A prophet communicates the word of God to lead the people to God. All mystic elements aside, this is their fundamental role. This is quite a dissatisfying discovery. When I began my study of prophecy I had grand visions of, well, grand visions actually. As well as all other manner of bizarre expectations of what prophecy actually entailed. At it's essence, it appears relatively unspectacular. Sure, there are occurrences where prophecy is associated with some peculiar activities, but to prophesy is simply to communicate the word of God to lead the people to God.
Yet is it really that unexciting? To be a true prophet of God, requires a special relationship with God. If you are the communicator of God's message, God needs to give you that message. And rocking up to God and offering your courier service is easier said than done. Being a messenger of the LORD, of the God of the universe is a spectacular thing. It requires God to choose you as his messenger. This is evidenced in 1 Samuel 10:10. After being anointed as King through God's choosing;
When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them.
or Jeremiah 1:5;
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Yet the reason for prophets was not just God choosing them to be his messengers, but the people realising they were unable to directly approach God. Exodus 20:18-19;
and they (the people of Israel) said to Moses, 'You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die'.
Thus we discover the need for the Holy Spirit. As God's messengers, to receive the word of God and pass it on, requires special relationship with God. This requires and is achieved though the Holy Spirit. To be present before God requires the Holy Spirit. For the sinfulness of humanity means they are unable to approach the holy God. Throughout the Old Testament we see many times this relationship between the Spirit and prophecy played out.
1 Samuel 10:10; and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied
1 Samuel 19:20; the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied.
Or perhaps the clearest part of Scripture that underlines this relationship between the Spirit and prophecy is in Numbers 11. This passage is one of the keys to understanding prophecy. Numbers 11:16-17;
The the LORD said to Moses, "Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it alone.
The people of Israel are complaining again, and are a heavy burden for Moses to bear, but Moses as the Spirit-filled prophet and leader will have some of God's Spirit taken from him and put onto the seventy elders. So Moses gathers the elders. Numbers 11:25;
Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied.
As God places his Spirit upon the people, the distance of relationship between them is overcome and thus enables them to proclaim his words. Yet here is where things get interesting. A couple of the Spirit-filled elders continue to prophesy in the camp instead of going out, and begin to cause a bit of a ruckus. Numbers 11:27-29;
And a young man ran and told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp." And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, "My lord Moses, stop them." But Moses said to him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!"
Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them. Moses desire for the burdensome people of God is that they would all have God's Spirit, evidenced in them all prophesying. Whereas currently the Spirit is not on all, thus all do not prophesy.
The Spirit in the Old Testament is at work in a small number of God's people to prophesy. Moses longing is that all people would have God's Spirit. It's the longing of God too in Ezekiel 36. And it is prophesied by Joel; that the evidence of this Spirit being poured out on all flesh will be all prophesying. Men and women, slave and free, all-comers filled with the Spirit of God, brimming forth in them speaking the word of God to lead people to God. Joel 2:28-29;
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.
So what does that mean for prophecy today? Ironically, the answer will come tomorrow.