Chapter 16: Learning from the prophets
Throughout the preceding fifteen chapters, it was the deliberate intention of the author to avoid use of first person, singular pronouns such as “I”, “me”, “my” and “mine”. The reason is simple – this book is not about the author, anymore than the prophecies of the prophets of old were about the prophets. While his interests, perspectives, preoccupations, and prejudices even, cannot be ignored, and that is true for probably every author, he wanted it to reflect his straight forward journey through the Bible, often forensically, picking up on anything to do with prophets and prophecy that seem relevant for the now, and so much is (in his view). But more important than that, given the Bible is His Book, he wanted this book to be more about God, with His prophets as mere messengers.
But in this final chapter, I will throw off the restraint of having to find ways of avoiding use of the first person singular because I want to be up front when it comes to offering a personal view and sharing personal examples of how the prophetic has impacted my life and changed my view of the world, how God is working in it, wants to work in it and will work in it, and the part we can play, doing what the title of this chapter suggests, learning from the prophets. There is no doubt, researching for this book has been a far bigger undertaking than I ever envisaged and inevitably there are areas remaining that could, and some might argue should, be developed further, but there comes a time to call it a day and use this final chapter as an opportunity to tie up loose ends, draw lessons.
As those, especially if familiar with my blogs, will know, I often offer views of what is going on in the world that challenges the official line and is often at odds with Christian leaders, including those from my own theological stable. But readers who have got this far will realise, if they thought that I was going to come out with controversial statements, they may come away disappointed. I especially wanted to adhere to sound principles of exegesis, checking what I write against sound Bible scholars. If there have been controversial statements, this will include the prophets of the Bible were the real deal i.e. they prophesied what God told them to, unless clearly not the case prophecies should be taken literally, there is a special place still for Israel, there is a lot of prophecy still to be fulfilled, including a literal millennium and some of the discussion in the previous chapter concerning interpreting prophecy. Less controversially maybe, I believe even more than when I began we have much to learn from the prophets and, while open as to how this might look, the need of a prophetic voice today.
When I began this project at the beginning of 2020, it was with the thought this could be my most significant contribution to the advancement of the Kingdom of God to date and part of my doing what those similarly situated from previous generations have done, which is to pass on the baton to the next generation, in the knowledge that God alone will decide when baton passing ends because Christ is back reigning on earth. I don’t write because I am better than anyone else, and can look back in times in my life that it seemed I had blown things spiritually speaking and have squandered opportunities. I am merely a “brand plucked from the fire” Zechariah 3:2, an “unprofitable servant” Luke 7:10, and if there is any good “the grace of God I am what I am” 1Corinthians 15:10. I should add that while I know the Bible well and better than most and can hold my own in theological debate, to my shame, I still do not know it well enough.
But I do believe certain things need saying that are not being said. It is with a degree of frustration, not only are our secular leaders and movers and shakers doing bad or mad things but the leaders of that part of the “church” that non-Christians are aware of and many actual Christians look to for leadership are not being a voice of correction. What is lacking, as I saw / see it was / is a prophetic voice. I make no claim to being a prophet – it is not something I would anyway volunteer for, now I am aware of the deprivations pucker prophets have had to suffer. But I do believe I am called to be a watchman on the wall, whose job is to warn without fear or favour. Little did I realise the events that were to take place, even though this should come as no surprise with a proper understanding the prophetic scriptures. One of the good things, for me at least, of the Covid-19 lockdown is it has been an opportune time to write a book and given events taking place and a renewed interest in the prophetic, this is also a good time.
To explain why I am thinking on the lines I am, I would like to go back to the beginning, or at least early on in my Christian life. It was while I was in the sixth form and the year I believe was 1969. I had become a Christian aged 15 and while carrying lots of excess baggage had a desire to follow the Lord. One of my school mates was Paul Tait, who was the son of the pastor of Providence Chapel. One of my mentors was Paul Bullivant, who was a member of Coleman Street Chapel, who became one of the leaders of the charismatic movement in Southend, in the early 70’s. Providence (Strict Baptist) is the church I belong to today and Coleman Street (Plymouth Brethren) is the church I was part of for 40 years. Pertinently, neither church would have been regarded at that time or after as “charismatic” leaning, and little did I think I would end up at Providence.
