Pastoral Perspectives

Aftermath of Mt Carmel (Part 1)

We have just preached through 1 Kings 17-19 which centre on the prophet Elijah and his great battle at Mt Carmel. He was called a troubler of Israel by the king and he might have troubled some of you as well. Questions were asked regarding the sermons and I suppose it is good to address two of them for the benefit of the others. The first concerns prophecy and it goes like this: shouldn’t a prophecy come to pass if it is from God? So how do we account for it when it did not? Can it still be called a prophecy and what do we make of the prophet who delivered it (e.g. Jonah 3)? I suppose Jeremiah 28:9 might come to mind when one asks such a question because the verse says that if the prophecy comes to pass, then the prophet is truly sent by God. Does it mean that people can therefore thwart God’s prophecy from being fulfilled?

First of all, we need to ask what prophecy is and is not. Most commentaries would say that prophecy is both fore-telling and forth-telling. Forth-telling is speaking forth what is on God’s mind and fore-telling is really nothing more than speaking forth what God will do in the future. It is not and should not be confused with the idea of predicting what is to happen in the future, which is nothing more than pagan divination in ancient time. One can make good prediction of what may happen to the market or political scene or whether it will rain during the weekend if he is wise or experienced enough but that’s not biblical fore-telling. No one can predict what God will surely do other than what the Almighty has chosen to reveal, even to pagans if he chooses to (Balaam in Numbers 23 and a medium in 1 Samuel 28).

Finally we need to remember that Israel had bound herself to a covenant with God through Moses. It was a conditional covenant that rest upon Israel honouring its term. Many of the prophecies in the OT were given with this covenant in the background and their fulfilment thus rest upon the recipients’ response. So unlike prediction, prophecy does not necessarily require events to come to pass in order to be considered authentic. Then there was also the unconditional covenant that God made with Abraham and reaffirmed with David. Prophecies given with this everlasting covenant in the background will surely come to pass because it is the faithful God who will act to honour it.

So a prophet might speak about the things that happened in the past, like how the sins of the forefathers had angered the Almighty. He might warn concerning the present, like Jonah calling out against Nineveh or Nathan confronting David. And he might reveal the future, like Isaiah speaking of the Messiah to come. These were all prophecies because the prophets spoke forth God’s words to stir up people so that they might respond accordingly, whether it was to repent of sins, take steps of faith or simply remain steadfast in the hope of what God would surely do. So Jonah’s prophecy of judgment for Nineveh was a prophecy because the prophet was speaking forth God’s word and judgment did not happen after the 40 days period because the city repented.

What about Jeremiah 28:9? Wouldn’t it disqualify Jonah as a true prophet of God? We need to look at the context behind the text. At that time, Israel was facing threats from Babylon, which had already taken into exile some of the people and Jeconiah, the king of Judah and put in his place a puppet king named Zedekiah. Jeremiah and the prophets before him had consistently prophesied war, famine and pestilence. Yet a prophet named Hananiah spoke otherwise, to which Jeremiah answered that the only way to know if he was indeed sent by God was when his prophecy had come to pass. Jeremiah 28:9 does not apply to Jonah because his prophecy was not contradictory.

So far we have only been talking about prophets and prophecies in the OT. Things are rather different now and people often ask if we should still expect to see prophets in this church age. Why not if we understand prophets today to be speaking forth words that are in accordance with the written Word? The trouble is when they claim to have been anointed to speak forth extra-biblical revelations which often sound more like predictions and expect to be treated with the same level of authority like the prophets of old. In my next perspective, I shall address the issue of praying because Elijah did have a strange way of praying!

Rev Ronnie Ang

April 3, 2016