Black TheologyTheology

Prophethood in Israel

Shahidi Islam – Scholar, Author and Activist

Peace to the Gods and Goddesses of the foundation;

Much love goes to New York City;

And mad respect to London;

In the days of the Hebrew prophets and prophetesses the call to prophethood was a mark of distinction. Moses said to the Hebrew people:

“There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch,

Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.

For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God.

For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.

The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken” (Deuteronomy 18: 10-15).

Putting aside all the messianic implications of this Scripture, the purpose of prophets and prophetesses was for the people to consult them to hear the word of God and the plans of God.

The nations around Israel had mediums, wizards, witches and diviners but Israel was to have prophets and prophetesses, and that was to be their mark of distinction.

It was the duty of prophets and prophetesses to convey the message of God to the people of Israel and Judea during the times of their struggles with imperialism.

And while a prophet or prophetesses may not have ever spoken before the powerful and influential, the great prophets: the Isaiahs, the Jeremiahs, the Elijahs and the Daniels did.

What separated the great prophets and prophetesses from the good was the extent of their calling. Amos may not have ever spoken before a king but he did speak before the high priest of Bethel: in that his ministry was commended.

Micah spoke before neither king nor priest but he was still known to King Hezekiah. Not only so, but his messages were also preserved by the elders of Judea as messages of genuine prophethood.

Jeremiah, on the other hand, spoke before several kings of Judea but he was never an established prophet of the kingdom; in fact, he was an outlaw who ended up in prison for his message.

But though a prophet or prophetess may not have started out prophesying to kings and priests, as they became more in-tuned with God’s lead and followed it they would draw closer to their destiny.

As an example, if we consider Jeremiah again. He began his ministry in Anathoth prophesying mainly to the Hebrew priests who sacrificed to Baal. This was the only world he knew at that time, that and corruption: the people walking in wickedness.

Then, as he left Anathoth and went to live in Jerusalem, he began his Jerusalem message prophesying against wickedness, then he began prophesying against the Prophets of Peace, and, finally, he got his audience with the nobility having become a thorn in their side.

When a prophet or prophetess stood before the political leaders they prophesied against wickedness, true indeed, but they also prophesied against trusting in political alliances and political assurances.

The truth is, governments cannot save the people and governments cannot save the kings. The only one prophets and prophetesses guided the king and queen to trust in was God.

By guiding the king and nobility to God the prophet or prophetess ultimately hoped, though actually they knew better, that they would renounce their leadership and dissolve the government, thereby giving control back to God. At least that was the dream.

Prophets and prophetesses had many weapons in their arsenal for delivering their message too: whether to the people or to the nobility. Two of the main ones were visions and dreams.

The visions and dreams of a prophet or prophetess meant that prophets and prophetesses usually spoke in symbols. Prophets and prophetesses could jump from symbol to symbol though their message would always remain the same.

When God was about to move and the change was to be world changing, he would do nothing without revealing his secrets to his servants the prophets and prophetesses.

Indeed, the main job of a prophet or prophetess was to forewarn the people of the impending doom looming in the distance: that it was not paradise awaiting them it was fire and brimstone awaiting them. Judgment from on high.

The prophet and the prophetess were to warn that the wrath of God was about to be unleashed: the sword was coming from its sheaf and would not return until it had been bathed in the blood of God’s enemies.

The prophet and prophetess foresaw these things and warned the people just like a watchman standing guard over a country watching to see if the enemy approaches.

Yet prophets and prophetesses were more than simply watchmen, they foresaw with such clarity that it was premonitory. It was as if they were right there in the thick of it.

The prophet or prophetess would carry the intensely painful premonition of judgment within them until the judgment was fulfilled. This was high pressure, high stakes.

They may have wanted to speak the same message as the Prophets of Peace but the truth of judgment and the wrath of God rested on them.

The premonitory visions and dreams the prophet or prophetess saw existed as imaginative constructions, albeit infused with power from God, however, as they gained greater clarity they became more certain.

