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Prophecy; Prophets, 1

PROPHECY; PROPHETS, 1

prof'-e-si, prof'-e-si, prof'-ets:

I. THE IDEA OF BIBLICAL PROPHECY

1. The Seer and Speaker of God

2. Prophetical Inspiration

3. Relation to Dreams

4. Freedom of Inspiration

5. Supernatural Visions of the Future

6. The Fulfillment

II. HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE PROPHETIC OFFICE

1. Abraham

2. Moses

3. Period of the Judges

4. Schools of Prophets

5. Period of the Kings

6. Literary Prophets, Amos, Hosea

7. Poetical Form of Prophecy

8. Prophets of Judah, Isaiah, and Others Down to Jeremiah

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

10. After the Exile, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

11. Cessation of Prophecy

12. Prophecy in the New Testament

III. HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF PROPHECY

1. Contents of Prophecy

2. Conception of the Messiah

3. Before the Exile (through Judgment to Deliverance)

4. Analogous Ideas among Heathen Peoples

5. During the Exile (Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah)

6. After the Exile (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)

7. Contemporaneous Character of Prophecy

8. Partial Character of Prophecy

9. Perspective Character of Prophecy

IV. ANALOGOUS PHENOMENA AMONG THE GENTILES

1. Necromancy and Technical Witchcraft

2. The Mantle Art

3. Contents of Extra-Biblical Oracles

LITERATURE

I. The Idea of Biblical Prophecy.

1. The Seer and Speaker of God:

According to the uniform teaching of the Bible the prophet is a speaker of or for God. His words are not the production of his own spirit, but come from a higher source. For he is at the same time, also, a seer, who sees things that do not lie in the domain of natural sight, or who hears things which human ears do not ordinarily receive; compare 1 Samuel 9:9, where nabhi', "speaker," and ro'eh, "seer," are used as synonymous terms. Jeremiah 23:16 and Ezekiel 13:2 f are particularly instructive in this regard. In these passages a sharp distinction is made between those persons who only claim to be prophets but who prophesy "out of their own heart," and the true prophets who declare the word which the Lord has spoken to them. In the latter case the contents of the prophecy have not originated in their own reflection or calculation; and just as little is this prophecy the product of their own feelings, fears or hopes, but, as something extraneous to man and independent of him, it has with a divine certainty entered the soul of the prophet. The prophet has seen that which he prophesies, although he need not have seen it in the form of a real vision. He can also "see" words with his inner eyes (Isaiah 2:1, and often). It is only another expression for this when it is frequently said that God has spoken to the prophet. In this case too it is not necessary that there must have been a voice which he could hear phonetically through his natural ear. The main thing is that he must have been able sharply to distinguish the contents of this voice from his own heart, i.e. from his personal consciousness. Only in this way is he capable of speaking to the people in the name of God and able to publish his word as that of Yahweh. In this case he is the speaker of Yahweh (nabhi'), or the mouth of the Lord (compare Ezekiel 7:1 with 4:16). Under these conditions he then regards it as absolute compulsion to speak, just as a person must be filled with fear when he hears a lion roar nearby (Amos 3:8). The words burn in his soul until he utters them (Jeremiah 20:7,9).

2. Prophetical Inspiration:

The divine power, which comes over a human being and compels him to see or to hear things which otherwise would be hidden from him, is called by various terms expressive of inspiration. It is said that the Spirit of God has come over someone (Numbers 24:2); or has fallen upon him (Ezekiel 11:5); or that the hand of Yahweh has come over him and laid hold of him (2 Kings 3:15; Ezekiel 1:3; 3:14,22, and often); or that the Holy Spirit has been put on him as a garment, i.e. has been incorporated in him (1 Chronicles 12:18; 2 Chronicles 24:20); or that the Spirit of revelation has permanently descended upon him (Numbers 11:25; 2 Kings 2:15; Isaiah 11:2; 61:1); or that God has given this Spirit of His (Numbers 11:29; Isaiah 42:1); or pours Him out upon man (Joel 2:28; Hebrews 3:1). But this inspiration is not such that it suppresses the human consciousness of the recipient, so that he would receive the word of God in the state of sleep or trance. But rather the recipient is in possession of his full consciousness, and is able afterward to give a clear account of what happened. Nor is the individuality of the prophet eliminated by this divine inspiration; unconsciously this individuality cooperates in the formal shaping of that which has been seen and heard. In accordance with the natural peculiarity of the prophet and with the contents of the message, the psychological condition of the recipient may be that of intense excitement or of calmness. As a rule the inspiration that takes possession of the prophets is evidenced also by an exalted and poetical language, which assumes a certain rhythmical character, but is not bound to a narrow and mechanical meter. It is, however, also possible that prophetical utterances find their expression in plain prose. The individual peculiarity of the prophet is a prime factor also in the form in which the revelation comes to him. In the one prophet we find a preponderance of visions; another prophet has no visions. But the visions of the future which he sees are given in the forms and the color which have been furnished by his own consciousness. All the more the form in which the prophet gives expression to his word of God is determined by his personal talents and gifts as also by his experiences.

