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What is a prophet?

Query for the Month


November 2005

Next up-date: December 1st 2005 (God willing).

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 Numbers 12:6-8

And He said, “Hear now My words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make Myself known to him in a vision, and will speak to him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all My house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude [likeness] of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?” 

 What is a prophet?   


 As sin has darkened men and women’s minds the LORD has found it harder and harder to get His message of love through to them.  However, there has always been a thin line of individuals who have sought Him out and actively followed His ways.  Abel, Enoch, Seth, Noah etc. before the Flood, and Job, Hezekiah, Josiah after it, to name just a few.  Among that thin line there were even fewer who were willing to allow Him access to their minds to enable Him to show them things that were to be, so that they could warn their neighbours of the results of their actions. 

Man or woman, they were called “seers” by their companions, for they often commenced the warning with the words, “I saw . . . ”, meaning that they were describing a vision or dream that they had had.  For example: “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train [His attendants] filled the temple.”  Isaiah 6:1.

“(Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he spoke [to his companions], ‘Come, and let us go to the seer’: for he that is now called a prophet was beforetime called a seer.)” 1 Samuel 9:9.

Youthfulness was no barrier.  “As for these four children [teenagers], God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel [aged about 16] had understanding in all visions and dreams.”  Daniel 1:17.

The Son of God told us about prophets. “And He said, ‘Hear now My words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make Myself known to him in a vision, and will speak to him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all My house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude [likeness] of the LORD shall he behold: . . .” Numbers 12:6-8.

As time went on and the effects of sin increased, these dreams and visions became harder to generate in our minds and in most cases God had to resort to merely speaking His words to a willing listener.  At first it was face to face, but this soon degenerated into a formless voice.  Then the message of warning and love became prefaced with, “Thus saith the LORD . . .” 

“And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness’.” Exodus 5:1.

These later workers were called “prophets” and their messages “prophecies.”  Some of those recorded in the Bible are messages of doom and gloom in the future, but most were local and helpful in living a safer life among the ravages of sin.  They could come through men or women, but human customs and men’s common denigration of women limited the LORD’s choices. 

Prophets were used not only from the period of the choosing of God’s representative people in the exodus from Egypt, but were available from the very beginning.  And they were not always from within the church group or nationality – anyone, of any age who was willing to listen could be blessed with the communication.  For example, in Abraham’s time, he had misbehaved and caused a problem:

“But [the Son of] God came to Abimelech [a Philistine who was looking after Abraham] in a dream by night, and said to him, ‘Behold, you [and your kingdom] are but a dead man, for the woman which you have taken; for she is a man's wife.’ But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, ‘LORD, will you slay also a righteous nation? [He thought that Christ had come to punish him.] Said he not to me, She is my sister?  And she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.’ And [the Son of] God said to him in a dream, ‘Yea, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart; for I also withheld you from sinning against Me [by your desire to do the right thing]: therefore suffered I you not to touch her. Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for you, and you shall live: and if you restore her not, know you that you shall surely die, you, and all that are yours’.” Genesis 20:3-7.

So, even though he was in the wrong, and the “righteous” man was not, Abraham as the man of God could still petition the LORD in a better way than the foreigner. 

One of the first prophets whose words we have recorded in the Bible is Enoch who was of the seventh generation after Adam in the days when nine generations were alive at the same time. 

“And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these [some rejecters of God’s grace], saying, ‘Behold, the LORD comes with ten thousands of His saints [on the great judgment day], to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”  Jude 1:14-15.

So, to get a prophet, first of all God must have a willing participant, and then He must fit His message in with the preconceived understandings of the people He is trying to reach.  Because of this we find that messages received through the prophets are normally expanding as time goes by, and the knowledge of the receivers changes.  That which could be accepted by one generation, such as in an action cartoon, might not suit a later generation so a different method would be used.  Once one point of truth had been accepted, then another could be added to the same scene or message to make it clearer.  Thus the first intimation of any subject is normally simple and short.  To find out all that the LORD would have us know, we need to trace that thought through the entire Bible before we can say we begin to understand.

The greatest of all the prophets was John the Baptist, so Jesus tells us. 

“And when the messengers of John were departed, He began to speak to the people concerning John, ‘What went you out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?  But what went you out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings' courts. But what went you out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say to you, and much more than a prophet. This is he, of whom it is written, “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, which shall prepare Your way before You.” For I say to you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he’.”  Luke 7:24-28.