Another weapon in the arsenal of a prophet or prophetess was symbolic action. It could be going to a significant or important place, or doing a significant or memorable thing, or both.

In all three instances after the symbolic action had been performed the next move of the prophet or prophetess was to present a sermon explaining their action: why are they now in the place, why have they done what they did, what brought about the need for this demonstration.

The sermon or message attached to the symbolic action was most likely one of judgment as in Jeremiah’s shattering of the clay vessel in Gey Ben Hinnom to show that God would judge the people of Topheth and Jerusalem (Jeremiah 19: 1-13).

Here both going to that place and performing that action had symbolic value. Gey Ben Hinnom was where the Judeans caused their sons and daughters to be burned alive in sacrifice to Baal; and the shattering of the clay vessel was loud, violent, visceral, something the people who followed him there would remember.

Again, the message of judgment that came after the symbolic action was common and generic, particularly for Jeremiah.

At the same time, it could be said that Jeremiah was the exception and most prophets in his day were Prophets of Peace, but the fact is Jeremiah had the same message throughout his ministry, thus he needed something to dramatise the importance of that message.

God was about to judge the people for their crimes and the symbolic action was the only way of waking them up to how serious the situation was. Indeed, a symbolic action could either be a proof of judgment or a graphic image of what would come or why it would come.

At the same time, a prophet or prophetess would always speak according to the guidance of their spirit – yet this could be somewhat deceptive.

Their spirit may have guided them to speak God’s words; it may have guided them to speak their own words; it may have guided them to speak the lies the people believed or, finally, it may have guided them to speak the feelings the people would feel if they only knew what the prophet or prophetess knew.

Like with their dreams, visions and symbolic actions the words a prophet or prophetess spoke were never that simple, they always had a much deeper meaning. This is true as they came directly from God’s council.

Finally, perhaps the most common and the most magnificent form of prophetic work was the poetic utterance. Prophets and prophetesses spoke in poetry so much so that it was considered interchangeable with the idea of prophethood.

Indeed, the effectiveness of a prophet’s or prophetess’ poetry was shown in how followed and adored they were. Someone like Isaiah was highly admired for his poetry, while Hosea was ignored.

To take that idea a bit further, the prophets and prophetesses of Israel were really just an evolution from the psalmists of Israel.

They grew up with the law and knowing the law, they also grew up knowing the Hebrew proverbs, these were a given. Yet what really inspired them was the psalms they listened to either in the temple or at a high place.

It is even possible that wandering psalmists would roam Israel and Judea singing their poetries of praise, thanksgiving, lament, entreaty, grievance or apologetic to God, and this caught the ear of the soon to be prophets and prophetesses.

In fact, what distinguished the prophetic from the psalmistic was that the prophets and prophetesses turned one away from sin or idolatry and toward the one God and his law; while the psalmists merely spoke to the one God or to the people about the one God.

While there is undeniably some overlap in these definitions the general trumps the exception. Prophets and prophetesses were like psalmists on a mission: to turn the people back to God and his law, by any means necessary.

And though since the time of the Prophet Muhammad the offices of prophet and prophetess have passed into the history books, there still are seers and visionaries in our time.

In fact, my righteous name Shahidi means seer, as I’ve been blessed with a large amount of predictive visions and dreams. Some even premonitory. Yet despite all this I would never claim to be a prophet.

So, while many in our day claim to be prophets and prophetesses the truth will expose them. It is said that bank-tellers can spot a counterfeit dollar easily because they study the real so long that they can tell the difference.

Many of the so-called prophets and prophetesses of our time would fall into the category of what in Jeremiah’s time were called Prophets of Peace. They are false prophets and false prophetesses in that they have not led us to God, the real God, but to idolatry and Baal worship.

As Baal was a false god worshiped by many of the Hebrew priests, so the white god is a false god worshiped in many churches today. A false god we need to expose to finally be free from.