This chapter introduces one to the work of prophets in the Old Testament. In Form One, some prophets were taught e.g. Moses, Elijah, Nathan and Samuel. Traditional African prophets were also taught. In Form Three, we compare true and false prophets and the Traditional African prophets.
By the end of the topic, you should be able to:
- Define a prophet, and prophecy
- Identify categories of prophets
- Explain the importance of prophets in Israel.
- Describe the characteristics of prophets.
- Explain how prophetic messages were written.
- Compare the relationship between prophesies in the Old Testament and the New Testament
LESSON ONE: PROPHETS
Learning outcomes. After reading this lesson, you should be able to: –
- Give a correct definition of a prophet, and prophecy
- List prophets in categories
Definitions of a prophet, and prophecy
The word prophet comes from a Hebrew word “Rabii’ meaning ‘one who is called or one who announces God’s message. A prophet is also referred to as a seer. A prophet is a person sent by God to teach and give people messages about things to come in future from God. Prophets received divine messages from God and communicated them to the people.
A prophet is therefore a person who foretells events as revealed to him or her by God. Examples of prophets include Samuel, Elijah, Jeremiah and prophetesses (female prophet) Deborah, and Huidah. Prophecy is a statement, a message of something that is going to happen in the future. The action of giving future messages is called prophecy.
Categories of prophets
There were many categories of prophets. These were:
- Major Prophets. These were Prophet’s whose messages covered a long period of time. Their messages were long and detailed. For example Prophet Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
- Minor prophets. There are 12 books of the Minor Prophets examples They are called minor because their messages are short, brief and do not contain detailed information. The Minor Prophets are Amos, and Hosea, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
- Canonical prophets the term canon means law. Canonical prophets are law prophets. The individual utterances of these prophets are laws. Both minor and major prophets are canonical prophets, The early prophets are Moses, Nathan Elijah, and Elisha. These prophets belonged to guilds schools. Their prophecies are not recorded under their names. Their prophecies are written in books, which do not bear their names.
- Cultic prophets like Hannah (N.T.) served in the places of worship. They assisted the priest officiating worship
- Professional / court prophets like Samuel, Micah, and Gad lived together in the temple and in groups. They earned their living through their work. They did not work elsewhere
- False prophets are pretenders to speak in the name of Yahweh but God did not call them. They spoke lies in accordance with the messages people wanted to hear.
Characteristics of true prophets
There were two (2) major categories of prophets in the Old Testament, (1) true prophets and (2) false prophets. True prophets are those whose prophecies occurred and were fulfilled. Prophesies of false prophets did not occur. True prophets distinguished themselves from false prophets and ordinary people.
They experienced God dramatically when He called them and in their ministry. They were God’s spokesmen and women. They responded in faith to their call. God gave them specific tasks in their commission and God’s assurance and support in their ministry.
They urged people to repent and turn back to God.
In their messages, they taught that God demands sincere worship and not elaborate rituals. They understood God and taught about God righteousness, goodness, mercifulness, and loving care. They condemned evil in the society and proclaimed God’s judgment and punishment to those who failed to keep the covenant. They spoke with authority and acted with courage. They upheld God as a universal God for all nations. They talked of a remnant that shall remain after punishment or those that have continued to worship God sincerely. Their utterances were true because they were fulfilled They spent a lot of their time in prayers. They prayed regularly. At such times they withdrew from people in order to have a quiet time to seek God.
All the true prophets received opposition from their audiences and they were ready to suffer for telling God’s word.
The Characteristics of false prophets.
Some of the prophecy of false prophets contradicted prophesies of the true prophets. False prophets followed their own imaginations, and gave false hopes. They told people what they wanted to hear. They had no personal knowledge of God. Hence, their prophecies were not in line with the divine revelations.
They used evil forces such as magic, and divinations to call upon the spirits of the dead. They were paid for prophesy and benefits materially from their clients. They served Baal and were mainly immoral. They committed crime.
How can we know true and false prophets today?
LESSON TWO: IMPORTANCE OF PROPHETS IN ISRAEL
After reading this lesson, you should:
- Describe the work of prophets in Israel
- Explain how God communicated with prophets and Israelites
- Analyse the content of the Prophetic messages
- Work of prophets in Israel
Prophets kept Israelites in communication with God. They communicated God’s will to the people of Israel. They foretold God’s judgments and punishment for sinners. They condemned the behaviour of the rich towards the poor. Through their messages, people reformed their lives since they condemned all forms of social evils and ritual sins.
They contributed to the writing of their messages leading to the compilation of the Bible.
Prophets guided and gave people hope. They taught people the laws of God. They warned people of dangers to come. They condemned idolatry and stressed the worship of one true God, Yahweh. They anointed the Kings in Israel. Kings consulted the prophets before any major undertaking such as war among others. They acted as conscience of kings. They advised them and challenged Kings when they went wrong.
- God’s communication with prophets and Israelites
God communicated to Prophets through visions, voices that were audible and clear, events, prayers, dreams, signs, ordinary things, and words which came to their minds with great power.
Writing messages of the prophets
The canonical prophets as mentioned earlier had their works and prophecies recorded under their names. Canonical prophets are referred to as writing prophets. It’s possible that some prophets wrote down their own prophecies. They wrote what God spoke to them as He dictated. An example is Jeremiah who wrote what he was told …’Get a scroll and write on it everything that I have told you about Israel, Judah and all nations. (Jeremiah 36:2, Isaiah 30:8). Two, the prophet’s message were probably written by other people. These were their assistant, secretary, scribe, and disciples or followers as the prophet prophesied.
