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God, or the cultural status quo

Recently a “preacher” has gained a lot of publicity referring to the Bible as “irrelevant letters from 2,000 years ago.” But consider:

Before God made covenant with the people, he grounded it in the nation’s founding story. “I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2, ASV).

The central event of the Old Testament is God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery and the covenant formed at Mt Sinai. At Sinai and through the Exodus, they became a nation.

As the Nation’s conditions changed over the centuries, culturally and politically, the folk who had God’s favor did so by going back to the founding events and documents of the nation. “What am I to do, now?” was answered by, “To what story do I belong?”

Israel’s culture was not static. People tend to flatten the Bible out and miss this. From wandering tribes to conquering confederation, to tribal rule by judges, to United Kingdom, to Divided Kingdom, to National captivity, to a restored although lesser kingdom, to conquered and occupied nation – as the cultural/ political situation changed, God’s prophets appeared on the scene taking the people back to the founding events and documents of the people, calling folk to return to covenant living under God.

The prophets of the Old Testament pointed back to the founding story and re-affirmed God’s original intent. Now, there were status quo prophets in the courts who pushed the social/cultural/political agenda as being acceptable to God, often for fame, wealth and/or power (Micah 3:11). Perhaps some were true believers indoctrinated in the message of the status quo prophets, claiming God was fundamentally on Israel/Judah/Jerusalem’s side.

Meditate on 1 Kings 22 and the court prophet Zedikiah vs. the godly prophet Micaiah (especially note vs. 14) and upon the court prophet Hanaiah vs. the godly prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 28). We can see our modern day context in the opposition that God’s prophet, Jeremiah, ran into from the priestly, prophetic and royal establishment. (See Jeremiah 20; 26-28; 37-38. See also Amos 7:10-17.)

The court prophets were not completely wrong. God was fundamentally on Israel/Judah’s side. They forgot or ignored the punitive clauses God had put into the covenant. The same clauses the nation had agreed to at Mt Sinai and in later covenant renewals.

There are plenty of “court prophets” in our day as well, promoting the cultural status quo, pushing folks into a secular philosophical mainstream, silencing, marginalizing, disenfranchising the voices of those outside culturally and politically correct dogma of our times. They seek to re-write the New Testament story to exclude the punitive clauses in the New Covenant.

The Old Testament prophets were persecuted, imprisoned and even murdered by those who favored a less rigorous and less exclusive view of God’s covenant. As the godly prophets did back then, those today who practice a faith grounded in a “thus saith the Lord” will also pay a price in the modern marketplace of religion. We need to be prepared to pay that price.

We can almost hear the status quo prophets of the Old Testament making the same claims about centuries old books being irrelevant in their own times. When we read the prophets, we learn that the further Israel and Judah got from God and his covenant, the more unethical the people became. They sank to the level of the prevailing culture, a culture marked by injustice, lacking mercy and having lost the meaning of covenant living with man and God. Sounds like the culture of our own times.

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Scott Wiley

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