Peter Paul Rubens- Daniel in the Lion’s Den, circa 1615
“What Manner of Man is a Prophet?”
Brilliant question posed by Abraham J. Heschler. He was a Polish born Jew, and a professor at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He writes of prophets,
“Instead of dealing with the timeless issues of being and becoming, of matter and form, of definitions and demonstrations, he is thrown into orations about widows and orphans, about the corruption of judges and affairs of the market place. Instead of showing us a way through the elegant mansions of the mind, the prophets take us to the slums.” Heschel, The Prophets, 1962.
This question and answer might offer some insight into the following words of Jeremiah to Judah:
The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (that was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon), which Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah and to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, “From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, even to this day, these twenty-three years the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened. And the Lord has sent to you all His servants the prophets again and again, but you have not listened nor inclined your ear to hear, saying, ‘Turn now everyone from his evil way and from the evil of your deeds, and dwell on the land which the Lord has given to you and your forefathers forever and ever; and do not go after other gods to serve them and to worship them, and do not provoke Me to anger with the work of your hands, and I will do you no harm.’ Yet you have not listened to Me,” declares the Lord, “in order that you might provoke Me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm.
You have not listened. Those are serious words, especially coming from the One who knows all things, the righteous Judge of Heaven and Earth. And here we are in 2015 . . . are we listening any more so than they during the times of Jeremiah?
America is facing an identity crisis.
She is struggling with dysfunctional foreign policies, teetering on economic balance beams and struggling with embracing a value system as a unified nation.
This nation is walking a fine line at the moment and we could use the help of prophets to whom have been revealed the heart of God at this point.
But who can we trust? How do we know what a prophet looks like in 2015? What does the Bible say about prophets? Surely, seminaries weren’t invented the way they are represented today, denominations weren’t institutionalized as they are in the second millennia, but political agendas on national levels were just as fierce because God sent prophets to leaders in Biblical times as He does today.
The problems were the same: Powers at be seeking absolute power that is corrupt, costing the lives of millions while pushing personal, ungodly agendas. God was and still is a just God, warning people of coming disasters, giving them chances to humble themselves as a nation and repent and turn to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Having said that, I Picked up the latest Time Magazine today and read an exciting article titled, “What Does America Stand For?” by Ian Bremmer.
This article was both exciting and fascinating because this nation is being forced to ask some serious reflective questions about itself, questions that I thought I was the only one asking for the past several months now. Questions about “Moneyball America, Indispensable America and Independent America” and what America really represents on a global scale. All questions that will be answered in the 2016 elections, thus determining the fate of this nation, for all nations have both a rise and a fall. And, well, we know America is very young, relatively speaking and its future is yet unknown.
However, setting modern politics aside, America truly is faced with these difficult questions, the prospect of a new leader and we know that something is terribly wrong with how Christianity is represented today in America, or America wouldn’t have been so desperate to remove all things pertaining to Christianity out of its culture, education and judicial systems.
But what about the Bible? Can it offer something different than today’s version of Western Christianity?
It can. It has and it will.
You see, God has a format. He can be predictable if we know His Heart through His Word and He has always used prophets to warn nations, their leaders and their people because He is gracious and wishes that none would perish. Do you remember when God said, ““For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6). That bears repeating: It is because He is the same that we are not consumed.
So while everything is in limbo around us, playing a sort of Russian Roulette with our finances, education and freedoms, let’s look to the One who isn’t changing and who remains the same, yesterday, today and forever.
Since we are not consumed or destroyed because He is the same. we must understand that it is His sameness keeps us afloat! But, how much of Him do we really know to predict His “sameness?” How can we tell where we are on His timeline for His purposes if we do not understand the roles of the prophets and how they have functioned for the last several thousand years?
I found there to be five common threads among the major and minor prophets that can help us discern real prophets from false prophets. A task oh so important since the news headlines of today are increasingly wearying our souls and hearts.
So, let’s take a look at some of the common threads among prophets.
1. Prophets don’t fit in. They are the “misfits.” They are called to do things like cook bread on top of dung, lie on their each side for 390 days (Ezekiel), wind up in the belly of a fish (Jonah), eat locust and wild honey (John the Baptist), are given up for adoption, (as seen with Moses and Samuel) and so on. None of these people had “normal” lives. They didn’t go to church every week. They didn’t watch the same TV shows or movies, nor were they part of the “in” crowd, but they have something we all need: They had an “in” with God. They knew His heart. They understood His ways because God revealed it to them. They knew what was coming because God had chosen them to reveal to them the Truth when a society was engulfed in lies and for that they can’t be ignored, as much as we may want to. The cost will be very high.
