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The Hebrew word nabi, which we encounter often in the Old Testament translated as prophet, describes one who spoke, acted, or wrote under God’s extraordinary influence to proclaim God’s will to man.
Some prophets also foretold future events.
God sometimes used prophecy of future events to warn His people of imminent consequences if they do not obey Him. Jonah 3:4 “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” These prophecies are always contingent. If the people repent, God relents. Jonah 3:10 “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it.”
God also used prophecy of future events to prepare the way for His Messiah, Jesus, the center and purpose of all creation. Anyone can show up and announce that he is God’s Messiah, reminding us of the evil spirit’s reply to the itinerant Jewish exorcists: Acts 19:15 “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” God sent His Son into the world with extraordinary credentials. No ordinary man can write into history descriptions of himself given centuries earlier. Jesus sent the prophets centuries earlier so that, when the people saw and heard Him, they remembered the prophecies and knew that He was the Holy One of God.
Think of how Jesus told the Jews standing beneath His Cross that He was God’s true Messiah. In His time, most Jews knew every word of their Hebrew Scriptures and could recite them from memory. St. John tells us: Jn 19:23 “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his garments and made four parts, one for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was without seam, woven from top to bottom; so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” At that very moment Jesus cried out with a loud voice, Mt 27:46 “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The Jews standing beneath the Cross knew that He was quoting the opening words of Psalm 22, and remembered: Ps 22:18 “They divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots.” They knew King David had written this prophecy centuries earlier and watched its fulfillment as it occurred. Jesus told them that He was God’s Messiah in a way they knew had to be true.
Then Jesus told them what He was doing. At virtually the moment of His death on the Cross, He cried out: Lk 23:46 “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” They recognized this too as a quotation from Psalm 31:5, and would mentally have recited the very next words: “Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” His Final sacrifice redeemed us all from Adam’s original sin. Gen 3:6
Sometimes His prophecies took different forms. For example, God commanded the prophet Hosea to marry a Hos 1:2 “wife of harlotry.” Hosea married Gomer, who conceived and bore him a son named Jezreel, a sign of the northern kingdom’s destruction, as He makes clear, Hos 1:5 “And on that day, I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.” Then Gomer bore a daughter named lo-ruhamah, Hos 1:6 “Not Pitied,” a sign that He would no longer love and forgive the house of Israel. Her third child, a son, was named lo-ami, Hos 1:9 “Not My People,” suggesting that God’s covenant with the house of Israel had been broken. Hosea’s family was a sign to the Judahites, showing that what had happened to the northern kingdom was no mere military act but a sign of His anger and a warning that they too could be exiled from God’s holy land.
But always the prophet proclaimed God’s will to man.
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