Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What Makes a Prophet?

me leafing . . . er reading on my computer
I was leafing (do you leaf on the computer?) . . . errr, paging, errr reading through this months Ensign online and came across an article by President Monson entitled Priesthood Power, http://lds.org/general-conference/2011/04/priesthood-power?lang=eng. I’m not really going to talk about this article right now, but a statement he made at the beginning of the article about not wanting to offend anyone really got me thinking about what, biblically speaking, a prophet is/was. (It made me think because a lot of the Old Testament prophets were quite offensive even though that's not really what this blog is turning out to be about.)

The Old Testament is full of examples of prophets throughout many generations and so it’s hard to characterize exactly what one might look like (would he wear a suit and a tie, or jeans and a beard?), but there are some characteristics that Biblical Prophets shared. These are what I want to look at because I believe that these are traits that modern prophets also ought to share.

The first thing I thought of when thinking about Old Testament prophets was that they were nobodies whow many times came out of nowhere. John the Baptist for example, came out of the wilderness. (Luke 1:80) Amos was a herdsman (Amos 1) Elisha was tilling in his field (a farmer) when Elijah came and got him. (1 Kings 19:19). Saul was actually hiding when Samuel came to anoint him. (1 Samuel 10, note Saul wasn’t a prophet per se, but God did use him to prophecy in the beginning of God’s dealings with him, later though he tried to do things in his own strength without God so God rejected him as king and his prophesying seems to have been a temporary thing). David we know was a sheepherder and the youngest of his father’s sons, and his family wasn’t particularly significant either. (1 Samuel 16) and I think if we study the other prophets (the ones that we know their history) we’ll find the same thing: they were insignificant men who God reached down and pulled up and made into significant men.

And, that’s really the main thing we see in scripture that defines them: God called them, and what’s more they knew that God had called them. Isaiah describes how God called him in the first chapter of his book.

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. . . Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. (Isaiah 6:1, 5)

Similar things happened to Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and many of the other prophets in the Old Testament. They knew directly and without a doubt that God had called them, and sent them out with a specific message. Here are some more examples:

“The words of Jeremiah. . . To whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah . . Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying. . .  I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:1-5) “ Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. . . .The word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel. . . and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.” (Ezekiel 1: 1-3) “The word of the LORD that came unto Hosea” (Hosea 1:1) “The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.” (Joel 1) “The vision of Obadiah. Thus saith the Lord GOD” (Obediah 1) “Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah” (Jonah 1).

Lastly, Old Testament prophets weren’t in any way perfect, or sin free. In some ways this seems like it’d be obvious, but in the LDS church at least, I grew up thinking that prophets were right up there pretty darn close to God, meaning that while they probably did some little tiny sin from time to time, they certainly wouldn’t fall into any big sin. Biblical prophets though, struggled with some pretty big sins from time to time. We talked about David, and it’s super easy to see that David messed up big time with Bathsheba, (2 Samuel 11) but there’s also evidence that David was a bad father (2 Samuel 13-18), and he did a census of Israel that God had not wanted, making Israel suffer really bad consequences because of it. (2 Samuel 24)

We see too in scripture how Abraham didn’t always trust God like he should, and instead ran ahead of God rather than wait and trust Him (by sinning). And, I’m sure as we look at the other prophets we can find instances where they didn’t do everything just right. (Elijah ran away from Jezebel because he didn’t really trust that God could save his life).

But, the biblical expectation isn’t that they were perfect. Instead, it’s that they trusted God, and that when they did mess up they put their trust in God and in His forgiveness.That's why God could honestly say that David was a man after His own heart even though David messed up so big. (1 Samuel 13)

In fact, as I was studying to put this together I realized that the one thing that ties all the prophets together above everything else was that God had given them a message (which they then spoke out), and that really, no more and no less, is what made them prophets.

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