To bring this subject to a successful issue, answers must be given to the following questions: What is to be understood by the prophetic office and by prophecy? What is a prophet?
The prophetic office implied the right and the capacity to receive and impart a divine communication. As to the prophet, he was a friend of God authorized and qualified by His grace to know and to communicate to men God’s counsel and through this engagement to build and set in order God’s house. The first person in the Holy Scriptures bearing the name of prophet is Abraham. He was a friend of God. The secrets of the Lord were with him and the Lord shewed him his covenant.
The essential properties of the true prophet are the following: He speaks words put into the opening of his mouth by the Lord God. Such was his calling. However, his discourse had to be the Word of God dwelling richly in him and springing forth from his soul as a living testimony. He thus had to be a friend and a true servant of God.
The rule that the prophet was the friend of Jehovah had two notable exceptions, namely, Balaam and Caiaphas. Both were devoid of grace, yet both were prophets of God, and the former consciously so Balaam was made to bless a people whom he hated; necessity was laid upon him to give utterance to a discourse that was descriptive of the glory and the blessedness of a people whom he wanted to curse. Israel was about to enter the promised land of its abode, and join battle with the godless races of men by which this land was corrupted. There was need of some tangible evidence of an extraordinary character that there was no cause for fear in that battle was the Lord’s. This evidence was forthcoming in the person of Balaam. Because, though the desire to curse God’s people was strong in him, he blessed this people, his utterances were like meat coming from the eater and thus formed the clearest evidence that all creatures are so in God’s power, that, despite themselves, even the wicked declare His praise and the praises of His people, if He so orders.
The message of the prophet. The view that the utterances of the prophet had to be predictive in the strict and narrow sense in order to deserve the title of prophecy, is, in the light of the above observation, a mistaken idea. Christ was preeminently a prophet—He was our chief prophet—yet a comparatively small part of His discourses were prediction in the aforesaid sense. The prophet was a revealer of the secret counsel of God concerning man’s redemption. He thus revealed God—His mind, His will, His praises. He championed God’s cause. He arose to the defense of God’s law. He brought men under God’s yoke. He dealt with men in God’s stead in the interest of truth, of righteousness, of God.
In a broad sense it is indeed true that all the discourses of all the prophets of God were predictive. They were this as they set forth either directly or indirectly by word of mouth and (or) type and symbol, the promise, the hope of God’s people, the heavenly. In distinction from the prophets of the world, who prophesy of bread and wine, the prophets of God spoke exclusively of things that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for them that love Him and reveals unto them by His Spirit. Rightly considered, the whole of Scripture is one grand prophecy, prediction. The Bible is an otherworldly book.
What then is prophecy? In the broad sense it is the Gospel of Christ, a good message concerning the promise, the revelation of the counsel of God concerning the redemption of His people. We distinguish between Old Testament and New Testament prophecy. Old Testament prophecy foretells by type and in typical language the first coming of Christ, His atonement, and also His reign in glory and the regeneration of all things. New Testament prophecy foretells the second coming of Christ in judgment, the salvation of the Church through judgment, and the appearance of the Church with Christ in glory.
The Old Testament prophecy again varies, according as it is definite or general. Definite prophecy foretells definite, specific and particular events. Its characteristic is precisely this that it is general. The promise of God that it sets forth is first successively fulfilled before it is finally fulfilled. An example of prophecy of this character is the blessing of the dying patriarch that concerned Judah, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the nation be.” An example of definite prophecy is Noah’s prediction respecting the flood. This is really the first specific prediction recorded in Scripture. All the communications of the great prophets had a bearing on the future, not because they were always predictive in the narrow sense, but because, as was said, they set forth heavenly and eternal truths and dealt with the realities of faith and hope and the great principles of duty. Particular prophecy did not become copious until the two centuries preceding the exile. There was reason for this. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the exile of the church to Babylon could not be permitted to overtake the people of God as unannounced. The removal of so much that was typical, called for a reiteration and exposition of the promise. Without additional light, the people of God would have been driven to the conclusion that it had been permanently forsaken by their God. The Lord therefore raised up prophets through the agency of which He told His people what He was about to do with them and held before them the promise of salvation for them to live by while they passed through the valley of the shadows. The people of God had to be told that they had a future, an expectation that extended beyond their grave. This foretelling of the exile and of all the events attending it, was specific prophecy.
We can now, in the light of these observations, ascertain the significance of the prophet Samuel for Old Testament prophecy—for particular and general prophecy alike.
