Tuesday, August 21, 2018

New Covenant Prophecy (2) Validation?

We must not validate the violence and cruelty of the Old Testament prophets. If we do, we create a problem with introducing people to God. Modern people react negatively to the cruel and violent God that they believe that they find in the Old Testament. They are unwilling to trust and follow a God that behaves that way. The only way to deal with that problem is to review the Old Testament in the light of the new covenant.

A revelation of Jesus changes our understanding of God and how he works. Looking back, we can see that the people of Old Testament times, including the prophets, misunderstood the nature and character of God. They blamed stuff done by the spiritual powers of evil onto God and caused the people to believe that God is harsh and cruel. They also failed to understand the extent of his love.

The Old Testament prophets had a limited understanding of God. They often used the power that God had entrusted to them in ways that did not reflect a true revelation of his character. Jesus rebuked James and John for wanting to call down fire on villages that opposed him. He explained that this is not God’s way. He does not use violence to enforce his word.

The Old Testament prophets often got things wrong. When Elisha stirred up bears to kill the youths that mocked him, he was not being led by the Spirit (1 Kings 2:23-24). God honoured his gift, but that does not make Elisha’s behaviour right. The incident confirms the power of a curse spoken by a prophet, but it does not reveal God’s ways. Samuel often got things wrong too. For example, when he murdered an enemy king, he was not doing God’s will (1 Sam 15:33). I have written about this more in God and Violence.

God does not approve of all the actions of the Old Testament prophets, so we must not do that either. They did not comply with the standard of the Torah, which was to love your neighbour.

Love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord (Lev 19:18).
Therefore, it is not enough to say that their behaviour was appropriate for the old covenant, but is not appropriate now. Some of their behaviour was never appropriate. We must review the behaviour of the OT prophets in the light of our revelation of Jesus and acknowledge their failings. Once we do that, we will not need to defend all their behaviour, but can sift the good from the bad, understanding that they did not have that benefit of the revelation of Jesus that we have received.

The only difference is that they did not have the spiritual protection that we have through the blood of Jesus. The only way they had to protect themselves from people carrying evil spirits was to exclude them from their communities. They needed to push them out of their communities by force to be safe from spiritual attack. This meant they sometimes needed to be ruthless in excluding people who could carry evil spirits into their community. Their violence was sometimes essential for their spiritual protection, but we do not need to behave in that way, because we are protected by the cross of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The Old Testament prophets did not have the revelation of Jesus that we have. They did not have the fullness of the Holy Spirit poured out that we have. Therefore, we should not be surprised that they got it wrong. Rather we should look at them with sympathy, and attempt to build on what they achieved. We should not model our behaviour on their behaviour, but learn from their example to become more like Jesus.

The Old Testament prophets had a thankless task. Their role was to watch over the covenant between God and Israel. Israel broke the covenant over and over again, so the prophets seemed to be full of doom and gloom. Israel did not have the fulness of the Spirit, so it was mostly in disobedience. The prophets spent most of their time warning of the consequence of this disobedience. They could not be nice, because the prognosis for Israel was usually nasty. Jeremiah hated his role, because he constantly had to nag the people of God (Jer 9:1-2).

In New Testament times, the church is the people of the new covenant. The prophetic role of watching over the covenant continues, but their focus shifts. Watching over the church and warning if it breaks the covenant of Jesus is not a doom and gloom ministry. The victory of the cross and the spirit means that the church mostly walks in blessing. However, there will be times when a church leaves God's path and needs to be challenged by a prophet. John's letters to the seven churches are examples of a prophetic challenge to a church that has lost the plot.

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