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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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A prophet, in the strict and proper sense, was one to whom the knowledge of secret things was revealed, that he might declare them to others, whether they were things past, or present, or to come. The woman of Samaria perceived our Saviour was a prophet, by his telling her the secrets of her past life, John 4:19 . The prophet Elisha had the present conduct of his servant Gehazi revealed to him, 2 Kings 5:26 . And most of the prophets had revelations concerning future events; above all, concerning the coming and kingdom of the Messiah: "He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began,"

Luke 1:69-70 . Nevertheless, in a more lax or analogical sense, the title prophet is sometimes given to persons who had no such revelation, nor were properly inspired. Thus Aaron is said to be Moses's prophet: "The Lord said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a God to Pharaoh, and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet," Exodus 7:1 ; because Aaron received the divine messages, which he carried immediately from Moses; whereas other prophets receive their messages immediately from God himself. In this respect, as Moses stood in the place of God to Pharaoh, so Aaron acted in the character of his prophet. The title of prophets is given also to the sacred musicians, who sung the praises of God, or who accompanied the song with musical instruments. Thus "the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun," are said to "prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals," 1 Chronicles 25:1 ; and they prophesied, it is said, "according to the order of the king." Perhaps Miriam, the sister of Aaron, may be called a prophetess only on this account, that she led the concert of the women, who sung the song of Moses with timbrels and with dances, Exodus 15:20-21 . Thus the Heathen poets, who sung or composed verses in praise of their gods, were called by the Romans vates, or prophets; which is of the same import with the Greek προφητης , a title which St. Paul gives to Epimenides, a Cretan poet, Titus 1:12 .

Godwin observes, that, for the propagation of learning, colleges and schools were in divers places erected for the prophets. The first intimation we have in Scripture of these schools is in 1 Samuel 10:5 , where we read of "a company of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, a tabret, a pipe, and a harp before them, and they did prophesy." They are supposed to be the students in a college of prophets at גבעת , or "the hill," as we render it, "of God." Our translators elsewhere retain the same Hebrew word, as supposing it to be the proper name of a place, "Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba," 1 Samuel 13:3 . Some persons have imagined that the ark, or at least a synagogue, or some place of public worship, was at this time at Geba, and that this is the reason of its being styled in the former passage גבעת האלהים , the hill of God. We read afterward of such another company of prophets at Naioth in Ramah, "prophesying, and Samuel standing as appointed over them," 1 Samuel 19:19-20 . The students in these colleges were called sons of the prophets, who are frequently mentioned in after ages, even in the most degenerate times. Thus we read of the sons of the prophets that were at Bethel; and of another school at Jericho; and of the sons of the prophets at Gilgal, 2 Kings 2:3 ; 2 Kings 2:5 ; 2 Kings 4:38 . It should seem, that these sons of the prophets were very numerous; for of this sort were probably the prophets of the Lord, whom Jezebel cut off; "but Obadiah took a hundred of them, and hid them by fifty in a cave," 1 Kings 18:4 . In these schools young men were educated under a proper master, who was commonly, if not always, an inspired prophet, in the knowledge of religion, and in sacred music, 1 Samuel 10:5 ; 1 Samuel 19:20 , and were thereby qualified to be public preachers, which seems to have been part of the business of the prophets on the Sabbath days and festivals, 2 Kings 4:23 . It should seem, that God generally chose the prophets, whom he inspired, out of these schools. Amos, therefore, speaks of it as an extraordinary case, that though he was not one of the sons of the prophets, but a herdsman, "yet the Lord took him as he followed the flock, and said unto him, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel," Amos 7:14-15 . That it was usual for some of these schools, or at least for their tutors, to be endued with a prophetic spirit, appears from the relation of the prophecies concerning the ascent of Elijah, delivered to Elisha by the sons of the prophets both at Jericho and at Bethel, 2 Kings 2:3 ; 2 Kings 2:5 .

