Who Were the Old Testament Prophets?

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This study is adapted from the FAQ section at the Blue Letter Bible.


The Bible says that during the Old Testament period, God’s revelation to humanity came through a group of people known as the prophets. Scripture tells us a number of things about the Old Testament prophets. They include the following…

The Prophet Speaks For Another Person

The word prophet comes from two Greek words, “pro” which means “before, in front of, or in place of,” and “fayme” which means “to speak.” A prophet, therefore, is someone who speaks in place of someone else. For example, Aaron spoke on behalf of his brother Moses.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet” (Exodus 7:1).

The Bible says Aaron performed the job of Moses’ spokesman:

Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses. He then performed the signs in the sight of the people (Exodus 4:30).

The Prophet Spoke God’s Word

The biblical prophet was one who spoke forth the word of God. While every prophet spoke forth God’s Word not every one spoke of the future. The title “prophet” has the main idea of receiving and delivering of the message of God on any subject.

The Prophet Says What The Lord Said

The prophets were spokesmen for the Lord. They spoke to the people on behalf of God. The Lord said to Moses,

I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him (Deuteronomy 18:18).

The prophets said what the Lord said. The Old Testament prophets spoke the words of God. God told Ezekiel,

You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious (Ezekiel 2:7).

Amos wrote,

Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy? (Amos 3:7,8).

Balaam the prophet said,

Spend the night here, and I will bring word back to you as the Lord may speak to me. And the leaders of Moab stayed with Balaam (Numbers 22:8).

The biblical prophets unanimously testified that the words they spoke were not their own but were ultimately derived from the Lord.

God’s Way Of Designating Prophets

The Bible says that God’s way of designating prophets was through visions and dreams.

He said, “Hear now my words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, shall make myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream” (Numbers 12:6).

The Prophets Are Described In A Number Of Ways

The Bible describes the biblical prophets in a number of ways. They include the following:

  1. The prophet is called a man of God (1 Samuel 2:27).
  2. The prophet is a servant and messenger of the Lord (Isaiah 42:19).
  3. The prophet was called a seer (Isaiah 30:10).
  4. The prophet was a man of the Spirit  or “inspired man” (Hosea 9:7).
  5. The prophet was a watchman for the people (Ezekiel 3:17).

Not All Prophets Held Prophetic Office

Not all people who prophesied held the office of a prophet. For example, David was a king who was also made prophetic utterances. The Bible says,

Now these are the last words of David. David the son of Jesse declares, and the man who was raised on high declares, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and his word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:1,2).

Although Daniel was a leader in the Babylonian government, Jesus called him a prophet:

Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand) (Matthew 24:15).

There Were A Group Of Prophets

Scripture speaks of a group or company of prophets.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?” (2 Kings 2:3).

There May Have Been An Official Registry Of Prophets

There seemed to be an official registry of the Old Testament prophets. The Lord said,

So my hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will have no place in the council of my people, nor will they be written down in the register of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel, that you may know that I am the Lord God (Ezekiel 13:9).

While this could be referring to an official registry of prophets, it may simply refer to those who were God’s genuine people as opposed to the false prophets who would not qualify.

Some Prophets Wrote Down Their Prophecies

Sometimes the prophets were told to write down the things that God had revealed to them. God told Isaiah to write down certain things:

Then the Lord said to me, “Take for yourself a large tablet and write on it in ordinary letters: Swift is the booty, speedy is the prey” (Isaiah 8:1).

In another place the Lord said,

Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness (Isaiah 30:8).

Jeremiah was told to write,

Take again another scroll and write on it all the former words that were on the first scroll which Jehoiakim the king of Judah burned (Jeremiah 36:28).

The Lord said of Jeremiah’s writings:

I will bring upon that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations (Jeremiah 25:13).

Daniel wrote down a dream that God had given him:

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream (Daniel 7:1).

We also find the prophet Habakkuk commanded to write:

Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it (Habakkuk 2:2).

No One Was Allowed To Change Even One Word

The people were commanded not to change even one word that God had revealed to them. The Lord said to Moses.

Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you (Deuteronomy 4:2).

Consequently the people were given no authority to originate Scripture. They were ordered to keep the commandments that the LORD had given. This implies their ability to exactly identify those commandments to which they were to be obedient.

Some Of The Writings Were Preserved

The writings of the prophets were to be preserved. They were placed in the tabernacle and then later in the temple. They were to be preserved for future generations. Moses said to the people,

Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged (Deuteronomy 6:1,2).

Even Kings Must Obey The Prophets

The Scripture also commanded how the king was to relate to Scripture:

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees (Deuteronomy 17:18, 19).

This passage was written about five hundred years before Israel had its first king. The Law of Moses anticipated the office of the king and commanded how the king should view the written Word of God. While the king had authority by which he could put to death anyone whom he desired he was not allowed to tamper with the Scripture. He, like everyone else, was to be under the authority of the written Word of God.

Sometimes The Message Of The Prophets Was Sent Elsewhere

At times, the message of the prophet was sent to another place. We read in Jeremiah,

This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon (Jeremiah 29:1).

