[書摘] Book Summary and Review: Themes and the transformations in Old Testament prophecy

Book Summary: Themes and the transformations in Old Testament prophecy

 by Mu-tien Chiou

Themes and Transformations in Old Testament. Prophecy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009. Pp. 240. Paper. $23.00. ISBN 0830817689.

[Chapter 1] Introduction

The book sets out to uncover the gradual transition that took place in the ancient biblical prophetic activity, which manifests not just diversity in language, concerns, personalities, and remedies and visions for the future yet also a unifying leitmotif that can be traced throughout.

[Chapter 2] The Prophet and the Divine Counsel

God is willing to entrust the fate of the cosmos to the deliberations of his creatures.”

Define the role of prophet is not easy for its definition is changing, but a shared characteristic of the office is that they are the only people who claim to have stood in the presence of God and those creators who composed God’s deliberating Council (the host of heaven, seraphs, and Angels). This Council rejects the idea of an autocratic God (20), and the prophets are participants in the Council, who beseech and intercede.

But from Ezekiel and on (the exilic and postexilic period), there is a transformation/deterioration of the prophets’ standing in the divine counsel (24-5). They became passive and no longer took parts in the speech. Apocalyptic literature: this visionary literature becomes a pronounced feature in Jewish culture in the later part of the first millennium BC. The authors’ counsel experience bear distinct feature than that of early prophets. Considerable attention is devoted to describing their heavenly journeys, and they become like tourists with a short-term visa rather than resident aliens who still engage in heavenly civil affairs (26). The book of Daniel is an exception as it displayed and “in between”/ Eclectic feature.

[Chapter 3] Is The Future Determined?

The Council imageries are so persistent in the prophets that one cannot dismiss them as mere metaphor (metaphor for what) (29). One noteworthy transition is that whereas the early prophets were not always sure about how the future will unfold as God’s revealed will may or may not change, postexilic prophecies display no hesitation about what will follow the oracles concerning say, reformation or repentance (35).

In apocalyptic literature, this certainty about future is carried on to an extreme (36). It is the complete confidence of the postexilic prophets that of blessing is coming, and tempered by any question of possible punishment, that distinguishes them from their predecessors, whose God, from time to time unsure about some future prospects (e.g. the “perhaps” in Ezekiel 12:3), may have a bearing on Open theism.

[Chapter 4] What Do You See?

Amos is an especially gifted prophet for he is able to see immediately upon the crucial features in the vision (39-40): summer fruit (in Hebrew sounds like “end”; cf. Amos 8:1-2) and plumb line (the same Hebrew root with “painful and sorrowful groaning”, c.f. 7:7-8)  However, Amos as a literary prophet is just continuing a phenomenon (followed by Jeremiah in e.g. Jer. 1:11, 13) that was seen to have had an already long pedigree since, for example, Deborah, Elisha, and Samuel, who were all seers very keen to the revelatory significance of an event, an object, or a comment in terms of what God was trying to accomplish (40). Many of the earlier prophetic books have in its beginning the word “vision” or “see”.

However a surprising change occurs after the exile. No longer will the prophets depicted as gifted in seeing (44). For example, Zechariah was approached by an Angel but could not answer what he sees in the vision with a sense of proportion (Zec 4:2-6; cf. 1:9; 1:19[2:2]; 1:21[2:4]; 2:2[2:6]; 5:6, 10; 6:4). Haggai also has to consult priests who earlier prophets had condemned for their immorality for spiritual insight (2:12-13), displaying ignorance (cf. also Ezek 37:3-4). Former prophets as a distinguished group from Zechariah (1:4-6; 7:7, 12) serve as a contrast with him and his contemporary Haggai, underscoring the decline in prophetic insight (48). Then again the apocalyptic Daniel goes to the extreme in this regard. Daniel knows nothing of what he sees, of which the angels are not even bother to express their surprise (Dan 7:15-23; 8:16-17, 27; 12:8-9).