The event was Martin Lloyd Jones was in town and was speaking at Providence Chapel. The “Doctor”, as he is still fondly referred to in hushed terms, was arguably the greatest preacher, at least in the opinion of those in my own theological leaning stable, of his day, and this was an opportunity not to be missed and neither did I, as encouraged by the two Pauls. I imagine that like many who are reading this now, we have heard many sermons, most of which we cannot recall. But I did recall this one or at least the text and the impression it left with me at the time. The passage expounded was 1Corinthians 14:1-25, which begins: “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy” (v1). The impression was what might be if the Apostle Paul’s words were to come to pass: “But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth” (24,25).
Since that time, Coleman Street Chapel closed (around six years ago) due to declining numbers and Providence Chapel might have followed a similar path but in recent years has enjoyed an expansion in numbers and activities. I cannot speak for the Doctor as to what were his thoughts on prophecy, but I imagine what he had in mind was the preaching we should yearn for would be so powerful and the Holy Spirit be so present that knowingly or otherwise what the preacher preached would go right to the hearts of his hearers to produce the effect stated in our text. After all, there has been many named examples of people giving a “word” that unbeknown to them at the time touched on some intimate detail of some listener’s life they could not have possibly known about. One powerful preacher around that time was named Dick Saunders and he often did just that. Several who heard him recall him speaking words that matched their situation he could not have possibly known and he wasn’t charismatic! I wonder, considering Providence today, if the Doctor’s words were prophetic?
If I can move on a couple of years with my own testimony and how it impacts on my writing as I do, it concerns how God has been dealing with me and, pertinently, prophetically speaking. My own background, as I explained at the beginning of this book, is after becoming a Christian from a non-Christian family, but who were favourably disposed, those who taught me were very into sound doctrine and often had antipathy toward those they considered unsound, which happened to be most other churches. What I began to see though was their light was not matched by their life. I, like many at the time, was attracted to the charismatic movement that gave more prominence to the prophetic. My experience was mixed and, while my main association with Christian groups thereafter have been with those of the non-charismatic variety, including some who were outright cessationist, I have little doubt while needing to avoid excess and imbalance, the spiritual gifts, including that of prophecy, are for today.
The tricky questions of who are the prophets today, what is their remit etc. are not ones I wish to duck, but in the interests of maintaining the non-partisan, non-controversial etc. as I can spirit, I began with, I do not name many names. As for my own Christian testimony, on one hand there has been a desire to serve the Lord, honour His word etc, yet on the other, there has been a holding back, a sense of failure and rejection (one reason why prophets fascinate me). Even during this present period, while spending a lot more time studying the Bible, things have come to light that Lord has had to deal with me over. One thing brought to mind was a time, when as a young Christian, I came across a true prophet. His name was Alex Buchannan. He prophesied something concerning me at a very low ebb in my life and what he said was specific for that time, as well as this time now, which has been one of the reasons I have continued to follow the path I am now on. While many in my church don’t hold with modern day prophets and many early mentors were cessationists, my belief is while there are many charlatans there are real prophets too. I have observed enough to think the gift of prophecy is being exercised more than occasionally. I recall the words of Moses: “would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them” Numbers 11:29 and add my Amen.
From our study of New Testament prophets, we ought to expect there to be prophets today, and maybe many more than what we are seeing because God’s promise to pour out His Holy Spirit on all flesh has not been revoked, but when it comes to those who are touted as such, there is considerable variance among Christian leaders whether or not they fall into the true or the false prophet / teacher category, often linked to where they stand spiritually. After all, there are enough warnings given in the Bible that we are to expect false prophets as well as a falling away in matters of faith. Such is my sheltered existence, I rarely rub shoulders with those claimed to be prophets, true or false. The Lord moves in mysterious ways though and reveals to us only what is necessary. I do believe though we should take seriously the words: “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” 1Thessalonians 5:19-21. Moreover, given: “that in the last days perilous times shall come” 1Timothy 3:1, this is a time to encourage one another rather that doing the opposite, while at the same time: “earnestly contend for the faith” Jude 1:3.