3. Relation to Dreams:

In a certain respect the dream can be cited as an analogous phenomenon, in which also the ideas that are slumbering in the soul uninvited put in their appearance without being controlled by consciousness and reason. On the other hand, prophecy differs pecifically from dreams, first, because the genuine prophetical utterance is received when the prophet is clearly conscious, and, secondly, because such an utterance brings with it a much greater degree of certainty and a greater guaranty of its higher origin than is done even by a dream that seems to be prophetical. In Jeremiah 23:25 it is declared that these two are entirely dissimilar, and the relation between the two is compared to straw and wheat. The Moslem Arabs also put a much lower estimate on the visionary dream than on the prophetic vision in a waking condition.

4. Freedom of Inspiration:

Because this Spirit of God acts with full freedom, He can select His organs at will from among every station, age, or sex. The Spirit is not confined to any priestly class or organization. It indeed was the case at times that a prophet gathered disciples around himself, who could themselves in turn also be seized by his spirit, although the transmission of this spirit was a difficult matter (2 Kings 2:10). Yet genuine prophecies continued to be at all times a free gift of the sovereign God. Amos (7:14 f) appeals expressly to this fact, that he did not himself choose the prophet's calling nor was the pupil of a prophetic school, but that he had been directly called by Yahweh from his daily occupation as a shepherd and workman. In the same way we indeed find prophets who belonged to the priestly order (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others), but equally great is the number of those who certainly did not so belong. Further, age made no difference in the call to the prophetic office. Even in his earliest youth Samuel was called to be a prophet (1 Samuel 3:1), and it did not avail Jeremiah anything when he excused himself because of his youth (Jeremiah 1:6). Then, too, a woman could be seized by this Spirit. From time to time prophetesses appeared, although the female sex is by no means so prominent here as it is in the sorcery of the heathen. See PROPHETESS. As an exceptional case the Spirit of God could lay hold even of a person who inwardly was entirely estranged from Him and could make an utterance through him (compare Saul, 1 Samuel 10:11; 19:24; Balaam, Numbers 23; Caiaphas, John 11:51). As a rule, however, God has selected such prophetic organs for a longer service. These persons are called and dedicated for this purpose by Him through a special act (compare Moses Exodus 3:1; 1 Kings 19:16,19; Jeremiah 148/A>; 2 Samuel 7:3), who afterward was compelled to take back a word which he had spoken on his own authority. Characteristic data on the mental state of the prophets in the reception and in the declaration of the divine word are found in Jeremiah 15:16; 20:7. Originally Jeremiah felt it as a joy that Yahweh spoke to him (compare Ezekiel 3:3), but then he lost all pleasure in life and would have preferred not to have uttered this word, but he could not do as he desired.

