Speaking with someone who will disagree is never easy for me. I do not know why that’s the case. Perhaps, it is from being brow-beaten too many times. I don’t do debates very often. Often I ask myself what’s the point if no one will change their mind. Then I think about the examples set down by the Biblical prophets. They always spoke with someone they hoped would listen. But it was never very likely to happen. They had no illusions.
The prophets we know did not foretell very often. The awkward term “forth-telling” isn’t what they did either. In my way of thinking, their job was to impart wisdom. Isaiah was told, “Go and tell this people: ‘Be hearing but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn and be healed.'” (Isaiah 6:9-10)
Ezekiel was told, “The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen…they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (Ezekiel 2:4-5)
You only have to read the stories of Elijah and Elisha from 1 and 2 Kings to know prophetic speaking does not produce big results. The Lord continued to say to Ezekiel, “Do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or be terrified by them for they are a rebellious house.'” (6b-7)
The prophets warned of the tragic results of present courses. The Scriptures assume they are going to pursue those same activities no matter what prophets say. One should ask, “Why waste the breath on them?” Why sacrifice the health and life of the prophet for these people?
The answer is, “So they will know.”
It is the part I have had the hardest time wrapping my head around. “So they will know?” Isn’t that like being able to say, “I told you so?” Is that helpful? Once the tragedy has come isn’t it too late for them to do anything? Could it be that then the Prophet can be heard?
Yes! Obviously, that is the point. The prophet’s words can be heeded. But, as History bears out, it is not until a later generation has come that the prophet’s words will make a difference. The prophet may be dead and gone. But, that person will not be forgotten. The wisdom the prophet speaks will be helpful.
I try to keep this in mind in what I do. It is not easy. Spiritual discipline and anguish is involved. A person wants to know their work matters to someone. “Better to be a wise but poor youth than an old and foolish King.” (Ecclesiastes 4:13) But the king causes more damage than the poor youth can fix.
Consider the following story. “There once was a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it, and built huge siegeworks against it. Now there lived a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered the poor man. So I said, ‘Wisdom is better than strength. But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.” (Ecclesiastes 9:14-16)
The prophet and the wisdom may be forgotten. But it may only be for a time. I spoke yesterday with my Representative in Congress. I did not hold out much hope to be heard. I can say that I was not disappointed. But I asked myself why I did it? Was it for praise? Or was it to be remembered? Or could it be something else? There is no way of knowing. There is only a chance that seeing the problems will one day solve them.
Fermat’s Last Theorem was stated in or around 1637. The proof was solved in 1994. It didn’t change the truth of it to prove it. But, it proved to people who wanted to call it a conjecture that Fermat was correct.
Perhaps that is all that is ever needed. Isaiah received a call from God in the Temple during the Assyrian Period. Two other people received calls. One was in the Persian Period. The other was during the Second Temple Period. We don’t have names for the other two. Their works were added to the original Isaiah.
The Goal Is Healing
I was recently reminded about the goal. It’s a quote from Henry Nouwen. “That is our vocation: to convert the enemy into a guest and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be freely experienced.” The prophet speaks to heal. The function of wisdom is to know how to heal. The wise but poor man saved the city even though his wisdom was forgotten.