Prophetical Literature in the Bible

The Prophetical Office

       1. Definition of a prophet. A prophet is one who speaks for another or in the place of another. The prophets were the spokesmen of God and communicated God's message to men. This divine message could refer to the past, present or future. Because of the supernatural illuminations through which the divine message came to him, a prophet was also called a "Seer" (I Kings 9:9)
       2. The prophetical office. The office of a prophet was twofold: first, as a teacher in Israel, the prophet explained the Law, insisted upon its observance, punished its transgressors, resisted idolatry and pagan infiltrations, warned against dangerous alliances with pagan kings, kept the idea of the one true God living in the minds of the people, preached penance, etc.; second, the prophet predicted the future lot of the chosen people, the coming of the Messias and the blessings of the Messianic kingdom.
       3. Origin of prophecy. The prophetical office was not hereditary like that of priests and kings. The prophetic call usually came suddenly: The prophet knew the day and the moment when revelation first came to him. Prophets came from all vocations in life; Some were priests, others princes, others shepherds, others farmers, etc. The essence of the prophetical office consisted in a God-given message and mission: "For prophecy came not by the will of man at any time, but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost" (II Peter 1:21).
       4. The channels of prophecy. Revelation came to the prophets in three ways: a) by an external image perceived by the senses of the prophet; for example, the burning bush of Moses or the handwriting on the wall of Balthasar's banquet hall; b) by an internal image perceived by the prophet in a vision, dream or ecstasy; c) by words spoken directly to the prophet. The prophets frequently explained the message to the people or acted it out for them. The gift of prophecy was not habitual to them: They were not in constant communication with God. They distinguished their own concepts from the contents of the divine message, and when they had no illumination from God they were fully aware of the fact
       5. Classification of prophets. The prophets in the period after Moses are divided into groups: The Older Prophets and the Younger Prophets. The former preached orally, the latter not only preached but also wrote down their discourses and prophecies; the former aimed at the conversion of hearts, the latter, in addition, pointed to the future Messias. The Older Prophets numbered such men as Samuel, Gad, Nathan, Elias, and Eliseus. The Younger Prophets are divided according to the bulk of their writing into the major and minor prophets. With the exception of Osee, Amos and Jonas, who lived in the kingdom of Israel, all the prophets exercised their ministry in the kingdom of Juda. Scripture also mentions three female prophets: Mary, the sister of Moses (Exodus 15:20), Debbora (Judges 4:4) and Holda (IV Kings 22:14).
       6. Authority of the prophets. How did the people know that these men had a divine mission? They were men of an irreproachable character and conduct; they performed miracles in confirmation of their teaching; they made predictions which came true; despite their severe denunciations, they were recognized as divine messengers by the people. Our Lord, the Apostles and New Testament writers also recognized them as men of God. The false prophets, on the other hand, were actuated by base motives, corrupted by pride, made fantastic predictions, prophesied for earthly gain, preached what was flattering to men's passions.

