What roles did the prophets have in applying God's law in the Old Testament?

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The prophets play a unique role in the applying of God's law in the Old Testament. There were two offices of spokesmen for God; there was the priest and the prophet. The priest was the one who was supposed to methodically and systematically and faithfully apply God's law, the Mosaic covenant, with the people of Israel. He judged cases, he taught, he proselytized and prepared people to come into the faith. He made sure that the priests understood what the law was and applied it. But when the priesthood began to spiritually decline, and they were compromised by, oftentimes, corrupt kings, then we see the office of prophet arise more and more. There are more and more prophets, and they take a more and more prominent role as God's spokesmen in the nation of Israel. They don't go into the detail that the priests would go into. They have this big picture, this picture of the law being a covenant God made with his people. To use New Testament language, they are more concerned with the spirit of the law, whereas, the priest is rightly concerned with the letter of the law. So, these prophets and priests were meant to complement each other. You'll notice that when Israel was obedient to the law, the priest took a prominent role, and prophets kind of receded into the background. When Israel began to spiritually decline, of course, it was the reverse. And they'd bring this powerful message that "thus saith the Lord…" and they're not afraid to confront Israel and say, in effect, "Now, you made an agreement, contract, a covenant with God that you would be faithful to the law, and in general you were not." Sometimes they'll use specific illustrations, but they are more concerned about this covenantal aspect of being "a people of the Book," a people of the law, and that is the basis upon which the priest has his ministry to apply the specifics of the law, or "the Book," to the lives of Israel. And, I think, that complement was intended by God almost like preachers today combine both roles in themselves. There are times when they counsel and they teach specifically specific things to help and comfort and instruct people. They're doing a priestly function. There are some days when they get up and say, in the grand scheme, painting with a broader brushstroke, "Thus saith the Lord…" and they're confronting the people with the covenant of grace and calling people to faith and obedience. And what we see in the New Testament, we can see in the Old Testament through these wonderful men called the prophets.

Answer by Dr. Michael Ross

Dr. Mike Ross formerly served as Senior Pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, NC, and adjunct professor at Reformed Theological Seminary Charlotte.