Moses, Samuel, and Elijah: The Proto-Prophets

The pastorate is a ridiculous job! Who willingly goes into this line of work? I remember when I was in seminary a professor told me, “If you could see yourself doing anything else for a living do that.” The pastorate is just that hard, that crazy, and that demanding. One of the ways that I am encouraged to keep going is by reading biographical sketches of antecedent ministers. The legacy of the pastorate is helpful for understanding what I should do and how I can work through the bad days. The same had to have been true of the prophets. To whom did they look for encouragement and counsel? They looked to the proto-prophets: Moses, Samuel, and Elijah.

The term “prophets” usually refers specifically to the Classical Prophets, those men who wrote books of the Bible: the so-called major prophets like Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah, and the so-called minor prophets like Hosea, Joel, Amos, etc. The term applies, usually, to this category of God’s ancient spokesman. But these men were later developments of a tradition of prophetism in Israel reaching all the way back to the “fountainhead” of the prophets: Moses.

Willem VanGemeren writes:

Moses has a special place in redemptive history (Heb. 3:1-5). In God’s administration of his people, which lasted till he coming of the Son of God, Moses was God’s servant. He was also the fountainhead of the prophets. The prophetic message was rooted in the Mosaic revelation, just as the apostolic teaching (paradosis or “tradition”) was rooted in Jesus’ teaching. (28)

Because of his unique relationship with God, and because of his role as mediator of the Covenant of Sinai (Ex. 19:3-8; 20:18-19), Moses stands at the forefront of the prophetic legacy. Part of the prophet’s role was to remind Israel of their Covenant obligations, a ministry very much in line with Moses’. Furthermore, it is Moses who establishes the boundaries and guidelines of the prophetic ministry. Again VanGemeren writes:

As fountainhead of the prophetic tradition, Moses saw more of God’s glorious self-revelation than anyone else in the Old Testament (Ex. 33:18; 34:29-35). He spoke by God’s authority. Whoever questioned Moses challenged the Lord. Israel could find comfort, grace, and blessing because in Moses the roles of covenant mediator and intercessor (32:1-34:10; Num. 14:13-25) came together.

The prophets stand as heirs to this legacy and this commission. Ultimately, of course they point forward to our Lord who was a second Moses (Deut. 18:15-22).

The first “official” prophet, however, was not Moses, but Samuel (1 Sam. 3:1-14). Embodying the spirit of Moses (Jer. 15:1), Samuel was called by God to be a “judge,” “priest,” and “prophet.” VanGemeren states that Samuel “defined the role of the prophets as guardians of the theocracy” (35). Though the people want a king “like the other nations,” it is Samuel’s role to make sure that they understand that no one can supplant God’s authority over His people. Samuel’s legacy includes rebuking King Saul and challenging the whole nation to remain faithful to God’s covenant. He sets the stage for the litany of Classical Prophets that come after him.

Finally, Elijah is a real model for the Classical Prophets. He is often identified as the Covenant Prosecutor. VanGemeren writes:

Elijah has a distinct role in the history of redemption. Though he left no prophetic book, Elijah has a special place next to Moses. If Moses is the fountainhead and Samuel the rapids of the prophetic stream, then Elijah shaped the course of the classical prophets. (36)

How exactly does Elijah shape that course? VanGemeren identifies Elijah’s return to Mount Sinai as a turning point in redemptive history. He sees it as:

the end of one era, one that was characterized by divine patience, and the beginning of another, one that was characterized by purification. Israel had shown herself to be a nation hardened in unbelief. The situation had changed dramatically from the days when Moses repeatedly interceded on her behalf. Unlike Moses, who interceded on behalf of Israel (Ex. 31-34), Elijah accused God’s people of infidelity. The days of God’s patience were drawing to an end. A new era was coming. (36-37)

This change has certainly shaped the prophetic ministry of the Classical Prophets whose role was often one of Covenant Prosecutor. We see repeatedly in these prophets the accusations and charges read against Israel. This was the trend they borrowed from Elijah.

The legacy of the prophetism in Israel is a long one, reaching all the way back to Moses. But in each case along the way we are getting a clearer picture of how God’s prophets functioned. We are seeing more clearly from Moses, Samuel, and Elijah what the purpose and message of the later prophets was. This will help us to better understand and interpret these prophets today.


  1. thanx for the information but how do these prophets whre involved inhe social injustic


  1. […] 6. “Moses, Samuel, and Elijah: The Proto-Prophets” […]

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