“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Prophetic speech challenges a world that seeks safety and security in its own plans and actions to turn and look to the Creator. Therefore, in Scripture, it is hardly surprising to find prophets reminding wayward people that history does not begin, or continue with human ability. Instead it begins with God who holds all things together (Gen 1:1, John 1:1).
“For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
2 Peter 1:21
In a struggling word prophecy assures us that God is both the Master and interpreter of all history: past, present and future, and He holds our lives in His hands. He is the compassionate One who reaches out to us in grace, mercy and loving-kindness.
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” Hebrews 1:1-4
When reading from Genesis to Revelation we see that at the very core of what a prophet says and does is God’s concern for man. God is not an absent landlord but someone who involves Himself with life in every way.
“Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.” Zecheriah 7:9-10
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
2 Corinthians 8:9
The prophetic ministry throughout Scripture is a revelationary ministry. A prophet saw the world within the framework of God’s revealed thinking and with a clear understanding of His communicated nature and character. Through the words of the prophet we are reminded of whom we belong to and of God’s purpose and concern for our lives.
One of the many ways that Gods concern can be seen for His people can be found in the names of many of the prophets –for example, Isaiah, meaning ‘God saves’, Ezekiel, meaning, ‘God will strengthen’ and Nehemiah, meaning, ‘God consoles’. God’s loving-kindness and concern for man is also clearly seen in the naming of His incarnate Son ‘Jesus ‘(Saviour), who is ‘Immanuel’ (God with us Mat 1:23)
Let’s now turn to the first few chapters of Genesis to see how Adam understood the world he was placed in.
Adam – a man who could see
In Genesis 1:27 we read that God created Adam to rule over creation and shortly after this we read of God bringing all the animals to Adam and allowing him to name them:
“And whatever the man called each living creature that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.” Genesis 2:19-20.
In Hebrew thought the naming of a person or object often conveyed something of their nature, character or purpose. In a modern day setting this could be along the lines of calling Grumpy, a dwarf in the story of Snow White, Grumpy, because that is exactly what he was like.
In naming the animals we see that Adam had perception and insight concerning God’s world; he knew something of the nature and character of each animal. We also see his prophetic ministry which was about seeing and understanding according to God’s revelation and not just about forthtelling the future.
“A prophet is somebody who is close to God. He or she is expected to be able to discern what God thinks about a given situation, what his attitude is toward their behaviour in the past, what he requires of them in the present and how he will act in their future. A prophet is a living example of insight, dedication, holiness and commitment (Deut 18:5-22; 2 Kings 4:9). A prophet is a person with a particular calling to see or hear what God is saying, living it out in their own lives and proclaiming it to the people round about.
The Dictionary or Biblical Imagery p 671
Prophets arose in Israel because God cares for His people and reaches out to those who should have known better with a genuine concern for their well-being. Prophets often challenge the present state of affairs and in doing so reminded the nation of God’s nature and character; they also spoke of His grace in prophesying a forth-coming Messiah.
Ultimately, even when it came to forthtelling the future the prophet was only able to do so because God was willing to reveal His purpose as a means of challenging and encouraging man to follow the right path. Note for example Isaiah 9:6-7 where we read of the Messiah through whom we find forgiveness of sin. In Isaiah’s words we see the transcendence (Son given), immanence (child born) and amazing grace (son given) of God.
After Adam we find the prophetic being revealed in the actions of Abel, who understood God and the need to approach Him the right way. Note for example, Luke 11:50-51 where we find Abel included in the prophets).
In Abel’s approach to God (Gen 4:4) we see that it is God who provides the way by which fallen man may approach Him (through blood). God is both the giver and the receiver and there is to be nothing of man’s attempt at good works in the place of sacrifice, as if we can earn or justify receiving salvation from God through our own achievements.
This ‘nothing of man’ truth is underlined in Joshua 8:31 where man is told to make an altar being made of uncut stones so that it could never become a place where man said “Look at what I have made; look at what I have achieved.” This ‘nothing of man’ in the place of sacrifice is also underlined in the consecration of Solomon’s Temple.
In the consecration of the Temple in Solomon’s day we see the visible presence of the glory of the Lord filling the Temple (1 Kings 8:10-11). This manifestation was so powerful that the priests could not perform their religious duties and then possibly assume God’s blessing was for what they had built and what they were doing.
In moving on beyond Abel to the community established through the godly line of Seth, we come to a man called Enoch. Enoch walked with God and had prophetic insight given by God concerning future events.
“Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him." Jude 14-15
History marches onwards and Noah, a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), builds an Ark, prophetically living out God’s Word and, in his actions, showing obedience and awareness of soon to arrive judgment.
