Prophecy; Prophets, 2

Continued from PROPHECY; PROPHETS, 1.

II. Historical Development of the Prophetic Office.

1. Abraham:

It is a characteristic peculiarity of the religion of the Old Testament that its very elementary beginnings are of a prophetical nature. The fathers, above all Abraham, but also Isaac and Jacob, are the recipients of visions and of divine revelations. Especially is this true of Abraham, who appeared to the foreigners, to whom he was neither kith or kin, to be indeed a prophet (nabhi') (Ge 20:7; compare Ps 105:15), although in his case the command to preach the word was yet absent.

2. Moses:

Above all, the creative founder of the Israelite national religion, Moses, is a prophet in the eminent sense of the word. His influence among the people is owing neither to his official position, nor to any military prowess, but solely and alone to the one circumstance, that since his call at the burning bush God has spoken to him. This intercourse between God and Moses was ever of a particularly intimate character. While other men of God received certain individual messages only from time to time and through the mediation of dreams and visions, Yahweh spoke directly and "face to face" with Moses (Nu 12:6 ff; De 34:10; compare Ex 33:11). Moses was the permanent organ through whom Yahweh brought about the Egyptian plagues and through whom He explained what these meant to His people, as also through whom He led and ruled them. The voice of Moses too had to explain to them the divine signs in the desert and communicate to them the commandments of God. The legislation of Moses shows that he was not only filled with the Spirit of God occasionally, but that he abode with God for longer periods of time and produced something that is a well-ordered whole. A production such as the Law is the result of a continuous association with God.

3. Period of the Judges:

Since that time revelation through prophecy was probably never entirely wanting in Israel (De 18:15). But this fountain did not always flow with the same fullness or clearness. During the period of the Judges the Spirit of God urged the heroes who served Yahweh rather to deeds than to words. Yet Deborah enjoyed a high rank as a prophetess, and for a long time pronounced decisions of justice in the name of the Lord before she, through her prophetical utterances, aroused the people to rise up against their oppressors. What is said in 1Sa 3:1 concerning the times of Eli can be applied to this whole period, namely that the word and vision of the prophet had become rare in the land. All the more epoch-making was the activity of Samuel, who while yet a boy received divine revelations (1Sa 3:1 ff). He was by the whole people regarded as a "seer" whose prophecies were always fulfilled (1Sa 3:19 f). The passage 1Sa 9:6 ff shows that the people expected of such a man of God that he should also as a clairvoyant come to the assistance of the people in the troubles of life. Such a professional clairvoyant, indeed, Samuel was not, as he was devoted entirely to the service of his God and of his people and obeyed the Divine Spirit, even in those cases when he was compelled to act contrary to his personal inclinations, as was the case when the kingdom was established in Israel (1Sa 8:6 ff).

4. Schools of Prophets:

Since the days of Samuel we hear of schools of prophets, or "sons of prophets." These associations probably originated in this way, that an experienced prophet attracted to himself bands of youths, who sought to receive a measure of his spirit. These disciples of the prophets, together with their families, lived in colonies around the master. Possibly Samuel was the first who founded such a school of prophets. For in or near the city of Ramah we first find nayoth, or colonies of such disciples (1Sa 19:18 f; 1Sa 20:1). Among these pupils is found to a much greater extent than among the teachers a certain ecstatic feature. They arouse their feelings through music and induce a frantic condition which also affects others in the same way, in which state they "prophesy" and, throwing off their garments, fall to the ground. In later times too we find traces of such ecstatic phenomena. Thus e.g. in Zec 13:6; 1Ki 20:37-38, the "wounds" on the breast or on the forehead recall the self-mutilation of the priests of Baal (1Ki 18:28). The deeds, suggestive of what the dervishes of our own day do, probably were phenomena quite similar to the action of the prophets of the surrounding tribes. But that prophecy in Israel was not, as is now not infrequently claimed, merely a less crude form of the heathen prophetic institution, is proved by such men as Moses and Samuel, who even in their times represent something much higher. Also in the colonies of prophets there was assuredly not to be found merely an enthusiasm without the Spirit of God. Proof for this is Samuel, the spiritual father of this colony, as Elijah was for the later colonies of this kind. These places were rather the centers of a religious life, where communion with God was sought by prayer and meditation, and where the recollection of the great deeds of God in the past seemed to prepare for the reception of new revelations. From such centers of theocratic ideas and ideals without a doubt there came forth also corresponding influences that affected the people. Perhaps not only was sacred music cultivated at these places but also sacred traditions, which were handed down orally and in writing. Certain it is that at these colonies the religion of Yahweh prevailed.

