The Call of the Prophet

This lesson examines the special characteristics of the prophet's call to ministry.
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The Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament (both major and minor prophets) can serve as great examples to build faith, courage, and steadfastness for all of God's servants in any age. Even though this book will focus on the 12 Minor prophets, similar lessons can be taken from the Major prophets whose life experience as prophets were, for the most part, similar to that of the Minor prophets.

Our study of the 12 Minor prophets will provide us with information concerning not only the men themselves but also the intimate relationship that bound them to the God of Israel whom they served and worshipped.

The point to note well, and the subject of this chapter is the calling of these men directly by God into the dynamic role of "prophet."

Our story will outline several characteristics of the Divine call in order to gain insight, not only into the prophet himself, but also into the originator of every call, the Lord. In addition to this, we will review five similar elements contained in the writings of these prophets along with the outline and primary purpose of each their books.


The words used to refer to the prophets in the Hebrew language:

  • ROEH = Seer
  • NAHBI = Spokesman; to bubble

These words were originally used in connection with those who practiced "nature" religions or ecstatic rituals in communicating with the spirits of the pagan world. There is a tendency to confuse the history of the word used in describing the Hebrew prophet with the actual practice of his ministry.

Originally, the word for prophet suggested elements of divination, magic, and ecstatic trances which were present in the Canaanite religion with which the Hebrews came into contact early in their settlement and ultimate conquest of the land. However, as the Hebrews evolved in their practice of the Jewish religion, the term prophet gained new meaning and significance with the rise and development of the Hebraic order. The word prophet came to be understood in light of the unique work of the Jewish prophet and the position or role he began to play in that society.

Hebrew prophecy, therefore, became the defining element that eventually separated the Israelite religion from other contemporary religions and gave it a survival value that these other pagan religions did not possess.

The power expressed through the Jewish prophet changed the original word and meaning of the expression used to refer to both the person and his work/ministry. No longer did it suggest a dark and mysterious nether world and associations with strange characters and unseen powers, but rather now described the motivating factor that enabled the prophet to do and say as he did to the people of his time. This new factor was his genuine call by God to be His servant and spokesman. Hence, this ancient term referring to darkness and magic, in light of the Hebrew life and experience, came to mean, "to call."

(Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he used to say, "Come, and let us go to the seer"; for he who is called a prophet now was formerly called a seer.)
- I Samuel 9:9

This is an example of Samuel explaining to the people of his era the development of the word "seer" from its original root meaning in pagan times to the present meaning "to call" as a more apt description of the prophets that served in his day.

Characteristics of the Prophet's Call

The prophets lived at different times with different circumstances but their calling into ministry was similar in that each calling had common characteristics:

1. The Call was Unique

In no other religion was there such a phenomenon. The nature religions claimed a relationship with the "spirit world", mediated through "shamans", witches, and various priests and magicians.

Other, more developed religious systems (Greek, Roman) had an elaborate panoply of gods and goddesses with lives carefully watched and ministered to by temple attendance, however, only in the Hebrew religion was there the religious notion of a single, personal God who was moral, sovereign, and intimately related to man.

Furthermore, only in this Hebrew religion did God reveal Himself by communicating his emotions, plans, will, and desires to mankind for its own knowledge of Him, as well as for the instruction of the nation in every aspect of life.

The Jewish prophet, unlike his pagan counterpart, did not try to manipulate God, as is the case with magic and occult practices, but rather was consumed with the effect that his experienced contact with God produced in him.

Whereas the seers, priests, diviners, and magicians of other religions sought to understand and placate the gods in order to gain more mastery over their own natural and cultural environments, the Hebrew prophets continually dealt with the implications directly produced by their call into service:

  • This included the transformation that the call produced in their lives (farmer to prophet, court official to prophet, etc.).
  • There were also the implications brought about by the message that they preached to the people from God (for example, Jeremiah put into stocks or lowered into a dry well because the leaders didn't like the message that he brought from God).

This need to speak and tension with hearers was not present in pagan religious experiences between the people and their magicians and priests.

2. The Call was from God

Then the Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me,
"Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.
- Jeremiah 1:9

The call did not originate from a feeling of moral indignation (That's not right!) , or national pride (They can't do that to us!) , or conscientious concern (Somebody needs to do something about that!). The source of the calling was in God, not the prophet. In other words, God was the subject of the call not the object of the call. Thus, the call had significance for the prophet because of its origin in God. These men did not answer some unknown deity or even their own conscience or the call of their nation. They responded to the call of almighty God, the God of their fathers and the God of their nation and its history.

Now, there were many diviners and magicians operating in the era but the similarities between these and the prophets were minimal. The major objection of the prophets themselves when compared to these others was that their source was different.

  • The source of the magician and diviner's initiative was himself or a teacher.
  • The source of the Hebrew prophet's message was the living God.

Therefore, the motivating force for the pagan religious worker was his own initiative whereas the Hebrew prophet only moved or spoke when God chose to instruct him or put a message on his heart.

3. The Call was Powerful

The power of the call was contained in the fact that until the prophet's contact with God, everything that had been tradition - ritual, law, worship and feasts - now became alive, relevant, and vibrant (like the separate pieces coming together as a whole giving the individual insight and understanding at a level that not only wiped away all doubt but gave one joy, peace, courage, and the taste of the heavenly Kingdom to come).

This "experience" of God created a core crisis which the prophet tried to convey through the message(s) he preached.

