"A prophet of God" - what does the phrase conjure up in your mind? Moses stretching out his rod to part the Red Sea? Elijah calling down fire from heaven? Or maybe Agabus predicting a severe famine throughout the world? In this article we are not so concerned with the spectacular revelations of the prophet, as with the hidden springs of his life and ministry. Or to put it more colloquially, let's find out what makes the prophet tick.
According to God's estimate being takes precedence over doing. In other words God's primary concern is with a man's character and only secondarily with his ministry. The reason for this is not far to seek. What we do must spring from what we are and if what we do appears more spiritual than what we are, sooner or later (and it is usually sooner) our doing is sabotaged.
This is vividly illustrated by the tragic history of Samson, whose spectacular feats against the Philistines were offset by his own carnality. In the end he spent his last days a prisoner of his enemies and never achieved a full deliverance for Israel.Though the theme of this issue of the magazine is the NT prophet we shall find that all the basic principles that govern this NT ministry are to be found in what the OT teaches us, especially when we investigate the hidden springs. Let us look at the earliest prophets mentioned in the Bible.
We have to reach almost the closing book of the Bible before we learn that the first prophet in the history of mankind was Enoch. We would never have known if Jude had not told us (v14). We don't usually think of Enoch as a prophet but as the saintly man who walked with God for 300 years. Just to think that we consider ourselves if we have a day's unbroken fellowship with God! So Enoch set the standard, living as he did in the dawn of human history, for all successive generations of prophets. Someone has described him as an Alpine climber last seen heading for the summit. And of course we have the inside story. He didn't slip and break his neck. He made it.
1. The prophet is called first and foremost to a life of intimacy with God.
It wasn't that Enoch had it in him. The record in Genesis 5 makes it clear that he didn't start to walk with God till he reached what we now regard as retiring age. Life really began for Enoch at 65! That should teach us that it's never too late.
This brings us to Abraham. He is the first man that God ever called a prophet and in quite a surprising connection. Not because he brought some stupendous prediction like Enoch who prophesised the day of the Lord at the dawn of human history. A tribal king called Abimelech had taken Abraham's wife for his harem, thinking her to be Abraham's sister with the result that a judgement of barrenness had fallen on his household. God spoke to him in a dream and having explained the situation told him; "Now return the man's wife for he is a prophet and he will pray for you and you will live" (Genesis 20:7).
2. So the first thing that God ever said about a prophet was that he was a man who had access to God - not just a man who prayed, but a man who got his prayers answered!
It is significant that Abraham the prophet was also called "God's friend" (2 Chronicles 20:7, Jas 2:23) and this is clearly illustrated in connection with his prayer life. God was about to bring destruction on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their heinous wickedness. "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?" God asked Himself. Why should He? Abraham was His friend with whom He was accustomed to sharing His secrets, so He shared this one with him. The result was what God intended. Abraham got involved. He wrestled with God in prayer. Although these two great cities were not saved by Abraham's praying, Lot and his family were, and that would have been one of Abraham's major concerns in his intercession.
This friendship, this intimacy with God is one of the most beautiful features of Abraham's life. God loved to walk with him under the stars and share with him His heavenly secrets. What exciting times they were. Sometimes the magnitude of what God promised him was enough to stagger his faith but "Abraham staggered not". God would say to him when he still had no child "and try to count the stars. That's how numerous your descendents will be". And on another occasion; "Look as far as you can to the north and to the south and to the east and to the west. All this land I am going to give to your descendents".
3. So the prophet is privilidged to share God's secrets and to what God plans to do. "Surely the Lord God does nothing without revealing His secrets to His servants, the prophets". (Amos 3:7 RSV).
The next great prophet in the line of succession was Moses.
We may think of him as the prophet par excellence of the OT for he enjoyed face to face communion with God beyond that generally experienced by prophets. God said of him; "I reveal myself to (a prophet) in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of My servant Moses ... With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles" (Num 12:6-8).
To him it was revealed that the greatest prophet of all, the coming Messiah, would be a prophet like himself (Deut 18:15). Moses unique-ness is confirmed by his obiturary; "Since then no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses who the Lord knew face to face" (Deut 34:10).
There are two expressions used of Moses that are characteristic and that must shape our whole thinking about the hidden springs of the prophet's ministry. The first we find in the above quotations from Numbers when God refers to him as "My servant Moses". Again and again he is called the "servant of the Lord". In coming to know God, the prophet's attitudes and inner disposition have been so shaped that all self-possession, self-importance and independence of spirit have been eliminated. His posture before the Lord is that of the servant waiting at the door-post to come to the master's call or to run to do his bidding or to stand forth to speak his word.
