The Prophets

From the Orthodox Study Bible (Old Testament): The holy Prophets of Israel played a unique and critical role in their society. They repeatedly called the people back to their commitment to obey and worship only the one true God; they warned of foreign invasions; they protested against social and economic injustice; and they even rebuked kings face to face for their sinfulness (2Kg 12:1-15; 3Kg 18:17, 18; 20:1-29; 2Ch 12:1-8; 16:7-10). In times of crisis they were consulted by kings to discern the Lord’s will (4Kg 3:5-20; 8:7-15; 22:8-20; Jer 21:1-14). Yet their most significant task was prophesying about the coming of the Messiah, the King of Kings.

Through prayer, asceticism, repentance, and the practice of virtue, the Prophets were particularly receptive to the Holy Spirit – He “Who spoke by the Prophets,” as the Nicene Creed declares. St. Basil the Great writes, “In souls pure and cleansed from all defilement, the prophetic gift shines clear.” Most unique was the preparation received by St. John the Baptist, the greatest of the Prophets (Mt 11:7-14), who was “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Lk 1:15).

The backgrounds of the Prophets were varied. Amos was a shepherd (Am 1:1; 7:14, 15), Ezekiel a priest (Ezk 1:1-3), Daniel a young nobleman reared in captivity at the royal court in Babylon (Dan 1:3-6), Deborah a judge and military leader (Jdg 4:1-5:31) and Huldah was the wife of a keeper of the king’s wardrobe (4Kg 22:14). Also varied were their responses to the Lord’s call. For example, Moses and Jeremiah protested (Ex 3:7-4:17; Jer 1:4-6), and Jonah immediately tried to flee from the Lord (Jon 1:1-3). Isiah, on the other hand, though acutely aware of his own sinfulness said, “Here am I, send me” (6:8). Moses, Jeremiah (Jer 1:7-2:2), and Ezekiel (Ezk 2:1-3:14) all received repeated reassurances from the Lord that He would be with them to strengthen them in fulfilling their prophetic calling.

The Prophets vividly demonstrated their willingness to obey the Lord when asked to do unusual things in dramatized prophecies. Ezekiel drew a picture of Jerusalem on a clay tablet and pretended to besiege it (Ezk 4:1-3); he was also asked to take a sword and cut off his hair and beard and burn part of it (5:1-13; see 12:1-15). Jeremiah buried a linen sash by the Euphrates River (Jer 13:1-11); Isiah walked naked and barefoot for three years (Is 20:1-6); Hosea was commanded to marry a harlot (Hos 1:1-3).

Sometimes the Prophets experienced fierce opposition from the authorities – kings, priests, and even other prophets – who resented the condemnatory messages being delivered. Micaiah was slapped and imprisoned for being the only one of about four hundred prophets who dared to tell King Ahab of Israel the true word of the Lord (3Kg 22:2-38). Jeremiah was threatened with death by his fellow citizens of Anathoth (Her 11:19-23) and later by the priests and the false prophets (33:1-19); and he was imprisoned under King Zedekiah (44:1-21; see 20:1, 2). The priest of Bethel tried to expel Amos out of Israel (Am 7:10-13). According to tradition, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Amos all were executed, as was St. John the Baptist (Mt 14:1-12; see Lk 11:47-51; Mt 23:29-37; 2Ch 24:17-22; Jer 33:20-23; Heb 11:32-38).

At times certain Prophets even wanted to die, such as Elijah (3Kg 19:1-4) and Jonah (Jon 4:1-3). But the Prophets always reaffirmed their reliance upon God’s will and their hope in His mercy (Lam 3:21-41). In this, as well as in their sufferings for our Lord’s sake, the holy Prophets serve as important examples for us who have received, at our Baptism and Chrismation, the gift of the same Holy Spirit who came upon them.