5. Period of the Kings:

During the period of the kings prophetically inspired men frequently appeared, who demanded even of the kings that they should submit to their divinely-inspired word. Saul, who refused such submission, perished as the result of this conflict. David owed much to the support of the prophets Samuel, Nathan, Gad (1Sa 16:1 ff; 2Sa 7:1-29; 2Ch 29:25, and elsewhere). But David also bowed in submission when these prophets rebuked him because of his transgression of the divine commands (2Sa 12:1-31; 24:1-25). His son Solomon was educated by the prophet Nathan. But the destruction of his kingdom was predicted by the prophet Abijah, the Shilonite (1Ki 11:29 ff). Since Yahweh, as the supreme Sovereign, has the right to enthrone or to dethrone kings, this is often done through the mouths of the prophets (compare 1Ki 14:7 ff; 1Ki 16:1 ff). After the division of the kingdom we find Shemaiah forbidding Rehoboam to begin a war with his brethren of Israel (1Ki 12:21; compare 2Ch 11:2 ff; compare another mission of the same prophet, 2Ch 12:5 ff). On the other hand in the Northern Kingdom the prophetic word is soon turned against the untheocratic rule of Jeroboam (1Ki 13:1-34; 14:1-31). It is in this very same Northern Kingdom that the prophets unfolded their full activity and generally in opposition to the secular rulers, although there was no lack of accommodating "prophets," who were willing to sanction everything that the king wanted. The opposition of the true prophets to these false representatives of prophecy is illustrated in the story of Micaiah, the son of Imlah (1Ki 22:1-53). But a still higher type of prophecy above the ordinary is found in Elijah, whose historic mission it was to fight to the finish the battle between the followers of Yahweh and the worship of the Tyrian Baal. He was entirely a man of action; every one of his words is a deed on a grand scale (compare concerning Elijah and Elisha the article ISRAEL,RELIGION OF ). His successor Elisha inherited from him not only his mantle, but also a double measure of his spiritual gifts. He exhibits the prophetic office more from its loving side. He is accustomed to visit the schools of prophets found scattered throughout the land, calls the faithful together around himself on the Sabbaths and the new moons (2Ki 4:23), and in this way establishes centers of a more spiritual culture than was common elsewhere among the people. We read that first-fruits were brought to him as to the priests (2Ki 4:42). But while the activity of Elijah was entirely in antagonism to the ruling house in the kingdom, this feature is not entirely lacking in the work of Elisha also. He has even been charged with wicked conspiracies against the dynasty of Omri and the king of Syria (2Ki 8:1-29; 9:1-37). His conduct in connection with these events can be excused only on the ground that he was really acting in the name of a higher Master. But in general it was possible for Elisha, after the radical change in public sentiment that had followed upon the work of Elijah, in later time to assume a more friendly attitude toward the government and the people. He often assisted the kings in their arduous contests with the Syrians (compare 2Ki 6:8 ff; 2Ki 13:14 ff). His deeds are generally of a benevolent character. In connection with these he exhibits to a remarkable degree the gift of prophetic foresight (2Ki 4:16; 5:26; 6:8 ff; 2Ki 7:1 ff; 2Ki 8:10,12; 9:6 ff; 2Ki 13:19). Jonah, too, the son of Amittai, had at that time a favorable message for the Northern Kingdom (2Ki 14:25).

