As the monarchy splits and disintegrates, morally, politically and spiritually, another institution arises to give leadership and inspiration to God’s people, one that is ancient, and yet which takes on new forms: prophecy. Elijah, his successor Elishah, Micaiah and several unknown prophets take on kings and queens like Ahab and Jezebel with courage and near impunity, thus showing that God is still King. Again, this is in direct contrast to Israel and Judah’s neighbors, whose prophets served as organs of imperial propaganda. Micaiah has his run-in with such court prophets in I Kings 22. From the spiritual lineage of Elijah arise the great prophets of Israel and Judah, such as Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea, who, in the name of God, by speaking the Word of God, will “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” They will keep alive the social and spiritual vision of the Law of Moses. Several times in these chapters we learn that the prophets had communities, in effect, “schools.” A good companion guide to prophecy in Israel and Judah is Rabbi Abraham Joshhua Heschel’s book, The Prophets.
A Yiddish story speaks of a prophet, unnamed, who preached for years and years to the same people, getting only grief, mistreatment, ridicule and stones in return. When someone asked him, “Why do you keep preaching and prophesying all these years, when, up to now, you have saved no one?” the nameless prophet said, “I keep preaching and prophesying to save myself.”
Only in Jesus will kingship, priesthood and prophecy ever reunite.
Ahab’s appropriation of Naboth’s vineyard (I Kings 21) is about more than royal overreach; Naboth’s reluctance to part with the land, even at great price, may well be due to the fact that he knows it will never return to his descendants at the Jubilee Year (Lv. 25), because of the royal family’s disdain for the Law of Moses. Naboth’s death is also the death knell of the Jubilee vision of justice and the regular redistribution of oppressive, accumulated privilege and power in Israel. It won’t show up in the Bible again except in the redemptive global visions of the prophets, and in the inaugural sermon of Jesus in his hometown synagogue (Luke 4).
Though God still claims the power of ending, as well as giving, life, and though God’s judgments can be quite severe (though always on behalf of justice for the poor, and against the sins and abuse of power), a shift in Israel’s and Judah’s attitudes about war and enemies is starting to take shape in these chapters, with the rise of counter-monarchical prophecy. The beneficiaries of Elisha’s ministry include Naaman, an enemy general (II Kings 5) and invading Aramean soldiers, who, after being blinded and captured, are fed and sent home, very much alive. “We are reminded, in II Kings 7 (the Aramean siege lifted by their own rumor and panic), that it is God who fights for Israel, and that he can use means other than the sword to do so. This will lead to visions and songs by the prophets about a coming age of peace, and of the inclusion of the nations into that peace (Isaiah 2, 9, Micah 4). In the endearing image of four desperate lepers helping themselves to abandoned Aramean spoils, we see a picture of Israel’s and Judah’s true condition, and that of our own, before God. Jesus’ ministry, and those who benefited from it, will bear many similarities to these stories of the prophets and the people they helped (or prophesied against).
PSALM 29 has rhythmic, poetic and dramatic elements that challenge the ancient Near Eastern pantheistic beliefs, such that storms are gods or goddesses, or manifestations of such. By contrast, it is an ancient statement of monotheistic faith that ascribes the dramatic arising and passing of a storm to the power of Israel’s One Supreme God. The rhythmic and poetic elements make it likely a litany for worship in the Tabernacle, or later, the Temple. Though we are no longer in that setting, the Psalm invites us to look into the seemingly random and frightening events of our world and our lives for hints and evidence of God working to “bless his people with peace.”