A Prophet Among You


Chapter 4—The Prophet And His Message

What Is a Prophet?

Among the last words of David, the statesman-prophet, were these: “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue.” 2 Samuel 23:2. He was one of the “holy men of God” who “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Peter 1:21. When these men were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak, they gave their messages as words from God. The Bible idea of a prophet is that he is a spokesman for the Lord. APAY 52.1

In almost every instance in the Old Testament the word prophet is translated from the Hebrew nabi. The Old Testament usage of the word gives a clearer concept of its meaning than does philology. In Exodus 7:1, 2, the thought is apparent: “And the Lord said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a God to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land.” Moses was to stand in relation to Pharaoh as God stood in relation to the people. Aaron was to be Moses’ mouthpiece, and God would communicate His will to Moses. Moses would pass the word along to Aaron, and Aaron would speak forth the message to Pharaoh. While this was not the Lord’s usual way of working, it portrays vividly the function of the prophet as a speaker of a message received from a higher source than his own thinking. APAY 52.2

Deuteronomy 18 presents a prophecy that was completely fulfilled only in the ministry of Jesus. It serves as a basic passage to help in understanding the work of a prophet. The heart of the matter is expressed in these words: “I ... will put My words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” Deuteronomy 18:18. The “prophet” referred to in the verse is a nabi—a man who speaks forth God’s message. APAY 52.3

Notice the sequence in the conversation between God and Jeremiah when the Lord called Jeremiah to be one of His prophets. “Before I formed thee ... I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5. “Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.” Verse 6. As soon as the Lord told him he was to be a prophet, Jeremiah’s mind turned to speaking. He felt that he could not accept the responsibility because of his lack of ability to proclaim God’s message. The Lord recognized the same significance in the call to the prophetic office. “Say not, I am a child: ... whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.... Then the Lord put forth His hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put My words in thy mouth.” Verses 7-9. Even more to the point was the Lord’s later word to Jeremiah, “Thou shalt be as My mouth.” Jeremiah 15:19. God was fulfilling the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:18, that He would put His words into the mouth of the prophet, and that the messenger should speak all that he was commanded. APAY 53.1

Amos, the herdsman of Tekoa, had had no thought of prophetic service. But, as he explained to Amaziah when that priest tried to stop him from prophesying, the Lord took him as he followed the flock and said, “Go, prophesy unto My people Israel. Now therefore,” he commanded Amaziah, “hear thou the word of the Lord.” Amos 7:15, 16. Then, in spite of Amaziah’s protests, Amos spoke a “thus saith the Lord” concerning the future of the priest and his family. This was not Amos’s message, but God’s. Amos, as a speaker in the Lord’s stead, was merely giving information that the Lord Himself would have given if He had spoken personally to the priest of Bethel. APAY 53.2

The same thought is borne out in the language of the New Testament. There the Greek word translated prophet is prophetes, and means “one who speaks forth.” In most cases the New Testament usage of the word makes reference to prophets of Old Testament times. Prophetes is used as the equivalent of nabi; both words infer a recognition of the prophet as a speaker for God. Commenting on the appearance of the angel to Joseph before the birth of Jesus, Matthew said, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet.” Matthew 1:22, R.S.V. Peter, speaking to the people at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, told them of the death and resurrection of the Prince of life. Then he continued, “But those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all His prophets, that Christ should suffer, He hath so fulfilled.” Acts 3:18. A moment later he told them of the refreshing to come, which was to be followed by the return of Jesus. He declared that the restitution of all things would come, “which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” Acts 3:21. God speaking through the mouths of men who were delegated to speak for God—this has been heaven’s way of making known to mankind His purposes and will. APAY 53.3

Another term is introduced in 1 Samuel 9:9, which is used synonymously with the Hebrew word nabi to designate a prophet. “Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he spake, Come, and let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a prophet [nabi] was beforetime called a seer [roeh].” A seer is one who perceives things that do not lie in the realm of natural sight or hearing. Although used synonymously to indicate a person who possesses the prophetic gift, the two words illustrate basically different phases of the experience of the prophet. “Seer” denotes the reception of the message from God by the prophet. It indicates that God has opened to the view and hearing of the prophet that which is indiscernible to one who does not possess the prophetic gift. Similar in meaning is another Old Testament word translated “seer.” Chozeh is derived from a word meaning “to see” or “to behold.” From the same source comes the word for “vision,” in the sense of a divinely inspired vision. Here is another indication of the fact that the prophet sees supernaturally. These two words are used as synonyms in Isaiah 30:10. “Which say to the seers [roeh], See not; and to the prophets [chozeh], Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits.” Both terms generally stress the reception rather than the delivery of the message, although it is difficult at times to make any distinction. APAY 54.1

To summarize the terms used to designate prophets, we may say that nabi serves as the principal Old Testament word for this purpose. Its New Testament equivalent is prophetes. Both words have as their primary meaning one who declares the message received from God by divine inspiration. The other two words used, roeh, and chozeh, emphasize the receiving of the revelation by divinely enlightened vision. Even when the latter words are used, the obvious function of the terms is that of declaring the message received by inspiration. Thus we see that while the words give us various insights into the relationship of the prophet to God’s message, all the words designate the prophet in his office as spokesman for God. APAY 55.1