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prof'-e-si ((nabi) to bubble forth as from a fountain, (nabhi') speaker of the Lord, (ro'eh) seer)
Divination, Prophet(s), Vision
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Easton's Bible Dictionary

or prediction, was one of the functions of the prophet. It has been defined as a "miracle of knowledge, a declaration or description or representation of something future, beyond the power of human sagacity to foresee, discern, or conjecture." (See PROPHET)

The great prediction which runs like a golden thread through the whole contents of the Old Testament is that regarding the coming and work of the Messiah; and the great use of prophecy was to perpetuate faith in his coming, and to prepare the world for that event. But there are many subordinate and intermediate prophecies also which hold an important place in the great chain of events which illustrate the sovereignty and all-wise overruling providence of God.

Then there are many prophecies regarding the Jewish nation, its founder Abraham ( Genesis 12:1-3 ; 13:16 ; 15:5 ; 17:2 , 17:4 - 6 , etc.), and his posterity, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants ( Genesis 12:7 ; 13:14 , 13:15 , 13:17 ; 15:18 - 21 ; Exodus 3:8 , 3:17 ), which have all been fulfilled. The twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy contains a series of predictions which are even now in the present day being fulfilled. In the writings of the prophets ( Isaiah 2:18 - 21 ), ( Jeremiah 27:3 - 7 ; 29:11 - 14 ), ( Ezekiel 5:12 ; 8 ), Daniel 9:26 , 9:27 ), ( Hosea 9:17 ), there are also many prophecies regarding the events which were to befall that people.

There is in like manner a large number of prophecies relating to those nations with which the Jews came into contact, as Tyre ( Ezekiel 26:3 - 5 , 26:14 - 21 ), Egypt ( Ezekiel 29:10 , 29:15 ; 30:6 , 30:12 , 30:13 ), Ethiopia ( Nahum 3:8 - 10 ), Nineveh ( Nahum 1:10 ; 2:8 - 13 ; 3:17 - 19 ), Babylon ( Isaiah 13:4 ; Jeremiah 51:7 ; Isaiah 44:27 ; 50:38 ; 51:36 , 51:39 , 51:57 ), the land of the Philistines ( Jeremiah 47:4 - 7 ; Ezekiel 25:15 - 17 ; Amos 1:6 - 8 ; Zephaniah 2:4 - 7 ; Zechariah 9:5 - 8 ), and of the four great monarchies ( Daniel 2:39 , 2:40 ; 7:17 - 24 ; 8:9 ).

But the great body of Old Testament prophecy relates directly to the advent of the Messiah, beginning with Genesis 3:15 , the first great promise, and extending in ever-increasing fulness and clearness all through to the very close of the canon. The Messianic prophecies are too numerous to be quoted. "To him gave all the prophets witness." (Compare Micah 5:2 ; Haggai 2:6 - 9 ; Isaiah 7:14 ; 9:6 , 9:7 ; 11:1 , 11:2 ; 53 ; 60:10 , 60:13 ; Psalms 16:11 ; 68:18 .)

Many predictions also were delivered by Jesus and his apostles. Those of Christ were very numerous. (Compare Matthew 10:23 , 24; 11:23 ; 19:28 ; 21:43 , 21:44 ; 24 ; 25:31 - 46 ; 26:17 - 35 , 26:46 , 26:64 ; Mark 9:1 ; 10:30 ; 13 ; 11:1 - 6 , 11:14 ; 14:12 - 31 , 14:42 , 14:62 ; 16:17 , etc.)


Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names

(no entry)


Smith's Bible Dictionary

(no entry)


International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

prof'-e-si, prof'-e-si, prof'-ets:


1. The Seer and Speaker of God

According to the uniform teaching of the Bible the prophet is a speaker of or for God. His words are not the production of his own spirit, but come from a higher source. For he is at the same time, also, a seer, who sees things that do not lie in the domain of natural sight, or who hears things which human ears do not ordinarily receive; compare 1 Samuel 9:9, where nabhi', "speaker," and ro'eh, "seer," are used as synonymous terms. Jeremiah 23:16 and Ezekiel 13:2 f are particularly instructive in this regard. In these passages a sharp distinction is made between those persons who only claim to be prophets but who prophesy "out of their own heart," and the true prophets who declare the word which the Lord has spoken to them. In the latter case the contents of the prophecy have not originated in their own reflection or calculation; and just as little is this prophecy the product of their own feelings, fears or hopes, but, as something extraneous to man and independent of him, it has with a divine certainty entered the soul of the prophet. The prophet has seen that which he prophesies, although he need not have seen it in the form of a real vision. He can also "see" words with his inner eyes (Isaiah 2:1 , and often). It is only another expression for this when it is frequently said that God has spoken to the prophet. In this case too it is not necessary that there must have been a voice which he could hear phonetically through his natural ear. The main thing is that he must have been able sharply to distinguish the contents of this voice from his own heart, i.e. from his personal consciousness. Only in this way is he capable of speaking to the people in the name of God and able to publish his word as that of Yahweh. In this case he is the speaker of Yahweh (nabhi'), or the mouth of the Lord (compare Ezekiel 7:1 with 4:16). Under these conditions he then regards it as absolute compulsion to speak, just as a person must be filled with fear when he hears a lion roar nearby (Amos 3:8). The words burn in his soul until he utters them (Jeremiah 20:7 , 9).

2. Prophetical Inspiration

The divine power, which comes over a human being and compels him to see or to hear things which otherwise would be hidden from him, is called by various terms expressive of inspiration. It is said that the Spirit of God has come over someone (Numbers 24:2); or has fallen upon him (Ezekiel 11:5); or that the hand of Yahweh has come over him and laid hold of him (2 Kings 3:15 ; Ezekiel 1:3 ; 3:14 , 22, and often); or that the Holy Spirit has been put on him as a garment, i.e. has been incorporated in him (1 Chronicles 12:18; 2 Chronicles 24:20); or that the Spirit of revelation has permanently descended upon him (Numbers 11:25 ; 2 Kings 2:15 ; Isaiah 11:2 ; 61:1); or that God has given this Spirit of His (Numbers 11:29 ; Isaiah 42:1); or pours Him out upon man (Joel 2:28 ; Hebrews 3:1). But this inspiration is not such that it suppresses the human consciousness of the recipient, so that he would receive the word of God in the state of sleep or trance. But rather the recipient is in possession of his full consciousness, and is able afterward to give a clear account of what happened. Nor is the individuality of the prophet eliminated by this divine inspiration; unconsciously this individuality cooperates in the formal shaping of that which has been seen and heard. In accordance with the natural peculiarity of the prophet and with the contents of the message, the psychological condition of the recipient may be that of intense excitement or of calmness. As a rule the inspiration that takes possession of the prophets is evidenced also by an exalted and poetical language, which assumes a certain rhythmical character, but is not bound to a narrow and mechanical meter. It is, however, also possible that prophetical utterances find their expression in plain prose. The individual peculiarity of the prophet is a prime factor also in the form in which the revelation comes to him. In the one prophet we find a preponderance of visions; another prophet has no visions. But the visions of the future which he sees are given in the forms and the color which have been furnished by his own consciousness. All the more the form in which the prophet gives expression to his word of God is determined by his personal talents and gifts as also by his experiences.

3. Relation to Dreams

In a certain respect the dream can be cited as an analogous phenomenon, in which also the ideas that are slumbering in the soul uninvited put in their appearance without being controlled by consciousness and reason. On the other hand, prophecy differs pecifically from dreams, first, because the genuine prophetical utterance is received when the prophet is clearly conscious, and, secondly, because such an utterance brings with it a much greater degree of certainty and a greater guaranty of its higher origin than is done even by a dream that seems to be prophetical. In Jeremiah 23:25 it is declared that these two are entirely dissimilar, and the relation between the two is compared to straw and wheat. The Moslem Arabs also put a much lower estimate on the visionary dream than on the prophetic vision in a waking condition.

