The prophets of Israel were seldom popular men. They had a habit–a nasty habit, in the eyes of the political and religious authorities–of speaking God’s mind in front of the people. They did not hesitate to spell out the nature of the sins of the people, the government, and the “opinion setters” of their day.
Their chief transgression, in the eyes of the authorities, was their willingness to speak about specific sins, instead of making themselves respectable and acceptable by mentioning only sins in general, which is always pleasant to the ears of sinners, who can then assume that the prophet is talking about someone else, preferably someone who has slighted or thwarted them in some way. The more general the sins, the larger and more enthusiastic the audience; the prophets violated this rule–a rule which is seldom violated by modern-day television and stadium evangelists, at least those who are supported primarily by the income from their television and stadium appearances, as distinguished from those who are supported by a local congregation which is supporting the television ministry.
What the prophets of Israel did was to confront their listeners with God’s criticism of sins practiced widely by the listeners, rather than the listeners’ rivals. This is one of the best ways known to man to shrink the financial support of a ministry. Elijah, if you recall, had to be fed by ravens sent by God, so few were the “love offerings” of his non-existent financial supporters (I Kings 17:3-6). He had to rely on the miracles of God in order to have enough to eat (I Kings 17:16; 19:5-8), dwelling as a fugitive in a cave during part of his ministry (I Kings 19:9-10). His was not what you would call a “prime time” evangelism ministry. Had there been television talk show hosts in his day, they would not have invited him to appear. Too controversial.
The Background: Biblical Law
It is impossible to understand the message of the Old Testament prophets without being familiar with the background provided in two important chapters of the Bible, Deuteronomy 8 and 28. In these passages, God set forth His system of social and national blessings and curses. Both sections have the same basic outline. The only difference is that Deuteronomy 8 focuses on the many blessings provided by God in the wilderness and in the promised land, even before Israel entered Canaan, whereas Deuteronomy 28 details the blessings and curses that the Israelites could expect in the future. Both chapters begin with God’s announcement of Israel’s requirement to adhere to His commandments. This is the basis of the prophetic messages: the existence of a covenantal law-order which has built-in sanctions. This covenantal law-order is thoroughly specific, and so are its blessings and curses. This is why the prophets were so specific in their cataloging of social and national transgressions.
The blessings listed in Deuteronomy 8 and 28 are external blessings. So are the curses. They are not simply limited to the hearts and minds of the people. God tells them of a coming period of time “when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied” (Deut. 8:13). The goal of this wealth Is to reconfirm the fixed nature of God’s covenant with them: “But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day” (8:18). The words, “That he may establish his covenant,” indicate a relationship which modern economists call “positive feedback”: blessings reinforce the covenant, which in turn encourage people to become even more faithful to God’s law-order, which brings additional external blessings, and so on, right down to the day of judgment. The Hebrews were given a law-order which did permit long-term economic growth, and which encouraged them to believe in the possibility of long-term growth, a perspective which no other culture possessed in the ancient world. (Even today, the idea of linear growth is the product of a world-and-life view which was originally Christian, although since the late seventeenth century this outlook has been progressively secularized.)
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)