Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

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Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me / Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
Isaiah 1:2,7

Although Isaiah is the first book in the Prophets section of the Bible, he is not chronologically the first prophet. By the time Isaiah came to prominence the prophets Elijah, Elisha, Obadiah, Joel, Jonah, and Amos had already completed their ministry. Each prophet had the same message from God, captured in these two verses: You have sinned. Repent.

We tend to think of prophets today as people who predict the future, but in fact the prophets of Israel were those individuals anointed by God to act as early warning signals to the people, each the proverbial canary in a coal mine. A prophet is one who warns us of danger, who reminds us of our path, shows us how we have strayed, and guides us back on course. Future predictions take the form of 'if/then' statements. If you continue on this path, then this outcome is likely. It is simple inevitability.

The story of Israel is unique as a history of a nation, being essentially a story of repeated failure, not one of triumph as most histories tend to be. According to the Bible, God sets out a framework for living well. It requires commitment and effort. The Israelites fail to live up to it. They go their own way, seeking profit and pleasure, hurting others to achieve this, and repeatedly finding false idols to worship as a quick way to get what they want. Commitment to God takes too much effort, too much sacrifice. Easier to turn away than to turn towards.

God's design for a just society is corrupted by greed and self interest. The prophets come along periodically to call this out. Prophets tended to arise from the people. They were seldom priests, and not of royal blood. They were the unheard voices of the masses channelled through a single person. They were the conscience of Israel, the speakers of uncomfortable truth. One after another they arose, always with the same message. You have sinned. Repent.

Today, in this age of capitalism, consumerism and contamination, where profit and power ride roughshod over kindness and human dignity, we are badly in need of a prophet. It's a risky job though. The authorities, the Powers that Be have no patience for criticism. The prophet Elijah is said to have lived to a good old age, but as with the canary in a coal mine, most prophets die young—the ancient and the modern.1

1 Consider the short life of Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated before his 40th birthday as an example