A World Waiting To Be Won  

14. People Matter

14-1 People Matter || 14-2 A Feeling God || 14-3 The Personal Pleading Of The Prophets || 14-4 Passionate Preaching And Prayer

15. Hearts That Bleed

15-1 Hearts That Bleed || 15-2 The Parable of The Three Friends || 15-3 Passion For The Lost || 15-4 Loving Our Brethren || 15-5 Reaching Those Who Left Church || 15-6 The Heart Of Jesus || 15-7 The Value Of Persons || 15-8 A dehumanized world || 15-9 Grieving for others || 15-10-1 The Spirit Of Prophecy || 15-10-2 The Counter-Cultural Message Of The Hebrew Prophets || 15-10-3 Frontal Attack On Indifference || 15-10-4 The Prophetic Attack On Pride And Wealth || 15-10-5 The Prophets And Injustice || 15-10-6 The Prophetic Criticism Of Israel’s Religion || 15-10-7 The Prophetic Experience And Prophetic Consciousness


15-10-1 The Spirit Of Prophecy

The preaching or testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, says Rev. 19:10. I understand this to mean that our testimony to Jesus is in the spirit of the Old Testament prophets. For Rev. 22:6 associates the God of the holy prophets [a phrase referring to the Old Testament prophets in Lk. 1:70 and Acts 3:32] with the same God who is with us in our witnessing to Christ. And Rev. 18:20 speaks of those prophets rejoicing in the last day together with all preachers of the Gospel. This is why incidents from the lives and teaching of the Old Testament prophets are repeatedly alluded to in the New Testament and applied to all of us. James 5:10 puts it bluntly- the prophets are to be taken by us as our examples. Jeremiah was warned: "Be not dismayed of them, lest I dismay you" (Jer. 1:17 RV). This is alluded to by the Lord when He tells us that if we are ashamed of Him and His words, then He will be ashamed of us (Lk. 9:26). The connection surely indicates that the Old Testament prophets and the spirit of their comissioning is intended to apply to us today in our fulfilling of the great commission. Thus the prophets become our pattern for witness; they are our “brethren the prophets” (Rev.22:9). And so an understanding of them becomes programmatic for our witness today. Our audience, the world in which we live, is in essence that in which the prophets lived. Isaiah was up against the attitude that “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die” (Is. 22:13)- and Paul quotes that passage as relevant for all Christians who hold the hope of resurrection amidst a world that does not (1 Cor. 15:32).

Firstly, we need to clear up the misconception that the prophets were merely fax machines, dispassionately forwarding God’s message to men. Their words were indeed the words of God, they were inspired, but they also had emotional involvement. All Scripture is indeed God-breathed, but this involved the prophets in breathing in of that Spirit and exhaling it, as it were (2 Tim. 3:16). The passage in 2 Pet. 1:19-21 has been somewhat misunderstood. Holy men of God indeed spoke as they were “moved” by the Holy Spirit; but, contrary to what is repeated parrot fashion by so many, the Greek for “moved” doesn’t necessarily mean ‘irresistibly carried along’, as if the prophets had no personal input into what they said. The Greek word phero appears several times in 2 Peter:

-         “The grace that is to be brought unto you” (2 Pet. 1:13)

-         “There came such a voice to [Christ] from the excellent glory” (2 Pet. 1:17)

-         “This voice which came from heaven” (2 Pet. 1:18)

-         “The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake phero [‘as they were…’ is not in the original- it’s in italics in the AV] the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21)

Clearly enough, phero in 2 Pet. 1 doesn’t mean ‘irresistibly carried along by’. The context of 2 Pet. 1:21 is a warning that as there were false prophets in Old Testament times amongst the people of God, so there will be in the new Israel. Peter’s stress is that the Old Testament prophets were holy, they spoke according to the will of God and not the will of man; their words came from the Holy Spirit, and not the spirit of the flesh- in distinction to the false prophets who spoke of the flesh.

