One thing you can’t help but notice as you read through the prophets of the Old Testament is how unwelcomed their messages were. What the prophets—the genuine ones, the one’s whose oracles and/or writings made it into the scriptures—had to say was unpopular, and the kings in particular but often the people also didn’t like what they heard. More than once there was an effort to silence an unpopular prophet. Amos was told to get out of town and take his prophecies somewhere else (Amos 7:10-13). King Jehoiakim took his penknife and, as a scroll from Jeremiah was read to him, sliced off sections as they were read and threw them into the fireplace (Jeremiah 36). No wonder Jeremiah whined so much when God called him to be a prophet. It didn’t make you a very popular person.
I mention this because it seems that every time I hear someone talk about God telling them to do something—admittedly (and thankfully) that’s not often—it seems quite often to be something that they would want to do anyway. Something that might benefit them. Something that would result in them saying that God blessed them.
I don’t very often hear someone saying that they felt God leading them to do something costly. To do something that would require, not just a little bit of sacrifice, but a lot of sacrifice. To do something that would result in their crying out like Isaiah, “Woe is me!”
Of course I would be a little worried if someone came to me and actually used the words, “Woe is me!” But you get my point.
Why is it that when God speaks to people, it seems more often than not to be a welcome word? What happened to the prophetic pattern of the unwelcome word?
Yes, I know that the Old Testament is the Old Testament, that we are a New Testament people, living in the age of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So why would I want hearken back to an age gone by, an age that was ended by the coming of the Messiah who proclaimed Good News? Am I just in a bad mood or something?
It’s just that the conditions that the prophets spoke out against still exist in our world. They don’t just exist, they are pervasive, and God is as offended by them now as he was back then. He hasn’t changed his mind. The prophets held those in power accountable for doing justice, and when they instead perpetrated injustice they heard about it, whether they liked it or not. And what is injustice? Try this definition from Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission: “Injustice occurs whenever power is misused to take from others what God has given them, namely, their life, dignity, liberty, or the fruits of their labor.”
And God needs people who are willing to do some dangerous things: speak truth to power, stand up against those who profit from injustice, and stand up for those who are victimized by it.
We understand that those in power, like King Jehoiakim, won’t welcome the word, but we also understand that Jeremiah didn’t relish having to tell it to him either. No one would. It’s dangerous to speak to the powers that way.
Which means that we have a choice. As Haugen points out, we can be safe, or we can be brave, but we can’t be both.
We welcome a word from God that promises us safety, security, and an avoidance of suffering. A word from God that would send us into dangerous places where there is real suffering isn’t necessarily a welcomed word. But it’s a necessary word. Following the will of God in a fallen world will generate some pain and suffering on our part, and who welcomes that? So we must be brave, and follow the unwelcomed call.
We have to remember that it was to victims of injustice that Jesus proclaimed that he had good news. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)
Now, we get to be bearers of that good news. And as bearers of good news, we may have to go some places that will make us uncomfortable; we may have to do some things that will make us uncomfortable; we may have to confront some people, which will make us feel uncomfortable. It may even be dangerous. But when we go, those to whom we minister will see our actions as a welcomed word. And that is truly good news for us as well.