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