This forerunner of Jesus was obviously a strong man, and a great one, and “much more” than an ordinary prophet.  Yet Jesus says that even the least of the living Christians was in a better (greater) position than he!  This was because John did not live to see the mighty works of Jesus for himself, yet he did his work faithfully.  Let’s look at that through a modified quote from one of my library books to see the standard he set for us.


John was to go forth as God's messenger, to bring to men the light of God.  He must give a new direction to their thoughts.  He must impress them with the holiness of God's requirements, and their need of His perfect righteousness.  Such a messenger must be holy.  He must be a temple for the indwelling Spirit of God.  In order to fulfill his mission, he must have a sound physical constitution, and mental and spiritual strength.  Therefore it would be necessary for him to control the appetites and passions.  He must be able so to control all his powers that he could stand among men as unmoved by surrounding circumstances as the rocks and mountains of the wilderness. 

In the time of John the Baptist, greed for riches, and the love of luxury and display had become widespread.  Sensuous pleasures, feasting and drinking, were causing physical disease and degeneracy, benumbing the spiritual perceptions, and lessening the sensibility to sin.  John was to stand as a reformer.  By his self-denying life and plain dress he was to rebuke the excesses of his time.  Hence the directions given to the parents of John, – a lesson of temperance by an angel from the throne of heaven.  See Luke 1:13-17.

In childhood and youth the character is most impressible.  The power of self-control should then be acquired.  By the fireside and at the family table influences are exerted whose results are as enduring as eternity.  More than any natural endowment, the habits established in early years decide whether a man will be victorious or vanquished in the battle of life.  Youth is the sowing time.  It determines the character of the harvest, for this life and for the life to come. 

As a prophet, John was “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the LORD.”  See Malachi 4:5-6.  In preparing the way for Christ's first advent, he was a representative of those who are to prepare a people for our LORD's second coming.  The world is still given to self-indulgence.  Errors and fables abound.  Satan's snares for destroying souls are multiplied.  All who would perfect holiness in the fear of God must learn the lessons of temperance and self-control.  The appetites and passions must be held in subjection to the higher powers of the mind.  This self-discipline is essential to that mental strength and spiritual insight which will enable us to understand and to practice the sacred truths of God's word.  For this reason temperance finds its place in the work of preparation for Christ's second coming. 

The words of the angel to Zacharias had been often repeated to John by his God-fearing parents.  From childhood his mission had been kept before him, and he had accepted the holy trust.  To him the solitude of the desert was a welcome escape from society in which suspicion, unbelief, and impurity had become well-nigh all-pervading.  He distrusted his own power to withstand temptation, and shrank from constant contact with sin, lest he should lose the sense of its exceeding sinfulness. 

Dedicated to God as a Nazarite from his birth (filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb), he made the vow his own in a life-long consecration when he came to adulthood.  His dress was that of the ancient/ prophets, a garment of camel's hair, confined by a leather girdle.  He ate the “locusts [a fruit] and wild honey” found in the wilderness, and drank the pure water from the hills the better to keep his mind clear. 

But the life of John was not spent in idleness, in Spartan gloom, or in selfish isolation.  From time to time he went forth to mingle with men; and he was ever an interested observer of what was passing in the world.  From his quiet retreat he watched the unfolding of events.  With vision illuminated by the divine Spirit he studied the characters of men, that he might understand how to reach their hearts with the message of heaven, for “one size fits all” does not work for God.  The burden of his mission was upon him.  In solitude, by meditation and prayer, he sought to gird up his heart for the lifework before him. 

John found in the wilderness his school and his sanctuary.  Like Moses amid the mountains of Midian, he was shut in by God's presence, and surrounded by the evidences of His power.  It was not his lot to dwell, as did Israel's great leader, amid the solemn majesty of the mountain solitudes; but before him were the heights of Moab, beyond Jordan, speaking of Him who had set fast the mountains, and girded them with strength.  The gloomy and terrible aspect of nature in his wilderness home vividly pictured the condition of Israel.  The fruitful vineyard of the LORD had become a desolate waste.  But above the desert the heavens bent bright and beautiful.  The clouds that gathered, dark with tempest, were arched by the rainbow of promise.  So above Israel's degradation shone the promised glory of the Messiah's reign.  The clouds of wrath were spanned by the rainbow of His covenant-mercy.

