Tag Archives: Old Testament

Prophets Galore!

by Scott

Not too long ago, I took some time and read a major portion of the Old Testament. Basically Genesis to 2 Chronicles. Not all in one day. Heavens no! But over a couple of months. It was good to read larger chunks, to get the sweeping history of the Hebrew people and God’s work amongst them.

But there was one thing that did catch me by surprise, especially as I read the books of Samuel and Kings.

You might have not noticed it before. And the thing is, I would have expected me to previously notice, since I’m one of those charismatics around here.

There were a whole lot of prophets in the time of the ancient Israelites. I mean a whole lot. Search the word prophet in just the books of 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings and the word arises about 100 times.

But it’s easy to miss this.

Why?

Well, I think when you have a particular theology that says a prophet is this or that, and this or that alone, then it’s easy to either miss or skip over what is right there in front of us.

It’s quite like the ministry gift of apostle. When people normally talk about apostles, what they have in mind is either the twelve or the twelve plus Paul. Of course, these 13 were apostles in the early church. But they were not the only ones. And I am also convinced that starting with the 12 and Paul shows our off-base approach from the beginning, mainly because we are have forgot to start with the greatest apostle of all time. You know, that guy named Jesus. Nope, not Paul. Not Peter. Not even John. It was Jesus – the sent-one from the Father, apostled with a specific mission to accomplish.

But, even after rightly starting with Christ, and then moving to the 12 and Paul, we forget that the New Testament mentions up to another 10 apostles. People like Barnabas, Apollos, James, Silas, Timothy and others. I’ve set out why I believe there were other apostles besides the twelve and Paul, which you can read in part 1 and part 2.

I didn’t really head into this Old Testament reading with a plan to catch every time it spoke of a prophet or prophets. It kind of just caught my attention unlike before in reading the Old Testament. Call it a specific Holy Spirit thing or simply what you will. But I was blown away how the word kept coming up over and over again.

First off, and this something I was quite aware of before, but it’s easy to note that there were specific prophets throughout the Old Testament that many are not usually aware of – people like:

  • Gad (1 Sam 22:5; 2 Sam 24:11; 1 Chron 21:9)
  • Nathan (2 Sam 7:2; 12:25; etc)
  • Ahijah (1 Kgs 11:29; 14:18)
  • Micaiah (1 Kgs 22:8, 14, 19)
  • Huldah, who was a woman (2 Kgs 22:14)

And, catch this. The ministry of the prophet did not end with the ‘Old Testament’, but continued into the new covenant. We’ve got folk like:

  • Agabus (Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-14)
  • Antioch prophets (Acts 13:1-3)
  • Judas & Silas (Acts 15:32)
  • Specific prophets mentioned in Corinth (1 Cor 14:29)
  • The ever revelatory apostolic prophet, John

One thing I also noticed is how many times it spoke of prophets (plural) being together, rather than just a single guy (or lady) here or there. In 1 Sam 10 we read about a procession of prophets. We are told of a group of prophets in 1 Sam 19:20. We read in 1 Kings 18 that, while Jezebeel was trying to kill off Yahweh’s prophets, a guy named Obadiah, not the prophet, was saving a hundred prophets of the Lord. So when Elijah says at Mount Carmel that he’s the only prophet of Yahweh left (1 Kings 18:22), he is communicating that he is the only one that is not in hiding.

Quite overwhelming when you start to look at the biblical text and the wider spectrum of the prophetic ministry. You might walk away thinking these prophets were everywhere.

In all, being reminded that such a ministry was more active amongst God’s people than first imagined, I have 3 points that come to me. These are points that I already believed about the ministry of the prophet, but they were even more highlighted in my recent reading of the Old Testament.

1) Prophets are not mainly Scripture writers

It’s true. A prophet is not mainly called to be an Old Testament Scripture writer, just as an apostle is not primarily called to pen New Testament Scripture. They might have and some did. But this is not essential. That’s why only a few did so in comparison to the wider nature of these two ministries. In the end, a prophet is one bearing a message from God, the ‘word of the Lord’, whether that message gets put to paper or not. Therefore, while I love Scripture and appreciate the prophets who did have their hand in it, we must continually be reminded this is not essential to the prophetic ministry. And this is why, as I will again argue later, I think it very reasonable to acknowledge the prophetic gift has continued today, since it was not solely wrapped up in the production of Scripture.

2) The ministry of the prophet both alongside and post-Scripture

Half of this point is not too disconnected from the first. The Hebrew community preserved the revelation given to them by their prophets of old, with a solid portion being penned as part of Scripture. But the word of the Lord was continually active para-Scripture, meaning alongside it’s recording. Matter of fact, with Scripture normatively being written after the spoken message was brought forth by the prophet, the plentitude of prophets were functioning in a similar vein as the well-known prophets. They were speaking the word and counsel of the Lord.