Before considering the lessons we can learn from the prophets of the Bible and modern-day applications and implications, I would again re-iterate, I am not a prophet and I cannot claim to have had visions and dreams and, while I seek to be accountable, I do not have a wide circle putting me on any pedestal – often the opposite is the case. My best claim to having any credibility is what I write is based on a prayerful consideration of the Word of God (the Bible), which I have been studying regularly since I was a child, testing against the words of others, especially of good spiritual standing (some who afford me opportunity to teach and preach), and the ancient creeds of the church, mindful of a tendency which most of us have to gravitate to those who happen to share our views; and what I believe the Lord has laid on my heart. Perhaps more controversially, as part of my watchman remit, I do check out what is going on the world and have a certain disdain for mainstream news because of untruthfulness, and this begs the question of where we look, to find truth, other than, of course, the Bible?
I invite those reading my book to check out what I have written thus far against the Bible. I make no attempt to predict the future and my focus in this book at least is on what the Prophets of the Bible have said and written. But as a watchman of what is going on in the world around me, I take this into account what is happening when we come to applying the lessons we have learned. What I write here, and even more openly in my other writings, is as a result of “test and weigh”, “watch and pray”, mindful a watchman’s job is to warn and not seek popularity. If I have a role model, it is children of Issachar “which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” 1Chronicles 12:32. I counsel that more important than having a right view on the prophetic is to have a right relationship with God. While both breathing in and breathing out is essential for human life so is both studying the Word (breathe in) and praying to the Lord (breathe out) essential for spiritual life.
I now come to my most controversial argument (possibly) in this whole book. I intimated earlier, some church leaders neglect and even reject prophecy and some claim a prophetic anointing, claiming things that might put them in a similar false prophet category as we have discovered was the case in the time of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Those who are the true prophets may then be rejected. I suspect also the climate in many churches will anyway discourage prophesying The question is what is the Lord saying and if we don’t know, how can we find out, and what should we be pursuing and what should we let lie as previous generations of spiritual giants have done? After all, our job includes such things as praying without ceasing, loving God and our neighbour, playing our part in the Body of Christ (a challenge often given the state of the church), being salt and light, being His witness to the utmost ends of the earth. In that alone there is enough to keep us occupied without having to respond to the bombshells that drop on us, it would seem, on a now daily basis.
Part of my own spiritual journey is the many and varied experiences I have had have helped me to deal with the present. Something, I have become more aware of is the polarization among Christians, which if Jesus words are to be taken seriously (e.g. John 17) should not be so. Instead, there should be unity. I see two groups emerging; please excuse the simplicity and alliteration. Group 1, I call loony, luvvie, lefties and Group 2, I call rabid, reactionary, righties. I have gone full circle, twice. When a teen, I was moving toward Group 1. After I got converted, given the sort of Christians I associated with, I moved toward Group 2. When twenty years ago I found interest in community activism, I reverted back to Group 1 and, five or so years ago when I became more of a watchman, I reverted back to Group 2. Brexit, Trump, Islam, race, LBGT, climate change, immigration, globalism, popularism, socialism, have become contentious issues, and I am of a view many have got it wrong, with negative consequences. I have managed to upset some “friends”, including Christian ministers from Group 1.
We need to disagree agreeably and recognise God is above human ideology. He has the big picture. His righteous agenda we are called to follow. I watch what is going on around me with disquiet; a lot of what I witness is NOT righteous; those who report, lie; those who lead, lead badly. We may look to others for information and hope, who may be vilified or dismissed as conspiracy theorists (a pejorative term, even when proved factual). There is a propensity for us to gravitate toward narratives that match our opinions and I have been guilty. We need to learn wisdom when it comes to when to speak, avoid the extremes of being beholden to unproven alternative narratives and untrue official ones, yet question everything we are told and look to God. While we may not know a lot of what is happening about us and who are the good, mad and bad guys, we do know from the Bible there is a conspiracy, led by Satan, to deceive and enslave humanity. If there is an example to take from the prophets, it is they had a firm grasp of what was going on around them and were beholden to the truth, and their zeal for God and love for humanity was such – they would not be shut up.
