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"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better."
- Dorian Scott Cole

Teaching/Sermon Article

The Prophetic Pattern

What does prophecy mean?

Copyright © 2009 Dorian S. Cole


Are there different kinds of prophecy? Is one kind intended for one thing, while another kind is intended for something else? In this series, we will understand how to distinguish the intent of various types of prophecies, seers, and oracles. The intent of the message of the Biblical prophet was to deliver a message from God. Yet prophets sometimes also became oracles, which had been forbidden.

The prophetic pattern

We live in a frighteningly awesome time. Glacier melting is occuring at the poles and Alps for the first time in 10,000 years. White fish are nearly gone from the North Atlantic, and those fish beds may never recover. The Earth's magnetic poles are undergoing more rapid changes than ever before. Technological progress has resulted in unimaginable destructive power, not only in the hands of powerful nations, but even in the hands of terrorists.

Terrified? We love to be terrified. People flock to horror movies simply to get scared. It raises our adrenaline and makes us feel alive. The feeling is short-lived, so we repeat the experience over and over again. At home we watch reruns of disaster movies and end of the world movies. We watch the end of the world prophecies of Nostradamus, the Bible, the Bible Code, the Mayans... in an endless variety of prophets who tell us the world will end in disaster. We love it.

As long as people love to watch disaster, others will dig up prophets who predict dire events to feed our hunger. Many will try to use prophecy to control our behavior. But is there actually something to prophecy?

I believe there is a very strong message at the heart of prophecy, and it is sealed in what I call the Prophetic Pattern. There is a difference between seeing the future to predict occurrences, and seeing conditions and foretelling what may result because of it. Predicting and foreseeing are systems of fear. Prophecy is a system of warnings - it is meant apply the brakes before we kill ourselves.

Prophets versus seers

The early kings of Israel, and the kings of many other nations throughout history, had many predictors in their employ. These were seers, people who supposedly could see the future and predict the outcome of a war or other activity. Seers were common in the ancient world, just as they are today. But actual prophets tended to be independent of the kings - in fact they often made prophecies that were at odds with the king.

We often judge predictive seers on their accuracy. If prophets were judged on accuracy rather than their results on people, they would get an F instead of an A+. Prophets in the Bible were there to change behavior, not bring disasters on people. But it often took the threat of disaster to get their attention.

Biblical prophets also gave the people hope by predicting tragedy on their enemies who were attacking or suppressing them. They were often right, and sometimes wrong or partially right. And from this rich tradition of prophecy from Prophets like Isaiah, came the apocalyptic literature of Daniel, and the Book of Revelation, which appeared from the 2nd. Century BC to 100 AD. Why did prophets also act as seers or predictors, which was actually banned by the Torah? How do we understand this type of predictive pronouncements by some prophets?

From studying these in the context of their local situations, we know that their predictive pronouncements were local. During perilous times, their predictions were couched in veiled language and symbols so that their enemies could not decipher what they were speaking about them. While early prophets spoke against foreign nations and invaders, later prophets who used veiled language, most often were talking about the Romans, who ruled their land during that time.

Who is a prophet, in Biblical terms?

Prophets tended to have a pedigree. Oone of the first things I learned in college is that prophets were distinguished from other seers by important points, such as seeing a vision. In Numbers 12:6 (NIV) God said, "Listen to my words: "When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams." Prophets brought a moral message that they attributed to God. (Moral means: How we treat each other - or more specifically mistreat each other.) The message always took the form, "Because you are doing this, that will happen to you." It was a cause and effect message regarding moral behavior. "If you keep doing this, you are going to bring big trouble on yourself."

Prophecy ends until the Messiah? Prophecy in Ancient Israel was considered by the priests to have come to an end. The last prophet, Malachi, was active during the last part of rebuilding the Jewish Temple circa. 444 BCE. In fact, the religion fractured into many offshoots and no central prophetic figures appeared in the land until Christ, who the Jews tended to see as a prophet, as did Islam 600 years later.

What is the message of prophecy?

The role of prophecy was best illustrated by the prophet Jonah. God told Jonah to go and tell a city, Nineveh, that God would destroy it for its evil ways. But Jonah, a prophet to the King, had caught on to God's ways. Jonah knew that if the city changed its ways God would not destroy it. Public opionion held that a seer's predictive power was supposed to be absolutely right or the seer was discredited. Jonah apparently didn't understand that he was not a seer, but an instrument of God... a prophet.

