hese notes, which are not yet formed into an essay or collection, are taken from my study of the book of Daniel, and the nature of the prophet. I am interested in what God was symbolizing about Himself through the prophets, and also the spirituality of a prophet. My study of the book of Daniel is focusing on his personal spirituality more than the specific visions, and dreams, and words he saw. I am interested in how he walked with God, and how that relates to the “way of the prophets.” I want to start briefly with why Daniel is not usually included in the list of Jewish prophets. This is a loose ongoing study, so bear with me as we ramble along through some pretty cool turf!
The Jews didn’t believe Daniel was a prophet because his visions and future “words” weren’t primarily meant to be proclaimed into his generation, but for future generations. Instead, this book of Daniel is more like overhearing one man’s spirituality. He wanted to know about the future, and also about how the heavenly realms interfaced with the worldly. This was what he “set his heart to gain understanding” about. He did however move in the way of the prophets. but because he did not primarily work as a spokesman for God, he is not included in the prophetic section of Torah.
We could say, however, that Daniel was a “cultural prophet”-in that He revealed God’s perception about the cultures he was a part of-even as he served within the power structures of these cultures. This is not unlike Esther for instance.
Daniel was a ruler within babylonian culture, and was specifically given rulership over the subculture of other “wise men”. So he was in an unusual position prophetically speaking. And so it may be true that his primary task in his generation was not being a spokesman for God, and yet, at the same time, his personal spirituality was clearly prophetic. God spoke to him symbolically, and gave him sight into the very nature of Reality–even while Daniel was also a practical day to day ruler over men. So we could call Daniel a practical mystic.
Daniel’s future visions were obviously prophetic, so even if we weren’t to call him a prophet, he certainly was a prophetic person. Also his personal thirst for prophetic insights into his own times, and the future, did reveal a prophet’s heart and concern.
The Christian tradition has placed more emphasis on future telling or fore-telling as a sign of a prophet. But historically, prophets did much more than tell the future–they primarily revealed God’s heart and perception about things into their times, and into future generations who would study their writings and words. They also anointed kings, interpreted scripture, delivered messages, and performed many “spiritual stunts” intended to reveal the nature of the Kingdom of God, and God’s specific orientation towards a situation, city or place. Prophets, also often had priestly duties–Samuel is a good early example of the priestly functions of the prophet. These Levitical tasks were also part of the training at Elijah’s school of the prophets, not just levitating axe handles, although tricks are cool–take Elijah’s ascending exit for instance–not bad in terms of miraculous happenings.
But in general, the test of a prophet is less about did their prophecies come true, as-did their prophecies “bear fruits unto righteousness.” This of course is harder to measure than mere accuracy, but it does in fact go deeper and further in terms of its impact on humanity and the planet.
Prophets, the New Testament succinctly tells us: instruct, encourage and warn. They also comfort and console. Different ones had different aspects of this mission. There were also different “types” of prophets. Some were more meta-narrative prophets (ex. Isaiah)-putting their historical moment in the context of God’s overall flow of history. Others were more Rhema prophets (Nahum, Micah, Jonah etc), who carried a specific word for a specific situation. All in some way dealt with the revelation of the patterns of God, and how He perceives and relates to His own creation.
In the Jewish tradition again, there were writing and oral prophets. And this can be a good distinction; but many were both. Jesus would be seen, for instance as an oral prophet when you think about it. But He Himself was also the Word itself, and the fulfillment of all scriptures!
In terms of types of prophets, i would say there were also those who were more like sheer signs, or whose very lives were a foregrounded symbol of their message (Jeremiah, and in the NT, Paul). That is that their lives themselves were a symbol of what God was speaking into their times. David said he wished to become a living portent or symbol.
Another, concern in the spirituality of a prophet, was teaching people how to read and interpret symbolically.
God is symbolic and so are we, since we are made in His image. And, because He is One (or fully integrated in Himself), He is always communicating both symbolically and in other ways. If you think of the origin of prophecy as being IN Him; then you see that it is not disconnected from other aspects of His Being. He perceives and expresses. He communicates. But He also cares for His creations, and seeks to know and be known by them. If you look at the five fold gifts in the NT, you see all these aspects of God.
