Seers:  Men with Vision


In the Bible, seers were also those who received the divine revelation from God.  The Bible describes prophets as those who spoke on behalf of another, specifically on behalf of God.  What are the differences between a seer and a prophet?  



What is a Seer?

When you look up the word "seer" in your interlinear Bible (a Bible that has the English and the original language side by side), you will learn that it comes from two Hebrew words.   

1.  Roeh:  This is the noun form of the verb, "Raah" meaning “to see.”  This verb is the common word that means to see with your eyes or to perceive with your mind.  In the noun form, Roeh refers to one who is a seer.  It is one who sees by means of a visions and dreams.

Sometimes the word "Roeh" is used not of a seer, but of the vision itself.  For example, you can turn to Isaiah 28.7 and read the prophets being rebuked because of their drunkenness.  As these prophets get drunk, it says that “they err in vision.”  In other words, they prophecy based on the vision that they receive.  However, the vision did not come from God but from the liquor.  The word “vision” in this verse is the Hebrew word "Roeh."  

2.  Chozeh:  This is the noun form of the verb, "Haza" which also means “see.”  It is virtually synonymous with the words "Raah" (verb) and "Roeh (noun)."  Like "Roeh," the word “seer” translated from the Hebrew word "Chozeh" describes someone who communicates the word of God with emphasis on the way he received this revelation, that is, by dreams and visions. 

According to the Theological Workbook of the Old Testament, “It seems therefore that hozeh is simply a more elegant word than roeh,” of near identical meaning.

A seer, then, is a man in Old Testament times who received the revelation of God through visions.  

Is There a Difference Between Seers and Prophets?

There is a lot of discussion among scholars as to whether a seer and a prophet are one and the same.  Let’s answer the question by looking at some passages.

In 1 Samuel 9, you are in a context where Saul and one of his father’s servants were sent to look for his father’s donkeys which was lost.  After searching for a while they came up empty handed.  Saul decided that it was time to return to his father lest he be worried.  His servant had a suggestion. 

He said that there was in the city “a man of God…all that he says surely comes to pass”  (1 Sam. 9.6).  Notice that another term for a prophet was a “man of God.”  The idea was that they would go to this man of God and learn the whereabouts of his father’s donkeys.  Why didn't they think of that in the first place?

In this context, we find a parenthetical statement about this man of God.    

1 Samuel 9:9

“(Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he spoke thus: ‘Come, let us go to the seer’; for he who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.)”

Notice that a prophet was formerly called a seer.  This tells me that a prophet and a seer is one and the same.  As we continue to read through this text, Saul meets up with this man of God whose name is Samuel.  Watch how Samuel describes himself.

1 Samuel 9:19

"Samuel answered Saul and said, "I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for you shall eat with me today; and tomorrow I will let you go and will tell you all that is in your heart.”

Samuel calls himself “the seer.”  Just a few verses earlier in 1 Samuel 9.9, the inspired text tells us that a seer and a prophet refer to the same person.  in 1 Samuel 9.9, Samuel is called a prophet formerly known as a seer.  

Then in 2 Chronicles 35, reference is made again to Samuel.  Notice what Samuel is called.

2 Chronicles 35.18

“There had been no Passover kept in Israel like that since the days of Samuel the prophet”

Notice…

  • The Bible says that a seer is a prophet.  (1 Sam. 9.9)
  • Samuel is called a seer.  (1 Sam. 9.19)
  • Samuel is called a prophet.  (2 Chr. 35.18)

Then notice another passage of interest…

2 Samuel 24.11

Now when David arose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David's seer, saying,”

     Notice also how the words "prophet" and "seer" are used synonymously in reference to Gad.  Then notice this passage in which all three words are used.

1 Chronicles 29.29

“Now the acts of King David, first and last, indeed they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer,”

How interesting that all three words are used in this text.

  • Samuel the seer.  (roeh)
  • Nathan the prophet.  (nabi)
  • Gad the seer.  (chozen)

There are some who suggest that the appearance of these three different words implies that each one is unique and distinct.  We have already observed that "Roeh" and "Chozen" are synonymous.  We have also seen from 1 Samuel 9.9-11 that a seer and a prophet are the same. 

Why then does this text use three different words?  It is not uncommon for writers to employ synonyms in a section of scripture or even a verse for the sake of variety.  However, there is no reason to think that there is any distinction between these words, especially in light of other passages.

If a distinction is to be made it would be this:  A prophet is a spokesman for someone else.  Just as Aaron was a spokesmen for Moses.  A seer is a prophet who is known for his ability receive the revelation from God by means of visions and dreams.

How did God reveal His message to the prophets?  Let’s let the Bible answer that question…

Numbers 12.6

“Then He said, ‘Hear now My words:  If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision; speak to him in a dream.”

God revealed His message to prophets by means of visions and dreams.  How did God reveal His message to the seers?  He did so in the same way because a prophet and a seer are different names for the same person.  Consider for example…

2 Chronicles 9.29

 "Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, first and last, are they not written in the book of Nathan the prophet, in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and in the visions of Iddo the seer concerning Jeroboam the son of Nebat?”

The distinction is on what is being emphasized.  With the term “prophet,” the function of communicating on behalf of another is the point of emphasis.  With the term “seer,” the means by which he receives the message he is to communicate is the point of emphasis.  When it comes to the end result, there is no difference. 

Seers Listed by Name

     There are a handful seers who are identified by name. 

  • Samuel.  (1 Sam. 9.19; 1 Chr. 9.22)
  • Zadok the Priest.  (2 Sam. 15.29)
  • Gad.  (2 Sam. 24.11)
  • Hermon.  (1 Chr. 25.5)
  • Iddo.  (2 Chr. 9.29)
  • Hanani.  (2 Chr. 16.7)
  • Asaph.  (2 Chr. 29.30)

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