What was the role of the Old Testament prophets?

Old Testament prophets were persons called by God and supernaturally given God’s messages to His people. Prophets did not inherit their office, nor were they elected to it. God uniquely and specifically called them to be His spokesmen. The prophets did not announce their own thoughts and opinions, but instead were a mouthpiece for God, speaking His word through their lips and writings. We say that the prophets were “inspired” by the Holy Spirit, meaning that God did not dictate His message, but rather He communicated through the human prophet the very words of God. God’s prophets were commissioned by God Himself, and He would often confirm the authority of the prophets by miraculous signs. (Moses parting the red sea or Elijah raising the dead boy, for example.) God would also confirm their authority when the events they had predicted came to pass. False prophets, on the other hand, proclaimed their own opinions or dreams and told the people only what they wanted to hear. God’s true prophets were frequently severely persecuted and rejected by their contemporaries for proclaiming the whole of God’s counsel.

The prophets commissioned by God had two aspects to their ministry:

  1. Forthtelling - proclamation and exhortation of God’s word addressed to the present situation


  1. Foretelling - proclaiming future events

God gave the Old Testament prophets the role of covenantal prosecutors. The Lord had called His people to have faith in Him, live in covenant with Him, and to live a life of obedience. Often, God’s people would be negligent in their religious duties, and careless in regards to righteousness and social justice. The prophets were reformers, calling His people back to pure worship and obedience to God. They were not revolutionaries or religious anarchists, the prophets aimed to purify and reform the worship of Israel, not destroy the original forms of worship that God had given them. Prophets would also foretell, or predict, events of the future, such as punishment that would result if God’s people refused to repent of their sins.


Sometimes the books of the prophets are divided into “major prophets” and “minor prophets”. This is not in reference to more or less important prophets, but rather the lengths of their canonical writings. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel are referred to as major prophets because they wrote so much. Amos, Hosea, Micah, Jonah etc. are called minor prophets because their books are much smaller.


The New Testament apostles and prophets possessed many of the characteristics of the Old Testament prophets. Together, the Old Testament prophets and the apostles are called the foundation of the church, with Christ as the chief cornerstone. Upon this foundation, the church is being built through the preaching of the gospel to all the nations. Because a foundation is only laid once, we don’t expect there to be modern day prophets or apostles. We look to God’s completed revelation in the Bible, which has been written for us so that we may come to know all that God has done for us in the salvation He offers freely to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, and so that we may come to know how to live for His glory and praise


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