Retched Leaders

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 28.9-10
9 “Who is it he is trying to teach?
    To whom is he explaining his message?
To children weaned from their milk,
    to those just taken from the breast?
10 For it is:
    Do this, do that,
    a rule for this, a rule for that;
    a little here, a little there.”

Reflection: Retched Leaders
By Erin Newton

There is vomit covering the tables. The room is trashed. Perhaps in the corner, there is a person hungover from the previous night’s revelry. The scene sounds like the aftermath of a fraternity party. But this is Israel’s religious elite. This is supposedly where wisdom and justice lived.

The priests and prophets were irresponsible. In their drunkenness, they couldn’t make clear judgments. In their stupor, the prophetic visions were blurred and incoherent. They were unfit for their jobs and the result is a nauseating mess.

But it was not an isolated problem. If a priest could not make a sound judgment about a citizen’s purification status (as was necessary in Old Testament law), then their self-indulgence resulted in the continued corruption of the people.

J. Alec Motyer simplifies the scenario. “This is an acute diagnosis of the human condition: self-satisfaction becomes self-indulgence and issues in self-sufficiency.” Yet the stakes are higher for the priests and prophets, because of their ineptitude those they lead are carried further into sin.

In their stupor and pride, they mocked Isaiah, calling his message infantile or elementary. They claimed his message was nothing but the simple instructions given to children. The message was too basic for them. They didn’t need such simple teaching. They were too important for simplicity.

We have leaders like this today. Some pastors, seminary professors, and social media warriors prefer to pontificate on higher things rather than learn the Golden Rule. If they are rebuked, it is met with arrogant replies of self-justification. Some leaders would rather spend their energy studying the etymological origin of the Greek word for “authority” rather than have mercy on a beaten man on the road to Jericho or sit and listen at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10).

There is a need for theological research which some of us are pursuing. But if we ignore when someone says that we have forgotten how to love God with our whole being and how to love others as ourselves, then we are no better than the puke-covered priests. As leaders, we also risk dragging those who listen down into the cesspool with us. 

The irony is that sophisticated, noted, and prestigious religious leaders still need to hear the elementary teachings of the Bible. The idea that we can ever get over the gospel, mastering the content completely, is a sign that pride has taken hold already.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
How deep I find your thoughts, O God! How great is the sum of them!
If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; to count them all, my lifespan would need to be like yours. — Psalm 139.16-17

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 28 (Listen -4:49)
Luke 10 (Listen -5:40)

Read more about Puking Prophets of Success
We must be restrained, refusing to become drunk on the power and greed our culture gulps down.

Read more about Unexpected Contents of God’s Cup of Wrath
The picture painted by Jeremiah is a messy nightmare of people dying in pools of their own vomit.

Puking Prophets of Success

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 28.15
You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death, 
with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement. 
When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, 
it cannot touch us, 
for we have made a lie our refuge 
and falsehood our hiding place.” 

Reflection: Puking Prophets of Success
By John Tillman

When judgment comes to those who think themselves strong and unassailable, there seem to be two kinds of prophets. 

One kind is the prophets soaked in success, whose thirsts are slaked with the excesses of the culture. Isaiah greets these prophets, comparing them to drunks who continue to revel around a vomit-covered table, still sticky with the remnants of their previous parties. (Isaiah 28.7-8)

These prophets continue to predict that Israel and Judah will be great. They declare good times will return. They misread God’s intention to fulfill his will through the nation as God’s willingness to tolerate any sin among them.

They issue a challenge to Isaiah, (Isaiah 28.9-10) saying to him, “Don’t you know how wise we are? Don’t you see how successful we are? We are not children who need your childish teaching.”

Other prophets see through this spiritual pride and hubris. They are those, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others, who call for repentance and understand that God can both bring disaster and save for himself a remnant through which to carry out his purposes.

The “puking prophets” of success are taking refuge in a lie. (Isaiah 28.15) They claim they do not need to be dictated to. They claim they should not be treated as children. But Isaiah knows that they will be soon treated worse. They will be enslaved and strictly dictated to, “do this, do that.”

The prophets of success often find great crowds and eager hearers. Paul warns Timothy of this principle in the New Testament (2 Timothy 4.3) and it is still with us today. We must learn a lesson from the fate of these popular, prideful, and puking prophets. 

By hubris they are humiliated. By turning away they become blind. By not listening they become deaf. By not feeling they become insensate.

To be part of God’s remnant, we must be humble, coming “as little children” to Christ, begging to see and repent of our sins. We must be restrained, refusing to become drunk on the power and greed our culture gulps down. 

We must open our eyes to see, open our ears to hear, and open our hearts to feel the uncomfortable, the painful, the hurtful truths of what is happening around us. In times of judgment, Christ’s remnant must work with his strength to ease, to comfort, and heal.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Gracious and upright is the Lord; therefore he teaches sinners in his way. — Psalm 25.7

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 28 (Listen – 4:49)
2 John 1 (Listen – 1:50)

Read more about Sufferings and False Prophets
When prophets warn of disaster, people often reject the simple, life-saving courses of action they recommend in favor of idolatry, conspiracies, and lies.

Read more about Much Demanded
Much has been given to us. May we praise God in thankfulness for it, serve our neighbor in humbleness with it, and challenge every form of oppression with it.