4. Freedom of Inspiration

Because this Spirit of God acts with full freedom, He can select His organs at will from among every station, age, or sex. The Spirit is not confined to any priestly class or organization. It indeed was the case at times that a prophet gathered disciples around himself, who could themselves in turn also be seized by his spirit, although the transmission of this spirit was a difficult matter (2 Kings 2:10). Yet genuine prophecies continued to be at all times a free gift of the sovereign God. Amos (7:14 f) appeals expressly to this fact, that he did not himself choose the prophet's calling nor was the pupil of a prophetic school, but that he had been directly called by Yahweh from his daily occupation as a shepherd and workman. In the same way we indeed find prophets who belonged to the priestly order (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others), but equally great is the number of those who certainly did not so belong. Further, age made no difference in the call to the prophetic office. Even in his earliest youth Samuel was called to be a prophet (1 Samuel 3:1), and it did not avail Jeremiah anything when he excused himself because of his youth (Jeremiah 1:6). Then, too, a woman could be seized by this Spirit. From time to time prophetesses appeared, although the female sex is by no means so prominent here as it is in the sorcery of the heathen. See PROPHETESS. As an exceptional case the Spirit of God could lay hold even of a person who inwardly was entirely estranged from Him and could make an utterance through him (compare Saul, 1 Samuel 10:11 ; 19:24 ; Balaam, Numbers 23; Caiaphas, John 11:51). As a rule, however, God has selected such prophetic organs for a longer service. These persons are called and dedicated for this purpose by Him through a special act (compare Moses Exodus 3:1 ; 1 Kings 19:16 , 19 ; Jeremiah 14:8 ; 2 Samuel 7:3), who afterward was compelled to take back a word which he had spoken on his own authority. Characteristic data on the mental state of the prophets in the reception and in the declaration of the divine word are found in Jeremiah 15:16 ; 20:7. Originally Jeremiah felt it as a joy that Yahweh spoke to him (compare Ezekiel 3:3), but then he lost all pleasure in life and would have preferred not to have uttered this word, but he could not do as he desired.

