What I’m Thinking: Identifying Prophets

When voices compete in claims to know the will of God, how do we know which voice is closer?

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the twenty-eighth chapter of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 28:5-9). In that time, the Babylonian Empire had invaded Jeremiah’s nation of Judah; had captured its capital city of Jerusalem; had seized and taken into exile much of its leadership, including its king; had set up a king of their own choosing from the royal family; had essentially turned Judah into a client state of the Babylonian Empire.

Jeremiah had been warning of this likelihood for some time. You might think that he would have expressed a certain amount of, well, “I told you so.” He very well may have. But in this section what we hear is the response of other prophets to this disaster. One in particular named Hananiah challenged Jeremiah in the public square, announced that Babylonian would leave. Their king would be restored. The exiles would return. That this was the will of God.

Jeremiah’s response is to say well, if this happens, then we will know who the prophet is, but if it does not happen, well then, we will also know who the prophet is.

Our lectionary leaves out the next part of the story, because Jeremiah had been wearing a yoke indicating that Judah would continue to wear the yoke of Babylon. Hananiah actually broke it, and the story ends with the simple words, “and Jeremiah went away.”

It’s important, I think, to remember that when Hananiah and Jeremiah talked about prophecy, they were not talking about predicting the future. They were talking about announcing the will of God. Hananiah said that the will of God was for Judah to regain its independence. Jeremiah insisted that the sins and faults and poor leadership of Judah meant that the will of God was one of judgement, and that this judgement would be seen in the future as Judah remained under the yoke of Babylon.

It is so, so critical that we do understand the will of God. My struggle with this particular passage is Jeremiah and Hananiah both identified the expression of God’s will in historical circumstances. They recognized God’s will in a military invasion and in an overturning of a nation. They would recognize and their contemporaries would recognize and those before them and many of those after them would recognize God’s will in natural disaster, in crop failures, in insect invasions, and yes, in spreading of diseases.

I am reluctant to use circumstance as an indicator of God’s will. Nevertheless it is crucially important to know what God’s will is.

I rarely try to “correct” an older text with a newer one, but in this case I think Jesus in Matthew 10 (Matthew 10:40-42) has some pretty good clues for us to recognize the will of God when we see it. He said that those who receive a prophet as a prophet receive a prophet’s reward. Those who give a cup of water to someone who is a disciple: they receive a disciple’s reward.

That is, that the will of God is not just simply to treat one another charitably, but to treat one another seriously, to recognize in each other the possibility of God speaking through them. “God is still speaking,” as the phrase goes in the United Church of Christ. The will of God, I think, is to be always attentive for that voice, that voice that comes (hopefully) through persons like me who’ve been called into leadership in religious community. But you know, it also comes in medical folks who are laboring to care for the sick. It also comes in those who build roads to connect communities one with another. The will of God speaks in the farmer’s fields, where the sprouts of grain or guava trees or anthuriums are making their way through the soil.

So keep looking for the will of God. Try not to look for it with a self-interested prophecy as did Hananiah. Look for the will of God in those who share a cup of water with another soul.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: | Posted on June 22, 2020

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