Chapter 11: Unnamed, unknown and less known prophets
In this chapter, we go through, with a fine-tooth comb, if you will, the Bible, to find ALL of those that conform to the loose criteria we identified in Chapter 1 when defining what makes a prophet, NOT covered in the other chapters. One thing this exercise reveals is how all pervading the prophetic ministry was.
By way of a checklist, but not one we have to agree with because it is not part of the canon of the Word of God, the Talmud identifies 48 Old Testament prophets: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Phineas, Elkanah*, Eli*, Samuel, Gad, Nathan, David, Solomon, Iddo, Micaiah, Obadiah, Ahijah, Jehu, Azariah, Jahaziel, Eliezer, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Amoz*, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Isaiah, Joel, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Urijah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Shemaiah, Baruch, Neriah*, Seraiah*, Mehseiah*, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Mordecai, Oded, Hanani. Without wanting to take issue with the Talmud, all, except for the ones associated with an asterisk (*), are referred to in this book as having a prophetic ministry of some sort. There are others not named in the Talmud that we will argue in this book were prophets, including schools of prophets such as operated in the days of Elijah and Elisha, or odd visitations to groups. The Talmud names seven prophetesses: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, Esther, who are covered in Chapter 6.
Then there were those who had a prophetic ministry even though not regarded as prophets, which we will consider at the end of the chapter. In this chapter, we will consider those “prophets” that are not covered in the other chapters, in the order (broadly) they appear in the Christian Bible, noting the Talmud lists their prophets in the order given in the Hebrew Bible. It should be added there were also false prophets, as covered in Chapter 7. The ideal intention is by the end of this book, as far as the Old Testament goes certainly, to cover all the prophets, although the final list could be disputed. That is not such a problem, as the intention of for our understanding of the ministry of the Bible prophets to be enhanced. The New Testament is a challenge as few prophets can be identified, yet the gift of prophecy was widespread in the Church. As far as our book is concerned, the focus is on the message, the ministry, the man and the context, although to trump that there is the Lord Himself, who should be our main focus.
The prophets listed in this chapter are not well known or well covered. What matters, as far as the Bible is concerned, was their message. While we may know very little about them, and often they entered some scene of other, did their significant bit and exited, never to be heard off again, the outstanding common factor was they heard directly from God and faithfully did what God had told them to do. Moreover, we see in these accounts how precisely the words of prophecy were fulfilled and the seriousness of obedience to God. As for the stories of these prophets, some are full of content, like Micaiah; but with some just a few words are recorded, yet these should be seen as significant. It is likely there were prophets not covered, other than by statements like: “Yet the Lord testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets” 2 Kings 17:13.
Unnamed prophet (1)
“That the Lord sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage.”
It is noteworthy that a number of the prophets referred to in this chapter are not given a name. The reason is simple: as far as the author in the biblical narrative relating their words and actions were concerned, what was important was just that and their names were omitted. Our first unnamed prophet appeared a little prior to Gideon, one of the judges that delivered Israel from bondage, and was discussed in Chapter 8. He typified how God would send prophets at the right time, often when the hearers of their message were in danger or suffering in some way, to warn them of the errors of their ways or what they should do.
Unnamed prophet (2)
“And there came a man of God unto Eli, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Did I plainly appear unto the house of thy father, when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh’s house? And did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to offer upon mine altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? and did I give unto the house of thy father all the offerings made by fire of the children of Israel? Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering, which I have commanded in my habitation; and honourest thy sons above me, to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people?”
Going back to Chapter 8, it would be easy to think that Samuel was the only prophet around at the time. But before the boy Samuel heard God speak to him, including concerning Eli and his house, Eli had already been warned but did not respond. When later that message was reinforced, it came as no surprise to Eli.
1 Kings 11:29
“And it came to pass at that time when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him in the way; and he had clad himself with a new garment; and they two were alone in the field”
1 Kings 14:2
“And Jeroboam said to his wife, Arise, I pray thee, and disguise thyself, that thou be not known to be the wife of Jeroboam; and get thee to Shiloh: behold, there is Ahijah the prophet, which told me that I should be king over this people.”