5. Supernatural Visions of the Future

The attempt has often been made to explain prophecy as a natural product of purely human factors. Rationalistic theologians regarded the prophets as enthusiastic teachers of religion and morals, as warm patriots and politicians, to whom they ascribed nothing but a certain ability of guessing the future. But this was no explanation of the facts in the case. The prophets were themselves conscious of this, that they were not the intellectual authors of their higher knowledge. This consciousness is justified by the fact that they were in a condition to make known things which lay beyond their natural horizon and which were contrary to all probability. Those cases are particularly instructive in this respect which beyond a doubt were recorded by the prophets themselves. Ezekiel could indeed, on the basis of moral and religious reflections, reach the conviction that Zedekiah of Jerusalem would not escape his punishment for his political treachery and for his disobedience to the word of Yahweh; but he could never from this source have reached the certainty that this king, as the prophet describes the case in Ezekiel 12:8, was to be taken captive while trying to escape from the besieged city and was then to be blinded and taken to Babylon. Just as little could he in Babylon know the exact day when the siege of Jerusalem began (Ezekiel 24:2). If this prophet had learned of these things in a natural way and had afterward clothed them in the form of prophecy, he would have been guilty of a deception, something unthinkable in the case of so conscientious a preacher of morality. But such cases are frequently met with. Jeremiah predicts to Hananiah that he would die during the year (Jeremiah 28:16), but it is not only such matters of detail that presuppose an extraordinary vision of the prophet. The whole way also in which Jeremiah predicts the destruction of Jerusalem as inevitable, in direct contrast to the hopes of the Jerusalemites and to the desires of his own heart, shows that he was speaking under divine compulsion, which was more powerful than his own reflections and sympathies. On any other presupposition his conduct would have been reprehensible cowardice. The case of Isaiah is exactly the same. When he gives to Ahaz the word of God as a guaranty that the Syrians and the Ephraimites would not capture Jerusalem (Isaiah 7:4), and when he promises Hezekiah that the Assyrians would not shoot an arrow into the city, but would return without having accomplished their purpose (Isaiah 37:22 , 33), these things were so much in contradiction to all the probabilities of the course events would take that he would have been a frivolous adventurer had he not received his information from higher sources. Doubtless it was just these predictions which established and upheld the influence of the prophets. Thus in the case of Amos it was his prediction of a great earthquake, which did occur two years later (Amos 1:1); in the case of Elijah, the prediction of the long dearth (1 Kings 17:1); in the case of Elisha the undertakings of the enemies (2 Kings 6:12), and in other cases. It is indeed true that the contents of the prophetic discourses are not at all confined to the future. Everything that God has to announce to mankind, revelations concerning His will, admonitions, warnings, He is able to announce through the mouth of the prophet. But His determinations with reference to the future as a rule are connected with prophetical utterances of the latter kind. The prophets are watchmen, guardians of the people, who are to warn the nation, because they see the dangers and the judgments approaching, which must put in their appearance if the divine will is disregarded. The prophets interpret also for the people that which is happening and that which has occurred, e.g. the defeats which they have suffered at the hands of their enemies, or the grasshopper plague (Joel), or a famine. They lay bare the inner reason for external occurrences and explain such events in their connection with the providential government of God. This gives to prophecy a powerful inner unity, notwithstanding the great differences of times and surrounding circumstances. It is prophecy which the Hebrew people must thank for their higher conception of history. This people know of a Highest Author of all things and of a positive end, which all things that transpire must serve. God's plan has for its purpose to bring about the complete supremacy of His will among the children of men.

6. The Fulfillment

In genuine prophecy, according to Biblical conceptions, the fulfillment constitutes an integral part. This is set up by Deuteronomy 18:21 f as a proof of the genuineness of a prophetic utterance. The prophetic word "falls to the ground" (1 Samuel 3:19) if it is not "raised up" (heqim, "fulfil," for which we more rarely find mille', but regularly in the New Testament plerousthai "being fulfilled") by the course of events. It would remain an empty word if it did not attain to its full content through its realization. In fact, in the word spoken by the prophet itself there dwells a divine power, so that at the moment when he speaks the event takes place, even if it is not yet visible to man. This realization is also not infrequently represented symbolically by the prophet in confirmation of his prediction. Thus in a certain sense it is the prophet himself who through his word builds up and pulls down, plants and roots out (Jeremiah 1:10 ; 25:15). But the fulfillment can be judged by the contemporaries in the sense of Deuteronomy 18:22 only when this fulfillment refers to the near future and when special emphasis is laid on external events. In these cases the prediction of certain events assumes the significance of a "sign" (compare Jeremiah 28:16 ; Isaiah 8:1 ; 37:30, and elsewhere). In other cases it is only later generations who can judge of the correctness of a prediction or of a threat. In this way in Zechariah 1:6 the fulfillment of a threat is declared, and in the New Testament often the fulfillment of a promise is after a long time pointed out. But it is not the case that a genuine prophecy must be fulfilled like an edict of fate. Such prophecy is not an inevitable decree of fate, but is a word of the living God to mankind, and therefore conditioned ethically, and God can, if repentance has followed, withdraw a threat (Jeremiah 18:2 ; case of Jonah), or the punishment can be mitigated (1 Kings 21:29). A prediction, too, Yahweh can recall if the people prove unworthy (Jeremiah 18:9) . A favorable or an unfavorable prediction can also be postponed, as far as its realization is concerned, to later times, if it belongs to the ultimate counsels of God, as e.g. the final judgment and deliverance on the last day. This counsel also may be realized successively. In this case the prophet already collects into one picture what is realized gradually in a longer historical development. The prophet in general spoke to his hearers in such a way as could be understood by them and could be impressed on them. It is therefore not correct to demand a fulfillment pedantically exact in the form of the historical garb of the prophecy. The main thing is that the divine thought contained in the prophecy be entirely and completely realized. But not infrequently the finger of God can be seen in the entirely literal fulfillment of certain prophecies. This is especially the case in the New Testament in the appearance of the Son of Man, in whom all the rays of Old Testament prophecy have found their common center.