6. Literary Prophets, Amos, Hosea:

However, the flourishing condition of the kingdom under Jeroboam II had an unfavorable influence on its spiritual development. Soon Amos and Hosea were compelled to announce to this kingdom its impending destruction through a great world-power. These two prophets have left us books. To put prophetic utterances into written form had already been introduced before this. At any rate, many scholars are of the conviction that the prophecies of Obadiah and Joel belong to an earlier period, although others place them in the post-exilic period. In any case, the expectation of a day of settlement by Yahweh with His people was already in the days of Amos common and current (5:18 ff). As the writing of individual prophecies (Isa 8:1 f; Isa 30:8; Hab 2:2 f) had for its purpose the preserving of these words in permanent authentic form and later to convince the reader of their wonderful fulfillment, thus too the writing down of larger collections of prophecies had for its purpose to intensify the power of the prophetic word and to secure this as a permanent possession of the people (Jer 30:2; 36:1 ff). Pupils of the prophets assisted them in this writing and in preserving their books (compare Jer 36:4; Isa 8:16).

7. Poetical Form of Prophecy:

It is to this custom that we owe our knowledge of the very words of the utterances of many of the prophets of a later period. In addition to the larger books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, we have a number of smaller prophetical books, which have been united into the Book of the Twelve Prophets. These utterances as a rule exhibited an elevated form of language and are more or less poetical. However, in modern times some scholars are inclined to go too far in claiming that these addresses are given in a carefully systematized metrical form. Hebrew meter as such is a freer form of expression than is Arabic or Sanskrit meter, and this is all the more the case with the discourses of the prophets, which were not intended for musical rendering, and which are expressed in a rhythmically-constructed rhetoric, which appears now in one and then in another form of melody, and often changes into prose.

8. Prophets in Judah Isaiah, and Others Down to Jeremiah:

In the kingdom of Judah the status of the prophets was somewhat more favorable than it was in Ephraim. They were indeed forced in Jerusalem also to contend against the injustice on the part of the ruling classes and against immorality of all kinds. But in this kingdom there were at any rate from time to time found kings who walked more in the footsteps of David. Thus Asa followed the directions of the prophet Azariah (2Ch 15:1 ff). It is true that the prophet Hanani censured this king, but it was done for a different reason. Jehoshaphat also regularly consulted the prophets. Among those who had dealings with him Elisha is also mentioned (2Ki 3:14), as also some other prophets (compare 2Ch 19:2; 20:14-37). The greatest among the prophets during the period of the Assyrian invasions was Isaiah, who performed the duties of his office for more than 40 years, and under the kings Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and possibly too under Manasseh, through his word exercised a powerful influence upon the king and the nation. Although a preacher of judgments, he at critical times appeared also as a prophet of consolation. Nor did he despise external evidences of his prophetic office (compare Isa 7:11; 38:22,8). His contemporary Micah is in full agreement with him, although he was not called to deal with the great of the land, with kings, or statesmen, as was the mission of Isaiah. Nahum, Zephaniah and Habakkuk belong rather to the period of transition from the Assyrian to the Chaldean periods. In the days of Josiah the prophetess Huldah had great influence in Jerusalem (2Ki 22:14). Much more important under this same king was the prophet Jeremiah, who was called by God for a great mission. This prophet during the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and after that time spoke as an unyielding yet deeply feeling exponent of God, and was compelled again and again to dash to the ground the false hopes of the patriots, whenever these arose. Not so firm was his contemporary and fellow-sufferer Uriah (Jer 26:20).

9. During the Exile, Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah, Daniel:

In the time of the exile itself we find the period of the activity of Ezekiel. It was significant that this prophet became the recipient of divine revelations while on Babylonian territory. His work was, in accordance with the condition of affairs, more that of a pastor and literary man. He seems also to have been a bodily sufferer. His abnormal conditions became symbolical signs of that which he had to proclaim. Deutero-Isaiah, too (Isa 40:1-31 ff), spoke during the Babylonian period, namely at its close, and prepared for the return. The peculiar prophecies of Daniel are also accorded to a prophet living during the exile, who occupied a distinguished position at the court of the heathen rulers, and whose apocalyptic utterances are of a kind different from the discourses of the other prophets, as they deal more with the political condition of the world and the drama of history, in so far as this tends toward the establishment of the supremacy of Yahweh. These prophecies were collected in later times and did not receive their final and present form until the Greek period at the beginning of the 2nd century BC.

