Both Micah and Isaiah fiercely attacked the pro-Assyrian political intrigue and religious syncretism of Ahaz. And even John the Baptist felt the responsibility to challenge Herod, with deadly consequences. In looking at Old testament prophets more closely beyond the narrow category of prediction , it is clear that their message was most often calling the people back to proper worship of God.
But much of that task was done in the context of the community, the nation, of Israel. That meant that much of the criticism of the prophets was leveled at religious leaders which included what we would call "political" leaders for their failure to be spiritual leaders. It was also aimed at the powerful, most often also the religious leaders, who used their power and influence for selfish or sinful purposes. The prophets were a balance to the unrestrained power of the monarchy and the aristocracy cf.
All this says that OT prophets served two complementary roles in Israel. They spoke for God to the people, calling the people to respond faithfully to the God who had revealed Himself in their history. But they also spoke for the weak, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, those who had little voice in shaping their own lives or their own future.
Even in that role, they were still speaking for God, because their tradition remembered that once they were slaves in Egypt with no voice in their own future until God entered history and delivered them. Such oppression of the helpless by the powerful was understood to be a violation of the most fundamental part of God's revelation of Himself, that He is the kind of God who hears the cries of oppressed slaves and responds with grace and deliverance. So the prophets stood as a counter voice to those who would allow the allure of power, ambition, and self-serving self-righteousness to blind them to the things of God: doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.
They were, in the best sense of the term, "counter-culture" Israelites. As Walt Brueggemann writes The Prophetic Imagination , they called the people to live in an alternate reality not governed by the rules of power and success.
Amos Oz: the novelist prophet who never lost hope for Israel
They called them rather to live out Torah as a faithful response to God. They called the people to abandon the status quo shaped by those who benefited from it the most, to embrace a new future shaped, empowered, and energized by God. So, as Abraham Heschel writes, the prophets always sang one octave too high. They were empowered by a vision of how things could be, a future in which the people and their leaders would live out their calling to be the people of God as a channel of blessing to the world.
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And the prophets had the courage to call into question any preoccupation with the status quo on any level that interfered with that future. As a result, they were often in trouble with those who stood to lose the most if the status quo were changed and that "could be" future became a reality. In another context, this same idea was embodied in Jesus as he talked about the first becoming last and the last becoming first, and as spoke and lived the idea that true leaders were servants who washed others' feet.
In fact, this "alternative reality" is the heart of the "Kingdom of God" in the New Testament. However, because of the cultural aspects of the Old Testament, there are no more prophets in the strict sense of the word.
That was a uniquely historical phenomena that cannot be duplicated now because history has changed. But the prophetic concern with faithful response to God, especially as it plays out in issues of power, authority, and control, becomes the basis for talking about a modern prophetic voice , one who speaks prophetically. The issues that called forth the prophetic messages of the Old Testament are very contemporary issues.
There are still Davids around, who, even though they may be good leaders and people of God at times, sometimes use their power in horribly destructive ways to achieve their own ambitious or selfish ends. There are still people like Ahaz who are so blind to the things of God that they are willing to build altars to whatever gods they think are the most powerful in order to extend their ambition and control.
There are still Jeroboams who are more concerned with wealth, success, and empires than they are with the suffering their ambition causes for others. There are still Herods caught between their own delusions of grandeur and even more powerful political forces, who are willing to sacrifice whomever is necessary to secure their own comfort and survival.
There are still Pharisees who are so sure that their way is God's way that they are easily willing to crucify anyone who poses a threat to the status quo of their version of the truth. And so, I think, there needs to be people today, Christians today, who will dare to stand and speak the truth in love, who will dare to stand before the king and say, " You are the man!
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We easily assume that the enemy is external, a force of evil that threatens to overcome all of us righteous people. There is a truth there. But it is not the whole truth. The voice that decries sin in the world is not a prophetic voice. A truly prophetic voice is one who has the courage, perhaps even in some sense the calling of God, to look around at the community of faith in its status quo and say, "Not everyone who says 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven.
A prophetic voice is one that will not settle for the status quo , not for the sake of stability, or security, or comfort, or even for the sake of conserving the tradition. A truly prophetic voice is a radical voice, a liberal voice that calls for change, even if that change is a return to a vital tradition long obscured by false piety and self-righteousness. A prophetic voice will not gloss over injustice or oppression, will not be silent in the face of bigotry or prejudice or false pride, and will not compromise faithfulness for practical ends no matter how noble those ends may be in themselves.
A truly prophetic voice is one that will sweep away all the trappings of religion and simply ask, "What does God require? In a real sense, a prophetic voice even today is the voice of God.
Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile
In our culture, and with our history, it is easy to claim the role of a prophet. But it is also easy to claim that role as its own form of ambition and power. It is perhaps too easy to claim to speak prophetically, but to do so with arrogance, anger, and bombast as David Koresh well demonstrated.
A truly prophetic voice speaks in love, not anger, even when it cries "Woe to you hypocrites! But he took no joy in that message. At the same time that he stood firm as the lone prophetic voice against the tyranny, injustice, and idolatry of God's people, he was weeping.
He told them they were going to die for their sins, but he did so with tears in his eyes for example, Jer ! And Jesus on more than one occasion soundly denounced religious folk who could not envision anything beyond their own little world of truth. And yet, he stood overlooking the city of Jerusalem and wept over it, knowing that the very people over whom he was weeping had murder in their hearts. Do we need prophetic voices today? A few. Not everyone can be a prophetic voice. They wanted the new Israeli to be a soldier, farmer and poet.
Oz was all three, a member of Kibbutz Hulda where he took his turn picking fruit and washing dishes, turning over the proceeds of his novels to the collective coffers. He was not born an Oz, but a Klausner, growing up not on a kibbutz, but in Jerusalem. He fled to the kibbutz aged 15, renaming himself Oz — Hebrew for strength.
The trigger for that escape and reinvention may well have been the suicide of his mother, Fania, when Amos was just He confronted it most explicitly in what may well be his finest work, A Tale of Love and Darkness, a novelistic memoir thought to be the biggest-selling literary work in Israeli history. But part of it was his own fault, because Oz had a twin career as an essayist and polemicist. He was one of a group of young writers to edit an anthology immediately after the six-day war of — they called it The Seventh Day — which argued that Israel should immediately give up the land it had won in the West Bank and Gaza, and seek the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
That was an outlandishly radical stance at the time, but within three decades it would become the international consensus. Oz never abandoned it. His great gift was to express complex moral ideas through compelling metaphor, even in his second language of English. He would argue that after the Holocaust the Jews were a drowning man: they therefore had the right to grab hold of a piece of driftwood, even if it meant forcing another man, the Palestinians, to share it. What they did not have was the right to grab the entire piece of wood and force the other man into the sea — which is what Israel had done in Some found him hard to categorise.
In Israel, he was a trenchant critic and dissenter.
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