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THERE is not in Scripture a precise account of the prophets and the schools of the prophets, but many circumstances are mentioned respecting them. The prophets were not a regularly constituted order or succession of men, but were raised up as God saw fit, to perform sacred and important duties. The gift of prophecy was not confined to the tribe of Levi; there were prophets from all the tribes, and even sometimes among the Gentiles, as Balaam, Num. xxii. 5 ; though, when evil men were employed as prophets, it was only for
limited time, and with reference to some particular message. At first, the prophets were called seers, 1 Sam. ix. 9; 2 Sam. xv. 27, from the discoveries made to them of things to come. They declared the will of God, and delivered the Divine messages committed to them, both to kings and people, with a freedom which showed that they knew they were the authorised messengers of Jehovah. But their office did not relate to future events only ; it was
their duty to instruct the people, and interpret the law or word of God, Neh. viii. 8. In many texts, prophet means interpreter or teacher, and prophecy means interpretation or teaching. The solemn warnings in Ezek. xxxiii. show that the prophets were preachers in the general acceptation of the term, and especially to warn persons of the evil of sin. The words of the prophets also confirmed the Mosaic ritual, and thus drew a wide distinction, in practice as well as in doctrine, between the Hebrews and the surrounding idolaters. Even to the Gentiles, the Mosaic ritual and the prophecies were mutual confirmations of each other, or rather the regular observance of the first strengthened the latter in their views; both led to the crucified Saviour, who was given for a covenant of the people, (the Jews,) and a light of the Gentiles, Isa. xlii. 6.
There were many prophets or seers whose names are not noticed in Scripture, and some are mentioned, none of whose prophecies are recorded. Both Jews and Christians agree that Malachi was the last of the prophets under the Old Testament dispensation ; and it has been observed, that, while there were prophets among them, the Jews were not divided by sects or heresies. The prophets being Divinely inspired, the people had to receive their declarations, or were conscious that they rejected the word and authority of Jehovah, and when they did so they fell into idolatry. But when the law of God was interpreted by uninspired men, liable to error, and often disagreeing in their opinions, differences and disputes were the natural consequence; then divisions and parties followed.
The schools of the prophets are supposed to have arisen about the time of Eli, and probably were instituted to instruct persons for the sacred ministry, in consequence of the degraded and wicked state into which the priesthood had then fallen, as is exemplified in the account of the conduct of Eli's sons, 1 Sam. 11, 12–17, 22. The Levite engaged by Micah, Judg. xvii. 10, 11, who could unite the worship of a graven image and a molten image with the service of Jehovah, probably was but one among many who then sought the priest's office for the sake of a liveli. hood. The disciples, or young persons taught in these schools, were called sons of the prophets. Some venerable, Divinely inspired prophet presided, who was called their father, and the younger disciples ministered to him. Samuel, (1 Sam. xix. 20,) Elijah, and Elisha were among
these fathers. The sons of the prophets lived together as a community, and subsisted on the labour of their hands, assisted by the contributions of those who knew the value of these institutions, and were able to help in supporting them. In 2 Kings iv. 1-7, and vi. 1-7, are some interesting particulars respecting these communities, which evidently were, both in spirit and in practice, widely different from the monastic institutions of the church of Rome. The instruction in these schools was the study of the Divine law, and the principles of their faith ; also psalmody, and lecturing or preaching. And in these services, doubtless, the sons of the prophets, and their superintendents, were much employed, for people resorted to them at stated seasons, 2 Kings iv. 23. Singing the praises of God is also called prophesying, 1 Chron. xxv. 1; 1 Sam. x. 5, 10. Thus the sons of the prophets were prepared for scenes of active usefulness. From these institutions most of the prophets appear to have been called ; for Amos, who was a herdsman, speaks of his call as uncommon. Observe, however, that the priest of Bethel did not deny the inspiration of Amos, or his right to prophesy, but only wished to prevent him from prophesying or preaching at court. The plain truths and warnings against sin, which fell from the lips of this divinely inspired, but rustic prophet, grated upon courtly ears, accustomed to smooth language and deceitful statements, Amos vii. 10–15.
