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Unearthing Prophecy: A Comprehensive Guide to the Prophets in the Bible

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Prophets in the Bible. Do you find yourself questioning the power and impact of biblical prophecy? Do you want to learn more about this exciting and often-overlooked topic? Look no further! 

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive guide to the prophets in the Bible and prophecies found in the Bible. You will explore ancient prophecies made thousands of years before their fulfillment, and learn how they are as meaningful and relevant today as they were in the time of the prophets. 

(For a comparison of Prophets vs. Priests, see this post.)

We will show you why prophecy is an integral part of the Bible, and how it can offer guidance and insight into the past, present, and future. By the end of this article, you will have a comprehensive understanding of prophecy and the ancient biblical prophets, and be equipped to unearth and interpret biblical prophecy for yourself. So, let’s get started on our journey!

Called to action by God and empowered with His Spirit, prophets spoke to those who had wandered away from Him. In one sense, they preached His word — but in today’s terms, they were often whistleblowers, alerting entire tribes and nations to the dangerous consequences of turning away from Him. 

aged drawing of moses for with the text: prophets in the Bible: unearthing prophecy: a guide to prophets in the Bible

As devoted Christians, let us be inspired by the prophetic courage of these wise and faithful servants.

Throughout Israel’s history, the prophets played a pivotal role in God’s plan. As the people’s leader, Moses was charged with rescuing the Hebrews from Egypt and leading them to the Promised Land, all while encouraging them to stay true to their relationship with God. 

Despite their repeated transgressions, Moses was the first to speak God’s words of reconciliation to bring them back into His grace.

As biblical history records, God chose prophets in the Old Testament, such as Deborah, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, and Huldah, to communicate His will to a disobedient people. Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah chronicle these figures of faith and their mission to spread the truth of God.

When it comes to the Christian faith, the word “prophet” often conjures up images of predicting the future. But in the Bible, prophets fulfilled a much broader role. From providing spiritual guidance to speaking out against injustice, prophets were sources of ongoing inspiration and guidance to the people of God. 

As we read the words of the prophets today, it is clear that their message is just as relevant and important for the church today as it was for their original audience.

This guide to prophecy provides a look at some key concepts for Christians. We’ll dive into what a prophet is, what prophecy entails, why it’s not always clear, and the books of the prophets in the Bible. These ancient texts can still guide us today and help us strengthen our faith. Let’s unpack these concepts and illuminate the relevance of prophecy in our lives.

In the Bible, when the term “prophet” is used, it often refers to two distinct things: those whom God appointed to speak on his behalf and the prophetic books of the Old Testament. By familiarizing ourselves with these two definitions of a “true prophet,” we can gain a greater understanding of the entire Bible, both its prophetic passages and its other scriptures.

Prophets in the Bible: What is a prophet?

Hebrew: נָבִיא —transliteration: nabi, from a root meaning “to bubble forth, as from a fountain,” hence “to utter,” a spokesman, speaker, or prophet 

Prophets are a conduit for God’s will, speaking on His behalf. Some share spectacular visions, like Ezekiel and Zechariah, while others remind of their obligation to God and the Torah, such as Haggai and Malachi. For Christians, prophets represent a connection to God, acting as a reminder of His word and His promise.

The Bible is full of prophetic statements, although not everyone who speaks the words is considered a prophet. One great example is King Saul of Israel. Although he fell under the influence of God’s spirit and uttered prophetic words, his story in the Bible does not regard him as a prophet. Rather, Saul’s prophetic words serve as a small part of his greater story.

When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. 

And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

1 Samuel 10:9–12 (ESV)

The Bible cautions against false prophets – individuals who claim to speak on behalf of God but do not. It’s important to note that while God has his own prophets, there are also prophets who may speak on behalf of other gods. 

The most famous example of this takes place in 1 Kings 18:16-39, when Elijah single-handedly defeats the 450 prophets of the Canaanite god Baal, proving that he is the one who speaks on behalf of the Lord. Christians can take comfort in the fact that God’s power and truth is far greater than any false prophet.

