Ancient Prophets in a Modern World
by Homer Hailey
via The Preceptor Vol. 1, No. 3, January 1952.
One of the most, if not the most neglected portions of the Bible in our study today is that of the Prophets. No doubt the reason for this is that there has been so much speculation among modern dispensationalists, in which men of this error have sought to make the Prophets teach their errors. This is about all the consideration the Prophets have received in our time. Men seek to find in them food for speculative theories of a future reign of Christ on earth, or allusions to specific individuals and events of our day. These were not the themes of the Prophets. They faced conditions of their day and met them with principles of God which are eternal. In meeting the conditions then existing they taught lessons and laid down principles that are applicable for all time, and which need a thorough restudy today. They knew that the sins and abuses of the day would result in captivity and the ultimate destruction of the Hebrew nation. Therefore, inspired by the Spirit of God, they looked beyond their own era and told of a Messiah and His kingdom which should come, and which did come, in which Jehovah's rule through His King, the Christ, should be and is complete. Their teaching will always encourage the advocates of righteousness and truth, and beget confidence in Jehovah's ability and determination to carry out His purpose to a victorious and triumphant destiny.
It is true that the Prophets were sent to Israel and Judah, with only one or two exceptions. But they included in their predictions of doom the nations about them. They were meeting national problems, and in dealing with them they have left lessons for all nations since that time, and lessons that need to be heeded by our own and other nations today.
At the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel there were three classes of instructors or counsellors in Judah. Jeremiah said, "Then said they, Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the LAW shall not perish from the PRIEST, or COUNSEL from the WISE, or the WORD from the PROPHET" (Jeremiah 18:18). While Ezekiel declares, "Mischief shall come upon mischief, and rumor shall be upon rumor; and they shall seek a VISION of the PROPHET; but the LAW shall perish from the PRIEST, and COUNSEL from the ELDERS" (Ezkekiel 7:26). From these two passages it is learned that it was the function of the wise men or elders to give counsel; while the special function of the priests was related to the law; and the mission of the prophet was to communicate to Israel the divine Word. Since the law was civil and ecclesiastical, the function of the priest was twofold: First, to declare and interpret or teach the law; and second, to tend the sacrificial duties of worship.
To complete the group of instructors under the Old Covenant a fourth should be mentioned, that is, the Psalmists. These are often spoken of as the "sweet singers of Israel." To these poets of old, posterity is indebted for the Psalms, so rich in comfort, hope and spiritual grandeur.
It is generally agreed that the etymology of the word PROPHET presents difficulties. However, the meaning of the word is clearly learned from its usage in Scripture. Scripture is its own best interpreter and definer of terms. When Moses had returned to Egypt at the end of the forty years in Midian, God said unto him, "See, I have made thee as God to Pharaoh; and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet" (Exodus 7:1). When God had appeared to Moses in the place of the Burning Bush, He had said to him of Aaron, "And he shall be thy spokesman ...he shall be to thee a mouth, and thou shalt be to him as God" (Exodus 4:16). From these two statements it is learned that Aaron was to be to Moses a prophet, but he was to be to him a spokesman, a mouth. Therefore a prophet is a spokesman, a mouth, for another. Hence, the prophet of God is God's spokesman, His mouth.
This point is further confirmed by the promise God made to Moses when He spoke of the Prophet to come, saying, "I will raise them up; a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put My words in his mouth, and He shall speak unto them all that I shall command Him" (Deuteronomy 18:18). God's Words were to be in His mouth, hence, a mouth for Jehovah. Centuries later Amos said, "Surely the Lord Jehovah will do nothing, except He reveal His secret unto His servants the prophets. The lion hath roared; who will not fear? the Lord Jehovah hath spoken; who can but prophesy?" (Amos 3:7,8). The prophet, therefore, was one who spoke for God. We often associate the idea of prophet with foretelling or declaring future events; but though he did foretell events, he was more of a "forth-teller" or speaker for another, than a "fore-teller" or predicter.
