There are several definitions of a prophet. Several people have applied the term in various occasions to refer to an individual who has the ability to foresee the future. It should be noted that a prophet means more than just an individual, who can foresee future happenings. A prophet is defined as someone who talks for God. It is an individual who has divine inspiration and relays messages of God to people. It is an individual who has the ability to stand in place of God and report the message from God. They are an example of holiness, scholarship and nearness to the Divine Being. They set principles for the entire community to base their acts upon. Various communities worldwide have various terms that they use to refer to a prophet. In Hebrew, for example, the term ‘navi’ stands in for prophet. It is a term derived from the word ‘niv’, which means the fruit of the lips. This term is used to place the emphasis on the role of a prophet as a speaker who has a role of communicating messages from God to people. According to the Talmud teachings, there were thousands of prophets in the Old Testament. These prophets reported messages that were meant for their generations and that is the reason why they were not put in the Scriptures.
Prophets of God came from different generations. It was a field where any individual with a calling would take up the task. It was neither reserved for males or females, Jews or gentiles, but it was for all. It is evident that prophetic ministry was reserved for people who have attained a certain spiritual level where the divine spirit comes upon an individual. After when Adam and Eve who were created by God and placed in the Garden of Eden went against the Lord’s commands, they were thrown out of the Garden of Eden. God saw that it was necessary to establish a plan of salvation of mankind. He saw that since the contact between Him and Adam was broken, He considered having prophets to speak to the people on his behalf about repentance. Prophets are called by God; they are called in different ways to prepare them for a ministry ahead.
Calling of Prophets Long Ago and Today
Leading God’s people is not an act to be considered a vacation, and it cannot be completed through the strength and expertise of an individual. The great prophets that existed in history did not campaign to be chosen as prophets. They got the position either from God, the community or through the situations that they underwent, which made them to seek for God’s intervention. Among the renowned figures of the Old Testament like David, Solomon and Joseph among others, together with the New Testament figures like Peter or Paul, there is none of them who had or who showed the capability of becoming a great leader. The Bible attributes the success of these great personalities to their ability to honour God’s word, God’s presence in their lives, and their firm belief in God. It does not mention the role of their personal charisma in attaining these great heights.
In examining various narratives, it is extraordinary how God chooses those whom He wants to use in His service to the world. He goes beyond the accepted situations to pick his prophets. He called David, the youngest child, Deborah, a woman, Abraham, rootless Aramean who lived among polytheists, Jacob, a scheming con artist, Gideon, a stupid man, Peter, a down to earth fisherman whose task was to transform a be a fisher of men, Mary, a village girl who lived in a remote country. These extra ordinary situations reflect the extraordinary situations when Jesus was born. He is the king of the whole world, but he was born to poor parents in a manger. In the book of Zechariah, Chapter 4, a prophet confirms to Zerubbabel about how God works. He points out that it is not an individual’s power, or strength, but only by the spirit of God that a chosen leader is able to carry out God’s mission. This utterance confirms the fact that most of God’s prophets are not powerful in the society. They are endowed with the spirit of God that will give them strength to do God’s will. Most prophets when called by God, first object the calling citing their inabilities. They view the task as powerful for them and hence humble themselves before the occupation.
The call to be God’s spokesperson is very hard to accept. It is hard to accept to be anointed by God so as to communicate to the people what the Lord has said. God may show this calling through various signs ahead of time but very few people realize it. Most of the prophets of God in the Bible are ostracized. After accepting a call to speak they struggle to fulfil this calling. The need to speak burns within them, but the hard task lies in the act of speaking it to people who do not recognize you or the word that you are trying to bring forth.
God’s call for people to be prophets has been continuous. It started in the Old Testament after the creation of the world until today. Isaiah was called to be a prophet in a dramatic way. His call came in the form of various visions, which can be grouped into four. First, there is a vision of holiness recorded in the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 6. It was in the year when Uzziah died, when he saw a vision of the Lord seated on the throne, praised and exalted and his attire filled the temple. There were a group of seraphs above him who were calling each other ‘holy, holy’. The sound of their voices made the doors to shake and the temple of the Lord was filled with smoke. The second vision that Isaiah saw, was one of his own sinfulness. He cried that he was ruined as he was a man of unclean lips who is living among the sinners yet his eyes saw the Lord.
The third vision that he saw was that of grace. He foresaw one of the seraphs flow to him with coal, which he was holding with tongs from the altar of the Lord. He touched his mouth with it and mentioned that with this act the guilt has been taken away. Here his sin was taken away. The last vision that he witnessed was that of being sent. He saw the Lord asking for whom he would send to communicate his point to the nation, and he replied that he was ready to be used by God.