1. Contents of Prophecy

The contents of prophecy are by no means merely predictions concerning the future. That which is given by the Spirit to the prophet can refer to the past and to the present as well as to the future. However, that which is revealed to the prophet finds its inner unity in this, that it all aims to establish the supremacy of Yahweh. Prophecy views also the detailed events in their relation to the divine plan, and this latter has for its purpose the absolute establishment of the supremacy of Yahweh in Israel and eventually on the entire earth. We are accustomed to call those utterances that predict this final purpose the Messianic prophecies. However, not only those that speak of the person of the Messiah belong to this class, but all that treat of the coming of the kingdom of God.

2. Conception of the Messiah

The beginnings of the religion of Israel, as also the chief epoch in its development, emanated from prophetical revelations. The prophet Moses elevated the tribal religion into a national religion, and at the same time taught the people to regard the religion of the fathers more ethically, spiritually and vitally. Samuel crowned the earthly form of the concrete theocracy by introducing an "Anointed of Yahweh" in whom the covenant relation between Yahweh and Israel was concentrated personally. The Anointed of the Lord entered into a much more intimate relationship to Yahweh as His Son or Servant than it was possible for the whole people of Israel to do, although as a people they were also called the servant or the son of God (compare Psalms 2:7 ; 110). The Psalms of David are a proof of this, that this high destiny of the kingdom was recognized. David himself became a prophet in those hymns in which he describes his own unique relation to Yahweh. But the actual kings of history as a rule corresponded too imperfectly to this idea. For this reason the word "prophetic" already in David's time directs to the future, when this relationship shall be more perfectly realized (2 Samuel 7:12 ; compare David's own words, 2 Samuel 23:4).


3. Before the Exile (through Judgment to Deliverance)

Solomon completed the external equipment of theocracy by the erection of the temple. But it was just his reign that constituted the turning-point, from which time on the prophets begin to emphasize the judgment to come, i.e. the dissolution of the external existence of the kingdom of Yahweh. Yet prophecy at all times does this in such a manner, that a kernel of the divine establishment on Zion remains intact. The divine establishment of the sanctuary and the kingdom cannot be destroyed; all that is necessary is that they be restored in greater purity and dignity. This can be seen also in Amos, who predicts that the fallen tabernacle of David shall be raised up again (Amos 9:11), which shall then be followed by a condition of undisturbed blessing. The same is found in Hosea, who sees how all Israel is again united under "David" the king of the last times, when between God and the people, between heaven and earth, an unbroken covenant of love shall be made (Hosea 2:1 , 18); and also in Isaiah, who predicts that during the time of the conquest and subjection of the country by the Gentiles a Son of David shall be born in a miraculous manner and attain supremacy (Isaiah 7:14 ; 9:2 ; 11:1), and who speaks constantly of that divine establishment on Zion (compare the quiet waters of Shiloah, 8:6), the foundation stone that has been laid by Yahweh (Isaiah 28:16, etc.). Micah, his contemporary, does the same, and in an entirely similar manner predicts that the radical judgment of destruction which shall come over the temple and the royal palace shall be followed by the wondrous King of Peace from Bethlehem (Micah 5:1). Possibly even at a somewhat earlier date Zechariah 9:9 described this future ruler in similar terms. In general it is not probable that Isaiah and Micah were the first to speak so personally of this King. They seem to presuppose that their contemporaries were acquainted with this idea.

