Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

Ben Shahn, "Crying Man or Beside the Dead", Lithograph, 2018

And he settled his countenance stedfastly, until he was ashamed: and the man of God wept.
2 Kings 8:11

Elisha cries for the future of Israel. He cries for an event that hasn't yet happened, for the outcome of his own prediction. Asked if the king of Syria will survive his illness, Elisha sees so much more than that. Standing before him is Hazael, the man who will assassinate the king, take the throne and turn on Elisha's people. Knowing what was to come, and being powerless to prevent it caused Elisha immense grief, as it would to any of us.

And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child.1

These days we tend to think of prophets as fortune tellers, but what happened here, and in so many other places where future predictions are made is not fortune telling, not magic, it is simply sensitive men looking at past events, assessing character and seeing the inevitable unfolding of events. We are all capable of this, but most of us don't take the time to look, preferring instead to live in various levels of denial. Elisha was incapable of such denial, so sees with clarity the natural unfolding of events based on what is right in front of him. Another word for prophet is seer—one who sees. It is as simple as that.

We spend a lot of time glossing over reality, making things nice, fitting events to our own narrative. There's no way we can see inevitable outcomes when we live in such fantasy. The gift of the prophet is to live without fantasy, perhaps without imagination, seeing only what is exactly there in front of them, and calling it out. In this way the prophet is like a child, or like someone on the Autistic spectrum, both are seers, speakers of the truth. We find it uncomfortable, and it may explain why so many prophets were put to death over the centuries. Denial is a survival mechanism, and when threatened must be dealt with.

1 2 Kings 8:12