More Things ... 21
Standing in the Council
Standing in the Council
Let’s face it. Few bible readers know much about the prophets, who after the conquest take a back seat to David, Solomon, and maybe a couple of the judges. The average Christian reads the prophetic material only when the pastor needs a good sermon on sin or judgment. The prophets are just a bunch of wild eyed gloom and doom fanatics, aren’t they?
The caricature is not completely without foundation, but it fails to accurately communicate who the prophets were, why God raised them up, and what their mission was. There is a distinct pattern to Yahweh’s sovereign choice of human leaders, a pattern that includes the divine council.
Just What Was a Prophet?
Just What Was a Prophet?
To discern the full implication of this pattern, it is vital to understand what is meant by the term “prophet.” Forecasting future events was only a small part of what prophetic figures did and what they were about. Prophets were simply people who spoke for God - men and women who, at God’s direction, looked their fellow Israelites in the eye and told them they were being disloyal to the God to whom they owed their existence and who had chosen a relationship with them over everyone else on earth. Prophet’s told people the unvarnished truth and often paid dearly for it.
The “classical prophets” (Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) preached during the monarchy (from the time of Saul onward). But God had been appointing people to speak on his behalf for much longer than that. For example, Samuel, the last of the judges, is called a prophet (1 Sam 3:20). Since Samuel is a transitional figure from the time of the judges to the establishment of the first king in Israel, Samuel is often thought of as the first prophet. That isn’t actually the case. If we define prophets simply as spokespeople for God, prophets go back to the very beginning.
The First Prophet
The First Prophet
Eden was the dwelling place of Yahweh, the place from which he ruled with his council. Humanity was created to be part of God’s family and his ruling council. That is not difficult to discern when approaching Genesis in its original context, but seeing Adam as a prophetic figure requires moving outside of Genesis.
“Are you the first man who was born? Or were you brought forth before the hills? Have you listened in the council of God? And do you limit wisdom to yourself?
Eliphaz asks these questions of Job and they are obviously rhetorical. By using contrast, they anticipate an answer of no. Of course Job was not the first man — Adam was. Job had not listened in the council of God, but the rhetorical contrast implies that Adam HAD listened in the council of God. This would make sense, given that Adam lived in Eden, the meeting place of the council, and that it had been God’s intent for human beings to be his earthly children and human members of his council.
Think back to Gen 3:8
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Here Yahweh approaches Adam and Eve after they had violated God’s command. They heard the sound of the Lord walking. The walking terminology suggests that God appeared to them in human form (spirits don’t walk or make noise if they did) The text says that Adam and Eve knew it was God - there was no surprise or shock, This was an experience they had had before. Adam and Eve were familiar with God’s presence. We don’t think of that in prophetic terms because there were no other people in Eden. But once there were others, Adam and Eve would have been the mediators between God and other humans, their own children.
The description of Yahweh “walking” is also used of God’s active presence inside of Israel’s tabernacle, creating another link between Eden, the cosmic mountain, and the tabernacle sanctuary. One can read the OT in vain for any instance where Yahweh walked around the camp of Israel, as opposed to appearing in a cloud over the holy of holies, and so the description here isn’t describing God literally glad-handing with the Israelites. Rather, the language is another way of saying that Yahweh’s abode was among the Israelites - -and where God’s house was, his council was. On the other side of the veil was where God and his council could be found.
Enoch and Noah
Enoch and Noah
The idea that “walking” was language that expressed presence shouldn’t be foreign to us. We use it, too, when we talk about walking with God. Our conception is one of communion or relationship. Scripture uses the phrase for at least that much, but it could also mean more direct contact with the divine presence. And understanding the notion of “meeting with God” is crucial to understanding what being God’s spokesperson meant. When God chose someone to speak for him - to represent him to the rest of humanity or to his own people, they had to meet first. This is the idea behind the biblical call to service.
