The Character of Old Testament Prophecy -- By: Merrill F. Unger

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 108:430 (Apr 1951)
Article: The Character of Old Testament Prophecy
Author: Merrill F. Unger


The Character of Old Testament Prophecy

Merrill F. Unger

Because of superficial similarities between inspirational divination (widely practiced in the ancient Semitic world) and Old Testament prophecy, modern scholarship shows a tendency to reduce Israelite prophets to a common stature with those of surrounding nations. A comparison of Hebrew prophetism with divinatory phenomena of adjacent pagan peoples, however, serves to bring into clearer focus the uniqueness of the prophetic feature of Old Testament religion.

Divine in its origin. The Hebrew prophet believed in one personal God, omnipotent and infinitely holy, whose spokesman he claimed to be. According to 1 Samuel 9:9 the prophet was in earlier Israel commonly called a ro'eh, that is, one who perceives that which does not lie in the realm of natural sight or hearing. Another early designation of similar etymology was a hozeh, “one who sees supernaturally” (2 Sam 24:11). Later the Hebrew seer was more comonnly called a nabhi' (1 Sam 9:9). This popular name is to be related to Accadian nabu, “to call” or “to announce” (either passively, as Albright1 )—one who is called by God, or (actively, as Koenig2 )—an announcer for God, or (preferably, with Guillaume3 who construes the term to mean that the prophet is the passive recipient of a message manifest in his condition as well as in his speech)—one who is in the state of announcing a message which has been given to him by God.

Accordingly “Thus saith Jehovah” was the authoritative

formula which stamped his inspired utterances with the finality and infallibility of a message directly from God. As God’s mouthpiece he thus claimed special knowledge. The pagan diviner, on the other hand, also claimed special knowledge as one in communication with superhuman spiritual beings (so-called gods), who are revealed in Scripture to be demons (1 Cor 10:20–21). The source of Biblical prophecy therefore is divine, in contrast to the source of divination which is demoniacal.

Gesenius4 over a century ago plausibly but inconclusively connected nabhi' with the Hebrew root nabha', “t...

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