All About the Prophets in the Bible
Bible prophets and the prophetic books make up a huge part of the Bible. It can make us wonder who these people were, and why God chose them to be prophets.
Here, we’ll look at who these prophets were and how God used them. You’ll meet the major prophets and a few of the minor prophets as well.
Learning about the prophets of the past can help us better understand the whole story of the Bible, and of God’s relationship with humanity.
Here are the 4 main points that we’ll explore:
- Who can be a prophet?
- How does God call prophets?
- A look at the Bible’s major prophets
- Why it’s important to learn about the prophets in the Bible
Let’s start at the basics, defining what a prophet is and who can serve in this type of role.
Who Can be a Prophet?
There is no one type or model for the kind of person God calls to be a prophet. The Bible is full of prophets, and each one of them is unique.
Some prophets were young, like Samuel and Daniel.
Some prophets were very old, like Anna and Simeon.
Sometimes prophets were priests or judges, like Jeremiah and Deborah.
Other times prophets were regular people with regular jobs (shepherds and carpenters, etc.) like Paul, Moses, and Noah.
And most of the time, prophets weren’t exactly popular among their own people—because they often had to deliver messages of change, or of abandoning certain cherished-but-harmful behaviors, or of exposing secret sins and vices held by those in leadership.
But when it comes to what God needs in a person for them to be a prophet…it is simply willingness.
When it comes down to it, prophets had to have an open heart, and desire to listen and follow the Word of the Lord.
To put it plainly, anyone can be a prophet if God calls them.
So let’s look at some of the ways that God called the Bible prophets.
How did God call the prophets in the Bible?
Though it’s not always specified exactly, it was common for God to call prophets through dreams or visions.
In these visions, God would give the prophet a message to deliver to the people.
Sometimes the message is one of encouragement. Sometimes it’s a warning.
Even though many prophets were called through visions, each vision and message was unique to the prophet being called.
Each of the Bible prophets lived and prophesied in a specific time and situation. By getting to know a few of the prophets—specifically Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and John—we can begin to understand why and how God called them, and for what purpose.
Moses is one of the earlier major prophets of the Bible, preceded only by Noah and Abraham. He was the carrier of the Ten Commandments and the God-led liberator of the Children of Israel from Egypt. So we can consider Moses as a standout Bible prophet.
He had quite the resumé. Early on we read about him escaping the persecution of Israelite children. Then before we know it, he’s becoming a member of the Egyptian royal family!
But then we hear about him leading the Israelites through the Red Sea and through the desert, at the opposition of the Pharaoh. Then he’s acting as a mediator, communicating the covenant of God to God’s people!
God’s prophetic call to Moses is climactic. In the wilderness of Midian, where Moses was living as a shepherd after becoming a fugitive from Pharaoh, God appears to him in the form of a burning bush:
“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10, ESV).
“Then Moses answered, ‘But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak’” (Exodus 4:1, 10-12, ESV).
Not all prophets feel like they are worthy of prophesying for God, but He always provides what is needed for that prophet to get the job done. Moses seriously doubted himself, but God reassured him that He would show him what to tell the people.
Moses is a good example to us that prophets are not perfect.
While they communicate on behalf of the Divine, they are not divine themselves. They make mistakes just like everyone else. There were times when Moses resorted to doing things his own way, almost completely ignoring God’s direction.
For example, in the desert at a place called Meribah, God gives Moses specific instructions to speak to a rock in order to bring forth water for the children of Israel. Instead of following God’s instructions, Moses strikes the rock with his staff (Numbers 20:10-13).
That might seem like a minor difference (and there’s more to this story, of course), but the bottom line is that Moses did what he saw fit, instead of what God explicitly asked him to.
God still provided the Israelites with water, but He had to address that situation with Moses later on. And whenever Moses tried to do things his own way, things usually took a lot longer or were a lot more difficult.
What ultimately matters, however, is that Moses always came back to God and allowed His work to be done through him. God works with the prophets He calls to both accomplish what needs to be done, and to allow the kind of growth the prophets themselves often need.
Isaiah is a very well-known Bible prophet. In fact, the book of Isaiah is the most-quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament.
God called Isaiah to be His prophet through a vision. God asked,
“Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8, ESV).
And Isaiah responds to God’s call with a willing heart:
“Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8, ESV).
Even though he says he is a “man of unclean lips” and that he “lives among a people of unclean lips,” an angel touches a coal to Isaiah’s lips to symbolize God taking away Isaiah’s guilt and giving him a message to share to His people (Isaiah 6:5, ESV).
God calls all kinds of people to be prophets, and He calls them for different reasons, too.
Even though Isaiah gave prophecies to the people for that specific time—prophecies of warning and rebuke (Isaiah 6:11-13)—God also gave Isaiah many prophecies of hope and encouragement about the future Messiah.
This is fitting, since Isaiah’s name means “the Lord is salvation.”
Isaiah lives out the meaning of his name through his several prophecies of Jesus’ birth:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:1, ESV).
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, ESV).
As a prophet living in the middle of the Babylonian captivity of Judah, God uses Isaiah’s prophetic message to bring the people hope—an assurance that God is sending them a deliverer, just as He did with Moses when His people were enslaved in Egypt.
This time, however, the deliverer is not a created human being. It is Jesus.
Isaiah’s prophetic message provides hope for those in exile. Hope that we can continue to read today to remind us of God’s plan to save humanity through His Son.
Jeremiah was a prophet to the Southern kingdom of Judah, and he lived through the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, which resulted in the Jewish exile in Babylon.
