"The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, 
and His word was in my tongue." 
II Samuel 23:2

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Copyright 1997, Diane S. Dew

I. What is prophecy?

    It is the word of God in the mouth of man.

           Numbers 23:12
"... Must I not take heed to speak that which the Lord hath put in my mouth?"
           Deuteronomy 18:18
"I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him."
           II Samuel 23:2
"The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue."
           Isaiah 51:16a
"And I have put my words in thy mouth ..."
           Jeremiah 1:9
"Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth."
           Jeremiah 15:19
"... thou shalt be as my mouth ..."
           Jeremiah 19:2
"... proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee."
           Hosea 6:5
"... I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth ..."
           I Thessalonians 2:13
"... when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God ..."

II. What is the purpose of prophecy?

A. To edify ("build up").

           I Corinthians 14:3, 4
"But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification ... he that prophesieth edifieth the church."

B. To exhort (Lit., "to call near; encourage"). 

           II Chronicles 15:8a 
"And when Asa heard these words, and the prophecy of Obed the prophet, he took courage, and put away the abominable idols out of all the land ... and renewed the altar of the Lord ..."
           Acts 16:32 
"And they spake unto him the word of the Lord ..."
           I Corinthians 14:3
"But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to ... exhortation ..."

C. To comfort. 

           I Corinthians 14:3
"But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to ... comfort."
           I Corinthians 14:31
"For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted." 
           Isaiah 40:1, 2
"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned ..."

D. To convict. 

           Jonah 3:4-10 
"And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet 40 days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast..."

1. Prophecy is intended primarily for the body of Christ (I Corinthians 14:22), but on occasion it may also be for the unbelieving (I Corinthians 14:24, 25). 

2. Symbolized in scripture by a trumpet (see Jeremiah 6:17; 4:19; Ezekiel 33:2-7; Revelation 1:10; etc.), its purpose may be to reveal sin.

           Isaiah 58:1
"Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins."
           Ezekiel 16:1-3a
"Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, and say, Thus saith the Lord..."

E. To teach. 

           I Corinthians 14:31
"For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn ..."

F. Prophecy may be used as a means of imparting a spiritual gift (I Timothy 4:14) or setting apart for ministry (Acts 13:14).

G. Prophecy is not intended to be directive. 

1. It may be used by God to give guidance.

           Acts 21:4

2. It may warn of coming difficulties.

           Acts 11:27, 28
"And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world ..."
           Acts 20:22, 23
"...the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me."
           Acts 21:4, 11
"[Some] disciples ... said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.... and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles." 

3. But it only serves as a means of confirmation for a word already spoken to the heart. 

           Jeremiah 32:6-9

III. Who may prophesy?

A. "All may prophesy" (I Corinthians 14:1, 24, 31), but not all who prophesy are prophets (I Corinthians 12:29). "He gave some ... prophets" (Ephesians 4:11).

B. Even children may prophesy. 
           Joel 2:28, 29

C. Women may also be used of God to prophesy.
           Joel 2:28, 29
           I Corinthians 11:5

1. Miriam.
           Exodus 15:20
2. Deborah.
           Judges 4:4
3. Huldah.
           II Kings 22:14
           II Chronicles 34:22, 23, etc.
4. Isaiah's wife.
           Isaiah 8:3
5. Elizabeth and Mary.
           Luke 1:41-45, 45-53
6. Anna.
           Luke 2:36-38
7. The four daughters of Philip.
           Acts 21:9

IV. How does prophecy come about?

A. It is the result of the moving of the Spirit of God, not by the will of man.

           II Peter 1:20

B. In an attitude of worship.

           Acts 13:1-4
"As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said..."

C. Men prophesied when the Spirit of God came upon them in a new measure. 

           I Samuel 10:6, 9, 10 
"And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man....God gave him another heart ... a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them."
           Luke 1:67 
           Acts 2:16-18

D. But it is our responsibility to "stir up" the gift. 

           II Timothy 1:6

E. The anointing to prophesy can be so strong that there may almost seem to be a compulsion to prophesy (see Amos 3:8). Jeremiah described the feeling as "a burning fire shut up in my bones" (Jeremiah 20:9).

F. But the anointing is not an uncontrollable force.

           I Corinthians 14:32
"The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets."

G. We prophesy according to the measure of our faith. 

           Romans 12:6

H. The word of the Lord is not distant, that we should strive for it. It is in our mouths and in our hearts, that we may know it.

           Deuteronomy 30:11-14
           Romans 10:6-8

I. Sometimes a prophecy may even be given in song. 

           Exodus 15 
           Judges 5 
           Revelation 15

V. Certain guidelines are set forth in scripture concerning the operation of the gift of prophecy in the assembly.

A. Two or three prophets may speak. The others are to weigh what is said.
           I Corinthians 14:29

B. Prophecies are to be given "one by one," that there be no confusion in the assembly.
           I Corinthians 12:40; 14:31, 33

C. All prophecy is first to be judged (I Corinthians 14:29; I Thessalonians 5:19-21; I John 4:1), for there are also false prophets (Jeremiah chapter 23; Ezekiel chapter 13; Matthew 24:24; I John 4:1; II Peter 2:1; Acts 13:6; Luke 6:26; Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10, etc.). 

1. Even true prophets of God can at times give false prophecies.

           I Kings 13:18 
"He said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord ... But he lied unto him."