Flying Fish

The 'Ray Finned' fish (a type of Cod referred to as a Flying Fish) can leap out of the water and travel up to 160 feet (50 yards) before splashing back down. These fish are like prophets in a way. They live in the ocean with all the other fish among the incredibly varied environment that provides all that they need in order to live a full fish life. However, this one type of fish has the ability to propel itself out and above the water for a short time. While in the air they see a whole new and different world with the sky, sun, birds, mountains, even other living creatures sharing the space above the water where they occasionally find themselves when launched for a few brief moments.

Like these fish, a prophet has had an awakening, a life crisis, a vision that he can't unsee (he's flown above the water). This becomes an experience that changes his understanding of reality and thus he will never be the same. So, he goes to share this good news with his fellow humans and like the fish who have never flown above the water, they just don't get it! They can't see the new reality he has seen because they are just fish, they cannot fly.

The prophet's call from God gives them a vision that changes their concept of reality, and this crisis becomes the spiritual fuel that propels their ministry of prophecy despite hardship and threats of death. Their vision of the new reality keeps them faithful to their mission.

Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.
- John 6:68

[Jesus has asked His Apostles if they too would abandon Him like other followers who had stopped following because His teachings had become difficult to understand and relate to. Simon Peter expresses his angst as one who had no choice but to follow because he had flown "above the water" and witnessed Divinity, heard the Word made flesh. Once one had experienced this, there was no where else to be or go except to follow the One who had revealed this vision to him.]

Therefore, even though the message varied from time to time, the core was similar and directly related to the call which they originally received - the initial vision of God beyond the shadows, the power of God witnessed. The clarity and precision of the message which possessed him and the irresistible impulse to speak it, maintained the conviction that the word had come to the prophet from beyond himself.

4. The Call had a Specific Purpose

The power of the call served not only as a witness to the prophet but equipped him with power to witness to others. Even when facing hostile or indifferent audiences this did not dilute the power and conviction of the preaching or the message itself. Regardless of the audience, the attitude, or topic, the prophets were uncompromising in their denouncing of sin and unfaithfulness.

These men did not see their calling as a sign to withdraw from society, to live a solitary life (hermit or monk), but rather as a mission to go out and engage with society in bringing people the word and will of God. And to do this whether it was well received or not.

5. The Call was not Transferable

Only God had/has the authority and power to call. Prophets have followers/helpers (i.e. Elijah – Elisha) that they taught and mentored (Paul – Timothy/Titus) but could not pass along their original calling. Men could pass on wisdom, mission, and teaching, only God provided the divine call.

Also, even though his calling was the spiritual core that motivated the prophet, it was not the focus of his ministry - which was conveying God's word and will to his people. Only the results of the call were visible and meaningful to others, the call itself was meaningful and understood only by the prophet.

6. The Call was Accompanied by Signs

The call provided a powerful and spiritual experience for the prophet but was also accompanied by supernatural activity done by him as well as experienced by him (dreams, visions, insights, etc.).

  1. Samuel - miracles of rain and thunder to validate his words to Israel - Jeremiah 12:16-17
  2. Ezekiel – Visions - Ezekiel 4:1-17; 5:1-17
  3. Daniel – Visual effects, miracles, voice – Exodus 4:1-9; 21
  4. Isaiah – Signs – Isaiah 7:14; Visions – Isaiah 6:1

The signs confirmed both the prophets calling as well as his ministry, also the punishment for false or unfulfilled prophecy was death.

But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.'
- Deuteronomy 18:20

7. The Call Changed the Man into the Prophet. How?

  1. It called him to believe - the prophet was the first one to believe that he was being called by God to serve. This was the basis on which he relied in calling upon others to believe his message.
  2. The call separated him - he was now separated from the world and this prepared him to mediate the message of God to the people of God with him in between.
  3. The call made him responsible - the burden of God's call and the responsibility to bring God's word to the people made them acutely aware of the effect of their conduct on the people. This in turn made them painfully aware of their own sinfulness and need for God's mercy. The calling did not confer the ability to be impervious to temptations, sin, and failure. If anything, their call forced the prophets to make a greater effort at holy living.
  4. The call produced a struggle within - the Divine nature of the call and the prophet's ability to accept or refuse the call created great anxiety. Rejecting the call would produce regret and second guessing. Accepting the call would produce doubt (can I do this, is it real?), as well as fear (what will the people think or do?). These opposing feelings created anxiety and emotional strain. Prophets became men of prayer in order to cope with these emotional and spiritual challenges.

For the most part, the people saw the prophets as called - all true prophets were considered called by God in the eyes of the people. This from the knowledge of their call and the way this calling gave power to their messages. This was so, even if they disagreed with the prophet's message or simply chose to disregard it. A good example of this is Jeremiah. The king and the people continually rejected his message of warning and demands to repent, but no one doubted that he was a prophet called by God, they just didn't want to hear and heed his warnings from God until it was too late (Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and its temple and carried many into exile – 538 B.C.).


The "call experience" of the Old Testament prophets initiated, supported, and confirmed their ministry to God's people.

We said that the call had certain features:

  1. It was unique (unlike anything else in other religions).
  2. It was Divine (God called, He was the source).
  3. It was powerful (it provided spiritual fuel for the journey to serve God).
  4. It was specific (it raised up men to speak for God).
  5. It was not transferable (only God called).
  6. It was accompanied by signs (a Divine call with Divine proof).
  7. It was a change agent (God's call changed a believer into a prophet, a follower into a leader).

Read the book of Hosea before reading the next chapter of this book.

In our review of the Minor prophets we will examine the following areas of each book:

  1. The prophet himself.
  2. The prophet's time.
  3. The prophet's message.
  4. Outline and commentary of the book itself.
  5. Practical lessons for today.