Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.
Shalom, my name is Joseph Shulam, and in partnership with Brad TV, I’m starting a new series. Last year, we did all the series connected to the Torah portions that are read in the synagogues around the world. Together with the reading of the Torah in the synagogues, there always is also a reading of the prophets, but today I want to do what is called an introduction to prophecy in general.
Why? Because in my years of ministry and teaching, and studying constantly and traveling around the world several times a year before the coronavirus, I paid attention that there is a major problem in the way Christians understand prophecy, use prophecy, merchandise prophecy, and, contrary to the prophets of the Bible, became multimillionaires from claiming to be prophets.
So, the first thing I want to say is that, prophecy, is a mantic search of understanding and knowing what is around the corner: what does tomorrow bring? What is in the future of the tribe, of the nation, of the individual, of the family? That is as ancient as humanity, as ancient as family. And that’s why I want to start with this introduction to prophecy.
There is a book by Pritchard called “Ancient Near Eastern Texts.” ANET, has documents that date up to 3000 BC, from Egypt, from Babylon, from Assyria, from the Hittites, and from the whole Near East. There we find a lot of the literature. The technical word is mantic; future telling, or looking into the future documents.
We have famous library of Mari, in northern Syria, in the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates, in Iraq. Ebla is from northern Syria. There, too, were found prophetic texts and prophetic instruments.
Among the instruments of prophecy, at that time, was looking into the entrails of an animal, the liver. And if you visit Jerusalem, you will see displayed, when you’re talking about the attack of Nebuchadnezzar on the land of Israel and the conquest of Lachish, you will see models in stone, of a liver. Inscribed on every part of the liver, what is the significance of that part, for future telling? For looking into what is going to happen.
We see this in the book of Ezekiel, that when Nebuchadnezzar is approaching Jerusalem, he uses several mantic instruments. He says he looked at the arrows, and at the liver, to find out what will the results of the battle against Jerusalem bring.
Yes, we have other incidents in the Bible of prophets, pagan prophets, that did all kinds of ceremonies and used mantic techniques to be able to discern what is going to happen, what the future holds.
The Bible itself has several different kinds of prophets that we are going to talk about. Two of the ones today have different names in the Bible.
One of the earliest names is roeh; the seer, the one who sees what is around the corner and what the future brings. Another one is navi’; that’s the good term. The one who brings information from God. So we have roeh, navi’, and the third name is hozeh, from the word chazon, which means vision. A person who sees visions, doesn’t hear voices. He sees visions, and he’s called the hozeh. The roeh is very similar, but has a different period, and also, a different system of looking into the future.
In the modern world, you have witches, soothsayers, future tellers and tarot card readers. And of course, you’ve got, in the Christian evangelical world, people who claim to be prophets. Some of them are for-profit. Maybe some of them do have the gift of prophecy that the Holy Spirit gives, together with the other gifts of philanthropy and speaking in tongues, and healing, and the other gifts. One of them is prophecy; the ability to prophecy. Discernment is another one of the gifts that has some overlapping with prophecy.
So the first point is that as old as humanity is, as old as civilization is, people had anxiety about the future, and they wanted to know what the future holds. For this, they had different systems and different ways of discerning the future, whether it is like in some cultures, of having bones of an animal that they juggle and throw like dice to be able to tell. Or looking at the liver, or looking at the stars, which was very popular, or many different other kinds of methods to satisfy this hunger that human beings have; to know what’s coming, to know what the future holds.
Now, the two major groups of kosher, biblical, inspired, future tellers, or prophets, are the popular prophets and the classical prophets. We are going to enter into this a little bit more in detail, and look at the difference between the two groups of prophets, and the different ways they looked at the future and how they got their information. We are going to examine this in the future.
When I ask about prophets in the Bible, I always get Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, Joel, the prophets that we have books from, that we have writings from, publications from. But there’s a whole group of prophets that most pastors, most Bible scholars, also don’t remember so well, even if they studied it in college or in a Bible school, or in a seminary.