Other Hebrew words translated as “prophet”

Hebrew: נָבִיא —transliteration: nabi, from a root meaning “to bubble forth, as from a fountain,” hence “to utter,” a spokesman, speaker, or prophet.

The Hebrew word Nabi is is the first and the most generally used word for a prophet.

In the time of Samuel another word, רֹאֶה (transliteration: ro’eh, meaning a “seer,” began to be used (1 Samuel 9:9). Ro’eh occurs 7 times in reference to Samuel.

(Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he said, “Come, let us go to the seer,” for today’s “prophet” was formerly called a seer.)

1 Samuel 9:9 (ESV)

Afterwards another word, חֹזֶה (transliteration: hozeh), “a seer” (2 Samuel 24:11), was employed.

And when David arose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying,

2 Samuel 24:11 (ESV)

In 1 Chronicles 29:29 all these three words are used: “Samuel the seer (ro’eh), Nathan the prophet (nabi’), Gad the seer” (hozeh).

Now the acts of King David, from first to last, are written in the Chronicles of Samuel the seer, and in the Chronicles of Nathan the prophet, and in the Chronicles of Gad the seer,

1 Chronicles 29:29 (ESV)

The Bible is full of prophets, and some are more noteworthy than others. Among the most significant ones for Christians to remember are:

Abraham, whom God himself calls a prophet 

Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

Genesis 20:7 (ESV)

Moses, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets 

And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face,

Deuteronomy 34:10 (ESV)

Samuel, who anointed two kings of Israel on God’s behalf 

And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.

1 Samuel 3:19–20 (ESV)

David, a king whose Psalms were considered prophetic by the Jews 

Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne,

Acts 2:30 (ESV)

Elijah and Elisha, worked miracles and anointed (and denounced) national leaders on God’s behalf 

And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.

1 Kings 19:15–16 (ESV)

Jeremiah, who warned Jerusalem’s leaders that King Nebuchadnezzar would take the city

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Jeremiah 1:5 (ESV)

John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus Christ 

What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.

Matthew 11:9–14 (ESV)

Jesus Christ, who was called a prophet before he was resurrected 

When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.”

John 7:40 (ESV)

In the Bible, prophets have a unique role in holding God’s people accountable to His commandments. Through the ministry of prophecy – a term with much deeper significance than our modern understanding of it – prophets guide and protect Israel and its followers. 

The Old Testament is particularly rich in examples of prophets fulfilling this divine purpose.

What is prophecy?

When it comes to prophecy of scripture, it typically involves messages from God. Since a large portion of the Bible centers around God’s relationship with the Israelites, the majority of the prophecies found within its pages relate to their covenant. 

Christians can use these prophecies as a guide to help deepen their understanding of God and His plans for their own lives. 

The Bible is full of messages that come in many forms. We see these manifest as dreams, poetic passages, sermons, and even powerful physical symbols. 

One of the most captivating examples of this is found in the prophet Isaiah, who went without clothing for three years to symbolize the impending humiliation of the Egyptians at the hands of the Assyrians. This is just one of many examples in scripture of God communicating His will to His people. 

Then the Lord said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush,

Isaiah 20:3 (ESV)

God’s prophets in the Bible spoke of the past, present, and future. Not only do their words provide insight into what could be, but they also draw attention to the profound implications of what has been – and what is – for those who follow the Lord.

Prophecies about the past

Israel’s faithful covenant with God, as narrated in the Book of Genesis, involved God’s promise that He would bless and protect His chosen people, as long as they stayed loyal to Him. Unfortunately, when Israel broke that covenant by worshipping false gods and mistreating the vulnerable, God punished His people by exiling them from the land He’d promised to Abraham. 

To remind His people of this covenant, the prophets often referred to Israel’s history, retelling the stories from the Torah.

God’s incredible faithfulness and mercy shone brightly during the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt to Canaan. From parting the Red Sea to provide safe passage to miraculously providing manna and quail for food in the wilderness, God’s kindness and protection of His chosen people was a wonder to behold. 

As prophets looked back on this time, they often shared God’s miracles in detail so that future generations would remember the incredible faithfulness and justice God had shown to His chosen nation.