But, even more, because God was always speaking and revealing himself alongside the writing of Scripture, I think this gives precedence to the continuation of the gift and ministry today, even after having a canon of Scripture. Scripture was never given back then to replace the active ministry of the prophet. And Scripture is not here now to replace this needed ministry. I’m not saying prophecies today need to be placed in the canon, somewhere after 3 John. We have a canon and a canon remains a measuring stick. And I do not believe prophecy adds anything to the redemptive revelation in Christ. But Paul makes it very clear that this ministry role is extremely important for the body of Christ. Check out passages like Eph 2:20; 3:5; 4:11-13; 1 Cor 12:28. This is one of the five ministries given to help equip the church to be all that Christ desires it to be. I’d say it’s not optional.

Prophets functioned alongside the writing of Scripture in both the ‘Old’ and ‘New Testament’ times. And prophets are to continue functioning even after both have been finalised.

3) The importance of teamwork for prophets

As I mentioned above, I was struck during this reading with how many times I read about the plurality of prophets – the procession of prophets, the group of prophets. It’s probably not unlikely that there were schools of prophets where people were trained for this ministry. Something of that nature. And amongst a larger group of prophets, there would have been lead prophets – people like Samuel or Elijah. Maybe some functioned as a kind of counsel, while others had a stronger ministry with specific prophetic insights, and then others came to the forefront as lead prophets, even finding their messages in holy writ. But we should not simply blow these ‘other’ prophets aside as somehow unimportant.

And this is why – God is all about teamwork.

Think about Father, Son and Spirit. Think about God’s empowering the church to accomplish his mission. Things about God getting his revelation to humanity. It’s team. Always has been and always will be.

And, so, these prophets worked together as team. It’s not unlike when we turn to the pages of the New Testament and consider apostolic ministry. I am very willing to recognise that someone like John or Peter or Paul had a stronger measure of apostolic ministry as compared with a Barnabas or Apollos or James. But they were still all very much apostles. The same holds true with prophets. I am thankful for Isaiah or Ezekiel. But we also miss something if we think Nathan, Gad, Huldah, and others were inconsequential. Each had their measure of gifting, their anointing, their calling and we should give space for each to function in their own measure. The same stands true for teachers, shepherds and evangelists. Though I am a teacher, my measure of gifting is my measure of gifting and not that of a Scot McKnight or NT Wright or Jamie Smith or Ben Witherington.

But, regardless of measure, prophets or teachers or apostles or whomever are called to work in team. That’s what I believe Ephesians 4:11-13 is all about – the five ministries of the ascended Christ working together to equip and prepare God’s people for ministry themselves. This is why apostles and prophets work together to lay proper foundations in the local church.

There is no lone-ranger prophet, nor apostle, nor pastor. There is only team. God functions this way. Family is to function this way. The body of Christ is to function this way.

So, in all, I hope something fresh has been opened up in the Scriptures in regards to the prophetic ministry. And I hope our eyes have been opened a bit more to the reality that a) the ministry of the prophet is much wider than we sometimes allow and b) that God always desired that this important ministry continue even now.

Haggai & Modern-Day Prophecy

by Scott

Tucked away, near the end of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Christian Old Testament), we find a little prophet named Haggai. Well, he could have been a big prophet, but the words we have recorded were not as many as say an Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel, or Hosea or Zechariah for that matter. His words are important, just shorter.

Haggai (pronounced Hag-eye by Americans and Hag-ee-eye by Brits) was part of a post-exilic team that included at some point the main leadership of various people as Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah and Malachi (some overlapping with one another).

I recently found myself reading Haggai. I had no plan to, but the Lord had been speaking to my wife out of one of the minor prophets and she decided to share with me the passage. When I asked where the passage was specifically found, she mistakenly told me Haggai, though it had actually been Zephaniah (to which I later found out when I didn’t come across the passage she had read out to me). So I found myself taking up the “2 chapters” of Haggai’s prophetic message to the Jews who had returned from exile in Babylon.

After I read through this short book, a few things came to me that I believe can teach us about prophecy today, meaning prophecy coming forth in these days, centuries after the formation of the biblical canon. It mainly sprang out of these few verses: Continue reading

Not Centred in the Old Testament Prophet

by Scott

Of course, there is plenty of discussion, still today, on whether or not prophecy and prophets still exist. Here at To Be Continued, we are convinced that these ministry gifts have continued throughout the new covenant, Messianic age. Why? Simply we are told that the ‘last days’ would be marked by the whole body being Spirit-indwelt and the fruit of such would be prophecy for male and female, young and old (see Acts 2:17-18). I share more detailed thoughts here.

But what I find when one discusses the nature of the prophet and prophecy is that so many people direct their understanding of such mainly into the words of the Old Testament. Ok, let me start off by dealing with any accusations that I am saying the Old Testament is irrelevant and not important for today. That is, by no means, what I am saying. But what I am convinced of is that the Old Testament words are no longer the full and final revelation with regards to the ministry of the prophet or the gift of prophecy, nor being the final words on anything with regards to our faith.

This is the bigger picture now: We no longer read the Old Testament in and of itself as the full and final statement on God’s revelation. To do so would be detrimental to our faith that is centred in Christ. Rather Christ and the New Testament stand as the great revelation of God’s purpose and plans for His people and the whole cosmos.

