Our studies in 1 Samuel this month begin with Samuel doing what all of the Old Testament prophets were called to do. Standing before the gathered people of God, he opens his mouth and declares, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel.” It was the primary task of the prophets to deliver God’s words to God’s people. They were conduits of communication, those to whom God spoke that they then might speak. This task was at the same time very important and very simple. The importance, of course, stemmed from the source of the messages the prophets were called to bear—God’s people could receive no more important communication than one from God Himself. But the very importance of the divine messages made the prophets’ job quite simple. Like any sort of conduit, they were expected to deliver what was entrusted to them—no more and no less. In other words, the prophets were called to pass along the words of God just as they received them. They were not free to amplify or enhance them, and neither were they to edit, filter, or modify them.
The Word of God makes this dual expectation quite clear. First, great penalties were laid upon those who dared to speak as a prophet to God’s people if God had not spoken to them. Moses (speaking for God) said, “The prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die” (Deut. 18:20). And Jeremiah delivered a similar message from God: “‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; they speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the LORD.… Since you say, ‘The oracle of the LORD!’ therefore thus says the LORD: “Because you say this word, ‘The oracle of the LORD!’ and I have sent to you, saying, ‘Do not say, “The oracle of the LORD!’” therefore behold, I, even I, will utterly forget you and forsake you”’” (Jer. 23:16, 38–39a).
Second, the prophets were required to speak all they heard from God, no matter how difficult the message might be. Many verses stress this requirement. God told Moses, “‘speak to Pharaoh all that I say to you’” (Ex. 6:29b). And He told Jeremiah, ‘“You shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.… Prepare yourself and arise, and speak to them all that I command you’” (Jer. 1:7b). Later, God summed up the prophetic role quite succinctly: “‘The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; and he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully’” (Jer. 23:28). Jeremiah was careful to heed this requirement—and paid for it (Jer. 26:8).
In His calling as a prophet, Jesus was the supreme model faithfulness to this divine dictate. Moses said of Him, ‘“And the LORD said to me, “… I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him” ’” (Deut. 18:18). Both the gospel writers (Mark 4:34) and Jesus Himself (John 17:14) declare that He was true to the prophetic task.
When we come to the New Testament, we find the same requirement of completeness being laid upon the apostles: “An angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, ‘Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life’” (Acts 5:20). The difference here, of course, is that the message the apostles were called to deliver was not entirely new. Yes, the Holy Spirit was at work to guide them into “‘all truth’” (John 16:13), a fuller understanding of the Gospel. But at this point, they were required only to teach all that they knew of the Gospel—those things they had learned from the Scriptures, from Jesus, and from the Spirit to this point.
Later, the apostle Paul speaks of his obedience to this command, telling the elders of the church at Ephesus: “‘I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you.… For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God’” (Acts 20:20, 27).
There are significant discontinuities between the roles of the prophet and the preacher who stands in your church’s pulpit. The preacher is not a conduit of revelation; God does not speak fresh words to His people through him, for the time of revelation has ceased and the canon of Scripture is complete. But the preacher is under the same requirement as Moses, Jeremiah, and all of the Old Testament prophets—he is to “‘proclaim’” (Acts 20:20) all of God’s Word, “the whole counsel of God,” to God’s people. He should be preaching and teaching from every portion of the Bible. He should be taking care to set each passage in its context. He should be expositing verse by verse. And he should be exploring all the implications of each passage he teaches.
A lifetime is insufficient to proclaim the entire counsel of God as revealed in His written Word. But the faithful prophet/preacher will speak God’s message until his lips are stilled.