Monday, 19 January 2015

Ancient Prophets - Politics not Prediction

Another Otagosh piece reprised from 2011.

Those of us who have come out of a fundamentalist background usually associate the Hebrew prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and others, with prediction. In certain circles those predictions are not only infallible, but aimed at our own times which must be therefore, not unsurprisingly, the End Times. Prophecy, we are told, comes alive in today's world news.

To illustrate this bit of myopia, here's a quote that illustrates this perspective.
An exciting, pulsating, vital third of all the Bible is devoted to PROPHECY! And approximately 90 percent of all prophecy pertains to OUR TIME, now,...
This particular 'expert' then goes on to shoot himself in the foot by adding;
... in this latter half of the twentieth century!
Oops. Quick check of copyright date: 1967.

In more enlightened circles this is all passé. Of course the prophets weren't talking about today, they were 'forthtelling', not foretelling, and so on.

The trouble is, those circles of enlightenment are set on 40 watt narrow beam, and they've yet to pierce the darkness down the road at the neighbourhood store-front church. The failure of modern biblical studies is the almost complete lack of "trickle down" to the pews.

So what were the prophets on about? It's not saying anything original to suggest that they were more often than not the political activists of their day. Many of the soaring passages in Isaiah are not only reminiscent of political rhetoric, they are political rhetoric. Did Jeremiah have a political agenda? You bet! Did Samuel have a political agenda? Ask Saul! You don't have to read very far into the prophets without this reality leaping out at you.

Unless you've been overdosing on popular 'prophecy' material like the book quoted above, in which case it might well be a totally new thought.

Ronald Clements, a fairly conservative scholar, writes:
From the very beginning of modern study of these figures it was evident that their messages had a strongly political content.
Well Ronald, evident to you maybe, but not so evident to the folk who trawl through the shelves at the local Christian bookstore where every unclean and foul fowl finds a roosting place.
In the course of this engagement with a specific set of political judgments and policies they [the prophets] clearly intended to influence the policies adopted and thereby the outcome of events.
Clearly? Does this man not watch Sunday morning television? Well, no, of course he doesn't, which is probably why all this is clear to him.

Ever wonder why the powers-that-be, in most cases the royalty and priesthood of Israel and Judah, were so thoroughly hacked off with the prophets? (One memorable example is Jeremiah 36, the story of King Jehoiakim burning Jeremiah's scroll.) Was it because they were predicting events yet to unfold in the far distant future? Where, in practical terms, was the threat in that?

Of course there is poetry and theology in the Prophets. They wrote in a world where there was little separation between secular and sacred, no concept of democracy and no political parties. If you wanted to beat the king over the head for his questionable alliance with Egypt, for example, which is after all a very political thing to do, you picked up the club of prophecy, gathered your mantle about yourself, and whacked him lustily with a freshly minted word from the Lord. The prophets, more often than not, were the 'opposition party' in ancient Israel, which is why there were so unpopular with the royal regimes.

Naturally there is apocalyptic writing as well, which does present itself as peering through the mists of time (usually with the advantage of hindsight!) If someone wants to delve into Daniel or Revelation it'd be really helpful to get a grip on the basics of the apocalyptic genre first, before making a complete egg of oneself.

The incredible thing is that so many Christians, invariably good people with fine motives and an unquestionable commitment to their faith, are still being led down the garden path by the manipulations of modern prophecy merchants with their silly calculations and lurid fantasies about what will happen sometime very soon.

Back to the source of that first 1967 quote. Boldly, boldly, thus did the man of God proclaim:
Events of the next five years may prove this to be the most significant book of this century.
A staggering turn in world events is due to erupt in the next four to seven years.
By God's direction and authority, I have laid the TRUTH before you! To neglect it will be tragic beyond imagination!
Buzz, buzz, BUZZ...

But he did get the last sentence right.
The decision is now YOURS!


Herbert W. Armstrong. The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy. Pasadena, Ambassador College Press, 1967 [The same points could easily be made with Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth.]

Ronald E. Clements. Old Testament Prophecy: From Oracles to Canon. Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.


  1. Yes, and we do have questions about Zechariah 14.

  2. If there's one thing about modern Christianity that tends to get believers' spidey sense tingling, it's prophecy.
    And, for good reason. Many people tend to want to be in the inside track and have special knowledge, putting them above the masses who lack the inside track to God's Word.
    (Not to mention the thrill of the sensation of imagining God high-fiveing them for being on His side, and recognizing Holy Spirit inspired and transmitted Truths to them.)
    The biggest reason preachers use prophecy is because it sells. So does porn, but at least the preachers get to look righteous and godly while selling their pigslop, and their believers get to feel righteous and godly for swallowing it.

    In response to Douglas's comment about Zechariah 14, I think there can be a whole new selling point for the various pots-and-pans hawkers. Orgreenic can be remarketed as "OrGodic", and "Waterless" can become "Sinless"
    The megachurch pastors hawking supplements may find new products to sell, based on a deeper understanding of Zechariah 14.
    Or, they can just stick with supplements:
    "Is your body 'kingdom-ready', or do you need to loose a few pounds first? In God's Kingdom, do you want to be a fattie like Eglon? If not, try our new 'Kingdompillz' weight loss supplement. You can literally 'pray your ass off' - It will melt your ass-fat away while you get to know God. It also works for bellies and thighs!"

    1. Yes, and like so many similar snake oil products, they will fail to do one thing for you, except take your money.