OT Prophets as Political Journalists and Commentators.
The prophets of Israel were not only men of conviction who gave constant attention to hear from God but they were also men astute to the political and cultural climate of their day and age. Men who were aware of the dangers of particular treaties and associations with other nations. Men who repeatedly warned national leadership of the consequences of departing from established and Godly values and standards.
Many of these giants of faith and Godliness faithfully documented the words they had to say and so to this day we have a record of the history of their day.
We recognise many of these men as the writing prophets. Men like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel also others we somewhat disparagingly refer to as Minor Prophets: Joel, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Haggai, Zachariah or Malachi.
Isaiah, perhaps the greatest of them all, was a man of incredible political insight and prophetic foresight. He spoke as God’s human mouthpiece into the lives of Kings and leaders of Israel during times of great prosperity but in days when the spiritual fibre of the nation was stealthily advancing into corruption and decay. He warned King Ahaz of the disastrous consequences of alliances with the dominant power of the day; Assyria. This King (Ahaz) ignored such counsel and preferred to put his trust in man’s enlightenment. Notwithstanding, Isaiah did not hesitate to prophesy against Judah’s lack of repentance, formalism in worship and the importation of foreign customs (Isa 2:5,6) and idolatry (Isa 2:8), oppression of the poor (Isa 3:13-15), love of luxury and fine clothes,[ especially the womenfolk] (Isa 3:16), greediness Isa 5:8 and drunkenness (Isa 5:11,12) . He also had some hard words to say to the judiciary:
(Isa 10:1-4 NIV) "Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised."
(Isa 59:4-9 NIV) "No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil.................. Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands. Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks in them will know peace. So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows."
Isaiah’s greatest privilege however, more than any other prophet before or after himself, was to prophesy about the coming of Messiah and the glory of the Messianic age; eg. Isa 9:1-7; 53
At another level of prophetic hierarchy Amos, a Judean agriculturalist from Tekoa (a farmer) likewise Hosea, spoke into the lives of the twin nation of Israel (Israel and Judah) in the mid eighth century BC. This was at a time when their prosperity had not yet lost very much of the greatness of Solomon’s empire. Amos did not overstate the luxuriant lifestyles of the upper classes of society. Nevertheless, it was a society in the advancing stages of decay, socially, morally and religiously. Society in Israel was marked by outrageous injustices. Shocking contrasts between extremes of wealth and poverty abounded. Small landholders for instance were economically marginalised and at the slightest calamity, such as a drought or crop failure (cf Amos 4:6-9), they would find themselves at the mercy of the money lenders and subjected to foreclosure and eviction. The rich callously took advantage of the plight of the poor just to enlarge their own holdings; often resorting to devious legal dodges to achieve their own selfish purposes (Amos 2:6; 5:11; 8:4-6). Innumerable false practices in weights and measures were rampant and dishonest or corrupt practices were common. Even the legal system and its judges ( Amos 5:10-12) provided little or no redress for the poor. Increasing numbers were thus dispossessed and robbed. While it is not possible to determine what levels of taxes the state laid upon its ordinary merchant or craftsmen; the 8th century labour force and ‘PAYE’ lower socio-economic classes, we can discern that the lot of the compliant citizen was unnecessarily harsh. Moreover, the state was either uncaring or unable to lessen their burdens.
Well you might ask what is the point of all this? Simply that even the most cursory review of these comments gives us a picture of our own day and age. Moreover, as a so called Christian based community we have not learned anything.
Cyclic Patterns Revealed in the History of Nations and Empires.
If we take a long range view of the history of any people, nation or empire a continuous pattern emerges. First a period of conquering achievement followed by a steady rise to a peak of dominance, in particular geographic locations of the world. This seems to be inevitably followed by a progressive, sometimes speedy, collapse.
These patterns have been the documented observations of Arnold Toynbee in a ten volume series, "A Study of History". He covered the recorded history of the human race and confirmed the above pattern. He also proposed a thesis that nations or empires sooner or later each face a challenge that threatens their very existence. At this point, if the challenge is identified, the governing elite must respond. Their adequacy in facing the threat determines the rate of collapse. Toynbee’s analysis covered nations, kingdoms and empires, including Egyptian Dynasties, Mesopotamia, Europe, the Orient and what is known of the Meso-american civilisations (Maya, Inca and Aztec).