The Major Prophets

       1. Isaias. The book of Isaias contains two parts: A book of judgments (1-35) and a book of consolations (40-66). The first describes the punishments which God will inflict upon pagan nations and upon the chosen people, though less severely upon the fatter because of its Messianic faith; the second predicts the liberation of the Jewish people from Babylonian captivity and the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. In a historical section (36-39) the prophet describes the invasion of Juda by the Assyrian Sennacherib. Because of his minute description of the Person and work of Our Lord, Isaias is called the Evangelist of the Old Testament Chapters 7 to 12 are described as the "Book of the Emmanuel."
       2. Jeremias. Though wanting in chronological order the book of Jeremias may be roughly divided into two sections: prophecies dealing with the punishment about to be inflicted upon Juda be cause of its ingratitude, infidelity, obstinacy, and lack of a true inward spirit in its worships (1-45); prophecies about other nations (46-51). In a historical appendix the author describes the capture and destruction of the Temple and of the city of Jerusalem. The Lamentations of Jeremias are five elegiac songs in which the author laments over the fall of Jerusalem and the miseries of its people. In the original Hebrew each stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The Prophecy of Baruch, a disciple and secretary of Jeremias, describes the grief, repentance and hopes of the Jews in Babylonian Captivity.
       3. Ezechiel. Ezechiel was called to the prophetical office the fifth year of the Babylonian captivity, about seven years before the downfall of Jerusalem. The book of Ezechiel falls naturally into two parts: the first contains prophecies pronounced before the downfall of Jerusalem in 587 (2-32), the second (33-48), the prophecies pronounced after the destruction of the holy city; the first deals with God's judgments pronounced against the chosen people and the pagan nations because of their wickedness and impenitence, the second deals with the restoration of the theocratic kingdom of the new Israel, and with the new Temple and its worship; the first deals with divine justice, the second, with divine mercy.
       4. Daniel. Daniel, of noble blood and of the tribe of Juda, was carried into Babylonian captivity together with other prominent Jews in the year 606 B.C. Here he was educated at the court of Nabuchodonosor and, because of his wisdom, was highly regarded by the king. The book of Daniel tells us about his own life (1-6) and records his visions and prophecies (7-12). The concluding chapters narrate the story of the chaste Susanna and of Bel, the idol (13-14).

Minor Prophets

       1. Osee. Osee preached and wrote in the kingdom of Israel in the eighth century B.C. In the first part of his book (1-3) he explains in symbolical language the relations and covenant between God and Israel, and in the second (4-14) denounces the idolatry, corruption and infidelity of the priests and princes, predicts God's punishment, the repentance of the people and eventual happiness.
       2. Joel. In the first section (1 to 2:17) the prophet describes the evils that are about to befall Juda and urges the people to repent; in the second part (2:18 to 3:21) he predicts the blessings of the Messianic kingdom, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh, and the final judgment.
       3. Amos. The book contains the prophet's sermons against the sins and wickedness of the kingdom of Israel (3-6) and five symbolical visions (7-9) illustrating the evils about to come upon Israel.
       4. Abdias. The prophet describes the destruction of Edom because of its iniquity and injustices to Jacob, and predicts the salvation of Israel.
       5. Jonas describes the effects of the prophet's mission and teaching in the luxurious city of Ninive.
       6. Micheas. The prophet Micheas lived in the kingdom of Juda at the time of Isaias before the destruction of Samaria in 722. The book is divided into three parts each one of which begins with the word "Hear." The first part (1-2) contains God's judgments against Israel and Juda; the second (3-5), a condemnation of the sins of the false prophets and judges, and the third (6-7), God's expostulation with the Jews and the salvation of all mankind.
       7. Nahum. Describes the capture and destruction of Ninive.
       8. Habacuc predicts the destruction of Juda by the Chaldeans and describes the punishment that will be meted out to Babylon.
       9. Sophonias inveighs against the sins of the kingdom of Juda, predicts dire punishment for it, announces God's judgments against the outside pagan nations, prophesies a severe punishment for the city of Jerusalem but ends with a note of encouragement and hope.
       10. Aggeus was active among the exiles who returned from the Babylonian captivity. He rebuked the people for their indifference and urged them to rebuild the Temple. He assured the people that the second temple would be more glorious than the first because it would be honored by the presence of the Messias.
       11. Zacharias likewise worked among the returned exiles. In eight visions (1-6) he predicts the glory of the Messianic kingdom. He combats an incipient Pharisaism (7-8), and describes the victory of the Messianic kingdom over its enemies (9-14). The book contains interesting details about the Passion of Our Lord.
       12. Malachias was the last prophet before John the Baptist. He lived in the time of Esdras and Nehemias. He rebuked the priests for neglecting the worship of God and inveighed against mixed marriages. He predicted the coming of the Messias and His precursor, and announced a new sacrifice and a new priesthood.