1 Kings 14:18
“And they buried him; and all Israel mourned for him, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by the hand of his servant Ahijah the prophet”.
2 Chronicles 9:29
“Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, first and last, are they not written in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and in the visions of Iddo the seer against Jeroboam the son of Nebat?”
Ahijah appears twice on the scene to give words of prophecy. The first was before Jeroboam became king when Ahijah told him he would take ten of the tribes. The second was years later, after what could have been a promising reign turned bad because of Jeroboam’s idolatry. The message Ahijah gave that was fulfilled was the kingdom would be taken from him and that his son would die.
1 Kings 12:22-24
“But the word of God came unto Shemaiah the man of God, saying, speak unto Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and unto all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the remnant of the people, saying, thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me. They hearkened therefore to the word of the Lord, and returned to depart, according to the word of the Lord.”
2 Chronicles 12:5
“Then came Shemaiah the prophet to Rehoboam, and to the princes of Judah, that were gathered together to Jerusalem because of Shishak, and said unto them, Thus saith the Lord, Ye have forsaken me, and therefore have I also left you in the hand of Shishak”.
When Jeroboam broke away from Rehoboam, who prior to that was king over all ten tribes, it was understandable that Rehoboam would want to prevent this, and if need be at the cost of a bloody civil war. But he needed to be reminded that this breakaway was part of God’s will and that his going to war was not. Shemaiah, who we know little else about other than the elaboration we read about in Chronicles, was sent by God merely to convey this message.
Unnamed prophet (3)
1 Kings 13:1-3
“And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the Lord; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee. And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the Lord hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.”
The words of this unknown prophet came to pass, even those regarding Josiah centuries later. God’s hand was on the man even when the king tried to strike him and his hand withered. But there was a tragic end when this prophet was convinced by another, old prophet, to go with him for refreshment, when God had told him to return to Judah. He was tragically attacked and killed by a lion, which was God’s punishment for his disobedience, much to the sorrow of the old prophet who buried him in his tomb. A strange story but with a twist when, under Josiah, the tomb in which he was buried was identified, and unlike in the cleaning up exercise when bones of false prophets were burned, these were left.
2 Chronicles 16:7
“And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said unto him, Because thou hast relied on the king of Syria, and not relied on the Lord thy God, therefore is the host of the king of Syria escaped out of thine hand”.
The tragedy was that King Asa did what many kings, even good kings, did before and after, and that was to enter into an unwholesome alliance with an ungodly power. What was more tragic was he had previously relied on the Lord to deliver Judah when oppressed by an enemy. Part of God’s judgment was that from henceforth he would have wars. Sadly, rather than accept the rebuke, he imprisoned Hanani and began to oppress the people. In later life he succumbed to an illness and sought help in physicians but not as he should, in the Lord.
1 Kings 16:1-4
“Then the word of the Lord came to Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha, saying, Forasmuch as I exalted thee out of the dust, and made thee prince over my people Israel; and thou hast walked in the way of Jeroboam, and hast made my people Israel to sin, to provoke me to anger with their sins; Behold, I will take away the posterity of Baasha, and the posterity of his house; and will make thy house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. Him that dieth of Baasha in the city shall the dogs eat; and him that dieth of his in the fields shall the fowls of the air eat.”
2 Chronicles 19:1-2
“And Jehoshaphat the king of Judah returned to his house in peace to Jerusalem. And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord”.
This hard hitting message to king Baasha and could have been all we knew about Jehu the prophet, except later he has to rebuke good king Jehoshaphat for his unholy alliance with Ahab. The significance was that everything he prophesied came to pass, whether it for the king of Israel or the king of Judah. Also significant is Baasha was God’s choice as king and what might have been and, as for Jehoshaphat, while God recognised the good that he had done, there was a price to be paid and sadly the record is both kings legacies were marred.
