Priest's Perspective

Priests Perspective 14 July Prophecy – (Reflection by Deacon John Aitchison)

I’d like to share some insight, here, from Rev John Aitchison. It is wisdom for us in this day. He speaks here about “Prophecy in a situation.” We would do well to better understand Biblical Prophecy in our time. Prophecy is not “foretelling” in other words speaking of the future, it is “forthtelling” in other words explaining the present, and its impact on the future. In the Christian understanding – Prophecy always speaks of what Jesus will come and do to overcome the sinful state of our lives and establish the Kingdom. I am grateful to Deacon John for the wisdom shared here!

“What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” (Job 3:23)

Last night we heard the State President tell us what had been predicted was now happening. The growth of infections was unstoppable. All our strength and endurance would be tested in the days to come as our medical facilities are overwhelmed to breaking point. And, yes, the irresponsibility of many had made things worse.” ( Aitchison, 110).

A week back I shared with you how I was concerned about the recklessness that was evident in our people and what I was concerned about has come about.

Therefore, John’s thoughts on Prophecy are worth considering.

“The first thing to note is that prophecy is always prophecy in a particular situation – a time and place in history.

The Old Testament prophets were inspired by God to speak to a situation and a time in the life of the nation. This explains why the books of the individual prophets introduce the prophet by name, date and place of activity. The message of the prophet can only be fully understood in the context of the time and place in which it was given. This also explains why the message of the prophet is so concerned with the politics of the nation (that is, how the nation is run or governed) and with international politics (that is, with the nation’s dealings with other countries and particularly with the great superpowers of the day). It had nothing to do with telling the fortune, the future, of individual people (though there were false prophets who did so).

To understand the Biblical prophet’s involvement in politics we need to understand some of the changes that took place in the government and way of life of the Israelites after they conquered the land of Canaan.

Problems of land, law and government

Many of the political problems of the Israelites arose from the difficulties of adapting a nomadic tribal society to settled agricultural life in the land of Canaan. In a tribal society every Israelites family had the right to use the land and there was no division between the rich and the poor. When they settled in Canaan various laws had to be instituted to protect the rights of all Israelites to land and to protect against its loss to the family and tribes. This was necessary because the Canaanites had very different ideas about the land. Land could be bought and sold and was owned by the rich (who alone had rights as citizens) and was worked by the poor people and slaves. In addition, the Canaanites, like most other settled people of the time, had kings.

Some passages in the Bible that give some idea of the Israelites attitudes towards land can be found in the story of Ruth (especially Ruth 4:9), and Jeremiah 32:6. You can also read the story of Naboth’s Vineyard (1 Kings 21:1-20) which shows how religiously important land rights were. Even a king had no power to take possession of a person’s land.

When Israel decided to have kings, which they needed to organize a permanent army to protect them against their enemies (such as the Philistines), there was a heavy cost to be paid in taxes and land. Even though the first kings of Israel were ordinary people without great wealth, later kings soon helped to destroy land rights and equality among the people of Israel. Kings, like any form of government, are not tax free. You can read what this meant in 1 Samuel 8:4-20.

The ruin of Israel

The king and the rich were tempted to grab more and more land (Isaiah 5:8; Micah 2:1-2). They began to break up the old covenant community of free people under God. Poor farmers got into debt, lost their land, became tenants and hired workers and finally slaves. This whole process was helped by dishonest merchants who cheated the poor, by corrupt courts and greedy civil servants.

Justice and righteousness

The prophets spoke out against this ruin of Israel, this oppression of the poor. When most of the prophets wrote it was against the background not so much of an isolated, individual act of injustice, like the Naboth’s Vineyard incident, but of a whole society divided into rich and corrupt rulers and landowners in the cities and an oppressed and starving poor in the countryside.

It is not that the prophets simply wanted a return to old nomadic tribal days. They knew that to be unrealistic. What God demanded was justice (a right order in the world and society) and righteousness (right behaviour in relation to this just order).

You can read Isaiah 5:7-8 and Amos 5:21-24 to get sense of this passion for justice.

The poor and oppressed had a special place in God’s concern. God had brought Israel out of Egypt and given them a land so that they would be a free people in a free land who would serve God and their fellow men. Injustice and oppression destroyed this community. Many of the prophets foretold doom and sang funeral songs over Israel. They saw clearly that the injustice of rulers and the rich had started something that would inevitably lead to Israel’s own destruction.” (Lockdown Homily 110: 14 July 2020)

Deacon John helps us understand our Prophetic role.

  1. Interpret what all this means now. How is God showing love and hope and peace despite the circumstances of your life;
  2. Share that with others -prophecy is not about saying that all will be or should be well it is about saying that whatever you endure – God is in it!
  3. We need to work for Justice and Reconciliation, our current #itstartswithme campaign about honouring others, is the best place to start working for justice and reconciliation.

May the God of Hope strengthen you on your road and fill you with courage.

Choose Faith not fear!

Fr Andrew.

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