The Idea of Biblical Prophecy Part 1/4

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 1Sa 9:9, where nābhı̄, “speaker,” and rō’eh, “seer,” are used as synonymous terms. Jer 23:16 and Eze 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 (Isa 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 (nābhı̄), or the mouth of the Lord (compare Eze 7:1 with Eze 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 (Amo 3:8). The words burn in his soul until he utters them (Jer 20:7, Jer 20:9).

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 (Num 24:2); or has fallen upon him (Eze 11:5); or that the hand of Yahweh has come over him and laid hold of him (2Ki 3:15; Eze 1:3; Eze 3:14, Eze 3:22, and often); or that the Holy Spirit has been put on him as a garment, i.e. has been incorporated in him (1Ch_12:18; 2Ch_24:20); or that the Spirit of revelation has permanently descended upon him (Num 11:25 f; 2Ki 2:15; Isa 11:2; Isa 61:1); or that God has given this Spirit of His (Num 11:29; Isa 42:1); or pours Him out upon man (Joe 2:28 f (Hebrew 3:1 f)).

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.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D.D., General Editor; Published 1915, 1939; Public Domain.