Jeremiah’s call came as a specific word from God when he was still very young. The Lord spoke to Jeremiah saying that even before he was formed in the womb God knew him; he was already set aside for the purpose of God’s will. He was appointed as a prophet for the nations. He gave excuses citing his childhood and his inability to speak. The Lord told him that despite his childhood nature he was to take up God’s calling and take God’s message to any person that the Lord sends him to. He was assured that he should not be afraid since God is with him and will always rescue him. The Lord reached his mouth with his hand confirming that he has placed a message in his mouth. His mission was over the kingdoms and nations to uproot and bring down, to destroy and overthrow, together with to construct and plant.
Amos on the other hand was called while he was undertaking his daily business. He does not hail from a prophetic family and did not have an ambition of taking up prophetic ministry. He knew that being a prophet can be dangerous. He was ordered by Amaziah to go back to the land of Judah to work and get his daily bread there. He was ordered not to prophesy in the king’s temple anymore. Amos answered that he was neither a prophet nor a prophets’ son. His main task in the king’s palace was that of a shepherd and tender of sycamore trees. The Lord took him from tending the sheep and commanded him to go and speak God’s word to the people of Israel.
Hosea’s call to speak for God came through his own personal experience. God ordered him to go and marry a prostitute. This act was evil according to the Christians in the Old Testament. The prostitute abandons him after some time, but when she came back to him, he welcomed her back. The prophetic message of Hosea was that of forgiveness and repentance. It was a sign that the nation of Israel was sinful. It was signified by the prostitute, but Hosea who signified the Lord, was ready to welcome her back if only she repents. The message of Hosea was then that of repentance.
Ezekiel was called to prophecies to the exiles in Babylon. He sees various strange occurrences taking place. First, he is taken to Jerusalem through a touch of his hair, and he is shown the level of sinfulness of the nation of Israel, here, the Lord had no mercy on the house of Israel, and they were all destroyed. He is also shown a valley of dead bones, which are then ordered back to life. These messages from Ezekiel were relevant to the group of people that he prophesised to. They were in exile and were hoping that the Lord will come and deliver them. The message that Ezekiel delivered to the house of Israel in exile was that of suffering and hope.
Jeremiah was appointed to be a spiritualist long before he was born. The Lord says that He formed Jeremiah and set him apart for his task. He was God’s choice having been appointed the prophet of nations. Jeremiah objected this call citing his weaknesses. He mentions timidity and his youthful nature as his weaknesses. The Lord assured Jeremiah that He has appointed him and will use him for his task. Jeremiah was then made a prophet over all nations. He was a prophet at the time of the fall of Jerusalem and its period of exile. He prophesied about God’s covenant that it was not going to be carried around in the ark, but rather it will be written in people’s hearts. He also chooses both the young and the old. There are some prophets who were chosen long before they were born, for example, Jeremiah, while others were picked when they were already mature, for example, Moses. He was called when he was looking after the sheep of his father-in-law.
A call to be a prophet is from God. It is God who makes a choice of whom He wants to use to speak for Him. He can call any individual. There is no time that a chosen person is given to prepare to take up God’s call. He picks His prophets from various places - it can be in the city or in the village, He chooses either the rich or the poor, evident in the fact when He chose Ezekiel who was from a priestly family, and He also chose Amos who was a shepherd and a tender of sycamore trees in a king’s palace.
There are various structures that are followed when one is called to be God’s prophet. First, there is a situation of distress or calamity where God meets an individual. Secondly, the individual is commissioned for a task to resolve the calamity. He or she is given a message to act on accordingly. Thirdly, individuals object God’s call citing their inadequacies for the task ahead or how unprepared and unreliable they are to face the task. Fourthly, God gives him or her assurance that He is with the individual when handing the task. It is an assurance that the task ahead is not the battle for the individual, but it is for God through him or her and, therefore, it is crucial to wait for God’s message in every circumstance. Lastly, there is a sign to confirm that the message is from the almighty. Various individuals are called through similar circumstances today.
The prophets were speaking for God. They communicated the message from God to people. There are various prophetic messages that were communicated and are still communicated by God’s prophets. First, a prophetic message may be meant to warn people against the impending danger. When God foresees the danger that is awaiting the children of God, he sends his prophets to warn people and tell the necessary precautions. The main task of Joel as a prophet was to warn people on the damage that would befall the earth. In the book of Joel, there are various versions of how the earth would be destroyed. There is an image that shows God sending a very strong army to fight the earth and people are not able to counter this attack. Joel tells the people what that day will be like. Joel interrupts this prediction by prophesying that, before this time comes, God will bring His salvation for the people. He then warns that whoever will not be saved, when this time comes, will face the full wrath.
