And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God or Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to bed thee there. So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan (I Ki. 17:1-5).
Elijah’s ministry was a depressing one, as was true of most of the prophets of Israel. His was not a ministry of redemption and reconciliation. His was a ministry of condemnation and confrontation. His was not a ministry of positive sanctions; it was a ministry of negative sanctions. This was true of most of the prophets to Israel. The one major exception was Jonah, but Jonah was not sent to Israel.
The office of prophet was unique to Old Covenant Israel. This covenantal office no longer exists. What was unique about the prophetic office was that it was legitimized by predictable sanctions. A prophet’s word was superior to a king’s word or a high priest’s word. A prophet, who had been neither anointed by a high priest or ordained by the people, nevertheless possessed lawful authority over church and state. But this authority was not permanent. It lasted for only as long as God’s corporate negative sanctions were imminent. The prophet came in the name of God in God’s capacity as sanctions-bringer. Sometimes the prophet called on men to repent; most of the time he simply warned of the imminent sanctions. The command to repent was implied by God’s law: positive corporate sanctions for covenant-keeping; negative corporate sanctions for covenant-breaking. Every warning about imminent judgment was a call to return to God’s law.
There was a two-fold test of the prophetic office: accurate predictions of the immediate future and adherence to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The death penalty was mandatory for any prophet whose predictions failed to come true — signs and wonders (Deut. 1311-5) or any other event (Deut. 18:22) — or who announced the sovereignty of any other god (Deut. 18:20). There was a very high risk for anyone claiming to be a prophet whose words had not been put into his mouth by God. Or so it seemed. But there really wasn’t. A true prophet would come in times of apostasy. But in times of apostasy, the word of God is not honored. The false prophet was honored; the true prophet was not. So, the negative civil sanctions would be imposed on the true prophet, which was the case in Israel. Then God’s corporate negative sanctions would come with a vengeance.
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