Now all this is not to say that some prophets were not 'carried along' against their will almost. Heb. 1:1 states that God spoke to the prophets in various manners. We can understand by this that inspiration took various forms. Consider Num. 12:6. God tells Moses and Aaron that [at that time] He reveals Himself to prophets by dreams and visions, but with His prophet Moses, He uses another method- He spoke with Moses “mouth to mouth”. Whilst all prophets spoke God’s word, they each had different processes of inspiration at work. Not all prophets went through the process of inspiration of which we are going to speak in this study. God reminds Israel that “day after day”, ever since they left Egypt, He had consistently and persistently sent His prophets to them- there was never a day when a prophet wasn’t active (Jer. 7:25; 11:7: 25:4; 26:15; 29:19; Am. 3:7; 2:12). And yet obviously we only have the written record of a few of those prophets.

God And Man Together

That said, there was of course a sense in which the impact of Divine inspiration couldn’t be resisted (Am. 3:8 etc.); and yet this somehow was congruent with the freewill of the prophet, and the process happened still within the vortex of the prophet’s own temperament. Note how Peter says that the prophet was a ‘man of God’ who was moved by God’s Spirit to write Scripture; whereas Paul says that the Spirit-inspired Scriptures are what makes a ‘man of God’- us- who he is (2 Tim. 3:17 cp. 2 Pet. 1:21). There is a mutuality here, in which even we in this age can have a part. Although the prophets were on God’s side as it were, sharing His spirit, speaking His words, they were also men, and they were largely Jews, members of the nation upon whom He was announcing His wrath. At times, they reason with God. Amos delivered God’s judgment against his people, and then pleaded: “O Lord God, forgive, I beseech thee! How can Jacob stand?... the Lord repented… It shall not be, said the Lord” (Am. 7:2-6- other examples in Is. 6:11; Jer. 4:14; Ps. 74:10). This was how well the prophets knew God; and yet again, it shows that they weren’t merely impersonally reproducing a message from God. They were involved in it and highly sensitive to it.

So often in the prophets, the pronouns change. One moment we have God speaking, the next, the prophet is responding in agreement, appealing to his people, or echoing the message in his own words. So in Is. 1:2,3 we have the direct words of God, ending with “They have rebelled against me… my people does not understand”. And then in Is. 1:4 we have Isaiah echoing back those thoughts of God: “They have forsaken the Lord”. Prophecies begin with God speaking in the third person, and end with Him speaking in the first person; and vice versa. In all these examples, we see God merging with His prophet, and vice versa (Am. 3:1; Is. 3:1,4; Is. 5:1,2 cp. 3-6; 7; Is. 10:12; Is. 11:3,9; Is. 22:17,19,20; Jer. 11:17; Jer. 23:9,11; Jer. 9:1,2; Is. 53:10,12; Is. 61:6,8; Is. 1:2,3,4; Jer. 4:1,2,21,22; Jer. 8:13,14; Nah. 1:12,13). However, there was more than an echo going on between God and the prophet. There was a kind of dialectic in the Divine-human encounter. God is influenced by man, as well as man by God.

And yet despite this unity of spirit between God and the prophets, the prophets weren’t always forced to say the words. Jeremiah didn’t want to say them at times, the weariness of it all got on top of him; and yet he felt unable to walk away, just as God felt with Israel. But there were times when he outright rebelled. Jer. 20:7 is made a mess of in most translations, because the obvious translation is simply too shocking. Jeremiah complains: “O Lord, thou hast seduced me [s.w. Ex. 22:16 of a man seducing a woman], and I am seduced; thou hast raped me [s.w. Dt. 22:15] and I am overcome” (Abraham Heschel’s translation). Here is Jeremiah saying that he was attracted by God, he was seduced by Him, but then the whole thing became too much- he felt his soul had been raped. And yet in Jer. 15:16 he says that he had found God’s word and eaten it, and as a result, “I am called by thy name, O Lord”- the language of a woman marrying and taking her husband’s name (Is. 4:1). The word of God was his “joy [and] delight”- two words used four times elsewhere in Jeremiah, and always in the context of the joy of a wedding (Jer. 7:34; 16:9; 25:10; 33:11). Jeremiah saw his prophetic task as actually a marriage to God, an inbreathing of His word and being, to the point that he could say that he personally was “full of the wrath / passion of God” (Jer. 6:11). A prophet could only be incensed if God was incensed (Num. 23:8)- such was the bond between them. No wonder these men felt alone amongst men. They had a relationship with God which others couldn’t enter into, which totally affected their lives and beings. The preacher / testifier of Jesus knows something of this spirit of prophecy. But in Jer. 20:7, Jeremiah felt he had been raped and not married. He resented the complete takeover of his heart. In Jer. 15:15, Jeremiah asks for vengeance on his persecutors, and in Jer. 15:18 accuses God of deceiving him. God’s response is to ask him to repent of this, so that he can resume his prophetic work: “If you [Jeremiah] return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me [prophetic language]. If you utter what is precious, and not what is base, you shall be as my mouth” (Jer. 15:19). Perhaps Jeremiah had this incident in mind when he commented: “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word” (Lam. 1:18). This indicates that at least in Jeremiah’s case, he was not irresistibly carried along by the Spirit in some kind of ecstasy, having no option but to speak God’s word. His speaking of God’s word required that he shared the essentially loving and gracious spirit / disposition of his God.

