wellknown series of predictions concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the events that should precede His return.
Beyond these group interviews were the important personal conversations which occurred in the lives of the prophets. Jesus opened the eyes of Nicodemus to spiritual truth (John 3); Nathan related to David the parable of his guilt and the king's pronouncement of the merited punishment (2 Samuel 12:1-7); Jeremiah repeated to Zedekiah the counsel of the Lord that he should surrender to the Babylonians (Jeremiah 38:14-19)—these
were weighty matters in which particular individuals were involved and where much depended on personal decisions. The prophets were not so busy giving messages for the multitudes that they could not bring God's counsel to one man who had a special need.
Written delivery. The clearest description in the Bible of the preparation of a manuscript containing the word of the Lord is found in Jeremiah 36. During the reign of Jehoiakim, the Lord spoke to Jeremiah, saying, “Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day.” Verse 2. “Then Jeremiah called Baruch: … and Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord, which He had spoken unto him, upon a roll of a book.” Verse 4. In verse 3 the Lord intimates that the reason for writing the record is to give the nation a full written report of its sins and the threatened punishment in order that it may lead to repentance. A book can be read again and again; the message can be repeated verbatim to people in many places. It is not so readily subject to errors that creep in when a message is transmitted orally.
Later on Daniel tells how he studied the word of the Lord that was recorded in the messages of Jeremiah, and he learned there of the promise of deliverance at the end of the seventy years' Captivity. Daniel 9:2. He also gives instruction concerning his own writings, for he says, “Shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end.” Daniel 12:4. Isaiah, too, was commanded to take a great roll and write on it some of the things God had revealed to him. Isaiah 8:1. At the direction of the Lord manuscripts were prepared, and some of them have become a part of the sacred record in our possession today.
Letters also figure largely in the Bible record, especially in the New Testament. We find that the fourteen books by Paul
were originally written as letters. “When this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea,” Paul wrote to the Christians at Colosse. Colossians 4:16. To those at Corinth he explained, “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.” 1 Corinthians 4:14.
Nor was Paul the only letter writer among the authors of the New Testament. To the Christians scattered in many places, Peter commented, “I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying.” 1 Peter 5:12. Sometime later he wrote, “This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you.” 2 Peter 3:1. “These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full,” declared John the beloved to those who should read his letter, 1 John 1:4. His second epistle begins, “The elder unto the elect lady and her children.” 2 John 1.
The Old Testament contains at least two examples of messages which were originally addressed to individuals or groups as letters from the prophets. Jeremiah's letter to the Jewish captives in Babylon contains a message fully as applicable to the church today as it was to the Hebrew exiles. See Jeremiah 29. Elijah wrote a letter to Jehoram, king of Judah, in which he rebuked the king for his sinful course, and predicted a fatal sickness to afflict the rule. 2 Chronicles 21:12-15.
Letters written by the prophets as messages from God to the persons addressed were to be accepted as of equal significance with any other kind of message given through the prophet. In one sense it is because these messages were sent as letters that they prove to be especially helpful. They were written to help persons who were meeting particular problems or battling specific temptations. They apply eternal principles to the everyday situations of life. It is no wonder that the epistles of Paul and John and Peter have become popular today with those who are seeking to live the Christian life. It was not necessary for the prophet to deliver messages in person, and some of the letters thus written have become a vital part of the sacred record.
Enacted communications. Parables occupy a prominent place in Bible teachings, both in the Old Testament and in the New. They were employed to awaken inquiry, to present truths that the people were unready or unwilling to accept, to teach lessons in a manner that would not arouse the people against the prophet, or to make especially vivid an important truth or prediction. Some of the prophets seem to have used none, while others utilized them as one of their most helpful devices.
After Saul had failed to carry out the commandment of the Lord to destroy the Amalekites, Samuel told the king that because he had rejected the word of the Lord, the Lord had rejected him. As Samuel turned to leave, Saul took hold of the prophet's mantle, and as Samuel moved away the mantle was torn. Samuel used the incident as a parable of the removal of the kingdom from Saul's family. “The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbor of thine, that is better than thou.” 1 Samuel 15:28. Jeremiah was forbidden by the Lord to marry and rear a family in order that he might be a constant reminder to the Jews of the cruel suffering that would be the lot of mothers, fathers, and children in the destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah 16:1-6.
The most notable example in the Old Testament of one who taught by enacted parables is Ezekiel. Even the prophet becomes a sign to the people. Ezekiel is pictured as happily married to one whom the Lord calls “the desire of thine eyes.” However, one evening the Lord revealed to him that his wife was to die of a sudden illness, and by the next evening she was dead. Ezekiel was not permitted to weep or mourn for her, because he was to represent the time when Jerusalem would be destroyed without mourning and weeping. “Thus Ezekiel is unto you a sign: according to all that he hath done shall ye do: and when this cometh, ye shall know that I am the Lord God.” Ezekiel 24:24.
We should also note that the entire sacrificial system of
ancient times was a parable illustrating the plan of salvation.
Enacted parables as instruction or prediction are more common in the Old Testament than in the New; but the example of Agabus, who “took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles,” shows that the technique had not been lost.