10. After the Exile, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi:

After the return from Babylon the Jews were exhorted by Haggai and Zechariah to rebuild their temple (about 520 BC). At that time there were still to be found prophets who took a hostile attitude to the men of God. Thus Nehemiah (Ne 6:6-14) was opposed by hostile prophets as also by a prophetess, Noadiah. In contrast with these, Malachi is at all times in accord with the canonical prophets, as he was an ardent advocate for the temple cult of Yahweh, not in the sense of a spiritless and senseless external worship, but as against the current indifference to Yahweh. His style and his language, too, evidence a late age. The lyrical form has given way to the didactic. This is also probably the time when the present Book of Jonah was written, a didactic work treating of an older tradition.

11. Cessation of Prophecy:

Malachi is regarded by the Jews as the last really canonical prophet. While doubtless there was not a total lack of prophetically endowed seers and speakers of God also in the closing centuries of the pre-Christian era, nevertheless the general conviction prevailed that the Spirit of God was no longer present, e.g. in the times of the Maccabees (compare 1 Macc 4:46; 9:27; 14:41). It is true that certain modern critics ascribe some large sections of the Book of Isa, as well as of other prophets, even to a period as late as the Greek. But this is refuted by the fact mentioned in Ecclesiasticus (beginning of the 2nd century BC) that in the writer's time the prophetical Canon appeared already as a closed collection. Daniel is not found in this collection, but the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets is. It was during this period that apocalyptic literature began to flourish, many specimens of which are foundamong the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha. These books consist of eschatological speculations, not the product of original inspiration, but emanating from the study of the prophetic word. The very name Pseudepigrapha shows that the author issued his work, not under his own name, but under the pseudonym of some man of God from older times, such as Enoch, Ezra, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, and others. This fact alone proves the secondary character of this class of literature.


12. Prophecy in the New Testament:

Malachi finds a successor in John the Baptist, whose coming the former had predicted. John is the greatest of the prophets, because he could directly point to Him who completed the old covenant and fulfilled its promises. All that we know in addition concerning the times of Jesus shows that the prophetical gift was yet thought of as possibly dwelling in many, but that prophecy was no longer the chief spiritual guide of the people (compare e.g. Josephus, Ant, XIII, xi, 2; XV, x, 5, among the Essenes, or in the case of Hyrcanus, op. cit., XIII, x, 7). Josephus himself claims to have had prophetic gifts at times (compare BJ ,III , viii, 9). He is thinking in this connection chiefly of the prediction of some details. Such "prophets" and "prophetesses" are reported also in the New Testament. In Jesus Christ Himself the prophetic office reached its highest stage of development, as He stood in a more intimate relation than any other being to His Heavenly Father and spoke His word entirely and at all times. In the Christian congregation the office of prophecy is again found, differing from the proclamation of the gospel by the apostles, evangelists, and teachers. In the New Testament the terms prophetes, propheteia, propheteuo, signify speaking under the extraordinary influence of the Holy Ghost. Thus in Ac 11:27 f (prophecy of a famine by Agabus); Ac 21:10 f (prediction of the sufferings of Paul); Ac 13:1 f (exhortation to mission work); Ac 21:9 ff (prophetical gift of the daughters of Philip). Paul himself also had this gift (Ac 16:6 ff; Ac 18:9; 22:17 ff; Ac 27:23 f). In the public services of the church, prophecy occupied a prominent position (see especially 1Co 14:1-40). A prophetical book in a special sense is the Apocalypse of John. The gift of prophecy was claimed by many also in later times. But this gift ceased more and more, as the Christian church more and more developed on the historical basis of revelation as completed in Christ. Especially in spiritually aroused eras in the history of the church, prophecy again puts in its appearance. It has never ceased altogether, but on account of its frequent misuse the gift has become discredited. Jesus Himself warned against false prophets, and during the apostolic times it was often found necessary to urge the importance of trying spirits (1Jo 4:1; 1Co 12:10; 14:29).

Continued in PROPHECY; PROPHETS, 3.

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