In my past, the Bible’s prophets were a scary lot whose feet never touched the ground as they walked with an air of fiery divine condemnation. Exempt from earthly duties, such as going to the toilet, they were almost gods and barely human. I often envied men like Moses and Elijah who walk the New Jerusalem’s gilded streets, secure in the knowledge that they are forever beyond hell while I despaired of my shortcomings, wondering if I would ever make it to that Blessed Home. Throughout my teen years, I believed I was destined for hell because I refused to get baptised.
At eighteen, still drenched with baptismal water, I began to read the Bible with greater scrutiny. Being a connoisseur of narrative, a glutton of history and dabbler in poetry, the Old Testament proved a delight to read as I sailed past familiar stories, only pausing to pore over genealogies and Levitical law codes. It so happened that one day, I fidgeted as I read Jeremiah’s diatribes aimed at God. How could a perfect prophet rail against a Holy God? Thus, began a decade long journey that would strip the prophets of their “demi-divinity” and leave them human and accessible.
Daniel studied heathen subjects at a heathen college after being given a heathen name and excelled without losing his faith in God. Daniel still did not understand his own prophecies though. The other prophets landed on the ground too, voicing their anguish against injustice, demanding divine intervention. They engaged God in debate, challenging His theodicy and demanding answers. Habakkuk and Jonah vocalised their disappointment with God while Ezekiel was bold enough to request more palatable object lessons to carry out.
The stories told by the Bible’s prophets revealed an uncomfortable history. Father Abraham had great faith but wasn’t above sexually harassing the help. Jacob’s family was dysfunctional with a firstborn son who gave fertility treatments to his parents and deceitful murderous sons such as Simeon and Levi. David was a philanderer and Paul bored somebody to death… Literally. The Israelites were a perfidious lot and rarely seemed worthy of the title, God’s Chosen Nation.
The prophets and their stories in the Bible reveal a patient committed God. It is remarkable that God would engage flawed prophets to use imperfect words to write stories about erring people and God’s constant effort to save all. Only a God with nothing to hide would do that. In it’s entirety, the Bible explicitly and, even more implicitly, reveals God’s character. A character that the Pharisees and Sadducees failed to recognise in Jesus.
They had the writings of the prophets but were unable to recognise the God they testified of when He walked among them. It is certainly not enough to read the Bible. We Seventh-day Adventists should know that. We came out of the Millerite Movement, a movement that reached certain conclusions based on their study of the Bible but faced bitter disappointment when their conclusions were proved wrong. Correct interpretation is indispensable. It was needed then, it is needed today. The Bible is a book meant to give us a case of holy déjà vu when we meet Jesus. By feasting on the prophets’ testimonies, we too can learn to recognise God in our lives. Holy déjà vu.
Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son.
(Hebrews 1:1, The Message)
photo credit: L’art au présent EECKHOUT (van den) Gerbrand,1664 – Le Prophète Elisée et la Sunamite (Budapest) – 0 via photopin (license)