By Ramon A. Madrigal
God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by diverse portions and in diverse manners, has at the end of these days spoken unto us in his son . . .
God has spoken. The significance of this fact cannot be overestimated. It demonstrates Divine interest in human affairs, and reveals the Creator as a personal God. Indeed, it is to man that God has spoken. Neil Lightfoot maintains that “a God who speaks to men His will is the distinguishing mark of true religion.”(1) The author of the book of Hebrews presupposes God’s revelation to mankind and through this affirmation seeks to establish the absolute supremacy of the Christian system. In truth, the entire history of salvation can be seen in terms of God speaking to His people. That this Divine communication was (is) absolutely essential and necessary is relatively undisputed. The very salvation of man depends on it. And although the various humanisms and philosophical ideologies have sought to transcend to the Divine and spiritual realm, such attempts fail at the very outset. The attractiveness of such experiments as transcendental meditation and Zen (Buddhism) is firmly grounded in the elementary principles of the world and after the traditions of men. Pure religion is the sincere recognition of and respect for God’s self-disclosure to humankind.
The revelation of God came in a gradual and progressive way. The Lord Yahweh conveyed portions of truth to Abraham, Moses, David, and to the prophets; but these truths were never complete and full in and of themselves. It was only in the manifestation of the Son of God that revelation became perfected. Indeed, all things written in the Law, and in the prophets, and in the psalms were fulfilled in Christ (see Luke 24).
Yet how did this preparatory stage in God’s revelation develop? How was -His message made known? By whom? And for what reason? It is the purpose of this essay to briefly discuss these questions as they are introduced in the opening verses of the book of Hebrews and to contrast the Old Testament prophets with Jesus Christ, the Perfect Prophet.
The Hebrew writer states clearly that God first revealed himself to mankind through the prophets. Yet the word “prophets” (prophetais) is not meant here to be understood in any exclusive sense. The term refers to all those who had spoken for God, especially to Moses and those who succeeded him. The term is thus of wide application and, in effect, stands for the contents of the entire Old Testament canon.(2)
If the prophetic institution in ancient Israel be of Divine origin, appeal must be made to Deuteronomy 18:9-22; for no other passage of Scripture gives prophecy the right to exist as a legitimate phenomenon. Although God had spoken and revealed His great plan as early as Genesis 3:15 where He indirectly promised Eve that through her seed the old serpent would be destroyed; and, more directly in the promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3) that through his seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, His announcements of the prophetic institution originates in the Deuteronomy passage. Here God promises the children of Israel that He would raise up to them, from among themselves, a Prophet like unto Moses, to whom he would require all to hearken.
Who is this prophet? Edward J. Young, late Old Testament Professor at Westminster, declares that the use of the singular (nabhi’), “whatever else its force may be, does not permit us to understand that only one individual is in view.”(3) I Such an interpretation gives careless consideration to Deuteronomy 18:21-22 which presents criteria whereby the children of Israel might distinguish between true and false prophets. Young goes on to observe that the word “prophet” does not solely refer to a group of prophets or to the “prophetic institution” as such; for this interpretation pays no attention whatever to the use of the singular. Through careful analysis of the text, we must conclude that the “prophet” refers to a body of prophets (Joshua, Elijah, Amos, Jeremiah, et. al.) which was to find its supreme expression in one great prophet, the Son of God Himself.
The question now arises as to the relationship between these two emphases. Some have held that we are to understand a collection or group of prophets to which Christ would also belong, as the perfect realization of the prophetic body. This, however, is not a legitimate thought to derive from the words. It is far better, because more faithful to the text, to regard the prophet as an ideal person in whom are comprehended all true prophets. The prophetical order is thus an ideal unity, which is to rind its focus point in the historic Christ. For the Spirit of Christ was in all true prophets. When finally Christ appeared on earth, the promise was fulfilled in its highest and fullest sense. It is, therefore, a Messianic promise.(4)
It is also important to note that Jesus considered Himself as the fulfillment of this Deuteronomic passage (see John 5:45-47).
A popular misconception of the function of the Old Testament prophet is his designation as “predictor.” The Prophetic office consisted in “foretelling” to be sure, yet this was not the main function. A prophet was a “forth-teller,” one who spoke the Word of God. Indeed, the prophets were inspired preachers. That which was given by the Spirit to the prophets referred to the past and to the present as well as to the future. Homer Hailey observes that the uniform teaching of the Bible reveals the prophet as a spokesman of God: a Divinely commissioned representative. “The prophet of Jehovah would be the mouth of Jehovah.”(5) Hence it was always God who did the speaking through His servants the prophets. In his second letter, the apostle Peter declares that “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation. For prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy spirit” (1:20-21).
With these thoughts in mind we may now proceed to discuss the distinctive characteristics of Old Testament prophecy, and give attention to the profound contrast revealed in the prophet par excellence. First of all, the Hebrew writer asserts, the message delivered by God’s spokesman in the Old Testament was an ancient communication (“of old time spoken”), as far as the Christian dispensation is concerned. God had begun to speak at least 4000 years before the “fullness of time” when His Son would appear. Jesus’ message is superior to the message of old in that His revelation (the New Testament) is recent and final. Truly, God speaks to us in these last days by One who has the high rank of Son! This refers, obviously, to the close of the Mosaic economy. The “last days” signify for the author of Hebrews the finality of God’s revelation to mankind. Christ has appeared “once for all at the end of the age” (9:26). The revelation of God through the Son is greater because it is final as well as complete.
Secondly, the revelation given in the Old Testament came through human agency, the prophets. However inspired the writers of the Old Testament were, they remained mere men. God has now spoken to us in His Son. The contrast is profound. Divine revelation comes directly through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The prophets were only inspired men – this is a divine Person. The prophets were only servants – this is the Son. The prophets were only God’s spokesmen – this is God Himself speaking. The Son is the Logos – the veritable Word – the manifested God!
In the third instance, the Old Testament message was fragmentary, progressive, and preparatory. God gave messages piece by piece. He delivered it in connection with temporary dispensations – the Adamic, the Abrahamic, and the Mosaic. In this fashion the promise of redemption was progressively revealed truth upon truth through prophet after prophet (see Isa. 28:10-13). Hebrews informs us that God spoke “in diverse manners” through the prophets of old. The former revelation was therefore multiform in nature, indicating the various ways in which God made His will known to the ancients. He did this through visions and dreams, by voices, symbols and similitudes, Urim and Thummim, and perhaps, even by ecstasy. All of this serves to mark, in some measure, the comparative imperfection of the Old Economy. Yet the revelation give in the New Covenant is complete and perfect. The truth presented in the New Testament is finished and full. Written in a generation’s time by eight or nine inspired evangelists and apostles, the New Testament revelation contains a richer and more fully developed truth than does the Old Testament Scriptures. Jude 3 declares that the faith was “once for all delivered to the saints.” This not only informs us of the all-sufficiency of the Biblical canon, but also quickly exposes the falsehood and deception of modem, self-ordained prophets.
The book of Hebrews is an eloquent manifesto of the superiority of the Christian religion over the Judaism of the Old Testament. The shadows and types of the old system come to life in the manifestation of truth in the Son of God. Through this greater prophet, God can now speak more directly and freely to man, and man may come boldly unto the throne of grace.
Yes, God has truly spoken to man. The Creator is not silent. He has communicated to man necessarily (how else could we know Truth?) and progressively. He has demonstrated His love for man in that He revealed Himself at first through the prophets of old, and then more perfectly in His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds. This is Christ Jesus, the Prophet of prophets.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 19, pp. 593-594
October 6, 1983