PROPHETS AND PROPHECY IN TODAY'S CHURCH
By Rev. Jim and Carolyn Murphy
PART TWO - THE PROPHET
UNDERSTANDING THE PROPHETS OF THE BIBLE
The best way to lay the foundation of our
of today's prophet is by looking at the prophets of the Bible. What
were they like as men? What were they like as servants of God? And we
should recognize that God refers to His prophets over and over again as
His servants. “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing
his plan to his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7 NIV).
God's Old Testament prophets identify so strongly
with Him as they deliver His word that it is difficult to see where the
person of the prophet drops off and God begins. They see injustice,
sin, and evil as God sees it. We can sense when reading the prophets of
old that they seem to become one with God in the deliverance of His
word. Their calls for repentance and restoration comes straight from
the heart of God.
Yet God's Old Testament prophets were not mere
mouthpieces. They were not just hirelings. They were in partnership
with God. Perhaps the best book I have ever read on the Old Testament
prophets is The Prophets by Abraham J. Heschel. 18 I
am taking the liberty of quoting extensively from his chapter entitled
“What Manner of Man Is The Prophet?”
- The prophet's theme is, first
of all, the very life of a whole people, and his identification lasts
more than a moment. He is one not only with what he says; he is
involved with his
people in what his words foreshadow. (pg. 6).
- The prophet is intent on intensifying
responsibility, is impatient of excuse, contemptuous of pretense and
self-pity. His tone, rarely sweet or caressing, is frequently consoling
disburdening; (pg. 7).
- Who could bear living in a state of disgust
day and night? The conscience builds its confines, is subject to
fatigue, longs for comfort, lulling, soothing.
Yet those who are hurt, and He
Who inhabits eternity, neither slumber nor sleep. The prophet is
sleepless and grave. (pg. 9).
- Perhaps the prophet knew more about the
secret obscenity of sheer unfairness, about the unnoticed malignancy of
established patterns of indifference, than men whose
knowledge depends solely on intelligence and observation. The Lord made
it known to me and I knew; Then Thou didst show me their evil deeds.
(Jer 11:18 KJV). (pg. 9).
- The words of the prophet are stern, sour,
stinging. But behind his austerity is love and compassion for mankind.
Indeed, every prediction of disaster is in itself an exhortation to
repentance. The prophet is sent not only to upbraid, but also to
`strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees.' (Isa 35:3).
- It is embarrassing to be a prophet. None of
the prophets seems enamored with being a prophet nor proud of his
attainment. Over the life of a prophet words are invisibly
inscribed: All flattery abandon, ye who enter here. To be a prophet is
both a distinction and an affliction. The mission he performs is
distasteful to him
and repugnant to others; no reward is promised him and no reward could
temper its bitterness. (pg. 17).
- The prophet is a lonely man. He alienates
the wicked as well as the pious, the cynics as well as the believers,
the priests and the princes, the judges and the false prophets.
But to be a prophet means to challenge and to defy and to cast out
fear. (pgs. 17,18).
- The prophet's eye is directed to the
contemporary scene; the society and its conduct are the main theme of
his speeches. Yet his ear is inclined to God. He is a person struck by
glory and presence of God, overpowered by the hand of God. Yet his true
greatness is his ability to hold God and man in a single thought. (pg.
- The prophet claims to be far more than a
messenger. He is a person who stands in the presence of God (Jer
15:19), who stands `in the council of the Lord' (Jer 23:18), who is a
participant, as it were, in the council of God, not a bearer of
dispatches whose function is limited to being sent on errands. He is a
well as a messenger. (pg. 21).
- The prophet is not a mouthpiece, but a
person; not an instrument, but a partner, an associate of God. In the
presence of God he takes the part of the people. In the presence of
the people he takes the part of God. (pgs. 24,25).
- The prophet hears God's voice and feels His
heart. (pg. 26).
I believe that the above quotes of Abraham J.
Heschel capture the essence of the mighty Old Testament prophets. We
feel their intensity, their power, and their trauma in every prophetic
But what about the men and women down through the
ages who are also called as God's prophets? Do these same attributes
apply to them? Or did God just raise up the Old Testament prophets for
His purposes those thousands of years ago?
I believe that, to the extent a called prophet of
any age comes into maturity in his office, that person comes into a
standing with God which parallels the prophets of old. I have known and
heard men and women in our time who speak, perceive incidents, and move
prophetically on issues, who very much fit the description Heschel
gives of the Old Testament prophets. I have sat and listened to, and
talked with, very mature prophets who feel very fiercely. God's
prophets of today do hate sin, hate evil, and do become, in some sense,
one with the thoughts of God, at least on occasion. Their words
penetrate, whether they are giving a prophetic utterance, preaching a
sermon, or in “mere conversation.”
Let me make it clear that I am not equating prophets
throughout history or those who I have personally had contact with as
equal to the Old Testament prophets. Nor do I equate their words with
the words in the Bible. The Bible is the supreme authority and there is
no equal to it.
What I am trying to make clear is that I do believe
that the same traits of personality and that same servanthood of God
which prompted the Lord to call His Old Testament prophets His
“servants” still applies today. God's prophets, who are truly His
servants, are not common, but they do exist today.