[Chapter 5] The Manner of Revelation

In the Deuteronomistic history, most prophets speak with God and God speaks with the prophets in congenital dialogue. The narrative displays no interest in defining the manner of Revelation: “the word of the Lord came to xyz” without specifying whether it happens in a vision, daydreaming, or clear consciousness—whenever it does so, it is usually uninspired and mundane occasions (57).  Prophets are frequently depicted as if they possessed natural talents and innate abilities to see more than most humans (54).  And sometimes the prophet really does act independently of God (understandable in the light of the prophet’s participation as freethinking agent in the divine counsel). For example, Nathan encourages David to build a Temple with divine approval, even though his presumptuous declaration was later corrected by God (2 Sam 7:5; namely, God does not really allow David to build the temple). When Saul tears Samuel’s garment, Samuel immediately interprets this action at signifying that God has torn the kingdom from Saul (1 Sam 15:27ff), just as Elisha immediately interprets King Joash’s striking the ground as a sign of only a partial conquest of his enemies (2 Ki 13:14-19).  Moreover, prophetic special power carries on even after death, for Elisha’s bones can revive the data simply by making contact with the corpse (2 Ki 13:21; cf. also 2 Ki 6:12).

However there are also occasions where the prophet is aware of his need to be informed, that there are arenas of divine activity beyond his ken (Hab 1:2-5, 12-13; 2:1-2, 2 Ki 4:27; Jer 42:7). This is exactly what makes the divine council such a lively affair (58-59).

The Loss of Intimacy and Ease

All of this begins to change in Ezekiel. God comes with mighty storm clouds that cause Ezekiel tremble and fall (1:4, 28, 3:23, 43:3, 44:4; contra Elisha in 1 Ki 19:11-13).

In Zechariah, the encounters between Zechariah and the angelic messengers are emphatically in the context of night visions (1:8). Unlike the occasional nocturnal settings in earlier prophets, the images of the Zechariah are not everyday objects that earlier prophets saw. And while one can hardly picture Amos or Jeremiah slumbering in the presence of God (cf. Jer 31:26), the prophet now can be overcome with drowsiness while angels speak (Zec 4:1)!

In the book of Daniel, visions predominantly occur in dreams at night. Now Daniel undergoes even deeper physical trauma/fright (Dan 7:15, 28; 8:17, 27; 10:8-9, 11, 15, 17; “My spirit was agitated within me”).

[Chapter 6] Angels

Not a single literary prophet before the exile receives the message from an angel (63). For the earlier literary prophets, angels are a largely ignored phenomenon (εξαίρεση: Isa 6; 37:36; 2 Ki 19:35; 1:3, 15). They hear voices from God just like hearing human voices. The unusual instance in 2 Ki 1:3, 15 where angel of God speaks may be a later scribal modifying attempt to make God a more transcendent or to dissociate God from “profane” activities (in later readers’ eyes).

Angels begin to show up in Ezekiel (after Jeremiah): 9, 40-43, 46… In Zechariah 1-8, angel is the primary relays for communicating what the prophet needs to know. Worse, Daniel is never addressed by God, never hearing God speak — only Angels (Michael and Gabriel) bear messages to him (67). The increasing significance of angels is further understood by 1) their intervening deliverance of Daniel, and 2) the appearance in Daniel of a particular type known as the “watchers”.

[Chapter 7] Thus Said Yahweh

The phrase “thus said Yahweh” underwent some development, enjoying higher frequency at later time. What is significant in the pre-exilic prophetic literature (Habakkuk, Micah, Obadiah, Joel, Hosea, Nahum, Zephaniah…) is that there is little concern to distinguish the words of God from the words of the prophet (71).

An entirely different picture is found in postexilic prophets such as Hag (1:1-8). In 214 verses of 14 chapters consisted by Haggai, Zechariah (first part), and Malachi, 94 occurrences of “thus said Yahweh” (and its equivalent expressions) are found— that is 6-7 occurrences per chapter.  (Jeremiah and Ezekiel also display an effort to distinguish God speech from human speech, marking an “in-between” feature.)

[Chapter 8] Poetry, Prose and The Prophets

Characterized by conceptual rhythms, Hebrew poetry enjoys having one statement reformulated in different words and expanded (e.g,  PSs 114:1-4):

1a The people of Israel came out of Egypt.
2a Then Judah became the holy place where God lived.
3a The Red Sea saw him and parted.
4a The mountains leaped like rams.
 

1b The people of Jacob left a land where a different language was spoken.