The book of Jeremiah starts out with his call to be God’s prophet:
“Then the word of the Lord came to me saying:
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
And I ordained you a prophet to the nations’ ” (Jeremiah 1:4-5, NKJV).
God states to Jeremiah that before he was even born, God knew he would be a prophet, and He chose him for that purpose.
Jeremiah’s call highlights how, sometimes, God’s choices for a prophet are unexpected.
In this case, Jeremiah is probably just a teenager.
For example, after God says He has chosen Jeremiah to be a prophet, Jeremiah refuses and claims that he is too young to be a prophet:
“Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth” (Jeremiah 1:3, NKJV).
However, God reassures Jeremiah that his youth is not a reason for him to not be a prophet. He says that He will guide Jeremiah’s word and give him the wisdom to speak before the people (Jeremiah 1:6-7, NKJV).
And God did give Jeremiah the wisdom he needed to deliver messages to the people of Judah.
Though much of what Jeremiah shared called the people to repentance, Jeremiah also delivered God’s messages of encouragement.
One standout passage in Jeremiah’s messages to the people of Judah is Jeremiah 29:11-13:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (ESV)
God used Jeremiah to give the Jewish exiles hope in the future. And just as God had plans for Jeremiah to be a prophet, He also has plans for all people, if they are willing.
Daniel is often known for being thrown into the lion’s den by King Darius of Persia, but Daniel was actually a prophet, too.
His prophetic book is particularly interesting because the first several chapters aren’t really prophetic. Instead, they give us insight into who Daniel was as a person, and what kind of a situation he lived in.
Daniel was probably very young at the beginning of the exile in Babylon. And though he essentially grew up in a culture that didn’t respect God, he remained faithful.
He was faithful as he upheld the dietary guidelines of Israelite culture in the kingdom of Babylon and received praise from Babylonian officials for his strength and wisdom (Daniel 1).
He also showed his commitment to God when he was given the power to explain the Babylonian king (Nebuchadnezzar)’s dreams, even when the king’s own oracles couldn’t (Daniel 2, 4).
Even when he was in danger of persecution, Daniel was loyal to his beliefs and open to God’s guidance. Ultimately, he gained the respect of the Babylonian kings and gave them insight into the future.
Unlike the other prophetic books that we have talked about, the book of Daniel doesn’t have a specific moment in which Daniel is called to prophecy.
In fact, Daniel is given a vision that he doesn’t understand, and we get to read about how he goes to God for explanation (Daniel 8).
In all scenarios and situations—exile, persecution, exaltation, confusion, and clarity—Daniel goes to God for guidance, and his prophecies always point to God’s kingdom as the ultimate goal.
John, or John the Revelator, was a New Testament prophet. He was Jesus’ disciple, and he wrote the Gospel of John as well as the book of Revelation, which is where we can read his prophetic writing.
During the writing of the book of Revelation, John was exiled on the island of Patmos. While there, he received a message from God to write down the visions he was going to receive.
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,’ and, ‘What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodecia.” (Revelation 1:10-11, NKJV).
God called him to be a prophet and to spread a message to these churches, which were literal places, but are also symbolic of different groups of people and different types of group belief and behavior.
- Ephesus (The Loveless Church)
- Smyrna (The Persecuted Church)
- Pergamos (The Compromising Church)
- Thyatira (The Corrupt Church)
- Sardis (The Dead Church)
- Philadelphia (The Faithful Church)
- Laodicea (The Lukewarm Church)
John’s prophesying can come across as a bit confusing because it is so symbolic. But in the end, John’s message to believers is one of hope for the future. It is about God doing away with sin and evil for good, then saving and restoring humanity.
Just like Jeremiah prophesied hope for the children of Israel, John prophesied hope for all believers.
What stands out the most is John’s vision of Heaven and the New Jerusalem. In his final chapters of Revelation, John simultaneously predicts the future, prepares us for the new world to come, and encourages believers of Jesus to remain hopeful:
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:1-4, NKJV).
John’s prophetic message is encouraging even to us today. His message is a great example of how prophetic messages in the Bible are both timely and timeless. Leading us to our last point…
Why the Bible’s prophets are relevant today
So many of the prophetic messages might at first seem like they don’t apply to things in the 21st century.
We aren’t wandering in the desert
We aren’t exiled in Babylon.
And we aren’t waiting for the Messiah to be born.
But that doesn’t mean that our stories are all that different from the people in the Bible.
- Moses’ role as a prophet shows us God’s grace and mercy covers our imperfections. He can work through us even though we will inevitably make mistakes.
- Jeremiah’s message teaches us that even when we are surrounded by destruction and faithlessness, God has a hopeful plan for our future.
- Daniel’s message is an example of how we can impact the people around us through our faithfulness in Him.And though we aren’t Babylonian exiles, we are living in this world waiting for deliverance (the second coming of Jesus). Throughout our “exile” time, we can patiently and faithfully live out God’s message of hope and salvation.
- Isaiah’s prophecies of Jesus’ birth, often heard quoted around Christmas time, is an incredible reminder of God’s plan of salvation and Jesus’ sacrifice.
- And finally, John’s Revelation shows us that there is joy yet to come for believers in Jesus.
Even though the Bible prophets spoke to a specific time and specific people, getting to know them shows us that they are a lot like we are. They are simply human.
Truly, a servant of God can come from anywhere.
Now, whenever we read any of the prophetic books, we can find ways to relate to the Bible writers and maybe learn from their message and apply it to our lives today.
To find out how Bible prophets have shaped Adventism, check out our Bible studies page for more information.
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