THE HEBREW PROPHETS

 

A prophet, by definition, believe it or not, is nothing more than simply someone who speaks on behalf of another! This is the literal definition of the word 'prophet.' The slang word is mouthpiece, often used to refer to lawyers because they speak for their clients. This does not mean that lawyers are prophets, and to the best of my knowledge no prophet ever practiced the law before the bar... Prophecy is a religious term, and it refers to pronouncements made by individuals on behalf of a god. The best known of the prophets are those mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures (or what is known in Christianity as Old Testament) -- Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, and others. Prophecy, however, was not limited to ancient Israel. Evidence of it has been found in all religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and animism.

It is often mistakenly believed that prophets' main preoccupation is to predict the future. While it is true that prophets have often foretold future events, their predictions were based on analysis of what they saw happening around them. Individuals whose main concern was in making predictions were called diviners. These were people such as astrologers, who studied the planets and stars for 'indications' of future events; or they were people who read omens, such as stone or bone collections, tea leaves or the flights of migratory birds, as a basis for predictions. The similarity between prophets and diviners was the belief that both received inspiration from gods.

What a prophet had to say could come through visions, trances or dreams, or it could be acquired by learning. Even the learning process, however, had a good deal to do with acquiring a mental state by which revelations could be received. Those who were training to be prophets were organized into guilds headed by prophet masters.

Prophets were distinguished from other religious functionaries (i.e. priests) by their sense of having an avocation, or calling, directly from a god. Priests presided over rituals, and teachers expounded doctrine; but prophets delivered a message, and it was frequently a message that contradicted traditional ritual or doctrine. Because of this calling the prophets were often critics of their societies, and, where they were successful, they were reformers. The preaching of the prophets usually had to do with justice and morality, calling on their audiences to mend their ways lest their god punish them.

There were prophets in most of the ancient societies of the Middle East -- Bil’am, who is mentioned in the Torah, tghe Hebrew Scriptures, is an example of one such non-Israelite prophet. Often they were simply advisers to kings. Sometimes they were asked to make predictions, especially regarding the outcome of military campaigns. In some cases they were affiliated with temples and were expected to deliver prophecies as a regular feature of religious festivals-- as exemplified by the oracle at Delphi.

The best-known prophets, as we have said, are those whose work is described in the Hebrew Scriptures. Prophecy as a separate vocation developed slowly in Israel, but the Torah mentions the term for the first time in relation to "the first Jew" -- Abraham.

"But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, you are but a dead man, because of the woman whom you have taken; for she is a man’s wife. But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, Lord, will you slay also a righteous nation? Said he not to me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother; in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this. And God said to him in a dream, Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart; for I also kept you from sinning against me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for you, and you shall live; and if you restore her not, know you that you shall surely die, you, and all who are yours." [Gen. 20:3-7]

In the earliest period of Jewish history, the leader, priest, diviner, and prophet could often be one and the same person. The early prophets were connected with sanctuaries at such places as the Tabernacle in the desert, the sanctuary at Bethel and later with the Temple in Jerusalem. Nor were all prophets men. We read in Exodus, following the miracle at the sea of reeds,

"And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines, dancing. And Miriam answered them, Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider has he thrown into the sea." [Ex. 15:20-21]

Of course, our great liberator and lawgiver, Moses, is also called prophet in the Torah:

"And there has not arisen since in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, In all the signs and the wonders, which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, And in all that mighty hand, and in all the great and awesome deeds which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel." [Deu. 34:10]

After the Israelites settled in their own land there arose from time to time a leader who would unite the people to overcome a dire emergency. These people, men and women, were called judges. They were also God fearing, and often spoke for God, which made them prophets. Thus we read,

"And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, judged Israel at that time. And she lived under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Beth-El in Mount Ephraim; and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment." [Judges 4:4-5]

Some of these prophets remained nameless in the text:

"And it came to pass, when the people of Israel cried to the Lord because of the Midianites, that the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel, who said to them, Thus said the Lord God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of slavery..." [Judges 6:7-8]

The age of the judges was followed by the time of the great priest and prophet, Samuel. e was called a seer, "Ro’eh," and he spoke the words that God put in his mouth and acted as an intermediary between God and the people. It was he, who by prophetic vision, chose Saul to be first king of all Israel, and by prophetic command he turned away from Saul and anointed David to be the second king of all Israel.