Other terms used in the Old Covenant by which the prophet was designated are such as "seer", "man of God," "servant of God (or of Jehovah)," "messenger of Jehovah," "watchman." All of these terms expressed the same fundamental ideas, that of a mediator by speech between God and man. Someone has said, "There are two classes of preachers -- the good preachers who have something to say, and the poor preachers who have to say something. But there is yet another and higher class. It consists of those who both have something to say and who have to say it. Such are the prophets." And we might add, such ought to be every gospel preacher today.
Along with the true there arose also the false prophets. They fall into two classes: the mercenary and the political; some prophesying for money, others for political favor. They made the people to err by their teachings; and they did not attack the sins of the day. This made them false. Unto such the Lord declared, "Therefore it shall be night unto you, that ye shall have no vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not devine; and the sun shall go down upon the (false) prophets, and the day shall be black over them. And the seers shall be put to shame, and the diviners confounded; yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God" (Micah 3:5-7). But Micah, the true prophet, declared of himself, "But as for me, I am full of power by the Spirit of Jehovah, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin" (vs. 8).
The Prophets of the Old Covenant were confronted with similar conditions and problems faced by the world today. Religious infidelity and apostasy manifested itself on every hand. Social degeneracy followed spiritual infidelity to God. Political corruption flourished in the high places. These three -- religious, social and political corruption -- presented a dark picture of conditions to be corrected. These same three menace the world in our own time. The hope of that day was in a restoration of faith and truth in the hearts of the people, a return to God. The hope of our time is the same. Israel was doomed unless repentance toward God and obedience to His principles of right could be established. Doom faces the world today unless men can be brought to acknowledge Christ as Lord, and to receive into their hearts His doctrine and principles of ethics and morals.
The Prophets were men of God, raised up by Him to meet these special emergencies. Their mission was (1) to call Israel back from idolatry to the true God; (2) to denounce the sins of the people; and (3) to warn of impending judgment if the people did not repent and return to the Lord. This they sought to do by making Israel to see and understand the character of the true God, the righteousness He demanded, and the terrible consequences of sin. It was "Repent or Perish," till finally the conditions became such that it was only a terrible and impending judgment; the day of mercy was past.
It was during the period of the divided kingdom that the Prophets began to rise to special prominence. Here we find them taking an active interest in all affairs of the day, contending for the true religion of God, irrespective of cost to themselves in popularity or personal welfare. Of course such conditions gave rise to the false prophets, as mentioned, but their presence only gave impetus to the zeal and fearlessness of the true. Under such stress they would rise to their highest point of eloquence and greatness.
There were prophets before them, but the prophetic era is
usually considered to have begun with Elijah and Elisha who
appeared in the ninth century B.C. The writing prophets of
that period were Obadiah, Joel and Jonah. The remainder of
the writing prophets are usually grouped or divided into four
(1) The Eighth Century, or Assyrian Period, of which there were four: Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah. The first two prophesied in Israel, the latter in Judah.
(2) The Seventh Century or Chaldean Period. There were four prophets during this period: Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum and Habakkuk. All of these being in Judah, since Israel had disappeared with the Assyrian captivity in 722 B.C.
(3) The prophets of the Sixth Century, or Period of the Exile: Ezekiel and Daniel.
(4) Those of the Post-exile Period: Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Some place Joel and Obadiah in these later periods, but the more conservative scholars locate them in the period indicated.
The eighth century before Christ was a period of great prosperity for both Israel and Judah, which brought with it great perils. Two of these which specially threatened the religion of Jehovah were: first, moral and religious corruption, due to a wrong conception of the character of God; and second, the successes of the Assyrian, which were to the great mass of people an evidence of the superiority of the Assyrian deities, leading to apostasy from Jehovah. These same perils threaten to destroy both this country and the church today Blinded by greed for gain, this country has lost sight of the holy character of God; and deceived by the god of power, it places the might of the military above the might of Jehovah.
