Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Methods of the Prophet

"At that time the LORD spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, “Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.” And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot" (Isaiah 20:2).

It was bad enough that Isaiah, son of one of the leading families in Israel, had become a radically zealous preacher of the law of God. The “church” of his day did not want to hear all this talk about law and judgment; they wanted to hear about grace and love, and to feel “joy, joy, joy” down in their hearts. Then Isaiah started going around wearing sackcloth as if he were in poverty and mourning. Finally, in the people’s opinion, he went too far: He roamed the streets barefoot and naked—for three years (Isaiah 20:4.)

The liberals of his day laughed at Isaiah; after all, they said, Isaiah was representative of all Bible-believing fanatics. Those who were the most offended by Isaiah were the respectable conservatives who felt that his weird behavior compromised their witness. But in fact, it was God who had told Isaiah to do these things.

Isaiah’s action was an example of “prophetic theater,” a symbolic action designed to drive home a point. The prophets sometimes did bizarre things to dramatize the fact that God meant business. Ezekiel refused to speak for several years, except to shake his fist and yell denunciations at a picture he had drawn of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 3:24–4:8). John, the Forerunner, publicly denounced Herod and lost his head. Jesus Christ made a whip and drove thieves out of God’s House.

In addition to prophetic theater, the prophets communicated God’s Word in three other major ways. One was the sermon, an address to the faithful designed to teach God’s Word, to encourage them in godliness, and to reprove their sin. Another was the prophetic oracle. An oracle is a prophecy of coming events, of which there are two kinds. The oracle of woe prophesies that disaster is coming because of the sins of the people, while the oracle of weal predicts that after the disaster, God will again restore and bless His people. Finally, the prophets communicated God’s Word by describing visions that God gave them. Much of the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah feature such visions.

Are you embarrassed by the fact that some Christians today feel called to take visible public stands against abortion, even picketing and sitting outside abortion chambers? Is it possible that these people, by engaging in “prophetic theater,” are helping wake up our society to the holocaust around us? Don’t be too quick to condemn.