2b Israel became the land he ruled over.
3b The Jordan River stopped flowing.
4b The hills skipped like lambs.

In line with the increasingly pronounced effort to distinguish God speech from man’s is the transition of literary genre feature from primarily poetry (in Habakkuk, Micah, Obadiah, Joel, Hosea, Nahum, Zephaniah, Later Isaiah—6th century…) to “mixed poetry and prose” (in early Isaiah—8th century, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and later Zechariah), and then to predominantly prose (in Haggai, Malachi, and early Zechariah). In other words, the change roughly correlates with the time in which the prophet was active, with the exception of Isaiah (81).  The correlation may be explained by the ways the poetry is used in the Bible: there is a perceived reluctance to bracket God’s words in poetry (cf. PS 46:9-11) (91).

The clear preference for poetry is supported by the depictions of [earlier] prophecy in the context of music (Elisha in 2 Ki 3:15-16; sons of Asaph in 1 Sam 10:5-6 and cf. Ps 73-83; Saul’s encounter with a band of prophets in 1 Ch 25:1-3; Davind in 35:15; Gad and Nathan in 2 Ch 29:25; Miriam in Ex 15:20-21; Deborah in Jd. 4:4, 5:1; Isaiah in Isa 5:1; Eze 33:32).

Other cultural phenomena reinforce this connection: Assyrian sources support “the compatibility of genuine prophecy with psalmody”; Socrates compares the divine gift of music with that of prophecy (85).

The medium of poetry for prophecy sometimes it’s not even to choice, for the sounds of words take on a heightened significance, composing a phonetic imaginary (e.g., Isa 5:7; 13:6; 24:17; Jer 48:43; Zech 1:15; Nah 2:10[11]; Joel 1:15; Hab 1:6).  Hebrew names in early prophets also gave clues to destiny (“as is his name so is he” in 1 Sam 25:25; cf. also Jer 29:22 where “Qolayah is roasted [qala]; p.88 has a helpful list of name-reality correspondence). It’s this kind of prophecy arises from the linguistic scope of Hebrew, it is often not translatable.

  • Thus, could the fundamental shift of the literary genre in the formulation of prophetic texts represent the syncretic/colonial/multicultural aspect after the Babylonian exile? (An extrapolation based on 87).

Later prophets do not continue the earlier tradition of having year is finely tuned to detecting the nuances of fate embedded in names (89). Therefore, the increased degree of confidence toward the future exhibited in later prophets (ch.3) is reflected in the genre change (prose allows more restricted interpretive and expressive freedom) and manifested distinction of God speech from men’s (93).

[Chapter 9] Writing the Prophets

In contrast with the situation in the New Testament where the actual process of writing has moved to the fore an essential component of the message itself (the introduction of Luke and Acts; Jn 20-21; Rev 1:3, 11, 19; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14; 10:4, 8-10; 14:13; 19:9; 20:12, 21:5; 22:10, 18-19), the extensive accounts of early prophets (Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha) tell nothing about how their words and deeds were preserved (96). The only exception is the public and the formal event of the inauguration of kingship where Samuel wrote the magisterial law in the book and deposited it before Yahweh (1 Sam 10:25). Rather, one only finds an echo in the literary prophets themselves of an Oral dimension for the preservation of prophetic oracles (99): the verbal grou pof “speak and hear” abound, whereas that of “writing” is absent in the 60 chapters from Hosea to Zechariah (in the canonical order). Wherever “writing” is involved in the prophetic vision as a rare exception (Isa 8:1-2; 30:8; Hab 2:2-3; Mal 3:16), it may have to do with the gradual unfolding of a long-term prophetic referent that needs a written document to confirm the vindication of its prophetic foresight (100-1).

It is in [the second half of] Jeremiah and Ezekiel that the sudden focus upon writing God’s revelation becomes central. For example, the bulk of Jeremiah 29 is devoted to a letter composed by Jeremiah for the exiling Jews, in the case in which the prophet is incapable of delivering the message in person (102). Again, the written prophecy mentioned in Jer 51:59-64 is for someone else to deliver as a prophetic deputy (cf. also Jer 36, the most illuminating aspect of which is that the writing is comprehensive to include “all the words” ever delivered by Jeremiah.). The special character of the book as a written document emerges from the crisis that prompts a forcibly constrained prophet to communicate with letters (104). The latter half of Jeremiah is proliferated with “dates” in contrast with the first half where features of early prophets are more pronounced (105). It may have been the crisis of the exile the crystallized the written format as the preferred medium in times of national upheaval to oral means. Otherwise, as long as the prophet or his successor or disciples are accessible and that their prophetic messages are continually being delivered, it is of no great consequence to write their words down— written words tend to focus too much on what is past.