What is called "classical prophecy" appeared in Israel during the 8th century BC in the persons of Amos and Hosea. They are called classical for two reasons. Books that are reputedly their own writings, instead of reports about them, appear in the Bible. The emphasis of their prophecy was different; they expressed a hostile attitude to the prophets and gods of other religions, and they exalted a nationalistic concept of Israel's relationship to its god. Some of the prophetic denunciations were directed against an undue emphasis on rituals and sacrifices. The prophets insisted that God prefers upright and ethical behavior over slavish devotion to details of worship services. Because the prophets believed the people of Israel to be God's chosen people, they preached against anything Israelites did to compromise this relationship. This included the worship of other gods and alliances with other nations. Prophetic denunciations also included the abuse of power the oppression of the weak by the strong and the failure to administer justice. Later, after the destruction of the Temple, in 586 b.c.e., the prophets assumed a more conciliatory and hopeful stance, exhorting the people to hold steadfast to God’s teaching in order to obtain His protection until the time of their redemption.

The Jewish Scriptures contain fifteen books of the Prophets: the Three large books, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel; and the twelve small books:

"And, behold, there came a man of God from Judah by the word of the Lord to Beth-El; and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord, and said, O altar, altar, thus said the Lord; Behold, a child shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon you shall he slay the priests of the high places that burn incense upon you, and men’s bones shall be burned upon you. And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the Lord has spoken; Behold, the altar shall be torn, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out. And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, who had cried against the altar in Beth-El, that he stretched his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he had stretched against him, dried up, so that he could not pull it back to him. The altar also was torn, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the Lord. And the king answered and said to the man of God, Entreat now the face of the Lord your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me again. And the man of God prayed to the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored to him again, and became as it was before. And the king said to the man of God, Come home with me, and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward. And the man of God said to the king, If you will give me half your house, I will not go in with you, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place; For so was it charged me by the word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn back by the same way that you came. And he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Beth-El. And there lived an old prophet in Beth-El; and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Beth-El; the words which he had spoken to the king, them they told also to their father. And their father said to them, Which way did he go? For his sons had seen which way the man of God went, who came from Judah. And he said to his sons, Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him the ass; and he rode on it, And went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak; and he said to him, Are you the man of God who came from Judah? And he said, I am. Then he said to him, Come home with me, and eat bread. And he said, I may not return with you, nor go in with you; neither will I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place; For it was said to me by the word of the Lord, You shall eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn back to go by the way that you came. He said to him, I am a prophet also as you are; and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water. But he lied to him. And he went back with him, and ate bread in his house, and drank water. And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the Lord came to the prophet who brought him back; And he cried to the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus said the Lord, For as much as you have disobeyed the mouth of the Lord, and have not kept the commandment which the Lord your God commanded you, But came back, and have eaten bread and drank water in the place, about which the Lord said to you, Eat no bread, and drink no water; your carcass shall not come to the sepulcher of your fathers. And it came to pass, after he had eaten bread, and after he had drank, that he saddled for him the ass, that is, for the prophet whom he had brought back. And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and killed him; and his carcass was thrown in the way, and the ass stood by it, the lion also stood by the carcass. And, behold, men passed by, and saw the carcass thrown in the way, and the lion standing by the carcass; and they came and told it in the city where the old prophet lived. And when the prophet who brought him back from the way heard of it, he said, It is the man of God, who was disobedient to the word of the Lord; therefore the Lord has delivered him to the lion, who has torn him, and killed him, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke to him. And he spoke to his sons, saying, Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him. And he went and found his carcass thrown in the way, and the ass and the lion standing by the carcass; the lion had not eaten the carcass, nor torn the ass. And the prophet took up the carcass of the man of God, and laid it upon the ass, and brought it back; and the old prophet came to the city, to mourn and to bury him. And he laid his carcass in his own grave; and they mourned over him, saying, Alas, my brother! And it came to pass, after he had buried him, that he spoke to his sons, saying, When I am dead, then bury me in the sepulcher where the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones; For the saying which he cried by the word of the Lord against the altar in Beth-El, and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria, shall surely come to pass. After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again from among all the people priests of the high places; whoever would, he consecrated him, and he became one of the priests of the high places." [Kings I Chapter 13]