In some ways, God is our motivation for wanting to integrate our own symbolic with the rest of our lives! If He is one, and we are in His Image, and trying to become a clearer image of Him, then we should have our imaginations integrated with the rest of our identities! Anyways, back to these five aspects of God, and their delineation within the church. The church is also a symbol of God, and so these five aspects are named and distinguished, and symbolize specific parts of God.
We could ask what each of these five roles in the church symbolized:
Let’s say, in a general way, this:
The pastor symbolizes the part of God who cares for and feeds daily his creatures.
The prophet symbolizes the part of God which perceives and reveals His Own thoughts and heart to His creation.
The apostle symbolizes the part of God which is forming and restoring His Creation.
The evangelist, the part which is seeking after and saving or delivering His creation.
So we can see that the role of prophet has to do with God’s perception, and revealing or communicating both how God perceives the situation, and how He communicates into each situation. In this way, prophecy is representing the mind of God being expressed to the creation. How He sees or perceives and how He speaks or communicates. This is the study of the prophetic aspect of His Being.
So the prophet is interpreting Reality through the Eyes of God. This is always going to be a partial representation, for God is higher than His Creation. Still, God has chosen throughout history to continue to represent Himself through the prophets. He wants to be known, so He speaks through the Prophets.
There have always been those designated for this activity.
The activities of the prophets are to study, interpret, express. Put in simple terms the spirituality of a prophet, is to be coming to know God through listening to God, and being with Him, and then to express this knowing to the world. Moses on mount Sinai might be the clearest picture of this way of the prophet–he met with God, then delivered His Words to the people (twice in this case).
To be His mouthpiece requires this intimate knowing of God. So that we hear God in scriptures calling the prophets His Friends, or intimate mates. If one is speaking for someone else, it is assumed they know that other person very well. For this reason, the presence of God is often associated with the prophet. They are speaking from intimacy–God is with them. They are men of God. So things happen around them. You see this with Elijah, Elisha, and their whole company of prophets. God’s presence was on them so that thing happened around and through them.
Now back to Daniel.
In the book of Daniel, one is overhearing a prophet’s spirituality, even if we do not call daniel a prophet. A prophet is hungry to reveal the mind, heart and perception of God. Daniel was hungry for understanding. It is not clear if he was as hungry to communicate it; and yet, he did through his writings, which are still looked to as a map of our times, and future times. So in this way, it is hard not to see him as a prophet. Perhaps, not one into his times, but ours!
He poured over the other prophetic literature, and learned many times and dates from Jeremiah the prophet for instance. He also read the “books of wisdom” of those in his host culture. And it is sure that God revealed which parts were true and false in these tomes of ancient wisdom.
Daniel was also hungry for cultural understanding. He wanted to see the present in “full view” of what was happening in the angelic and spiritual dimensions–both in the present, and in the future. He studied and saw the interface of the heavenly governments with the worldly, and was able to interpret and counsel the worldly rulers from this fuller view of the nature of Reality. He saw the multi-dimensional nature of Reality, and could interpret the worldly dimension in view of the spiritual, heavenly ones.
God also spoke to Daniel through symbols. Just as God had asked Jeremiah, “what do you see?” And then told him the meaning of this image; so God often spoke to Daniel in dreams, visions and revelations. Understanding the nature of symbolic language is an essential to the prophet. For God is symbolic and communicates often through symbols. Learning to read the symbolic level of meaning even in scriptures is essential to the life of the prophet; and it is often the job of the prophet to also teach others how to read symbolically. The church has often fallen short in this area, revealing a poverty of the imagination which was not present in Daniel or The Prophets.
Other things the prophets symbolize about God:
What else do prophets themselves symbolize? We have said, that one is: the desire of God to be known and understood So, He tells His friends’ the prophets beforehand, so they can reveal it to others. In short, God tells His friends what He is thinking and feeling, and they go and express this to others. This intimacy is the basis of the prophet’s “way”. But more than this, prophet’s also symbolize the complexity of God’s perception.
