What exactly is “prophecy”?
I should have guessed at some point I would be challenged to think about why I decided to market myself as the Modern Prophet and what that means compared to Hebrew Bible prophets. So here we go! As a poet, I am a fan of Merriam-Webster as the place to find words which I believe will assist me in telling my stories. Definition two: prophet states “one gifted with more than ordinary spiritual and moral insight; especially: an inspired poet”, a sentiment which resonated with my ministry. Today I shall explain what biblical prophecy is in regards to the following prophets: Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos because their prophecy is not the same as mine. Barry Bandstra defines prophecy as using ancient Israelite literature and culture to state what peril lies ahead for people if they don’t change their disrespectful behaviors. Meaning these men were not “future” predictors instead they were leaders called by the Universe to speak about social conditions and the politics of their day. Prophetic messages informed people how to live meeting the Universe’s demands (pg. 195).
Who was Isaiah?
Isaiah was a prophet who lived in the eighth century BCE and is believed to have only written Chapters 1-39 in the book of Isaiah and scholars theorize that these Chapters have been supplemented by later writers. He had a wife and they had at least two sons. It is believed that he may have been a wealthy aristocrat and even a priest. His preaching took place in Judah (click here for map link) and he is set apart from the other two for his use of how the Universe/God related to the people and their actions (Stanley, pg. 433-434). Dr. Brooke Lester in the second half of his lecture points out that the prophets were able to speak out against governments and those in leadership because these prophets had their own wealth and stature which afforded them that ability. Let’s take a look at some scripture from Isaiah 1:1-31; 5:1-30; 10:1-27; 28:1-22.
In Chapter 1:1-31 Isaiah reminds the people they are disobedient and not acting like they should. He talks about how those noncompliant individuals should “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.” As he continues on in his tirade it reinforces the consequences to come if behavior changes don’t happen. Unlike laments and apocalyptic lessons which often ended positively prophecy typically does not.
Chapter 5:1-30 includes lines about drunkenness and a part where God’s wrath destroyed evildoers so that “their corpses were like refuse in the streets.” Reading this makes me wonder about those who chose not to listen. If a preacher was sharing this message out in public today I would have nightmares and lose sleep!
Here are the opening verses of Chapter 10:1-27; “Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,
who write oppressive statutes,
to turn aside the needy from justice
and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be your spoil,
and that you may make the orphans your prey!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
in the calamity that will come from far away?
To whom will you flee for help,
and where will you leave your wealth,
so as not to crouch among the prisoners
or fall among the slain?
For all this his anger has not turned away;
his hand is stretched out still.” After reading these verses do you feel those sentiments are applicable today?
We find in Chapter 28:1-22 another prophecy targeted at those individuals who choose to consume copious amounts of alcohol and again the consequences the Universe will be brought upon those who do not change their actions and do what is pleasing to the Universe.
Okay, who is Hosea?
According to Christopher D. Stanley, Hosea’s ministry took place in about the same time as Isaiah but he was prophesying to the north in Israel. Hosea’s background story is very likely allegory used to symbolize the Universe’s relationship with the people of Israel. The Universe demanded he marry a woman of ill repute, an unfaithful woman, (whatever THAT means). Yet if true it may explain why Hosea chose to use marriage comparisons throughout his prophecies. Not much about him is known. He may have been a priest. His wife bore three children and only one may have been his. Hosea’s style of prophecy is to focus on personal behavior and not social ills like poverty and abuse of power by the wealthy. He preaches people must return to a covenant with the Universe to be spared. Finally, Hosea feels the reason people are so off-course is because religious institutions are not doing what they need to be. (pg. 430-432) Do you feel religious institutions are creating behavior problems that can apply to our society today?
*Head's up to any warriors reading this blog if you choose to read Hosea trigger warnings are needed because domestic violence is discussed.
And what about Amos?
And last is Amos who ironically is first. Amos is the earliest known prophet written about in the Hebrew Bible. Like Hosea, he was living in Judah but was called to preach in Israel. Amos was a foreigner and because he was claiming that the rich were going to be punished by the Universe if they didn’t change their ways and provide for the poor the authorities ordered him to stop preaching. He persisted. Unlike Hosea targeting religious institutions, Amos felt the problem was with the government and wealthy leaders. They were abusing others using their wealth and power (Stanley, pg. 429-430). You may have head Amos’s famous quote, “Let justice roll down like water”. Amos strove to bring justice and warned as the others did that the Universe would punish those who didn’t change. Amos probably took many years to write and is why when the prophecy that Israel would be overrun came true the last part was written of Judah rising again, not Israel where he had been preaching. The book closes reminding the reader that salvation comes through the Universe so that people were not left in complete despair (Bandstra, pg. 288-293). How might Amos be heard in our current political time? If Amos was preaching now do you feel the wealthy would take heed? Why or why not?
What does Dr. Brooke Lester have to say about the importance of studying the prophets for us today?
In his Prophecy lecture: Part A Dr. Lester challenges students (including those not enrolled in his class) to read the scriptures as if you are analyzing them for the first time (for some of you on my blog it may be your first time and I am proud of you!) so that you might discover new ways of thinking about them. Knowing the history behind them will help us to “hear” lessons as they are applicable to us today even if these understandings of the lessons were not possible or intended for the original audience.
Bandstra, Barry http://barrybandstra.com/rtot4/rtot4-09-pt2.html
Bandstra, Barry http://barrybandstra.com/rtot4/rtot4-14-ch10.html
Stanley, Christopher D. The Hebrew Bible A Comparative Approach. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2010.