Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/458

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443
PROPHET

evidence,[1] but already in David's time we find that Gad the nābhīa is also the king's seer (2 Sam. xxiv. 11; cf. 1 Sam. xxii. 5), and by-and-by it comes to be clearly understood that the prophets are the appointed organ of Yahweh's communications with His people or His king. The rise of this function of the prophets is plainly parallel with the change which took place under the kings in the position of the priestly oracle; the Torah of the priests now dealt rather with permanent sacred ordinances than with the giving of new divine counsel for special occasions. Yahweh's ever-present kingship in Israel, which was the chief religious idea brought into prominence by the national revival, demanded a more continuous manifestation of His revealing spirit than was given either by the priestly lot or by the rise of occasional seers; and where could this be sought except among the prophets? It does not, of course, follow that everyone who had shared in the divine afflatus of prophetic enthusiasm gave forth oracles; but the prophets as a class stood nearer than other men to the mysterious workings of Yahweh, and it was in their circle that revelation seemed to have its natural home. A most instructive passage in this respect is 1 Kings xxii., where we find some four hundred prophets gathered together round the king, and where it is clear that Jehoshaphat was equally convinced, on the one hand, that the word of Yahweh could be found among the prophets, and on the other that it was very probable that some, or even the mass of them, might be no better than liars. And here it is to be observed that Micaiah, who proved the true prophet, does not accuse the others of conscious imposture; he admits that they speak under the influence of a spirit proceeding from Yahweh, but it is a lying spirit sent to deceive. The sublime and solitary figure of Elijah, whom we are apt to take as the typical figure of a prophet in the old kingdom, has little in common with the picture even of the true prophet which we derive from 1 Kings xxii.; and when his history is carefully and critically read it is found to give no reason to think that he stood in any close relation to the prophetic societies of his time. He is a man of God, like Moses and Samuel, a man admitted to a strange and awful intimacy with the Most High, and like them he combines functions which in later times were distributed between prophet and priest. The fundamental idea that Yahweh guides His people by the word of revelation is older than the separation of special classes of theocratic organs; Moses, indeed, is not only prophet and priest, but judge and ruler. But, as the history goes on, the prophet stands out more and more as the typical organ of revelation, the type of the man who is Yahweh's intimate, sharing His secrets (Amos iii. 7; Jer. xxiii. 22), and ministering to Israel the gracious guidance which distinguishes it from all other nations (Amos ii. 11; Hosea xii. 10, 13), and also the sentences of awful judgment by which Yahweh rebukes rebellion (Hos. vi. 5). The full development of this view seems to lie between the time of Elijah and that of Amos and Hosea—under the dynasty of Jehu, when prophecy, as represented by Elisha and Jonah, stood in the fullest harmony with the patriotic efforts of the age. This growth in the conception of the prophetic function is reflected in parts of the Pentateuch, which may be dated with probability as belonging to the period just named; the name of nābhīa is extended to the patriarchs as Yahweh's intimates (Gen. xx. 7), and Moses begins to be chiefly looked at as the greatest of prophets (Num. xi., xii.; Deut. xxxiv. 10), while Aaron and Miriam are also placed in the same class (Exod. xv. 20; Num. xii.), because they too are among the divinely favoured leaders of Israel (cf. Micah vi. 4).[2]

