The work of God's prophets was crucial in communicating His will. Prophets along with the priests, judges and kings were responsible to speak and act on behalf of God for the benefit of the Jews and the nations. True prophets were loyal servants of God and convicted enemies of idolatry (cf. Amos 3:7). They often risked their lives when confronting false prophets, priests and kings with the words of God. They poured out their souls with pleas for sinners to repent and return to God. These were common men with an uncommon message of justice and righteousness (Amos 5:24). God used the mouths of these spokesmen to demonstrate "...what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).
What made people "prophets"? The word "prophet" in various forms appears over six hundred times in Scripture. The prophets of the Old Testament were described with various relational terms. Three of the most common were: "man of God," "seer," and "servant." One became a prophet by God's calling Him to this task (cf. Isaiah 6; Jeremiah 1). Prophets were given, via God's Spirit, the ability to speak truth regarding matters past, present and future, and the equipping power to communicate the revelation of God to people. Qualities of unselfishness, obedient submission to the voice of God, love, courage and patience were developed in the prophets.
Prophets were forthtellers, not just foretellers. Prophecy concerns the revelation of events which occurred in the past (cf. Moses wrote about events that occurred at the creation); it may deal with present circumstances (i.e., contemporary with the prophet), or it can look forward to the future. Fundamentally the prophet served as a mouthpiece for God. Consider Exodus 4:16: "So he shall be your spokesman to the people. And he himself shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as God" (NKJV). Later in Exodus 7:1-2, "So the LORD said to Moses: 'See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall speak to Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of his land.'" Moses' experience as a prophet became a paradigm for later prophets (cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:18-22). Terms such as "send," "go," "speak," and "I have commanded you" were commonly used by the Lord in speaking to the prophets. They would then challenge their audience with "hear" because "thus says the Lord."
Prophets either spoke or wrote the "words of God" or both. Some of God's prophets were non-literary, but spoke His will and we have record of some of their words and actions in other documents (cf. Elijah and Elisha in 1 and 2 Kings). These messengers of God largely employed Hebrew poetry. This style speaks powerfully to the will and emotion.
Most of the Old Testament prophetic written messages were addressed to the people of God who lived approximately between the years of 840 and 420 B.C. (excluding the Pentateuch). Two of the prophets addressed their prophecies to Nineveh (Jonah and Nahum), and one to Edom (Obadiah), but even then there were principles to be learned by those who laid claim to relationship with God.
Seventeen books of prophecy are in our English Bible. They were written by sixteen different prophets (Jeremiah wrote Lamentations). The books are classified by men as either "major" or "minor" primarily for their relative length. There is nothing minor about any message from God. The Jews grouped these minor prophets as a unit in one scroll. They were known as the book (scroll) of the Twelve. These were recognized as letters from God just as the much larger writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The minor prophets as arranged in the Old Testament scroll are thought to be in their chronological order: (1) Pre-exilic - the books that came from the period of Assyrian power (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah) (2) Exilic - those written about the time of the decline of Assyria (Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah) and (3) Postexilic - those dating from the return from captivity in Babylon (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi).
Typically there were at least four aspects to each prophetic message: 1) Proper recognition of the greatness of God, 2) Warning and appeal to those living outside the will of God, 3) Comfort and encouragement to those trusting and obeying God, and 4) Prediction of God's judgments upon those who rejected His will and salvation for those who obeyed and anticipated His coming in the person of His Son. Please do not miss the messianic message explicitly or implicitly stated in the writings of nearly every prophet. God's servants the prophets pointed to "My Servant," the Christ.
- Biblical Insights, August, 2012