Over the spring and early part of the summer we talked about prophets in the Old and New Testaments. This series was in response to Harold Camping’s failed pronouncements about the end of the world. This will be the first of a series of posts to bring our site up to date with our discussions. They will not necessarily be in the order they were discussed in or presented in the same way. (Discussions are not always easily presented in summary form. Please bear with us.)
(1 Sam 2:26 and 3: 19-21) From early on Samuel gets a reputation for faithfully passing on God’s word. This often means that they must tell powerful people things that they do not want to hear. For instance, the first thing Samuel the “man of God” does is prophesy against the priesthood. Note also that in the process God also allows the symbol of His very presence to fall into enemy hands in 4:11. By the time Jeremiah and Jesus speak against the Temple they are following a centuries-old prophetic tradition.
1 Sam 9:10-22 What is the first thing the prophet says about the king they are about to get? It is a denunciation of the whole kingly system that the people want so much at that point. (There continues to be a certain relevance in this description of how government works even in modern democracies.) Samuel’s speech was certainly not designed to be a crowd-pleaser.
A Prophet’s Work Is Never Done…
The job description of a prophet is not directly given in the Bible. The stories about prophets reveal a very wide range of activity. For instance, when Samuel anoints Saul as king, he tells Saul that he will meet a group of prophets on the way. When Saul meets them, they are carrying musical instruments. In both instances in which Saul encounters groups of prophets he gets caught up in the mood and “prophesies” with them. This suggests that at least one form of prophecy involves music and singing. Some of the Psalm writers are also described as prophets in the books of Chronicles.
Other prophets seem to function as royal advisors Israelite kings, such as Nathan, who prophesied that God would build David a dynasty, or Daniel, who functioned as one of the “wise men” (administrators) of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar and succeeding emperors. Other prophets advise kings from less respected and powerful positions. Elijah and Elisha worked in wilderness areas of Israel that were far removed from the hall of the palace. In their day some prophets literally had to hide in caves because of government-sponsored persecution. Ezekiel functioned as a prophet among fellow Israelite slaves in rural Babylonian captivity at the time Daniel was working in Babylon’s royal court.
Their job could consist of anything from delivering God’s decrees verbally or via letter, to interpreting dreams and visions, to strange public performances of miracles or of symbolic actions or gestures. Some of those symbolic gestures included walking naked down the main street in Jerusalem to show what captivity would be like, marrying a prostitute to display how God looked upon Judah’s fascination with other gods or lying on one side in public for a set number of days to indicate the duration of a siege that was coming upon a city.
Life can sometimes get pretty interesting for a prophet. Take Elijah for instance. Stopping the nation’s rain for three years. Feeding people miraculously. Healing people. Raising the dead. Telling off kings. Calling fire down from heaven. Running for his life from an angry queen. Talking to God directly on Mount Sinai. Making and breaking neighbouring monarchies with a few private words. Finally, my personal favourite: riding into retirement in a whirlwind. Being a prophet is not always a boring job.
Nor is it without its risks.
If you really want to be a prophet of God, you just might want to figure out what you’re getting into first. A little later in this series we will investigate the New Testament says about the whole prophetic ministry, but we have more Old Testament background to cover first in our next instalment.