by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca) Kingston, Ontario, May 2005
The Old Testament prophets were students of the nation’s history. They were careful to record (2 Chronicles 9:29, 12:15) how and when prophecies were given, and how they were fulfilled.
Women can be called to be prophets. Among Old Testament prophets were Miriam, sister of Aaron the priest (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), the wife of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:3), and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14, 2 Chronicles 34:22). In the New Testament Anna (Luke2:36) and the four daughters of Philip the evangelist are recorded as prophets (Acts 21:9).
As a prophet began to give messages from God, he or she was recognized as authoritative by the people. "All Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.(1 Samuel 3:20). This often resulted in a prophet being summoned by a king seeking advice (2 Samuel 7:2; 2 Kings 3:11). A prophet could also rebuke a king for sinful behavior such as murder or adultery (2 Samuel 12:1-10).
Genuine prophecy is by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (1 Samuel 10:6; 19:20; 2 Kings 8:13; 2 Chronicles 24:20). "No prophecy ever came by human will , but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:21). In the New Testament, prophecy is one of the gifts that the Holy Spirit allocates as he chooses (1 Corinthians 12:10-11). The function of prophets is not confined to predictions about the future, but it normally includes speaking to people "for their up-building and encouragement and consolation" (1 Corinthians 14:3).
There are two ways of receiving revelations from the Spirit. A seer (1 Samuel 9:9, 2 Chronicles 16:7) is someone who has a dream or sees a vision (2 Chronicles 18:16), and then seeks to understand and explain its meaning. The Book of Zechariah for example has a series of visions and their interpretations. The other way is to find words gushing up from the heart, which then need to be interpreted and put into ordinary language. Paul insisted that the gift of tongues must be put into ordinary language so that people can understand. And if there is no one to interpret an utterance in tongues, prophets should keep silent in a church congregation (1 Corinthians 14:9, 13-15, 28).
Throughout human history (Hebrews 1:1), and probably among all nations, there have been false prophets. When Elijah faced them on Mount Carmel there were 450 prophets who served Baal and 400 prophets of the female goddess (1 Kings 18:19). They were hard to recognize as evil but they kept on intervening unhelpfully in many situations. They were described as "senseless prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing" (Ezekiel 13:3).
In the New Testament false prophets abounded among the churches. Paul warned Timothy about those who "who renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits" to "forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods" (1 Timothy 4:1-3). In Thyatira there was "that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols" (Revelation 2:20).
This is why John said "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). And Paul recommends "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said" (1 Corinthians 14:29).
How then can we open ourselves to prophetic ministry? In any situation we begin by focusing our mind on what the LORD is doing. Rather than our own impression of who is right and who is wrong, we remember that he is King and Judge among the nations. He is the one who assigns wrath and blessing to achieve his creative and totally loving purposes. Similarly, in dealing with individuals our evaluation may be flawed, and we need to grasp how the LORD is working in that person’s life.
Then we need to take time to let the Holy Spirit reveal to us what the LORD has in mind. Before we blurt out what we are beginning to see, we check with others to make sure that we are not deviating from the truth. And if we have tough things to say, we begin with the unconditional love of God for that person. Wherever possible we try to put ourselves in the other’s shoes and ask ourselves how we can give genuine comfort and encouragement.
Having shared the message that we think we have received, we continue to watch and pray. That is how we grow in prophetic wisdom. In some cases we will turn out to be wrong, but that is no more reason for abandoning our work than a physician who has learned from a previous mistake.
We are rewarded when the LORD assures us that we are on the right track. The greatest privilege is to be invited into his council (see How do we Reign with the Messiah, 2003, among the books on this website). In time we may even be given the opportunity to influence the affairs of our world and the lives of individuals in quite unexpected ways.