Moving on into the life of Abraham we find the first man to be directly called a prophet in scripture (Gen 20:7) – even though, at that time, Abraham was not fully trusting in God! Now for the second time in his life Abraham passed off his wife Sarah as a sister.
On the first occasion Abraham thought that Pharaoh might kill him in order to marry his wife (Genesis 12:11-13) and in doing so reveals a struggling trust in God’s promises (Gen 12:1f).
Many years later Abraham does the same thing (Gen 20: passing off his wife as his sister) in order to protect himself. The Philistine King Abimelech takes Sarah into his harem yet is prevented from touching her by God. Abimelech is then told that he is as good as dead because God reads the desire of the heart and Abimelech was guilty. God then says…
“Then God said to Abimelech in the dream, "Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die."
We can imagine Abraham asking Abimelech why God told him that he had to pray for him. In Abimelech’s reply, “You are a prophet” Abraham is reminded of his true position in the Lord and need to focus on God rather than be swamped by the situations and circumstances he finds himself in.
The wheel of time continues to turn and we find Isaac prophesying over Jacob and Esau, and later we see Jacob prophesying over his sons concerning future destiny (Heb 11:20, 21). We also see Joseph showing his trust in God when, at the end of his life, he said,
"…I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, "God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place."
“That it may go well with you in the land” (Deut 5:15)
In continuing our journey in scripture we come to Deuteronomy chapter five where we read that honouring one’s parents was linked with well-being in the land.
“Honour your father and your mother as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”
In this verse God is speaking about Israelite parents who have kept the covenant and also shared the teachings of God with the next generation. For example, if a child understood from their parents that God had given the land to them as a gracious gift in order to be a light to others then it would go well for them in the land. On the other hand, if they ignored the words of their parents and chose to believe they were in the Promised Land because of their own good works and achievements, then they would be taking glory for themselves and separating themselves from God. In short, they would not be blessed.
We are covenant beings, created to relate to our heavenly Father and grow in the presence of His provision – Himself. He alone is the founder and initiator of covenant and all that He does is done for our well-being.
Israel did not rise up in faith by finding and believing in God; she came to faith in seeing and accepting the God who makes Himself known – the God who came to find them. The same goes for us in that the beginning of our walk with Him came about because He chose to walk towards us. “We love because he loved us first” (1 John 4:19). If we do not put God first and seek Him above all else then we forfeit much of the blessing that is ours through Christ.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Strange fire – seeing yet not seeing
In Leviticus 9 we read of the national beginnings of the priestly ministry which speaks of receiving from God and being able to come before God with what He had graciously given. However in Leviticus 10 we read of some who did not exercise prophetic insight in that they redefined what God was saying. God’s word is to be obeyed at all times and not simply when we think it is convenient to do so.
“Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, "This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: "‘among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honoured.'" Aaron remained silent.”
At the time of the above incident access to the main altar, (a sign of God’s willingness to help man approach Him) was difficult due to consuming fire. So Nadab and Abihu took it upon themselves to get their own coals and use them as they represented the people before God. Yet the place of sacrifice is to have nothing of man in it in any way, shape or form and so people were struck down. Religious presumption has nothing to do with the holiness of God.
Elsewhere in scripture we read of Korah’s rebellion resulting in fire consuming 250 men (Numbers 16:34) and also of a fire coming down from heaven and consuming troops sent to bring Elijah to Ahab, a king under the influence of false gods (2 Kings 1)
Whenever the prophets challenged Israel they did so in the context of covenant, and in the appearance of God’s prophets we see a God who effectively says “I am here because I keep covenant, and because my love for you does not diminish.
As has already been said, the real danger in ignoring what God says about Himself, and how we are to live, is that God then becomes no more than a being possessed by man, yet not encountered by man. Religion then becomes something that is totally subjective and takes place entirely within man rather than between man and the One True God.
A picture of friendship
“Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.”
Amos was a shepherd and owned a sycamore grove in Tekoa, around eleven miles from Jerusalem. In Amos’ day, many Israelites were living according to their own thinking even though their nation had come into existence through God’s grace, mercy and loving-kindness alone.
Israel was happy to listen to the prophets when they spoke about judgement falling on other nations, but did not expect God’s judgement to fall upon their own people. How wrong they were.
A man reaps what he sows and so do nations; judgement was going to fall on Israel and witnesses would be summoned against her. In the midst of all this and in stark contrast to the rest of the canvas we find in the above verse (Amos 3:7) revealing a picture of close fellowship between God and Amos.
God was willing to reveal his plan to Amos, with the Hebrew word ‘plan’ (cowdow) speaking of confidential speech and secrets disclosed among friends as opposed to general advice. Elsewhere the term is used to speak of close friendship with God in Job 29:4 and with individuals thought of as close friends (Job 19:19).