Elijah sent a letter to the king:

Jehoram received a letter from Elijah the prophet (2 Chronicles 21:12).

The Message Of The Prophets Was Also Read Out Loud

Baruch read Jeremiah’s message out loud to the people.

Baruch son of Neriah did everything Jeremiah the prophet told him to do; at the LORD’s temple he read the words of the LORD from the scroll (Jeremiah 36:8).

There Were False Prophets Who Existed

While God raised up His true prophets, Scripture also warns of the existence of false prophets:

But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die (Deuteronomy 18:20).

God judged the false prophets during the time of Moses:

The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them along with Korah, whose followers died when the fire devoured the 250 men. And they served as a warning sign (Numbers 26:10).

God also judged the false prophets of Baal:

Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there (1 Kings 18:40).

The Old Testament Prophets Continued Until John The Baptist

Jesus said,

For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John (Matthew 11:13).

John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. When Jesus came a new prophetic era began.

Summary

The Old Testament recognizes a number of people known as prophets. These people spoke in the place of the Lord. Their words were God’s words when they were speaking for the Lord. God’s way of designating prophet was by way of visions and dreams. They were called such things as a “man of God,” a “servant or messenger of the Lord,” a “seer” a “man of the spirit” and a “watchman.” However, not everyone who prophesied held the office of a prophet. David, the king, and Daniel the statesman, were called prophets even though they did not hold the prophetic office.

The Old Testament also spoke of a group of prophets. There may have been an official registry of prophets.

The prophets not only spoke the Word of the Lord some of them committed their prophecies to writing. The prophets wrote down the things that God had revealed to them and their writings were preserved for future generations.

All the people, including the king, were commanded not to change a word that the prophets wrote. At times the words of the prophets were sent elsewhere and read out loud to the people. Obedience was always expected.

Along with the genuine prophets were a number of false prophets. They were severely judged for prophesying falsely.

The Old Testament prophets continued until John the Baptist – he was the last prophet of the Old era. Jesus Christ brought in a new age of prophetic truth.

  • Eric

    Great article. It is interesting that God did not stop using prophets once Jesus came. Ephesians 4:11 says that He gave the church prophets AFTER His ascension to heaven.

    I Corinthians 14:37 says that the prophet’s job in the body of Christ was to decide what was scripture and what was not. In other words, tell people what is “thus saith the Lord,” just like the OT prophets would do.

    The “till” at the beginning of Ephesians 4:13 tells us that the gift of prophecy ceased with the completed word of God.

    Therefore, prophets exist in the New Testament, but not today.

    • Barbara LeFevre

      Eric~

      With all due respect, your conclusion that “…prophets exist in the New Testament, but not today” based upon the “till” in Ephesians 4:13 is not logical unless you are also prepared to say that the rest of the list (apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers) are also not for today. Isn’t there still the need for the “perfecting of the saints,” the “work of the ministry,” and the “edifying of the body of Christ”? Secondly, the span of the NT goes until the end of the world, so we are very much in the NT time. Thirdly, Scripture tells us very clearly that people will have the gift of prophecy (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17, I Cor. 13:2) although there will be no office of prophet (Heb. 1:1-2).

      Have a blessed day~
      Barbara

  • BRIAN H

    Thanks Chris! I know if it had no been for God using the prophets of old, we would not be here. The prophets wrote as God gave them utterance.
    There is so much we need to learn from the prophets of God and according to the scriptures the Holy Ghost fell upon them as he saw fit, not like believers today who have the indwelling of the Spirit all times(whether we listen to him). It took great faith to speak the word of God, do his work even in the face of death as we see most of them encountered!

    2Pe 1:21 For 1 the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost.

    For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. Rom 15:4

    AMEN!

  • Mark Hayes

    Hallelujah. Thank you Father for your inspired wisdom through the Living Word.

    Thank you also Chris.

    I for one am in awe of the work of Christ in God’s Old Testament prophets. They had such an obedient heart.

    Take the prophet Jeremiah as an example in Chapter 13.
    The voice or word of the Lord came to him to get a linen cloth or sash and put it around his waist, BUT he was told not to put it in water. Jeremiah 13.1 So what did Jeremiah do? – just as God instructed.

    The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah a second time – but this time he was instructed to take the cloth that he had aquired from around his waist and go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a hole in the rock. Jeremiah 13.2 So what did Jeremiah do? – just as God instructed.

    What I find so wonderful, is the simple obedience of Jeremiah. In this instance where were his questions? There was no, but why Lord?

    Surely, this was a man who walked in relationship with God and knew His still small voice. The result of His simple obedience was that the Word gave Him a teaching, that God’s desire was for His people to cling to Him just as the cloth clings to the waist of a man. This was to be for God’s reknown, praise and glory, Jeremiah 13.11. But God’s complaint was that the people would not hear.

    God’s final message through Jeremiah to the people was “Hear and give ear; Do not be proud for the LORD has spoken.”

