In 1: Samuel 9v9 it is written,

(Formerly in Israel,if a man went to enquire of God,he would say,"come let us go to the seer," because the prophet of today used to be called a seer.)

My question is, why did the name change from seer to prophet.


The Hebrew word for prophet is nabi. A nabi was a recipient of God's revelation of Himself and His word. As Graeme Bradford points out, Samuel, for example was a

" nabi . . . to whom God revealed Himself and [who] received messages directly from God (1 Samuel 3:7, 21). In the case of Samuel [these messages comprised] information that had contemporary relevance and were not a result of his own meditation or philosophical speculation."

In Israel, as the era of the judges gave way to the period of the monarchy, a second type of prophet emerged, and Samuel then took on two titles: prophet (nabi) and seer (chozeh). In wearing each of these two hats interchangeably at different junctures in his service of YHWH, Samuel served in both capacities: nabi and chozeh. The seers of Israel provided a righteous counterpart to the faux seers of the nations round about Israel, from before the Exodus and up to the divided kingdom.

The nations had their false prophets, enchanters, magicians, Chaldeans, wise men, diviners, interpreters of dreams, augurers, wizards, theraphim, omens, incantations, purgers of children with fire, signs, questioners of the dead (remember Saul and the witch of Endor in 1 Sam 28?), auspices, sorceresses, sorceries, and sorcerers!

A chozeh of YHWH, on the other hand, had true spiritual insight (hence the name seer, or one who has spiritual sight or insight), but this insight could take the form of forthtelling the word and will of God, foretelling the will and word of God, or ascribing praise to the God of Israel and through those ascriptions of praise revealing truths about the one true God, YHWH. These ascriptions, often in the form of songs which have become a permanent part of Scripture, contain the word and will of God.

According to Graeme, Clifford Hill, author of Prophecy Past and Present. An Exploration of the Prophetic Ministry in the Bible and the Church Today, states that this was only a temporary distinction, as a later editorial in 1 Samuel 9:9 states". . . because the prophet of today used to be called a seer" (my emphasis). This is the verse you included in your question.

In Samuel's day, the nabim began to have ecstatic experiences, and music began to become an important part of their prophesying (1 Chron 25:1), whereas the seers were "solitary, contemplative figures."

  • @Bagpipes: Thanks. Happy new year to you. I edited the answer a bit. In my haste, I neglected to excise some words I thought I had, but hadn't! Jan 6 '14 at 15:24
  • @GoneQuiet: No offense intended. I not only tend to ramble, but I forget the site is not exclusively Christian. In future, I'll either stick to the Tanakh when answering Qs based on a text therein, or I'll preface the Christian ramifications/applications of my answer (if I deem them apt) with these words: "The following material will likely be of interest only to Christians and is based on the doctrine of the Analogy of Scripture which to some Christians assumes the Bible comprises both the Tanakh and the New Testament." I promise to cut and paste this caveat whenever appropriate. Howzzat? Jan 7 '14 at 22:32
  • @GoneQuiet: Oh, I forgot. The part of my unedited answer which talks about the "erratic" (poor word choice?) nature of prophetic utterances was not meant as a slight to prophets or prophecies, but simply to suggest that there was a certain unpredictability regarding the who, what, when, where, how, and why of the prophetic word. It always came, of course, according to God's time and timing, but even then it came with a measure of unpredictability. IOW, true prophecy came only at the instigation of YHWH and always for His, not the prophets', purposes. Jan 8 '14 at 0:21
  • @GoneQuiet: My comments about the Mosaic Law were not meant to be offense. Quite the opposite. Many of the commandments in the ML were thousands of years ahead of their time. The dietary restrictions, for example, given as they were in a largely pre-scientific age (with no refrigeration, no concept of germs, poor sanitary conditions, etc.) saved perhaps millions of lives IF people obeyed them. That's what I meant when I said God always has a witness to the truth in every generation, whether via the prophetic word or commandments, lessons from history or wisdom literature . . .. Jan 8 '14 at 5:12

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