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Friday, March 18, 2016

The Role of a Prophet in the Life of a People

Moses promises Israel of a day when God will raise up for Israel, “a prophet like me from among your own brothers” and warns them to heed the voice of this coming prophet as well as other true prophets (Deuteronomy 18:15).

As weather sirens alert of imminent tornado conditions and warn people to take precautions, so a prophetic voice sounds an alarm and interrupts the people and culture enveloped in sin so that they will repent. To ignore God’s prophet is to ignore God Himself, “If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account” (18:19). God sends prophets to His people prior to judgment in hopes that people heed their warning and turn back to Him.  
How does one discern between those who prophesy for Him and those who prophesy for themselves? Israel asked that question as well, and Moses provided the answer, “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken” (18:22). Moses gives the second of two tests for a true prophet. In Deut. 13:1-5, he warns of the prophet who performs a true miracle in order to entice the people to follow a false god. Now Moses warns his kinsmen about the man who claims to be a prophet of the true God but whose word fails. In both of these texts, the people are not to fear the prophet, but rather to kill him.
From these warnings, God shows three truths about His prophets:
  • True prophets of God speak in the name of the LORD
  • True prophets of God speak truth that comes to pass
  • True prophets of God are to be feared because they are spokesmen for the living God
God’s prophets still speak through the Scriptures: they are to be feared--we should tremble at the Word (Isaiah 66:2)for they speak for God; they speak truth that will come to pass; and, they speak in His name. The Zimbabweans sing a chorus that says, “Listen to God, because He always speaks the truth.” Listening to God’s prophets through the Word is listening to God. 

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"When you enter the land the LORD your God s giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, "Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us," be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses" (Deuteronomy 17:14-15a)

Knowing that the children of Israel would one day desire a king like the nations around them, God through Moses established instructions for that future event. He gave them six ordinances regarding the qualifications and behavior of kings:
  1. He must be an Israelite, not a foreigner
  2. He must not acquire horses from Egypt (depend upon others for their strength or resources)
  3. He must not take many wives or his heart will be led astray
  4. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold
  5. He is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of the law, taken from the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all of the words of this law and decrees
  6. He is not to consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left
While it was incumbent on the king to fulfill all the requirements, the fifth requirement was absolutely crucial in the life of Israel's king.

Saul became the first king in Israel; one only has to study his life to know that he did not take seriously the requirement regarding the copying the law.

Scripture does not specifically record that David fulfilled the fifth ordinance; however, one has but to read Psalm 19:7-11 to know that he loved the Book of the Law. Verse 9b says "The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward." Psalm 78 recounts lessons from Israel's history. Psalm 20:7 informs the reader that David was very aware of the second guideline, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God."

Solomon certainly violated #2, #3, & #4. His writings indicate that he knew the law but succumbed to worldly pressure to make alliances by marriage to foreign women. By these choices he violated God's clear command, which eventually led him (and the nation) to idolatry.
At Solomon's death Israel divided into the northern kingdom of Israel with a succession of 20 kings and the Southern kingdom of Judah with her succession of 20 kings. Not one single king in Israel loved or adhered to the Book of the Law. Only eight of the 20 kings of Judah knew and loved the Scriptures. In fact at one low point in Judah under Josiah's reign the Book of the Law is discovered buried in all the rubble of an unused Temple. After reading it Josiah repents in brokenness and leads Judah in repentance.
As someone long ago said, violating God's commands always takes us further than we want to go, costs us more than we want to pay, and keeps us longer than we want to stay. The clear teaching of God's Word serves as a fence to keep trouble out and to keep us in. Inside the parameters of God' ordinances is plenty of room for freedom and joy; disregard this boundary and trouble creeps in as standards go out.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading: Deuteronomy 15:1-18:22
  • Why is forgiving debts such a test of faith?
  • Why was the celebration of Passover so important in the life of Israel?
  • The Levites lively hood was contingent upon Israel's adherence to the sacrificial system. How do the Levites benefit from Israel's obedience?
  • What effect are the Levites to have upon the people?
  • What will God do to ensure that the people of Israel don't seek guidance from sorcerers or diviners?
  • What characteristics will validate the authenticity of God's prophets?
Turning truth into prayer:
Pray for the President of the United States and our leaders in Congress. Pray that the economic crisis will drive them to turn to the Lord for wisdom and direction.