Some prophets deliver the messages on the process of salvation. Isaiah in his prophecy seeks to tell the people what they can do to be saved. The content of Isaiah’s prophecy shows this process of saving the mankind. First, he says that God is there and that people should give him praise because of his righteousness. He tells people that they should repent and come back to God. He prophesies coming of the messiah whose main task is to save the entire nation. He prophesies that Israel, which is a chosen people of God, will go against the will of God. They will be punished and taken captives because of their sins. He then points out the sins of the nation of Israel as the Lord views. He also points out that the Lord will bring judgement on the whole world when the Day of the Lord comes. He also says that in the midst of judgement, God who is gracious will extend the hand of mercy, which implies that there will be a second exodus where people will be freed from captivity. He proclaims to the people that the good news that comes out of this prophecy is that there will be the salvation.
Some prophetic messages are meant for repentance. They are meant to teach the entire nation of the importance of forgiveness and repentance. Jonah’s prophecy over the nation is that of repentance. It is evident from his call that he was afraid of God because of his own sinful nature. On hearing God’s call, he decided to run away, but was swallowed by a whale because of his disobedience. Jonah then goes to Nineveh where he warns people against disobeying God’s commands and repenting. He was amazed by the way the people heed his message and repented. The main message of Jonah here is that of repentance at the first instant. Another prophet that communicated a message of repentance to the nation was prophet Hosea. His prophecy came through his act of getting married to a prostitute who flees from him and later comes back to him. The prostitute was used to stand for the chosen people of God who have abandoned him. If they return, God is ready to take them back.
Characteristics of Called Prophets
In the society today, there are various categories of prophets who do not necessarily speak for God. This group of prophets are self proclaimed and use the word of knowledge and consider it as prophetic. Many people can receive a word of knowledge from God, but the call to speak for God is mostly for making people ready for success in the spiritual world revealing the level that we have reached in the spirit. All people have the ability to prophesy over their lives. In 1st Corinthians, a person can prophesy by faith. Ephesians, Chapter 4, reveals the fact that we all have the Holy Spirit from God and therefore, we are able to make a prophecy over our lives.
There are, therefore, various characteristics that are used to separate a prophet who has been send to the people by God. God’s prophets are obedient to God’s call. When Moses was called, he was obedient to the call. He was ordered to take off his shoes as he was standing on a holy ground - a call that he obeyed.
Almost all prophets of God are rejected by the people whom God sends him or her to speak. Jesus himself being the son of God was rejected by the people that he came to serve. Moses was also rejected by the people of Israel. The main reason for the rejection of prophets is that before they are called to the service of God, they are found in situations where they do not deserve any respect. Moses before his call to prophet-hood was a shepherd. When God chooses him for his service, many asked him if he thought he was to be a ruler over them according to Acts, Chapter 7. He used the signs that the Lord gave him to prove that he had really been sent by God to the people. Jesus at the same time had to perform various miracles to confirm that he was the son of God.
All prophets were sent to the people by God. This is shown by the facts that assert that they have been sent from God. Their messages also show this. They often use such terms as it was said the Lord and lay a stress on the source of their teachings. When you read their messages or their scriptures, there is an evident aspect of inspiration from God. The messages from True Prophets are linked to historical events. It emerges from a certain historical occurrence that happened in their lifetime. The prophets are messengers that are meant to address the events happening during their period.
Messages of true prophets are not always predictive. It is not accurate to believe that the Old Testament prophecies always foretell the future. There are times in the Old Testament when a prophet communicated God’s message only to his generation without necessarily referring to the future. The prophet’s task is to call the people of his generation to repent or to transform socially or politically. They gave warnings to the people or to their leaders of the acts of disobedience or other acts of sinful nature, which needed to be corrected. They are acting as God’s spokesmen, whether they talk of what is happening today, what happened in the past or what will come in the future.
Examples of Prophets Called by God
Moses is the greatest of all the prophets that are mentioned in the Old Testament. He foresaw the Torah, which means that he predicted the writings and the prophecies contained in the Old Testament prophetic books. What is told in the prophetic books is what Moses knew through Torah. Moses was selected by the Deity to lead the children of Israel from Egypt where they were undergoing suffering. The situation when Moses was called to speak for God was that of suffering of the children of Israel. God had heard the cry of the Israelites in slavery and was looking for a prophet to confront this situation. The Bible tells that Moses fulfilled the role that the Lord called him for, and there has never been a prophet that can be compared to him. He is the only prophet who was able to be in touch with God face to face, according to Deuteronomy, Chapter 34. He received God’s call while taking care of the sheep. The act of herding the sheep shows his unpreparedness for the task. Moses tried to give excuses for his inability to carry out the task, but he was not able to go out of God’s will. It is evident from the call of Moses that God commands respect from those that He calls upon to carry on the task of God’s spokesman. He first commands Moses to remove his shoes before going to the holy place where God dwells. Moses obeyed this command, and God was pleased with the act of obedience that Moses showed before God. God appeared to Moses in an unfamiliar situation that attracted him. He saw a burning bush that was not consumed. As a herdsman, he decided to move closer to get a lucid outlook of what was happening within the bush. As he got closer to the bush, he heard the voice of God calling him.