4. Analogous Ideas among Heathen Peoples

In recent times scholars have pointed to the fact that in the old Orient, among the Egyptians, the Babylonians and elsewhere, the expectation of a miraculously-born King of the future, who was to bring to His own people and to all nations salvation and peace, was entertained at an early period. Yet so much is certain, that Isaiah and Micah did not base their hopes on the vague dreams of the Gentileworld, but upon the prophetic establishment of a divine sanctuary and kingdom of Zion. The personal figure of this Son of David is not so much in the foreground in the other prophets down to the period of the exile. These prophets mention only casually the Good Shepherd, as e.g. Jeremiah 23:1 ; 33:12 ; Ezekiel 34:23 f. But after that time this Messianic expectation became a permanent element in the hopes of Israel.

In the meanwhile, prophecy had thrown much light on the ways of God, which prepare for His kingdom on earth. Even long before Amos (5:18) the idea of a "day of Yahweh," which was to be a day of revelation, on which God makes a settlement with the nations, must have been generally known, since Amos is already compelled to protest against the abuse of this expectation. But hand in hand with this settlement we find also and at all times the expectation of the exaltation and of the salvation of Israel. Yet the prophets have all emphasized that Israel and Judah must first be thoroughly purified by a judgment, before the land could, through God's grace, be glorified and richly blessed. The judgment which the preexilic prophets are continually predicting is, however, only a means to an end. This judgment is not the final word of the Lord, as Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah and Habakkuk constantly teach. They announce that return to Yahweh and obedience to His commandments is the way to salvation (Hosea 6:1 ; Isaiah 1:18 ; Jeremiah 4:1 , and often). However, the prophets know that the people will not turn again to God, but that first the Jewish state must be entirely overthrown (Isaiah 6). It is particularly deserving of notice, that believing trust in Yahweh is regarded as the positive means for deliverance (Isaiah 7:9 ; 30:15 ; Habakkuk 2:4). It is through this that the "remnant" of the faithful, "the kernel" of the people, is saved. Also in the case of Jeremiah, whose work it was to predict the immediate destruction of Judah, there is not absent a kind of an esoteric book of consolation. His battle cry for the future is "Yahweh our righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6 ; 33:16). In his case we find a rich spiritualization of religion. The external customs, circumcision and the like, he declares, do no good, if the true state of the heart is lacking. Even the ark of the covenant is unnecessary and is discarded in the enlargement of the sanctuary. Ezekiel, who lays more stress on the external ordinances, nevertheless agrees with Jeremiah in this, that Jerusalem together with the temple must fall. Only after this destruction the prophet in his spirit builds the sanctuary again; notwithstanding the external character of his restoration, there is yet found in his picture a further development of its spiritual character. The ethical rights and the responsibility of the individual are strongly emphasized (Ezekiel 18; 33). The land becomes transformed; the Gentiles are received into the covenant of God.

5. During the Exile (Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah)

Deutero-Isaiah (Isaiah 40:1 - 66:24), during the time of the Babylonian captivity, enriches prophecy in an extraordinary manner, through the figure of the true "Servant of Yahweh," who in a peaceful way, through his words of instruction and especially through his innocent sufferings and his vicarious deeds, converts Israel, the undeserving servant, and also wins over the Gentileworld to Yahweh. It was not possible that the picture of a suffering man of God, who through his death as a martyr attains to exaltation, should be suggested to the Jews by the altogether different figure of a death and resurrection of a Babylonian god (Thammuz-Adonis!). Since the unjust persecutions of Joseph and David they were acquainted with the sufferings of the just, and Jeremiah's life as a prophet was a continuous martyrdom. But the writer of the second part of Isaiah had before his eyes a vision that far excelled all of these types in purity and in greatness to such a degree as did David's Son in Isaiah and Micah surpass His great ancestor. He brings to a completion the kingdom of God through teaching, suffering and death, and attains to the glory of rulership. In this way He unites the offices of prophet, priest and king.

