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Any reader of the Old Testament is struck by the prominence given to the prophets who worked for God over centuries of history. The written messages left by some occupy a large part of Scripture, and are worthy of close study. The chart which follows lists these prophets, some of whom are actually called "prophets", and some of whom are called "seers", which is a title given to those who prophesied before the word "prophet" came into general use (1 Sam 9.9). A few, although given neither of these titles, did prophesy and are therefore included in the list.
It is noteworthy that the only man called a prophet in Genesis is Abraham, and it is his role as an intercessor that is mentioned. Clearly, however, he did receive communications from God and passed them on to his family.
Often prophecy is regarded as being the foretelling of future events. That was, for some of them, part of their work, but their mandate was wider than that. The purpose of a prophet was to receive communications from God and to bring these before specific individuals or before the population at large. Some of these messages were passed on verbally, as with Elijah and Elisha who did not leave a written record of prophecies, and some were passed on verbally and then written down, as happened with Jeremiah in some cases. There were others, such as Obadiah, who received a revelation and wrote it down, although there is no record of them delivering it verbally.
Prophets came from all sectors of society. Daniel was a prince (Dan 1.3); Amos was a "herdman, and gatherer of sycomore fruit" (Amos 7.14); Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah were priests (Jer 1.1; Ezek 1.3; Zechariah was head of a priestly course, Neh 12.12-16); and Elisha came from a farming background (1 Kings 19.19). Of many of them little is known apart from the record of their work as prophets. A number of women are designated prophets and their details are printed in italics on the chart.
Some of them are well known names, but the names of many would hardly be recognised. Who could respond when asked to describe the work of Micaiah, Hanani, Iddo or Shemaiah? Little known they may be, but they made their mark for God in their generations, and they teach us that it is not only the well known who can serve the Lord usefully and faithfully.
It is not possible to consider prophets and omit referring to Moses. He was a unique prophet and was described so by the Lord during the sad episode when Aaron and Miriam spoke against him, complaining that the Lord had spoken by them as well as by Moses. The Lord clearly declared that with Moses he spoke "mouth to mouth" and also "the similitude of the Lord" appeared to him (Num 12.6ff). The Lord spoke to no other prophet in such a direct manner and, in addition to that, no one mediated on behalf of Israel as effectively as Moses.
False prophets set themselves up with the purpose of deceiving the people. These men had a message which had not come from God, it was their own; they were not commissioned by the Lord and their purpose was to make the people forget the Lord (Jer 23.16, 21-27). Such men were even found amongst the captives in Babylon during the ministry of Jeremiah (Jer 29); their names are recorded as Ahab, the son of Kolaiah, Zedekiah, the son of Maaseiah, and Shemaiah the Nehelamite (v.21,24). It is also sad to note one prophetess, named Noadiah, who has not been included in the chart for, although not called a false prophet, she erred badly in siding with Tobiah and Sanballat in seeking to strike fear into the heart of Nehemiah (Neh 6.14). It should also be noted, however, that she was not alone in that Nehemiah speaks of "the rest of the prophets" who did likewise, but it may be that the mention of her name indicates that she was one of the leaders of this group. This is the only reference to this prophetess.
The specific ministries of each of these prophets differed greatly, but were always fitted to the times in which they lived. Popularity was not one of their goals; rather it was to deliver their message faithfully. They condemned sin, urged righteousness, warned of judgment, and taught of things that were yet to come to pass. Study their life and work, for rich lessons can be learned in how to live for God in difficult days.