The Apocalypse

The Apocalypse is the only prophetical book of the New Testament. It was written by St. John on the Island of Patmos about the year 98. The theme of the Apocalypse is stated in chapter 1:19: "Write therefore the things which thou hast seen, and which are, and which must be done hereafter." The book then falls naturally into two sections, the first (2 to 3 :7) dealing with the things that are, the second (4:1 to 22:5) dealing with the things that "must be done hereafter." The first describes the present conditions of the Church and contains the letters to the seven churches.

The second comprises visions which deal with the Second Coming of Christ and the signs which will precede the final judgment. These visions are six in number: the book signed with seven seals; the angels with the seven trumpets; the two signs in the heavens; the seven angels with the seven vials; Christ's victory over the beast and the kings of earth; the new Jerusalem. In the epilogue (22:6-21) St. John says that his prophecy was approved by the Angel and by Christ Himself.

Messianic Prophecies in the Major and Minor Prophets

                                                               1. Isaias
       1. Hope of a Redeemer: "Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee! For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising" (Isaias 60-1-3).
       2. Longing after the Saviour: "Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just; let the earth be opened and bud forth a Saviour" (Isaias 45:8).
       3. The Virgin-Birth: "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel" (Isaias 7:14). The following passage in Jer. 31:22, is also quoted in support of the virginal conception: "The Lord hath created a new thing upon earth; a woman shall compass a man."
       4. Christ's divine attributes: "A child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace" (Isaias 9:6).
       5. The seven gifts: "There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of godliness. And He shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord" (Isaias 11:1-3).
       6. The Precursor: "The voice of one crying in the desert: prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God" (Isaias 40:8).
       7. The Messias' exquisite gentleness: "He shall not cry, nor have respect to person, neither shall His voice be heard abroad. The bruised reed He shall not break, and smoking flax He shall not quench" (Isaias 42:2-3).
       8. The Passion: The most abject of men, a man of sorrows, "without beauty or comeliness," He was offered because it was His own will, and was led as a sheep to the slaughter and opened not His mouth (Isaias 53).

