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The wisdom of God is said to be of ultimate totality, and a prophet, according to Hebrew and Christian scriptures, is the means through which he relays this wisdom to the people. But what constitutes God’s selections? Are prophets spiritually superior to the common man? Are some prophets more powerful than others, or does God, in effect, distribute the same amount of power to all of his prophets? Is there, in other words, a hierarchy and if so are the reasons for it contingent upon the individual, or the situation that God commands him/her to handle? The answer to these questions, and many like them, are subject to debate, but from a literary standpoint few will argue that there is indeed a physical hierarchy of prophets. What this inquiry is primarily concerned with, are the grounds for such a hierarchy within the context of Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Gospels. What it will propose, moreover, is that the unequal distribution of power is contingent upon the situation, not the status of the individuals selected. Prophets, messianic or otherwise, are merely mechanisms through which God handles the situation, not all-powerful emissaries as they’re commonly perceived. The suggestion of a hierarchy stems from the addition of the term Messiah to the term Prophet, in the following analysis both of these terms will be described within the beliefs of their respective religions.
“I will put my words into the mouth of the prophet who shall speak to them everything that I command” (Dt, 18:18). Prophecy is said to be the voice of God, and a prophet is simply God’s ambassador, relaying the word of God to the people. However, it is not by any means his/her choice, for once a prophet is called upon by God and commanded to speak his will, he/she is required to do so (Amos, 3:8), and despite some initial reluctance (Ex, 3:11)(Jon, 1:1), they eventually obey. Furthermore, when they accepted their roles as messengers of God they did so fearlessly. Prophesying God’s plan to kings and priests, the rich and powerful, and the hostile masses. The prophecy itself was often about the impending doom that would take place over the kingdom as a result of their sins. Consequently, this distinct belief in God’s word, which was almost always in contrast to the previous actions of the people, often led to hardships (Jer, 36) (Is, 53:3-4), and in some instances death (Mt, 27:1-50). This position, nonetheless, was considered to be noble, and prophets were also revered. But at what point does the reverence of prophets as a whole, turn into the reverence of a particular prophet. The first evidence we have of such popularity is in Deuteronomy 18:15-22, there it states that Moses is the greatest of prophets, for he, and only he, has or will speak face to face with God. This, of course, is contrary to the later Christian belief of the messiah, or prophetic savior, but regardless of which is right, the underlying implication of these statements is that there is a hierarchy.
The Christian concept of messianism is said to be comprised of Judaistic ideas, and although this may not be true (Segal, 84), we have to look into its development from Judaistic beliefs, in order for it to be understood. The word itself stems from the Hebrew word masshiah, literally meaning the anointed one, which in Judaism is an inauguration ritual performed on those who are about to hold a ” divinely sanctioned position” (Segal, 64), such as priests, prophets, or kings, however, much more often in the case of the latter. It did, nonetheless, come to embody a different meaning, not only for the Christians, but for the Jews as well. In 2 Samuel 7:14 Yahweh promises Israel’s inhabitants that the kingdom of David will reign forever, while in fact it eventually falls to Roman imperialism. However, in Isaiah 9:1-10 it is prophesied that a messianic davidic king will come and restore Israel to prominence, this prophecy is continued through the rest of the prophetical books (1 Ki, 3) (Song, 7,8,17,18) (Ps, 72) (Dan, 9:26) (Am, 9:11-21). It was through this period that the term “messiah” came to be associated with the concept of a savior in Jewish religion, it is important to note, however, that this early concept of a messiah does not make any reference to a prophet. Instead, it refers to a king, which is more of a military figure than a religious one. Therefore, this early concept is vastly different from the modern Christian belief of a messiah, which entails an eschatological figure. However, it serves as a foundation for the concept of an ultimate savior/prophet.
The prophecy that predicts the coming of the messiah at the end of the world, Christians believe, is rooted in the Apocrypha. For example, in 2 Esdras 12:32-9 it states that “the ‘Messiah’ will arise from the offspring of David at the end of days and sit upon his seat in judgement, reproving the wrong and freeing the right.” This passage clearly shows the distinction between the power of an ordinary prophet and a messianic one. The implication of the Christian concept of messianism is that there is a hierarchy. Likewise, the idea of a hierarchy appears to be the consensus among both religions, each having their own beliefs as to who the greatest prophet is. For example, Hebrew scripture depicts Moses as the archetypal prophet (Deut, 34:10-11), while Christian gospels assert that Jesus is the greatest of prophets, or as his Greek epithet “Christ” claims: the Messiah (Mk, 14:61-2). Which claim is right, is again immaterial; what is relevant is the assertion that there is an ultimate prophet, from this we can classify these prophets in tiers of authority. I propose this suggestion by stating that there are three general classifications; those who preach and preach only (Jonah, Amos, etc.), those who take action and are permitted physical powers (Elijha, Elisha, Samuel), and those who Judge, or are God like (Moses, Jesus). The justifications for these three tiers lay in the individuals relationship to God and the environment they are selected to prophesy in.