Can we imagine what might happen if we centred our faith in the Old Testament? Though this example is quite overdone, if we simply read the Old Testament without the lens of the New Testament to shed greater light on the text, some might end up herding large animals into our church gatherings ready to sacrifice them. Yes, absurd, but nonetheless something to think about in an extreme way of not allowing the New Testament be that which it is – both the great interpreter of the old covenant revelation and that which even supersedes the old covenant revelation.

And, if we didn’t read the Old Testament through the greater revelatory lens of the New Testament, there might a whole host of other requirements we might be prone to lay upon the people of God. For example, circumcision of our sons. They did try that one a while back. Paul had some interesting words for those Galatians. Or how about some of the commands in Deuteronomy or Joshua on the dealings with the Canaanite peoples of that day. I’m glad I have the words of Jesus calling us to love our enemies (Matt 5:43-48) and Paul’s words that help us realise that our waging of war is actually against spiritual dark forces and not so much flesh and blood (Eph 6:10-12). Unfortunately, in church history, some have used those words of the Old Testament to justify attack on our enemies.

And the list could go on and on if we were to speak of particular laws, commands and even foreshadowings of greater things to come. And I’m sure we are aware of plenty of people who have been entrapped by such words. I know I’ve been there myself. Yet, instead, we read a kind of summary statement of the better nature of Christ and the new covenant in these words:

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Heb 8:6)

So, when it comes to the ministry of the prophet and the nature of prophecy, why can we get so entangled in deeply embedding our understanding within the Old Testament framework. Again, I believe we can definitely learn aspects of the nature of the prophetic ministry from the Old Testament, and we definitely draw upon those powerful words of the Old Testament. But we do not centre our understanding in the Old Testament any longer. I believe such can be detrimental to our understanding of anything with regards to our faith, whether we would identify such as an essential or a non-essential.

So, where do we centre the ministry of the prophet and gift of prophecy? In Christ Himself, of course! It is Jesus who stands as the great prophet, for He spoke the very words of God (see John 3:34) and, even more, we see Jesus was the very Word of God made flesh (John 1:1). Thus, He now becomes central. And, so, we recognise a major shift has take place from the Old Testament to the New.

For some, this might be seem as ammunition to up the ante and expectation of the prophetic. And I understand, knowing Christ is the great prophet of God, the very Word of God. But, when we read the pages of the Gospels, do we not see all over the pages that even the practical nature of prophecy has changed. We might even say there is a stark contrast between the ministry of someone like John the Baptist and Jesus within those same Gospel pages. One functions more in line with old covenant prophets. One functions in line with the new covenant age that is being ushered in.

So, whereas it seems that some people’s favourite words about prophets are centred in places like Deut 13:1-5, or a few chapters later in Deut 18:15-22 (esp. vs20), not to mention that the greater prophet of Deut 18:15-18 has now come, we need to shift towards the Gospels being the place where we found the greater part of our theology on prophets and prophecy. We start with that One who spoke the very words of God and was the Word of God Himself. If anything, though I am adamant that grace is found throughout the pages of the Old Testament, the gracious nature of the prophetic is now busting at the seams (see Luke 4:16-22).

And, now, with Christ as our foundation in this ministry, we can faithfully move forward into the rest of the New Testament with a proper launching point, not to mention that we can now properly read the Old Testament through the lens of the ministry of Christ. Reading the words and viewing the life of the Son of God as portrayed in the Gospels asks us to rethink passages in the Old Testament, whether in Deuteronomy or 2 Samuel or Zechariah, etc.

Now granted, as we move forward into the great teaching of the New Testament, there is not an extreme amount of teaching and practical instruction on prophecy. Or, to state it better, the teaching that is there isn’t given to us as a perfectly laid out car instruction manual answering every question and query. But, the New Testament has a good deal with which to help us. We can start by reading the pages of the early church in Acts, watching the prophetic take place, not simply through apostles, but through the wider church as well. For remember, Peter’s quoting of Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2:17-18 is a proclamation that we have moved into an era of the whole body of Christ carrying a prophetic ministry. No, not all are prophets. But a Spirit-indwelt and Spirit-empowered people can now participate in living prophetic lives and speaking forth prophetic words that point to the purposes and heart of God.

And, of course, we have the instructive words of 1 Corinthians 14, where we are stirred with words such as these:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Cor 14:1)

Then we find a smattering of other instructive words throughout the New Testament on this ministry gift, such as Rom 12:6; Eph 4:11-13 1 Tim 1:18-19; 1 Tim 4:14; and Rev 19:10.

Ever since that day when God became incarnate flesh, the Son of God being declared the great prophet of the ages, a major shift has taken place in not only the ministry of the prophet and the gift of prophecy, but in all things pertaining to our faith. This is what we proclaim for a new covenant that was enacted on better promises. So, let us, no doubt, learn about the prophetic from the words and teachings of the Old Testament. But let us centre our understanding of such in its proper place, that being Christ and the New Testament teaching.