Summary: Being prophetic meant foretelling and forthtelling
“The Prophetic Voice”
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
When I was assigned to a Combat Engineer battalion, I walked over to the Headquarters Company one afternoon and knocked on the door of the Company Commander. I was there to tell him (tactfully) that his leadership style was lacking. He was pushing his soldiers to the point where, if we went to war, he would likely be the first casualty. Low morale was beginning to have a negative affect on our mission. We had a saying, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” Unfortunately some Commanders and First Sergeants are convinced that coercion and intimidation will result in mission accomplishment (I suspect this attitude isn’t exclusive to the Army). My job was to be “prophetic” at times, telling people things they didn’t want to hear. One of my Commanders admitted that my function in the unit was to keep everyone “honest and ethical”.
We’re going to spend several Sundays looking at the lives of some of the most disturbing people who have ever lived—the Old Testament prophets. When you consider divine revelation, everything in the Bible is prophetic. The history of Israel was, in itself, a revelation of God. We think of prophets as tellers of the future, but many prophets in the Bible do no foretelling. They were called by God to speak to His people an authoritative word. They were significant in what they said and what they were.
Through the prophets God spoke to us--
Ø Through the prophets we learn much about the
purpose and plan of God. For instance, from Isaiah God provides a significant reason why He spoke through these select individuals: “That they may know…that there is none besides Me” (45:6).
Ø Through the prophets God warned against the superstitious beliefs of idol worshippers. -Through the prophets God revealed that He is the Lord of history.
Ø Through the prophets the Jewish nation understood their role in history as a “chosen people”; an important function of the prophetic message was to communicate to Israel what it meant to be Israel. What does it mean to be God’s people? The prophets provide the answer.
Ø Through the prophets the invisible God becomes audible.
Prophets were chosen spokespersons, who delivered God’s word in His behalf. The term “prophet” has several meanings: to “proclaim”, even to “bubble forth” or “pour forth words”. The clear understanding is that prophets did not speak for themselves; they were “called” to proclaim God’s truth. Occasionally a prophet is called a “seer” (literally, a “beholder”). This word refers to how they received the divine message. When they served as messengers, they were conveying the divine word they received—not their own opinions.. Scripture identifies 55 prophets, but there were hundreds more. There were both men and women prophets, and we read of at least one Gentile (non-Jewish), Baalam (Numbers 22). Only a comparatively few prophets wrote books of the Bible.
The prophets of Israel had 3 important functions:
1. They were divinely appointed moral and ethical preachers and teachers.
2. They conveyed predictions of future events concerning the nation of Israel and the coming of the Messiah.
3. They warned Israel against the dangers of religious apostasy.
We could summarize the role of the prophets as foretelling and forthtelling.
Prophets could, with authority, begin their messages by saying, “Hear the message the Lord has spoken to me.” “Thus saith the Lord!” How did they hear God’s voice? How did they know they were God’s spokespersons? Sometimes through dreams or visions, other times by directly hearing the voice of the Lord. The book of Hebrews opens by saying “In the past God spoke to our forefathers at many times and in various ways” (Heb 1:1). Peter explains that “men moved (lit. “carried along”) by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (II Pet 1:21). The prophetic message was “inspired”, a word that means “God-breathed”. God spoke through the prophets. The prophet was God’s mouthpiece.
Prophets were not philosophers or men of genius, able to—on their own—come up with answers to life’s dilemmas. They waited on God for insight and inspiration. In fact, it is possible that the prophets often didn’t fully understand their messages—especially when what they spoke was intended for future generations.
We often think of prophets as stern preachers; we stereotype them as harsh preachers of gloom and doom. We have a twisted picture of prophets as raving mad men. Sometimes the prophets spoke through object lessons (similar to children’s sermons); sometimes they sang their messages, accompanied on musical instruments (II Kings 3). Often they taught—we read of the schools of the prophets in the Old Testament. People who wanted to serve God and know His will followed the prophets. They weren’t training to become prophets—the prophets taught the Law of God, not “how to” prophesy. The prophetic office came from God, irrespective of previous training. In having to say ‘No’ to society, by challenging the nation and in condemning sin, they always held out hope for forgiveness and restoration, to reconcile the nation with God. Every prediction of disaster is a caring exhortation to repentance.