In Toynbee’s view the Han Dynasties of China have been the most durable of the economic and cultural systems surviving on planet earth. Lasting for almost 2000 years but ultimately failed to modernise in the face of the European industrial revolution. China was unable to resist the consequent influence of European political, military and economic strength, expanding during the 19th century.
Another most unorthodox analysis of the broad history of the human race has been proposed by Prof. Raymond Wheeler. From his 20 year long study he maintains that "nations rise and fall on tides of climatic change", related to alternating movements of dominant cold and dry periods, traversing between the Eastern and Western hemispheres. Wheeler proposed that cooler climates were associated with political chaos. Though many would ridicule his peculiar thesis, his analysis has been remarkably consistent. In a survey spanning 3000 years of human history Wheeler identifies a 500 year cyclical rise and fall of empires. From these he has predicted the ascendancy of the Asian nations as we journey into the 3rd millennium.
Pat Robinson may well ask; "If history does indeed repeat itself, will the next millennium bring forth an oriental empire to rival the last one?"
While Wheeler may hold to one unusual cyclical view of the rise and fall of empires others [ James Dale Davidson & Sir William Rees-Mogg in their book -Blood on the Streets], have proposed a similar thesis but based, not on patterns of weather or the stars, but related to physical, spiritual and intellectual softness arising out of material prosperity.
Pat Robinson notes; "Nations and empires do not usually fall by some sudden cataclysm but by a slowly accelerating departure from the individual initiative and moral self control that laid the basis for their prosperity." In like manner Newt Gingrich [To Renew America] comments; " Large scale events often create a frame work within which ordinary people lead their lives yet, within our civilisation, on the scale of a similar routine of history that now surrounds us, we face dangerous and unprecedented challenges. Not the least of which being the moral decay from within. The quality of our response will determine our future."
It is commonly acknowledged that the United States of America has become the most powerful of individual nations since the collapse of the Roman Empire but its moral strength and spiritual vitality is clearly on the wane. Others would be quick to comment that this is not so surprising since we are living in a post-Christian era as far as culture, traditions and the mores of the population are concerned. Thus, represented by patterns within America it seems that Western civilisation is in decline.
Today we look not to prophetic voices in the Christian Church as God’s representatives to warn Governing leaders of Western nations but rather the secular press, economic journalists and academics. Hence, the occasional editorial headlines; " The Western World is in Decline and the Asian Tigers and Dragons of the East Are Ascending." Or closer to home on the ABC Four Corners documentary:– "The End of the Western World." Other similar TV documentaries have been programs such as :– "Rising Sun Over the Pacific." " Japan Forerunner of an Asian Renaissance."
The rise of Japan and the so called Asian Tigers comes as quite a shock to those who served to defend our shores in the hostilities of World War 11 but in the vicissitudes of history not an uncommon sequence of events.
Even without these kinds of overviews it is easy to perceive that the Western world by virtue of rapidly decreasing population strength and loss of economic purchasing power cannot stand for very much longer as champions of the world. Arabs with their oil and Japanese with their cars and other manufactured consumer products hold the western world hostage. Furthermore, with their surplus balance of payments and currency savings they are able to purchase western real estate, stocks, and banks and complete office blocks and industrial complexes. However, loss of ownership soon leads to loss of control and sequentially loss of national autonomy in any nation’s capacity to legislate for the protection of its own people, commerce or national vision. This is the price we pay as the balance of purchasing power flows from the west to the east.
While we might believe that nations are generally defeated by military onslaught, historically, others have very often been overcome by other challenges; economics or technology, even by religion. Looking at population alone the west cannot hope to maintain it place of dominance over this planet. At the end of World War 11 western nations comprised 30% of the world’s population. Within a little more than one generation in 1990 this had been reduced to 15% and predicted to be halved again to 7.5% in a further 30 years. The influence of the western world will soon be negligible.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable assessments of history is a small publication by Sir John Grubb in his study of more than ten empires over a period of 3000 years:– "Fate of Empires & the Search for Survival".
Sir John reflects upon events associated with the cyclical rise and fall of empires. He notes that their life histories are amazingly similar and identifies 7 particular well defined periods occurring within epochs of roughly 250 years. Periods listed under the following headings:–
This pattern of behaviour can be seen not only to relate to Empires but also individual Nations. We may even come to see similar patterns emerging in the life histories of families [or in parallel with biblical concepts, ancestral houses]
Sir John Grubb characterises the age of decadence as the outcome of too long a period of wealth and power resulting in:–
Reflected in the Western world the Age of Decadence can be codified by:–
frivolity and pleasure
multiculturalism (the influx of foreigners)
growth of the welfare state
failure or weakening of religion.
