Jeremiah: The Fate of a Prophet
One of Jerusalem’s top Bible scholars explores the prophet Jeremiah. How would a prophet relate to today’s world?
(Excerpted from “Jeremiah: The Fate of a Prophet” by Binyamin Lau, with permission from Maggid Books, a division of Koren Publishers Jerusalem. See www.korenpub.com)
The Status of the Prophet within Society:
“Fool is the Prophet, Mad is the Man of Letters”
In terms of today’s social milieu, the prophet might be regarded as something of a public intellectual, a man of letters. An eternal critic, an outsider to the system, a gadfly who must summon all his literary or oratory powers to persuade his audience of the truth of his words – and of the mortal danger of ignoring them. A prophecy does not depend upon its being heard. On the contrary, more often than not it is disregarded, though the speaker’s own belief in it does not allow him to remain silent.² How does society relate to one who determinedly, doggedly repeats his unheeded words? Practical men, when faced with adversity, will often state, unfazed, “The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on.” But while this might encourage the caravan on its way, what will be of the dogs? How does one shake the people of their complacency and alert them to the danger that is looming?
Throughout biblical history, prophets have repeatedly failed to penetrate the collective consciousness. Moses, the greatest of the prophets; Elijah and Elisha, the oratory prophets; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the other twelve literary prophets – none were successful in getting their message across and inspiring the people to repentance. Jonah is perhaps the only prophet who may be said to have fulfilled his mission, making the people of Nineveh see the error of their ways.
The words of the prophets have been preserved for us, their distant descendants, so that we may learn what is right in the eyes of God and man. But in their own days, in real time, there is hardly a prophet who has redressed the social, religious, or political wrongs of Israel; the prophets barked, but the caravan kept moving. Moreover, when a prophet dared to deviate from his usual message of morality and challenged the existing order, he was declared an enemy of the people. Thus, the prophet Amos was banished by the priest of Bethel, Amaziah, in the name of King Jeroboam: “Get thee out, seer!” (Amos 7:12).
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