The Prophet and prophecy
Reflections on Abraham and Jonah
It takes more than the gift of prophecy to become a prophet. The first person explicitly called a prophet in the Bible was Abraham (Genesis 20:7).
Abraham?s life gives us an insight into the ministry of a prophet. He not only spoke the words of God but also fulfilled a prophetic lifestyle. His actions (Genesis 12:4), prayers (Genesis 20:7) service (Genesis 22) and intercession (Genesis 18:16-33) were a reflection of what God was saying and doing. Of course we would have to explore the life of other prophetic men and women in the Bible to get a fuller picture of the prophetic ministry.
In the Bible we find two broad categories of prophecy ? conditional and unconditional.
Conditional prophecies are the majority of prophesies we witness in the Bible. They make the work of a prophet humbling because whatever prophecy the prophet brings is still subject to certain conditions being met.
In the case of Jonah, the repentance of the people of Nineveh meant that the condition for the city being destroyed was no longer valid. Jonah's prophecy was correct; the condition for its fulfilment was simply not met.
Conditional prophecies should not act as a cloak for false prophecy. God deals with that quite sternly (Jeremiah 28:1-17).
Scripturally speaking a prophet is one who ?forth tells and foretells?.
To forth tell means to speak or proclaim what God is saying either in words through prayer, confession, lifestyle or preaching.
Foretelling involves proclaiming in advance (prophecy) what will happen. This is often subject to certain conditions such as lack of repentance. The church today, on the large, only expects foretelling as the fulfilment of the prophetic ministry.
Prophetic people are not perfect people and they do not know or understand the whole counsel of God (2 Samuel 7:1-17).
Unfortunately, there is occasionally the mistaken tendency of prophets (in the church today) to interpret their own prophetic utterances. In other words, proclaiming that something will happen is fine but then going further to add your own commentary and interpretation to the prophecy decreases its value.
For example, interpreting a prophecy as being unconditional and allocating it a very ?fine deadline? is an error that a close scrutiny of scripture should discourage us from. This error simply breeds scepticism in the church towards all prophecy because if there is a condition, and there usually is, if it is not met and the prophecy does not happen the sceptics step in.
When a prophet speaks judgement it is in a bid to get us to respond to the mercy and grace of God. This is why Jonah looked so bad when he prophesised against Nineveh (Jonah chapters 1- 4).
Jonah knew that his prophecy was subject to a condition because he was aware of God?s character (Jonah 4:2). They often are (Jeremiah 26:18-19). The more we become familiar with the God of the Bible the better positioned we will be to judge prophesy. We are all learning.
In order to be balanced it should be noted that some prophecies are unconditional because the conditions have already been met (2 Kings 1: 1-17; Jeremiah 28:1-17; Matthew 24: 15-28). This is true when a sin has already been committed and the judgement is now due. In all cases of ?unconditional prophecies of judgement? the people knew they were doing wrong or had consciously refused to repent. This was not the case with Nineveh.
However, in the majority of cases those who know how to seek the face of God can prevail on his mercy (2 Chronicles 7:14; Isaiah 38:1-21).
The true mark of a prophet is a heart refined with the love of God; words spoken with simplicity; and an attitude influenced with humility: ready to admit that he or she can get it wrong.
As for the Church ? let us not take the mercy of God for granted, but rather lets continue to seek his face for mercy and revival in the land. It?s our prayers and repenting that will avert his judgement not our scepticism.
May God increase the prophetic ministry in our land!