The Bible’s works of prophecy constantly remind Christians of their faithful covenant with God. Loyalty to Him is the foundation of this sacred alliance.

Prophecies about the present

The prophets of old often reminded God’s people of His goodness and provision for them in the past, while also calling out the nation’s current betrayal of Him and its unkinder treatment of each other. They used this to make an argument on God’s behalf, raising awareness of issues like:

The people of Israel had strayed far from their God, turning instead towards the gods of other nations and trusting more in their military might than their divine Protector. The rich were exploiting the poor, and justice systems had become increasingly corrupt. 

Nations around the world were attacking one another with violence, and kings were claiming to be gods. It was a dismal time for the Israelites, for they had forsaken their faith and forgotten the love of their Lord.

Prophets throughout history have spoken out against the wrongdoing of God’s people, calling them to return to the teachings of Moses. Refusal to do so often brought warnings of punishment from God. Today, we can still heed these warnings and turn back to Him.

Prophecy of the future

The prophets of the Bible often look to the future, envisioning five possible scenarios for God’s people: two unique to Israel, two designed for the nations of the world, and one that is open to all who will take heed. Their prophetic words offer insight, comfort, and hope to the faithful.

1. God’s judgment on Israel

Under the Torah, the people of Israel were promised God’s protection and abundance if they stayed faithful to His laws. However, should they neglect their duty and betray Him, they accept the consequence of being driven out by more powerful foreign nations. 

Time and again, the prophets warned the Israelites of the impending punishment should they persist in their idolatry and oppression.

The Siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar is a memorable testament to the power of prophecy in the eyes of Christians. This pivotal event foretold in the Bible, serves as a powerful reminder of the Lord’s sovereignty.

2. God’s restoration of Israel

In his parting words, the prophet Moses foretold Israel’s exile from their land for violating the Torah. Yet, he also spoke of God’s gracious promise to restore them. Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets had great hope for this redemptive restoration of Israel, particularly of Jerusalem. 

They saw God ruling over them from the holy city, even through a descendant of King David, the Messiah.

3. God’s judgment on the nations

The Old Testament centers on ancient Jewish prophets who share an unwavering belief in one God as the brilliant creator of the universe. From these texts, we learn of His love for Israel’s land, people, and future, as He sits atop the cosmic hierarchy, looking down on all mortal and celestial powers.

The wickedness of kings who oppress the poor and vulnerable is not unheard of in history. Some even sought to gain power by attacking other nations, trying to make their own people more powerful. 

But God’s prophets refused to accept such behavior. They knew justice would be served in God’s time, and God’s way – empires would eventually be brought down.

4. God’s restoration of the nations

The prophets in the Torah saw a vision of God ending the reign of violent empires and ushering in a time of peace and prosperity. Through their legacy, they hoped that nations would come together and live in harmony under the guidance of a Messiah from Israel. 

This is what was promised to Abraham in the beginning – and for these prophets, it was a promise they hoped would be fulfilled.

5. “If you repent, God might relent”

The prophets may speak of dire outcomes, but they don’t despair of the future. Though their messages are warnings of potential disaster, they offer a glimmer of hope – a chance for repentance and reformation and the possibility that God may withhold his judgments. 

As Christians, we have the chance to turn away from the path of destruction and choose a better way, bringing hope and salvation to our generation.

Prophecy isn’t always clear

Through powerful poetic expressions, dramatic enactments, and vivid dreams, God’s prophets paint a picture of the future for His devoted followers. Although these visions are often cryptic, their message can be confidently interpreted by those who are devoted to understanding God’s will.

Christians have long believed that the resurrection of Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament. Jesus, Peter, and Paul held steadfast to this belief, as seen in Acts 2:31 and 1 Corinthians 15:4. But, according to accounts in the four Gospels, the disciples of Jesus did not come to this realization until after they had already seen Jesus alive again following his death.

he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.

Acts 2:31 (ESV)

that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

1 Corinthians 15:4 (ESV)

Often, prophets meld together future visions of judgment and restoration. Israel was subject to foreign rule, so expect to see a prophecy about both the oppressive powers being judged and the nation of Israel being restored.

