The word prophet comes from the Greek word prophetes, which means a link between the divine and human. The prophets are distinct figures in the Bible who are known for their apocalyptic messages, visions, and delivering God's messages to the Israelites. God sent prophets as a corrective to the leaders and community of Israel. The prophets were to ensure that the people did not falter from God and that the king ruled wisely and within God's laws. Stories of the prophets of Israel fill the Bible with tales of their fiery passion. Their enigmatic stories recount their names, miracles, sayings, and deeds. The words and deeds of the prophets have had a profound impact on humanity. The sayings and deeds of the prophets of Israel are enshrined in 16 books of the Hebrew Bible, otherwise known as the Old Testament.
At Mount Sinai, God bestowed to the Israelites his gift to them, a code of law written by him for his people. These laws stated what the Israelites had to do in order to maintain their covenant (promise) to God. Moses was called upon by God to mediate between God and the Israelites. This calling of Moses by God lays the foundation within the tradition of prophets; God spoke to Moses directly, but as God says in the Book of Numbers 12:6 that "Moses is not a prophet, for I speak to Moses face to face and not in riddles or visions." All future prophets would stand in the shadow of Moses.
The rules of prophecy dictate that God will never talk to them directly as he did with Moses but will speak to them through visions, riddles, and dreams. In the Book of Deuteronomy 18:21, the Hebrew people laid the criteria for determining the false and true prophet. One sign that a person is a real prophet is when a person predicts something and it is fulfilled, for truly the Lord has spoken to them. The personal lives of prophets are not mentioned in the Bible so scholars know little of the prophets personal stories. What is known about prophets is from their deeds-confronting their leaders directly, challenging their actions under God. Some prophets were nearly killed for voicing their predictions and visions, such as Daniel who was thrown into a den of lions and Jonah who was plunged into the belly of a whale. Yet, in spite of the imminent dangers that surrounded being a prophet, they continued to spread the word of God. The Hebrew Bible tells of prophets that emerged within roughly a 400-year span between 1200 B.C.E. and 800 B.C.E. The prophets all had their own unique qualities but shared one commonality-the belief that the spirit of God was upon them allowing them to reveal God's message to his people. While there are a number of prophets in the Hebrew Bible that played a significant part in moral and ethical teaching, six are considered to be truly great prophets: Samuel, Elijah, Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.
In the year 1050 the first traditional prophet, Samuel, is called upon by God to shepherd Israel into the age of monarchy. Samuel anoints Israel's first King, Saul, sealing a tension that would remain for centuries between prophet and king. With the beginning of the age of prophecy, ushered in by Samuel, there is a definite split in Jewish history where one person (the king) took on the political aspect of ruling Israel and the other person (the prophet) managed the spiritual aspect.
Prophets did not always work alone; they often worked in groups. Some prophets had elaborate rituals, driving themselves into a frenzy dancing, singing, and playing instruments. Their goal was to come into a state where they could get closer to God. It is out of this group of prophets that the great prophet Elijah emerged. In the year 886 B.C.E., Elijah is called by God to prophesy his words to Israel. Elijah's voice rallied the political opinion of King Ahab who was Jewish but participated in both Jewish and pagan rituals. Ahab's pagan wife, a Phoenician princess, Queen Jezebel, performed public acts of paganism rather than Judaism. The two along with their followers and priests worshipped pagan deities of Baal and Ashara. Elijah soon found himself with an enemy, and his task was to keep King Ahab honest and faithful to God and the laws of Israel.
When Elijah witnesses Queen Jezebel constructing altars to her gods and ordering the murder of several prophets who speak out against her and her priests, Elijah confronts the King to gather all the people and the prophets of Baal and Ashara to Mount Carmel. On the summit of Mount Carmel, Elijah openly challenges 450 prophets of Baal to see who would send down fire first, the God of the Hebrew people or Baal. The prophets engaged in the spiritual challenge, but Baal sent no fire and God did. Victorious, Elijah thus defeats paganism and orders that all of the pagan priests and prophets be slain.
Elijah learned many things about God and his work. As in 1 Kings 19:11, God reveals to Elijah that he is not in fire, wind, or earthquakes but that he speaks quietly to people's hearts. Elijah matured as a prophet and his great time came when he ascended into heaven on a fiery chariot. As Elijah ascended to heaven his cloak fell to earth, to his successor, Elishah, giving him the strength of prophetic power and ensuring prophetic continuity.
The golden age of prophecy in the 8th century B.C.E. was a tumultuous time for the Hebrew people. It is during this time that, in the year 792 B.C.E., the prophet Amos appeared. Amos, a simple herdsman, heard tales and witnessed the social and moral decay of the nation. As a proclaimed prophet, Amos called for a change.
Amos's oracles are full of divine judgments against those in high places in society such as the priests and kings. In the book of Amos 10:11, through visions Amos predicts that the king will die by the sword and that Israel will go into exile and the Temple will be destroyed. Amos is considered to be a traitor and is kicked out of Bethel for his fiery predictions. Amos was indeed a true prophet for the King was killed, the Northern Kingdom did fall, the children of Israel were exiled, and the Temple destroyed.