Prophetic Actions Without Explicit Divine Sanction


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Prophetic Autonomy?

How much autonomy do prophets have?  Must they consult with Hashem regarding their every deed, lest they veer from the Divine will, or may they act even without Divine sanction?  Can a prophet declare a miracle on his own, and expect that nature will be overturned at his word?  These questions are raised by the many instances where prophets seem to act, and even declare supernatural phenomena, without having previously received a Divine directive to do so:

How should all of these cases be understood? Should we assume that, despite the textual silence, the prophets must nonetheless be operating according to a received Divine directive? Or, does silence imply that really there was no Divine communication? If the latter, as Abarbanel asks, "what enabled these prophets... to work miracles without Divine commands"?  Moreover, how could they be certain that their decisions aligned with Hashem's desires?

How Complete a Record?

The flip side of the above issue is the question of what and how much the Torah chooses to record for posterity.  Is there a need to mention both Hashem's instructions to a prophet and the prophet's execution of those directions, or can one statement suffice?  In many instances, both the command and fulfillment are found in the text.3  In rarer cases, only Hashem's words are mentioned, while the fulfillment is simply assumed.4  In the above cases, the inverse is true, and it is Hashem's words which are absent.  Why does the text sometimes employ one method and other times another?  If everything is happening at Hashem's behest, why are His words not always recorded? 

Why the Need for Prayer?

In several of the above incidents the prophet feels the need to pray that Hashem bring the desired miracle:

If the prophets are acting via Divine command, why would they need to pray that His will be fulfilled?  If, on the other hand, they have powers to invoke miracles on their own, why not simply do so?  Moreover, if a prophet is not sure that Hashem will acquiesce to change nature at his request (as implied by the need to pray), how can he declare publicly that a miracle is to occur?  If his words do not come true, does he not risk being labelled a false prophet?

"Fulfilling the Words of His Prophets"

Yeshayahu 44 speaks of Hashem's attitude towards both true and false prophets:
(כה) מֵפֵר אֹתוֹת בַּדִּים וְקֹסְמִים יְהוֹלֵל מֵשִׁיב חֲכָמִים אָחוֹר וְדַעְתָּם יְסַכֵּל. (כו) מֵקִים דְּבַר עַבְדּוֹ וַעֲצַת מַלְאָכָיו יַשְׁלִים הָאֹמֵר לִירוּשָׁלַ‍ִם תּוּשָׁב וּלְעָרֵי יְהוּדָה תִּבָּנֶינָה וְחׇרְבוֹתֶיהָ אֲקוֹמֵם
(25) That frustrateth the tokens of the imposters, And maketh diviners mad; That turneth wise men backward, And maketh their knowledge foolish; (26) That confirmeth the word of His servant, And performeth the counsel of His messengers; That saith of Jerusalem: 'She shall be inhabited'; And of the cities of Judah: 'They shall be built, And I will raise up the waste places thereof';

Iyyov 22 similarly declares, "וְתִגְזַר אֹמֶר וְיָקׇם לָךְ."  In these verses, Hashem promises to fulfill the words of his loyal prophets and messengers, implying that, at times, a prophet might speak without Hashem's prior command, and that nonetheless Hashem will make sure that his declaration is fulfilled.  Is this true for all prophets?  Under which circumstances?  Do the verses imply that a prophet can even "force Hashem's Hand" to do something He otherwise had not intended?

Other Theological Issues