Scholars have struggled to understand whether the Old Testament prophets were writing prose or poetry. The passion and emotion in the prophet perhaps resulted in the words having a kind of metre and style which can appear poetic without actually being poetry. This feature is a reflection of their passion. Peter Ackroyd, who was a novelist and biographer as well as a theologian, commented: “the words of Isaiah are neither prose nor poetry but, rather, a series of incandescent utterances which effortlessly find their true form” (1). And he quotes the poet Coleridge: “Wherever passion was, the language became a sort of metre”.

The idea of prophets was well known in the world around ancient Israel. The idea of a prophet was that a person was caught up in some kind of ecstasy, transported into some ‘other’ world, and leaving behind their humanity. The true prophets were different. Their inspiration was about being attuned to the mind of God, they remained very much in the flesh and in the world, and the subjects of their prophecy related to very real, human things- injustice, a guy building an extension on his house without paying the labourers. Not flashing lights and ethereal coasting through space. The pagan prophets (e.g. the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:26-29) worked themselves into a frenzy in order to reach a state of depersonalization and loss of consciousness, in the hope that then they would be filled with Divine consciousness. True prophets like Amos were absolutely different; the inspiration process required them to be fully in touch with their own consciousness and personality, and it was exactly through their humanity that the personality of God came through in the inspired words they spake and wrote. Amos perceived the Lord’s word, and then ‘butted in’ as it were, in full consciousness: “O Lord God, forgive, I beseech Thee! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” (Am. 7:2). This is the very opposite of the pagan prophets losing touch with their human senses and reasoning. Likewise consider Jeremiah’s response to receipt of God’s word: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth”. In fact we could say that whereas the false prophets aimed to lose consciousness in order to receive something from God’s consciousness, the true prophets received heightened sensitivity and conscience / consciousness in order to receive God’s word and to know His mind. The message which the true prophets received wasn’t some vague abstraction or personal transport into an unreal world. What they received from God was the sense that this world and its fate are very dear to its creator. It was because the true prophets entered into the mind of God, that this issued in the experience of words. The false prophets tended to experience something happening; whereas the true prophets experienced the thoughts of God, which issued in words. Their experience had form, but no content. And I can’t help adding that the Pentecostal ‘Holy Spirit’ experiences appear to me to be the form of ecstasy claimed by the false prophets. Receipt of God’s true revelation involved dialogue with God, even disagreement with Him for a moment, response, pleading, speech and counterspeech. It wasn’t a case of merely passively hearing a voice and writing it down. Part and parcel of hearing the word of God and being inspired with it was to react to it in daily life- hence Ezekiel couldn’t mourn for his wife, Hosea had to marry a whore as a reflection of God’s love for Israel, Isaiah had to walk naked (Is. 3:17). Truly “The prophet threw his whole self into his prophecy, and made not his lips alone, but his whole personality, the vehicle of the divine ‘word’” (2). The inner accord which the prophets had with the mind and word of God led to their personalities being like God’s. And mankind’s laughing them off as crazy, as mentally disturbed, was effectively their rejection and mocking of God Himself. We’re reminded of how the suffering Son of God in His time of dying, the highest and most intense expression of God’s love, was “the song of the drunkards” (Ps. 69:12). The prophets "spoke from the mouth of Yahweh" Himself; and yet the people scoffed at them (2 Chron. 36:12,16 RV). The power of inspiration was and is so great; and to not heed God's word is therefore a personal affront to Him.


(1) See Peter Ackroyd, Studies In The Religious Tradition Of The Old Testament (London: SCM, 1987) pp. 105-120.

(2) H.H. Rowley, The Servant Of The Lord (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1965) p. 118.