Have you ever wondered how God communicated with people in the Old Testament? God often used prophets to talk to His people. Well…
What is a prophet? Prophets in the Bible foretold the future, but that is not the only thing they did. Prophets in the Old Testament were sent to remind the covenant people of their covenant obligations that they had so often forgotten. They foretold the will of God to the people in hopes they would repent, trust in God, and fulfill their covenant obligations.
To learn more about what a prophet is continue reading below.
What is a Prophet in the Bible?
Prophets in the Bible were chosen by God to rely God’s message to God’s people.
- Prophets were to instruct people of God’s thoughts on justice.
- Prophets were to give instruction or warnings to God’s people.
- Prophets were to point to the coming of the Messiah and the coming Day of the Lord.
- Each came from different walks of life; some were religious men who came from the line of priestly families, and others were shepherds who God called to use.
- Prophets foretold the will of God, and what was to come in the coming age.
- Prophets were used by God to communicate to His people; God would speak directly to prophets, and they would write what God said down, and convey that message to God’s people.
- Not all prophecies were meant to call out bad behavior. Some were purely to instill hope in a discouraged group or individual.
- Not all prophecies were directed towards everyone, though most people can learn from them.
- God primarily used prophets to be His covenant prosecutors (rather than just foretell the future, which came with that).
So the Biblical definition of a prophet is pretty clear; someone chosen and called by God to receive a message directly from God, and then shares that message with the intended audience for who it was for.
Much of what prophets did was bring attention to a problem, explain its consequences and repercussions, and leave the prophecy recipient(s) with a more informed choice of how to go about living their lives (one that is pleasing to God).
The Bible speaks much on prophets in the Bible and has whole books dedicated to the Major and Minor prophets in the Bible.
Examples of Prophets in the Bible
The Old Testament has 33 books total, and characterized by:
- 5 books of the Law – Genesis to Deuteronomy.
- 12 books of History – Joshua to Esther.
- 5 books or Poetry/Wisdom – Job to Song of Solomon.
- 17 books of Prophecy – Split between major and minor prophets.
17 books in the Old Testament are of prophets in the Bible. God used them throughout all of the Bible, and we can see much of what they spoke – their prophecies fulfilled in the New Testament.
To understand these books of prophets better, we can take a look at the books of the major prophets in the Bible.
I would love to go through all the prophets in the Bible but decided to stick with the Major prophets who have their own books in the Bible. I also included Jonah (who is not a part of the Major prophets but decided to include him anyway). Jonah is a part of the Minor prophets and thought his story was interesting so decided to include his too.
Let’s first start with the prophet Isaiah and what his book is about.
The main idea of the book of Isaiah is that the people’s sins brought judgment, but that God’s redemptive plan was coming, and His promises will be fulfilled.
Reason Written: To show prophesies of God’s promises in between oracles and judgments.
Date & Author: The book of Isiah was written by the prophet Isaiah himself, possibly in between two periods; 740 B.C. and 686 B.C. (separated by approximately 15 years).
Key Events, Characters, Historical Context: God is the main character, Isaiah is a humble, righteous prophet. Hezekiah is an obedient King, King Ahaz is Hezekiah’s dad, and Isaiah’s whole family is shown.
After the conquest of Jerusalem by Babylon and the exile in 586 BC, Isaiah addresses himself to the Jews in exile, offering them the hope of return.
The book is a combination of preaching, oracles, stories, prophecies, condemnation, and comfort. The overarching concept is judgment and redemption. It talks about Israel’s failure, and their revival, and the promises of a Savior.
Distinguishing Characteristics: Isaiah is the book the New Testament quotes the most. The Lord promises He will wipe away tears from all faces.
In Isaiah, we find that God’s promises come true in the New Testament, and it still offers hope for us to this day. Isaiah 26:3 promises, “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you.”
Jeremiah & Lamentations
We can see clearly in both these books, Jeremiah and Lamentations that God desires obedience & faithfulness no matter the outcome. He simply calls us to obey, no matter who listens or not.
Often times the prophets would warn the people, but sometimes they would not listen. It wasn’t the goal of the prophets to make them listen but to simply spread what God told them to share.
Reason Written: Their message is that they were once breaking God’s laws and forsaking his ways if the people and if the people didn’t repent God would send judgment. When you return to God (a later generation in this case), he will restore you.