Concerning Ezekiel, his book is predominantly from first-person perspective. But Ezekiel’s spoken the words presume an origin in a written text: in the inaugural vision that launches Ezekiel’s revelations, Ezekiel eats an inscribed scroll from God’s hand so that God’s words may become Ezekiel’s (Ezekiel 2:7-3:4). This contrasts with Isaiah’s inauguration (as a prophet), when it is a burning coal with tongs that touched his lips and empowered him to say.

For both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the written format correlates with some type of compromise with the oral dimension (God impairs Ezekiel’s speech most of the time). In Daniel, God’s revelation comes not as voice but as a writing even when it involves a vision (5:5-8, 15-17, 24-28; 7:1; 9:2; 12:4), even though this does not mean postexilic prophets have no oral dimension (109). Then you even have access to earlier prophetic messages long after the author is dead.

On the other hand, we observe that in the Deuteronomistic history (Jos, Jd, 1-2 Sam, 1-2 Ki), the composer points to many Royal records to be his sources (1 Ki 11:41; 14:19, 29; 15:7, 31), but not single allusion is made concerning written prophetic narrative. It is with the later biblical book of Chronicles that texts bearing names of prophetic figures emerge along with Deuteronomistic history as sources referred: Gad, Samuel , Nathan (1 Ch 29:29), Ahijah, Iddo (2 Ch 9:9; 13:22), Shemaiah (2 Ch 12:15).

[Chapter 10] Dating the Prophets

Earlier prophets show no interest in dates. Poetic prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah…) provide no chronological orientation. Even in places where events are mentioned (e.g., “two years before the earthquake” in Amos 1:1; “the year King Uzziah/Ahaz died in Isa 6:1; 14:28; in the days of Ahaz, Rezin wagd a war in 7:1), the literary concern is about significance of the event, rather than the chronological dating per se.

However, for postexilic prophets precision in dating is a high priority. Such a transformation is gradually unfolded in the transitional book of Jeremiah: after the opening dates “in the13th year of Josiah’s when (1:2), numerous oracles and events from the life of Jeremiah are recorded with no chronological markers (14:1; 21:1; 24:1). The precise chronological markers appear only in the second half of the book (25:1; 26:1; 28:1; 32:1; 36:1; 45:1; 46:2; 49:34; 51:59). The traditional character is phenomenal, for no specific dates appear in the first half of the book where most of the poetry is found (117), and even the chronology in the second half is not overwhelming and most oracles are not specifically dated. Ezekiel provides a few more dates than Jeremiah, most of which appear between 24-32 (others: 1:1-2; 8; 20; 40).

In Daniel, only visions are dated and only by year (2; 7-10). No stories were dated and no days. And unlike previously established correlations, this rule (categorizing prophetic books according to their emphasis on chronology) is subject to more aberrations: Obadiah, Joel, and Malachi all have no concern for dating. Malachi is indisputably a later prophet, while the dating of Obadiah and Joel remains a scholarly puzzle (119).

[Chapter 11] Miracles

Literary prophets suddenly emerged on the historical stage after 8th century BC, albeit the Chronicler mentions books of Gad, Samuel, Nathan, Ahijah, Iddo, and Shemaiah. Oral literary prophets preceding them were typically described as miracle workers: from Samuel to Elisha. The evidentiary value of miracles is such that Naaman utters: I know there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.

Early: Prophet as wonder-workers

Elisha story in 1 King 19 is a reenactment of Moses at Mt. Horeb/Sinai. But there’s also a point of contrast. Unlike the preceding Mosaic encounters, the theophany is no longer in the grand displays of power in nature: He said, « Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD. » And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. After the fir comes the sound of a low whisper (1 Kings 19:11-12). This event is a watershed for the diminished frequency of reviewer waters, an apologetic for the decline of the miracle-working prophets and the rise of literary prophets focusing on revealed word rather than signs/deeds, with the exception of Isaiah 36-39 which is supposed to have a borrowed origin in Kings (123).

