The figure of the prophet cannot be thought without a reference to God. Hence, every historical allusion to the prophet ultimately contains a theological and religious concept; more specifically, the prophet is viewed as something to the effect of the messenger of God on earth. As Campbell eloquently phrases the figure of the prophet, he or she is one who “spoke on behalf of God.”
Accordingly, the words of a prophet are immediately distinct from human discourse in the sense that the source of the words of a prophet are from a divine source. Yet, at the same time, the prophet is radically human, he or she is one who partakes in the ways and means of this human world, because this is the very precondition that the human community can receive, understand and potentially implement the words of the prophet.
This can be considered to be the paradox of the prophetic figure: the prophetic figure is an individual who is thoroughly human, but at the same time also contains, or rather expresses, a divine idea. The prophet in this regard exists on the boundary between two worlds: the profane world of everyday existence and the divine world of God.
For this reason, the discourse of the prophet is one that is carried out in a human form, that is to say, in human discourse and language. Therefore, the form of the prophet’s communication is the same as those he or she is addressing. This is a logical point: to understand and potentially implement the prophetic message, the message must be communicated in terms that can be readily grasped. At the same time, however, the content of the prophet’s discourse is one that is radically different to the everyday words of human beings. It is from this content that one sees that the source of the prophet’s words is the divine: thus, while Virginia Smith notes that prophets are often noted by their predictions, what is more fundamental about such predictions is that they represent something different than the content of ordinary human discourse. The prophet does not speak about profane things, for example, what they will eat for dinner, but all their words speak to the very essence of human existence and the relationship of the human to the divine. This division between form and content helps us understand the human embodiment and divine source of the prophetic message.
Accordingly, an image of a prophet is clearly expressed in the work of the painter James Nesbitt, who dedicates the following image to the Israelite prophet Elijah. (link to image: http://davidbeckstrom.bandcamp.com/track/the-prophet-elijah-leonard-ravenhill – the first picture) Nesbitt’s depiction of Elijah lucidly expresses the prophet’s existence on the boundary of the profane and the sacred, and the difference between the content of the prophet’s discourse and the form of the discourse. Elijah is presented as huddled closely to the ground, arguably symbolizing his human and earthly status. To emphasize this point, Nesbitt situates Elijah underneath an arc of stone, thus highlighting the earthly and mundane origins of every prophet, which is to say their utterly human essence. However, at the same time, Nesbitt depicts Elijah as looking upwards to the sky, symbolic of a reception of a non-earthly message. In addition, Elijah is presented with the familiar motif of a divine halo surrounding his cranium, perhaps emphasizing the sense in which he has been directly selected by God: he is a human being, but also differs from human beings in the sense that his life mission is to communicate the word of God, and thus, despite his profound humanity which allows him to share this message with other humans, he is nevertheless distinguished by the content of his discourse, a prophetic content, which indicates the desire of God to communicate to the humans He has created.