2. Prophets are usually sad. They aren’t your “happy go lucky,” always singing songs of the joy of the Lord type of folks. They have been shown things that are heartbreaking, truths that are devastating. They are the bearer of bad news and the ones for whom the term, “don’t kill the messenger” was coined for, IMHO! They long to see change, but are sent to the most stubborn of people. Think of Jeremiah, Jonah, Ezekiel and Moses. I mean, Moses alone, going up against the equivalent of the President of the most powerful country in the world at that time, telling him what to do! That takes some serious courage, conviction and confidence in knowing truth from lies. But God can’t use people that don’t have the love of God in their hearts or they would be judgmental and prideful. Think of Ecclesiastes 7:3, “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.” These people have to hurt. They Have to feel God’s pain in order to be used by God. They must be so close to God that they aren’t going to look down on the people they are delivering the message to, but are going to love them and forgive them with the same amount of love that Stephen forgave those who were stoning him and possess the same amount of grace that Jesus had while uttering those same words while hanging on the tree (Acts 5:30).
3. They are filled with the Holy Spirit. Yes, the Spirit of the Lord was present before the book of Acts was written and didn’t always manifest itself the way you think. It’s not always about speaking in tongues and being healed, though He does do this at times. But being filled with the Spirit is also about having visions, dreams, experiencing the presence of the Lord that is not always peaceful, but dreadful, the way Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew He was going up against an unchangeable call of being crucified and was so sickened and anxious about it, he was sweating blood. This is not my idea of the most calming time before the Lord. His presence can be nerve-racking and down-right soul shaking. The same spirit that brings life can also bring death, why else is the Spirit referred to as the “Sword of the spirit” in Ephesians 6:17? It’s a double edged-sword, it has a dual purpose. Remember in Exodus when it was the Lord that killed the first-born sons of the Egyptians? In First Samuel 18, the Lord also sent an evil spirit to torment Saul. God has interesting facets of Himself that don’t fit the Western American cultural understanding of God. He is much bigger than we realize and much more dynamic than much of mainstream Christianity dares to delve into, so becoming Biblically aware of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is paramount in this day and age in order to avoid deception.
4. Prophets mouths are usually mentioned. For some reason, with both the major and the minor prophets, substances put in or on their mouths are mentioned. The Spirit will put coal to Isaiah’s lips (Isaiah 6:7, “And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”) Ezekiel had to eat the bitter scroll, (Ezekiel 3:1) and The Lord put words in Jeremiah’s mouth (Jeremiah 1:9). Even Moses alluded to His mouth, telling the Lord that he was not eloquent in speech, therefore feeling timid to even speak. Therefore, Moses was made “like God unto Pharaoh and, [his] your brother Aaron shall be [his] your prophet,” (Exodus 7:1-2). Even Elijah had to drink of the brook before it was time to tell the people that a great drought was coming to them. (First Kings 17). And Samuel’s weaning was mentioned before he was given to the service of the Lord (First Samuel 1:24). It seems to me that God wanted to draw special attention to these people’s mouths for everyone, including themselves knew that they are the mouthpiece of God and not to be ignored.
5. Prophets don’t usually have good messages, thus are shunned and ignored for it. They carry the words of God that people don’t want to hear. They crookedness of nations is laid upon them (Ezekiel 3). They call people to repentance. They are sent with reports and warnings of anger, possible destruction, wars, famine and death. These are not the Joel Osteen messages of prosperity, happiness and wealth, but these are the messages that people need to hear and certainly ones that could save their lives and souls. Remember Exodus 11:6-7, during the height of the plagues, the Bible says this: “Then there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as was not like it before, nor shall be like it again. But against none of the children of Israel shall a dog move its tongue, against man or beast, that you may know that the Lord does make a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.” I don’t know about you. . . but during these uncertain times, I really want to know how to be counted among God’s people so that not even the tongue of a dog would come against me. I want His protection. I want to be set apart, trusting that when sword or famine come, that I might be worthy to escape these things like Jesus told us to pray in Luke 21:36. “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”
Since things are again heating up in the world. . . wars in the Middle East creeping closer to the West, droughts, earthquakes, waters being poisoned from oil, nuclear radiation spills and corruption of powers. . . then according to this, I would say its not too far of a stretch that God is sending out prophets to His people once again. We just need to know what to look for in order to avoid deception. We need to be familiar with His Word, His Heart and pray we are truly considered “His people,” so as not to be told, “depart from me, I never knew you.”
For a more in depth study of the heart of God check out my book, here.