By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“Then the Lord said, ‘I have seen the afflictions of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt’. But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘But I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain.’ ” — Exodus 3:7-12
Second of six parts
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Prophets as Channels of Communication
Moreover, prophets also function as channels of communication from God to human beings, and from human beings to God. Typically their oracles begin with the phrase, “Thus, says the Lord…” As God’s agents, the prophets bring to the people messages from God – either about everyday matters, such as the location of lost animals (cf. I Sam. 10:2), or about matters of the state and even the whole future of a nation (cf. Amos 1-2).
As people’s ’representative, the prophets have a duty to intercede to God. Their intercessions might be for domestic concerns, like Elijah praying for a dead boy who returned to life (I Kings 17:17-24) or for deliverance from national emergencies (Isa. 37:21-35). Prophets are originally called “those who see” or “seers”.
Prophets as Charismatic
Furthermore, prophets can also be differentiated from the priests. Israelite priesthood is hereditary (meaning, handed down from one generation to another in a family) and hierarchical (meaning, controlled by the priests), whereas prophecy is charismatic (meaning free, not controlled). Well, prophets, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel were also priests, but there is no indication that Amos and Micah were priests.
However, it is hard to separate the priestly from the prophetic functions of Samuel, for instance (cf. I Sam.9:11-26). Throughout his life, he is called “the seer”, and he heads a band of ecstatic prophets. Yet, some of its main duties are to bless the sacrifice on the “high place” and to preside at the sacrificial meal.
Prophets as True or False
Prophets are supposed to have been called by God in a dramatic way (e.g. Isa. 6; Jer. 1; Ez. 1-3). To be a prophet in the Old Testament times is also a profession. Prophets also worked in the sanctuary or as the King’s advisers (e.g. Nathan, 2 Sam. 7; 12). Hence, they could be cult-prophets or professional prophets. For instance, while Amos and Hosea claimed to be not cult-prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah may be regarded as cult-prophets.
In the Canaanite culture, prophecy was already an old institution; but in Israel it emerged only during the time of the monarchy and in the first 50 years after the Exile (850-480 BCE). The professional cultic prophets would be expected to speak nice words to comfort the people. For instance, they would speak words against foreign nations and predict their destruction (cf. Isa. 13-23; Jer. 46-51).
The professional cultic prophets would usually oppose the prophets of Yahweh, and they would also claim that their messages came from God. Hence, there is a need to distinguish the true the false.
Some of the signs of true prophecy would include, first of all, the fact that the word spoken by the prophet has come true (I Kings 22; Dt.18:22). Not only that, the word spoken by the prophet must be spoken according to God’s voice and commandments (Dt. 13:1-3), and the prophet himself champions the rights of the poor and oppressed (Amos 7).
On the other hand, some of the signs of false prophecy would also include the fact that the prophet himself prophesy for money (Micah 3:8). Not only that, the prophet’s word is irrelevant (Jer. 8:10-18), or the prophet has become a “Yes” man of the king (I Kings 22).
The distinction between false and true prophecy in the days of the classical prophets is not always clear. Mere possession of ecstatic prophetic spirit not a sure criterion; prophets might be touched by the spirit and still prophesy falsehood, and most of the classical prophets give no signs of having been ecstatic.
The fulfillment of prophecy, even if it has been always evident to the prophet’s contemporaries, is not an infallible sign, as Deut. 13:2 ff. would show. Moreover, true prophecy apparently often went unfulfilled, discouraging even the prophet himself (cf. Jer. 20:7ff.).
The prophets’ authority lies in their testimonies. These testimonies constitute their own credentials, both for themselves and for those to whom they have been sent (cf. 2 Sam. 12:1 ff.; I Kgs. 21:17-24).
FULFILLING OUR PROPHETIC TASK
Now, having said those things about the nature of Biblical prophecy, let us now look into our prophetic task. I have chosen the story of the call of Moses in the Book of Exodus as our point of reflections this afternoon, for it provides us some significant insights into what it means to do our prophetic task in these critical times.
The story is found in Exodus 3:7-12: “Then the LORD said, ‘I have seen the afflictions of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt’. But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘But I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain’”.
This is the story about Moses’ call at Mt. Horeb, the so-called mountain of God. Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, when God appeared to him through a “burning bush”. And there he heard the voice of God calling him to do a prophetic task among his fellow Israelites who were slaves in Egypt.
It is very significant to note that God revealed to Moses his prophetic task in a very ordinary situation, while “keeping the flock”, and in an ordinary happening, “a burning bush”. But then these ordinary things in life would truly become extraordinary in the eyes of faith, if and when they would serve as vehicles of God’s self- revelation.
The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen the affliction of my people… I have heard their cry… And I have come down to deliver them… to bring them to… a land flowing with milk and honey… Come, and I will send you… I will be with you…” (Ex. 3:7-12)
These words of the LORD to Moses picture to us not only the nature of God as one who calls the prophets, but also the process by which the prophets fulfill their prophetic task in the world.
We are reminded once again that the church indeed is God’s voice of prophecy in the world. And like Moses, the church is called upon to do her prophetic task in the midst of a suffering people. Therefore, the church should also manifest in its life and witness the very nature of this God who is continuously calling prophets even in our own time.
Let us therefore look into the nature of this God in the light of our text, even as we seek to discover what it means to fulfill our prophetic task. # nordis.net