6. After the Exile (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)

After the exile prophecy continues its work. The Messianic expectations, too, are developed further by Haggai, and still more by Zechariah. Malachi announces the advent of the Day of Yahweh, but expects before this a complete purification of the people of God. God Himself will come, and His angel will prepare the way for Him. The visions of Daniel picture the transformation of the world into a kingdom of God. The latter will mark the end of the history of the world. It comes from above; the earthly kingdoms are from below, and are pictured as beasts; the Ruler of the kingdom of God is a Son of man. The latter comes with the clouds of the heaven to take possession of His kingdom (Daniel 7:13). Then the judgment of the world will take place and include also each human being, who before this will bodily arise from the dead, in order to enter upon blessedness or condemnation. Here we find indicated a universal expansion of the kingdom of God extending over the whole world and all mankind.

7. Contemporaneous Character of Prophecy

If we survey this prophecy of the kingdom of God and its divinely-blessed Ruler, the Messiah, from a Christian standpoint, we find that a grand divine unity connects its different elements. The form of this prophecy is indeed conditioned by the views and ideas of the time of utterance. The prophets were compelled to speak so that their hearers could understand them. Only gradually these limitations and forms become spiritualized, e.g. the kingdom of God is still pictured by the prophets as established around the local center of Zion. Mt. Zion is in a concrete manner exalted, in order to give expression to its importance, etc. It is the New Testament fulfillment that for the first time gives adequate form to divine revelation. At least in the person of Jesus Christ this perfection is given, although the full unfolding of this kingdom is yet a matter of the future.

8. Partial Character of Prophecy

A second characteristic feature of prophecy is the partial nature of the individual prophetical utterances and prophetical pictures. One picture must be supplemented by the others, in order not to be misunderstood. Thus, e.g. according to Isaiah 11:14 ; Zechariah 9:13, we might expect that the kingdom of God was to be established by force of arms. But the same prophets show in other utterances (Isaiah 9:6 ; Zechariah 9:9) that these warlike expressions are to be understood figuratively, since the Messianic King is more than all others a Prince of Peace.

9. Perspective Character of Prophecy

A third feature that deserves attention is the perspective character of prophecy. The prophet sees together and at once upon the surface of the pictures things which are to be fulfilled only successively and gradually. Thus, e.g. Deutero-Isaiah sees in the near future the return from captivity, and directly connected with this a miraculous glorification of the city of God. The return did as a matter of fact take place soon afterward, but the glorification of the city in which Yahweh Himself had promised to dwell was yet in the distant future. The succeeding prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, predict that this consummation shall take place in the future.

Also in the predictions concerning the future made by Jesus and in the Apocalypse of John these characteristics of prophecy, its contemporaneous and perspective and at times symbolical features, are not disregarded. The firm prophetic word is intended to give the congregation certain directive lines and distinctive work. But an adequate idea of what is to come the Christian church will become compelled to form for itself, when the fulfillment and completion shall have taken place.


1. Necromancy and Technical Witchcraft

The uniqueness of Biblical prophecy is grasped fully only when we try to find analogies among the Gentile peoples. Here we find everywhere indeed the art of sooth-saying, the headquarters for which was Babylon. But with this art the prophecy of the Old Testament stands out in bold contrast (compare the prohibitions in Leviticus 19:26 , 31 ; 20:6 , 27 ; Deuteronomy 18:10 , prohibitions that refer to necromancy for the purpose of discovering the future). This art was practiced through a medium, a person who had an 'obh (Babylonian, ubi), i.e. a spirit that brought forth the dead in order to question them. The spirits were thought to speak in murmurings or piping sounds (Isaiah 8:19), which could be imitated by the medium (ventriloquist). According to the Law, which forbade this under penalty of death, Saul had tried to destroy those who practiced incantations, who generally were women (1 Samuel 28:9). This practice, however, continued to flourish. In addition, the Babylonians and other peoples had also a developed art of interpretation in order to find omens for the future. Especially was the examination of intestines practiced by them. The liver of sacrificial animals particularly was carefully examined, and, from this, predictions, good or bad, were inferred (compare Ezekiel 21:21). See DIVINATION. This art passed over from the Babylonions to the seafaring Etruscans, and through these came to the Romans. But other phenomena also were by the different nations interpreted as prophetically significant and were by those skilled in this art interpreted accordingly. Among these were miscarriages by human beings and animals, the actions of hens, horses, the flight of birds, earthquakes, forms of the clouds, lightning, and the like. Further, mechanical contrivances were used, such as casting of lots, stones, sticks, etc.

