being a prophet, a lonely calling

Today we praise and appreciate the prophets of old, I’m thinking of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos come readily to mind. I have a friend who really is gifted and would be well received in any university setting including Harvard and the like. But his thought is on the edge against where people comfortably live.

I’m thinking of prophet in terms of the classical Biblical sense, and more in line with the Old Testament prophets, than the New Testament ones. There definitely was some foretelling of the future, but the brunt of their message was God’s word against sin, and specifically especially sins of injustice which violated loving not only God, but one’s neighbor as one’s self. And the message is ordinarily directed to God’s people who somehow are violating their covenant with God.

Prophets characteristically, while they have some following, are not treated well. They speak truth to power, and find plenty of opposition. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. comes clearly to mind, whom I consider the greatest prophet of the twentieth century, certainly in that mold. See Allan R. Bevere’s thoughtful post. Jesus certainly spoke about this (Matthew 23).

I consider myself a follower of the prophetic. I often feel compelled to take a stand against what I perceive to be unjust. And particularly when God’s people seem implicated somehow in that. I intensely dislike being involved in that. And almost inevitably, I see myself as sharing some guilt somehow in the matter. And feelings can be misleading. But if we never do what we’re moved to do, then we become something less than human. The key is whether or not we are being moved by God and wisdom, which actually is more than a moment of inspiration, but involves incremental growth over a lifetime.

For those who are prophets, as we see in scripture, and in life, it is indeed lonely. And even their followers can often share in something of what that prophet faces. If you leave the mainstream, especially of those around you, and are no longer “politically correct,” which simply means not in line with them, then you will lead a lonely life indeed. All prophets have to struggle with that. And with even worse at times, as well.

A difficult, lonely calling. Marked by mistakes along the way for any of them, but somehow having God’s signature.

the prophet

In the Bible, and specifically the Old Testament, there are the roles of prophet, priest, and king. In Jesus they are summed up and fulfilled. And today somehow shared within his body the church, through the Spirit’s working. In the Old Testament the prophet is a bit different. Like all prophets along with the gift of prophecy in the New Testament, it is essentially about speaking the word of the Lord for a specific time, with an emphasis in the New Testament on “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3). In the Old Testament there are what are classified by us as the major and minor prophets, the difference being solely in the length of the books, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel being major prophets, and Habakkuk and Zephaniah being among the minor prophets. But David, though king, is called a prophet as well, because he spoke the word of the Lord as recorded in the psalms and elsewhere.

Old Testament prophets seem to come on pretty heavy handed in judgment, calling the people of God back to faithfulness to God and to God’s covenant with Israel as given in the Torah, and yet stretching beyond the Torah to what the fulfillment of that Torah was to be, somewhat unbeknownst to them. And their word would normally always end in God’s blessing. It is as if God’s judgment was really only a necessary means to God’s blessing, therefore judgment is called God’s strange work, because God’s heart of love is always to bless. However those who refuse God’s blessing when it’s all said and done end up under God’s curse. Of course that blessing is fulfilled in Jesus and made known through the gospel.

I believe there are a few voices now and then, here and there who speak prophetically today, even echoing to some extent the prophets of the Old Testament. They sometimes speak in a way which seems to be a stretch, yet they mean every word of it in making their point. At the heart of it is often the idolatry of God’s people, and a call to repentance. And included in that is an indictment against the whole world for its sin and evil due to its waywardness from the Creator God. But true prophets speak a message of hope, even if in the current times all seems at least bleak, and darkness has set in. The end of the story we find in scripture is bringing to full circle what was true in the beginning of an idyllic picture of paradise in a garden (Genesis 2) broken at the fall (Genesis 3), the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem added, as heaven and earth become one in the new creation when Jesus returns (Revelation 21 and 22). So no matter what is happening in this life, we can be assured of God’s goodness winning out in the end, and bringing in full justice and restoration of all that is good in the kingdom to come in Christ when shalom will be the reality at work in all relationships on earth.

In the meantime the prophet continues to wail –this message being part of the teaching ministry of the church as well– with calls to repentance, pointing to the promise of a better day, even as they hold God’s people, and the world to the standard God set in creation. But with an emphasis on living in the hope of the new creation in this broken world in which we live. A new creation present now in Jesus through the gospel, witnessed to and the beginning of it lived out in the church, in and through Jesus.