What manner of man is the prophet?Abraham Heschel
This is the important question posed at the beginning of Abraham Heschel’s book, The Prophets.
We are dedicating the whole of season 4 of Into the Pray to exploring “all the prophets”. You can listen to the preview episode of the season here.
In our first Friday guest episode of this season, we are welcomed by Gregg Cunningham, Executive Director of the Centre of Bio-Ethical Reform in America. You can read Gregg’s full bio here.
Thank you to Gregg for recording with me and also for providing permission for publishing his notes, below, here on Firebrand Notes. Each bullet point has a page reference to Heschel’s book should you wish to read it.
“Indeed, the sort of crimes and even the amount of delinquency that fill the prophets of Israel with dismay do not go beyond that which we regard as normal, as typical ingredients of social dynamics . To us a single act of injustice–cheating in business, exploitation of the poor – is slight; to the prophets, a disaster. To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence: to us, an episode; to them, a catastrophe, a threat to the world.”Heschel
PROPHETIC VOICES AND SOCIAL REFORM (compiled by Gregg Cunningham)
The NIV Application Commentary for the Book of Revelation, Craig Keener, Zondervan, (2000), says:
The Old Testament prophets sometimes used funeral dirges, the language of mourning, as a creative way of announcing judgment ….” (Is. 16:7-11). They similarly reported the mourning of others as a creative way to communicate impending judgment (Is. 3:2; 19:8; Jer. 48:14, Micah 1:10).
The January 16, 2016, Ministry Matters article titled “The Prophetic Vocation: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., On Justice and Peace,” notes that, ““Dr. King’s legacy to our Country,” (in the words of Drew D. Hansen, in his book The Dream),is the gift of prophecy, a vision of what a redeemed America ‘might look like ….’” The essay adds that “Dr. King’s ministry was the embodiment of the prophetic vocation … we must be constantly ‘confronted with,’ what he called ‘the fierce urgency of now.”
The same article makes important reference to Dr. King’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. In that connection, in the earlier mentioned America Magazine interview, His Holiness is quoted as stating “Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his ‘dream’ of full civil and political rights for African Americans.” The Ministry Matters story also notes that:
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, author of the classic study, The Prophets, introduced Dr. King just 10 days before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, … to an assembly of rabbis with these words … ‘His mission is sacred’ .… Rabbi Heschel saw in Dr. King a person possessed with the gifts and graces of a prophet.
Rabbi Heschel was a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and the introduction in his book The Prophets describes him as “a major twentieth century scholar.” It explains that he was also a civil rights activist who had marched with Dr. King. The rabbi’s daughter declared that, “As much as the Selma March was for him a religious experience, religion without indignation at political evils was impossible. Justice is not simply an idea or a norm, but a divine passion.”
1. “This book is about some of the most disturbing people who have lived…” p.2I
2. “… The major activity of the prophets was interference, remonstrating about the wrongs inflicted on other people, meddling in affairs which were seemingly neither their concern nor their responsibility.”
3. “To those who oppose him, saying, ‘Do not preach,’ Micah responds: ‘Do not my words do good to him who walks uprightly?’” p. 128
4. “The prophet was an individual who said no to his society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism.” p. 29
5. “The things that horrified the prophets are even now daily occurrences all over the world.” p.1
6. “Their breathless impatience with injustice may strike us as hysteria. We ourselves witness continually acts of injustice, manifestations of hypocrisy, falsehood, outrage, misery, but we rarely grow indignant or overly excited.” p. 4
7. “But if such deep sensitivity to evil is to be called hysteria, what name should be given to the abysmal indifference to evil which the prophet bewails?” p. 5
8. “The prophet is intent on intensifying responsibility … his words are often slashing, even horrid –designed to shock rather than edify.” p. 8
9. “Carried away by the … demand to straighten out man’s ways, the prophet is strange, one-sided, an unbearable extremist.” p. 19
10. “He is stigmatized as a ‘madman’ by his contemporaries and by some modern scholars as abnormal.” p. 21
11. “The main vocation of a prophet is to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.” (Micah 3:8) p. 22
12. “The prophet’s eye is directed to the contemporary scene; the society and its conduct are the main theme of his speeches.” p. 25
13. “The thought he has to convey is more than language can contain.” p. 27 (Hence, for Fr. Pavone, the imperative of pictures.)
