As we enter our study of the prophets, it is important that we clear our minds of any known conceptions we have about biblical prophets. Although we may know some things about prophets, these can get in the way of understanding new information we may discover through this study. We are going to start at the beginning, where prophets are first mentioned and work our way to who we think of when we think of prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc). By doing so, we can have a broader understanding of the role of Hebrew prophets and what exactly they were meant to do. We are going to start in an unlikely place in our study of prophets. Let’s start in the beginning, the book of Genesis.
The Hebrew word for prophet that occurs most often is the word nabiy’ which means a spokesman or speaker. Prophets were messengers of God and spoke for Him to the people. This word occurs over 316 times, by far the most used word to describe a prophet. We first see this word appear in the story of Abraham and Abimelech in Genesis 20. After Abimelech realizes who Sarah is, God tells Abimelech to return Sarah to Abraham because Abraham is a prophet (Genesis 20:7). He is a spokesman who has many conversations with God and relays these messages to others. As we can see, even father Abraham is a prophet.
In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses tells the people “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” Moses was the great prophet of Israel. He performed many signs before the people through their exodus and after while in the wilderness. This is also something we see prophets do that we will talk about later in this series. But as great as Moses was, there is still one coming that will be greater and will do something greater than any other prophet before him. He will be of their own kind and the warning is that they must listen to this prophet. This prophet, we will discuss later on as well.
In Numbers 12:6 God reveals how he spoke to prophets of old. “When there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams.” God spoke to prophets through visions and dreams. He also says he reveals himself to prophets through visions. This word for visions can mean “to understand” or “to know”. God made himself known and spoke to people through prophets. But notice what he says about Moses in the verses following. Verses 7 and 8 say, “But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord.” There is a noticeable difference between Moses and other prophets. God says that He speaks to Moses face to face, there is no other avenue God takes to speak to him. He even speaks clearly to Moses and not in riddles are poetic forms that we see in other prophets. Moses even sees the form of the Lord, though never seeing His face. There is something special about Moses, but we must remember there is one coming even greater than him.
We have learned that the first prophet was Abraham. Prophets speak on God’s behalf and they even receive visions and dreams from God, unless you are Moses. Hebrew prophets received messages from God that they were to deliver to other people. This is the origin and mission of the prophets.