So rather than face the humiliation of being wrong, Jonah escaped to sea. But Jonah found at sea that running from your duties only brings greater trouble for everyone. A big storm arose and the sailors began to look for who in their midst might have brought this on them. They found Jonah and threw him overboard. Jonah was subsequently brought to shore by a "big fish." (As implausible as this sounds, stories are not uncommon of big fish assisting humans at sea.) So Jonah finally went to Nineveh and delivered the message. Of course the people changed their ways and the city wasn't destroyed. Jonah frumped under a tree and got over it.

The basics of prophecy and of God's messages are encompassed in this one little story. You can substitute any evil person, group, city, or nation for Nineveh. You can substitute any person, group, city, or nation for Jonah. You can substitute any evil in place of the evil. This is what I call the prophetic pattern. Hitler and Mussolini (people that misdirected nations) are perfect examples of an evil that reached apocalyptic proportions but was countered by a group of vigilant nations which ultimately had to stop the cancer of hate and murder from growing.

God has established both the messengers and the means of stopping evil. Not that the opposing nations were holy or that this was a holy war - not any more than a snake or an earthquake is "holy." God can work through any means, including making dead bones rise and talk, or the jawbone of an ass, or a magazine, or Web site, or anything that can make people think - the communications device need not be set apart as dedicated to God. But to wear the badge of a prophet from God, the framework is clear.

In summary of the prophetic pattern, prophets received visions from God about immoral situations. They usually did not receive questions from other people. They said to people, if you don't change that behavior, this is what will happen. Prophecy was a warning about immoral behavior.

Real versus unreal prophets

Holiness can be misleading. What I fear most is evil disguised as holiness. That is, individuals, groups, or nations that do evil while masquerading as agents of God. For example, small groups of terrorists in Palestine who continue one hate crime after another, drawing not just the region into conflict, but people from all over the world are drawn into it and finance it. Yet what the citizens of the country want most is peace. For Palestine, you can substitute Northern Ireland (which thank God is resolved), Lebanon, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Pakistan/India, Indonesia, Iran....

There have been real prophets down through history who followed the prophetic pattern, such as the Sisters of Fatima who saw visions of Mary, mother of Jesus, and delivered a message of warning about moral decay. But there are two other classes of people who have spiritual or forward looking talents, but who aren't prophets in the Biblical sense.

Mystics are people who enter an altered state through the use of meditation or drugs. Mystics gain insight while in this state. But studies of mystics indicate that they don't actually gain any "new" knowledge, they simply make the right mental connections while they are very focused so that they gain a deeper understanding of something. Mystics are not prophets or seers.

Seers and oracles are people who use some mechanism to gain foresight about the future. As already mentioned, the kings of Israel and other nations used them. Even Hitler and US Presidents are thought to have used them. Some use Tarot cards, some astrology, palm readings, signs in animal entrails, birds that appear, other natural signs and phenomenon, visions (which may be drug induced), or trance states. Seers generally use natural phenomenon.

Oracles generally use visions or trance states. Examples of these would be the Oracle of Delphi in Ancient Greece, or Nostradamus. The Oracle was thought to have been influenced by gasses present in a cave. Nostradamus used a crystal ball. There is no moral imperative irreducibly connected with what these people see, although there may have been an indirect implication of moral behavior implied in the question or the answer. These people simply saw and foretold future events. That isn't to say that their "prophetic utterances" are invalid, it just means don't confuse these people with Biblical prophets or Biblical prophecy. The intent is different.

Edgar Cayce, "the sleeping prophet," stands supreme among oracles. A very religious Christian who spent his life helping people, he would go into a trance state and would answer any question given. He could diagnose illness, and sometimes relate that to the person's lifestyle or attitude. He could see items that neither he nor the questioner were aware, at other locations, and discuss the nature of the universe. He could see future events, like World War II and the change of Russia from Communism back to Democracy.

Cayce's accuracy was considered very high. Despite his abilities and accuracy, Cayce was not a prophet in the Biblical sense, he was more properly called an oracle. He responded to questions that came from humans, not delivering unprompted messages from God. He was not carrying God's message, he was responding to what people wanted to know. He was not speaking specifically about morality. He was not giving a warning, although he sometimes couched his predictions in the sense of if things continue going as they are, this is what I see happening.