Few Christian authors today match the insights of the late Francis Schaeffer. In the early 70’s, in his study of the Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture and documented in "How Should We Then Live", he noted some striking parallels between the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and that of the Western world economy and social culture. Referring to Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire he lists five attributes that marked the end of Rome:–
a mounting love of luxury (ie. Affluence)
a widening gap between the very rich and poor
an obsession with sex
freakishness in the arts (masquerading as originality)
an increased desire to live off the state.
One does not have to use much imagination to observe the obvious parallels between this list and the patterns of behaviour rampant in our own communities.
Again to quote Pat Robinson: – "We have come to a time and place in history when human intellect alone is no match for the problems we must confront. If we are to win the race for survival, we will need super-human powers. We will need the help of a loving and powerful God."
Of what interest is this to the average Christian walking the streets of the masonry and gleaming glass in the cities of the western world or cosily gathering in cloistered Cathedrals or comfy modern day auditoria? Where are the modern day prophets exhorting the believers to recognise the dangers of affluence, ease and spiritual passivity?
Astute Political Prophetic Voices in the Church.
Where do we find able modern day Christian prophets speaking to the leadership of nations or even exhorting the collective organised Christian church to rise up?
Some that come to mind might be:–
Francis Schaeffer; again a man of divine insight describing the failure of modern day evangelism and the inevitable decay of western civilisation.
"Let us raise a testimony that may still turn both the churches and society around –– for the salvation of souls, the building of God’s people, and at least the slowing down of the slide toward a totally humanistic society and an authoritarian suppressive state."[Great Evangelical Disaster..91]
David Wilkerson who in the mid 70’s prophesied in The Vision concerning the moral breakdown of western society including the plagues resulting from rampant sexual permissiveness and homosexual lifestyles.
Aleksandr Solzenitsyn a dissident refugee from Communist Soviet Union who foretold of the failure of the and ultimate collapse of the Humanistic Marxist tyranny yet likewise, with despairing heart, sees the progressive collapse of corrupt western capitalism.
"In recent years the major Christian churches have taken steps toward reconciliation, but these measures are far too slow; the world is perishing a hundred times more quickly. No one expects the churches to merge or revise their doctrines, but only to present a common front against atheism."
[ Return to God – Solzenitsyn Speaks Out....................Time magazine 23 May 1983 p 57]
Charles Colson once identified as a ‘renegade’ journalist, media lobbyist cum politician but chosen of God while incarcerated for his crimes. Now a powerful Christian voice.
In spite of the collapse of Communism.... " In the west every area of life is being undermined by a secularist world view."[The Body p. 107] At least by those regarded as the ruling elite. "A myriad of moral issues confront our society – dignity of life, medical ethics, religious liberty, justice and God’s people belong out there in the trenches– together. Nothing less will enable the church to stand against the surging forces from what Calvin called the great deep."
Rick Joyner or Paul Cain largely unknown and generally ignored by orthodox Christian churches.
Rhienhard Bonkhe a man capturing the African continent for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul Yongi Chou from the East. A man who has substantially transformed the South Korean nation from paganism to Christ. A man jealously revered by Church leaders in the Western world but few have ever tried, been willing to, or who have been capable, of emulating. He laments the ineptitude and passivity of Western Christianity.
In Latin and South America we have Juan Carlos Anacondia and Edgardo Silvoso.
Prophesy in the Secular Press.
Today we note astute secular authors directing attention, in the light of the failure of materialism, science or technology, in meeting needs of the human heart, to re-attach to spiritual roots. Authors like John Naisbritt and Patricia Aburdene who in, ‘Megatrends 2000’ talk of :- "A world wide multi-denominational religious revival." a renewed spiritual hunger and the search for supernatural religious experiences as the world ventures on into the new millennium.
As a new generation, the world over questions the values of western materialism, interest in religion will arise but not necessarily toward Christianity. Hence, another invasion from the East, with the burgeoning interest in the multiple facets of New Age supermarket spirituality will attract their attention. Take for example lead article published in the Age Thursday Jan. 2 1997 by Madeleine Bunting, also previously published in the Guardian in London and papers in New York.......Christianity may be in decline but the need for religion is undiminished. The author traces what she defines as DIY--[ Do It Yourself] beliefs.