Bible: Reluctant prophets of doom

July 9 — Isaiah 6:1-8; July 16 — Jeremiah 1:4-10

Jul 3, 2017 by

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These lessons are about reluctant prophets. Isaiah wasn’t worthy, and Jeremiah was too young. Or so they thought.

Duane Beachey


Isaiah’s call came in a vision “in the year King Uzziah died.” Uzziah had been king of Judah, the southern kingdom, for 52 years. He is generally portrayed as a good king, but 2 Chronicles 26 tells us after all his success he took it upon himself to offer incense on the altar of the temple. When confronted by the high priest for this presumption, he was struck with leprosy for the rest of his days, and his son became acting king. Uzziah’s son Jothan also did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but “the people continued their corrupt practices.”

Usually as goes the king, so goes the people, but in this case the people didn’t follow their righteous kings.

When Isaiah had his heavenly vision where he declared himself unfit until an angel touched his lips with a coal off the altar, the first prophesy the Lord gave him was a satirical one to keep it up — in the same way some parents might tell their misbehaving children, “You just keep that up, and you will be in big trouble.” God tells the people to keep right on closing their ears and eyes to what God is showing them and telling them. Close your minds so you don’t understand. Isaiah asks, “For how long?” and the Lord says until Judah’s cities and land are laid desolate and the people are sent far away.

These predictions actually happened in Isaiah’s lifetime but not to the southern kingdom of Judah he was addressing. What Isaiah prophesied happened to the northern kingdom of Israel when Assyria conquered and scattered all Israel, never to come back. Assyria then turned on Jerusalem, but God spared them when Assyria was attacked at home and had to leave Jeru­salem in a hurry. Judah didn’t fall for more than 100 more years, when the Babylonians came. Isaiah knew it was only a matter of time after good King Hezekiah proudly displayed all the wealth of Jerusalem and the temple to friendly emissaries from faraway Babylon.

Jeremiah prophesied in that time more than 100 years later when the Babylonians were at the gates.

Jeremiah felt he was too young and didn’t know how to speak until God touched his lips as well. He began to prophesy during the time of the good King Josiah, who was doing all the right things to restore the worship of the one true God to Judah.

Both Isaiah and Jeremiah begin prophesying doom at a time when the kings were doing what was right, even if the people weren’t. Other kings in this period seem to prosper all their lives while doing evil.

Jeremiah’s prophesies are so consistently dire that the English language coined a word in his memory: “jeremiad,” meaning a long list of woes and calamities. The kings hated that even in what seemed to them good times Jeremiah’s message was unremittingly dark. They came to believe he hated Israel and the king. Judah must have felt Jeremiah was unpatriotic.

Would our friends today think we were unpatriotic if we predicted destruction and defeat for our country?

Like these two prophets, do we feel unworthy to bring a message from God — especially a message of warning? Throughout history, God has a way of choosing the lowly and hesitant to lead his people. Paul says, “Brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful. . . . But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise” (1 Cor. 1:26-27, NRSV).

Duane Beachey, author of Reading the Bible As If Jesus Mattered (Cascadia, 2014), is a Mennonite pastor serving two small Presbyterian churches in eastern Kentucky, where he and his wife, Gloria, served with Mennonite Central Committee for eight and a half years.

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