THE RISE OF PROPHECY IN ISRAEL
Prophecy involves a process in which one or more messages are allegedly communicated by God. Such messages typically involve inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of divine will concerning the prophet’s social world and events to come (compare divine knowledge). Prophecy is not limited to anyone’s culture. It is a common property to all known ancient societies around the world, some more than others. Many systems and rules about prophecy have been proposed over several millennia.
The English word “prophecy” (noun) in the sense of “function of a prophet” appeared from about 1225, and from Late Latin Prophetia, Greek Propheteia “gift of interpreting the will of God”, from Greek Prophetes (see prophet). The related meaning being “things spoken or written by a prophet” dates from c.1300, while the verb “to Prophesy” is recorded by 1377.
The Hebrew term for prophet Navi literally means “spokesperson”; he speaks to the people as a mouthpiece of their God, and to their god on behalf of the people. “The name prophet, from the Greek meaning “Fore speaker”( being used in the original local sense), is an equivalent of the Hebrew translation which signifies properly a delegate or mouthpiece of another.”
Form and content of their Message
In the Torah, prophecy often consisted of a conditioned warning by their god of the consequences should the society, specific communities, or their leaders not adhere to Torah’s instructions in the time contemporary with the prophet’s life. Prophecies sometimes included conditioned promises of blessing for obeying their god, and returning to behaviors and laws as written in the Torah. Conditioned warning prophecies feature in all Jewish works of the Tanakh. Also, inclusive in the content of their message is the fact that they begin their message by saying “thus says the lord”, next is the declaration of the sins of the people, next is the declaration of impending judgement, next is the promise of redemption given after the repentance of the people.
Divisions of Prophets
The line of prophets are divided into two: Major and minor prophets. Major prophets are called so because they officiated in a wider scope during their time, being chosen by kings. Some examples of prophets of this class include the likes of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Eziekel, Daniel, etc. Minor prophets on the other hand are called so because they belonged to the class of prophets who employed writing as a means of propagating their messages and they officiated in restricted scopes. Examples include the likes of Amos, Hosea, etc..
Functions of Prophets
The functions of prophets, both major and minor, are all the same. The two main functions of prophets are Foretelling and Forth-telling. Foretelling means giving an insight into future happenings while Forth-telling means the actual preaching of the gospel truth.
As part of the syllabus, one is to also look at the messages of some prophets as case studies, these prophets are Amos, Isaiah and Hosea and their messages go thus:
Amos and Social justice
Amos was the earliest prophet whose words are preserved in the form of a book. He prophesied in the Northern Kingdom of Israel somewhere between the years 760-750B.C. Amos’ preaching took place during the mid-eighth century B.C., a few years before the prophet Hosea began his ministry.
The eighth century was a period during which a privileged few in Israel were enjoying unprecedented prosperity while most Israelites were facing dire poverty. Although Amos lived in Tekoa, a small village bordering the wilderness of Judah, his preaching to Israel provided a powerful prophetic witness for all ages because of his condemnation of the spiritual blindness of the Judean upper class and their unjust exploitation of the poor.
Amos forged an explicit and unbreakable link between justice toward the neighbor and righteousness before God, a link that went back to the covenant at Sinai and to the ancient prophetic traditions of Israel. Amos’ ministry provides an eternal witness of God’s opposition to economic, political, and social injustice. Amos spoke to an oppressed society and his concern for the poor and the oppressed made him a prophet for all times.
Amos proclaimed that Israel had violated the ancient traditions of Israel. The poor and oppressed were individuals who deserved the protection of the court and fair treatment by those in a position of dispensing legal decisions. The only way for this to become a reality in Israelite society was for justice to roll down like waters, and for righteousness to run like an ever-flowing stream(Amos5:24).
Hosea and Love
Hosea was a contemporary of Amos in Israel, and of Isaiah and Micah in Judah. Gomer was a harlot who then gave birth to three children but was still so in love with her male satisfiers outside. Hosea’s message is that Israel is Jehovah’s adulterous wife, repudiated, but ultimately to be purified and restored. But Hosea learned about God’s love for Israel through his wife Gomer and how God wanted him to treat her. Hosea’s marriage is symbolic of God’s covenant relationship with Israel.
Through Hosea, the Lord tells the story of Israel’s disobedience, His discipline, and His steadfast, faithful love: Rejection and betrayal. Hosea’s wife, Gomer, leaves him for another—just like Israel has left God to worship idols.
Rejection and discipline. Just as Israel rejected Him, God will reject her. Israel and Judah will fall to other empires and be taken away from their promised land.
Restoration and reconciliation. Hosea brings back his adulterous wife and loves her again. In an even greater way, God will not forget his love for Israel and Judah, nor His promises to them. He will bring them back to their land. He will restore them to Himself and to David their king: “they will come trembling to the LORD and to His goodness in the last days” (Ho3:5).
Hosea’s message is harsh. Hosea’s message is tender. Hosea’s message is heartbreaking.
Isaiah and holiness
The career of the next great prophet, Isaiah, relates to the kingdom of Judah. Here the historical conditions are more complex, and the prophetic message is therefore more profound and many-sided. Isaiah deals much with the same themes as did Amos and Hosea: the sins of luxury, fashion, and frivolity in men and women; land-grabbing; defiance of Yahweh. To his revelation heads the great announcement and argument that Yahweh is supreme, as well as universal, in His control and providence.
“Yahweh is supreme; He will dissolve the hostile combination; but Judah itself will ultimately fall before those very Assyrians. The Ethiopian overlord of Egypt sends an embassy to the Asiatic states to incite them against Assyria. Isaiah gives the answer: God from His throne watches all nations alike, and in His good time Assyria shall meet its fate. The great revolt against Assyria has begun. The Assyrians have come upon the land. Again the question is taken out of the province of politics into that of providence. Assyria is God’s instrument in the punishment of His people, and when it has done its work it shall meet its predestined doom. So the trumpet-tone of providence and judgment is heard all through the prophetic message till Jerusalem is saved by the heaven-sent plague among the host of Sennacherib.”
This excerpt shows the thematic scriptural inscription of Isaiah’s message. It should be understood that Isaiah saw the holiness of God which inspired him to begin his prophetic ministrations. He emphasized mainly, the holiness of God, the sovereignty of God, His ability to forgive and the need for the people of Judah in the Southern part of Israel to try to act in line with God’s laws and rules in order to be saved from the hands of the Assyrians and be returned to God’s bosom.