2. The Mantle Art

More spiritual and popular was the interpretation of dreams. It also was the case that mediums intentionally would convert themselves into a semi-waking trance. In this way the suitable mediums attained to a certain kind of clairvoyance, found among various peoples. This approaches the condition of an ecstatically aroused pseudo-prophet, of whom mention is made above. In Greece, too, oracles were pronounced by the Pythian prophetess, who by vapors and the like was aroused to a practice of the mantic article In Dodona it was the voice of the divinity in Nature, which they sought to read in the rustling of the trees and the murmuring of the water. How uncertain these sources were was well known to heathen antiquity. The ancients complain of the enigmatical character of the Sibylline utterances and the doubtful nature of what was said. See GREECE, RELIGION IN ANCIENT. In contrast to this, Israel knows that it possesses in prophecy a clear word (Numbers 23:23).

3. Contents of Extra-Biblical Oracles

But the contents also of the Biblical prophecies are unique through their spiritual uniformity and greatness. The oracle at Delphi, too, at times showed a certain moral elevation and could be regarded as the conscience of the nation. But how insignificant and meager was that which it offered to those who questioned it, in comparison with the spontaneous utterances of the prophets of Israel! Also what has in recent times been said concerning the "prophetical texts" from ancient Egypt (Gressmann, Texte und Bilder, I, 20) may indeed show some external similarity to the prophecies of Israel; but they lack the spiritual and religious depth and the strictly ethical dignity of the prophets of the Scriptures, as also the consistency with which these from century to century reveal the thoughts of God and make known with constantly increasing clearness their purposes and goal.


Witsius, De prophetis et prophetia, 1731; Chr. A. Crusius, Hypomnemata ad theologiam propheticam, Part I, 1764; A. Knobel, Der Prophetismus der Hebraer, 1837; F. B. Koester, Die Propheten des Altes Testament und New Testament, 1838; B. Duhm, Die Theologie der Propheten; Kuenen, The Prophets and Prophecy in Israel; F. E. Koenig, Der Offenbarungsbegriff des Altes Testament, 1882; C. von Orelli, Die alttestamentliche Weissagung von der Vollendung des Gottesreiches, 1882; W. Robertson Smith, The Prophets of Israel and Their Place in History, 1882; E. Riehm, Die messianische Weissagung, English translation, 1885; Delitzsch, Messianic Prophecy, 1891; A. T. Kirkpatrick, The Doctrine of the Prophets, 1892; G. French Oehler, Theologie des A T, 1891; Ed. Koenig, Dos Berufungsbewusstsein der alttestamentlichen Propheten, 1900; F. H. Woods, The Hope of Israel, 1896; R. Kraetzschmar, Prophet und Seher im alten Israel, 1902; A. B. Davidson, Old Testament Prophecy, 1903; Eb. Schrader, Die Keilinschriften und dos A T, 1902; C. von Orelli, Allgemeine Religionsgeschichte; M. Jastrow, Die Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens, 1903; Gressmann, Ursprung der israelitisch-judischen Eschatologie, 1905; W. J. Beecher, The Prophets and the Promise, 1905; C. S. Macfarland, Jesus and the Prophets, 1905; G. G. Findlay, The Books of the Prophets in Their Historical Succession, 1906-7; Gressmann, Alt-orientalische Texte und Bilder zum A T, 1909; Selwyn, Christian Prophets.



bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, define, difference between prophecy and dreams, nabhi', prediction, prophecies of jesus (messiah) in the old testament, prophecies of nations, prophecy



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