When God looks at a single moment in history, He sees the entire flow of history, and how it is interacting in every dimension–earthly, heavenly etc. So His Vision is obviously complex. This is part of the mystery of God, and I think is why so many mysterious things seem to happen around prophets. It is part of God revealing His Own Complexity.
This does not mean that He is unattainable or unknowable, or entirely ineffable, or there would not be prophets at all. For in the NT, prophets are commanded to comfort, console, encourage etc-this could not be done if people could not understand and actually be encouraged! Still, there is something of God’s omniscience revealed by the symbol of the prophet–ie there is this mist on Moses’ mountain, and a glory so bright, it seers the eye etc. Samuel too is often seen coming down or going up to mountains to burn things etc; and I won’t start with the mysteries surround this ministries of Elijah and Elisha!–these are symbols of the mysterious rarefied exchange of the creature with His Creator. And there is indeed mystery in this communion!
So what else does the prophet symbolize? That God’s perception itself, even His Imagination, is worth loving and knowing. Not just His Words, but the complexity of interchange between them and His images, and His Feelings. He told Solomon that He would place both His Eyes, and His Heart forever at the temple! So not just His tablets representing His Thoughts, but also His Eyes of Perception, and His Heart of deepest Emotion etc…
Lastly, and most importantly, He wanted to symbolize His Son. For all the prophets “moved by the Spirit of Christ” within them, Paul writes, “leaned in (sought to know) about the death and resurrection and future glory of the Son!!!” And we know that the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of His Spirit. Ultimately, then the prophet was a sign pointing towards the One True Prophet, Jesus, The Christ; God’s only begotten Son, who came out from The Father…A prophet’s ministry is always pointing towards that end of revealing the Son of God, for this is the deepest revelation of who God is.
One cannot be close to God without running into this core aspect of His concern. This One and only Son of God, who came as His Highest symbol–“the exact representation of His Likeness”–no one else in scripture is spoken of as being His Exact Symbol–but Jesus Christ! So all the prophets in this way were pre-symbols and symbolizers, of the Ultimate Symbol of God, Jesus Himself!
Ultimately, then Prophets are symbols pointing towards Christ. That has always been the spirit of prophecy. And this Spirit of Christ came to lead all men to know and love His Father, and enter His Kingdom, so you see the full circle of that symbol!
Ultimately, then The Father’s perception is focused on His Son; and that is the highest symbol of His Own Being, from which all of creation erupted! A true prophet should be ultimately pointing us towards this symbol. And all true prophets have and do. So, to be a prophet is to know this part of Jesus. And to speak from it. That is the core spirituality of the prophet as well. To know Jesus, The Prophet, who came to save the world, and revealed His Father to us who believe.
Very lastly, prophecy symbolizes that God is not aloof! That He is an interventionist, actively communicating with each of us. In short, prophecy proves God’s immanence. This is a God who is personally actively thinking, feeling, expressing towards each of us. And for many, this is too much to handle. If we have a more distant, aloof image of God, as over there, no longer living and active with His Creation, we will have a hard time with the spirit of prophecy still being active in any tangible way. That God could still be actively communicating is one of prophecies proofs of His existence. That the universe did not just shrink, and leave Him over there somewhere-but that He is having those thousands of thoughts towards us daily. That is what prophecy proves. In this way, prophecy is an argument for the existence of a personal God. And in this way it is evangelizing people towards Him.
So, if there is one thing the prophets symbolize about God is that He is an immanent, active, interventional, living God in personal relationship with His Creation to the point, even, of overexposure! He is not aloof. Instead, He is erupting with emotion, thoughts and actions, and words over each creature He has ever made. He is in no way a passive distant God, but one who is having a conversation, a real time dialogue with His Creatures and Creation. At times, it may appear to be a monologue, for one partner (us) is not always listening well; but He yearns for it to become a conversation which is altering the entire universe. To the point that He sends messengers to speak clearly for Him, so that we understand, and can enter this eternal dialogue.