Samuel was the first great prophet of the period from Moses to Hosea. He was the one to originate the prophetic schools of the Old Dispensation. However only a small part of his utterances were definitely predictive. Such a prophecy was the one that concerned Eli’s house. From time to time this was followed by others of a like character. Samuel’s prophetic labors had to do with his present. His energies were spent in directing the life of the nation in the proper theocratic channels and in supervising the execution of imposed duties. To search and reveal the hidden mysteries of God was not his task but rather to awaken and perpetuate interest in the principles of truth contained in the revelation already given, which he did through the establishing of prophetic schools. The age in which he lived called for an activity of this kind. Samuel then was a watchman on Zion’s walls. His task was to supervise the life of the nation with a view to encouraging piety and detecting and reproving the tendencies to apostasy. Like Elijah he was not preeminently a man of profound thought and lofty speech but of heroic action.
The significance of Samuel’s prophetic labors for Old Testament prophecy is seen if these labors be contemplated in connection with those of Moses. Moses was the principle builder of the house of God under the Old Testament. (Hebrews 3:1-5). For the tabernacle and the furniture of it, he received its pattern from God and gave direction for its building unto the utmost pins. Secondly, the ordinances and institutions of worship were wholly of his appointment. He received them by revelation from God, but he prescribed them to the church, on which account they are called the law of Moses. Everyone who labors by God’s appointment for the edification of the church, is a builder, a ministerial builder; and those who are employed in that work in an especial manner are master builders. So was Moses in the house of God.
Now unto the building of the house of God, three things are necessary. First the giving of the design and pattern of it in laws and ordinances, and institutions, that it may answer the purpose whereunto it was designed. Second, the preparing and fitting of the materials of it and the fitting of them together, that they may grow up into a house, a holy habitation of God. Third, the solemn entrance of the presence of God into it.
The first then was that the pattern was prepared and revealed to Moses on the mount, “Make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show thee, the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it” (Ex. 25:8, 9). And further, “Look that thou make them after the similitude, which thou wast caused to see in the mount”—vs. 40. God caused Moses to see the pattern of the house and also the laws, ordinances, and institutions of the worship of God that belonged to it, for all these did God show and declare to Moses in the mount. Secondly, Moses prepared all the materials fit for that fabric by the free-will offerings of the people; and by the skill of Bezaleel and Aholiab. The glorious presence of the Lord entered into the tabernacle so erected, and God dwelt there, “Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34).
“And Moses verily was faithful in all his house—the symbolical-typical house of God—as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after” (Heb. 3:2). Moses was faithful in his house, in that service which is of nearest concernment to him. He was employed and thus faithful in all his house. All things, for the use of all ages, until the time of reformation should come, were ordered and appointed by him. “For a testimony of those things which should be spoken after.” This being a testimony, refers to the whole faithfulness of Moses, which extended itself to the whole service of the house wherein he was employed, as well in the building of the tabernacle and institutions of ordinances as revealing the will of God in the law. So in his ministry he was a testimony. By what he did in the service of the house he gave testimony—to the things that were afterwards to be spoken, namely, in the fullness of time, the appointed season, by the Christ,—that is, the things of the gospel. And this was the proper end of all that Moses did or ordered in the house of God. And through his being a testimony In his ministry, Moses also instrumentally built the true house of God, the church, symbolized and typified by the tabernacle. In the final instance, the house in which he was faithful was not that wooden structure, known as the tabernacle—but the house of Israel, the Israelitish commonwealth, the church.
Now Samuel was not the builder of the house of God as was Moses. He was not the one to receive the pattern for God’s house. The ordinances and institutions of worship were not of his appointment. He was not the one to receive them by revelation from God. He reared not the house of God. When he appeared upon the stage of sacred history, this house of God, the tabernacle, the Israelitish theocracy, was a]ready standing. It was in this house that he, Samuel, was born. As Moses, he was appointed to labor in it. He did so. And as Moses he was faithful in all his house—the house of God. He showed a remarkable zeal. In his zeal he held the nation to the law of God and thus perpetuated instrumentally the existence of the typical house of God and of all its symbolical-typical institutions and ordinances of worship. And herein precisely lies his significance for Old Testament prophecy. By what he did in the service of God’s house, he, too, as Moses, gave testimony to the things that were afterwards to be spoken, namely, in the fullness of time, by Christ. As this typical house of God was the shadow of which Christ was the body, and as Samuel instrumentally, through his labors, perpetuated the existence of this house, it may in truth be said that by him the very prophecy—prophecy in the general sense—was perpetuated. He was even instrumental in bringing into being a new typical institution, namely, the kingship, when, in obedience to the command of God and in agreement with the clamor of the carnal seed he anointed Saul and later David king of Israel. But he also had significance for definite, particular prophecy that became so copious during the two centuries that preceded the exile. By prolonging the existence of God’s typical house, he provided the prophets of that epoch with the language for their prophesying. Had it not been for the labors of Samuel. God’s house would have disappeared from the face of the earth. In this case the prophesying of the four great and the twelve minor prophets of God could not have been.