Why such variety? One of the most remarkable features of the Bible is the way its truths fit the needs of every individual in every generation. Second only to this is the perpetual and effective appeal to young and old in every station of life and every degree of education. Much of its appeal and adaptability stem from the fact that its materials were originally presented to meet the needs of men and women whose experience and problems are common to those of every other age. Therefore, they were brought forth in a fashion that will be most impressive and of greatest benefit. It must be kept continually in mind that these messages of the prophets came from one common source, and they repeatedly manifested that in their declarations, “Thus saith the Lord.” The divine inspiration was not affected by the method of communication. Thus Jeremiah's letter, Ezekiel's enacted parable, Peter's sermon, Isaiah's manuscript, Jesus' interview,—all were prompted by the Spirit of God. In all these methods “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” The Bible does not, and we cannot, emphasize the value of one variety of communication above another. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16.
Some messages not preserved. It is obvious that the Bible does not contain a complete account of all that was taught to God's people by the prophets. In the life of the Master we have
only a sketch of His numerous sermons and interviews. See John 21:25. As far as their messages are concerned, prophets may be placed in four groups:
1. Prophets who wrote some portion of the Holy Scriptures, such as Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Paul.
2. Prophets who wrote none of the Bible, but whose life and teachings are sketched in the Scriptures, such as Elijah, Elisha, and Enoch.
3. Prophets who seemingly gave only oral testimonies, no portion of which has been preserved. In this group are many unnamed prophets, such as the seventy elders who received the Holy Spirit and prophesied during the time of Moses (Numbers 11:24, 25), and the group that Saul joined after he had been anointed king over Israel (1 Samuel 10:5, 6, 10). See also 1 Samuel 19:18-24. Again, there are the godly men who were hidden in caves by Obadiah during the drought and famine. 1 Kings 18:4, 13.
4. Prophets who wrote books that have not been preserved—the book of Nathan the prophet (1 Chronicles 29:29), the book of Gad the seer (1 Chronicles 29:29), the book of Shemaiah the prophet (2 Chronicles 12:15), the book of Jasher (Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18), the book of Iddo the seer (2 Chronicles 12:15; 9:29), the prophecy of Oded the prophet (2 Chronicles 15:8), the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite (2 Chronicles 9:29), the book of Jehu the son of Hanani (2 Chronicles 20:34), Paul's epistle to the Laodiceans (Colossians 4:16).
What of the oral messages of those prophets in group 3? Does the fact that we know nothing of what these men said under inspiration mean that their words were inconsequential? Not at all. It simply indicates that their messages were of local and relatively temporary value, and not of a character that would be profitable to preserve for future generations.
What of the messages recorded in books that have not been kept? Were these records unimportant? God does not occupy His prophets with the unimportant. However, the significance
of the writings was not such that later generations of God's people would be benefited. Consequently the Lord did not see fit to preserve them. They served their purpose, and it was a purpose vital to those to whom the messages were directed.
What relation did these written messages sustain to the prophetic writings that were included in the canon of the Scriptures? Did they conflict? Certainly not, for all the prophets were moved by the same Spirit. 2 Peter 1:21. Did these writings form an addition to the canon? They did not. They served at a particular time in communicating the purpose of God to those who needed the messages. Inspired by the same Spirit who prompted the writers of the Bible books, these writings moved the people to more faithful obedience to divine truth.
1. The Bible designates the prophet as a spokesman for God.
2. Old and New Testament word study gives insight into both the reception and delivery of messages by the prophet.
3. Between God and the prophet there existed a fellowship closer than between those who had not received such intimate views of truth.
4. All the members of the Godhead, and at least one of the angelic host, were involved in revelations to the prophets.
5. At times there were certain physical manifestations connected with the receiving of visions.
6. The vision was as real to the prophet as though he had been experiencing it with his physical body.
7. The prophet's responsibility was to give his message in the way God directed, regardless of his own lack of understanding or opposition from the people.
8. Some communications were passed on to the people orally,
some were written, and others were visibly enacted.
9. The fact of inspiration was unaffected by the identity of the prophet or the method of communication.
1. Make a study of the experience of John the Baptist to see how he measured up as a mouthpiece for God. Note his own words, the comments of others concerning him, particularly the words of Jesus. To what extent was his message a new one? How far did it point out and clarify the messages of earlier prophets? The same study might be made of Jesus, Paul, and John the revelator.
2. How was it possible for a prophet to accurately express and rightly represent a message he did not understand?
3. Can you find indications that the Holy Spirit dealt with other prophets in the way He did with Ezekiel, though they did not so fully describe the events?
4. Read carefully the entire book of Ezekiel. Tabulate items that show how God dealt with Ezekiel as a prophet. What effect did his call have on his occupation, his home life, and his relation to other leaders among the Jews?
5. What do you think is the strongest evidence, other than the oft-repeated “thus saith the Lord,” that the prophets did not consider their messages as their own to be dealt with as they pleased?
6. What do you consider the most effective means of making the original presentation of a prophetic message? Is the effect the most enduring? If the method you consider originally most effective, and the one you think the most enduring are different, can you cite examples where both methods have been used with the same messages?
Daniells, A. G., The Abiding Gift of Prophecy, pp. 22-35.
Gaussen, L., Theopneustia, the Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.
Haynes, Carlyle B., The Book of All Nations, pp. 213-230.
———, The Gift of Prophecy, pp. 93-100.
Warfield, Benjamin B., “Inspiration,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, PP. 1473-1483.
Young, Edward J., My Servants the Prophets, pp. 13-37, 56-75. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1952.