In the Bible, whenever autocratic or immoral leaders arise, God raises up prophets to speak truth to power. I find that comforting right now.
The Hebrew prophets spoke in the name of God, bringing an authentic word of wisdom and judgment to their contemporary circumstances. The prophets consistently urged the leaders and the people to renew a faithful relationship with God. God is loving, compassionate and just, the prophets said. Trust God, not your own might and power, they said.
Trust God, and act ethically and justly, they said. For the prophets, justice and righteousness is measured especially by our treatment of the poor and vulnerable. In the name of God, the prophets challenged the wealthy and powerful who acted out of greed and arrogance. A failure of compassion and love toward the poor and vulnerable, the prophets said, is a failure to follow and obey God.
"God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does God require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6:8
The prophets spoke judgment to injustice. If you do not change, they said, there will be terrible consequences. God's judgment is to withdraw God's protective hand and to leave the leaders and their people to the destructive consequences of their greed, faithlessness and violence.
Yet God is in control, the prophets insisted. God reigns over all. The earth and all its people belong to God. God cares for all, native and foreigner alike. And whenever God allows us to suffer the catastrophic consequences of our foolishness, the prophets promise a future renewal. Because of God's steadfast love for all creation, God will bring healing and renewal after catastrophe. God will ultimately triumph, they insisted.
When the Hebrew people were living as resident aliens in Egypt, a "new king arose in Egypt, who did not know [the Hebrew patriarch] Joseph." The new Pharaoh imposed bitter labor upon the Hebrews, treating them as slaves, raising their work quota without sharing the prosperity. The Hebrew people complained, and God raised up Moses. Under God's protection, Moses led his people out of Egypt into freedom, a labor strike of truly biblical scale.
When King David impregnated the wife of one of his soldiers and covered his immorality by issuing orders to expose her husband on the battlefield where he was killed, the prophet Nathan came to the king. Under the guise of a clever story, Nathan's challenge caused David to acknowledge his sin and to repent.
Israel in the 8th century BCE was a time much like today, a time of great prosperity for the elite but little trickle-down for the poor. The wealthy and powerful believed themselves to be blessed by God. The prophet Amos condemned their religious piety and prophesied judgement and exile. He denounced their lack of compassion and generosity toward the poor, saying in Amos 5:24 "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
In the southern kingdom of Judah, the urban prophet Isaiah and the rural prophet Micah announced divine lawsuits: God vs. The Nation. Micah called them "a nation built with blood." In Micah 3:12 he accused the leaders: "Because of you, [the nation] shall be plowed as a field" and "will become a heap of ruins."
Isaiah told them not to trust in military might, but rather to trust in the Holy One. "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength." Isaiah 30:15
Jeremiah challenged the blind nationalism, deceit and ruthless materialism that corrupted the nation during the reign of a particularly selfish and indulgent king, Jehoaikim. The prophet was hunted as a public enemy and traitor.
Following the prophesied disasters, during times of occupation and exile, prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel promised God's continued presence with the people and eventual renewal and hope for their future.
We live in a time that needs the message of the prophets. We live with arrogant, immoral leaders who afflict the poor and vulnerable, especially the alien residents among us. The wealthy use their power to concentrate wealth, not to raise up the poor. They trust in power and might, not in divine love and compassion.
Greed and arrogance inevitably lead to catastrophe. The prophets call us to repentance. Trust God and do good.
Commentary on 09/18/2018
Print Headline: A nation needs its prophets