Date and Author: Jeremiah wrote Lamentations (586–520 BC) and Baruch, the scribe who, according to chapter 36, wrote the prophecies against Israel and Judah and all the nations from Jeremiah’s dictation (627/626 BC).
Key Events, Characters, Historical Context: Jeremiah’s ministry took place within the last 40 years of Judas’ existence. It is a powerful calling and Jeremiah is one of the final prophets.
Israel has to decide whom they put their hope in or whom they side with: Egypt or Babylon. Jeremiah says to not put your faith in chariots and the military. Instead of listening to Jeremiah, the Kings go and sign a contract that they side with the Egyptians.
The Babylonians took their wrath out on the Israelites because of them siding with the Egyptians, Babylon becoming a world power. Jeremiah began his ministry before the fall of Jerusalem and his life ended after the fall.
In his entire life, 40 years, he had one (an assistant named Baruch) who seemed to listen to him. Other than that, none listened to what he had to say or repented.
Distinguishing Characteristics: Few men have been as faithful as the prophet Jeremiah -who was a faithful servant of God. Even though he didn’t see visible results of his faithfulness, God was still pleased.
Jeremiah is the biggest book of the Bible, and throughout the whole book he was faithful, but without glorified results.
God loved Jeremiah no matter the outcome and knew him before he formed Jeremiah in the womb. God put words into the mouth of Jeremiah for God to use Him.
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”Jeremiah 1:9-11
What I learned from this book and prophet, is that human value does not come from what we bring to the table; it comes from the fact that we were made in the image of God.
No matter the outcome, God desires simple obedience and faithfulness to him and loves us before we “do” anything.
As disciples of Jesus, we can want to see tangible results of what we do for the Kingdom. As evangelists, preachers, church-planters, missionaries, teachers, we all desire to see the fruit of our labor.
But God doesn’t always show us the results of what we have done. In some cases, the only result we will have is bringing glory to God (which is the best result!)
Jeremiah barely saw any results. He tried but the people would not listen. God was still pleased with Jeremiah because He was obedient to Him. That is all God asked of Him, was simple obedience and faithfulness to Him no matter the outcome.
Ezekiel’s message is one of judgment & hope.
Reason Written: To show how God used Ezekiel in a powerful way. He appointed Ezekiel as a watchman over the house of Israel to warn them if they did not repent God would execute the final stage of judgment on them.
Date and Author: Written by the prophet Ezekiel (592-570 BC).
Key Events, Characters, Historical Context: Ezekiel was in captivity in Babylon and God gave him a vision about the evil rulers in Jerusalem. God instructed him to prophesy against them.
The first waves of captives were when Nebuchadnezzar attacked Judah and took people from Babylon.
He took some of the top leaders and chose people carrying them captive. He took Daniel, Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego. Then Israel rebelled again, and Nebuchadnezzar takes the second wave.
Distinguishing Characteristics: Ezekiel was told by God to prophesy against them. While at the same time bringing new hope of the new King (Jesus the Messiah) who will bring hope to all people.
What we can learn from the prophet Ezekiel and the book of Ezekiel, is that God punishes the wicked and disobedient, while still providing hope for those who do repent.
The main idea of Daniel, is that God will save His people.
Reason Written: To show how we are to humble ourselves before God.
Date and Author: Daniel wrote the book of Daniel and Most scholars would say it’s written about the year 165 BCE.
Key Event, Characters, Historical Context: Daniel is one of the few books in the Bible that takes place during a period of judgment. Many books foretell it and a few look back on it. The setting is in a foreign nation.
The book includes Daniel’s deliverance from the lions’ den, his friends’ rescue from the fiery furnace, and the future arrival of the Ancient of Days to save His people from the forces of evil.
Two powerful Babylonian Kings, Nebuchadnezzar and his son Belshazzar are filled with pride because of their power. God continues to use dreams and visions warning them to humble themselves before God.
Nebuchadnezzar first reacts with madness. Eventually, he humbles himself before God. However, his son does not follow his father’s example and is murdered at night.
The center of the book comes together through one of Daniel’s dreams. In this dream, Daniel sees four beasts, each symbolizing an arrogant kingdom.
One specific beast exalts himself before God persecuting his people. God comes destroying the beast once and for all exalting the Son of Man.
