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Defining the Prophet

prophet

What is a prophet? In the old times, a prophet was an individual receiving a call from God, God’s spokesperson. He often connects with some crisis that is about to occur. He then announces God’s message of judgment and or deliverance to Israel and the nations. The importance of this office is visible in the fact that the word prophet occurs over 300 times in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, it appears almost 125 times.

The derivation and meaning of the word prophet has been a matter of controversy for several centuries now with no prospect of closure on this debate. It is small wonder that no resolution’s forthcoming. This is because we base most of the solutions to this mystery on etymologies or terms in similar languages. Linguists especially agreed that the most that etymologies can yield are only various suggestions. The only safe course in resolving the meaning of a word is to depend ultimately on usages in contexts.

Recognize the Meaning of the Word

However, in spite of the absence of any definitive consensus on the real meaning of the word prophet, there are at least two classical texts that demonstrate the usage of this term and its meaning in the biblical texts. The first is in Exodus 7:1-2. It says, “Then the Lord said to Moses, See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh.” What could be clearer? A prophet is one who receives a word of God. He is passing on the divine revelations from the Lord to his brother Aaron. The latter now functions as a prophet. Moreover, a prophet is authorized to communicate this divine message to another. Thus Aaron was to function as Moses’ mouthpiece.

The second classical text is in Numbers 12:6-8, “When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in
visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord.” In any case of Moses, God would speak in direct conversation face to face with him alone. Other prophets would receive no less a revelation from God, but in their case, the means God would use to communicate his word would be the less direct, somewhat mysterious form of dreams and visions.

A Prophet is God’s Spokesperson

Clearly then, a prophet is an authorized spokesperson for God. His message originated from God. He communicates through a number of means. When God spoke to these spokespersons, they had no choice. They must deliver that word to those to whom God directed it.

It is impossible to demonstrate from the text of Scripture that each person called to be a prophet received a specific call from God; however, that fact may be explained by the brevity of the records and by the fact that it was not the purpose of Scripture to record all such details. It is enough for us to know that in many cases, there was such definite call from God. Examples are the testimonies of Elisha, Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, which are all in the Bible.

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