I have been working my way through Isaiah and Jeremiah, trying to learn the moral lesson and ethical truth these spokesmen for God presented to their nations and how I might benefit from it in my life. They each have a similar message but different styles. Isaiah has more comfort, a steady pace and very polished prose. Jeremiah hammers away with raw truth. Isaiah seems written to prepare the people before the crises build up. Jeremiah writes while the crises is going on and things are crumbling. He writes while riding on the back of disaster, himself mistreated by both the people and by the reality he is trying to warn people about. Jeremiah is yelling truth to power while evil, war, drunkenness, and laziness cascades its noises around him and the kingdom.
What is clear from these prophets is God wants something better for His people, from His people to each other, and also a better relationships with them. However, given the deterioration of the governing structures and the lack of moral clarity of mission, the best He can do is yell into the intoxicated crowds, hoping to shock them into some soberness.
So prophet after prophet tries to teach the same lesson in different ways. Sadly, it rarely works. In fact, for the most part it seems like it doesn’t work.
So God sends in the “other teacher”–Hard Knocks. With crises unfolding, prophets are sent, if necessary, like Jeremiah, to be their during and IN the slide into captivity.
Its a painful job but a needed one. Those who claim the prophetic spirit need to keep that pattern in mind. Get ready for the Jeremiah lifestyle.
The message is always the same: trust in God and follow His advice. If you don’t trust Him, you will not listen to His messengers and believe and do the good advice God brings. Trusting in idols—foreign gods or foreign practices or the works of our own hands, or the past (wow they kept wanting to go back to Egypt), all suggest an inability to walk with God, to go into the “new” as He guided.
As David Asscherick reminded Andrews University recently, two things upset God about idols. Idols–images to god–distorted His image-character and qualities and they also distort ours. The reason is that humans were the ONLY ones made in HIS IMAGE. It distorts who we were meant to be. Higher than the highest human thought is our destiny.
The message was simple: walk humbly with the Lord, take His hand, let him guide you. Stop your foolishness. Listen and obey.
Reading this has really sobered me. We, like many of the people these prophets spoke against, are drunk and drugged with money, comfort, debt, materialism, and foolish disobedience, or in the case of many of Jeremiah’s enemies, exuberant but naïve optimism.
If the message is listen to good advisers and heed their advice, we might actually have more reasons to be thankful. Many of us have parents, pastors, teachers, writers, speakers, and wise people that speak stuff that if heeded would save us much pain and suffering. Even government reports on health and fitness, home budgeting, and advice on marriage and family, if heeded would do much to save us marriages, children, money and sanity and health.
And when we don’t, the desserts sneak up on us.
Recently, I was traveling through a long stretch of dessert and wondering what would happen if the place got some water, after days of driving through desert areas of Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada, I came on a valley with water and lush fields of hay and alfalfa.
Receiving prophetic warning is like letting water soak in and bring life.
Serving idols—the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life—only dries up the soul.
In a way, the prophets messages can be heeded and benefit all at three levels: the micro, meso, and macro. Individually, micro level, if you obey, it will go well with your soul. Listening to His still small voice—by daily prayer, bible reading and devotional reading—He will grow in you fresh insights and new patterns of thought and practice. The green plants in the dessert of your mind and heart will grow. God will strengthen the inner person. Trust and obedience to God always does. Putting into practice that walking, that better eating, those good things, will help your mind and body. It will. It always does.
On the meso level, as a group—a family or a congregation or a community, if you do these things together, you seek the good of those right next to you, it will go well with you. It will. It always does. Heeding advice on marriage and family, listening to the call to be connected to others through generous sharing of resources, shared parenting, and helping your schools prosper, will help you and those around you. It will. It always does.
On the macro level—and this is where the prophets spent most of their time—denominations and nations that decide they will follow the Lord, learn His methods and seek His power to do His will, will always do better. They do. They always do.
Exerpts from Jeremiah 50 and 51 present the basic moral message of the prophets for all time:
1. Things are not going well because you have got way off track
50:6, 7 “My people have been lost sheep;
their shepherds have led them astray
and caused them to roam on the mountains.
They wandered over mountain and hill
and forgot their own resting place.
Accept that truth. You have been mesmerized by the idols of pleasure, comfort, materialism, good tastes, and selfish living. All the dazzle pulled you away from the Shepherd’s way of taking you through the barren lands with his simple but ample provisions. You thought the pagan’s had it better than the saints and followed patterns of debt and self-dependence and the pride of life, the lust of eyes and flesh and you wandered. Yes, you should not have listened to those false ideas and bad advice and became infatuated with those idols.
2. Don’t blame your enemies, accept the blame yourself
50:7 Whoever found them devoured them;
their enemies said, ‘We are not guilty,
for they sinned against the Lord, their verdant pasture,
the Lord, the hope of their ancestors.’
Blaming others or enemies doesn’t give us the authority we need to take responsibility and then find repentance. Excuses, excuses, excuses. They don’t get you to where you need to be. Sober self-assessment gets us to the changes we need to in our lives, and in taking the responsibility for our own messes we are inclined to ask for Big Help. We can work with God directly and He will guide us out of the mess. Blaming others IS NEVER the first step to recovery. We need help out of the pit WE have dug. The 12 steps of AA teach us a path that the prophets would have celebrated. We have ravaged our own pockets and diseased our own bodies and taking ownership and not blaming others helps us own up to that reality. This is where Dr. Phil is right: How is that working for you?
3. Read history—your own and others. Let it teach us the patterns of life and death, pastures and deserts….
“Israel is a scattered flock
that lions have chased away.
The first to devour them
was the king of Assyria;
the last to crush their bones
was Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.”
Looking what happened to Israel at the hands of the Assyrians and then the Babylonians is a painful reminder for the United States and all countries who forget the lessons of humility.
4. Find forgiveness in god as your only hope
50:20 In those days, at that time,”
declares the Lord,
“search will be made for Israel’s guilt,
but there will be none,
and for the sins of Judah,
but none will be found,
for I will forgive the remnant I spare.
The most optimistic people were these sour-faced prophets. They knew both the soberness of the situation and the utter healing capacity of God in the world.
5. Then let him start taking care of your oppressors
The Lord has opened his arsenal
and brought out the weapons of his wrath,
for the Sovereign Lord Almighty has work to do
in the land of the Babylonians.
This is what the Lord Almighty says:
“The people of Israel are oppressed,
and the people of Judah as well.
All their captors hold them fast,
refusing to let them go.
Yet their Redeemer is strong;
the Lord Almighty is his name.
He will vigorously defend their cause
so that he may bring rest to their land,
but unrest to those who live in Babylon.
“A sword against the Babylonians!”
declares the Lord—
“against those who live in Babylon
and against her officials and wise men!
As I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah
along with their neighboring towns,”
declares the Lord,
“so no one will live there;
no people will dwell in it.
This is a good reminder to let God take care of those who are distorting truth and hurting us and our nation. Those who don’t believe God has the stomach for punishment and retribution should reread the Bible more clearly.
6. Then help others out of the same quagmire you have come out of
“Come out of her, my people!
Run for your lives!
Run from the fierce anger of the Lord.
Those who have the blessing of being sober need to take the car keys and help those who aren’t get sober again.
Long live the prophets, they are the moral compasses to get our communities back on track.
One Reply to “Listening to Prophets: Return to God or Die in Deserts”
“Listening to God or dying in desserts” is great title but I am sure you mean deserts! not desserts? I read the article thru thinking you actually were creating a story with a metaphor about desserts or something! great website you have created.