    Dear Father, please work within me, Your child, an obedient heart to Your Word, obedience to Your still small voice such as your prophet Jeremiah had. Enable me to cling to the Lord Jesus Christ, Your Word, that in sensitivity to Your Holy Spirit I will heed the Lord Jesus’ voice. May I be brought before you being still, not with rashness of heart, but with awe and reverence of the Lord Jesus, Your Holy Spirit, that in Your Holy place I might learn to wait on You, the Teacher’s teaching, to know and to do according to Your will and not mine. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

    Mark Hayes
    NZ

    • Barbara LeFevre

      (This comment is off topic. It posted on another type of format, and there is no reply option, so I am posting it here. I hope that’s okay.)

      Mark~

      Thank you for your post. I can’t seem to find the original post, but I just wanted to clarify that predestination is nothing more than God’s plan for all people who will call upon His name for salvation, a plan which is bound in the words “foreknowledge” and “sovereignty” and not what John Calvin taught, that some people have been chosen for salvation at the exclusion of others, a direct contradiction of John 3:16 and II Peter 3:9. Christ, indeed, knows whom He’s going to save. It is all those people who have answered affirmatively to God’s call upon their lives. Here’s a shortened version of something that I have posted before:

      1. God, ALONE, draws us (Jn. 6:44, Rev. 3:20). This is God’s sovereignty.

      2. Man, ALONE, either accepts or rejects God’s call upon his life. Accepting means he/she believes, receives, repents, confesses, and calls (Jn. 1:12, Acts 3:19, Rom. 10:9, 13). This is mankind’s free will.

      3. God, ALONE, saves us, chooses us out of the world and conveys us into the kingdom of God in accordance to the plan He had before the foundation of the world (Matt. 19:25-26, Eph. 1, 2:8). This is God’s sovereignty.

      I agree with most of what you have said, but I am not sure that we understand it in the same way. For example, I am not really clear on what you meant when you wrote, “that very same person may well be saved.” Do you mean this in a general sense, that this person has called upon the Lord for salvation but that you just don’t know it yet, or do you mean it in the Calvinistic sense, that this person is saved but that he/she doesn’t know it yet? Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I tend to think the latter because you wrote, “but it may not be for me to know until I am raised with him or her to heaven by God’s act of mercy and our Savour’s grace.” Where in God’s Word is someone’s salvation a matter of secrecy, that “it may not be for [you] to know”? On the contrary, each believer is a light unto the world, a light that is not to be hidden, a light that is to be taken unto all men (Matt. 5:14-16), which is the great commission (Mk. 16;5). In addition, because there is no second chance for salvation (Heb. 9:27), it is very much for us to know. Waiting until we’re in heaven to see if our neighbor or coworker made it will be too late. It is here, in this life, that we are to determine whether people are saved or not so that we can share the gospel with them and tell them of their need for a Savior so that they won’t spend eternity in hell. This isn’t condemning them; it is facing a fact and reaching out in love to lost souls.

      Also, with all due respect, I don’t think predestination is difficult to understand. Why would God give us His Word if we weren’t going to be able to understand it? We have God’s guarantee that the Bible contains all the truth we need to know (II Tim. 3:16), that this truth is not subjective but exacting (Heb. 4:12), and that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all of it (Jn. 16:13). However, the reason that many people, although born again, do not understand the truth of God’s Word is because there is a cost to following Christ (Lk. 14:28), and it can be summed up in His admonition “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33a). Without prayer, repentance, study, and fasting, one will not grow in the Lord, a growth that can only come when one understands the Word and applies the Word. I know this from my own life. Although saved, I was living on the periphery because I was not doing my part; I was not living a life that truly reflected dying to myself and living for the Lord. Once I started getting real with Him and myself, He began opening my eyes to the truth of His Word and how to rightly divide it, and He promises the same thing to each and every person who has called upon His name.

      My prayer is that each of us will press into the Lord with fear and trembling, just as you have written, and that we will seek His wisdom through the vehicles that He has provided for us so that we will know His truth and live His truth.

      I would appreciate any thoughts that you have.

      Yours in Christ~
      Barbara

      • Eric

        I would add II Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

        And I Timothy 2:4 “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

        God wants ALL MEN to be saved. He did not choose some people to go to hell.

        • Barbara LeFevre

          Eric

          I used this verse in the first paragraph, but thanks for bringing it up again because it is a strong verse against Calvinism.

          Barbara

  • Barbara LeFevre

    Chris~

    Thank you for this detail concerning prophets. As you said, there is a difference between someone who prophesies and someone who holds the office of prophet. Acts 2:17 does say that people will prophesy, but Hebrews 1:1-2 says that there is no office of prophet: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by [his] Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” I find this verse to be one of the strongest against religions (e.g. Mormons) who claim that men are called to the office of prophet today.

    God bless you~
    Barbara

  • Barbara LeFevre

    Chris~

    I don’t know if you read my comment on the 22nd, but the “moderation” button is following me around!! :)

    Yours in Christ~
    Barbara

  • Richard C.

    Although I agree with your article, are we not still prophets of God? When we accept him and become born again, we become a new person. When we share his mercy and grace, we are doing the same thing the prophets in the Bible did. As for the Mormon’s, they only believe certain men become prophets. In order to be baptised into and become a member of the LDS, you have to believe that both Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS, and Thomas Munson, current president of the LDS, are now and been prophets of God, appointed by him.