2. Some prophecy is spoken presumptuously or given out of the deceit of the heart.

           Deuteronomy 18:21, 22
           Jeremiah 23:25-28; 29:8
"I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name ... How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? Yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart ..."
           Ezekiel 13:7-9
"And mine hand shall be upon the prophets that see vanity, and that divine lies: they shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel..."
           Zechariah 10:2

D. Prophecy, as all things, should be ministered in love.

           I Corinthians 13:2
"And though I have the gift of prophecy ... and have not charity, I am nothing."

VI. How are we to "test the spirits"? How can prophecy be judged?

A. No true prophecy will contradict the written Word of God.

           Isaiah 8:20
"To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."

B. It must not contradict the previously spoken and revealed will of God.

           I Kings chapter 13

C. It must come to pass.

           Deuteronomy 18:21, 22
"And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him."

D. It should exalt Jesus (Revelation 19:10) and acknowledge His Lordship (I Corinthians 12:3; I John 4:1-3, 6).

E. True prophecy of God will not instill fear or discouragement. (Its purpose is to exhort, comfort, and edify see Part II).

           Nehemiah 6:12, 13
"And lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me ... that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin ..."

F. It must not draw people away to another god.

           Deuteronomy 13:1-5
"If there arise among you a prophet ... [and] he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet ..."

VII. Scripture outlines the proper spiritual attitude we are to have toward prophecy.

A. The gift of prophecy is to be desired.

           Numbers 11:29
"And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them."
           I Corinthians 14:1
"... desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy."
           I Corinthians 14:5
"I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth ..."
           I Corinthians 14:39
"Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy ..."

B. It is not to be despised.

           I Thessalonians 5:20, 21
"Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."

C. The Holy Spirit is not to be quenched or grieved.

           Ephesians 4:30-32
"And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed..." 
           II Thessalonians 5:10

D. Prophecy is never to be taken lightly.

           Hosea 12:13
"And by a prophet the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved."

E. No gift of the Spirit should be neglected.

           I Corinthians 4:1, 2
" ... stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful."
           I Timothy 4:14
"Neglect not the gift that is in thee ..."

VIII. Prophecy is not a sign of spirituality.

           Matthew 7:22
"Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?"
           I Corinthians 13:2

A. Even Caiphas, the high priest responsible for leading the Jews in condemning Jesus to the cross, prophesied correctly of Jesus' substitutionary sacrifice.
           John 11:49-52

B. Demon-oppressed Saul (I Samuel 16:14; 18:10; 19:9), a murderer at heart (ch. 18:9-12; 19:10; etc.), also prophesied by the Spirit of God.
           I Samuel 19:20-24

C. God used the mouth of a donkey to rebuke the prophet's rebellion.
           Numbers 22:28-33, etc.

D. Newly saved and baptized individuals, upon receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit, may begin to prophesy.
           Acts 19:5-7

IX. Why did Paul consider prophecy of greater importance than tongues?

A. Prophecy edifies the entire body of Christ, and it is therefore more valuable to the church as a whole (because all can understand what is said).
           I Corinthians 14:4, 12, 17, 19

B. If a message in tongues is followed by an interpretation, the entire church "may receive edifying." Otherwise, the gift of tongues is intended specifically for self-edification.
           I Corinthians 14:5

X. Is prophecy important?

There is tremendous power in prophecy.
           I Samuel 10:6, 9, 10
"And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man..."
           Daniel 10:15
"... And when he had spoken such words unto me, I set my face toward the ground, and I became dumb."

A. Without it, the people perish.

           Proverbs 29:18 ("vision" = "prophecy")

B. The spoken word ("rhema," Gk.) imparts faith.

           John 4:15-19
" ... Jesus saith unto her ... [Then] the woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet."
           John 14:29
"And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe."
           John 4:29
"Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?"

C. It ministers life to the body of Christ.

           Ezekiel 37:1-14
"The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones.... there were very many in the open valley; and lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, ... Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.... So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived ... Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel ... Therefore prophesy..."

D. It imparts strength.

           Daniel 10:16-19
"And, behold, one like the similitude of the sons of men touched my lips: then I opened my mouth, and spake, and said ... there remaineth no strength in me ... [Then he] said, O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong. And when he had spoken unto me, I was strengthened, and said, Let my lord speak; for thou hast strengthened me." 
           I Timothy 1:18
"This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare."

E. It gives encouragement to those who are weary.

           II Chronicles 15:8a
"And when Asa heard these words, and the prophecy of Obed the prophet, he took courage ..."

XI. The word of the Lord is true God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). Although prophecy generally is absolute (Genesis 22:16-18; Isaiah 9:7; etc.), some prophecies are conditional upon our obedience to His word or dependent upon an expected response.
           Joshua 23:14-16 
"And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof. Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all good things are come upon you, which the Lord your God promised you; so shall the Lord bring upon you all evil things... When ye have transgressed the covenant ..."
           I Samuel 13:13, 14 
"And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment ... now thy kingdom shall not continue..."
           II Kings 20:1-6 
"In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live. Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed ... And Hezekiah wept sore. And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee ... I will add unto thy days 15 years ..."
           Jeremiah 18:7-10
"At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation ... to destroy it; if that nation ... turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation ... to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them."
           Jeremiah 38:20, 21 
"But Jeremiah said, ... Obey, I beseech thee, the voice of the Lord, which I speak unto thee: so it shall be well unto thee, and thy soul shall live. But if thou refuse ..."
           Ezekiel 33:12-16
"... When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it...." 
           Joel 2:13, 14 
"...[God] is gracious and merciful ... and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing..."
           Jonah 3:4-10
"...And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not."

Copyright 1997, Diane S. Dew
Taken from "Fundamentals of the Faith Studies in Basic Bible Doctrine," Parts One and Two, 1976, by Diane S. Dew