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By Rev. Justin Smoot, for Wausau Pilot & Review
Prophets were nothing new to the family, people, and nation of Israel. Sometimes, like Moses, it was to other nations on behalf of God for the benefit of the powerless. Samuel anointed Saul and David as kings. Nathan brought David to confess his sins and call him to repentance. Prophets brought a word or a message from God. Sometimes, like Samuel, it was to the people. Their presence was a sign that god was still speaking to the people.
There was one issue, however, there were many prophets. Who were the people supposed to listen to? There were companies of prophets that were active through Judah and Israel, all speaking and not agreeing. Often they supported the kings and were given privileged positions, as long as they claimed that God was on the side of the king. The prophets whose names we know, Elijah, Isiah, Jeremiah, Micah, etc. spoke against the king. Their lives were more difficult at they reminded the King of the covenantal promises that he needed to fulfil, to align the kingdom with God.
Elijah was a thorn in the side of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel because they were proud and idolatrous. (1 Kings 17-22) Isaiah brought hope to the people of Israel when King Ahaz of Judah was too proud to ask God for help. (Isaiah 7) Micah spoke of the defeat and exile of both Kingdoms because the wealthy and powerful exploited and oppressed the poor and the powerless (Micah 2) ignoring their covenant promises and the commands of God’s law. In every case where the prophets speak against the nations of Israel and Judah, they show how worship of God has become an empty show, they accuse kings, prophets, and priests of abusing their power, and of failing to live up to the covenantal promises that would shape them into a beacon of righteousness and justice. The prophets are not cursing Israel, they are speaking about the ways that the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah stand opposed to God.
Beset on all sides by waring nations and kings more powerful than they, the people also longed for the Day of the Lord. This was their hope when God would restore the kingdom, defeat their enemies, and dwell with the people. This would be a day when all the nations of the world would look to Jerusalem for blessing and wisdom, because it would be the seat of God on earth. This was a day that the people thought would bring them glory and honor. Continually, however, the prophets bring warnings that the Day of the Lord will not be good for the kings of Israel and Judah, who placed their trust in wealth and might, and all who assumed that God is on their side. (Zephaniah 1, Amos 8, Ezekiel 7) The prophets speak of this day as a day when Israel will be punished for having broken their promises to God, the promise to worship God alone and the promise to be a model of righteousness and justice.
Israel was blessed by God, to be a blessing to others. Despite the prophet’s warnings, the people held to the ways of the world. Eventually, both kingdoms would be conquered by stronger nations, God did not prevent this. (2 Kings 17, 25) Israel’s faithlessness had lost them the Promised Land. Their failure led to exile, just as the prophets said. Yet, God did not abandon them. Prophets, even in exile, spoke comfort and hope to the people. (Isaiah 60) They were now the poor, oppressed, and strangers where they were, and God would bring about justice for them. (Micah 7) Their time of punishment ended and a period of rededication to the covenant promises began. (Ezra, Nehemiah) Another chance to humbly worship, follow, and serve God, placing themselves on God’s side. An opportunity to claim the blessing of God, “I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
The largest lesson, from Israel’s history, that is so hard to learn that each generation needs to learn all over again is: God’s priorities are not our priorities. Even Israel’s best efforts to dedicated themselves and remained faithful failed. But God can bring about whatever God wants. God’s presence with the Ark of the Covenant, and that alone, defeated the Philistines and brought an entire city to its knees without any help from the Israelites. (1 Samuel 5-6) No human sword was drawn, or plan executed. God did not need the people of Israel but wanted them to be the exemplar for the rest of us. This is the blessing that Israel forgot to be when they turned inward on themselves.
When they acted out of fear and jealousy. God invites humanity into the process of blessing the world, not through conquest, but through humble service. Not through glory, but through faithfulness. Not by Choosing one group over another, but by inviting different people into taking their place together in God’s Kingdom, something we never had control of, but something that blesses us all the same.
Rev. Justin Smoot
Rev. Justin Smoot is one of the pastors at Saint Andrew Lutheran Church in Rib Mountain. He is always on the lookout for how God’s story turns our lives upside down and draws us closer together.