International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
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
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
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 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; Ezekiel 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; Isaiah 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 f). 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) 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; 1 Samuel 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;; Isaiah 6 Jeremiah 1 Ezekiel 1). This moment was decisive for their whole lives and constituted their authorization as far as they themselves and others were concerned. Yet for each prophetic appearance these men receive a special enlightenment. The prophet does not at all times speak in an inspired state; compare Nathan (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 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; Jeremiah 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 f). 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.
II. Historical Development of the Prophetic Office.
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') (Genesis 20:7; compare Psalm 105:15), although in his case the command to preach the word was yet absent.
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 (Numbers 12:6 Deuteronomy 34:10; compare Exodus 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 (Deuteronomy 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 1 Samuel 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 (1 Samuel 3:1). He was by the whole people regarded as a "seer" whose prophecies were always fulfilled (3:19). The passage 1 Samuel 9:6; 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 (8:6;).
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 (1 Samuel 19:18; 1 Samuel 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 Zechariah 13:6 1 Kings 20:37, 38, the "wounds" on the breast or on the forehead recall the self-mutilation of the priests of Baal (1 Kings 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 (1 Samuel 16:1 2 Samuel 7 2 Chronicles 29:25, and elsewhere). But David also bowed in submission when these prophets rebuked him because of his transgression of the divine commands (2 Samuel 12; 2 Samuel 24). His son Solomon was educated by the prophet Nathan. But the destruction of his kingdom was predicted by the prophet Abijah, the Shilonite (1 Kings 11:29). 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 1 Kings 14:7;; 16:1;). After the division of the kingdom we find Shemaiah forbidding Rehoboam to begin a war with his brethren of Israel (1 Kings 12:21; compare 2 Chronicles 11:2; compare another mission of the same prophet, 2 Chronicles 12:5). On the other hand in the Northern Kingdom the prophetic word is soon turned against the untheocratic rule of Jeroboam (1 Kings 13; 1 Kings 14). 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 (1 Kings 22). 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 (2 Kings 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 (2 Kings 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 (2 Kings 8; 2 Kings 9). 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 2 Kings 6:8;; 13:14;). His deeds are generally of a benevolent character. In connection with these he exhibits to a remarkable degree the gift of prophetic foresight (2 Kings 4:16; 2 Kings 5:26; 2 Kings 6:8; 7:1 ; 8:10, 12; 9:6 ; 13:19). Jonah, too, the son of Amittai, had at that time a favorable message for the Northern Kingdom (2 Kings 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;). As the writing of individual prophecies (Isaiah 8:1; Isaiah 30:8 Habakkuk 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 (Jeremiah 30:2; Jeremiah 36:1). Pupils of the prophets assisted them in this writing and in preserving their books (compare Jeremiah 36:4 Isaiah 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.
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SCHOOLS OF THE PROPHETS
See EDUCATION; PROPHETS.
See PROPHESYINGS, FALSE.