Who Were The Prophets?

I get why, for many people, the prophets seem completely irrelevant. Read Ezekiel 1:15-20 lately? It’s not exactly a passage that most of us are reading for reassurance of God’s care. It’s hard to see how some passages from the Prophets could make any difference in our lives. Add to this the dimension of faulty interpretation and you have a recipe for uselessness. Most people think of the prophets as diviners and foretellers of the future. To some degree this is a fair view, but it overestimates only one aspect of the prophetic message. The Prophets did tell the future, but much more of their role was focused on speaking to the people of Israel within their own context and own time about matters relevant to the original audience. So, much like we read the apostle Paul writing specifically to the church at Corinth, we should read the prophets as speaking directly to a specific audience. Application then becomes a much easier process, if not always simple. Part of helping in the process of understanding the prophets involves understanding who the prophets themselves were.

I have found Willem VanGemeren’s definition very useful. A prophet is an Israelite, called by God, and empowered by the Spirit, who serves as God’s spokesperson, who has received authority and revelation from God, who is a good shepherd over God’s flock, who demonstrates God’s Word and mission by signs (Interpreting the Prophetic Word, 32). This rather lengthy definition covers a few important features of a prophet, each piece is important and I want to briefly unpack each.

A prophet is an Israelite.  A prophet had to be a member of the Covenant community and part of those who receieved the promises and took part in the responsibilities of that community. His message was consistent and continuous with the previously revelation given to the people of Israel, starting with Moses.

A prophet is called by God. Many of the prophetic books begin with a call and commission. In each case the prophet had no doubt but that God had called them and given them specific instructions. The prophetic role was not one inherited, like kingship, it was specifically granted by God and God alone. Which makes the role all that more important.

A prophet is empowered by the Holy Spirit. VanGemeren writes:

The power of the Spirit, which had characterized the ministry of Moses (Num. 11:17), was also present with the prophets. Some underwent a visible change as the Spirit “lifted” them “up” (Ezek. 3:12, 14; 8:3; 11:1, 24; 43:5) or “came upon” them (1 Sam. 19:20; 2 Chron. 20:14; Ezek. 11:5). They all experienced an overwhelming sense of the Spirit’s presence that left them with no doubt that God had spoken. (33)

The prophetic ministry could only be accomplished by the Spirit of God working through the prophets. The strange and outrageous things asked of the prophets, the miraculous feats some of them accomplished, are only feasible by genuine divine power.

 A prophet is God’s spokesman. Foundational for understanding the prophets is understanding that they did not serve themselves and their own agendas. The spoke on behalf of God for a specific contextual purpose.  They spoke in the name of the Lord (Deut. 18:19-20, 22).

A prophet had authority and revelation from God. The prophet, as God’s spokesman, clearly spoke God’s message. Their authority resided in the fact that they had a specific message from God almighty, as the prophet spoke so God spoke. To ignore or disobey a prophet was to ignore or disobey God.

A prophet was a good shepherd over God’s flock. It is true that there were false “prophets” throughout the ancient world. There were ways to distinguish a true prophet from a false, we’ll see that in just a minute. But one way to clearly distinguish them was to evaluate those who loved and genuinely cared for Israel. Those who spoke only flattering words and didn’t wish to acknowledge sin, moral failure, and idolatry in the nation were not those who cared for the people. The prophets who called out injustice, confronted kings for their oppression, and fought for those who had no advocates those were true prophets. They cared deeply for and had compassion on God’s people.

Finally, a prophet demonstrates God’s Word and mission by signs. The validity of a message was based upon fulfillment and signs were a way of supporting your authority and veracity. VanGemeren adds: God’s people were responsible for “testing” the new revelation by the standard (“canon”) of the older revelation and by verifying the “signs” of the prophet (Deut. 13:1-5; 18:20-22) (33).

This won’t answer all the details about the prophets and the prophetic ministry, but it is an important start. We must understand who these men were and why they cam before we can begin to unpack how their messages have relevance for us. As crazy as it sounds we can even find relevance in Ezekiel 1:15-20, but that may also mean redefining how we understand “relevance” and “application.” The prophets matter for us today and understanding them helps us discover how.


  1. Greeting, permit to visit….
    may I ask you, in your permitions ; who is your god? Allah or jesus?

    • Pastor Dave Online says:

      Thanks for stopping by the site, Acep. Jesus is the God I worship and serve. Thanks for the question.

      • I read a book, in that book, there is a dialog betwen Prophet Isa AS ( Jesus ) . the dialog much like this :
        ISA AS (Jesus) : O cursed creature, tell me what you did to the people of Moses people?.
        devil : I persuaded them to be Jewish.
        ISA AS (Jesus) : then, what are you doing to my people?
        devil : I will make them to make you a god.

        tell me what you think?

      • Pastor Dave Online says:

        Well, it’s not in the Bible which is the book that Christians affirm as authoritative.

      • may be,, but that book made by the referant from bible.
        well, sir, nice to talk to you. Salam.

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