The fulfillment of prophecies isn’t always immediate. Take the promise of a king to David—parts of this prophecy were realized in David’s son, King Solomon, but parts remained unfulfilled until the coming of Jesus Christ. 

Even now, Christianity holds Jesus as the prophecy’s fulfillment, while many in the Jewish faith still await the promised Messiah and deliverer.

The books of “the Prophets”

The prophets of the Old Testament, often referred to as “The Prophets”, were a special group of people chosen by God to communicate His message to the nation of Israel. Through them, the Lord God spoke directly to His people, forming an everlasting bond between Himself and the people of Israel. 

As a result, The Prophets are a collection of books in the Old Testament that provide deep insight into this special relationship between the Almighty and His chosen ones. For Christians, these books offer an understanding of the faith-filled journey that began long ago and continues today.

Christians, it’s time to brush up on your Word of God. We know that the list of books considered “the Prophets” can vary, but for modern Christians, it’s the final 17 books of the Old Testament that deserve close attention: Isaiah–Malachi. 

Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles include 18 books. Knowing these books can deepen one’s understanding of the Christian faith and its teachings. So start reading and get to know your Bible like the back of your hand.

If you surveyed Jesus, Peter, and Paul, you’d likely receive a different answer than what we might guess today. During the first century, Christians had only the Tanakh, the Hebrew Scriptures known to us as the Old Testament. This arrangement differed from the way the modern Old Testament is structured: the section termed Nevi’im (meaning “Prophets” in Hebrew) was placed in the center. 

The books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, referred to as “Prophetic History”, form an important part of the modern Prophets in the Bible. Detailing God’s discipline and protection of the people of Israel, these narrative-heavy books illustrate how the people of Israel either obeyed or disobeyed the Torah. 

Excluding the Book of Lamentations and Daniel, these books provide Christians with an essential foundation to understand God’s purpose and direction in their lives.

Old Testament    

  • Joshua        
  • Judges        
  • Samuel        
  • Kings        
  • Isaiah        
  • Jeremiah        
  • Lamentations        
  • Baruch        
  • Ezekiel        
  • Daniel        
  • Hosea        
  • Joel        
  • Amos        
  • Obadiah        
  • Jonah    
  • Micah        
  • Nahum        
  • Habakkuk        
  • Zephaniah        
  • Haggai      
  • Zechariah        
  • Malachi        

The “Major Prophets” and the “Minor Prophets”

Christians consider the books of prophecy in two main categories: the Major Prophets and the Minor Prophets. These designations are based on length, not rank. Although the Book of Jeremiah is not necessarily considered more inspired than the other prophets, his is the longest book of the Bible – making it a major work in comparison to the likes of Obadiah’s single page.

The Major Prophets

Christians traditionally recognize three books of the Old Testament as Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Depending on who you ask, some may include two more – Daniel and/or Hosea – to make a total of five. 

No matter what list you believe, these three are undeniably essential in understanding the Bible’s teachings.

As Isaiah foretells God’s coming wrath for humanity’s rebellion and oppression, he simultaneously paints a vivid portrait of a new kind of king – a servant leader who will pay the ultimate price to redeem his people. For Christians, this is a crucial reminder of the selfless love of Jesus, and the hope He brings to all who follow Him.

Jeremiah, the prophet, warned the people of the fall of Jerusalem (and neighboring nations) of the impending disaster that would come with their sins. But never did Jeremiah forget the hope of God’s grace, which has the power to redeem and restore people to Him.

Ezekiel foretells a powerful message for Jerusalem—the destruction of their beloved Temple is imminent. Yet in the same breath, he proclaims a day of hope for God’s people, as the Lord will return and bring life back into the desolate land. 

As Christians, let us remember Ezekiel’s promise and hope that the glory of the Lord will soon come to restore us.

The Major Prophets are widely accepted within the Christian faith as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, but some believers also recognize Lamentations to be part of this grouping due to its connection to the prophet Jeremiah.