We have a whole group of prophets that are almost unknown, and they’re very important, and they’re called the popular prophets. Why popular? Because they prophesied for a living. They prophesied as a profession. They were professional prophets.
The most famous of those professional prophets was Samuel, the son of Hannah. His mother cried and prayed and was ecstatic, in Shiloh in front of the priest, Eli. For several years she wanted to have a child. When the other wife of Elkanah was full of children, Hannah was barren. She wanted a child very badly, and had Samuel, which means God heard me.
At the age of three, she brings Samuel to Shiloh, to the tabernacle to serve together with the priest Eli, and Eli’s sons in the worship and in the procedures that went around the tabernacle that Moses and the children of Israel built in the wilderness.
Samuel was the most famous popular prophet, even though we have a book called 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel, but those are not books that he wrote, they’re books that somebody else wrote about him, and about King Saul, and about King David, and probably were written in the days of the son of David, Solomon.
We have even more, unknown to most, popular prophets. Now, how did the popular prophets work? A person came to them, with a question. And if a person has a question that he wants God to answer, he had only two options. He goes to Shiloh or to Jerusalem to the temple, and he asks a priest. The priest has only two options, two answers, yes or no.
You can ask a question like, “will I win the lottery of $10 million?” The priest puts his hand in the special pocket that he had in front of him. Inside that pocket there were two stones, one white, one black. They had the same weight, the same texture, the same size and the same shape, and he couldn’t see. Puts his hand in the pocket, pulls out one of those balls, or, the Hebrew name is Urim and Thummim. Urim means light and Thummim means dark, opaque, literally, clear and opaque. He puts his hand in and he gets an answer, yes or no. That’s all, that’s all the priests could do.
The prophets, set up a shop. I’m using the word shop loosely. They had an address. Some of them were circuit riders; they went on this day here, then they were in that city, and next day, they were in another city, and then by Friday, they returned back to their home. They were circuit riders. And Samuel was one of those circuit rider prophets. He prophesied at Mizpah and Ramah. He prophesied in the towns north of Jerusalem. But he didn’t volunteer his prophecies. When people had a question, they came to him and they had to pay.
And one of the most interesting and revealing stories is the story of how Saul, the son of Kish, from the tribe of Benjamin, and how he became a king.
There was never a king in Israel. There was Gideon. He tried to be a king, but didn’t make it. His sons tried to be king, they didn’t make it. They crowned themselves, but that didn’t last very long, not very successful, not very blessed.
The first real king approved by God was King Saul. Saul, the son of Kish. And we read how he became a king in 1 Samuel 8: he lost his father’s donkeys. They got loose; they ran off. Donkeys can run, much more than you can.
So he and his servant go searching for the donkeys and it starts getting dark. Evening is falling, late afternoon, and where’s the logical place that if donkeys ran, they would go late afternoon? They would go to the spring of water, to drink water before the night falls. So Saul, the son of Kish, and his servant, that we don’t have his name, come to the spring just west of Jerusalem, near the ancient highway that was not even built yet in the days of Saul. Solomon built that highway, to look where donkeys came to the spring to drink water.
It was getting dark, and they realized that their father will worry more about them than about the donkeys. And they’re anxious to find the donkeys and not to return home without the donkeys. The donkeys are not at the spring of Moza.
The idea arises between Saul, the son of Kish, and his servant. Up there, not very far from here, in Ramah, there is a man of God. Let’s go ask him. Now the problem is, we don’t have anything to pay him with. The servant says, “I have a coin, let’s go. “We’ll give him the coin that I have.” They go up the hill, not very far, probably a half an hour walk from the spring in Moza, straight up the hill to Ramah.
Who comes from Ramah in the New Testament? Joseph of Armataim, Joseph that comes from the two hills. One was the tomb of Samuel, the other one was the village of Ramah, and the hill across the little valley.
So they walk up to Ramah. They come to the man of God, to Samuel, and he’s waiting for them. They come to him to ask him, where are the donkeys? But instead of finding only the donkeys, King Saul also found the crown.