Thirdly some of the prophetic messages could have been preserved as oral traditions and later written as books. A good example is 2 Kings.
Content of the Prophetic messages
Prophetic messages contained lessons from God to Israel. For example, the:
- Prophetic sayings were and still are oracles or poetic passages spoken by God himself through prophets. The prophecies were addressed to different nations. They carried specific teachings to the people, for example predicting future occurrences
- Narratives in the first person give an account of the prophet’s testimony. They spoke of their experiences with God, and responses to the call of God. They tell us about prophet’s impelling compulsion to speak God’s word. The narratives are written in the first person. They have a format ‘ The Lord said to me… The year that King Uzziah died, I was the Lord…”
- Narratives in the third 3rd person have messages written by a third party, i.e. not the prophet but another person. For example, “Isaiah said to them, “Thus you shall say to your master, thus says the Lord: “Do not be afraid of the words.” (Isaiah 37:6). The message recounts the prophets’ personal life, and political background.
LESSON THREE: PROPHESIES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, NEW TESTAMENT AND AFRICAN TRADITIONAL SOCIETY
The Israelites and the African traditional societies as well as other world communities had prophets who foretold the future. Among the Israelites, there were prophets chosen by God and false prophets who told messages which communities wanted to hear. Among the African traditional communities, there were wise men and women who prophesied about the future.
In this lesson, we shall compare these prophecies and learn what was similar and different about these them. The Old Testament prophecies are compared with those from the African traditional society and the New Testament
Learning outcomes. After studying this lesson, you should be able to:
- State relationships between Prophesies in the Old Testament New Testament and the African Traditional Society
- Discuss the similarities between prophets in the African traditional society and the Old Testament
- Identify differences between prophets in the African traditional society and the Old Testament
Relationships between Prophesies
Several Old Testament (O.T.) prophecies were and are fulfilled in both the old and New Testament (N.T) in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The Law of Moses is used in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. However Jesus gave the law a deeper meaning.
The teachings and prophecies of the prophets provided the foundation for the message in the New Testament. The prophecies of Prophet Nathan to King David that God would raise up an offspring from the lineage of David was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the expected messiah.
Jesus disciples in the New Testament referred a lot to messages in the Old Testament. The teachings of Jesus in the New Testament are based in the Old Testament prophecies. They are therefore similar to each other because New Testament is a continuation of the Old Testament.
The New Testament is the new covenant spoken of by Prophet Jeremiah and other Prophets like Isaiah, Micah, and Nathan. Their prophecies about Messiah are fulfilled in the New Testament.
Similarities between prophets in the African traditional society and the Old Testament. In both traditions, prophets:
- Were endowed with divine powers and they dealt with religious matters.
- Acted as intermediaries between God and people
- Warned people of impending dangers and disasters due to disobedience
- Had supernatural experiences
- Encouraged morality and discouraged evil ways
- In some cases, could heal
- Withstood oppression and opposition by the political rulers
- Encouraged people to fight injustices in society
- Foretold future disasters such as drought and wars. They explained why they were going to occur.
- Were consulted when things were not well in the society.
- Received revelations through dreams, visions and thoughts
- Were gender sensitive male prophets and female prophetesses.
Differences (O.T.) between prophets in the African traditional society and the Old Testament.
The Old Testament prophets had a personal relationship with God. They communicated God’s messages to Israelites.
The prophets in the African traditional society communicated and received messages from the ancestor spirits
Old Testament prophets were God’s mouthpieces. They began their prophesy with ‘thus saith the lord’…. While the prophets in the African traditional society predicted what would happen to individuals, and communities.
The authority of prophets in the Old Testament came from God while the authority of prophets in the African traditional society came from their ancestors’ spirits.
In the Old Testament prophets were called directly by God while in some African traditional
communities the prophetic office was hereditary. The African traditional prophets dealt with family and local community issues while Old Testament prophets dealt with national issues, and crises. African traditional prophets were diviners while Old Testament prophets consulted God.
Relevance of Old Testament prophets to Christians today
Christian should be ready to be messengers of God. The call to be a Christian has a prophetic role. Some Christians are called to the office of a prophet and should prophecy for the glory of God and for the common good of the people. As God’s spokes person one should always stand for the truth. Christian should proclaim God’s will even if the message is not pleasant to the people. Once appointed as a prophet, one should pass the messages to who ever they are sent to without fear or favour. God’s messengers should always condemn the social political economic evils in the society.
As God’s messengers Christians should live exemplary lives. They should stand for what they preach and should expect persecutions because of their works as God’s messengers. They should be ready to suffer for the sake of the gospel.
Christians should pray to God to give them guidance, wisdom, and inspiration to be able to handle hardships in their lives. They should provide hope for the people in times of suffering.
Christians should realize that God calls both men and women to His service. They should be ready to obey Gods’ prophetic call and not run away e.g. Jonah. They should be concerned and take care of thewelfare of the poor community members.
- Define the terms prophet and prophecy
- List five categories of true prophets
- State the difference between true and false prophets
- In what ways were God’s prophets called?
- Outline the similarities and differences between the old testament prophets and the traditional African ones.
- What is the relevance of prophets to Christians today?