On Discerning the Prophetic Word -- By: Fred A. Grissom

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 11:1 (Fall 1993)
Article: On Discerning the Prophetic Word
Author: Fred A. Grissom

On Discerning the Prophetic Word

Fred A. Grissom

Professor of Church History
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary,
Convocation Address
January 18, 1995

It would be simpler if prophets always looked like we expected prophets to look, acted like we expected prophets to act, and said what we expected them to say, but they don’t. They don’t even look like each other. They are bewilderingly different and often hard to spot. Prophets may be miscellaneous agricultural workers far from home, as was Amos, or they may be close to those in power, as was Isaiah. They may have been brought up to be prophets, as Jeremiah may have been, or they may have been called with no preparation—Amos again—or they may be called in spectacular ways, as were Isaiah and Ezekiel. They may say little about their private lives (most of the prophets fit that description), or they may talk as though they were speaking to their psychologist, Jeremiah again.

Prophets sometimes act rather strangely. Ezekiel lay on one side for 390 days, shaved his head, burned part of his hair, and scattered part of it. Hosea was married to an unfaithful woman who left him. “Good riddance,” was probably the reaction of the community, but Hosea went after her, brought her back, and continued to love her.

Prophets sometimes have easily bruised egos. Elijah went off and pouted, asserting that he alone was left to speak for God. Jeremiah whined because the people would not listen to him. Jonah whined because the people had listened to him and repented.

It’s hard to tell the prophets without a scorecard. Even the messages they deliver are hard to discern. At any given time, there are usually people with different messages, all claiming to speak for God. Amos and Amaziah, Jeremiah and Hananiah are just two pairs of such prophets. They all use the right words: “Thus says the Lord.” But their messages are diametrically different. Which one is speaking the truth? It’s not necessarily the one with official standing. Amaziah was the court prophet; Amos was the outside agitator. Amos was the true prophet, but Isaiah also had standing at court, and he was the true prophet.

It’s not always the one who gives the most praise to God. Hananiah spoke gloriously about the power of God, and of God’s imminent victory over the enemies of Israel; but he was a false prophet. It’s not always the one who says what is politically correct. Jeremiah asked the people in exile to pray for Babylon, the enemy, words which surely sounded like treason to those who had been praying that God would bless those who killed Babylonian children. Jeremiah, however, was the true prophet. Jeremiah called for surrender to the enemy and Isaiah ...

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