Later: Prophet of the divine word

Now on what constitutes a prophet, Amos 7:14-16 gives a different picture than the popular conception of someone who “will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper” (2 Ki 5:11). Yahweh’s word “Go! Prophecy!” is the only essential that makes a prophet. It must be noticed that even in early times (Deut 13:1-5) miracles are not the determinative marker for the authenticity of prophecy. False prophets can also perform wonders.

In sum, the Old Testament manifests a dynamic view consisting of three strands concerning prophecy: 1) a general exuberance toward/positive correlation between wonders and prophetic truthfulness; 2) a restrained/skeptic attitude toward such a correlation (Deut 13:1-5); 3) the obsolescence of such a correlation in literary prophets (125).

In Daniel, what is interesting is that a number of miraculous events occurred without connection with prophetic activity; “being rescued from the Lion’s den” is especially irregular vis-à-vis the pattern of later prophets (no miraculous deliverance), or even in Jonah’s being swallowed by a whale, a supernatural interpretive element (that calls for a suspension or reversal of the normal course of nature) is not necessary: how on earth is lion tamed like that and fire not burn?

[Chapter 12] Prophets as Kingmakers

The demise of kinship in the sixth century BC and the simultaneous changes in prophecy are connected. The juxtaposition of the rise of kingship/monarchy and the emergence of prophetic activity is not just accidental in the Bible/redemptive history (127-8). The Bible presents kingship a secondary, imported the institution from neighboring cultures. Vis-à-vis the judges’ erratic rule with the nadir of depravity, Kings fare no much better but at least bring accountability and stability.

The presentation of the prophet as kingmaker, beginning with Samuel, is significant in that the king become indebted to the prophet: without the prophet that he would not be sitting his regal position. He has the power to enthrone as well as dethrone the king. Just as so distinguished to the first dynasty over Israel and was subsequently rejected by a prophet from Shiloh, so the first game over the northern kingdom, Jeroboam, was similarly rejected by another prophet also from Shiloh (1 Ki 14:7, 10); so also Baasha (1 Ki 16:1-4) and Omri (21:17-24) were prophetically rejected of their monarchic legitimacy. The impending death of King Ahab and Ahaziah (not Ahijah!) were also uttered by prophet Macaiah and Elijah (2 Ki 1:16) respectively reminiscent of what Samuel did to Saul. After Samuel died with his divine message that Davidic descendants will rule forever, Nathan becomes the actual mover in making sure that Solomon becomes king instead of his older brother Adonijah (131).

After the first three teams of Israel the actual process of installing a new king became an unseen practice— the text is not giving us any clue except for still calling the King “the anointed one”. But we can confidently assume continuity of the prophetic king-making, as we see Ahijah the Shilonite still has authority to abase as well as exalt: with his symbolic practice of tearing apart his garment, he gives 10 tribes to the northern kingdom and 2 to the southern kingdom in front of King Jeroboam (1 Ki 11). Elijah and Elisha both continue the tradition (1 Ki 19; 2 Ki 9).

In postexilic times, we can still see traces of the tradition in Nehemiah’s memoir: slanderous rumor was circulating that Nehemiah was about to hire prophets to sponsor his kingship, a rebellious scheme against Persia falsified by his detractors (Neh 6:6-9). Also Zechariah was ordered by God to make a crown for the designated ruler in the future (Zech 6-11-3), assuming the inherited prophetic office (136). However, expectations for the monarchic revival apart (Mal 4:5[3:23]: Lo, I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, Before the coming of the day of Jehovah, The great and the fearful.), no such successful institutions really happened ever in Jerusalem again. The central prophet role was now-defunct, vanished, truncated, and eventually marking the end of classical prophecy.

