Thursday, 25 February 2016

Political Prophets

Those of us who have come out of a fundamentalist background tend to associate Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Micah with prediction. In certain circles, those predictions are not only inerrant but aimed at our own times which are declared to be the End Times. Prophecy, we were told, comes alive in today's world news.

To illustrate this bit of myopia, here's a quote illustrating 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,...
I'd don't know where the author pulled his stats from - though an anatomical explanation may be apt. This particular 'expert' then goes on to shoot himself in the foot by adding;
... in this latter half of the twentieth century!
A quick check of copyright date: 1967.

In more enlightened circles this is all old hat. Of course the prophets weren't talking about today, they were forth-telling, not foretelling, and so on.

The trouble is, those circles of enlightenment are set on a very narrow beam, and they've yet to pierce the darkness down the road at the neighborhood church. The almost complete lack of "trickle down" to the pews is a major failing of modern biblical studies.

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! You don't have to read very far into the prophets without this reality leaping out at you. You're not always reading sublime spiritual insights; sometimes it's more Martin Luther King, other times it's just a Donald Trump speech.

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.
Not so evident to the good folk who watch Tomorrow's World on TV, or trawl through the shelves on 'prophecy' at their local Christian bookstore.
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.
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 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 with a word from the Lord.

There is apocalyptic writing as well, which does present itself as peering through the mists of time (usually with the advantage of hindsight!) but this is largely a niche genre restricted, in the Old Testament, to the book of Daniel.

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 pedlars with their arcane calculations and lurid fantasies about what will happen sometime very soon (and would you please send in your generous tithes and love offerings so they can raise the alarm!)

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!


Armstrong, Herbert W. 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.]

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

(Adapted from a 2011 post)


  1. I grew up in a household that was steeped in this stuff. For my parents and their friends, Armageddon and the Tribulation was always just a few years away.

  2. A clear-eyed perspective on prophecy in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, and one which fits the evidence much better than anything that Herbert Armstrong or his spiritual descendants ever produced!

  3. As a courtesy to your readers, we offer the colorized version of 1975 in Prophecy at

    Be warned that the recast "booklet" is huge and you may face long loading times.

    Nevertheless, readers should be able to appreciate the special features, like how the pages are 'turned'. On the title page, in the lower left hand quadrant, there is a speaker icon which will play some appropriately creepy music for your entertainment. On the last page, be sure to click on Herbert Armstrong in the upper left corner to get a most unpleasant chilling video Easter Egg.

    It's all in good fun.

    It's also weird and creepy.

    And people reading the text who remember the era should be appropriately embarrassed.

    1. The 'CC' at the bottom will bring up the comments.

  4. The use of capitalization is so weird. The caption on page 5 accompanying a photo of an unremarkable apartment building says, "Notice MODERN apartment building — a common sight in the NEW Germany." Why are "modern" and "new" supposed to stand out as ominous? What conspiracy involving architectural innovation and Germany is the author hinting at?

  5. Particularly, we should reread Zechariah 14 in this light: Frustration about people not keeping physical rituals with threats about a future which has never materialized -- a sure candidate for an example of applying political pressure through threats, replete with famines caused by drought.

    Well played!