When I was growing up, my good friend Roger had a grandfather who was a Methodist minister. Whenever we would meet at Roger’s house before going out for the night, Grandad, as we all called him, always offered us words of wisdom. As we all approached college age, he would give us career advice. “I always tell young people, go into something that is needed, “ he told us. Years later, when he passed away, Roger’s family paid him a public tribute. In the town, families could buy memorial benches for the park with a plaque to honor their loved one. Roger’s family did just that and on the plaque had inscribed some of Grandad’s simple words of advice, “Stand up. Speak up. And know when to shut up.”
Actually those words are two-thirds of a good job
description for an Old Testament prophet.
Prophets stood up and spoke up for God, but never knew when to shut
up. Often that led to persecution
and even death. Prophets were
people who spoke the word of God.
Their preaching would often begin with the bold declaration, “Thus says
the LORD…” Usually that opening
was followed with strong critiques and warnings directed at those in power;
people like priests and kings.
Imagine the conviction and certitude it takes to speak in such a
way. Imagine the criticism and
attacks one would draw by speaking such words. To put it in contemporary terms, prophets spoke the truth to
power. When their culture and its
institutions strayed away from God’s ways, they were the whistleblowers who
sounded the alarm that things were off track.
Such a description may come as a surprise to many. Popular, and even Christian culture have defined prophets as predictors of the future. They have been reduced to mere fortune tellers or the ancient equivalents of psychics. To be sure, prophets warned Israel that if she continued on her corrupt paths, destruction would indeed lie in her future. But the intent of these warnings was not to show off some supernatural prognosticating ability, rather it was to call the people back to the life God intended them to live.
The Hebrew word for prophet is navi and it means “seer”. Prophets were those whom God gave the ability to see what others could not. What God invited them to see, led them to speak out for God. In this series we have been exploring some of the character types of the Old Testament, wise people, kings and prophets. We are discovering the ways in which we can be like them in our context. Some are easier to emulate than others.
Last week, we learned how the Wise tested the religion of their culture against their everyday human experience. As postmodern people, most of us are pretty good at that. Unlike previous generations, we are quite comfortable asking questions about and even deconstructing our faith. We may even relish the role of being the person who, when someone says, “Thus says the LORD,” replies “Not so fast maybe he doesn’t.” But many of us are profoundly uncomfortable being the one who says, “Thus says the LORD.” We are afraid and even unwilling to be prophetic and speak up for God’s righteousness and God’s justice, and we are paying a heavy price for that.
Just as in times past, the world around us is an echo chamber
of voices of immorality, injustice, selfishness and corruption. Someone needs to be the prophet, the
whistleblower, to speak up and say, “this is what God says in this place and
time.” Who is that going to
be? How can we be prophets and
speak for God in our day? If we
are to be true disciples of Jesus, we must be prophetic, just as Jesus was.