"And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. And the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Get you here, and turn you eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Kerith, that is before the Jordan. And it shall be, that you shall drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there. And he went and did according to the word of the Lord; for he went and dwelt by the brook Kerith, that is before the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank of the brook." [Kings I Chapter 17:1-6]

"And it came to pass in the third year, that Jehoshaphat the king of Judah came down to the king of Israel. And the king of Israel said to his servants, Know you that Ramoth in Gilead is ours, and we keep quiet, and take it not from the hand of the king of Aram? And he said to Jehoshaphat, Will you go with me to battle at Ramoth-Gilead? And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses. And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, Inquire, I beg you, at the word of the Lord today. Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, Shall I go against Ramoth-Gilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it to the hand of the king. And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might inquire of him? And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, There is still one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the Lord; but I hate him; for he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so. Then the king of Israel called an officer, and said, Bring here quickly Micaiah the son of Imlah. And the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah sat each on his throne, having put on their robes, in a threshing floor in the entrance of the gate of Samaria; and all the prophets prophesied before them. And Zedekiah the son of Kenaanah made himself horns of iron; and he said, Thus said the Lord, With these shall you push the Arameans, until you have consumed them. And all the prophets prophesied so, saying, Go up to Ramoth-Gilead, and triumph; for the Lord shall deliver it to the king’s hand. And the messenger who went to call Micaiah spoke to him, saying, Behold now, the words of the prophets declare good to the king with one mouth; let your word, I beg you, be like the word of one of them, and speak that which is good. And Micaiah said, As the Lord lives, what the Lord said to me, that will I speak. And he came to the king. And the king said to him, Micaiah, shall we go against Ramoth-Gilead to battle, or shall we forbear? And he answered him, Go, and triumph; for the Lord shall deliver it to the hand of the king. And the king said to him, How many times shall I adjure you that you tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the Lord? And he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd; and the Lord said, These have no master; let them return every man to his house in peace. And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell you that he would prophesy no good concerning me, but evil? And he said, Hear you therefore the word of the Lord; I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left. And the Lord said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-Gilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him. And the Lord said to him, With what? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, You shall persuade him, and prevail also; go forth, and do so. And therefore, behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets, and the Lord has spoken evil concerning you. But Zedekiah the son of Kenaanah went near, and struck Micaiah on the cheek, and said, Which way went the spirit of the Lord from me to speak to you? And Micaiah said, Behold, you shall see in that day, when you shall go into an inner chamber to hide yourself. And the king of Israel said, Take Micaiah, and carry him back to Amon the governor of the city, and to Joash the king’s son; And say, Thus said the king, Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with scant bread and with scant water, until I return in peace. And Micaiah said, If you return at all in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me. And he said, Listen, O people, every one of you." [Kings I Chapter 22:2-28]

