By Art Katz
The quintessential definition of the prophetic call is given to Jeremiah at the inception of his ministry:
Then the LORD stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me, Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant. (Jer. 1:9,10).
The first expression of the prophetic calling is judgment. Unless we have a stomach for that, then we will not be allowed the privilege of the word that builds and plants. Note the order of the words: the hardest thing first. Everything that is painful to the flesh and that will earn for us the displeasure of men must first be addressed.
The prophet is called to pluck up and break down the things that are dear to men, namely, their religious tradition, the false things that they have celebrated for generations, the things that they want to cling to because it has to do with their identity and their dignity and the way in which they even see themselves.
Men will kill for this and yet the prophet has got to tear down and destroy. The things that are false will be contended for fiercely! He has got therefore to be painful and a destroyer. His word then is destructive before it is benevolent. Unless we are willing to speak the destructive word, we will never be used for benevolence. Only the prophets who were faithful to speak the word of exile and judgment were also the prophets who spoke the word of restoration and return. They were given the privilege of speaking the creative word of restoration.
It would be a much simpler task if we just had to establish fresh principles where it falls on virginal consciousness. When you first have to deal with and penetrate a whole existent medley of opinions and traditions that have become dear (if not sacrosanct), you will ironically be accused of being opposed to God!
A prophet not only identifies falsity, but he ruthlessly destroys it. There is something about his word that is like a fire. It is plucking up, rooting out and destroying before it is planting and rebuilding. Who wants to hear men like that? They not only just bring things into question, but they absolutely reduce it to rubble before your eyes. For you to pick it up after that is to touch the unclean thing. They have identified it and now you are stuck with that word. It is little wonder that such men are not welcome in places where people want to continue their lifestyle unchallenged.
A prophet critiques and unsparingly lays bare, without fear and regard of man, the lie or even conventional truth, that is to say, the assumed, mindless, uncontested premises that constitute death in the midst of life. It is to reveal the lie, to expose it and to blow the whistle. That lie may well be the lies of the false prophets. The whole world is predicated on lies, but how shall it know unless a word of truth comes. If that word is to come, then it is to come from one who is totally without fear of man.
We all know that the fear of man is the most powerful and crippling factor that works in the lives of Gods ministers. To be free of that and to speak without regard to the fear of man is an ultimate statement that implies such a history of dealing with that servant. We are all born with the fear of man. We live for the regard of man, for their acknowledgment and for their applause.
Men love the acknowledgments of men, particularly prestigious men, but we have got to be weaned away from that necessity. It is a process; it does not take place in a day. Every time that God brings us to that place of weaning, we have got to submit to it, until we come to the place where we do not need it. We need to come to the place where we are not only indifferent to the applause of men, but also to their criticisms and reproaches.
A prophet requires, therefore, an extraordinary discernment to critique and an analytical ability honed by the Spirit. It is not a taking of pot shots, but an apprehending of Gods own view of something, and expressing that.
The prophets own lifestyle must itself, therefore, be a repudiation of the lie. We cannot blow the whistle on false values if we ourselves are subscribing to them. There is something about poverty that is more than an accident or happenstance. It is appropriate to the authenticity of our union with God. Camels hair garments and the eating of locusts are symbolically intrinsic to the prophetic life.
There is a reason why John the Baptist was in the wilderness and not in Jerusalem, though he was the son of a priest. He could not be where the Establishment was. He could not enjoy its benefits and at the same time blow the whistle on the falsity of it. We cannot in our own lifestyle indulge in the very thing that we are condemning before others. Lifestyle is, therefore, remarkably important with regard to the word that is to be proclaimed and probably nothing more betrays whether you are a true or false prophet than this.
The false prophets ate from Jezebels table. Elijah had to be fed by ravens and live by the side of a brook. It is not that one seeks to wear a camels hair garment because it is romantic or that you have to dress in such a way that marks you as being distinctive and different. The values that are false cannot have a place in us.
A prophet is called to reveal the lie, the underlying premises that need to be examined in the light of God about value, about life and its purposes, and therefore your own lifestyle must be a repudiation of that lie, however much society and even the church legitimates it. A prophets speaking not only reveals the lie but condemns and judges it. His word as is his life itself is a divine destruct.
When Elijah said, There shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word (1 Kings 17:1b), it was not just saying that there will be a little difference in your weather pattern. It meant that they were not going to have crops. They were not going to eat. They were going to experience a famine.
It was going to be a judgment from God and it was to come through the speaking of Elijahs word. His word was not just a piece of information or an interpretation, however much it may be that, but rather it was a statement of judgment. It would actually affect the whole nation. That kind of word needs to be revived and restored. It is a trembling proposition to bear, and I can think of a few minor instances in my own experience where my word was a word of judgment, and God acted according to what I spoke. The church to whom it was spoken no longer exists because that was the word of judgment itself.
The prophets task is to establish an alternative, powerful and valid enough to utterly displace the lie. He presents a view of reality not yet existent and that is contrary in most points and particulars to that which is thought to be real and for which there is no precedent or model in the experience of the hearer.