5. Supernatural Visions of the Future:

The attempt has often been made to explain prophecy as a natural product of purely human factors. Rationalistic theologians regarded the prophets as enthusiastic teachers of religion and morals, as warm patriots and politicians, to whom they ascribed nothing but a certain ability of guessing the future. But this was no explanation of the facts in the case. The prophets were themselves conscious of this, that they were not the intellectual authors of their higher knowledge. This consciousness is justified by the fact that they were in a condition to make known things which lay beyond their natural horizon and which were contrary to all probability. Those cases are particularly instructive in this respect which beyond a doubt were recorded by the prophets themselves. Ezekiel could indeed, on the basis of moral and religious reflections, reach the conviction that Zedekiah of Jerusalem would not escape his punishment for his political treachery and for his disobedience to the word of Yahweh; but he could never from this source have reached the certainty that this king, as the prophet describes the case in 12:8, was to be taken captive while trying to escape from the besieged city and was then to be blinded and taken to Babylon. Just as little could he in Babylon know the exact day when the siege of Jerusalem began (24:2). If this prophet had learned of these things in a natural way and had afterward clothed them in the form of prophecy, he would have been guilty of a deception, something unthinkable in the case of so conscientious a preacher of morality. But such cases are frequently met with. Jeremiah predicts to Hananiah that he would die during the year (28:16), but it is not only such matters of detail that presuppose an extraordinary vision of the prophet. The whole way also in which Jeremiah predicts the destruction of Jerusalem as inevitable, in direct contrast to the hopes of the Jerusalemites and to the desires of his own heart, shows that he was speaking under divine compulsion, which was more powerful than his own reflections and sympathies. On any other presupposition his conduct would have been reprehensible cowardice. The case of Isaiah is exactly the same. When he gives to Ahaz the word of God as a guaranty that the Syrians and the Ephraimites would not capture Jerusalem (7:4), and when he promises Hezekiah that the Assyrians would not shoot an arrow into the city, but would return without having accomplished their purpose (37:22,33), these things were so much in contradiction to all the probabilities of the course events would take that he would have been a frivolous adventurer had he not received his information from higher sources. Doubtless it was just these predictions which established and upheld the influence of the prophets. Thus in the case of Amos it was his prediction of a great earthquake, which did occur two years later (1:1); in the case of Elijah, the prediction of the long dearth (1 Kings 17:1); in the case of Elisha the undertakings of the enemies (2 Kings 6:12), and in other cases. It is indeed true that the contents of the prophetic discourses are not at all confined to the future. Everything that God has to announce to mankind, revelations concerning His will, admonitions, warnings, He is able to announce through the mouth of the prophet. But His determinations with reference to the future as a rule are connected with prophetical utterances of the latter kind. The prophets are watchmen, guardians of the people, who are to warn the nation, because they see the dangers and the judgments approaching, which must put in their appearance if the divine will is disregarded. The prophets interpret also for the people that which is happening and that which has occurred, e.g. the defeats which they have suffered at the hands of their enemies, or the grasshopper plague (Joel), or a famine. They lay bare the inner reason for external occurrences and explain such events in their connection with the providential government of God. This gives to prophecy a powerful inner unity, notwithstanding the great differences of times and surrounding circumstances. It is prophecy which the Hebrew people must thank for their higher conception of history. This people know of a Highest Author of all things and of a positive end, which all things that transpire must serve. God's plan has for its purpose to bring about the complete supremacy of His will among the children of men.

6. The Fulfillment:

In genuine prophecy, according to Biblical conceptions, the fulfillment constitutes an integral part. This is set up by Deuteronomy 18:21 f as a proof of the genuineness of a prophetic utterance. The prophetic word "falls to the ground" (1 Samuel 3:19) if it is not "raised up" (heqim, "fulfil," for which we more rarely find mille', but regularly in the New Testament plerousthai "being fulfilled") by the course of events. It would remain an empty word if it did not attain to its full content through its realization. In fact, in the word spoken by the prophet itself there dwells a divine power, so that at the moment when he speaks the event takes place, even if it is not yet visible to man. This realization is also not infrequently represented symbolically by the prophet in confirmation of his prediction. Thus in a certain sense it is the prophet himself who through his word builds up and pulls down, plants and roots out (Jeremiah 1:10; 25:15). But the fulfillment can be judged by the contemporaries in the sense of Deuteronomy 18:22 only when this fulfillment refers to the near future and when special emphasis is laid on external events. In these cases the prediction of certain events assumes the significance of a "sign" (compare Jeremiah 28:16; Isaiah 8:1; 37:30, and elsewhere). In other cases it is only later generations who can judge of the correctness of a prediction or of a threat. In this way in Zechariah 1:6 the fulfillment of a threat is declared, and in the New Testament often the fulfillment of a promise is after a long time pointed out. But it is not the case that a genuine prophecy must be fulfilled like an edict of fate. Such prophecy is not an inevitable decree of fate, but is a word of the living God to mankind, and therefore conditioned ethically, and God can, if repentance has followed, withdraw a threat (Jeremiah 18:2; case of Jonah), or the punishment can be mitigated (1 Kings 21:29). A prediction, too, Yahweh can recall if the people prove unworthy (Jeremiah 18:9) . A favorable or an unfavorable prediction can also be postponed, as far as its realization is concerned, to later times, if it belongs to the ultimate counsels of God, as e.g. the final judgment and deliverance on the last day. This counsel also may be realized successively. In this case the prophet already collects into one picture what is realized gradually in a longer historical development. The prophet in general spoke to his hearers in such a way as could be understood by them and could be impressed on them. It is therefore not correct to demand a fulfillment pedantically exact in the form of the historical garb of the prophecy. The main thing is that the divine thought contained in the prophecy be entirely and completely realized. But not infrequently the finger of God can be seen in the entirely literal fulfillment of certain prophecies. This is especially the case in the New Testament in the appearance of the Son of Man, in whom all the rays of Old Testament prophecy have found their common center.


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'PROPHECY; PROPHETS, 1'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.