Getting a handle on prophecy

Our lessons in this first part of Year 3 demand that we put aside modern notions of prophecy. The prophets of the Bible are not soothsayers but speakers of the truth–God’s truth, that is. And God doesn’t just put words on their lips. He rages in their hearts. God’s presence is a challenge, an incessant demand.

Prophets are subversive. They rock the status quo, exposing and confronting ideologies and idolatries. Called by God to lead Israel back to covenant faith, they challenge the way of life of the powerful as well as common people. They speak for those without a voice—the poor, the underprivileged, victims of injustice.

Cover of "The Prophets"

The prophet is a witness to God’s concern for human beings. He participates in the decisions made by God and by his angelic advisors. The point of view is not his own but God’s. He feels fiercely. Rabbi Abraham Heschel, author of one of our texts, The Prophets, calls this “the divine pathos”—that is, the prophet taps into God’s emotions: love and disappointment, mercy and indignation. It’s as if he puts on a magic pair of glasses and sees everything with the eyes of God.

It’s no wonder that prophets feel forlorn and beset. The image on the cover of Heschel’s book expresses it perfectly: a sainted man alone with his thoughts, perhaps misunderstood.

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