The Mayan calendar is another instrument that is presented as predicting the end of the world. But does it really? Does that fit in with the intent of the calendar that we can deduce from its character? Probably not. The Mayan calendar is a cyclical calendar. It believes that certain epochs can be characterized by certain types of happenings, and these epochs occur over and over as each cycle repeats. The end of the world is outside of its character. What is in keeping with its character and intent is that when one cycle ends, another begins. The Mayan calendar is a symbol of the cycles of the world. Turning it into a predictor of the end of the world would be a stretch.

When trying to understand prophecy, you first have to understand what the intent was in giving the prophecy. Similarly you have to understand what the intent is behind seers and calendars, and not lump them all together as having the same intent. Biblical prophecy basically addressed local issues, not world issues, and were warnings from God that if people didn't change their behavior something bad was going to happen. Prophets warned communities, people in general, leaders, kings, and nations. The intent was to get them to change their behavior. We will see later that sometimes the intent was to give people hope when things looked hopeless.

We live in a frighteningly awesome time. Technological progress and the Internet communications revolution have turned the entire world upside down, but at same time technology has resulted in unimaginable destructive power, exacerbated global warming, made some species of birds extinct that once were plentiful....

In the next part of this short series on prophecy, The Great and Terrible Day of the Lord, we explore the development of prophecy from its roots to the book of Revelation.

Yours in Christ,

- Dorian Scott Cole

Author's Books

The Prophetic Pattern: Discussion Guide for Ancient and Modern Prophecy

Are we all going to die on Friday, December 21, 2012? My new book critically examines that question. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.

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On Friday, December 21, 2012, are we all going to die? Are there really signposts to the world's end? Does modern prophecy really merge with ancient prophecy? Will all of the Christians suddenly disappear? The answers may surprise you.

Millions of Americans are anxiously waiting for December 21, 2012 to see if the world will end. Despite the fact that signs seem to be everywhere in all ancient and modern prophecy and even science, the major sign pointed to by both Daniel and Christ is overlooked by prophecy interpreters. And interpretation of modern prophecy overlooks intent. Like a scary movie, prophecy is great fun until it starts affecting people's lives.

This book explores how to distinguish the intent of various types of prophecies and oracles, both ancient and modern. The five chapters in this discussion guide are rich in information, providing one legitimate point of view, and are intended to encourage discussion and additional research. A ten meeting discussion group is the minimum recommended.

Subjects to explore include:

  • History, and the situations surrounding prophecy
  • Types of prophecy
  • Other interpretations of prophecy
  • Are faith and prophetic belief blind?
  • Societies that go bad - are they destroyed?
  • Social change - saving ourselves
  • The challenges of the 21st.Century

Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing.

About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. He is a licensed minister with a mainline denomination with full time pastoral and counseling experience. His education in religion and psychology was through a state university (IU) followed by independent study. Other books and publications: Ontology of God, How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor,, and

Reading type: Mainstream, nonfiction.

Ontology of God: The voices of the ancients speak.

My recent book, Ontology of God, looks at what we can learn through the ages regarding the history of several aspects of religious development as affected by the ancient societies they were in, including law, mercy, and love. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.
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Echoing through time are the voices of ancient people telling us about God. From Mesopotamia and Egypt 5000 years ago, often from even earlier oral traditions, every civilization has been inspired to tell us about God. Their voices vary widely and even conflict. Is there a common message that they thought was so important that they had to pass it on? In this book, the ancient voices speak.

This study follows the thread of the basic religious concepts of law, mercy, and love that are prominent in many religions. Major religions around the world are investigated up to the launch of the Common Era when most religions had been developed, including religions that later developed independently such as the Mayan.

These are messages refined by the fire of experience through the ages. The repeated messages collectively bear the tests of validity.

This study also looks at the many methods we use to try to understand God and religious literature. Is the nature of God reflected in what he asks of us? The premise is that it is.

By understanding the nature of God, perhaps we can filter out the many competing voices that tell us that God stands for such things as the murder of innocents and destruction.

The very nature of religion is illuminated in the light of the voices from the ages. But is ancient religion a path that we have lost, or does history hammer out newer voices to bear the truth of new experience as people try to understand their relationship with God?

Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing.

About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. Other books and publications: How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor,, and

Reading type: Mainstream Scholarly Specialist

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