The Prophets are such a precious treasure trove!

Dec 15, 2023 | INSIGHTS

You will often have heard me say what a miracle it is that the writings of the prophets have survived the ravages of time and come down to us intact, there to greatly enlarge our love of the Lord and our understanding of His ways. What incredible hope, insight and direction we receive through their words. I love them all so much! They are a treasure ever waiting for us to explore and to go deeper with. And how much we should sit up and take notice whenever the Lord speaks in the first person, because it is here that He reveals so much about who He is, what He does and how He operates!

Have most of us not prayed for the Lord to open our eyes so that we can see with His eyes, and feel with His heart? The quest is a good one, for all that we underestimate the cost involved in this process, and perhaps do not initially realise that what we see will often stretch our understanding to the utmost, and even break our heart. How sad that in unsettled times so many turn not to the living word of God, but instead to spurious and ill-defined ‘prophecies’ and predictions of the occult French astrologer Nostradamus* rather as in ancient times people flocked to Delphi to hear the Sibyl (later Pythia) channelling the Greek god Apollo (who was reputed to have stolen the temple site from Gaia, Mother Earth). Or in our own times, the endless diviners who publish their horoscopes in one newspaper and magazine after another to satisfy their insatiable hunger to know more concerning future events.

When people say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? Listen to what the Lord is teaching you through His law and testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no light of dawn. They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces up to heaven and down at the earth, but wherever they look, there will see only trouble and anguish and dark despair. (Is. 8:19-22)

Sadly, far too many believers end up placing too much trust in ‘words’ that ultimtely prove to be of little more substance than these ‘chirpings:’ unrealistic prophecies of blessing on the one hand, or doom-laden utterances on the other, which are woefully short of any sight or sound of the God of Mercy, who loves to deliver.

By contrast, every true prophet is a gift to the Body of Christ, both because of who he or she is in Him, and because much that the Lord shares may come as a surprise to us as they pass on visions to embrace as well as warnings to heed. Even predictions of danger and disaster are themselves a call to prayer and a summons to repentance. Rather, as Peter urges, we are to

Pay close attention to what [the Biblical prophets] wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place – until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star arises and shines in your hearts. Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding or interpretation of things. (1 Pet. 1:19-20)

In his masterly book, The Prophets, one of the greatest Jewish teachers and commentators of our times, Abraham Heschel, has written less a scholarly commentary on individual Biblical prophets than expressed a serious desire to ‘feel, respond and act as a prophet’ – and ‘to overcome the things that impair our sight.’

Heschel warns us that being immersed in the prophets’ words (as opposed to relying on worldly news sources for our understanding of events) is to be ‘exposed to a ceaseless shattering of indifference . . . People may be dying without being aware of it; people may be able to survive, yet refuse to make use of their ability.’ Or, as we would put it, not realising our vital need to be in Christ, and to be living with Jesus, God’s eternal Word, at the centre of our lives.

In his quest to ‘turn sight into insight,’ Heschel writes of his desire for our sight to be ‘suffused with knowing, instead of feeling painfully the lack of knowing what we see.’ He urges us to keep in the mind the principle of ‘knowing what we see’, rather than ‘seeing what we know.’ In other words to be able to perceive the true meaning of things rather than just seeing on the surface of matters.

‘Rather than blaming things for being obscure, we should blame ourselves for being biased and prisoners of self-induced repetitiveness. One must forget many clichés in order to behold a single image. Insight is the beginning of perceptions to come rather than the extension of perceptions gone by . . . Conventional seeing, operating as it does with patterns and coherency, is a way of seeing the present in the past tense – [whereas] insight is an attempt to think in the present . . . [in which] what has been closed is suddenly disclosed.

Seeking to see as God sees, Heschel not only delves into the lives and ministries of some of the greatest biblical prophets but also studies great prophetic themes, such as History (His story), Justice, Prophecy and Poetic Inspiration, the Philosophy of Pathos, the religion of Sympathy (Compassion), Chastisement and Wrath, Ecstasy, Prophecy and Psychosis and Prophets throughout the World.

Heschel reminds us that, ‘The significance of Israel’s prophets lies not only in what they said but in what and who they were.’ He writes that the prophet ‘is a person, not a microphone’ – and also a ‘poet, preacher, patriot, statesman, social critic, and moralist.’ ‘He is endowed with a comission, and with the power of the word not his own . . . but also with his or her very specific temperament, concern, character, and individuality. As there was no resisting the impact of divine inspiration, so at times there was no resisting the vortex of his own temperaments. The word of God reverberated in the voice of man.’

Having set his stall out high by declaring that he is aiming for nothing less than ‘an understanding of what it means to think, feel, respond and act as a prophet,’ there is much wisdom here for us to glean, with Heschel’s insights complementing the treasures we unearth in our studies of the prophets in such competennt hands as Alec Motyer, Charles Feinberg and David Pawson in their masterly exegeses of Isaiah and Jeremiah and the other prophets. Not to mention a host of helpful books on the prophetic ministry, such as those by Graham Cook and John and Paula Sandford.**

Any serious study of The Prophets will leave you underlining great chunks of it. If you are minded to obtain a copy of it, may the Lord use it as one of the many aids and resource portals we are blessed to be surrounded with that can aid and deepen our prophetic perception, as we continue to consider the power and beauty of the Lord as our Deliverer.

This is all about dwelling more deeply in the word of God, and letting it take flesh within our heart. That itself is a most apt and precious thought for this Advent season, when millions rejoice in the coming of our Saviour, the One who delivers us forever from all suffering and evil.

The extent to which our prophetic understanding will lead us in our prayers

Without in any way limiting God’s ability – one is tempted to say His instinctive delight in speaking through the most unlikely channels – it is certainly wise to be aware of the main streams of thought by which many of the prophets of our own day are speaking, before taking on board every aspect of all that purports to be spoken in the name of the Lord God of Hosts. This is especially true when it comes to matters concerning our own immediate times, and what the Lord intends to do in the run up to His return, whether in the Church or among the nations.

The extent to which we should embrace ‘political’ matters and make them a focus of our prayers will vary from person to person, and is not an entirely straight-forward matter. “I don’t know if it is right to bring politics into religion,” Charles Gore, the one-time Bishop of Oxford affirmed – “but it is certainly right to bring religion into politics!” He declared this in connection with my great uncle Frank Weston’s heroic (and ultimately successful) efforts to influence the government to prevent forced labour (slavery by any other usage) from being reintroduced into East Africa at the end of the First World War.***

In our own time, we have often witnessed the uproar whenever bishops, (the Archbishop of Canterbury very much included), veer into speaking out about issues that politicians claim as ‘their’ territory. They are very quickly reminded the bishops in no uncertain terms to stick to spiritual matters. But if the Lord is speaking, how can we remain silent? All of life is sacred to God, and if God gives us burdens for such matters, then rather than dividing life artificially between Sundays and weekdays, and between the secular and the spiritual, there are many things the Lord wants to show us – and many ways in which He will show us how to respond and to give full expression to them.

This is where we will encounter the full force and thrust of the Hebrew prophets, who did not hesitate to speak out either against the actual acts of evil kings – or to warn where their whole way of thinking and acting would lead. The Lord and Ezekiel between them make it very clear that watchmen have a duty both to pray and to warn. Is it any different today?


**See also my book Inspired by the Spirit. Understanding the Prophetic Ministry.

*** Frank had previously fought a major campagin at a national level to prevent the bishops of the Anglican Church from falling into the trap of seriously Christ-denying liberal theology.


Photo by Tim Wildsmith on Unsplash


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