The prophets of the Old Testament are categorized into two groups, the early and latter prophets. The books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings are referred to as early prophets. This is because they contain many prophets that lived there in ancient Israel. These prophets testified God’s messages during the early days. The other category of prophets is the latter prophets. They fell in Israel at the time that is very crucial in human history, when the Israelites had strayed from the teachings given by the Law of Moses. There were high levels of corruption in the society and other wicked ways that distorted the social life of Israel. The faithful people of Israel feared the anger of the Lord that might be thrust upon them. The call of the righteous to the society was ignored. There prophets emerged at this time who were speaking against the acts of wickedness in the nation of Israel. Some of the latter prophets include Joel, Micah, Isaiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah among other prophets. Their messages were directed to the nation of Israel, equally in the North and South.
The latter prophets are grouped into the Major and Minor Prophets. Some of the Major Prophets include Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The group, which formed the Minor Prophets, include Amos, Micah, Hosea, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk among others. While all other prophets are found in the Old Testament, Revelation is found in the New Testament. It prophesies about the coming of a day that will purify the priesthood and destroy the wicked while securing the victory for the righteous. Then there are modern prophets as well, who claim to have been called by God for a mission.
Do We Need Prophets Today?
There are people who speak for God in the society today. These people refer their work to the verse in the Book of Acts that states that on the last days God will pour out his spirit that will give all people whether young or old the power to prophesy and speak in different languages. However, these people do not function like the prophets of the Old Testament. It is in this instance that many people have emerged to be prophets. They prophesy not in the name of God. The emergence of false prophets is in accordance to the teachings in the Bible where in the book of Mathew people are warned against false prophets. According to the Gospel of Mathew, these prophets ‘come to you while dressed in sheep’s robes but the fact is that they are wolves’. According to Mathew 24, it is recorded that there will be many false prophets.
There are few churches that have an office of prophets and apostles. Other groups like evangelists, pastors and teachers are found in almost all churches in the society today. In the church today the fivefold ministry has been regarded as significant in carrying out the church’s ministry. In Ephesians, it is stated that the church requires the fivefold gift, which was given to the church by Jesus Christ to perfect its ministry.
Getting into the ministry of prophet-hood means a lot to an individual. It involves so many sacrifices on the part of an individual. One may be putting his or her life at stake by taking up prophet-hood. Prophets do not take into thoughtfulness the rank of education, the place they are in or how people will feel when a certain message is given. They utter the Lord’s message without putting into consideration any individual or a system in operation such as the government.
Various people claim to be God sent in the society today. Some of these people proclaim that they are prophets and they at times strengthen this claim through the use of signs, wonders and miracles. These wonders and signs are used in an effort to show the fivefold ministry in the New Testament. The availability of prophets today is attributed to the power that the church today needs to carry on its task. Those who claim to be prophets today try to copy what the well known prophets in the Bible did. It is the essential for the church today to be aware of how the institution of prophet-hood was passed over from God to the early prophets so that they can be capable to make a distinction between true prophets and false prophets.
The office of prophet-hood in the church today is questionable. According to Ephesians, Chapter 2, the prophets were tasked on laying the foundation of the church. If this then is the major task of the prophets, then the question is whether people in the society today are still laying the foundation for the church? The prophet also was a linkage between God and the people in the early church. Moses for example, was a link between the Israelites and God. He took the pleas of the Israelites to God. Today, people take their requests to God in person. When Jesus Christ was ascending to Heaven, he told the disciples that he had left the Holy Spirit, which will act as a guide to the people. There was no mention of a prophet left to act as a link between himself and the people. This fact also questions the nature of the prophets who claim that they are from God today. Some of the prophetic messages were foretelling the future. During these times, the Bible was not complete. Some Christians were not able to access the Bible.
The call to be a spiritualist hails from God. It is crucial to heed the call and act according to God’s commands. God who has power over nature has an ability to use extraordinary events to call people for His task. He used a burning bush to call Moses. Whereby the bush was burning but it was not consumed. He also showed extraordinary visions to the prophets in order to confirm His authority and His command to speak on His behalf. The call of prophets in the Old Testament showed the compassionate nature of God. He was ready and willing to forgive and take back the sinful population. He gave people a second chance to repent. The use of prophets shows us that God is concerned with the human race. He wants to establish a link between Himself and the people. This is so that He may be able to converse with mankind and express His concerns.