Prophets in Our Path

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 30.10-11
10 They say to the seers,
“See no more visions!”
and to the prophets,
“Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things,
prophesy illusions.
11 Leave this way,
get off this path,
and stop confronting us
with the Holy One of Israel!”

Reflection: Prophets in Our Path
By John Tillman

Isaiah describes a caravan in the Negev desert. They carry valuables and gifts of honor through dangerous territory, filled with lions and snakes. They are envoys from Judah sent down to Egypt to seek protection. 

It is an interesting reversal. Israel left Egypt, carrying away Egyptian gold and treasures as they were liberated from slavery. Now, here they are, crawling back through the desert to seek audience with their former abusers.

Why are they returning treasure and pledging fealty to their former captors? Why are they begging for “the shade” of Egypt when God promised they would sit under their own vine and fig tree? Why are they becoming like the grumbling Israelites in the desert who said, “Wouldn’t it be better to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14.3-4)

Then, like Balaam on the way to curse Israel, these envoys are confronted and warned. A prophet stands in their path with a message from God. But they brush off the warning and tell the prophet to get out of their way and stop confronting them.

These envoys wanted sweet verses from prophets. But prophecy is often ugly. They longed to hear comforting promises. But prophecy is often disturbing. They sought convenient confirmations of what they already believed. But prophecy often holds inconvenient truths.

How like these envoys are we? How easily do we seek bargains from worldly powers and shelter from our enslavers? How often do we seek prophets to confirm our decisions rather than confront us with truth? 

Let us repent:
When an inconvenient prophecy stops us in our tracks…
When an ugly truth comes to light…
When we are caught holding a check written to evil forces of this world, asking their protection… 

Don’t push past prophets in your path lest this verse be about you: “the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation…but you would have none of it.” (Isaiah 30.15)

Let us have the salvation that God longs to give us. Let us listen to prophets in our path.

“…the Lord longs to be gracious to you; 
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. 
For the Lord is a God of justice. 
Blessed are all who wait for him! 
People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.
— (Isaiah 30.18-19)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness. — Psalm 103.8

Today’s Readings

Isaiah 30 (Listen -5:52)
Luke 12 (Listen -7:42)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 31 (Listen -1:49)Luke 13 (Listen -5:02)
Isaiah 32 (Listen -2:46)Luke 14 (Listen -4:36)

Read more about Balaams and Balaks
These modern Balaams do their best to put words in God’s mouth that are pleasing to the powerful.

Read more about Today’s Roots, Tomorrow’s Fruit
Prophecies can tell of coming salvation or warn of coming disaster. There’s no question which we prefer to listen to.

How to Read Prophetic Judgment

Scripture Focus: Jude 5
Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.

From John: We have referred to this post from 2018 frequently enough on our journey through the prophets this year that it seems fitting to repeat it here. It is never a good idea to dodge the convicting message of a prophet by imagining oneself as the prophet rather than the target of prophecy. May we be more prone to repentance than deflection of blame.

Reflection: How to Read Prophetic Judgment
By John Tillman

There are many passages in the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments that are meant to comfort us. But the more typical function of prophecy is to cause us discomfort.

Examples of both comforting and afflicting passages occur in our readings today—both in Jude and in Isaiah.

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him! — Isaiah 30.18

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. — Jude 20-21

“Because you have rejected this message,
relied on oppression
and depended on deceit,
this sin will become for you
like a high wall, cracked and bulging,
that collapses suddenly, in an instant. — Isaiah 30.12-13

Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct—as irrational animals do—will destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. — Jude 10-11

When we read prophecy in the Old or New Testament, we often try to identify ourselves with one of the groups mentioned. Are we the prophet? Are we the Israelites? Are we Balaam? Are we the Gentile nations?

This can be an interesting intellectual exercise but is often a waste of time. One reason is it is unhelpful is that when we do this we take it easy on ourselves.

We tend to identify ourselves as the Israelites when prophets are saying comforting things to Israel, but when the prophet is condemning Israel, we imagine ourselves as the righteous prophet and our evil government or evil culture as the target.

In the end, it doesn’t matter that much if we understand who is analogous to the nation of Israel or who is analogous to the nation of Babylon. It matters far more to understand why God is angry, what he requires of us, and what he wants to do through us if we return to him.

Prophecy can spur us on to love and good deeds, to mark a clear path of repentance and clarify the consequences of disobedience. But we blunt the point of prophecy’s spurs when we avoid the probability that we are the ones a prophecy is about. We miss the point of prophecy entirely when we weaponize it to attack others.

The best way to read prophecy is to imagine yourself not as the speaker, but as the spoken to. Judgment-filled prophecy is one case in scripture where it is safer to assume it’s about you than others. Once you do this, you can take whatever steps of grace-filled repentance the Holy Spirit directs you to.

Following this approach, we will be far more uncomfortable reading prophecy, but our discomfort will lead to a more richly flourishing faith.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Everyone will stand in awe and declare God’s deeds, they will recognize his works. — Psalm 64.9

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

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 30 (Listen – 5:52)
Jude (Listen – 4:12)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 31 (Listen – 1:49) Revelation 1 (Listen – 3:43)
Isaiah 32 (Listen – 2:46) Revelation 2 (Listen – 4:59)

Read more about Different Kind of Exile
Living as outcasts in society has nearly always brought healing to the church through suffering.

Read more about Default Settings for Scripture
Scripture is not written as much to us, about us, or about the past as it is for us, about Jesus, and about our future.