14-3 The Personal Pleading Of The Prophets
Often the prophets break off from predicting coming condemnation to plead
personally with their hearers to repent [this explains some of the
strange shifts of pronouns in the prophets]. Take Micah. Chapter 2 is
a message of judgment against Israel. And then Micah pleads: “And I said,
Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob…is it not for you to know
[the coming of] judgment?” (3:1). Likewise: “For this will I wail and
howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like jackals…at
Beth-le-Aphrah have I rolled myself in the dust” (Mic. 1:8,10 RV). Rolling
naked in the dust…this was the extent of Micah’s passion for the repentance
of his audience. He comes to the point where he would fain make sacrifice
for Israel, even to the point of offering his firstborn son, so strongly
did he take upon himself the sins of his people. But he tells Israel that
even this will be no good; they must repent themselves: “Wherewith shall
I come before the Lord...shall I come before him with burnt offerings....shall
I give my firstborn for my transgression?...what doth the Lord require
of thee, but to do justly...and to humble thyself [in repentance]” (6:6-8).
In all this, Micah came close to the spirit of the Father and Son. For
the Father would give His firstborn for their sin.
We will appeal to men with conviction, as Isaiah’s heart cried out for
Moab like a young heifer about to be slaughtered, feeling for them in
what would come upon them, and desperately appealing for their repentance.
Because the Moabites would cry out and their voice would be heard, “my
heart shall cry out for Moab” (Is. 15:4,5,8). As the Lord Jesus is a representative
Saviour, we too must feel the judgment that is to come upon others, and
in that sense cry out for them as they will cry out. “Therefore shall
Moab howl for Moab” (Is. 16:7)- but Isaiah, feeling for them so strongly,
also howled for them; “my bowls shall sound like an harp for
Moab” (16:11). And he felt the same for his own people, Israel. He repeatedly
pronounces “woe” upon them (Is. 3:9; 5:8,11,18,20,21,22; 8:11), and yet
in that very context he can exclaim: “Woe is me” in chapter 6;
he identified with them to the point of also feeling unworthy and under
woe [in this clearly typifying the Lord’s identity with us]. In Is. 22:1
we read: “What aileth thee now, that thou art wholly gone up to the housetops?”;
and I suggest this is Israel’s question to Isaiah, as he went up on the
flat roof to weep. And thus he replies in Is. 22:4: “Therefore said I,
Look away from me, I will weep bitterly, labour not to comfort me, because
of the spoiling of the daughter of my people”.
This level of love inspired Jeremiah to adopt the same attitude (Jer.
48:20,31-34); he too howled for those whose howling in condemnation he
prophesied (Jer. 48:31 s.w.). As Moab cried out like a three year old
heifer (Jer. 48:34), so did Isaiah for them (Is. 15:5). All this was done
by Isaiah and Jeremiah, knowing that Moab hated Israel (Is. 25:10) and
were evidently worthy of God’s condemnation. But all the same they loved
them, in the spirit of Noah witnessing to the mocking world around him.
Our knowledge of this world’s future means that as we walk the streets
and mix with men and women, our heart should cry out for them, no matter
how they behave towards us, and there should be a deep seated desire for
at least some of them to come to repentance and thereby avoid the judgments
to come. Particularly is this true, surely, of the people and land of
Israel. It ought to be impossible for us to walk its streets or meet its
people without at least desiring to give them a leaflet or say at least
something to try to help them see what lies ahead.
And there are many other Biblical examples of such genuine pain at the
lostness of this world, and their refusal of the Gospel’s grace; not least
our Lord Himself weeping over Jerusalem. Think of how He was angry [i.e.
frustrated?] , “being grieved for the blindness of their hearts” (Mk.
3:5). Are we just indifferent or evenly smugly happy that men are so blind…?
Or do we grieve about it to the point of angry frustration? Remember how
Moses and Paul would fain have given their eternal life for the conversion
of Israel, this is how they felt for them. Peter’s hunger to eat was played
back to him as the hunger of God to accept and save the Gentiles (Acts
10:10). Reflect too again on Jeremiah; how he responds to the prophecy
he has to utter against the hated Philistines by begging the Father to
limit these judgments, presumably on account of their repentance: “O thou
sword of the Lord, how long will it be ere thou be quiet? Put up thyself
into thy scabbard, rest, and be still” (Jer. 47:6). Think too of how he
almost interrupts a prophecy he is giving to Israel about judgment to
come by appealing for them therefore to repent (Jer. 4:13,14).
Our handling of the prophecies of judgment to come should have a like
effect upon us: they should inspire us to an inevitable witness. Each
of our days cannot be just ‘the same old scene’ when we see the world
in this way.
Doing Something Concrete
Because people matter, their inherent worth as humans warrants our all-out
and most conscious, planned effort to convert them to God in truth. But
beyond all this theory, how exactly are we to bring ordinary
men and women to Him? Following are some practical suggestions:
- We are the salt of the earth, and one characteristic of salt is that
it creates thirst. We are mistaken if we assume that all those people
out there are just waiting for us to come to them with a series of true
doctrinal propositions. Virtually nobody is seriously interested- until
they meet you and me. We need to create some sort of realization of
need in those we mix with. Through our examples and through the way
we make our initial approaches to them, we need to plug in to that basic
human hunger for their creator. Plenty of other religions do just this-
and we ought to be far more ‘in there’ than many of us are.
