Sunday, January 27, 2019

Reflections at 4 a.m.

“Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry ‘Peace’ when they have something to eat, but declare war against him who puts nothing into their mouths.”

In the middle of a long night shift, one often craves better coffee than may be had reheated from the canteen in the office kitchen.

By “better” I don’t mean half an inch of George Clooney-level Nespresso® or a fresh cappuccino from Starbucks (assuming, in the case of the latter, you can still manage to justify shoveling hard-earned dollars into the coffers of Planned Parenthood via their favorite corporate proxy). No, at 4 a.m. McDonalds will do, and do wondrously.

Yeah, First World problems, I know.

Street Drunks with DTs

Anyway, the nearest McDonalds is not all that far from the office, but I may have mentioned that the streets near where I currently work have an awful lot of people living on them. I mean living there, with all their worldly goods around them. The quick handoff of a buck or two on the way to the counter will buy you a mumbled blessing, while trying to sidle on by when you suddenly realize you only have credit and debit cards in your pocket will earn you a serious cussing out. More than a few have a nimble way with a phrase, if you know what I mean. They quite literally “declare war on him who puts nothing into their mouths.”

In Micah’s day, the behavior of prophets in Israel was not wildly dissimilar to that of a street drunk with a bad case of the DTs. Their “prophetic gift”, if such they had at all, was permanently for sale. Put coin in their hand and they’d happily tell you everything was going to be just fine. The Syrians were not coming. Or the Assyrians, or the Ammonites, or the Philistines, depending on which week you happened to ask them to predict the future. And if by chance it turned out the enemies of Israel were, in fact, on their way, well, maybe it wasn’t going to end too badly for the locals after all. “Peace,” they said. “God has no issue with you, brother. Go, be warmed and well fed.”

On the other hand, fail to cross their palms with silver and you could count on a litany of abuse. War was guaranteed.

Darkness Without Divination

It should be obvious this was a major problem. Prophets, after all, are supposed to speak truth. As throughout most of human history, in the absence of the full revelation we enjoy today, God made his thoughts known to his people through these appointed emissaries. Was God pleased with the behavior of Israel or Judah? The prophets were supposed to know. Did the people need to repent of some ignorant habit inadvertently picked up from their parents or grandparents, and which the God of Israel would no longer look past with his characteristic longsuffering grace? Ask the prophets; they knew. Would their marauding neighbors ruin the harvest again? Well, you get the idea.

So, through Micah, God warned these pseudo-prophetic mercenaries that their day was coming to an end:
“Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without divination. The sun shall go down on the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God.”
Well, the sun definitely went down on those prophets. God simply stopped speaking to them. Their way of making a living dried up as the people for whom they predicted the future caught on to their game. They were disgraced and put to shame, embarrassed by a string of failed prognostications that made it obvious to even their most gullible marks that they were no longer in business with God, if indeed they ever had been.

Modern Day “Prophets”

So, for the most part, they stopped trying. Who knows, maybe some went out and got real jobs rather than fleecing the public. But whatever happened to them, the prophets had little to say in the 400 years prior to the coming of Messiah and, it appears, nothing at all to say after the first generation of our Church Age.

Unfortunately, the dearth of genuine prophetic gift in our modern era hasn’t stopped people making a living from claiming to speak for God. In the absence of new revelation, men market their creative ability to make the old revelation say whatever their audiences would like it to say, coach Christians in life skills, write books that offer novel (and occasionally heretical) twists on old doctrine, perform for pay, fill conference halls, and occasionally hint there may be a miracle or two still on offer for those few believers who can muster up sufficient faith. Sure, the average small-church pastor may struggle along, but some of the big names — TV evangelists and Christian network talking heads — have managed to turn a combination of charisma, training, ambition and opportunism into a whole lot more than a local pastor’s salary.

The actual numbers would blow your mind. We are talking about rock star money. Among others, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn make more in the time it takes them to brush their teeth than you’ll make all year.

False and True

But big bucks and a big stage are not merely for the religious con artists and snake oil salesmen. Frank Schaeffer writes about how his father Francis became wealthy and influential through his Bible films, jetting around the world and hobnobbing with three different U.S. Presidents. I remember Shaeffer’s documentary series from my teens. Sure, I probably dozed through a few of those warm summer Sunday nights in the pews with the auditorium lights turned down, but I recognize many were helped by Schaeffer’s work. His presentation of scripture was by all accounts a faithful one. Even today, people remain hungry for the truth of God … and where there is spiritual hunger, it seems there is significant profit to be made.

If it’s not just about the gross numbers, then how do we distinguish the false from the true? Well, Micah gives us a hint, I think. Faced with the daunting task of applying biblical principles to the moral complexities of our modern society, the frauds will always counsel us to take the easy way out. They cry “peace” to anyone sufficiently gullible as to give them something to eat. Positivity, after all, is where the money is. Consistent with the spirit of our present age, exhorting Christians to be more accommodating, tolerant and inclusive is not only easiest way to be liked today, it is also the ticket to whatever fame and fortune may still be found on the evangelical treadmill.

The liars always tell you what you want to hear. The con-men always prophesy peace. Peace with the Assyrians, peace with the Ammonites, peace with the radical Left, but always peace.

Provided you pay the piper, that is.

Undoctored photo courtesy Robert M. Worsham [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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