The book of Daniel is an integral part of the Major Prophets, providing an insightful look at the relationship between the God of Israel and the ruling empires of the world. Through Daniel’s intense visions, readers can gain a remarkable understanding of God’s incredible sovereignty and power. 

No Christian should miss out on this opportunity to explore the wondrous divine plan.

The Old Testament books of the Book of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel don’t hold a candle to their sheer volume. For Christians, these three books contain a wealth of insight and teachings that can be studied and applied to everyday life. Their unparalleled depth of wisdom can provide the reader with a renewed appreciation for the Bible and God’s revealed truth.

View of different Christian prophets statues in Bon Jesus de Matosinhos, for the post on prophets in the Bible

The Twelve / Minor Prophets

The Minor Prophets—a collection of twelve short books in the Old Testament—warn of God’s impending judgment for both the Israelites and the neighboring nations. Yet, these books also foretell of God’s plan to restore Israel and the world. 

Christians will find in these books a message of hope, redemption, and assurance of God’s unwavering presence.

Hosea captures the unfailing loyalty of God towards His people, Israel, despite their disobedience. 

Meanwhile, Joel prophecies a time of affliction and judgment but also reminds us of the promise God made to pour out His Spirit on all humans. Through this book, God’s power is made known clearly and powerfully. Christians can be comforted by these words and encouraged to abide in God’s faithfulness.

The prophet Amos reminds us of the gravity of our actions when he warns the people of Israel that their oppressive ways have made an enemy of their own God. 

Similarly, Obadiah foretells of a day when God’s children will receive the justice they sought against their oppressors. Christians should take heed of these examples, for the Bible reveals that God will not tolerate injustice.

The story of Jonah powerfully reveals God’s compassionate nature, reminding us that, despite our tendency to stray, He desires to avert disaster if we choose to repent. 

In Micah, God not only exemplifies justice and mercy – He shows us how to pursue them as well. By heeding His example, we can gain favor with the Lord and serve as a beacon of faith for others.

As the Old Testament prophet Nahum foresaw, a mighty world empire will inevitably experience a violent end. 

Meanwhile, Habakkuk warns Christians against perpetuating the same oppressive system, instead calling believers to lead holy and humble lives, no matter the circumstances.

The books of Zephaniah and Haggai reveal God’s plan for His people. 

Zephaniah anticipates a coming “reset” in which God will remove and restore all things. 

Similarly, Haggai encourages the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Both books speak of God’s sovereignty and care for His people, reminding us that He is in control and that He works through us for His purpose.

The prophet Zechariah proclaimed a glorious message to the people of Israel: If they returned to God with all their heart, He would return to them and restore them. Sadly, the message was not heeded. 

The prophet Malachi then had to rebuke the Israelites for straying from the Torah yet again and urge them to stay true to God’s laws. Let us remember the lessons of the prophets and return to the Lord with all our hearts.

The prophets are important

For centuries, the Old Testament has served as an invaluable source of guidance for followers of God. Compiled by generations of people devoted to the faith, it has been integral to upholding the values of the ancient Hebrews and continues to be a source of wisdom and inspiration for modern-day Christians.

The Bible is an ancient and powerful book that can provide invaluable insight into our lives. Understanding the many prophets and prophecies that are revealed throughout its pages can be a challenge. However, with the right approach, it is possible to uncover the hidden meanings and messages that lie within.

By taking the time to delve into the context and understanding the language behind the prophecies, readers can begin to gain a more comprehensive take on how prophecy works and appreciate its power. In doing this, readers can find a greater understanding of their Creator and themselves and stand in awe of the power of the Bible. Let us all take the time to uncover the mysteries of prophecy and understand its power in our own lives.

You may enjoy this video on the top 5 (major) prophets in the Bible:

Or one of these recommended resources about prophets in the Bible:

Prophets in the Bible, What Things Did They Say? by Robert Wyeth

Hidden Prophets of the Bible: Finding the Gospel in Hosea through Malachi by Michael Williams 

The Prophets: Messengers of God’s Mercy by Sarah Christmyer, Thomas Smith

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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