What is a prophet and what kind of prophecies are there?

On hearing the word prophet pictures immediately burst to mind. One sees a man with a beard in a white robe who yells the world is coming to an end en we should repent. An other sees a Christian clairvoyant of sorts. Both images are more or less correct, but there is more. When you walk through the bible you will discover more kinds of prophecies.

1/ Predicting the future This is done by seers, like Daniel. Everybody knows his night vision with the large statue with the golden head, silver chest etc. (chapter 2) But he also saw four strange creatures in a dream and he got al vision of a ram and a goat (chapter 7 & 8). These were prophecies about the rise and fall of future kingdoms.

In the New Testament the most predictions are in Revelations by John, but also Jesus gives us an insight is the end of times (Mat.24).

god-voice2/ Prophecy of doom. Most prophets in the Old Testament delivered prophecies of doom. For instance Jeremiah, a man with a mission, called before he was born (1:4,5) and with a clear assignment (1:7). Directed by God Jeremiah told the people what they had done wrong, how they could make up for it and what the consequences were if they didn’t.

This maybe is the best known task of a prophet; to announce judgements i.e. telling what the present situation is and what God is thinking about it.

Contrary to a prediction of the future, a prophecy of doom not always comes to pass. When people listen to the message and act accordingly, when they return to God, then the disaster from the prophecy won’t happen.

Prophecies of doom in the New Testament are to be found in Revelations 2 and 3, the messages to the seven churches.

3/ Prophecy of recovery. This is a message of Gods love, of comfort and hope. Almost every prophecy of doom is accompanied with a prophecy of recovery, because not only is told what is going to happen when people won’t listen, but also what God will do if they return to Him.

In Hosea 2 God is described as a husband who passionately loves his wife, who to cherishes and protects her and gives her everything that is good. But she pursues her lovers and for that she uses the gifts her husband gave to her. She thinks all the good comes from her lovers. God creates all kind of barriers to to prevent her running away from Him and finally He takes the good and the protection away from her hoping she will see He was the one that was good to her.

Ezekiel 16 tells the same story but now from the perspective of God as a father and Israel as a daughter. The declarations of love from God is these two passages are touching. His pain of the deceit is almost tangible, He seems desperate when He doesn’t succeed in getting His loved one back. In both stories after a lot of misery, God finally succeeds in reaching her en convinces her of His love. He forgives her and takes her with Him. This is the prophecy of recovery that ends a prophecy of doom.

Jonah already knew: “you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love. (4:2)

This also is the heart of the New Testament. The gospel is the ultimate prophecy of recovery.

4/ The council, the advice. A prophet is being consulted about a situation and he or she transmits what God has to say about it.

A king had the books of Moses at his disposal, he could read there what God wanted or he could ask a priest for an explanation, but regular as clockwork prophets were being consulted. Not only by the king, but by the entire people. There were hundreds of prophets in Israel (2 Cron. 18:5) and any self respecting city had its own group of prophets (2 Kings 2: 3,5). You could consult them to hear Gods will in a specific situation. The Holy Spirit was almost only given to them, they were the ones that were in direct contact with God. Or can you better turn that around? Most of the ones who received the Holy Spirit started prophesying, like the elders of Israel of Saul (Num. 11:25, 26; 1 Sam.10:11).

Peter in his speech in Acts 2 says that with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the prophecy of Joel is fulfilled (2:28); everybody shall prophecy because everybody has gotten the Holy Spirit. What you see happening after that is not an increase of predictions of the future or prophecies of doom or recovery, but you see council and guidance in practical situations. You see this happening on several places in Acts by means of spoken words or dreams. Most of the (inspired) letters in the New Testament are clarifications and advice. Paul also describes how prophecy functions in the church; it strengthens, encourages, edifies, exhorts and comforts. (1 Cor. 14:3).

In short you can say prophecies are messages from God. They can tell you what is going to happen in the (far) future, they can warn you about things you have to change and they can give guidance and insight in specific situations.

Does it still function like this? Is it a good idea to go to a prophet if you want to know something or can you better ask God yourself? Is prophecy still from this day and age and if so, what is the place of prophecy in the church? This is what next weeks blog is about.