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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Are the Right Books in the Old Testament?

Don Stewart :: Who Were the People Who Spoke for God During the Old Testament Period? (The Old Testament Prophets)

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Question 1

Who Were the People Who Spoke for God During the Old Testament Period? (The Old Testament Prophets)

The Bible says that during the Old Testament period, God’s revelation to humanity came through a group of people known as the prophets. Scripture tells us a number of things about the Old Testament prophets. They include the following:

  1. The Prophet Speaks for Another Person

    The English word, “prophet,” comes from two Greek words, pro which means “before, in front of, or in place of,” and fayme, which means “to speak.” A prophet, therefore, is someone who speaks in place of someone else. For example, Aaron spoke on behalf of his brother Moses.

    The Bible says:

    So the Lord replied to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.” (Exodus 7:1 NET)

    The Bible says that Aaron performed the job of Moses’ spokesman. We also read about this in the Book of Exodus. It says:

    And Aaron told them everything the LORD had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people. (Exodus 4:30 NIV)

    The New Revised Standard Version translates this verse as follows:

    Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses, and performed the signs in the sight of the people. (Exodus 4:30 NRSV)

    Aaron was the one who spoke for his younger brother Moses.

  2. The Prophet Spoke God’s Word

    The biblical prophet was one who spoke forth the word of God. While every prophet spoke forth God’s Word, not every prophet spoke of the future. The title “prophet” has the main idea of receiving and delivering the message of God on any subject.

  3. The Prophet Says What the Lord Said

    The prophets were spokesmen for the Lord. They spoke to the people on behalf of God. The Lord said to Moses:

    I will raise up a prophet like you for them from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them whatever I want. (Deuteronomy 18:18 NET)

    The prophets said what the Lord said. The Old Testament prophets spoke the words of God. The Lord told the prophet Ezekiel the following:

    You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. (Ezekiel 2:7 NIV)

    The prophet Amos wrote:

    Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. The lion has roared - who will not fear? The Sovereign LORD has spoken - who can but prophesy? (Amos 3:7-8 NIV)

    Balaam the prophet made the same type of admission. We read the following in the Book of Numbers:

    “Spend the night here,” Balaam said to them, “and I will bring you back the answer the LORD gives me.” So the Moabite princes stayed with him. (Numbers 22:8 NIV)

    The biblical prophets unanimously testified that the words they spoke were not their own, but were ultimately derived from the Lord.

  4. God’s Way of Designating Prophets: Visions and Dreams

    The Bible says that God’s way of designating prophets was through visions and dreams. The Lord said the following to the children of Israel:

    And he said, “Hear my words: When there are prophets among you, I the LORD make myself known to them in visions; I speak to them in dreams.” (Numbers 12:6 NRSV)

    Visions and dreams are the way in which God has made himself known to the prophets.

  5. Not All Prophets Held Prophetic Office

    Not all people who prophesied held the office of a prophet. For example, David was a king who also made prophetic utterances. The Bible says:

    These are the last words of David: The oracle of David son of Jesse, the oracle of the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, Israel’s singer of songs: The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; his word was on my tongue. (2 Samuel 23:1-2 NIV)

    There is also the example of Daniel. Although Daniel was a leader in the Babylonian government, Jesus called him a prophet. We read the following in the Gospel of Matthew:

    So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel - let the reader understand. (Matthew 24:15 TNIV)

    The New Revised Standard Version translates the verse as follows:

    So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand). (Matthew 24:15 NRSV)

    Daniel is an example of a man of God to whom was given prophetic gifts without being specifically called a prophet.

  6. There Were a Group of Prophets

    Scripture speaks of a group, or company, of prophets. We read about this in Second Kings. It says the following:

    Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” (2 Kings 2:2-3 NRSV)

    This seems to indicate that there were a number of prophets in Israel at that time.

  7. There May Have Been an Official Registry of Prophets

    There seemed to be an official registry of the Old Testament prophets. The Lord said to Ezekiel:

    My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 13:9 NIV)

    The fact that Scripture says their names would not be listed in the records of the house of Israel has caused some to conclude that there was an official registry of the prophets. While this could be referring to an official registry of prophets, it may simply refer to those who were God’s genuine people as opposed to the false prophets who would not qualify as spokesmen for God.

    Some Prophets Wrote Down Their Prophetic Words

    Sometimes the prophets were told to write down the things that God had revealed to them. For example, the Lord told Isaiah to write down certain things. Scripture says:

    Then the LORD said to me, Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters. (Isaiah 8:1 NRSV)

    In another place, the Lord told the prophet Isaiah to write things down. We read:

    Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness. (Isaiah 30:8 NIV)

    Jeremiah the prophet was told to write down the words that the Lord gave to him. The Lord commanded him in this manner:

    Take another scroll and write on it all the words that were on the first scroll, which Jehoiakim king of Judah burned up (Jeremiah 36:28 NIV).

    The Lord testified to the authority of Jeremiah’s writings. He said the following:

    I will bring upon that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations. (Jeremiah 25:13 NIV)

    Daniel the prophet wrote down a dream that God had given him. Scripture says:

    In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream. (Daniel 7:1 NRSV)

    We also find the prophet Habakkuk was commanded to write down the words of the Lord. The Bible says the following:

    The Lord responded: “Write down this message! Record it legibly on tablets, so the one who announces it may read it easily.” (Habakkuk 2:2 NET)

    The prophets, therefore, not only spoke God’s words, they also wrote them down on occasion.

  8. No One Was Allowed to Change Even One Word of Scripture

    The people were commanded not to change even one word that God had revealed to them. Moses wrote:

    Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you. (Deuteronomy 4:2 NIV)

    Consequently, the people were given no authority to originate Scripture. They were ordered to keep the commandments that the LORD had given. This implies their ability to exactly identify those commandments to which they were to be obedient.