The typical relationship between God and one of his prophets is that of a master and slave. God calls a man to be his prophet, the prophet obeys and delivers the message, and the prophet is continually at God’s disposal. Such as in the case of Abraham, the first prophet, here God tests Abraham and asks him to take the life of his only heir, Abraham obeys and offers to sacrifice his son, but God intervenes and saves the boy’s life (Gen, 22-23). Because of his obedience, Abraham lived a long and prosperous life, but what if he hadn’t been obedient? Would he have been condemned by his master, or given the same prosperity? The book of Jonah aptly represents this situation, and in it the prophet ignores God’s will and tries to escape his wrath. However, he is unsuccessful and is forced to obey on the account of saving his own life. This suggests that condemnation will take place until obedience is served (Jon, 1-3). This type of relationship coincides with the tier of “preach, and preach only”, for the prophet is almost entirely powerless. He is, in these instances, a mere puppet for which God acts out his divine will.
The second class of prophets are those who have a certain amount of power in their actions. God, in turn, selects them to embrace responsibility beyond that of a typical prophet. The most obvious examples are that of Moses splitting the red sea and leading the Israelites to the promise land (Exodus), and Jesus healing the sick and leprous (Mark), but they classify beyond this tier. Samuel, adversely, falls into this tier because he is given the direct responsibility of acting on God’s behalf to select a king, he was, at that time, “the sole mediator of God’s power” (1 Sam, 8:1-10:27). Which appears to be far more prestigious than the common practice. In addition to Samuel, Enoch and Elijah are also in this category, for they are the only two people who have been considered “worthy enough by God to be swept into heaven without having to die” (Gen, 5:24) (2 Ki, 2:11). These prophets, and a few others, embody what is considered to be a prestige that is inferior to only two other prophets, those being Moses and Jesus.
According to Hebrew scripture and Christian gospels, Moses and Jesus are extraordinary for a variety of reasons. First, Moses is claimed to be the only prophet to speak face to face with God on the earth (Dt, 18:15-22), he is also the only prophet in Hebrew scripture to persuade God into changing his mind. This is evident in Genesis 32 where the people worship another deity, God then decides to let them feel his wrath, but Moses steps in and persuades Him to do otherwise. (Gen, 32:11-14). Secondly, in the case of Jesus the Christian gospel claims that he is the “Messiah”, which to Christians also means the “Son of God.” (Mt, 1:20-3) (Mk, 1:11) (2 Sam, 7:14). In addition, the miracles he performs are a testament to his unprecedented supernatural ability, which suggests God like power (Mk. 3:7-12) (Lk, 6:17-19) (Mt, 14). Furthermore, Jesus is said to be the one chosen to judge over the people as if he was God himself. As noted above, the messiah is to sit on the judgement seat on the final day, freeing the righteous and condemning the crooked (2 Esd, 12: 32-9), and in Christianity, Jesus is believed to be the messiah, hence his elite God like status. Consequently, this is where the two prophets Jesus and Moses are said to differ. In one scenario, there’s a man believed to be the “Son of God” and ultimate redeemer, and in the other there’s a man believed to be God’s greatest prophet. So, depending upon an individual’s beliefs, the hierarchy could filter even further, but what we have yet to establish is the premise for God’s selection. Are these prophets in any way different than the common person?
To say that a man/woman who splits a sea in half, or heals the sick by will alone is no different than the common man would be absurd. However, before these individuals are selected to become prophets they are not in possession of such power, they are in effect very similar, if not the same as everyone else. For example, prophets came from many different classes of society: aristocracy (Isaiah); priesthood (Ezekiel and Jeremiah); farmers (Amos), and consequently subjected to same rigors of everyday life. What then are God’s decisions based upon, if not the mental, spiritual, and physical attributes of an individual? The logical answer seems to be that it is merely God’s will, a prophet is in essence supernaturally chosen by God on the account of the unknown. There is no record of any other possibility in the Bible, or anywhere else worth noting for that matter. Prophets aren’t necessarily trained to be prophets, despite the schools suggested in 1 Samuel, nor do they have to past a test. The only requirements that do exist appear to be obedience and humility.
This, of course, leaves a gap in this, or any argument regarding the topic, but going on the aforementioned assumption we infer as to the possibilities of the specific roles certain prophets played. For example, a theme common to either scripture is that prophecy is partly a reaction to the actions of the people. The inference here is that although God is all knowing, He still has to react to paths of certain people, which suggests that the specific powers of certain prophets are contingent upon the level of necessity. Moses’ division of the Red Sea is a clear example of the situation controlling the power of the prophet. “Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord” (Ex, 14:15-17). Here it is obvious that God is trying to make an emphatic point to the people of Egypt, and Israel, so he gives Moses the superhuman power to part an entire sea. In a contrasting instance, God takes power away from Moses and spreads it upon seventy elders to lighten the burden (Nu, 11:25-6). Therefore, the distribution of power, or the hierarchy of power, is rather arbitrary, making the so-called hierarchy a false one. If the power can indeed be given to, or taken away from, anyone, at any given time, than the vessel in which the power is carried is inconsequential. What is consequential, however, is the situation that requires the power to be used in the first place. Thus, there is no true hierarchy, there only appears to be one on the account of the physical attributions and classifications we often asses to people and situations.
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