A prophet is God’s mouthpiece and, accordingly, a prophecy is a message relayed from God. Although the Greek term prophitis translates to “foreteller,” which is where the English term comes from, the equivalent Hebrew word (nabiy) translates to “spokesman.” The understanding of a prophet in first century Judea wasn’t necessarily someone who could predict the future, but someone who simply acted as God’s messenger. In fact, the majority of prophecies in the Bible didn’t foretell future events but rather instructed, warned, encouraged, or corrected the people they were intended for. Such messages were received by prophets in all sorts of ways (through angels, in dreams, by seeing visions), just as prophets in the Bible came from all walks of life (shepherds, farmers, princes, kings, priests, women), and they could be called to lifelong or temporary service. Yet however they spoke, the Bible states that prophets carried the authority of God himself as they spoke his words, not their own. A prophet speaking apart from God was considered a great sin and was harshly denounced. When a prophet did foretell future events, the Bible records that his words should be used to verify or falsify his status as a prophet. Unfortunately, the role of being a prophet was not particularly pleasant in ancient times – many of the prophets in the Bible faced abuse when their messages were not well-received.
I’ll raise up a prophet like [Moses] from among his brothers. I’ll put my words in his mouth and he’ll tell them all that I command him.
– Deuteronomy 18:18