“Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers” (Acts 7:52). “Woe unto you, for ye build the sepulchers of the prophets, and your fathers killed them!” (Lk. 11:47).
A prophet, like the priest, is a spokesman for God (Gen. 20:7; Ex. 4:11-12; 7:1-2). In this role the prophet represents the divine side of communicating revelation, and the priest the human side. The Lord Jesus Christ, being both prophet and priest, is the “Mediator” and speaks from the perspective of both. The prophet, in the course of exercising his gift, was “a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star” arose in the hearts of men. His utterance did not come from “the will of man” or his own resources, but, rather, was “moved [carried along/inspired] by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:19-21). Through his prophetic office, the prophet was one of God’s major agents by which the will of God to man was revealed. These inspired messages could be either predictive or preachy (didactic/understanding and explaining the sense of the Scriptures) in nature, which sometimes would be visualized by some unusual drama as in the case of Isaiah (Isa. 20:1-6), Micah (Mic. 1:8), Ezekiel (Ezek. 4:4-12; 5:1-4), and Jeremiah (Jer. 13:1-11).
The ministry of the prophets was varied and far-reaching:
(1) They announced new dispensations, i.e., Moses (Num. 12:8), Jesus (Mt. 16:18), and Paul (1 Cor. 3:10).
(2) The prophets engaged in evangelism in hopes of converting the pagans to the one true God and were the authorized Bible teachers of doctrine to promote a knowledge and worship of God, thus preserving the people from error.
(3) When instruction in the meaning of the types and symbols of Israel’s tabernacle and sacrificial system sank into some degeneracy, prophets, like Deborah (Jud. 4:4) and Samuel (1 Chron. 9:22), were used of God to arouse and to excite new interest in the things of God and bring about reform. To implement this, the prophets were organized into “colleges of prophets” (1 Sam. 10:1-8; 19:19-20; 2 Kgs. 2:3,5; 4:38; 6:1), where promising students, endowed with the Holy Spirit, and were theologically trained for the calling they would eventually exercise. McClintock and Strong, in their Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 8, pg. 639, say:
“The colleges appear to have consisted of students differing in number and usually selected from the Levitical and priestly clans. One elderly or leading prophet presided over them and was called their ‘father’ (1 Sam. 10:12) or ‘master,’ who was apparently admitted to his office by the ceremony of anointing (1 Kgs. 19:16; Isa. 61:1). They were called his ‘sons.’ Their chief subject of study was, no doubt, the law and its interpretation. Subsidiary subjects of instruction were music and sacred poetry, both of which had been connected with prophecy from the time of Moses (Ex. 15:20) and the Judges (Jud. 4:4; 5:1).”
The larger body of the prophets’ messages is recorded in metrical/poetic language.
(4) The predictive utterances, as evidenced with Jeremiah (Mt. 2:17-18), Daniel (Mt. 24:15), Hosea (Rom. 9:25; Mt. 12:7), Joel (Acts 2:17), Amos (Acts 7:42; 15:16), Jonah (Mt. 12:40), Habakkuk (Acts 13:41), Haggai (Heb. 12:26), Zechariah (Mt. 21:5), and Malachi (Mt. 11:10), represent only a small sampling of the miraculous fulfillment of prophecy. This is considered by many to be the most interesting and unusual feature of their ministry.
(5) The nation of Israel was a theocracy (Ps. 48:11-14). In view of this, the prophets did not decline themselves from a role in what we call “religion” or “politics” today. They considered any enemy of the state to be an enemy of God, and vice versa. It was the work of the prophet to hold before the people the highest and purest form of moral, legal, and spiritual values. As a result of performing these prophetic duties, the prophets were sometimes referred to as “watchmen” (Ezek. 3:17) or “shepherds” (Ezek. 34; Jn. 10). In reality, the spiritual welfare and protection of the nation and people were entrusted to them; therefore, anything that lay within the realm of morality or religion was the object of their concern. Most especially, they were at war with the false gods (Isa. 1:10-15) and the false prophets who, Jeremiah says, “prophesy lies” and are “prophets of the deceit of their own heart” (Jer. 14:14; 23:16,26,32).
The Bible says that the Lord sent His “servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them” (Jer. 7:25). Isaiah is typical of the prophets when he, in plain language, thundered, “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:16-17). Jeremiah, too, warns, “Turn ye again now every one from his evil way, and from the evil of your doings.” However, the people would not hearken “nor incline their ears to hear,” thus provoking God to anger with the works of their hands; which God said was “to your own hurt” (Jer. 25:4-7).
It Was Tough
Yes, it must have been tough to be a prophet! The prophets’ reward for their ministry was often persecution, imprisonment, and death, even as the inspired writer of the Book of Hebrews has recorded:
“Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in the dens and caves of the earth” (Heb. 11:33-38).
It is not difficult to imagine why Jeremiah, whose experience of affliction was quite commonplace for a prophet, came to the point in his life and ministry when he wanted to “throw in the towel,” avowing that he would “not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name.” He even cursed the day of his birth (Jer. 20:9,14)! Throughout his life, Jeremiah had been made the object of the High Priest’s jokes, mocked, and put in jail by the king because he had preached against the sins of the kings and priests of Judah, prophesying their death and Judah’s captivity in Babylon.
The opposition and persecution of the prophets did not come so much from the common man in the streets as it did from the religious and governmental rulers, who, at all costs, jealously protected their prestigious places of power and leadership rather than obey the criteria of God’s Word. There is no better illustration of this than that found in the hierarchy’s antagonism to our Lord Jesus Christ, Who was a prophet “like unto” Moses (Acts 3:22-23).
Jesus Christ condemned their sin (“Woe unto you scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites!” – Mt. 23:23ff) and was a challenge to their authority (Mt. 21:23-27), resulting in their unbridled wrath. However, because Christ had the popular support of the public, these world-class manipulators of minds and men were fearful of what might happen if the people ever discovered their enmity towards Christ. They took counsel behind closed doors, spied on Him, hoping to catch Him in His speech so that they might deliver Him to the governor and kill Him (Lk. 20:19-26; 22:2).
Times have not changed much in the world’s religious or political systems. Find out more in the next installment. (Continued in Part 2.)