Unnamed prophet (4)
1 Kings 20:13, 22
“And, behold, there came a prophet unto Ahab king of Israel, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Hast thou seen all this great multitude? behold, I will deliver it into thine hand this day; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord… And the prophet came to the king of Israel, and said unto him, Go, strengthen thyself, and mark, and see what thou doest: for at the return of the year the king of Syria will come up against thee.”
1 Kings 20:35, 38
“And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said unto his neighbour in the word of the Lord, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man refused to smite him… So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face… And he said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people.”
It is possible that there are two prophets mentioned in this chapter, the first to tell king Ahab that he would gain victory over this Syrian oppressor. The second rebuked Ahab, in this strange way, for his leniency to the Syrian king.
1 Kings 22:6-8
“Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said unto them, Shall I go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king. And Jehoshaphat said, is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might enquire of him? And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, there is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the Lord: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, let not the king say so”.
The scenario was that Ahab, the bad king of Israel, in alliance with Jehoshaphat, the good king of Judah, wanted to go to war against Syria but wanted divine affirmation this was the right thing to do. Four hundred (false) prophets confirmed this to be the case. But there was one prophet, Micaiah, that went against the consensus and bravely warned the two kings of the disastrous consequences if they were to go to war. For his pains, Micaiah was struck and put in prison, but what happened after was what he said would happen. Sadly, the scenario of world leaders surrounding themselves with yes men is ever the case. Thankfully, good king Jehoshaphat asked the right question and Micaiah was ready to put aside popularity and personal safety to give the right answer.
Unnamed prophet (5)
2 Kings 9:1
“And Elisha the prophet called one of the children of the prophets, and said unto him, Gird up thy loins, and take this box of oil in thine hand, and go to Ramothgilead: And when thou comest thither, look out there Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat the son of Nimshi, and go in, and make him arise up from among his brethren, and carry him to an inner chamber; Then take the box of oil, and pour it on his head, and say, Thus saith the Lord, I have anointed thee king over Israel. Then open the door, and flee, and tarry not.”
There is nothing remarkable about this young man doing what God originally told Elijah to do. He simply did what Elisha told him and Jehu became king.
Sons of Asaph
1 Chronicles 25:1
“Moreover David and the captains of the host separated to the service of the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals: and the number of the workmen according to their service was:”
What is remarkable in this unusual text to do with commissioning those for the service of worshipping the Lord, is the link between prophecy and music, something we have already seen in the ministries of Miriam and Elisha. In the verses that followed, there would seem to have been several musical prophets.
2 Chronicles 9:29
“Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, first and last, are they not written in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and in the visions of Iddo the seer against Jeroboam the son of Nebat?”
2 Chronicles 12:15
“Now the acts of Rehoboam, first and last, are they not written in the book of Shemaiah the prophet, and of Iddo the seer concerning genealogies? And there were wars between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually.”
The only thing we know about Iddo from the Bible account is that he was a seer (another name for a prophet), he had visions and he recorded genealogies.
2 Chronicles 15:1
“And the Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded:”
Following the Spirit of God coming upon him Azariah, he goes to meet King Asa of Judah to exhort him to carry out a work of reform. In response to Azariah’s encouragement, Asa carried out a number of reforms including the destruction of idols and repairs to the altar of Yahweh in the Jerusalem Temple complex. A period of peace follows the carrying out of these reforms.
2 Chronicles 20:37
“Then Eliezer the son of Dodavah of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, the Lord hath broken thy works. And the ships were broken, that they were not able to go to Tarshish.”
Jehoshaphat was a good king but here he had acted unwisely by making an alliance with the wicked king of Israel. Eliezer merely tells Jehoshaphat of God’s displeasure and the consequences of his actions, which came to pass. It is ironic another prophet (Jehu) had also passed on a similar rebuke to Jehoshaphat for making another unholy alliance with Ahaziah’s predecessor as king of Israel (Ahab). Sadly, we learn that people don’t learn and yet God continues to warn.