Now it is noteworthy that in the New Testament the initial appraisals Jesus focus on his prophetic status, namely, as one who could anoint a king but not necessarily as the king himself (Mat 16:13-14), especially in light of passages about John Baptist (Jn 1:19-25). Now one point does the “anointed one” can be exactly and aptly applied to Jesus? The gospel Matthew identifies John Baptist as the expected Elijah in relation to Jesus (11:14); Luke points to Jesus’ phenomenal reading of the Isianic passage which “has been fulfilled in your hearing today” (Lk 4:18-21). Understood in the prophetic light, the baptism my junk must be the occasion to which Peter refers when he affirms of Jesus in Acts 10:38 that “God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power (cf. 4:26-27).

[Chapter 13] The Chariots of Men and Of God

Deuteronomy 17:16 Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’

If we recall, one of the rationales for kingship is war (1 Sam 8:19-20). At the heart of the issue is the technology that the king uses at Israel’s armies. But not overview technologies are approved. One of the most notable features of Israelite theology contrasting with its contemporaries is the complete rejection of the chariot as a legitimate weapon (143). Pharaoh’s chariots are depicted in negative light (Ex 14-15; Deut 11:4); the wisdom literature debunks pride in horse power (Ps 33:17; 46:9; 67:6; 20:7; 147:10; Pr 21:31); in Joshua God himself even commands the destruction of captured chariot forces (Josh 11).

Contrary to Joshua’s faithfulness, there is a partial compromise in David’s case: he plundered 1000 chariots and 7000 horses, hamstrung some but retained some for 100 chariots (1 Ch 18:4; 2 Sam 8:4). The compromised pattern continued by Absalom, Adonijah, and culminated in Solomon (2 Sam 15:1; 1 Ki 1:5; 1 Ki 10:26-29; 9:19).

Both Isaiah and Micah contemporary to Hezekiah[1] got problems with Judah’s long-standing commitment to sophisticated military technology (Mic 1:13; 5:10). Later prophets almost unanimously condemned the idolatrous reliance upon horse and chariots (Amos 2:14-16, Jeremiah 51:21, Nahum 2:13, Ezekiel 39:20; Haggai 2:22). When one moves from the literary prophets to earlier prophets, one will find that the prophet also functions as Israel’s chariots and horsemen (151). We find the cry of grief with Elijah’s ascension in the chariots of fire: Elisha saw it and he cried, « My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen! » (2 Ki 2:12) Un Elisha’s story, we know the king could dispense with the chariotry by heeding the prophet’s advises (2 Ki 6:8-17). Because Yahweh of Hosts is a warrior, the way that Israel defends itself as a focus of his attention. At His command are supernatural chariots and horses patrolling the Earth— superlatives in power, God can muster far more powerful and far more numerous comparable resources than the greatest and most belligerent human display of force in view (157). Many postmodern readers agonize with perplexity over the prophetic fixation on dooms and destruction, but indeed the prophetic role is by definition going to have a message of conflict, just like doctors and cancer do not coexist in harmony (158). The prophets are united on the subject: do not imitate other nations in military protocol.

Later prophets speak a lot about judgment against the nations, but there is also the mention of God’s wrath against his people’s recalcitrance (163), such as the transition from Amos 1:1-2:3 to 2:4-15 and 3:1-7. The awareness of God and the divine warrior never passes, but the day of the prophet as the human in touch with God heavenly armies was no more.

[Chapter 14] Continuities in History

1 Samuel 9:9 informs us that prophet was formally called the “seer”. Embedded in such a comment is the awareness of historical development. Zechariah nostalgically called the preexilic prophets “the former prophets” (1:4). Despite the name change, Ezekiel proposes that there are must be some family connection to account for the historical continuity in depravity: like mother like daughter (16:44). The continuity is manifested in the paradigmatic usage of Sodom and Gomorrah is later prophetic texts, as well as in the theme of national recovery (Eze 16:53-55).

The paradigmatic way of looking at history, where patterns repeated with variations but with consistency, is exemplified in the Deuteronomistic history (cf. 1 Ki 14:7-11 on Jeroboam contra 16:2-4 on Baasha contra 21:21-24 on Omri)as well as Amos 1:1-2:3 (7 pagan nations are judged in déjà vu, depicted in repetitive terms with only one or two words of variation), Isa 2:2-4/Mic 4:1-3, Ob 1-4/Jer 49:14-16, Ob 5-6/Jer 49:9-10, and so on. We can also find in the literary prophets a similar phenomenon, where the prophet adapts verbatim another prophet’s Oracle that is addressed to a specific addressee unto a different addressee (“the earth” Isa 24:17-18/“Moab” Jer 48:43-44). As oracles have a life of their own that may not stop with an initial articulation, The assumption is that both God and humans have characteristic behavior with characteristic consequences (178).