"But it came to pass, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. And king Jehoram went from Samaria the same time, and mustered all Israel. And he went and sent to Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, saying, The king of Moab had rebelled against me; will you go with me against Moab to battle? And he said, I will go up; I am as you are, my people as your people, and my horses as your horses. And he said, Which way shall we go up? And he answered, The way through the wilderness of Edom. And the king of Israel went, and the king of Judah, and the king of Edom; and they made a circuit of seven days’ journey; and there was no water for the camp, and for the cattle that followed them. And the king of Israel said, Alas! that the Lord had called these three kings together, to deliver them to the hand of Moab! But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord, that we may inquire of the Lord by him? And one of the king of Israel’s servants answered and said, Here is Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah. And Jehoshaphat said, The word of the Lord is with him. And the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him. And Elisha said to the king of Israel, What have I to do with you? go to the prophets of your father, and to the prophets of your mother. And the king of Israel said to him, No; for the Lord has called these three kings together, to deliver them to the hand of Moab. And Elisha said, As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward you, nor see you. But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him. And he said, Thus said the Lord, Make this valley full of ditches. For thus said the Lord, you shall not see wind, neither shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, that you may drink, both you, and your cattle, and your beasts. And this is but a light thing in the sight of the Lord; he will deliver the Moabites also to your hand. And you shall strike every fortified city, and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree, and stop all wells of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones. And it came to pass in the morning, when the meal offering was offered, that, behold, there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water." [Kings II 3:5-20]

"And Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master, and highly esteemed, because by him the Lord had given deliverance to Aram; he was also a mighty man in valor, but he was a leper. And the Arameans had gone out in raiding parties, and had brought captive from the land of Israel a little girl; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. And she said to her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! for he would heal him of his leprosy. And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid who is from the land of Israel. And the king of Aram said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel. And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of garments. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, And when this letter reaches you, know that I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may cure him of his leprosy. And it came to pass, when the king of Israel read the letter, that he tore his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends me a man to cure him of his leprosy? Only consider, I beg you, how he seeks a quarrel with me. And it was so, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel. And Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall come back to you, and you shall be clean. But Naaman was angry, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and cure the leper. Are not Amana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them, and be clean? And he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near, and spoke to him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid you do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather then, when he said to you, Wash, and be clean? So he went down, and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. [Kings II 5,6]

". . .And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him; and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel; now therefore, I beg you, take a blessing of your servant. But he said, As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none. And he urged him to take it; but he refused. And Naaman said, If not, let then, I beg you, be given to your servant two mules’ burden of earth? for your servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice to other gods, but to the Lord. In this thing the Lord pardon your servant, that when my master goes to the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon; when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this thing. And he said to him, Go in peace. And when he departed from him a short distance. Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, Behold, my master had spared Naaman this Aramean, in not receiving at his hands that which he brought; but, as the Lord lives, I will run after him, and take something from him. And Gehazi followed after Naaman. And when Naaman saw him running after him, he alighted down from the chariot to meet him, and said, Is all well? And he said, All is well. My master had sent me, saying, Behold, just now came to me from Mount Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets; give them, I beg you, a talent of silver, and two changes of garments. And Naaman said, Be pleased to accept two talents. And he urged him, and tied two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of garments, and laid them upon two of his servants; and they carried them before him. And when he came to the hill, he took them from their hand, and he put them in the house; and he let the men go, and they departed. But he went in, and stood before his master. And Elisha said to him, Where do you come from, Gehazi? And he said, Your servant went nowhere. And he said to him, Went not my heart with you, when the man turned back from his chariot to meet you? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and olive orchards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants? The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave to you, and to your seed forever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow." [Kings II 15]

 

"And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the Torah in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. And Shaphan the scribe came to the king, and brought the king word again, and said, Your servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it to the hand of the workmen, who supervise the house of the Lord. And Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest has delivered me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king. And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the Torah, that he tore his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Michaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king’s, saying, Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that was found; for great is the anger of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that which is written concerning us. And Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; she lived in Jerusalem in the second quarter; and they talked with her. And she said to them, Thus said the Lord God of Israel, Tell the man who sent you to me, Thus said the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon its inhabitants, all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read; Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my anger shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be quenched. But to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him, Thus said the Lord God of Israel, Concerning the words which you have heard; Because your heart was tender, and you have humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard what I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and have torn your clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard you, said the Lord. Behold therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place. And they brought back word to the king." [Kings II 22:8-20]

 

 

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