The Hebrew prophets present a succession of men at once the most singular and the most venerable that ever appeared, in so long a line of time, in the world. They had special communion with God; they laid open the scenes of the future; they were ministers of the promised Christ. They upheld religion and piety in the worst times, and at the greatest risks; and their disinterestedness was only equalled by their patriotism. The houses in which they lived were generally mean, and of their own building, 2 Kings 6:2-4 . Their food was chiefly pottage of herbs, unless when the people sent them some better provision, as bread, parched corn, honey, dried fruits, and the like, 1 Kings 14:3 ; 2 Kings 4:38-39 ; 2 Kings 4:42 . Their dress was plain and coarse, tied about with a leathern girdle, Zechariah 13:4 ; 2 Kings 1:8 . Riches were no temptation to them; therefore Elisha not only refused Naaman's presents, but punished his servant Gehazi very severely for clandestinely obtaining a small share of them, 2 Kings 5:15 , &c. To succeeding ages they have left a character consecrated by holiness, and "visions of the Holy One," which still unveil to the church his most glorious attributes, and his deepest designs. "Prophecy," says the Apostle Peter, "came not of old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost," 2 Peter 1:21 . They flourished in a continued succession during a period of more than a thousand years, reckoning from Moses to Malachi, all cooperating in the same designs., uniting in one spirit to deliver the same doctrines, and to predict the same blessings to mankind. Their claims to a divine commission were demonstrated by the intrinsic excellency of their doctrine; by the disinterested zeal and undaunted courage with which they prosecuted their ministry, and persevered in their great design, and by the unimpeachable integrity of their conduct. But even those credentials of a divine mission were still farther confirmed by the exercise of miraculous powers, and by the completion of many less important predictions which they uttered, Deuteronomy 13:1-3 ; Deuteronomy 18:22 ; Joshua 10:13 ; 1 Samuel 12:8 ; 2 Kings 1:10 ; Isaiah 38:8 ; Isaiah 42:9 ; 1 Samuel 9:6 ; 1 Kings 13:3 ; Jeremiah 28:9 ; Ezekiel 33:33 . When not immediately employed in the discharge of their sacred office, they lived sequestered from the world, in religious communities, or wandered "in deserts, in mountains, and in caves of the earth;" distinguished by their apparel, and by the general simplicity of their style of life, 2 Kings 1:8 ; 2 Kings 4:10 ; 2 Kings 4:38 ; 2 Kings 6:1 ; Isaiah 20:2 ; Matthew 3:4 ; Hebrews 11:38 ; Revelation 11:3 . They were the established oracles of their country, and consulted upon all occasions when it was necessary to collect the divine will on any civil or religious question. These illustrious personages were likewise as well the types as the harbingers of that greater Prophet whom they foretold; and in the general outline of their character, as well as in particular events of their lives, they prefigured to the Jews the future Teacher of mankind. Like him, also, they laboured by every exertion to instruct and reclaim; reproving and threatening the sinful, however exalted in rank, or encircled by power, with such fearless confidence and sincerity as often excited respect. The most intemperate princes were sometimes compelled unwillingly to hear and to obey their directions, 1 Kings 12:21-24 ; 1 Kings 13:2-6 ; 1 Kings 20:42-43 ; 1 Kings 21:27 ; 2 Chronicles 28:9-14 ; though often so incensed by their rebuke, as to resent it by the severest persecutions. Then it was that the prophets exhibited the integrity of their characters, by zealously encountering oppression, hatred, and death, in the cause of religion. Then it was that they firmly supported "trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about, destitute, afflicted, tormented," evil intreated for those virtues of which the memorial should flourish to posterity, and martyred for righteousness, which, whenever resentment should subside, it would be deemed honourable to reverence, Matthew 23:27-29 .

The manner in which the prophets published their predictions was, either by uttering them aloud in some public place, or by affixing them on the gates of the temple, Jeremiah 7:2 ; Ezekiel 3:10 , where they might be generally seen and read. Upon some important occasions, when it was necessary to rouse the fears of a disobedient people, and to recall them to repentance, the prophets, as objects of universal attention, appear to have walked about publicly in sackcloth, and with every external mark of humiliation and sorrow. They then adopted extraordinary modes of expressing their convictions of impending wrath, and endeavoured to awaken the apprehensions of their country, by the most striking illustration of threatened punishment. Thus Jeremiah made bonds and yokes, and put them upon his neck, Jeremiah 27, strongly to intimate the subjection that God would bring on the nations whom Nebuchadnezzar should subdue. Isaiah likewise walked naked, that is, without the rough garment of the prophet, and barefoot, as a sign of the distress that awaited the Egyptians, Isaiah 20. So Jeremiah broke the potter's vessel, Jeremiah 19; and Ezekiel publicly removed his household goods from the city, 2 Kings 25:4-5 ; Ezekiel 12:7 ; more forcibly to represent by these actions some correspondent calamities ready to fall on nations obnoxious to God's wrath; this mode of expressing important circumstances by action, being customary and familiar among all eastern nations. The great object of prophecy was, as has been before observed, a description of the Messiah, and of his kingdom, Matthew 26:56 ; Luke 1:70 ; Luke 18:31 ; Luke 24:44 ; John 1:45 ; Acts 3:18 ; Acts 3:24 ; Acts 10:43 ; Acts 13:29 ; Acts 15:15 ; Acts 28:23 ; 1 Peter 1:10-12 . These were gradually unfolded by successive prophets in predictions more and more distinct. They were at first held forth in general promises; they were afterward described by figures, and shadowed out under types and allusive institutions, and finally foretold in the full lustre of descriptive prophecy. The Hebrew prophets were chosen of God to testify beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. See PROPHECY .

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Prophets'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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