  9. Some of the Writings of the Prophets Were Preserved

    The writings of the prophets were written to be preserved. They were first placed in the tabernacle, and then later in the temple in Jerusalem. These writings were to be preserved for future generations. Moses said to the people:

    These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. (Deuteronomy 6:1-2 NIV)

    The Message translates these verses as follows:

    This is the commandment, the rules and regulations, that God, your God, commanded me to teach you to live out in the land you’re about to cross into to possess. This is so that you’ll live in deep reverence before God lifelong, observing all his rules and regulations that I’m commanding you, you and your children and your grandchildren, living good long lives. (Deuteronomy 6:1-2 MsgB)

    The writings of the prophets were authoritative for people of later generations.

  10. Even the King Must Obey the Prophets

    The Scripture also commanded how the king was to relate to God’s written Word. The Lord made the following command to the people:

    When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees. (Deuteronomy 17:17-18 NIV)

    This passage was written about five hundred years before Israel had its first king. The Law of Moses anticipated the office of the king and commanded how the king should view the written Word of God. While the king had authority by which he could put to death anyone whom he desired, the king was not allowed to tamper with the Scripture. He, like everyone else, was to be under the authority of the written Word of God.

  11. Sometimes the Message of the Prophets Was Sent Elsewhere

    At times, the message of the prophet was sent to another place. We read in the Book of Jeremiah about this occurring. It says:

    Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the remainder of the elders who were carried away captive -- to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon. (Jeremiah 29:1 NKJV)

    Elijah the prophet sent a letter to the king. This is reported in Second Chronicles. The Bible says:

    And a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, Thus says the LORD God of your father David: Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father, or in the ways of Asa king of Judah. (2 Chronicles 21:12 NKJV)

    It was not uncommon to send the written message of the prophet to another destination.

  12. The Prophets Recorded Israel’s Sacred History

    Another crucial role of the prophets was to record the history of the nation Israel. This was extremely important because Israel was like no other nation on the earth. They had a special calling and commission from the Lord. The Bible says:

    Now the acts of King David, from first to last, are written in the Chronicles of Samuel the seer, and in the Chronicles of Nathan the prophet, and in the Chronicles of Gad the seer. (1 Chronicles 29:29 RSV)

    We also read the following in Second Chronicles:

    As for the other events of Solomon’s reign, from beginning to end, are they not written in the records of Nathan the prophet, in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite and in the visions of Iddo the seer concerning Jeroboam son of Nebat? (2 Chronicles 9:29 NIV)

    Therefore, the sacred history of the nation was recorded by God’s specially chosen representatives.

  13. The Message of the Prophets Was Also Read Out Loud

    In the Book of Jeremiah, we find that Baruch read Jeremiah’s message out loud to the people. The Bible says the following:

    Baruch the son of Neriah did according to all that Jeremiah the prophet commanded him, reading from the book the words of the LORD in the LORD’S house. (Jeremiah 36:8 NASB)

    This custom was practiced a number of times in the Old Testament period. In fact, on three different occasions in the Old Testament, we are told that the Scripture was read aloud to the people.

    For example, Moses read the Book of the Covenant to the people at the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. Scripture says:

    Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” (Exodus 24:7 NIV)

    Later, before the Babylonian captivity, the Book of the Covenant was read to the people. We read about this in Second Kings. It says:

    Next, the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant in the presence of the Lord to follow the Lord and to keep His commandments, His decrees, and His statutes with all his mind and with all his heart, and to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book; all the people agreed to the covenant. (2 Kings 23:3 HCSB)

    After the Babylonian captivity, the Book was again read to the people:

    This is recorded in the Book of Nehemiah. The Bible says:

    Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:9 NIV)

    On each of these occasions, the writings were assumed to have divine authority.

  14. There Were False Prophets Who Existed

    While God raised up His true prophets, Scripture also warns of the existence of false prophets. The Lord said the following to the nation of Israel before they entered into the Promised Land:

    But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. (Deuteronomy 18:20 NIV)

    God judged the false prophets during the time of Moses. In the Book of Numbers, we find God judging them as follows:

    The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them along with Korah, whose followers died when the fire devoured the 250 men. And they served as a warning sign. (Numbers 26:10 NIV)

    God also judged the false prophets of Baal. This happened at the command of the prophet Elijah. The Bible says:

    Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there. (1 Kings 18:40 NIV)

    False prophets assume the existence of true prophets.

  15. The Old Testament Prophets Continued until John the Baptist

    The Old Testament prophets continued until John the Baptist. Jesus made this clear when He said the following:

    For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. (Matthew 11:13 NASB)

    John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. When Jesus came into the world, a new prophetic era began.

Summary - Question 1
Who Were the People Who Spoke for God During the Old Testament Period? (The Old Testament Prophets)

The Old Testament recognizes a number of people known as “prophets.” These people spoke in the place of the Lord. Their words were God’s words when they were speaking for the Lord. God’s way of designating a prophet was by way of visions and dreams.

The Old Testament also spoke of a group of prophets. There may have been an official registry of prophets. The prophets not only spoke the Word of the Lord, some of them committed their prophecies to writing. The prophets wrote down the things that God had revealed to them, and their writings were preserved for future generations.

All the people, including the king, were commanded not to change a word that the prophets wrote. At times, the words of the prophets were sent elsewhere and read out loud to the people. Obedience was always expected.

Along with the genuine prophets were a number of false prophets. They were severely judged for prophesying falsely.

The Old Testament prophets continued until John the Baptist—he was the last prophet of the Old era. Jesus Christ brought in a new age of prophetic truth.

Are the Correct Books in the Old Testament? ← Prior Section
How Were the Old Testament Prophets Described? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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