A prophet, in the strictest sense of the word, was one to whom the knowledge of secret things was revealed, that he might declare them to others. The Jewish writers since Christ, enumerate forty-eight of these prophets, and seven prophetesses, from Abraham to Malachi. In this number they include Eldad and Medad, Numb. xi. 26, though there is nothing to show that they did more than exhort ; nor does it appear that their gifts differed from those of the other seventy elders. And they now omit Daniel, evidently because he prophesied clearly of the coming of the Messiah. His title to be ranked among the prophets cannot be disputed ; and Josephus, who lived soon after our Lord was upon earth, expressly speaks of Daniel as one of the most eminent of their prophets.
We do not find that any regular form or ceremony was used when a prophet was constituted, or sent forth. The casting of Elijah's mantle upon Elisha, 1 Kings xix. 19, may be regarded rather as a sign than as a ceremony; and, from the repeated mention of that mantle, we may suppose there was something peculiar to Elijah in his dress and appearance. He is described, 2 Kings, i. 8, as hairy, or wearing a hairy garment, girt with a girdle of leather; the appearance of John the Baptist was similar, Matt. iii. 4. As to the method by which the prophets were designated, or marked out for their office, we only read that “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost;"
and all the true prophets mentioned in Scripture evidently had the witness of the Spirit, carrying them forth to the discharge of their office, and strengthening them for it. Their qualifications also are plainly stated. The true prophet was a man of piety. His mind, when receiving the Divine impulse, was in a well regulated state, not carried away or influenced by disorderly passions. Thus, when Elisha's mind was disturbed by the sight of Jehoram, the wicked king of Israel, he called for a minstrel, whose sacred harmony might compose his mind before he sought the Lord, 2 Kings iïi. 15. Maimonides says, that the prophets were not able to prophesy just when they wished to do so, but were obliged to prepare their minds, and to sit down joyfully, cheerfully, and solitarily; seeing that prophecy dwells neither amidst melancholy nor amidst apathy, but amidst joyfulness, therefore the sons of the prophets
used to have instruments of music, and thus sought after prophecy. The Divine revelations to the prophets were made in
1. By dreams and visions. As to Jacob, Daniel, and others: they are also alluded to, Joel ii. 28. St. Peter's trance, Acts x. 10–16, was of this nature. The term vision sometimes is applied to a really visible and miraculous appearance, as that of the angel to Zacharias, Luke i. 22; and the same word is applied generally to the prophecies of Isaiah, Nahum, and Obadiah. The prophets were able to distinguish these visions from common dreams, and from the delusions of Satan : see 1 Sam. xvi. 6, 7; 2 Sam. vii. 4–17; 1 Chron. xvii. 3—15; Isa. xxxviii. 1, 4–8; 2 Kings xx. 1, 4–11. These visions would always be consistent with the wisdom, holiness, and majesty of God.
The expressions used by the prophets, often imply that they saw the events they describe, as though they were actually occurring before them. Thus, Nahum sees the overthrow of Nineveh, Nah. jii. 1—3. Isaiah sees the revellings, the sudden surprise and massacre of the Babylonians, and the fall of her monarch, Isa. xxi. 1-10; xiv. 4—23. Habakkuk beheld in vision a most glorious display of Divine power, shown both in magnificent and in minute circumstances. The mountains trembling, the nations scattered, and even the tents of the wild Arabs agitated and hastily removed, as is common at the approach of some mighty conqueror; see Hab. iii. His prophecy is entitled, “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see,” i. 1. It
may be remarked, that these ecstatic visions seem to have represented at once, events both near and remote, with a general idea of succession only, not a precise view as to the intervals to occur between them. Thus we behold the stars in the firmament, all apparently at distances nearly equal from us, as seen by the eye. Thus we see the towers and spires of a distant city rise from the horizon at once to view, wi out being able clearly to discern their intervals from each other. This may explain why the prophets often speak of future events as present; and of those which were fulfilled shortly after the times when they prophesied, as though connected with events which we consider as yet unfulfilled.
Maimonides states, that belief in prophecy precedes belief in the law, and describes the mode of revelation to the pro