Enoch is remembered in Gen 5: 22, 24 as never seeing death. These passages note that he walked with God, and God took him. Jewish writings from the period between the OT and NT do in fact connect these few words with the divine council. The the book named for him Enoch is considered God’s spokes-person since he delivers the words of judgment to the fallen sons of God after the Gen. 6: 1-4 incident. The NT reports that Enoch prophesied:
It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
Noah also walked with God, according to Gen. 6:9. God spoke directly to Noah, as he had done to Adam before him and many prophets after him. Noah prophesied the flood, warning of judgment.
The pattern of an encounter with God or with divine council members as validation of one’s prophetic status gets even clearer with the patriarchs. Since we have seen this before, we will take an abbreviated tour here.
Recall that God appeared to Abraham on several occasions. But in Gen 12: 6-7
Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
This is a detail we have not covered. Compare Gen 18:1
And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.
These oaks are each what are called a terebinth - a sacred tree that got its reputation because it marked a spot where divine beings appeared. In fact, Oak of Moreh literally means Oak of the Teacher. The point behind the name would be that some divine figure teaches people or dispenses information at this location - what we commonly think of as an oracle. Because they were thought to be holy ground, place where God was present, such places were considered good places to bury loved ones. The dispensing of divine knowledge and divine decrees is associated with the divine council in the OT. This connection is transparent when we get to the classical prophets.
While Abraham was still a pagan, God had chosen him to be the father of his own inheritance after the debacle at Babel. Abraham became the conduit for God’s truth to the disinherited nations. Isaac had the same status, and God appeared to him to ratify the covenant. Jacob had a number of direct encounters and he had the same prophetic status of his father and grandfather.
The pattern that emerges from the patriarchs is that when God chooses someone to represent him, that person must first meet with God. By necessity, that meeting is with the visible Yahweh, who can be discerned by human senses. In many cases, the divine job interview occurs in a place that is described as God’s home or headquarters, the place where the divine council meets.
Moses, Joshua, and the Judges
Moses, Joshua, and the Judges
Look at Moses Deut 34:10
And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face,
This makes it clear that Moses was a prophet, and all of his divine encounters validate that status. For the Israelites, divine encounters was what convinced people that Moses was God’s man. the connection is explicit Exodus 19:9
And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord,
The implication is clear — the people need to listen and will listen to the person who is validated by an encounter with the presence of God.
Divine encounter was also what initially validated Joshua as a prophet. Joshua went with Moses up the mountain of God. and then
When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.
See Deut 31: 14-23
And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, the days approach when you must die. Call Joshua and present yourselves in the tent of meeting, that I may commission him.” And Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the tent of meeting. And the Lord appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud. And the pillar of cloud stood over the entrance of the tent. And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods. “Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.” So Moses wrote this song the same day and taught it to the people of Israel. And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.”
The Classical Prophets
The Classical Prophets
The most familiar initiation of a prophet is perhaps that of Isaiah .. who is called into God’s presence, throne-room and divine council gathering...
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
Then we see the plurality of the commission and the purpose of it
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
notice the wording ....Whom shall I send…who will go for us” God is the commissioner, but the commission extends from his divine council as well.
The same divine rite of passage is experienced by Ezekiel in an even more dramatic call to ministry … instead of Ezekiel going to the throne room it comes to him
In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.
As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness,
And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance.
Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day.
And the pattern hold sith Jeremiah
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
Jeremiahs dramatic call by the embodied Yahweh in the book serves as the basis of true prophet status. This become a litmus test for a true prophet or false one
Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’ ” For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened?
“I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.
The implications are clear: true prophets have stood and listened in Yahweh’s divine council; false prophets have not.
The litmus test of direct divine encounter for validating one who claimed to speak for God never went away in Israel. It was alive and well in NT times. In the next three week — the final ones in the OT — we will get prepared and our minds ready for Yahweh’s ultimate human voice. The prophets would fail in their ministry, in the sense that they were not able to preserve and revive Israel’s loyalty to God. The prophetic message would change to judgment and redemption - but the means was deliberately veiled. 1 Peter 1: 12
It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
You and I have the advantage of hindsight - but we still need to know what we are looking at.