That’s a good question, What is a prophet? An even better question is, Who is a prophet? Or, Is so-and-so a prophet? In his new and very good book, Interpreting the Prophets, Aaron Chalmers sketches an answer to our titled question: What is a prophet?
Before we get to Chalmers, this must be said: Critics of the President, the Governor, the Mayor or the government and its policies is for many today the prophets. That is, a recent series of books is about “prophetic” Christianity — a series of books I have enjoyed — and the underlying assumption is that a prophet is someone who critiques the system, The Man. So prophetic Christians challenge the system, and that usually means economic system, political system, moral system, and global system (and more). Thus, for many today a prophet is a political, cultural, economical, and social critic or social reformer.
For others a prophet is someone who predicts the future with demonstrable accuracy. In one version of this view the OT prophets predicted the coming of Jesus so they are prophets, though they did far more than predict the future Messiah. As one OT specialist said, “Less than 2 percent of Old Testament prophecy is messianic. Less than 5 percent specifically describes the new-covenant age. Less than 1 percent concerns events yet to come” (6). That means 92% is about something else!
One must, I would add, also ask if the Bible’s sense of prophet can be transferred to criticism of The Man and The Man’s Systemic Forces. One must at least ask if a prophet is not a calling of God to speak a word from God to the people of God? That is, that prophecy is about a calling that leads to “friendly fire” — critique of the church and its leaders from within.
Now to Chalmers, and here are his major points:
1. A prophet was a member of the divine council. Prophets often claimed to have stood in the presence of God (1 Kings 22:19-23; Amos 7:1-9; Isaiah 6).
2. A prophet was called by God. They encountered God and heard God call them to speak. He points to Isaiah 6, Jeremiah 1, Ezekiel 1–3, and Exodus 3. This involved confrontation, commissioning, a response, and divine preparation.
3. A prophet communicated the word of the Lord. That is, there is a strong element of divine initiative — and a knowledge that God is calling. Also see 2 Kings 18. The communication was both in word and sometimes in symbolic actions. See Jeremiah 13 and Jeremiah 16.
4. A prophet was an intercessor. This is not often mentioned in describing prophets, but it appears often enough in the OT: Abraham in Genesis 20:7. Exodus 32, 1 Samuel 12:19; Amos 7.
5. A prophet was a sentinel, standing high to observe: Ezekiel 33:1-6; Jeremiah 6:17; Isaiah 21:11-12; Hosea 9:8.
Do you think the term “prophet” can be applied to “Christian” critique of The System of our nation? Do you ask if that is not an assumption that the Nation is the same as Israel or the Church? Or is this not a species of America as a Christian Nation?