Sunday, December 21, 2008

Forgotten Treasures: God’s Prophets of the Old Testament

By Rabbi Anthony Loke

There is a group of people mainly found in the Old Testament (OT) who might be considered strange or eccentric today. They have been called diverse names such as prophet, seer, visionary, man of God, and man of the Spirit. Whatever the designation, one thing stands out clearly: they were unique. They often stood out in the crowd like sore thumbs, distinct in the way they dressed (hairy mantle, e.g. Zechariah 13:4), what they ate (wild honey and locusts, e.g. 2 Kings 1:8) or what they did (walking barefoot and naked, e.g. Isaiah 20:2).

These prophets came from all walks of life – from priest (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) to herdsman and sycamore tree dresser (Amos), to royalty (Isaiah) – but the personal backgrounds of the majority were unknown. Sometimes even their patrimony was not preserved and their lineage left unspecified. The OT is not concerned with their biographical details. It clearly had little or no interest in the kinds of questions modern readers would ask. The prophets are remembered not because they lived interesting lives but because of their message. Their lasting legacy was the words they left behind. These linger long after the prophets disappeared from the scene. Who can forget some of their more memorable sayings?

‘But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.’ (Amos 5:24)
‘He has showed you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 5:24)

When prophets spoke, even kings stopped to listen (e.g. David in 2 Samuel 12:13). Confrontation with them often proved futile (e.g. the story of Elijah and King Ahaziah in 2 Kings 1:9-17). They were often treated as enemies of the state and the originators of trouble (e.g. Elijah was called the “troubler of Israel” in 1 Kings 18:17). Yet, people frequently sought them for advice about venturing to war (e.g. Micaiah ben Imlah in 1 Kings 22) or to look for lost donkeys (e.g. Samuel the seer in 1 Samuel 9:6) or to seek help when all seemed lost (e.g. Elisha in 2 Kings 4).

Not only did they preach with power and conviction, some of them even dramatised their messages. Ezekiel immediately comes to mind. For Ezekiel, his life and personality became part and parcel of his message. One day, he was found lying on one side. After 390 days, he proceeded to turn over to lie on the other side for another 40 days (Ezekiel 4:4, 6). Another time, he cut his hair and beard and divided the hair into three portions; one portion he burnt, the second he chopped up with his sword, and the third he scattered into the air. Then he took some and sewed them inside the hem of his garment (Ezekiel 5:1-4). One night, with his belongings bundled up, he made a hole in the wall, and proceeded to crawl through it, leaving his flabbergasted neighbours to wonder about his sanity, if they had not already doubted it before (Ezekiel 12:1-7).

Read on for the full article at Kairos latest issue The Church's Forgotten Treasures.


anthony said...

link is not working because of some %% signs

The Hedonese said...

Thanks for letting us know, Reb. It's fixed and merry Christmas :)