Prophet is the name given to a man or woman who is called to speak for God to his people. Seventeen books of the Old Testament record the words of prophets who lived, spoke, wrote and sometimes acted out dramatic scenes between five hundred and nine hundred years before Jesus.
Although it is popularly suggested that prophets could see into the future, their actual role was to proclaim insights into the present. They reminded people of what God had done for them, and were frank about the inadequacies of their current relationship with him. They anticipated the catastrophes that the coming years would hold if people did not return to godly behaviour and loyal worship of the Lord, and it was this that gave them their reputation for foreseeing the future.
Their fundamental message was that God had been almighty throughout history. No matter how terrible the actions of human beings and their leaders, a good and just God was in control. The prophets urged God’s people to trust in him exclusively, rather than forge international alliances that would involve compromise and the acceptance of non-existent gods.
The most serious charge of the Old Testament prophets was that God’s people had forsaken their responsibilities to seek justice for the poorest members of their community. Their worship was magnificent, but it was rendered meaningless by the fact that they exploited the poor. God would judge them harshly for this.
Sometimes the prophets spoke tenderly and sometimes angrily. Often their message came with a warning that calamity would follow, and it would be the people’s own fault. However, they were not without hope. Repeatedly they spoke of God’s desire to be a Saviour to his people. This was expressed most clearly in the expectation that the Messiah would restore the Jewish people by creating a kingdom of justice and love.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites …
‘There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery…
Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away.’
Where to find it:
About these words:
Hosea was a prophet writing eight centuries before Jesus, and these words are typical prophecy, anticipating what the future will hold if people turn their backs on the way of God.
And they said…
Jesse Jackson, US civil rights campaigner:
The politicians will always ask the question, ‘Is it expedient?’ But the prophets ask the question, ‘Is it right?’ The church must keep on asking the question of the prophets, ‘Is it right?’
Robert E Lee, 1807-1870, US confederate army general:
In all my perplexities and distress the Bible has never failed to give me light and strength.