The whole canvas is, as it were, in Amos 3:7 is like the picture of two people sitting together opposite each other in a nomad’s tent to discuss matters of importance. As Isaiah writes, in repentance and rest is our salvation” (Isaiah 30:15) and as David wrote in Psalm 62:1-2, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall never be shaken.”
In a Christian world where so many people are trying to fix those around them we need to remember that through the life, death and resurrection of Christ, God has offered us the hand of friendship.
Jesus – The prophet
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the universe.”
In Jesus we see in a unique way what God is like, He being spoken of as the Word of God. A word is an expression of a hidden thought, and if we do not verbalise thinking then others will not find it easy to know or understand us. Therefore a word is both the outward form by which a thing is expressed, yet also the inward thought.
In Jesus we see what the nature and character of God is like. He is the One who is the picture, the expression, and exact image of what God desires to say to man. He is the perfect man and the Son of God Incarnate; the Mind, the Reason, and power that made and keeps all things in place.
In Jesus we have the speech of eternity translated into the action of time, dare we say it: “God made simple.” In Jesus we see God stooping low to lift up those who deserve nothing but death. In Jesus we find The Prophet (Deut 18:18), and in Him we all have a prophetic ministry. What I mean by this is that we are able to see God in how He has chosen to reveal Himself and can make sense of this world; we know that life has meaning and purpose. Whilst we are not always given understanding as to what is going on, we do know enough to trust in Him and rely on the presence and leading of the Holy Spirit.
In the gospels we see that many who came against Jesus were religious people who outwardly appeared to live very good lives. Yet they had allowed the pressure of the day and imagination of their hearts to paint their own picture of God and what He would come to do. In doing so they failed to recognise the Messiah standing in their midst. Yet there were also others.
There were those who were open to the leading of the Spirit and were able to discern God’s voice. Note, for example the eighty-four year old widow Anna (Luke 2:36) and Simeon a righteous and devout man, who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:26).
In accepting God’s love for us, we accept His view of our lives and not our own. We recognise that the root of whom we are and our sense of well-being is found in His grace, compassion and mercy and is not dictated to by any good I may have done. We also recognise that we are accepted despite our failings.
In turning to Jesus we find a real home and our greatest sense of security. One philosopher who came to rest in the finished work of Christ put it like this: -
“I found in Christ rest for my soul – a place to stop, a person to be, a family to which to belong, a true home in which to love,. Soon, I sensed a new motivation and direction in my life, one that has been with me ever since.”
Philosophers who believe p 107
In all that Jesus said and did we see a prophetic ministry in action in that He shows us how we are called to live as sons and daughters who have God as their heavenly Father and who live out their lives in the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.
God calls us to continually recognise that we are His and to see that we have a role to play in His story as we reach out to others with the love that is ours in Christ.
As God once said to Moses, “I am everything you need” (Ex 3:14), and through Paul we can say, “Our competence comes from God” (2 Cor 4:5).
In God and God alone we can do all things by the One who strengthens us (Phil 4:13) with this strength coming through an open heart that is constantly given over to Him.
In closing please reflect on the following story and of how excited Helen (born blind and deaf) was when she started to make sense of the world around her. The story is written by Helen’s teacher, Ann Sullivan.
“I must write you a line this morning, because something very important has happened. Helen has taken the second great step in her education. She has learned that everything has a name and that the manual alphabet is the key to everything she wants to know.
This morning, while she was washing, she wanted to know the name for ‘water’. When she wants to know the name of anything, she points to it, and pats my hand. I spelt, w-a-t-e-r and thought no more about it until after breakfast…(later on), we went to the pump house, and I made Helen hold her mug under the spout while I pumped. As the cold water gushed forth, filling the mug, I spelled w-a-t-e-r in Helen’s free hand. The word coming so close under the sensation of cold water rushing over her hand seemed to startle her. She dropped the mug and stood as one transfixed. A new light came into her face. She spelled ‘water’ several times. Then she dropped on the ground and asked for its name, and pointed to the pump and trellis, and suddenly turning round she asked for my name. I spelled ‘teacher’. All the way back to the house she was highly excited, and learned the name of every object she touched, so that in a few hours she had added thirty new words to her vocabulary…and we notice her face grows more expressive each day.”
Ann Sullivan, (Helen Keller’s teacher) had spent many of her own childhood years in a mental asylum having been written off as severely unstable and a hopeless case. It was the love of Jesus shown through a Salvation Army woman that drew Ann out of herself and helped her make sense of the world. Later in life, she in turn helped Helen Keller.
Let us recognise that God’s word is present to help us understand who He is, who we are in Him and this world in which we live. Let us renew our efforts to read and understand His word and humble ourselves before Him as we seek the leading of the Holy Spirit in all areas of life.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timithy 3:16-17