14. “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I am a Hebrew, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me go prophesy to my people Israel.” (Amos 7:14) p. 37
15. “God’s supreme concern is righteousness, and his essential demand of man is to establish justice.” p. 42
16. “Amos’ primary mission is not to predict but to exhort and persuade.” p. 45
17. “The destructiveness of God’s power is not due to God’s hostility to man … but to His intolerance for injustice.” p. 19
18. “God is above all a God of justice.” p. 122
19. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice …” Micah 6:8
20. “The prophet is a lonely man. His standards are too high … and his concern too intense for other men to shape.” p. 127
21. “My people have been lost sheep” (Jer.50:6). “The shepherds who care for my people … have scattered my flock and have driven them away. (Jer. 23:2) p. 140
22. “I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because Thy hand was upon me for Thou hast filled me with indignation.” (Jer. 15:17) p. 146
23. “In spite of public rejection, in spite of inner misery, he felt unable to discard the divine burden .…” (Jer. 20:7-8) p. 151
24. Jeremiah “succeeded … in offending, chafing, even alarming his contemporaries.” P. 156
25. “The task of the early prophets was to threaten and shock.” p. 194
26. “It is not mystical experience he [the prophet] longs for in the night; but historical justice.” P. 222
27. “It is within the realm of history that man is charged with God’s mission.” P. 253
28. “Justice … is a transcendent demand, freighted with divine concern.” P. 253
29. “The shepherds are stupid. (Jer. 10:21) p. 260. “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against the shepherds .…” [Ex. 34:10) p. 260
30. “The distinction of the prophets was their remorseless unveiling of injustice and oppression, in their comprehension of social, political and religious evil.” p. 260
31. “The urgency of justice was an urgency of saving the victims of oppression.” p. 261
32. “Those who are easily exploited possess no skill in pleading their own cause.” p. 261
33. “Who will prevent the epidemic of injustice that no court of justice is capable of stopping?” p. 261
34. “The prophet is a person who is not tolerant of wrongs done to others, who resents other people’s injuries.” p. 261-262.
35. “For I the Lord love justice ….” Isaiah 61:8
36. “He loves righteousness and justice.” Psalm 35:5
37. “You have established equity; you have executed justice .…” Ps. 99:4
38. “What is the most rational to the prophets seems irrational to us.” p. 280
39. The prophets “great contribution to humanity was the discovery of the evil of indifference.” p. 364
40. “All prophecy is one great exclamation; God is not indifferent to evil!” p. 355
41. “The prophets could not remain calm in the face of crimes committed by men .…” p. 376
42. “The words of the prophet are often like thunder; they sound as if he were in a state of hysteria.” p. 395
43. “The prophet is a riddle for which there is no explanation.” p. 397
44. “The great prophets persisted in condemning the leaders – the kings, princes, priests … even more vehemently than the common people.” p. 613
Rabbi Heschel also emphasizes that “… the prophets of Israel often performed symbolic acts in order to demonstrate dramatically their message to the public.” p. 67. This dramatic methodology was also employed by both Martin Luther King and Fr. Pavone. The same is even true of prophetic angels. Rev. 18:21 says “Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: ‘with such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again.’”
Ez. 4:4-6 says that Ezekiel was directed to lie on one side and then the other for more than a year to illustrate the “iniquity” of first Israel and then Judah. In Jer. 27:1-11, Jeremiah put “yoke-bars around his neck to illustrate the coming subjection of the nations ….” In Is. 20:2-4, Isaiah went “naked and barefoot” for three years. Micah 1:8 explains that Micah “went stripped and naked.” These attention-getting tactics are not unlike Fr. Pavone’s video depicting a naked aborted baby.
The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible notes that in the books of the Major and Minor Prophets “more than half of what is said comes under the heading rebuke for sin and the call to repentance. This activity evidently consumed far more of the prophets’ time than any other feature of His work.”
Zondervan also explains that “… the work of a prophet is not the fulfilling of an office, but the performance of a function.” Vol. 4, p. 994; “Since a king, a great leader or a priest performed the function of a prophet if God commanded him to do so, the call to be one of these positions must be distinguished from being called to be a prophet.” Vol. 4, p. 996; “The Bible nowhere says that every prophet received such a call.” Vol. 4, p. 996; and that “The statement that every prophet received a specific call from God is hard to reconcile with the case of Elisha.” Vol. 4. p. 996.