Unnamed prophet (6)
2 Chronicles 25:15
“Wherefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Amaziah, and he sent unto him a prophet, which said unto him, why hast thou sought after the gods of the people, which could not deliver their own people out of thine hand? And it came to pass, as he talked with him, that the king said unto him, Art thou made of the king’s counsel? forbear; why shouldest thou be smitten? Then the prophet forbare, and said, I know that God hath determined to destroy thee, because thou hast done this, and hast not hearkened unto my counsel.”
Amaziah began as a righteous king but later turned to idols. The unnamed prophet was merely taking the king to task as directed by the Lord, but was told in no uncertain terms to shut up or else. This would have been a good chance for the king to repent rather than, as did happen, incur God’s judgement.
2 Chronicles 28:9
“But a prophet of the Lord was there, whose name was Oded: and he went out before the host that came to Samaria, and said unto them, Behold, because the Lord God of your fathers was wroth with Judah, he hath delivered them into your hand, and ye have slain them in a rage that reacheth up unto heaven”.
This unusual message from the Lord came at a time when Israel had one a victory in a war against Judah, but were told to have mercy on their captives.
“Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite;
Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter”.
In Chapter 7, we made a case for Esther being a prophetess. What Esther achieved was remarkable and it would not be over stating the case that her actions saved the Jewish people, scattered as they were throughout the Persian empire, from complete annihilation. But it is unlikely that any of this would have been possible without the quick wittedness and wise counsel of her uncle Mordecai, who understood the dangers and remedies. From nearly losing his life, through his faithfulness and fortitude and God’s over-ruling (although God is never mentioned) we find at the end: “And all the acts of his power and of his might, and the declaration of the greatness of Mordecai, whereunto the king advanced him, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren, seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed”. Esther 10:2-3
Jeremiah 26:20-21, 23
“And there was also a man that prophesied in the name of the Lord, Urijah the son of Shemaiah of Kirjathjearim, who prophesied against this city and against this land according to all the words of Jeremiah. And when Jehoiakim the king, with all his mighty men, and all the princes, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death: but when Urijah heard it, he was afraid, and fled, and went into Egypt… And they fetched forth Urijah out of Egypt, and brought him unto Jehoiakim the king; who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people.”
Urijah was a contemporary of Jeremiah who reiterated the words of Jeremiah regarding God’s judgement on the City. This displeased the king, just as Jeremiah’s message had but for Urijah it was a death sentence. We know nothing about Urijah other than his prophesy and ending. While the outcome for the king and the city was disastrous, they had at least been warned. It begs the question when we see wrong doing, how we respond and if we are prepared for the consequences of speaking truth to power, which may be our very lives.
“The word that Jeremiah the prophet spake unto Baruch the son of Neriah, when he had written these words in a book at the mouth of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, unto thee, O Baruch:”
Baruch is mentioned several times in the Book of Jeremiah and was in effect his right-hand man, messenger and scribe. While there is no evidence of him being a prophet in his own right, there is little doubt Jeremiah would not have been able to do what he did without the help of his faithful assistant. Barach’s role was not to seek the limelight but rather do what was needed, with due diligence, without ostentation. How Jeremiah would have appreciated his support.
Prophets who weren’t prophets
Having gone through with a fine-tooth comb those who might qualify as being a prophet (or seer) in a commonly held understanding, we turn to examples of those who through words or actions said or did things that arguably may be seen as prophetic. While the Talmud identifies Solomon as a prophet, the same cannot be said for the others in the list below, which includes two pagan kings. The five names given here are by means part of an exhaustive list, for the Bible provides many examples of deeds done and words said by those not regarded as prophets, that were arguably prophetic, to be received by those with receptive hearts. What happened may have significance for millennia after and be seen as prophetic because, while not necessarily predicting future events, these were able to reveal something of God’s purposes to those, whose lives they touched.
