This constitutes the second division, the others being the Law and Hagiographa. It included Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, called the former prophets; and Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, &c., to Malachi, the latter prophets. Daniel is excluded, because, though highly endowed with prophetic gifts, he had not filled the prophetic office: his book is therefore classed with the Hagiographa. Ezra probably commenced, and others subsequently completed, the arrangement of the canon. The prophets were not mere predictors. Their Hebrew name, nabi, comes from a root |to boil up as a fountain| (Gesenius); hence the fervor of inspiration (2Pe 1:21). Others interpret it as from an Arabic root (Ex 4:16, |spokesman| of God, the Holy Ghost supplying him with words); communicated by dreams (Joe 2:28; Job 33:14-17 -- no instance of this occurs in Isaiah); or visions, the scene being made to pass before their mind (Isa 1:1); or trance, ecstasy (Nu 24:4, 16; Eze 1:3; 3:14); not depriving them, however, of free conscious agency (Jer 20:7, 9; 1Co 14:32).
These Peculiar Forms of inspiration distinguish prophets, strictly so called, from Moses and others, though inspired (Nu 12:6-8). Hence their name seers. Hence, too, the poetical cast of their style, though less restricted, owing to their practical tendency, by the outward forms observed in strictly poetical books. Hence, too, the union of music with prophesying (1Sa 10:5). This ecstatic state, though exalted, is not the highest: for Jesus Christ was never in it, nor Moses. It was rendered necessary by the frailty of the prophets, and the spiritual obtuseness of the people. It accordingly predominates in the Old Testament, but is subordinate in the New Testament, where the Holy Ghost by the fulness of His ordinary gifts renders the extraordinary less necessary. After the time of the Mosaic economy, the idea of a prophet was regularly connected with the prophetic office -- not conferred by men, but by God. In this they differ from mystics whose pretended inspiration is for themselves: prophetism is practical, not dreamy and secluded; the prophet's inspiration is theirs only as God's messengers to the people. His ordinary servants and regular teachers of the people were the priests; the prophets distinguished from them by inspiration, were designed to rouse and excite. In Israel, however, as distinguished from Judah (as there was no true priesthood) the prophets were the regular and only ministers of God. Prophecy in Israel needed to be supported more powerfully: therefore the |schools| were more established; and more striking prophetic deeds (for example, Elijah's and Elisha's) are recorded, than in Judah. The law was their basis (Isa 8:16, 20), both its form and spirit (De 4:2; 13:1-3); at times they looked forward to a day when its ever-living spirit would break its then imperfect form for a freer and more perfect development (Jer 3:16; 31:31); but they altered not a tittle in their own days. Eichorn well calls Moses' song (De 32:1-47) the Magna Charta of prophecy. The fulfilment of their predictions was to be the sign of their being real prophets of God (De 18:22); also, their speaking in the name of no other but the true God (De 18:20). Prophecy was the only sanctioned indulgence of the craving after knowledge of future events, which is so prevalent in the East (De 18:10, 11). For a momentary inspiration the mere beginning of spiritual life sufficed, as in Balaam's case; but for a continuous mission, the prophet must be converted (Isa 6:7). In Samuel's days (1Sa 10:8; 19:20) begin the prophetic |schools.| These were associations of men, more or less endowed with the Spirit, in which the feebler were helped by those of greater spiritual powers: so at Beth-el and Gilgal (2Ki 2:3; 4:38; 6:21). Only the leaders stood in immediate communion with God, while the rest were joined to Him through their mediation (1Ki 19:15; 2Ki 8:13); the former acted through the latter as their instruments (1Ki 19:16; 2Ki 9:1, 2). The bestowal of prophetic gifts was not, however, limited to these schools (Am 7:14, 15).
As to Symbolic Actions, many of them are not actual but only parts of the prophetic visions, internal not external facts, being impossible or indecent (Jer 13:1-10; 25:12-38; Ho 1:2-11). Still the internal actions, when possible and proper, were often expressed externally (1Ki 22:11). Those purely internal express the subject more strikingly than a naked statement could.
Other Criteria of a true prophet, besides the two above, were, the accordance of his addresses with the law; his not promising prosperity without repentance; his own assurance of his divine mission (sometimes received reluctantly, Jer 20:8, 9; 26:12), producing that inward assurance of the truth in others, which is to them a stronger proof from the Spirit of God, than even outward miracles and arguments: his pious life, fortitude in suffering, and freedom from fanaticism, confirm these criteria. Miracles, though proofs, are not to be trusted without the negative criteria (De 13:2). Predictions fulfilled in the prophet's lifetime established his authority thenceforth (1Sa 3:19; Jer 22:11-12; Eze 12:12,13; 24:1-27).
As to their Promulgation, it was usually oral, before the assembled people, and afterwards revised in writing. The second part of Isaiah and Ezekiel 40-48 were probably not given orally, but in writing. Before Isaiah's and his contemporaries' time, prophecies were not written, as not being intended for universal use. But now a larger field was opened. To the worldly power of heathen nations which threatened to destroy the theocracy is henceforth opposed the kingdom of God, about to conquer all through Messiah, whose coming concerns all ages. The lesser prophets give the quintessence of the prophecies of their respective authors. An instance of the mode of collecting and publishing prophecies occurs (Jer 36:4-14). Those of the later prophets rest on those of the earlier (Zec 1:4; 7:7, 12). Ewald fancies that a great number of prophetic rolls have been lost. But the fact of the prophets often alluding to writings which we have, and never to those which it can be proved we have not, makes it likely that we have all those predictions which were committed to writing; the care bestowed on them as divine, and the exact knowledge of them long after (Jer 26:18, 19), confirm this view.
The Arrangement is chronological; but as the twelve lesser prophets are regarded as one work, and the three last of them lived later than Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the former are put after the latter. The lesser prophets are arranged chronologically, except Hosea, who being the largest, is placed first, though some were earlier than he; also Jonah, who seems to have been the earliest of the latter prophets.
As to The Messiah, no single prophet gives a complete view of Him: this is made up of the various aspects of Him in different prophecies combined; just as His life in the Gospels is one under a fourfold aspect. In the first part of Isaiah, addressed to the whole people, the prominent idea is His triumph, as King, the design being there to remove their fears of the surrounding nations; in the second, addressed to the elect remnant, He is exhibited as Prophet and Priest, Himself being the sacrifice.