New Testament prophets operated in a different paradigm to that of the Old and often in the context of the church, especially the local manifestation. As for Old Testament prophets, it was more often than not a precarious undertaking and a lonely one, where deprivations might be expected as a price to pay. They were merely God’s messengers, and while blessing those who heard and heeded, they challenged and rebuked those doing wrong, inviting hostility. While all God’s people are expected to live holy lives, this was especially important concerning prophets and straying from the straight path could have dire consequences. Yet their job was vital as they communicated God’s thoughts and, as important, His feelings, to hearers and gave them a glimpse into the unseen spiritual world. Without their contribution, those living then and now would be all the poorer.
While I have tried to cover almost all of the prophets of the Bible, I apologise for anything significant I missed. If I have an excuse, while there is a lot I could develop further, it is necessary to draw things to a close, else I would never finish. While my coverage of the prophets of the New Testament and modern-day prophets is light, I nevertheless yearn for true prophets. I believe now, as much as ever, we need the prophetic anointing. As for what is going to transpire in the next few years, I won’t be drawn. I am reminded that many of the Old Testament prophets spoke of both judgement (if no repentance) and hope (according to God’s gracious purposes). Often the voices people listened to were prophets in the peace when there is no peace camp. Whether in the days ahead there will be ruin based on the current trajectory of the culture, with its prevailing godlessness, turning from the Lord etc., allowing for the rule of the AntiChrist, or whether to expect revival and a reprieve, I leave that with God, praying for His blessing: “mercy-drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead”. My job is to be faithful to Him and leave the rest to Him.
I would like to finish with a final word of wisdom: my hope is for readers to check out themselves the prophets and to love more deeply the one prophets prophesied on behalf of… THE END … or at least the end of the beginning … but new thoughts keep swirling around in my head. Before I do close, I would like to share a light bulb moment (actually there have been several, but this one is particularly pertinent) and then some final personal thoughts and a prayer!
It came when I was researching Hosea, although it could just have easily been the case with a number of the other prophets. So this was the scenario and it got me thinking about my own country, Great Britain, and the USA, a country I am following on the basis that what happens in the USA will have a significant impact on the rest of the world. Idolatry (tick), pride (tick), false prophets and bad leaders (tick), child sacrifice (tick – we abort babies), sham religion (tick), intolerance of righteousness (tick), social injustice (tick), breakdown in law and order (tick), haves and have nots (tick). Soon after Hosea prophesied, judgment came to them who ignored his warning in the form of Assyrian captivity. But there is a difference, in Israel’s case religion and the nation were intrinsically linked because of the covenant relationship it had with God. Yet, it might be argued, both Britain and America have enjoyed a measure of God’s blessing because it has in the past, to an extent, followed God’s laws and there were godly people, but blessing will be withheld as it goes further away from those laws. While there is a case for a Jonah type proclamation to get the people to repent, the message should be directed firstly to the church. After all, “the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” 1Peter 4:17.
Before considering the Church and the place of the prophetic, I want to make my final point. When I began the project (to write this book) back at the start of the year (2020), I had little inkling concerning the momentous events that would transpire, and we are not out of the woods yet. I wrote my Preface, setting out my store, at the start, not realising how big an undertaking the project would be and what was about to happen in the world. As I write, we are coming out of an unprecedented (in my lifetime) period of (over three months) lockdown due to Covid-19 and we are still a long way from getting back to normal (whatever that is and besides many are talking about a new ‘normal’). There is a lot else that can be said but this is not the place. There is no doubt what has happened has had a devastating effect on life and also impacts the prophetic. From a personal perspective, it has been a great opportunity to write with minimal disturbance and, given what is happening, the subject matter appears as relevant as ever.
