Prophetic Person: Messenger

We can summarize the personhood of the prophet in a fourth characteristic.  The prophet is a messenger. Morality gives the messenger credibility.  Mysticism gives the messenger content.  And mediation gives the messenger commission.  All this comes together in the words, “Thus says the Lord.”  The prophet as a messenger is important for a number of reasons.

First,  being a messenger keeps clear that the prophet is a representative. [1]  It is the idea Paul had in mind when he said Christians are ambassadors for Christ.  This preserves necessary humility, but it does something else: it confers authority. 

Brueggemann notes that the representative nature of the prophets is what makes them countercultural.  They are not in the midst of Israel making suggestions which they think are important, they live in the society to declare how God sees the situation, and to show God’s way out of the bondage of empire into the freedom of shalom. [2]

Second, being a messenger places the prophet under the same mandates as those who are addressed.  Prophets speak and act in the midst of the people, not apart from them. They must live up to the same expectations as anyone else. 

During my more than fifty years of preaching and teaching, one of the things I believed most was the necessity to stand within the circle of the message, not outside it.  This is what gives the message a modeled authenticity; that is, messengers are accountable to live by the message they proclaim.  Parker Palmer calls this the autobiograhical nature of teaching. [3]

We see the absence of this in the ministry of Jonah, who spoke the message, but was unable to rejoice when the people accepted it. The book ends with Jonah outside the city, pouting under the bush.  And even today, we sometime find messengers who are unable to find joy in delivering the message because they stand outside the circle of grace that the message offers.  That is a sad place to be.  It is not where genuine prophets live.

Third, being a messenger provides a “hiding place” when the message is resisted.  In a very real sense, we can say, “God this is your message, not mine.  You must comfort me as I deliver it.” This is one of the things we see in the interchanges between Moses and God.  Moses is not hesitant to say, “You did this to me!  You must give me the courage, strength, and patience to carry on.”

Honestly, I do not think I could have preached and taught without realizing that even as I was sent from God, I could flee to God when “soul drain”‘overtook me.  Brueggemann also speaks of the importance of hiddenness in his ministry–those times and places where he discovered both revelations and restraints. [4]  Prophets must have a cleft in the Rock.

I hope you realize that these posts about the prophetic task are not exclusively historical.  The prophetic task is one for us to engage in today–as Brueggemann emphasizes over and over in his writings and audio/video teachings.  Nowhere is this more important than in the rooting of the prophetic task in the prophet’s personhood.  Like the biblical prophets, we too must be persons who are moral, mystics, mediators, and messengers.

In the next round of posts we will explore the prophetic paradigm–the milieu in which prophets operate: a paradigm that includes vision, intention, and means.

[1] Robert R. Wilson,  Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel (Fortress Press, 1980).

[2] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Second Edition, 21.

[3] Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach (Josey Bass, 1998).

[4] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Second Edition, 117.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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