All these visions encourage patience for God’s people to wait to believe what God says he is going to do.
Distinguishing Characteristics: I believe we can find imaginary in this looking back to Genesis. God gave us the authority to rule over the beast of the field, and birds of the air, on behalf of God.
Things get messed up when people become arrogant. They forget that God is the ultimate authority and the giver of all things. Then they put that weight on themselves.
A common theme in the book of Daniel is to have hope and patience in midst of suffering. God is the supreme ruler over heaven and earth.
He will come through with what he says and will save his suffering people. Through Daniel’s dream, we see that God is foretelling Him defeating Satan once and for all.
Just like all prophets, Jonah was chosen by God to do His work, and proclaim the message God has said.
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai…Jonah 1:1
In the book of Jonah, the primary way in which God’s faithfulness manifests itself is in compassion. Jonah struggled with wanting to obey God. He didn’t want to go where God told him to go.
And when God disciplines Jonah in the story, this discipline is from God’s compassionate heart and for Jonah’s good.
God never gave up on Jonah but remained faithful to him throughout the whole time. Jonah is one who repeatedly experienced God’s faithful compassion.
The story of the prophet Jonah has two focuses: Jonah’s human stubbornness and God’s faithful compassion. In many ways, we are like Jonah, who is stubborn and senseless at times.
In those times, somehow we still remain the objects of God’s faithful compassion who desires to complete His work in us.
To learn more about the significance of the prophet Jonah click here.
Now many people, especially nonChristians ask this question…
Was Jesus Considered a Prophet?
Some people think that Jesus was a prophet and some believe that He wasn’t. According to the definition of a prophet and the Bible, we can see that Jesus was a prophet.
However, He was also more than just a prophet.
We must know what the Bible says about Jesus. He was the promised Messiah (the one who all those prophets had prophesied about). Jesus did not only preach God’s Word to the people, He is actually the very Word of God that became flesh.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.John 1:14
The Son of God, Jesus became flesh for us, for the will of God, and suffered for the sake of our sins to bring us to God.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,1 Peter 3:18
But Jesus didn’t stay dead and came back to life and is alive still to this day.
That he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,1 Corinthians 15:4
None other prophets did this. The Bible says that Jesus is not just a prophet.
He is the resurrection and the life that brings eternal life for all those who repent and believe in Him!
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,John 11:25
We will never die if we are in Jesus!
Just like the prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus foretold the future (Matthew 25). He also foretold God’s will. Still, we can see that Jesus remains far greater than the old covenant prophets.
Jesus continues to prosecute the covenant today, by His Spirit, through the inscripturated Word of God (Ligonier Ministries).
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.2 Timothy 3:16-17
I would highly encourage you to study further and read this short post by Ligonier ministries here.
Jesus was a prophet in the fact that He shared God’s message with others and foretold future events, however, He was much more than just a prophet.
Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, the living and breathing Word of God that became flesh. He came to fulfill all the prophesies that were promised by the prophets in the Old Testament.
He was the promised Messiah that was promised that would come to save God’s people once and for all.
And He did. He did all that God had promised He would do.
He became the ultimate sacrifice for us, and to bring glory to God by being resurrected again.
What Does the Bible Mean by False Prophets?
A false prophet is someone who claims to be speaking on behalf of God but bringing a false message.
The Bible actually warns us of these people.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.Matthew 7:15-20
The Bible says we will recognize false prophets by their actions, by what they do.
If they are not preaching what they say, if they are not bearing fruits of the Spirit, then that is one way we can recognize they might not be who they say they are.
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says,
‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing youDeuteronomy 13:1-5
Another sign, that is quite obvious in my opinion, is that if they claim to “go after other gods.” This is a clear sign, they are not following the true God.
Because in order to be following Jesus, we will not serve any other God but the trinity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit who are 3 in 1.
There is no other God besides this, and if a preacher or one claiming to be a prophet openly serves other gods, this is a clear sign they are not a true follower of God, but a false prophet.
I hope you now have a better idea of what a prophet was in Scripture, and how God used them in the Bible. I also hope some of their stories inspired you to continue to be faithful in your obedience to God.
All God asks of us is to be obedient to Him. No matter how much we mess up if we are willing to repent and come back to God, He will teach, correct, and redirect us along the way to continue to be used by Him.