Some see the taking away of long taken for granted freedoms, the economic uncertainty and instances of break down in law of order to be the very signs the Bible has warned us of (e.g. Matthew 24) to usher in the period described in Revelation 6 – 18, referred to as the Great Tribulation, when the AntiChrist holds sway for a season, prior to Jesus coming again, described in Revelation 19, to set up His Kingdom (discussed earlier). I am not going to pontificate on what will happen next (I don’t know and God has not told me) and while I will continue my watchman role and will listen to those with prophetic words, I take the view we need to hope for the best (e.g. the nations might be all the stronger following these calamities) but prepare for things to get a whole lot worse.
But going back to the church and prophecy, people can take different views. I have seen a lot of good when it comes to loving thy neighbour as well as bad when we do not do what God requires of us. There is a need for a prophetic voice, given church leaders (bishops etc.) who are reported on seem to come out with pious platitudes responding to the agenda set out by the ungodly, whereas whenever calamity struck in Bible times, the question needing asking is what is God saying? We need a prophetic voice today. Christ will build His Church as He promised, even if it has to go through turbulent and testing times (already many experience persecution). If there is a word to end with, it is we need to be faithful to the Lord and have faith in Him. I encourage readers (and myself) to:
- Read and reflect (the Bible and on its varied applications to life)
- Suffer and serve (for the Lord and the Lord – in His Church, this world)
- Test and weigh (prophecy and anything we hear from any news outlet)
- Watch and pray (what is going on and to the Lord God Almighty)
- Trust and obey (the one we are called to follow – the Lord Jesus Christ)
Prayer of praise and thanksgiving
you are the Lord God Almighty who is sovereign over all
your mercies, your grace and your lovingkindness endure forever
your glory that will one day cover the whole earth
you are holy and all your ways are truth and righteousness
you are all knowing, all powerful, all present, all wise
you did raise up your prophets who did speak your word
you still raise up prophets to speak your word
you have said you will do nothing without revealing your plans to your prophets
the testimony of the Lord is the spirit of prophecy
the promise that in Abraham’s seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed
even when your prophets were rejected, their words speak and bless us now
the words of the prophets that have all come to the pass and will come to pass
the prophets and other persons of faith, whose example down the ages inspire us
you ever sought a bride, be it Israel or the Church, to have a relationship with
you are ever faithful to your promises and keep the covenant you have made
the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth
he who rides prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness
my beloved who is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand
your only begotten Son, Jesus, who died, was raised and is coming again
your Spirit that was on Jesus, anointing him to preach good tidings to the meek
you forgive (and forget our sins) and save us for eternity, because of your grace
you have told us how you want us to live and have given us the power to do so
they overcome by the blood of the Lamb, who loved not their lives unto death
those redeemed by Jesus’ blood out of every kindred, tongue, people, and nation
your promise that in the Last Days you will pour out your Spirit on all flesh
amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me
Prayer of intercession and supplication
your name to be exalted in all the earth and we your people to revere your name
your kingdom to be extended throughout the world
your Church, especially those members who are suffering, and for revival
we will be found faithful in our time of trial and not to yield to temptation
faith to believe great things from a great God
a greater sense of the riches of your grace and the wonders of your love
we know the power of your Holy Spirit, including the spirit of prophecy
you will vindicate your people who cry out to you
a new generation that will diligently study your Word
a true understanding of your Word and as doers and not just hearers
us oldies, to pass on a worthwhile legacy to those we leave behind
the peace of Jerusalem and for Israel to be saved
to raise up a prophetic voice in this generation
church leaders and that you will raise up those to faithfully shepherd the flock
that you will send labourers into your harvest
people to be saved and delivered from evil, especially our family members
the troubled parts of the world, for peace
those who have been displaced from their homes and who are refugees
world leaders and all those who are in authority
those in the caring professions and keep us safe; for grace to carry on their work
our children and young people, that you will keep them from the Evil One
healing of those who have been hurt and wounded and who suffer calamity
truth to be honoured and vindicated and for falsehood to be exposed
justice to roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream
unity among your people, especially when there is disunity
Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy