Messenger of the Lord


Prophets Share Common Characteristics

Prophets assume their prophetic duties with a unique mix of life experiences coupled with an individualized personality shaped by their physical and mental limitations. Yet when in vision they are all in an “unnatural” state. What do we know about the changed characteristics of a prophet or prophetess in vision? MOL 26.5

Balaam, though he had grave spiritual difficulties, was still used by God in Israel’s behalf. His experience in vision is enlightening: “And Balaam raised his eyes, and saw Israel encamped according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him. Then he took up his oracle and said: MOL 26.6

“The utterance of Balaam
the son of Beor,
The utterance of the man
whose eyes are opened,
The utterance of him
who hears the words of God,
Who sees the vision of the Almighty,
Who falls down
with eyes opened wide’” (Numbers 24:2-4).
MOL 26.7

Daniel’s experience, too, is instructive. First, his public visions: “I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision [Others did not see what Daniel saw]; but a great terror fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. MOL 26.8

“Therefore I was left alone when I saw this great vision, and no strength remained in me; for my vigor was turned to frailty in me, and I retained no strength [Others could see how the phenomenon affected Daniel]. MOL 27.1

“Yet I heard the sound of his words; and while I heard the sound of his words I was in a deep sleep on my face, with my face to the ground [Daniel experienced what appeared to be a deep sleep while lying on the ground]. MOL 27.2

“Then, suddenly, a hand touched me, which made me tremble on my knees and on the palms of my hands. And he said to me, ‘O Daniel, man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.’ While he was speaking this word to me, I stood tremblingly [Daniel was aware of a Divine Presence speaking to him].... MOL 27.3

“When he had spoken such words to me, I turned my face toward the ground and became speechless. And suddenly, one having the likeness of the sons of men touched my lips; then I opened my mouth and spoke, saying to him who stood before me, ‘My lord, because of the vision my sorrows have overwhelmed me, and I have retained no strength. For how can this servant of my lord talk with you, my lord? [Daniel spoke with the Divine Presence.] MOL 27.4

“As for me, no strength remains in me now, nor is any breath left in me.’ [Daniel could not breathe.] MOL 27.5

“Then again, the one having the likeness of a man touched me and strengthened me” (Daniel 10:7-11, 15-18). [Daniel was given extra physical strength.] MOL 27.6

Daniel also had night visions or dreams: “In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head while on his bed. Then he wrote down the dream, telling the main facts” (chap. 7:1). [Daniel received divine communication during his sleep.] MOL 27.7

We do not know why prophets/prophetesses had both public (or open) visions and night visions or dreams. But we do know that the prophet/prophetess made no distinction between them as to their significance and authority. 2 MOL 27.8

Ezekiel probably provides more information regarding how visions affect prophets and prophetesses than any other Biblical writer. At times he was taken to distant places in vision although his physical body did not “travel.” While in vision in faraway places, what he saw was as vivid and real as if he were physically present. MOL 27.9

Though Ezekiel remained in Babylon, God showed him the woeful conditions in Jerusalem: “The hand of the Lord God fell upon me there.... He stretched out the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my hair; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the image of jealousy was, which provokes to jealousy. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the plain” (chap. 8:1-4). MOL 27.10

Further in the chapter, Ezekiel graphically described the corrupt conditions prevailing in the temple system in Jerusalem. Though still in Babylon, he walked in vision through the temple court, dug into the temple wall, heard conversations, and saw various groups in abominable idolatry. In chapter nine, he even saw future events, especially the coming destruction of Jerusalem. MOL 27.11

Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, was given a vision that provides further insight into the condition of a prophet in vision: “An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.... And Zacharias said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.’ [Zacharias conversed with the heavenly Presence.] “And the angel answered and said to him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time. And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless” (Luke 1:11-13, 18-22). [Zacharias was physically affected by his vision experience.] MOL 27.12

When Saul met the Lord on the Damascus road, his whole life was changed as well as his name. Note the circumstances involved in this roadside vision: “And as he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one” (Acts 9:3-7). [Saul, too, after conversing with the divine Presence, was physically affected by his vision experience.] MOL 28.1

Later, he spoke of being “caught up to the third heaven ... into Paradise and heard inexpressible words” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). MOL 28.2

The apostle John recorded one of his visions and how it affected him physically: “When I saw Him [Jesus], I fell at His feet as dead” (Revelation 1:17). MOL 28.3

What do these examples teach us about prophets during their vision experiences? MOL 28.4

1. Prophets are very aware of a supernatural Person communicating with them; they have a sense of worthlessness. MOL 28.5

2. Prophets often lose their strength. MOL 28.6

3. Prophets at times fall to the ground in a deep sleep. MOL 28.7

4. Prophets hear and see events in faraway places, as if they are actually present. MOL 28.8

5. Prophets at times are unable to speak, but when their lips are touched, they are able to speak. MOL 28.9

6. Prophets often do not breathe. MOL 28.10

7. Prophets are oblivious to their surroundings though often their eyes are open. MOL 28.11

8. Prophets at times are given extra strength while in vision. MOL 28.12

9. Prophets receive renewed strength and breath when the vision is over. MOL 28.13

10. Prophets occasionally experience temporary physical trauma following the vision. MOL 28.14

Not all of these physical characteristics accompany each vision. Thus, physical phenomena should not be used as the sole test of whether a prophet is genuine. Moreover, they can be easily counterfeited. The Scriptures do not present them as tests. However, the presence of such characteristics should be considered normal for anyone who indeed claims to “speak for God.” Though physical aspects are helpful in considering a prophet’s credentials, other criteria are much more reliable, as we shall now observe. MOL 28.15