I used to sit in “heresy row” in chapel, with a few of the doubting brethren and sistern. It became something of a joke to guess how much of any prophecy would be based on the following words: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) Usually, each of those clauses was covered in a prophetic utterance. We started to wonder if (1) God was uncommonly dull, or if (2) people were misusing (or even abusing) a “Spiritual Gift”, or if (3) we needed to hear the same message over, and over, and over, and over. And over. I chose number Two. It’s always been my thought that an un-grounded prophecy is, well, Plato liked to call it a “wind egg.” Think “fart trapped in an eggshell” and you about have my meaning.
Here’s a disclaimer: I’m not a fortune-teller. Neither am I a prophet. I highly doubt I’m wise. I’m not qualified to talk or write about any of these topics and I’m not a Bible scholar. And still I persist in blogging this. The whole long, horrid idea started trembling beneath the surface of my mind when I wrote earlier in the week about living under the painful expectation of a prophecy-never-fulfilled. Somewhere in that post, I made the statement that ”Any prophecy… is rooted in wisdom, not in fortune-telling.”
A prophet a prophet a prophet…
Those people! I think as a Church, we need to unlearn some of our preconceptions.
In ancient Israel, the were called ro’im, which means, basically, seers. Later in Hebrew history, they were called nevi’im. Some scholars think the n-v combination in the word suggests a hollowness, or emptiness; like an empty conduit to pour God’s blessing, or judgment, on the people. So, you can think of a prophet as a Hot Pocket which, instead of being filled with ham and cheese the temperature of molten solder. has been filled with words from God.
Prophets were weirder than the average person. Jeremiah constructed a yoke from wood and leather straps and to put it on his own neck to meet kings and priests. Isaiah walked stripped and barefoot for three years. Ezekiel had to lie on his side for 390 days and eat measured food.
They actually had a pseudo-guild. After the last paragraph, I must admit, this idea reminds me of the Woody Allen’s “Village Idiots Convention”. They tended to cluster around holy places, shrines and the like, delivering edicts, decrees and judgments, based on Hebrew Law. The prophets were in-your-face, dealing with issues between God and State. The Prophet was a mouthpiece. Prophecy is vertical, from God, thru the human conduit, down to the people and situations on earth.
It was the Greek word prophetes (meaning “foreteller”) that associated their bizarre and unique skillset with future-telling. Although, as a matter of course of their duties, prophets would indeed foretell events, it was usually delivered to the people in terms of a Hebraic covenant-breach; not Brother Bob’s Taco Stand surviving the recession.
Now: eariler I said that prophecy is rooted in wisdom. There was no official wisdom guild, but one who practices wisdom, for a lack of better term, I’ll call a “sage.” A sage’s responsibility was quite different from the nevi’im. There was certainly some overlap in their topics; definitely an adherence to the Torah, but for our purposes, you can think of the wisdom being anything on earth, as it relates to living one’s life correctly.
Wisdom was often portrayed in feminine ideals (Proverbs chapters 1-9 and 31 stand out). Kaballah tradition considers wisdom to be the female attributes of God, and the counterpart to shekinah (awesomeness and glory). Some scholars have noted that other Semitic religions had, for each male god, a female counterpart. So, if the Hebrews were believing adonai ehad (God is One), they had to explain this earthly and feminine bit of God somehow. The creation (and everyone knew women gave birth) was like reflection of God’s character, and to live in wisdom was to notice this and live (in Hebrew tradition) according to the Law. We’d call this whole idea Practical Theology today. How to pray, how often, what you do when prayer doesn’t work, is it okay to despair, when worship is inappropriate: in Wisdom Literature all these questions are answered. (Here’s something: it’s interesting to note that, by Aquinas’ time, wisdom was no longer female: he called it “the father of virtues.” I’ll let you come to your own conclusions on the meaning of that one.)
The sages were unafraid of asking questions, of struggling with the ambiguities that life brings. Nothing is clear-cut because life, like a Hot Pocket, is messy. It was their unique challenge to struggle with “bad” emotions: displeasure, pain, fear, dispassion, and find productive ways to manage them. A friend of mine pointed out the number of Psalms of Lament comprise a full third(!) of the 150. Job struggles for 40+ chapters with the idea of bad things happening to good people. Ecclesiastes describes futility and pointlessness in the face of riches and fame with such precision that it strikes me as the Bible’s most relevant work for a 21st century audience. So, this, my friends, is wisdom: living your everyday life–warts and all–as reflected in your understanding of God. Wisdom is horizontal, person-to-person, day to day, with the beauty of ocean’s waves, and the messiness of a coastal storm.
Now: why do I say that prophecy has to be rooted in wisdom? If prophecy is a message delivery system from God to a nation or person, and a prophet is simply a delivery tube to carry this message, it must take Creation into account. I could be wrong, but I don’t think Jeremiah wore the wooden yoke because it looked awesome: he wore it so that, in a very literal, physical sense, he would become a parable to priests and kings of the day. He may have also been just a wee bit touched in the head, but the point remains: you deliver messages to an audience–an audience on earth, mind you–not to vapors. You don’t lie on your side for 390 days and eat only measured foods because it’s good for digestion. It’s generally said that people should measure the quality of a prophecy against Scripture; but in so doing, we should measure a prophecy against life itself. Untempered prophecy is not only harrowing and dangerous, it is destructive to Wisdom.
So that, my friends, is my sleep-inducing Thursday post. My words are as murky as hell, and not exactly scholarly, but I did my best. Someone recently said I’m making a mountain out of molehills — all that matters is that you believe on the name of Jesus, and everything else will fall into place. That is traditional Wisdom thinking (Just like you’d read in Proverbs). But Wisdom never stops there. One question gets answered, and three more unfold. It’s the nature of the earth, and the nature of wisdom. It can keep a person going for a long, long time. Kinda like a Hot Pocket.