Sunday, December 2, 2012

Through the Bible, Week 12, part 2

   Prophets: Part Two


C.     Prophetic Experience

The prophet's primary experience is one of pathos - a combination of compassion for the human condition and empathy for the divine predicament.  As we mentioned earlier in our study, God is in a predicament.  The LORD God has all power but what he really wants cannot be forced.  He wants our love, freely given.  But our hearts are turned away from him.  How does God help us to return to Him?  Jeremiah captures the anguish in God's heart when compares "faithless" Israel (Northern Kingdom) favorably to "treacherous" Judah (Southern Kingdom).  And the Lord said to me, "Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah.  God, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say,  Return faithless Israel, declares the LORD>  I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the LORD.  Only acknowledge the your guilt, that you rebelled against the LORD your God and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree, and that you have not obeyed my voice, declares the LORD; for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. Jeremiah 3:11-15.  The LORD seeks to woo her back, which both honors her freedom and yet elevates her dignity as someone worthy to be wooed. 

The prophet is someone who hears the word of the LORD and then embodies that word in his own experience.  This is seen most poignantly in the prophet Hosea, whom the LORD orders to marry the prostitute Gomer.  His own marriage becomes an object lesson of God's love for his people Israel. 
                      D.   Prophetic Office in Israel  

The primary role of the prophet is reestablish the force of the covenant in the life of Israel, and especially her leaders.  We see graphic examples of that when Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18) and is then given a fresh encounter with Mosaic revelation (1 Kings 19).  Nathan also defends the covenant when he rebukes David for his infidelity with Bathsheba (1 Samuel 12).

The prophet also functions as a social reformer, an ancillary role to that of covenant enforcer. Amos words were immortalized in our time by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr:

Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (8:23-24).
Finally the prophet is a public poet who is authorized to re-image the social possibilities for God's people.  Some behavior is no longer practiced because it is not imaginable.  The prophet creates a space where the unimaginable becomes imaginable again.  Two of the most powerful and perennial images is that God will make himself a new people and give them a new heart.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel both develop this image:

Behold the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenantt that they broke, thoug I was their husband, declares the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LROD: I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts.  And I will be their God and they shall be my people (Jeremiah 31:31-33).

The prophets sought to bring about social transformation through a word-wrought change of heart in God's people. 

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