The other expression is "Moses, the man of God". From then on "man of God" became a synonym for a prophet. It is used of Samuel and of David, and of Elijah and of Elisha. Many prophets in the record are anonymous. We simply read; "A man of God came ...". What does the experience suggest? That here is someone whose relationship with God is deep and intimate and real. He knows God. A brother and I were discussing a young man in the church whose lack of spiritual progress was giving us cause for concern, when my friend remarked; "What he needs is a big dose of God". The same could be said of many believers. A prophet is someone who has had just that.
That is what we must have if we are to be a prophetic people. There must be a God-conciousness about us. We must feel at home in His Presence. Our fellowship with God must be one of reverent intimacy. Something of the inner life of the man of God must characterise the people of God.
Inevitably a man of God is someone in who a goodly measure of the character of God has been formed. There is a saying; "You can't walk with a miller without getting flour on your shoulder". You can't walk with God, spend time with God without something of God brushing off. There were many sons of the prophets at the time of Elisha but the woman of Shunem discerned there was something different about Elisha. She described him as a "holy man of God". When Elijah suddenly appeared in the courts of king Ahab with an ultimatum from heaven, no-one knew who he was or where he came from. So first he presented his credentials; "As the Lord God of Israel lives, before Whom I stand" (1 Kings 17:1). Here was an ambassador who had come from heaven's courts, who was accustomed to standing before the King of Kings.
4. These are the only true credentials of a NT prophet. He is a man who stands before God. He comes to men from God's Presence to speak God's Word. This is the secret of his authority.
There are those today, even as in the past, who claim to be the prophets, but who cannot produce these credentials. They have not been standing before God. They have not been hearing what God was saying. They speak the visions of their own mind, the thoughts of their own hearts and not from the mouth of the Lord. They may even speak what is true and biblical, but it is not God's "now" word. Listen to what God says about such; "I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their own message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied. But if they had stood in My council, they would have proclaimed My words to My people" (Jer 23:21-22).
There is always a temptation to put prophets, whether biblical ones or present-day ones on a spiritual pedestal. "They must be of different stuff from us" we say to ourselves. James will not allow us to get away with such thinking. He tells us firstly that we must look on them as examples of a man who prevailed in prayer, he anticipates our objections by saying first of all that he was a "man just like us" (5:17). At one point he ran away in fear and then even gave way to self-pity and self-justification. Nevertheless he accomplished the will of God.
Let me say it again; the prophets are our examples. They are there to challenge and inspire us. We are to be motivated by the same prophetic spirit. How could it be otherwise if we are indeed a prophetic people. Prophets were never intended to monopolise the audience chamber of the King of Kings or to "corner fellowship with God". There are many councils over which the Almighty presides and if you are not called to stand before God in the same council as the prophet then be assured that there is one in which your name is called, and where God will share secrets that you need to hear. The health of that pot plant in your home is determined in great measure by what lies below the surface of the soil. You cannot have a healthy plant and an unhealthy root. Let me ask you, what have you got hidden beneath the surface? Is the hidden life robust and strong, or weak and sickly? Is our spiritual root system suffering from neglect? What about the hidden springs? Have they dried up? It is in this hidden area most of all that the life of the prophet should provoke and challenge us.
Once we are convinced that such a life of fellowship with God is for us too, the big question is how to get there. "You will seek Me and find Me", God is still saying, "When you search for Me with all of your heart". Those who have the experience are those who want it badly. There are scores and scores of true believers who would love it, yet they never enjoy it. Why? Because they don't want it with all their heart. Those who enter in are those who hunger and thirst for it. This is invariably where the failure lies. The remedy is to ask God to show us why we are not hungry for Him. It may be for the same reasons that the seed of the sower in the parable did not bring forth fruit (Luke 8:12-14). If so when we have dealt with all that He has shown us, we will find a growing hunger within. Otherwise it may be simply lack of motivation. We must ask God to show us the unspeakable honour and privilidge of being invited to stand before the God of the whole earth. "Blessed is the man you choose and bring near to live in your courts! What joy! What fulfillment! What fruitfulness! What harmony! What security!
Once we are really motivated there must come the discipline of curtailment. This is the discipline of the lumberjack who stops working in order to sharpen his axe.
Some of us will never find God in this way because we are much too busy working for Him. Our activism is our biggest hindrance. We must lay aside all our self-justifying arguments and learn all over again from the story of Martha and Mary what our Lord considers is the "one thing needful".
Finally we must learn to wait on God by restraining our much speaking in His Presence. Only so we can train our ears to listen. There are some 15 or more Hebrew words used in the OT that are translated "wait" but with various shades of meaning, such as to wait patiently, to wait in silence, to wait expectantly and to wait in hope. If we are constant and persevering God will draw near and speak. He will reveal Himself to us and we shall understand what it was that so captivated David that this fellowship with God despite the affairs of state became his consuming passion;
"One thing I ask of the Lord, that will I seek - that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple" - (Psalm 27:4).