Elisha, the successor of Elijah, stood in much closer relations to the prophetic societies than his great master had done. As Elisha. a man of practical aims he required a circle through which to work, and he found this among the prophets, or, as they are now called, the sons of the prophets. According to Semitic idiom “sons of the prophets” most naturally means “members of a prophetic corporation,”[3] which may imply that under the headship of Elisha and the favour of the dynasty of Jehu, which owed much to Elisha and his party, the prophetic societies took a more regular form than before. The accounts we have certainly point in this direction, and it is characteristic that in 2 Kings iv. 42 first-fruits are paid to Elisha. But to an institution like prophecy national recognition, royal favour and fixed organization are dangerous gifts. It has always been the evil fate of the Hebrews to destroy their own highest ideals by attempting to translate them into set forms, and the ideal of a prophetic guidance of the nation of Yahweh could not have been more effectually neutralized than by committing its realization to the kind of state Church of professional prophets, “eating bread” by their trade (Amos vii. 12),[4] which claimed to inherit the traditions of Elijah and Elisha. The sons of the prophets appear to have been grouped round the leading sanctuaries, Gilgal, Bethel, and the like (cf. Hos. ix. 8), and to have stood in pretty close relation to the priesthood (Hos. iv. 5), though this comes out more clearly for the southern kingdom, where, down to the last days of Hebrew independence, the official prophets of Jerusalem were connected with the Temple and were under the authority of the chief priest (Jer. xxix. 26). Since the absorption of the aborigines in Israel Canaanite ideas had exercised great influence over the sanctuaries—so much so that the reforming prophets of the 8th century regarded the national religion as having become wholly heathenish; and this influence the ordinary prophets, whom a man like Micah regards as mere diviners, had certainly not escaped. They too were, at the beginning of the Assyrian period, not much more different from prophets of Baal than the priests were from priests of Baal. Their God had another name, but it was almost forgotten that He had a different character.

The rise and progress of the new school of prophecy, beginning with Amos and continued in the succession of canonical prophets, Amos and his Successors. which broke through this religious stagnation, is discussed in the article Hebrew Religion; for from Amos, and still more from Isaiah downwards, the prophets and their work made up the chief interest of Hebrew history. From this time, moreover, the prophets appear as authors; and their books, preserved in the Old Testament, form the subject of special articles (Amos, Hosea, &c.). A few observations of a general character will therefore suffice in this place.

Amos disclaimed all Connexion with the mere professional prophets, and in this he was followed by his successors. Formerly the prophets of Yahweh had been all on the same side; their opponents were the prophets of Baal. But henceforth there were two parties among the prophets of Yahweh themselves, the new prophets accusing the old of imposture and disloyalty to Yahweh, and these retaliating with charge of disloyalty to Israel. We have learned to call the prophets of the new school “true” prophets and their adversaries “false”; and this is perfectly just if we take the appellations to mean that the true prophets maintained a higher, and therefore a truer, view of

  1. Budde (Bücher Samuelis, p. 233) assigns Nathan's speech (2 Sam. vii.) to a late E. writer in the 7th century. Perhaps we might assign it and Jer. xxiii. 5, 6, to the earlier part of Josiah's reign.
  2. None of these passages belong to the very oldest thread, of Pentateuchal story, and similarly Deborah is called prophetess only in the later account (Judg. iv. 4), not in the song (Judg. v.). It is characteristic that in Num. xi. the elders who receive a share in Moses' task also receive a share of his prophetic spirit (cf. the parallel 2 Kings ii. 9 seq.). In the older account (Exod. xviii.) this is not so. Again, Moses differs from all other prophets in that Yahweh speaks to him face to face, and he sees the similitude of Yahweh. This is in fact the difference between him and Elijah (cf. Exod. xxxiii. 8-11 with 1 Kings xix. 13), but not between him and the great prophets of the 8th century (Isa. vi. 5). That prophecy was generally given in visions, dreams and obscure sentences is true only of an early period. Amos still has frequent visions of a more or less enigmatic character, as Micaiah had, but there is little trace of this in the great prophets after him. On the psychological reasons for this see W. R. Smith, Prophets of Israel (1882), p. 221 seq.
  3. See G. Hoffmann, Kirchenversammlung zu Ephesus (1873), p. 89.
  4. Those who consulted the old seers were expected to make a present, 1 Sam. ix. 7 (Arabic ḥolwānu-’l-kāhin; cf. Bokhari iv. 219). Similar presents were brought to the older prophets (1 Kings xiv. 3), and first-fruits were sometimes paid to a man of God; but the successors of Amos share his contempt for those who traded on their oracles (Mic. iii. 5 seq.).