[Chapter 15] Reliable Prophets in The Context Of Change

Given the vacillating features of prophesy, are there still reliable criteria for recognizing a prophet?

  1. 1.      Prophetic livelihood is sustained by faith in God

The means by which the prophet earned his livelihood was one of the most the widespread criteria: God will provide. Prophets even had a special privilege in being able to depend upon God’s support when other Israelites found God’s grace withdrawn (1 Ki 17:4-9; 19:5-8; 2 Ki 4:8-13). Some narratives point to a ready willingness on the part of people to care for a prophet. They saw the value of the prophetic community as they provide for the prophet in the same way they provide for the priest— offering their first fruit (2 Ki 4:42-43).

In some situations, prophets belong to the same category of peripheral and marginal elements of society, thus caring for them becomes a social responsibility as one has for orphans, widows strangers, and Levites. In other occasions, prophets serve as professional consultants to assist with people’s lost animals, personal illness, or insight for future. Then it is typical that they get reimbursement for that (1 Sam 9:7ff)—note that the preferred means for payment is food, and even when monetary payment is considered the amount is small. To this God’s provision of manna in the wilderness presents a close analogue: they are provided with perishables lest it would result surplus wealth. Hence also the Lord’s Prayer: give us this day our daily bread.

But every social system is subject to abuse. Ezekiel berates against the prophetesses who modified their oracles based the quality of their reimbursement (Eze 13:17-19; cf. also Mic 3:5-11 and 1 Ki 22 on more prophetic corruption; contra 1 Ki 13:7-8). More revelatory is 2 Ki 5, where Naaman exorbitantly reimbursed Elisha for his healing, certainly not understanding the Israelite prophetic custom); now Elisha’s servant, Gehazi finds it difficult to subscribe to these master’s abstemious attitude, concocting a lie in order to cash in some of the items that, in his perspective, his master gave up too quickly. As a result, he invites Naaman’s money as well as his leprosy (v.27; cf. 2 Ki 8).

  1. 2.      The prophet as bearer of bad news

A second search engine feature prophecy is related to the disdain for personal wealth. Frophetic relinquishment of wealth and the property singularly prepared prophets for the destruction that marred the histories of Israel and Judah. Their lifestyle prevents them from being disoriented with the collapse of Israelite society (194). In Jeremiah’s dispute with Hananiah, a false prophet contemporary with Jeremiah (Jer 28:3, 17), the former is disturbed with the latter’s content that is good news that people would want to hear, rather than Jeremiah’s biting truth. Micah also observes that can use is predictable for the high-bidder whom a prophet wants to appease (3:5); and Haggai is no crowd-pleaser (1:4-13; 2:4, 19). There is an element of insightful psychology at work they can easily be overlooked by the myopic or the self-satisfied: “they led my people astray by saying peace~ peace. But there is no peace.” (Eze 13:10; Jer 6:4; 8:11; Jer 14:13-15; 23:16-17) While misleading prophets were those who behave like cheerleaders that give false hopes to losing team, true prophets are more like coaches who single out players and the correct the mistakes they made (199). The prophets themselves do not enjoy these poignant messages, but the commission of God gives no choice (200).

  1. 3.      Minority status: “the remnant”

When 12 spies reconnoiter the land that God promised to Israel, only two endorse God’s perspective. Disaster results when the minority report is disregarded (cf. Ex 23:2). The psalmists typically perceive themselves as overwhelmed by crowds of opposition; it is Noah along who is foolish enough to save his family from the deluge at his time, just as Lot represents the only righteous to be delivered from Sodom.

The fact that Jeremiah feels comfortable in branding all the prophets as a group opposed to his message and castigating them has prompted some to suggest that he is too isolated to be called a prophet (204). He is a minority within minority. Indeed, and both Jeremiah and his collaborative fellows can be called “prophet”, but only one bears the epithet was justification, spanning the transformations that prophecy experienced (205).