- What we believe in theory, if it is believed rather than merely known,
will have an outworking in practice. Not only must the difference between
us and them in terms of our basic personality be apparent to them, but
we should be actively looking for opportunities to put love and concern
for people into concrete action.
- Realize that we are all prone to spiritual schizophrenia. We so easily
are one person in our Christian life, and quite another in the
workplace or home. This shouldn’t be the case of course. It is
the witness we make in the midst of ordinary life which converts
people, which arrests their attention. To simply give someone
your time in this busy world, to write a letter rather than an
email... that itself shows your value of them, and is arresting
to them. People’s lives are so busy with the struggle for existence-
whether in a dirt poor village in the poorer world, or in the
corporate life of the West. They live their lives stumbling from
crisis to crisis. If our lives are somehow evidently not like
this, then this in itself will be a powerful witness. And it will
beg the question, as to what and how and why
exactly we are so different. And at the appropriate moment, we
can give answers. This is quite a different thing to merely imposing
our beliefs upon them when they don’t know us. People lack the
time and emotional energy to truly care for others. When we break
that pattern, it is obvious. It will arrest attention. People
have never really listened to the Gospel, because nobody ever
got their attention. Both literally and in a wider sense, we only
listen, once someone has gotten our attention. We can teach away,
with the most beautiful websites, smartly written books and tracts…
but until we get someone’s attention, they’re not
going to listen. And we get their attention by the startling and
radical transformation in human life which there should be in
- In a world where there is increasingly less leisure time for much
of the population, the most startling gift you can give to anyone is
your time. That you bothered to write a letter. That you found time
to visit them at a hard time. When the Lord passed through Jericho,
there was a huge crowd around him, trying to get a few words in with
Him. But despite all those demands upon His time, He looked up into
the tree and spoke with Zacchaeus, and made the time to set up a meal
with him. Jesus must have had so many people trying to invite Him for
a meal- for this was the high point of His ministry. But despite all
that, He purposefully made the time to eat with that despised man. No
wonder He converted Zacchaeus. Jesus gave him time and attention. He
showed that He truly cared. Almost every human being must, like I do,
lay awake at night for a time, staring at the ceiling with wide eyes.
It is in those moments that the people you live and work with will be
thinking about you. That you gave time to them, or to someone
else. It will make an impact. Cynicism of religious people, especially
preachers, runs very deep in most people. They will perhaps subconsciously
be keeping a tab on whether or not you are truly consistent in your
life. And if they see that you are, over an extended period, it will
make an impact.
- Try to avoid the temptation to think that preaching somehow equals
debate with others who are committed religious people. Do it, of course,
but remember that Jesus made most of His converts amongst those who
were outside the religious establishment in first century Palestine.
And surely His witness is the basis for ours. We are continuing His
work. Time tends to soften history. We can too easily imagine that those
the Lord converted were already some sort of saints at the time He met
them. But the hard hearted tax collectors, the prostitutes, the rough
working men, the desperately poor…were just like those types are today.
Their thinking and mannerisms would have been very similar. And yet
it was from these types that the Lord made His converts. People need
people, not just pieces of paper with writing on, invitations to meetings
- Therefore recognize that God created you as a unique person.
You were designed by God with a unique combination of personality,
temperament, talents and background. Respect yourself for who you are.
We must love our neighbour as we love ourselves. He has placed
you in the position you are, in the circle of people you know and move
among, for a purpose. There is something in you that can potentially
reach out to them. The world seems to have the idea that when there
is a need, a job to be done, then anyone able and willing to have a
go at solving it should do so. So, a company may put a guy in a position
that he can fill, but it isn’t quite him. And this is why so
many don’t enjoy their daily work. It is too simplistic to think that
“There’s a world of need out there, so, you, brother or sister, go out
into it”. Think first of who you are, and then seek to witness in the
way God intends you to. It isn’t for all of us to stand up as Peter
did and make a point blank appeal to people to repent. It’s not for
all of us to employ the intellectual persuasion which Paul did. Or to
go round telling everyone what the Lord did in our lives, as the healed
blind man did. Or to knock on doors or distribute tracts. We’re all
different and are intended to make our own type of witness. So, appreciating
this, why not aim to make a convert? Write down the names of
say three people you mix with, and pray on your knees that
the Lord will open up opportunities for you to get the word over to
them. Disabuse yourself of the wrong idea that preaching is all about
reaching out to unknown people. Because it isn’t. It’s essentially about
witness to people you know; for you are to be the light of
their world. And why not make contact with people you once knew but
are out of touch with- those you studied with at school, once worked
with, lived with…people in this world have very few relationships, and
to be contacted out of the blue like that will be a pleasant surprise
to most people. Reminisce about the old times. Try to be their friend,
first and foremost, before coming on heavy with the message. You
have been put into their world exactly because you are the right person
to witness to them. Paul speaks as if we each have a “province”, an
area, a group of people, which the Lord intends us to witness to (2
Cor. 10:16 RV).
- Most of us mix with people at the same shops or services we visit.
They know your face. Give them a leaflet [we can arrange to send you
leaflets if you don’t have any]. There will then be a connection between
you and the message when you see them in future. Col. 4:5 sums it up:
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make use of every opportunity”.
People are not always so impressed by the story of the drug abuser or
murderer who turns to Christ. Far more arresting will probably be the
life of an ordinary person like you, another ordinary worker, another
woman who takes their child to school each morning…which has been transformed
by a personal response to the truth of God. Someone like you who escaped
from mere religion and found the ultimately true relationship with God.