An Individual Who Said No to His Society

This fall I'm co-teaching the college class at my church with my friend and colleague David. We are thinking about starting with a study on the prophets. At David's recommendation, to get ready for this I'm reading Abraham Heschel's book The Prophets.

The book has been great so far. Here's a quote that jumped out at me yesterday:

What manner of man is the prophet? A student of philosophy who turns from the discourses of the great metaphysicians to the orations of the prophets may feel as if he were going from the realm of the sublime to an area of trivialities. Instead of dealing with the timeless issues of being and becoming, of matter and form, of definitions and demonstrations, he is thrown into orations about widows and orphans, about the corruption of judges and the affairs of the marketplace. Instead of showing us a way through the elegant mansions of the mind, the prophets take us to slums. The world is a proud place, full of beauty, but the prophets are scandalized, and rave as if the whole world were a slum. They make much ado about paltry things, lavishing excessive language upon trifling subjects. What if somewhere in ancient Palestine poor people have not been treated properly by the rich?...Why such immoderate excitement? Why such intense indignation?

The things that horrified the prophets are even now daily occurrences all over the world. There is no society to which Amos' words would not apply:

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy,
And bring the poor of the land to an end,

Saying: When will the new moon be over

That we may sell grain?

And the Sabbath,

That we may offer wheat for sale,

That we may make the ephah small and the shekel great,

And deal deceitfully with false balances,

That we may buy the poor for silver,

And the needy for a pair of sandals,

And sell the refuse of the wheat?

--Amos 8.4-6

Indeed, the sort of crimes and even the account of delinquency that fill the prophets of Israel with dismay do not go beyond that which we regard as normal, as typical ingredients of social dynamics. To us a single act of injustice--cheating in business, exploitation of the poor--is slight; to the prophets a disaster.

...The prophet was an individual who said No to his society...

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7 thoughts on “An Individual Who Said No to His Society”

  1. Irrespective of his political views, I would also recommend the book by Norman Podhoretz on the prophets. Then there is ACU grad Carl Holladay. I enjoyed his commentary on Jeremiah.

  2. if you're interested in adding some language inclusive resources let me suggest two books by elisabeth schussler fiorenza- 'jesus, miriam's child, sophia's prophet' and 'wisdom ways'.
    (if you have time/interest tell my sweet brother 'hi'- dr. brent reeves ;)

  3. WOW! I quoted that part of the book this morning in a sermon. Weird. Fantastic book though. You should also read Walter Brueggeman's "The Prophetic Imagination". It's awesome.

  4. I am teaching a class on Heschel and the Prophets next week. I found the book a couple of years ago and I cannot read the prophets without his take on 'the divine pathos' illuminating the social radicalism of the text.

  5. "The things that horrified the prophets . . ."

    If one starts reading Amos chapter 8 at verse 1 rather than verse 4, one can see that it is God who is "horrified" at the "daily occurrences." Amos was "horrified" at what God had told him He was going to do about it.

  6. Actually, that Jeremiah commentary is by a different Holladay, William L. ACU grad Carl Holladay is Professor of New Testament at Candler School of Theology, Emory University.

  7. My bad. Thanks for the correction. Been a dozen or so years since reading it. Guess I made an inference and confused it with memory.

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