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Prophetic Commissioning and the Divine Presence

Prophetic Commissioning and the Divine Presence
In broad terms, a prophet or prophetess was a spokesperson for Yahweh. In the ot, such individuals often appear in commissioning scenes, where they encounter the divine—often in God’s throne room. For example, the prophet Isaiah was transported to Yahweh’s throne room to receive instructions for his task (Isa 6:1–8). For the prophet Ezekiel, the circumstances were reversed: the throne of Yahweh came to him (Ezek 1:1–14, 26–28). Jeremiah’s call came via a direct visitation by the Word of Yahweh (Jer 1:4); here, the commissioner is Yahweh (Jer 1:6–7) embodied in physical human form (Jer 1:9).
The mark of a genuine prophet was commissioning by Yahweh, which often took place in God’s presence—where God conducted business with His divine council, the heavenly host (compare Psa 82; 89:5–7). Speaking through Jeremiah, Yahweh declared of prophetic pretenders: “If they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds” (Jer 23:22). Lacking Yahweh’s commission, they simply “speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord” (Jer 23:16).
Keeping in mind the broad definition of “prophet” (“spokesperson for God”) helps illumine certain biblical passages that seem to merely present conversations between God and human servants. These encounters follow a biblical pattern that connects interactions between God and certain human beings with the designation of a unique speaking role for God—the role of prophet.
Divine Commissioning in the Old Testament
The pattern begins with Adam, with whom God walked in the garden—the divine abode. Adam was God’s first human representative. Job 15:7–8 alludes to this scene, as Eliphaz asks Job, “Are you the first man who was born? Or were you brought forth before the hills? Have you listened in the council of God? Have you restricted wisdom to yourself?”
Like Adam, Enoch and Noah also “walked with God” (Gen 5:22, 24; 6:9). Noah was a “herald of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5) who warned of the coming judgment of the flood (1 Pet 3:20). Enoch “prophesied” (Jude 14, 15) and “walked with God” (Gen 5:24).
The patriarchs also experienced divine encounters, as the language of Gen 15:1 and Acts 7:2–4 indicates: Stephen notes that the glory of Yahweh “appeared” to Abraham before he journeyed to Haran. Yahweh likewise appeared to Isaac (Gen 26:1–5) and Jacob (Gen 28:10–22; 31:11–13; 32:22–32; compare Hos 12:3–4). The patriarchs were Yahweh’s spokesmen on earth, through whom the world would be blessed (Gen 12:1–3).
The pattern is replicated with Moses, who was first commissioned at the burning bush (Exod 3:1–15) and many subsequent occasions (see Gen 19:16–20:18; 24:9–18; 33:7–11). The elders of Israel under Moses were also commissioned directly by Yahweh (Num 11:24–25), as was Joshua (Deut 31:14–23; Josh 5:13–15). Various judges also experienced divine commission: Gideon met both Yahweh and the Angel who was Yahweh—simultaneously (Judg 6). Deborah received messages from Yahweh under “the Palm of Deborah” (Judg 4:4–5). The Word of Yahweh “appeared” to Samuel, the last of Israel’s judges, as a boy, “standing” before him to tell of Eli’s fate (1 Sam 3; see esp. 1 Sam 3:20–21).
Commissioning in the New Testament
The pattern continued into the nt. Jesus was commissioned by God during His baptism—the proclamation, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” launching the public ministry of Jesus (Matt 3:13–17). The disciples encountered God through Jesus in preparation for their own ministerial role. The commissioning was repeated at Pentecost, with the descent of the Spirit and the birth of the Church (Acts 2). Paul was later blinded by the glory of the risen Christ when he received his own commission to minister to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1–9).
Each believer, in virtue of receiving the Spirit by committing to trust and follow Christ, follows the same pattern. Christ commands all Christians to go into all the world and make disciples (Matt 28:19–20; Mark 16:15–16). Every Christian, therefore, is a spokesperson for God.
Michael S. Heiser

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