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The Power of the Cross: Old Testament Foundations: Signs, Wonders and the People


Signs and Wonders and Prophetic Ministry

The great examples of Moses and Jesus show a connection between prophetic ministry and signs and wonders. This is not accidental. The Old Testament contains evidence that God has always intended to establish a relationship between prophetic ministry and miracles, including divine healing.

The Old Testament contains evidence that God has always intended to establish a relationship between prophetic ministry and miracles, including divine healing.

Signs and wonders are, in fact, a well-documented part of what it meant to be a prophets in the OT—one who was called to speak and act on God’s behalf—in the Old Testament.1 The word prophet, for example, first occurs in the Old Testament in the context of a healing—the healing of king Abimelech’s wife and slave girls. Abraham told Abimelech, king of Gerar, that his wife Sarah was his sister (she was in fact his half-sister, Gen. 20:12). He did this out of fear that someone would kill him and take his wife because she was so beautiful (Gen. 20:11; he had done the same in Egypt, Gen. 12:12ff). Abimelech believed Abraham and took Sarah, but God warned Abimelech in a dream that he must not have another man’s wife. God also “closed the wombs” of Abimelech’s wife and slave girls as both a warning and a punishment (Gen. 20:18). God then told Abimelech, “Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live “ (Gen. 20:7). God’s statement makes a clear connection between Abraham’s prophetic call and the power to heal. The same is affirmed at the end of the chapter: “Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again” (Gen. 20:17).

The word prophet first occurs in the Old Testament in the context of healing.

The connection between God’s prophets and God’s healing ministry stands out even more boldly in the cases of Elijah and Elisha. Both of them did healings and other miracles which look forward to the ministry of Christ. The first reported “healing” done by Elijah was a resurrection, the son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kgs. 17:19-24). Elisha also raised someone from the dead, the son of a Shunammite woman (2 Kgs. 4:32-37). In each case the prophet lay upon the dead body and prayed, and as he did so the boy came back to life. (Similarly, the apostle Paul brought the boy Eutychus back from the dead by lying on him, Acts 20:10). Both Elijah (1 Kgs. 17:7-16) and Elisha (2 Kgs. 4:1-7.42-44) miraculously reproduced scant supplies of food, just as Jesus did with the loaves and fishes. And Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian of leprosy by commanding him to go and wash in the Jordan seven times (2 Kgs. 5:1-19), just as Jesus healed the blind man by commanding him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam (Jn. 9:1-7). The parallels between the miracles of these Old Testament prophets and the miracles of Jesus (and Paul) are remarkable, and they have a purpose.


God’s Reasons for Performing Miracles

What was that purpose? Or to put it another way: Why did God do those miracles of healing and provision? There are at least three reasons: God did them to show that he was God; he did them for evangelistic purposes; and he did them out of compassion for his people. More than one of these reasons might be in operation at any given time.

Old Testament examples show that God has always wanted to reach people of all nations and bring them to salvation.

First, God sometimes performed signs and wonders to show his people that he alone was God (e.g., Elijah on Mount Carmel, 1 Kgs. 18:16-39). Whatever else a “sign” or a “wonder” does, it always brings glory to God, who alone could do it.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2006

About the Author: Jeffrey J. Niehaus, A.M., Ph.D. (Harvard University), M.Div. (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), is Professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In addition to teaching, Dr. Niehaus ministers and lectures in various churches on such topics as spiritual warfare and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Regularly presenting papers on higher critical issues and Ancient Near Eastern backgrounds, Dr. Niehaus’ scholarly interests include biblical theology and the idea of covenant and covenant schemes in the Bible. Faculty page

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