Job is definitely one of the Bible good guys. Ezekiel names him as one of the three most righteous men to have lived – the others being Noah and Daniel. The patience of Job is legendary and while his story does not fully answer the big question that has baffled great minds down the ages; why do the righteous suffer, especially considering God is just etc.? we can at least see in his story the bigger picture and an approach that works. If one were to quote a text that would endorse Job’s prophetic credentials, especially as there is little in the scriptures prior to Job to endorse such a view: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth” Job 19:25. Perhaps one of the most poignant Job utterances comes at the end of the book, after the Lord reveals himself to Job: “Then Job answered the Lord, and said,
I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” Job 42:1-6.
Solomon started off as one of the Bible good guys but among other things his foreign wives later helped lead him astray and sow the seeds for Israel’s demise. When he began, he asked God at God’s invitation that he would get wisdom and understanding to govern the people aright. Being pleased with this, God gave Solomon just that and in addition peace and prosperity. Solomon is an example of someone who began well and was guided by God in his rule but ended badly being enticed away from God by his foreign wives. Evidence of Solomon’s wisdom can be seen in the three Books of the Bible it is believed that he wrote: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. Proverbs 8 is all about wisdom and could be seen as a veiled reference to Christ and therefore prophetic. While pundits down the ages have argued as to the interpretation of Solomon’s Song of songs, one (which the author has written concerning) is that it depicts the sort of relationship that can be enjoyed between Christ and His Church. It could be argued the Song is more than just about sexual ethics, it is also prophetic.
There is nothing in what Nehemiah said that would mark him out as a prophet and he does not even get mentioned in the New Testament, although from his prayers he showed deep insights into the prophetic and God’s will. As we now rapidly approach the end of the Old Testament, it is with mixed emotions. Israel was far from where it expected to be in God’s purposes, along with the promise of its Messiah, and that remains true 2500 years later. Yet his efforts as recorded in the Book of Nehemiah, when it comes to building the wall, restoring the true worship of YHWH, undertaking much needed social reforms, withstanding opposition and his prayers (chapters 1 and 9) were remarkable. While his efforts might be deemed moderately successful, his oft prayed prayer “Remember me, O my God, concerning this” (13:14 etc.) is strangely poignant, considering what was to come, which like any OT prophetic character, he had only a glimpse.
In his day, Nebuchadnezzar might be regarded as the most powerful man on earth and in whose hands controlled the fate of the Jewish people. He could not be regarded as particularly benevolent, although he did treat those Jews who had been exiled, like Daniel and his three friends: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, well and he recognised Daniel as a true prophet when he interpreted his dream. But he was also cruel and proud, as evidenced by his building a statute of himself that people had to worship or else face death. Yet as he was to find out, God humbles the proud and exalt the humble. When he was restored, he could say: “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase” Daniel 4:37. As for going from being a mighty king to a mad man and then once again restored, this was all God’s doing and his recognition of this would have had a profound affect. For those who heard those words, without knowing the Hebrew scriptures, those words would have come across as prophetic and may have helped turn the course of history.
One of the recurring wonders one finds studying the scriptures is seeing how God can use the most unlikely rulers (kings) to accomplish his purposes. Nowhere is this more evident than with the ruler of the Persian empire, Cyrus, who had the lives and future of his Jewish subjects in his hands. The very last verse of the Hebrew Bible says: “Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The Lord his God be with him, and let him go up” 2Chronicles 36:23. As for significance, it is that despite exile there was a future (Messianic) hope for Israel. This is the same Cyrus Isaiah prophesied of, two hundred years before the event: “Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut” Isaiah 45:1. Cyrus was an important instrument in the story of Israel and its preservation and restoration, and whether or not he understood all the implications of what he had decreed and facilitated, he was used by God, just as was the case of other Persian kings: Darius the Mede, Darius 1 and Artaxerxes, as referred to in the books of Daniel, Ezra, Esther and Nehemiah.