These things the four prophets of the period labored to counteract. They sought to meet the perils by emphasizing the universality of the divine sway, declaring that the successes of the Assyrians were due, not to Jehovah's weakness, but to the people's sins. Sin, not the weakness of Israel's God, was destroying Israel. Let it be said here that sin is the root of all of men's ills today! Remove the cause and the effect will disappear. Likewise all sought to impress upon the people a more adequate conception of the character of Jehovah, each prophet emphasizing that phase of the divine character which he considered best adapted to meet the need. Amos laid special stress upon the righteousness and justice of Jehovah. There is little of mercy in his book. With him it is righteousness for righeousness' sake, with an inevitable judgment upon wickedness and corruption. Hosea stressed His love and compassion as that of a wounded and grieved husband for his unfaithful spouse. Isaiah emphasized His holiness and majesty, and Micah the divine judgments. All revealed God, condemned the sinful practices of the people, and pointed them to the one way of survival: a return to Jehovah! The point we emphasize is that in these respects those ancient prophets would be at home in our own modern world, crying out against corruption and sin, and pointing to God and His judgments.
The terrible social, political and religious conditions are to be understood best by the things of which the prophets wrote. Cried Hosea, "Hear the word of Jehovah, ye children of Israel; for Jehovah hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land (i.e., a debate, or a dispute as to schemes and opinions. Now note why) because there is no truth, nor goodness, nor knowledge of God in the land" (Hos. 4:1). These were positive qualities which were lacking: truth, goodness and knowledge of God. Hear him as he describes the prevailing conditions as a consequence of such lack: "There is nought but swearing and breaking faith, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery; they break out and blood toucheth blood." How would that fit into the general headlines of our papers today? Or is one able to distinguish it from what he reads these days? Hosea would be fairly well at home in any so-called "civilized" land today -- lands which claim to recognize God.
Consider these words again, "swearing and breaking faith." How good is the average man's word today, from the statesmen who rule in high places to the man of the street? Note again, "and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery The world of our day is busily engaged in the great game of killing. Papers teem with the stories of murders, too many of which go altogether unpunished. Nations unblushingly attempt to steal another nation with its resources, plunging the world into the sport of killing; while the general philosophy of the day is, "get what you can, and all you can, while you can and, as often as you can." At the same time adultery is winked at on every hand, becoming almost the national crime. Investigate the divorce record in the country in which you may live and compare it with the number of marriage licenses granted. The lax attitude toward sins of sex encourages indifference toward the law of God even in the church.
The cause of the condition in the prophet's day is summed up in a brief statement, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because thou hast rejected knowledge, I also will reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to Me: seeing thou hast forgotten thy children" The moral corruption followed doctrinal apostasy. To reject God and His knowledge is to be rejected by Him. The religious leaders were responsible.
It may be argued that the prophets were sent to God's people. That is correct. But as they dealt with national conditions and crimes, laying down principles of God by which such should be judged, so would they be at home today in this nation, one built upon the principle of religious freedom and the Bible as an open book. The world perishes for lack of knowledge. As then, so today, the religious teachers are much and largely at fault; they must share their part of the responsibility. A diet of sissified sentimentalism, saturated with error, and garnished with speculation and sectarian prejudices is bringing its own reward. When men substitute a creature of their own imagination for the God of the Bible, and falsehood for the truth of Jesus Christ, moral anarchy and chaos are sure to follow. And in the path of moral depravity and social anarchy follows the inevitable judgment of God, terrible but holy and right. Every planting must reap its own harvest. Let us restudy the prophets to learn of the failures which brought ruin in their wake, that we may be warned by these, and that we may imbibe their spirit, that in it we may meet the political, religious and social conditions today in the fearless and courageous manner in which they met such conditions in their own day.