He brings a heavenly and an eternal sense that obliterates the kind of validation and endorsement that the worlds values have had upon his hearers up to that time. If he had not come, they would have thought that what they were celebrating was real. When the prophet comes, however, he is not only blowing the whistle on what is false, but he brings a sense of what is true and what is eternally true. He brings the sense of eternity itself and inducts the hearer into it.
By his speaking, he sets in motion and brings his audience to a place where the false becomes true. The word becomes creative and establishes the resonance of something not understood beforesomething that is ultimate and eternal. To pierce through the false and raise another kind of a standard and make that the foundation of life is, and must be, an extraordinary kind of speaking.
Those who embrace this model that the prophet is setting forth as the alternative to the lie, and that is a heavenly alternative, condemn themselves to being pilgrims and sojourners in the earth, and therefore able to die not having received the promise. If they are going to receive a prophetic word like this that calls them to the heavenly vision in which Abraham walked, then this is going to be the consequence for their life. The word, therefore, that comes to the hearers has got to come with such a power, authority and credibility that the person who hears says, If I say Yes to this, then I am signing my death warrant. No-one is going to sign that lightly who has not been persuaded by the word that invites that kind of consecration.
Only a prophet, a foundational man, can bring a word of that kind. He calls for something of ultimate consecration on the part of the hearer unto death. That is why false prophets are more invited and listened to than the true. The false prophet affirms the hearer in his present condition and tells him that in that he is already well-pleasing.
The prophets purpose is singly and jealously the Fathers will. He restores lost vision of a kind that energizes the people of God, especially in crisis times when despair needs to be turned to hopehaving initially been stripped of false hopes by the prophet himself. He does not balk at having to be cruel before he can be kind.
A man who can bring the necessary but painful, cruel word that must come in order to build is not unloving but very love itself. In a word the prophet brings the moment of truth. Standing in the counsel of the Lord he is able to perceive error and state boldly and unequivocally the requisite truth though it be utterly at variance with the consensus being demonstrated.
The prophetic task is to restore to men who have lost it, the biblical mentality and the biblical view of things that are unchanging in Gods sight. He conveys the view of God particularly to a people who are unwilling to hear it. If the prophetic word is critical to bringing an alignment of Gods people with His own view, then the kind of word that is brought by the prophets is the ultimate issue. Where there are authentic prophets who are willing to bring the unwelcome word, so will there also be a plenitude of popular false prophets who bring the false word of comfort and who say, Peace, peace when there is no peace.
A prophet does not major in minors. Out of a consummate jealousy for the glory of God, he sets forth the ultimate purposes of God in such a way as to obtain the sacrifices of his hearers to fulfill it. It is not enough just to set forth what Gods program is, but to set it forth in such a way that he has won the willingness of the hearers to be participant in obtaining the ultimate and eternal purposes of God as sacrifice.
That is where the prophetic word is more than the word of explanation. It does not just explain what the eternal purposes of God are, but he communicates it in such a way as to win the commitment of his hearers to the sacrifice necessary to fulfill them. That takes more than explanation. The prophet epitomizes the suffering that such an adherence evokes. In other words, those who are going to embrace the view that he is presenting are opening themselves to suffering.
The prophet, therefore, who is inviting them to that suffering has himself in some sense to exhibit it and give the evidence that this is Gods way and that the cross is central to the faith. He makes clear to his hearers that persecution, if not martyrdom, is intrinsic to a faith of this kindand wins their willingness. It is one thing to establish that the cross, persecution and martyrdom are intrinsic to the faith, but to win the hearers consecration to that call is an extraordinary stroke that requires the authority and anointing of those who bear His word. That is the prophetic task.
We are not bringing information, but rather calling men to ultimate, sacrificial things and that is why that kind of a word will always be resisted.
The prophet announces and projects the impending end of this world in apocalyptic fury and judgment, sufficient to birth the longing for a new heaven and a new earth in which there is righteousness. He not only brings to the awareness of the hearer that the world that they have celebrated is under judgment and is intended for destruction, which means it will destroy a lot of where their own heart is, but he also births a longing for the thing that comes down from above and which will replace this present age.
A prophet is a man of the word who abhors lightness while deeply respecting and guarding the sanctity of language and its meaning from abuse and cheapening. He is not, therefore, always your enjoyable household guest and is not good for easy conversation and small talk. He guards his mouth because he knows the sanctity of words and will not, therefore, give himself to frequent speaking as it debases the currency of words. There is with him a history of waiting and silences.
A prophet shuns the distinctions and honors that men confer. These things bring a certain aura of prestige and eminence and weight, but the prophetic man, in order to be true to God is the wilderness prophet. Wilderness does not just mean physical isolation, but a conscious and willful separation from the kinds of things that are calculated to compromise.
He does not effect any kind of prophetic outward appearance to indicate his office. He is unprepossessing in appearance and demeanor and despises what is showy, sensational or bizarre. A prophet is intent on turning men to God and not to himself.
This calling is given and is not something that we ourselves summon or take for ourselves, but if we have it, then we need to know that God is going to work us over, again and again, in order to ensure that it is His word that comes forth and not our own.