God said, “This is the man, anoint him.” And in order to make the first guy that’s going to be a king in Israel, he had to be anointed three times. The first time was in Ramah, private ceremony, between Samuel, the servant of Saul, and Saul. The second one was in front of the leadership of all the 12 tribes of Israel in Mizpah, not very far from Ramah, between Ramah and Bireh, or Ramallah of today, a little bit south of Bethel. And so, the second anointing was in front of the leadership of the tribes, at Mizpah. And then the third anointing was in Gilgal, north of Jericho in the Jordan Valley, where everybody was invited. Public anointing of King Saul.
Samuel is considered a popular prophet, not a classical prophet, why? First of all, he didn’t write a book. We don’t have in writing that professional log of Samuel’s ministry as a prophet.
But he was not only a prophet, he was also a judge. And when he traveled around the cities north of Jerusalem in Benjamin and Ephraim, he judged between disputes of people that came to him as he was in a circuit, he sat at the gate of the city, and they came to him to be judged by him. That’s what Samuel’s main ministry was.
But he was also a man of God, and a prophet. And he’s called a seer, a roeh, with -eh, in Hebrew. A seer, let’s go up to the seer. The one who sees what’s happening in the future, who sees what’s happening.
So, we understand from this story, from the book of, 1 Samuel, that a popular prophet is somebody who charges money or gifts for his ministry. A popular prophet is somebody who doesn’t write books of his ministry, of his prophecy. A popular prophet is somebody who uses mantic techniques like dancing, like singing, like different tools that he may use in order to conjure up the prophecy.
Among the popular prophets, there is a subcategory of the royal prophets. They’re popular prophets. We don’t have books from them. King David’s famous prophet was Nathan. In chapter 12 of 1 Samuel, we read that Nathan comes to David and tells him there was a rich man, there was a poor man. The poor man had a few lambs and goats, one actually, and the rich man had many. And the rich man coveted the one goat of the poor man, or lamb of the poor man. He slaughtered it and served it to his guests, and left the poor man with nothing.
King David said, “Ah, this rich man is a terrible person. “He should die.” And then Nathan tells him, “You are the man. “You did it, when you took Uriah the Hittite’s wife, “Bathsheba, and sent him to the battlefield “in the most dangerous location of the battle. “You did it.” David, of course, repents, and we have Psalm 51, which is a record of his repentance. The story of his repentance, begging God for forgiveness.
Nathan and Samuel are popular prophets. Also, Gad, from the period of King David, was a popular prophet.
So, if I can summarize the issue of the popular prophets; popular prophets didn’t write books. They charged for their services, and people came to them, asking them to prophesy for them. That’s the main characteristics of popular prophets.
Classical prophets are those no one wanted to hear them. Why did no one want to hear them? They brought the will of God, the desire of God, the word of God, and gave it to people that didn’t like it. Kings, government officials, and the public, didn’t like it, because they were very negative toward the establishment of their day. But they were not only negative, they always sandwiched their prophecy. They gave the harsh prophecies, and, then they put the salami inside the bread and then they ended with another harsh prophecy, and made a sandwich out the prophecy. Always the sweet and bitter; the sweet to mitigate the bitter. That’s their meaning, but that is also why they wrote their prophecies. They wrote their prophecies because sometimes, their prophecies were very, very long term
We in the land of Israel today, dear brothers and sisters, are living prophecies that were prophesied in the eighth century BC, 2,800 years ago, folks. That’s why they wrote their things. They wrote books of records of what they said, when they said it, and to whom they said it.
We’re going to end here, and continue the second part of the introduction in the next session. May God bless you. I hope you see the interest and the desire to learn in depth from the writings and the stories of the prophets of the Bible, both Old and New Testament.
God bless you. Thank God for Brad TV for initiating these series. Shalom from Jerusalem.
This video and transcript originally appeared on Netivyah and reposted with permission.