Alone in the silent night he read God's promise to Abraham of a seed numberless as the stars.  Genesis 15:5. The light of dawn, gilding the mountains of Moab, told of Him who should be as “the light of the morning, when the sun rises, even a morning without clouds.” 2 Samuel 23:4.  And in the brightness of noontide he saw the splendour of His manifestation, when “the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” Isaiah 40:5.

With awed yet exultant spirit he searched in the prophetic scrolls the revelations of the Messiah's coming, – the promised seed that should bruise the serpent's head; Shiloh, “the peace giver,” who was to appear before a king should cease to reign on David's throne.  Now the time had come.  A Roman ruler sat in the palace upon Mount Zion.  By the sure word of the LORD, already the Christ was born. 

Isaiah's rapt portrayals of the Messiah's glory were his study by day and by night, – the Branch from the root of Jesse; a King to reign in righteousness, judging “with equity for the meek of the earth;” “a covert from the tempest; .  .  .  the shadow of a great rock in a weary land;” Israel no longer to be termed “Forsaken,” nor her land “Desolate,” but to be called of the LORD, “My Delight,” and her land “Beulah.” Isaiah 11:4; 32:2; 62:4, margin.  The heart of the lonely exile was filled with the glorious vision. 

He looked upon the King in His beauty, and self was forgotten.  He beheld the majesty of holiness, and felt himself to be inefficient and unworthy.  He was ready to go forth as Heaven's messenger, unawed by the human, because he had looked upon the Divine.  He could stand erect and fearless in the presence of earthly monarchs, because he had bowed low before the King of kings. 

Yet John did not fully understand the nature of the Messiah's kingdom.  He looked for Israel to be delivered from her national foes; but the coming of a King in righteousness, and the establishment of Israel as a holy nation, was the great object of his hope.  This misunderstanding did not alter or dishonour his main calling – to be the voice of introduction. Mark 1:7-8.

Amid discord and strife, a voice was heard from the wilderness, a voice startling and stern, yet full of hope: “Repent you; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Matthew 3:2.  With a new, strange power it moved the people.  Prophets had foretold the coming of Christ as an event far in the future; but here was an announcement that it was at hand.  John's singular appearance carried the minds of his hearers back to the ancient/ seers.  In his manner and dress he resembled the prophet Elijah.  With the spirit and power of Elijah he denounced the national corruption, and rebuked the prevailing sins.  His words were plain, pointed, and convincing.  Many believed him to be one of the prophets risen from the dead.  The whole nation was stirred.  Multitudes flocked to the wilderness. 

John proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, and called the people to repentance.  As a symbol of cleansing from sin, he baptized them in the waters of the Jordan.  Thus by a significant object lesson he declared that those who claimed to be the chosen people of God were defiled by sin, and that without purification of heart and life they could have no part in the Messiah's kingdom. 

Princes and rabbis, soldiers, publicans, and peasants came to hear the prophet.  For a time the solemn warning from God alarmed them.  Many were brought to repentance, and received baptism.  Persons of all ranks submitted to the requirement of the Baptist, in order to participate in the kingdom he announced. 


What a pity that most of them did not stick with their decision!

But John did not fail.  A prophet’s mission is to give the message from God, and leave the results to Him, and he did that well.



A prophet is a person, male or female, young or old, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, who is willing to listen to the Son of God and pass on His messages of help and warning to those to whom he or she is sent.  The messages they bring are sometimes very plain and easy to understand, but often they are couched in figurative language or scene so that the enquirer must co-operate prayerfully with the Spirit of God in order to comprehend the depths of the message.  This is particularly so in regards to prophecies dealing with future events. 

Often a prophet did not understand the message he was giving very clearly because it was intended for future listeners who had experienced some events which made sense of the message.  


Who wants to add (or subtract!) from these thoughts? I won't argue as I have stated, but I will publish your Scriptures so that we may review all the words of God on the subject.
Some of the comments on this page are adapted from books in my library.  No recognition is given because they are not intended as authorities, but are used because they express my understanding clearly.
Next query. To be discussed from December 1st 2005.

  Revelation 17:4-6

And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication. And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.  And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.

Who are the daughters of Babylon?

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