Prophets hold a special place in the writing and preservation of the Bible. They were so important that God told Moses to tell Israel they could know whether a prophet was speaking for God or not by the simple fact that everything they said had to come true.
“And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” Deuteronomy 18:21-22
Another way Israel would know whether a prophet was from God or not was who he called the people to worship.
“If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 13:1-3
The penalty for a false prophet was the same in both cases – death.
“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.” Deuteronomy 18:20
“But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the LORD your God.” Deuteronomy 13:5
The Bible was written by true prophets of God. Jesus spoke many times about the Word of God containing the Law and Prophets (e.g. Matthew 5:17; 7:12; 22:40; Luke 24:44). The people of Israel at the time of Jesus also saw the Bible being made up of the Law and Prophets (e.g. John 1:45) Moses, who wrote the Law, was a prophet of God, as were the prophets who wrote the Prophetic portions of the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah – Malachi).
This is important to our being able to trust the Bible we hold in our hands. God designed an amazing system of true prophets speaking and writing God’s Word and scribes carefully and accurately copying the words of the prophets through the centuries.
Prophets were also important in the preservation of the Hebrew Bible. The people of Israel often ignored God’s Word and the reading of the Hebrew Bible was forgotten by the people. God raised up prophets to restore the importance of reading and obeying God’s Word. We see through the careful chain of God calling specific people to be His prophets that the Lord was preserving His Word.
The Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian Empire about 722 BC. The writer of Kings tells us that the written Law was still in existence at that time.
“Now the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes … Yet the LORD testified against Israel and against Judah, by all of His prophets, every seer, saying, ‘Turn 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.’ Nevertheless they would not hear, but stiffened their necks, like the necks of their fathers, who did not believe in the LORD their God.” 2 Kings 17:5-6, 12-14
Hosea was a prophet of God to the Kingdom of Israel during the middle and late part of the 8th century BC until the time the Assyrian army captured the land. Amos also prophesied against Israel during the early and middle part of the 8th century BC. Isaiah and Micah were prophets of God to the Kingdom of Judah during the same time period (middle to late 8th century BC). The Law and other Holy Writings were available for the people of Israel and Judah to read during that century. The prophets Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah were contemporaries during the late 7th century BC and the Law and other Holy Writings were available for the people of Judah to read. The prophets Ezekiel and Obadiah were contemporaries during the early part of the 6th century BC and the Law and other Holy Writings were available for the people of Judah to read. The prophet Daniel lived in captivity under the Babylonians and Persians and spoke about the availability of the Law. Haggai and Zechariah prophesied in Judah during the late part of the 6th century BC. Malachi prophesied during the middle to late 5th century BC. The Law and other Holy Writings were available to the people of Judah during those times. Among the very last Words God spoke to Judah were these – “Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, Which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, With the statutes and judgments.” (Malachi 4:4)
Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament, wrote this at the beginning of his prophetic account – “The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.” The word “burden” is the Hebrew massa and means “prophecy, oracle, load, burden, tribute to be carried.” It was not easy to be a prophet of God. The prophetic messages God gave them to speak to others was often a heavy burden to carry and deliver.
One other note before we leave the Old Testament Writings is about Ezra and Nehemiah, who were contemporaries of Malachi. Ezra was a Hebrew priest and scribe and returned with a remnant of Hebrew priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and the Nethinim from captivity in Babylon to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Nehemiah was cupbearer for the king of Babylon and returned with more Hebrews to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem several years after Ezra. Copies of the Law and other Holy Writings were available for the people of Judah to read during that time.
I am thankful to God for how He designed the careful and supernatural system of Speaking, Writing and Preserving His Word from ancient times. We can be assured through this process that the Books of the Old Testament we hold in our hands are the actual Words of the Living God.
In our next study, we’ll look at how the New Testament was written and preserved and why we can know that what we have today is trustworthy.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”