Who Is A Prophet?
There are today many religious people who claim to be prophets and, thus, have a message from God to men. Because of the seriousness of this claim, it is important to know who a prophet is.
In Old Testament time, a prophet was a spokesman, that is one who communicated another person’s message. Exodus 4 has the story of God telling Moses that his brother Aaron would be a mouthpiece for him. The Lord said, “Now you shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth… And he himself shall be as mouth for you, and you shall be to him as God” (v. 15, NKJV).
The background of this statement is that God wanted Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the children of Israel leave Egypt, where they had been enslaved for centuries, to go to the land God had promised them. But Moses was reluctant to take God’s message to the Egyptian monarch, arguing that he was not a good speaker. Eventually, God appointed Aron, Moses’ brother, to be the speaker. The fact that Moses would speak to Aron, and then Aron would repeat to Pharaoh the words which Moses had given to him made Aron a mouthpiece for Moses.
In the same way, a person who spoke God’s words was a mouthpiece for God. He was a spokesman for God. This was the basic mission of a prophet. A prophet uttered the actual words that God had given him, with no modification or interpretation on his part. He proclaimed divine message with the aim of pleasing God, not man (Ezekiel 3:10-11).
The office of prophet was, with the priesthood and the monarchy, one of the key institutions in Old Testament time. But, unlike the priest and king, the prophet did not inherit his position. God called and commissioned each prophet individually. God revealed a message to the prophet, and then the prophet spoke to the nation of Israel exactly what God had commanded him. For instance, the Lord called Jeremiah to be His prophet (Jeremiah 1:5) and said to him, “whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak” (v. 7).
The prophetic message, sometimes, was retrospective, as when the prophet reminded the people of Israel of the power God wrought to bring them out of the land of Egypt and give them Canaan for a possession (Ezekiel 20:5-6). It also was contemporary, as was the counsel that Isaiah gave King Ahaz, dissuading him to appeal to Assyria for help when Judah and Aram pressured him to join a coalition against the rising pagan power (Isaiah 7-12). The prophetic message was also predictive. The prophet foretold the calamities that befell Israel because of its refusal to repent of its sins and return to God. This was the case, for example, when Jeremiah warned of the imminent fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians with their king, Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 39:1-45:5).
The predictions were not all negative. Some of them were positive. One of the most significant among these was the messianic prophecies. Isaiah announced, some 700 years beforehand, the virgin birth of Jesus. The prophet said, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
It is thus clear that a prophet was a forthteller, speaking forth God’s message, but he was also a foreteller, that is one capable of telling future events. The message he delivered was not something he had conjured up, and which came from his own will, but it rather was inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. Peter said, “the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). Elsewhere the apostle warned, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11).
There were in antiquity false prophets alongside the true and faithful ones. These were men who claimed that they had received a revelation from God when in actual fact they did not receive such messages. One of these men was Hananiah, who predicted that the Babylonian exile Judah was going to be subjected to would last only three years. His prophecy proved to be false, because the captivity lasted for about 70 years.
Now, as some in our day claim to be prophets, we all need to bear in mind this vital and precious statement in Hebrews 1:1-2. The Hebrew writer said, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds…” What this means is, Jesus is the only spokesman for God in the Christian era. Let me rephrase this, there is no prophet other than the Son of God. Those who claim to be prophets of God are deceivers. They are false prophets.