What Manner of Man is the Prophet? (Part 2)

13 05 2010

So, continuing with the characteristics of a prophet. . .

3. Uses Luminous and Explosive Language

A prophet writes in a style both “poetic . . . [and] charged with agitation, anguish, and a spirit of nonacceptance”. His words are “designed to shock rather than to edify” and his “images much not shine, they must burn.” The prophet speaks out boldly and loudly to get attention to the issue, disregarding social conventions or matters of style. He’s not an eloquent public speaker trying to convince the audience of his side of the issue – he stands out and condemns the wrong and call people to repent and change what’s wrong in this world.

The reason he speaks with such conviction and power: “his life and soul are at stake in what he says and in what is going to happen to what he says.” God holds Ezekiel responsible for delivering God’s word, however unpopular it might be. God says that if Ezekiel doesn’t deliver the message, the person’s / nation’s sin is on Ezekiel’s head. But if he delivers it, their sin is on their own heads for not listening to him. That’s a huge responsibility. And, as the prophet is a member of the society to which he speaks, the prophet equally shares in their fate.

“Authentic utterance derives from a moment of identification of a person [prophet] and a word [that he’s delivering]… He is one not only with what he says; he is involved with his people in what his words foreshadow.” The prophet cannot speak prophetically until he identifies himself with(a) the message and (b) the subject to whom he will speak. This is similar to Christ becoming human – he doesn’t have the right to speak to us until he is one of us – and in so doing, he becomes the message. This isn’t so strange as it may seem – a person speaks most passionately when they truly believe what they say, and even more convincingly when they’ve experienced what they say. In this way, the best messenger must identify himself with the message (although we must not confuse the two).


What Manner of Man is the Prophet? (Part 1)

12 05 2010

Christians should be reading far more Jewish theologians – they have beautiful perspectives on God. Abraham J. Heschel (d. 1972) is one such academic, though a bit more of a spiritualist than anything else. I obtained a copy of his The Prophets and began reading. It’s…. powerful.

Also, although he himself believed prophecy had ended, I challenge those with charismatic leanings to compare his words to your understanding of a prophet. I find that, while his perspective sounds different, it rings quite true of prophets today – of what prophets today ought to be.

I was going to simply list the characteristics of a prophet he gives in his first chapter, but instead I want to meditate upon them. So, I will present them just one or two in a post, with some reflections.

1. Sensitive to Evil

A prophet has a “breathless impatience with injustice” and “is a man who feels fiercely”. This is in contrast to the rest of humanity, whose “eyes are witness to the callousness and cruelty of man, but  . . . we rarely grow indignant or overly excited”. I’m reminded of an intense period of time when I was spending more than 8 hours a day in prayer, when God’s voice was clear and his presence tangible. During that time, every slight sin, every cruel word from my mouth, or impatient action felt like a wall going up between me and God. The wall was so painful, that I’d immediately repent and take whatever action I could to apologize or change. Just before bed one night, I spoke sharply to someone. The wall between me and God was so intense, that I couldn’t sleep. I was only able to feel at peace when I promised God that I would ask their forgiveness as soon as I awoke. Indeed, I was up before sunrise and looking for the person I needed to apologize to. What intimacy to feel the smallest prick of sin!

“Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony” of this fallen world. This incredible sensitivity to the presence of evil is not intended to be a personal matter for the prophet – it has a social orientation. The prophet is obligated to speak out for injustice and to speak out on a large scale. That is, some today seem to feel that prophecy is just a gift for God to speak to the individual person – to speak words of encouragement or guidance. But, according to Old Testament prophets, it has a much large scope.

2. Knows the Importance of Trivialities

The ways and plight of humans are insignificant compared to God, but God chooses to be “preoccupied with man, with the concrete actualities of history rather than with the timeless issues of thought [philosophy].” The prophet is also concerned with the trivial and the details, agonizing over imperfections. The main point here is one of the contrast between the philosophic / theological and the prophetic. I think this ties in nicely with the sensitivity to evil, as a sensitivity to details and imperfections. But it’s also a sensitivity to how the little things add up in life – daily choices take us on our whole life’s course, and I think the prophet has the ability to see that. The prophet can look at those little things and see what they’re adding up to.

Claiming Prophecy Fulfillment can be Dangerous

5 01 2010

Actually, this post should be entitled “The Dangers of Claiming a Prophecy Fulfilled”. . .

At a friend’s suggestion, I began reading Goll’s The Prophetic Intercessor. Immediately, I sensed he and I would disagree theologically. But that’s hardly a reason not to read his book. I tried to keep an open mind and found his analysis of prayer and prophetic gifting to be fairly accurate.

Then I came to one chapter that described, in-depth, what he thought to be the major prophetic fulfillment in our age. I was curious, what would he use as his primary example of prophetic fulfillment? As he looked around today, what would he claim as God’s powerful work, released through the prayers of centuries of saints?

Modern Israel. He claimed that the creation and sustained presence of Israel signified God’s work.

I never claim to be well versed in politics or history. But this is one area I cannot support. Now, I’m not saying God has nothing to do with it. In fact, I’m not even going to say it wasn’t prophesied in scripture. But I am certain that there are elements of the current situation in Israel that break God’s heart.

So, the moment I began that chapter, I knew I couldn’t finish it. I read a few pages, but ultimately gave up. I even put down the book and expected not to pick it up again.

However, I reflected on what he’d said before that. I reflected on the fact that he definitely had some accurate and insightful things to say. So I picked the book up and continued, skipping the chapter. I’m definitely glad I did, for I found much to respect between those pages.

My warning for all of us here:  The moment you claim something fulfills scripture, you risk alienating many of the people you speak to. Does that mean you never do it? No, I don’t think it does. It just means you take care. Remember that not everyone agrees with you and be certain its worth the risk. Then, when you’re sure you know what you’re doing, then you can publish / announce it.

I think that goes for much of what we say and do in life. If you’re a huge fan of the Dodgers, don’t assume that everyone who lives in LA is also. Perhaps that new co-worker just moved to LA and they have always been avid supporters of the SF Giants. Whether it’s a baseball game or a prophecy, we alienate people by assuming they agree with us.

On the other hand, I think we all need to be a little less sensitive. So someone assumed something about you, correct them. Tell them what you really think and let it go.