                                                        2. The Other Prophets
       1. The Messias the proof of God's love for His chosen people: "Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform the good word that I have spoken to the house of Israel, and to the house of Juda. In those days, and at that time, I will make the bud of justice to spring forth unto David, and He shall do judgment and justice in the earth. In those days shall Juda be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell securely; and this is the name that they shall call Him, the Lord our just one" (Jeremias 33:14-16).
       2. The years of His coming: "Seventy weeks are shortened upon thy people and upon thy holy city, that transgression may be finished, and sin may have an end, and iniquity may be abolished, and everlasting justice may be brought, and vision and prophecy may be fulfilled, and the saints may be anointed.
       "Know thou therefore, and take notice, that from the going forth of the word, to build up Jerusalem again, unto Christ, the prince, there shall be seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks; and the street shall be built again, and the walls in straightness of times.
       "And after sixty-two weeks Christ shall be slain; and the people that shall deny Him shall not be His. And a people with their leader that shall come, shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be waste, and after the end of the war the appointed desolation.
       "And He shall confirm the covenant with many, in one week; and in the half of the week the victim and the sacrifice shall fail; and there shall be in the temple the abomination of desolation; and the desolation shall continue even to the consummation, and to the end" (Daniel 9:24-27).
       To understand this prophecy it is well to keep in mind that the week of years (seven years) was in current usage among the Jews. The Prophet says that in consequence of the order of Artaxerxes to Esdras the Holy City will be rebuilt - although under constant fighting against the Samaritans. From this time to the coming of Christ seven weeks of years (49 years) and again sixty-two weeks of years (434 years) shall elapse. After this period Christ shall be slain. In the middle of the seventieth week the victim and sacrifice shall fail because Christ's death will put an end to the Old Testament sacrifices.
       3. His Birthplace: "And thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda; out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be the ruler in Israel; and His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity" (Micheas 5:2).
       4. Messias' Precursor: "Behold I send My angel, and He shall prepare the way before My face" (Malachias 3:1)
       5. Entry into His Temple: "And presently the Lord, whom you seek, and the angel of the testament, whom you desire, shall come to His temple. Behold He cometh, saith the Lord of Hosts" (Malachias 3:1). AND THE DESIRED OF ALL NATIONS SHALL COME; and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of Hosts. (Aggeus 2:8).
       6. Flight into Egypt: "I called My son out of Egypt" (Osee 11:1).
       7. Christ's Priestly Dignity: "And thou shalt speak to him (Jesus the son of Josedec, the high priest), saying: Thus saith the Lord of hosts, saying: BEHOLD A MAN, THE ORIENT IS HIS NAME; and under him shall he spring up, and shall build a temple to the Lord. Yea, He shall build a temple to the Lord, and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit, and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both" (Zachary 6:12, 13).
       8. Title of Son of Man: "I beheld therefore in the vision of the night, and lo, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and He came even to the Ancient of days, and they presented him before him" (Daniel 7:13).
       9. Shepherd of the flock: "I will set up one shepherd over them, and He shall feed them, and He shall be their shepherd" (Ezechiel 34:23).
       10. Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold thy King will come to thee, the Just and Saviour; He is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass" (Zachary 9:9).
       11. The Betrayal: "They weighed for My wages thirty pieces of silver" (Zachary 11 :12).
       12. The Passion: "They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced" (Zachary 12:10). "What are these wounds in the midst of Thy Hands?" (Zachary 13:6) "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered" (Zachary 13:7)
       13. The Resurrection: "Jonas was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights" (Jonas 2:1; Matthew 12:40, 16:4); "I will deliver them out of the hand of death, I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy death; O hell, I will be thy bite" (Osee 13:14; I Cor. 15:54).
       14. The Holy Eucharist: "From the rising of the sun even to the going down, My name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a clean oblation; for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts" (Malachias        1:11).
       15. The Holy Ghost: "And it shall come to pass after this, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Moreover upon My servants and handmaids in those days I will pour out My spirit" (Joel 2:28-29).
       16. Entry of Gentiles into the Church: "In that day I will raise up the Tabernacle of David that is fallen, and I will close up the breaches of the walls thereof and repair what was fallen; and I will rebuild it as in the days of old, that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all nations, because My name is invoked upon them, saith the Lord that does these things" (Amos 9:11-12; Acts 15:16).
       17. Last Judgment: "I will show wonders in heaven; and in earth, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord doth come. And it shall come to pass that everyone that shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Joel 2:30-32).

Discussion Aids

Set I
1. Define a prophet.
2. What was the twofold office of a prophet?
3. How did the prophetical office come to the prophet?
4. In what three ways did revelation come to the prophet?
5. How are the prophets classified?
6. How was their divine authority determined?

Set II
1. Did any nation ever have prophets comparable to those of Israel?
2. St. Matthew's Gospel quotes the Old Testament about seventy times. Which of these quotations are from the prophets?
3. From the Messianic prophecies listed in the lesson construct a short Life of Christ.
4. Isaias has been called the Evangelist of the Old Testament. Why?
5. Read Isaias 6:1-8. What words from this section have been incorporated into the Ordinary of the Mass?
6. Jeremias is called the "man of sorrows of the Old Testament." Explain.
7. In what way do Jeremias's disappointments over the Jewish people resemble those of St. Paul? (read Romans 9).
8. Compare the book Ezechiel with the Apocalypse.

Religious Practices

       1. The prophets constantly warned the Jewish people against dangerous pagan alliances. If the prophets lived today, would they reprove me for certain pagan practices in my life?
       2. Despite their severe denunciations, the prophets were accepted by the people as men of God. Am I inclined to minimize the divine authority of the Church when I cannot square my conduct with her teachings?
       3. I shall make the ardent longings of the prophets for the Promised Messias my own when I am to receive Him in Holy Communion.

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