Sunday, July 7, 2013

On False Prophets

I try to read some Scripture every day. I don't always succeed, and sometimes I pass days without opening a Bible. But most days I do dip into the Word of the Lord, however briefly.

Most of the time I open it at a random page-- and as you have probably experienced yourself, it's very difficult to really open a book at a random page. We tend to hit upon the same pages over and over again, whether because we often had that page open in the past, or because a bookmark was left there at some time, or simply because of the way the volume is bound.

Anyway, I found myself once again coming upon a passage from the Book of Jeremiah-- chapter twenty-four, as it happens-- that I remember coming upon not so long ago. On that previous occasion, the verse appealed to me so much that I blogged about it, though briefly. I can't help writing about it again, as I find it so evocative and stirring.

The Bible is a weird book. I admit (to my shame) that I have not read it from cover to cover. I've made several efforts to do so, but keep getting bogged down in the lists of Kings and genealogies. On the other hand, it's a book I read with some enthusiasm even before I became a Christian.

I find it interesting that when we need an adjective for something awe-inspiring, something on a massive scale, something soul-shakingly epic, we automatically reach for the word Biblical. That is, we refer to a book written by "bronze age savages", primitive people who had never been in an airplane, never visited a cinema, knew nothing about atomic bombs or tanks or world wars, and had never seen a telescopic image of outer space or of galaxy clusters. We have all seen things far more spectacular than they did-- and yet the stories they left us still loom larger in our imagination than any of our technological wonders and horrors.

If the Bible was an easy book to read, it would be a disappointment. I have to admit (I hope I do not speak irreverently) that I struggle to get through a lot of it. It often seems repetitive, grotesque, uneven, irrelevant, even full of platitudes (the books of Proverbs and of Wisdom, for instance). But all of this adds to the sense of strangeness, of difficulty, of intensity, that seems (to me) to be Scripture's most compelling characteristic.

And then you come across lines and verses that send a thrill through your soul unlike anything to be found anywhere else, like these famous lines from Exodus:

When the Lord saw that he went forward to see, he called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said: Moses, Moses. And he answered: Here I am. And he said: Come not nigh hither, put off the shoes from thy feet: for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.

I can't even begin to explain why that sends such a shudder through me, or why I find it impossible to believe it is simply part of an old folk tale.

The passage that enthalled me this evening has the same sense of "shock and awe". I like how utterly different it is from contemporary "self-actualisation" doctrines. It is a perpetual temptation, one to which we are all prone (and to which I certainy succumb all too often) to use Christianity as a vehicle for your own personal beliefs and priorities and sensibilities. How often have you read an article or an entire book of "Christian" reflections which seem to be no more than a bundle of the author's own sentiments, garnished with a few judicious quotations from the Bible?

How much more shocking (and yet more wonderful) to be told: "Are not my words as a fire, saith the Lord: and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" Probably nobody will ever put those words on a poster or a calender or a t-shirt, but they seem so much more joyous and exhilarating to me than any of the inspirational mottoes you see in such places.

In any case, here is the passage. I think it could apply to a lot of people who set themselves up as Christian commentators today (especially the lines, "They say to them that blaspheme me: The Lord hath said: You shall have peace: and to every one that walketh in the perverseness of his own heart, they have said: No evil shall come upon you.") As for myself, I pray and hope that nothing I write or say ever departs from orthodoxy.

Thus saith the Lord of hosts: Hearken not to the words of the prophets that prophesy to you, and deceive you: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord. They say to them that blaspheme me: The Lord hath said: You shall have peace: and to every one that walketh in the perverseness of his own heart, they have said: No evil shall come upon you. For who hath stood in the counsel of the Lord, and hath seen and heard his word? Who hath considered his word and heard it? Behold the whirlwind of the Lord' s indignation shall come forth, and a tempest shall break out and come upon the head of the wicked. The wrath of the Lord shall not return till he execute it, and till he accomplish the thought of his heart: in the latter days you shall understand his counsel.

I did not send prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. If they stood in my counsel, and had made my words known to my people, I should have turned them from their evil way and from their wicked doings. Am I, think ye, a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Shall a man be hid in secret places, and I not see him, saith the Lord? do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord? I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, and say: I have dreamed, I have dreamed.

How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies, and that prophesy the delusions of their own heart? Who seek to make my people forget my name through their dreams, which they tell every man to his neighbour: as their fathers forgot my name for Baal. The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream: and he that hath my word, let him speak my word with truth: what hath the chaff to do with the wheat, saith the Lord? Are not my words as a fire, saith the Lord: and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? Therefore behold I am against the prophets, saith the Lord: who steal my words every one from his neighbour.

Behold I am against the prophets, saith the Lord: who use their tongues, and say: The Lord saith it. Behold I am against the prophets that have lying dreams, saith the Lord: and tell them, and cause my people to err by their lying, and by their wonders: when I sent them not, nor commanded them, who have not profited this people at all, saith the Lord.

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