25th September 2012

The promise of prophecy

It sounds odd, but often in the Bible, prophecy isn't mainly about telling people what's going to happen next. It's often an appeal to the audience, whether they're part of God's people or not, to respond to God in a particular way – coupled with descriptions of what will happen if they do, and what will happen if they don't.

This comes through pretty clearly in the book of Jonah. God sends Jonah to preach to the Ninevites that their city will be overthrown in 40 days – but in the end, this is not what happens. Instead, because the people repent, God saves the city (prompting a good deal of grumbling from Jonah, as it turns out). The purpose of the prophecy was not to predict the future as such, but to bring about a response of trust in God. If the people hadn't repented, of course, they would have been judged as Jonah had said. But because they did, God spared them.

The clearest statement of this type of prophecy is in Jeremiah 18:7-10, where God says: "If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it." In other words, prophecy is not always a guarantee of the future. It's a promise that we will be blessed if we do one thing, but not if we do another.

This calls for a response in two ways. Firstly, let's not allow prophecies of blessing to lead us into complacency or laziness. And secondly, let's give thanks to the God who is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Even to Ninevites and rebels, like you and me.

Readings: Jonah and Jeremiah 18:7-10
Question: How are we responding to prophecies over ourselves and the church? Next prayer meetings: 12.30pm today and 7.30pm tomorrow (both at THC)

Andrew Wilson

Posted by Andrew Wilson










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