The Prototypical Prophet
“When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’”- 1 Kings 18:17
Elijah and his return has been the subject of our last two studies in our yearlong overview of the old covenant prophets. Since he and his successor, Elisha, are such significant figures in the history of God’s people, our consideration of the prophets would be incomplete without at least a brief look at these two individuals. Although these men were not writing prophets who left behind books for us to read, their messages and lives are recorded for us in the Old Testament. Dr. R.C. Sproul’s lectures on Elijah and Elisha from his teaching series Great Men and Women of the Bible will be the basis for the final three daily studies of 2013, and they will help us learn more about these prophets as well as wrap up any loose ends regarding the prophets and their special role in God’s plan.
Before Elijah’s ministry during the reign of King Ahab of Israel, prophecy was not unknown in the old covenant community. Several figures are given the title prophet or spoke what we would consider to be prophecies, including Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and Nathan (Gen. 20:7; Deut. 18:15; 1 Sam. 3:20; 2 Sam. 12:25). With Elijah, however, we see a change. The office of prophet becomes more permanent and prominent in the political and religious life of both the northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah. Unlike earlier prophets such as Nathan who were a part of the royal court, Elijah was an outsider who was not employed by the king. The later writing prophets would, by and large, follow this model. The prophets’ not being on the royal payroll was, in fact, advantageous for the people. Unlike the false prophets who did work in the royal court, Elijah and those who followed him were not incentivized to tell the people and king what they wanted to hear, for their livelihood did not depend upon the support of the nation.
In our day, the old covenant prophets are often co-opted by radical movements as those who were unafraid to “speak truth to power” and sought the overthrow of the existing socio-political order. Such movements think they are acting in the spirit of Elijah, who was called the “troubler of Israel.” However, while it is certainly true that the prophets spoke the truth of the Lord to powerful people, they were not anarchists. Their ministry was of a rather conservative sort, for they sought not to get rid of the kingly office or temple. Instead, they sought reform of the nation so that it would better follow the law of God. The true heirs of the prophets call people back to God’s Word and do not seek to overturn it.
We do not believe that the office of prophet continues today. God established the prophets as the foundation of the church, and a foundation is laid only once. However, God’s people are called to build on that foundation alone (Eph. 2:19–22). Today, preachers and teachers who call people back to the Lord’s inerrant Word stand in the prophetic line, not as infallible spokesmen for God but as those who direct us to the church’s prophetic and Apostolic foundation.
Passages for Further Study