  1. 4.      The veracity of the prophecy

The fourth criterion, the fulfillment of the prophecy, has one problem: in matters of life and death, it is unhelpful that one waits to see the literal fulfillment before one decides whether to follow/believe the prophet or not. In particular, the Bible also affirms that misleading prophets can make accurate forecasts—even a broken clock reflects the correct time twice a day, and one snowflake does not mean it is winter (cf. Deut 13:1-2). So Jeremiah expressed his skepticism toward Hananiah in Jer 28, knowing it is it still possible that God would make the latter’s prediction come to pass. God is free, and the future is not completely certain to us (Jer 18:7-10; contra Deut 18:21-22).

However, a cumulative case argument may be established: “I who foretell this am not untried” (Odyssey 2.158-159). An inventory of successful prognostications was behind the attribution of the title prophet to an individual (cf. Jd 4:4-5 about Deborah). Generally if the community is presented as accepting the credibility of the prophet based on prior performance, it would be adequate. The Hananiah is not denied of his prophetic status even in the book of Jeremiah (28:5-11), despite a revelation to Jeremiah eventually indict Hananiah a false prophet (v.15).  In conclusion, it is possible that the diminishing profile of prophecy after the destruction of the first Temple was assisted by an increasing presence of misleading prophets, whose abusive message of peace and vindication for Judah failed to materialize (Jer 14:14; 23:16).

[Chapter 16] Summation

A Babylonian rabbi in 4th century contrasted Isaiah and Ezekiel. Isaiah leads into not doing the days of the kingdom’s independence when he said on the from in close proximity to Yahweh’s Temple. Ezekiel lived in Babylon as part of an enforced exile. Isaiah only has the allusive and laconic visionary encounter with God, whereas Ezekiel detailed up finely brush portrayal of such an encounter. So far the observations over so broad a span of texts converge in pointing to six century as the approximate watershed for the prophetic transition. Indications from the Bible that declining prophetic prominence in postexilic Israel are reinforced by later Apocrypha. 1 Maccabees affirmed that certain cultic decisions were deferred for “a prophet had not appeared to them (4:46; 9:27; 14:41). Holy Spirit departed from Israel. It is remarkable that such a variety of texts from so many individuals in so many distinct locales and times converge in presenting a panorama of at least a part of the history of ancient Israelite prophecy (222).

Summarizing Critique

Throughout the book, Samuel Meier has traced the shifting prophetic tradition recorded in the OT as a literary phenomenon, providing a vividly dynamic imagery while carefully prevent from overstating the case. This is my first exposure to an overarching perspective on Biblical prophets, so this book is very helpful and informative to me.

He seems right to say that prophesy is in general in decline since Israel monarchy. However, his peculiar concluding section with such an observation leaves his reader to wonder if this evidence can be used to support the cessesionist view, according to which miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as tongues, prophecy and healing, ceased being practiced early on in Church history. I know this is a shaky extrapolation, but it simply serves to point out the fact that without outlining a clear theology of biblical prophecy, the implication of the author’s data is somewhat open ended. With regard to this question, Meier may need a few more steps to make his exegetical homerun a score.

Other than that, I tend to think more supplementary historical evidence about the prophetic movement at the ancient Palestinian area, which is very little in this book, may be a much welcomed addition. When he talked about the apocalyptic literature, his observations almost exclusively came from the book of Daniel. Yet the idiosyncratic features of prophesy in Daniel must not only be compared with the literary prophets and oral prophets, but also with other apocalyptic works contemporary to the book of Daniel, which presents threefold challenge: exegetical, chronological, and theological. In my opinion, the inclusion of some of these historical and theological scholarships may help the readers appreciate more the distinctiveness of OT prophetic narratives, which is already well presented in this book.


[1] Hezekiah
flourished late 8th and early 7th centuries BC
King of Judah at Jerusalem. The dates of his reign are uncertain but are often given as 715–686 BC. He was a reformer who tried to discourage foreign cults and assert the religious traditions of Israel during a time of Assyrian supremacy. The rebellion that broke out in Palestine с 703 BC was probably led by Hezekiah. Though he fortified Jerusalem, other cities of Judah fell, and the revolt was put down in 701 BC. The Assyrians demanded a heavy tribute of gold, but tradition holds that a plague devastated the Assyrian army and Jerusalem was spared.

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