About 18 months ago I sat at the back of a hall listening to an itinerant Preacher and Prophet as he ministered to a packed and overflowing house. It was his third night at the venue and it was closing in on midnight when he stopped and called forth his travel companion to prophesy with him, that together, they may service all those still waiting. His companion, sitting next to me, turned to me and said something to the effect that, “I am not a prophet; but he does this to me sometimes and I prophesy. I don’t know why anyone would want to be a prophet.”
He then picked up his Bible, prayed a short silent prayer and commenced prophesying over the first person in the line which had just formed in front of him. I sat and listened for a while as this man not only received a word from God for each person, but started with a Bible verse for each person around which the prophecy was woven.
I recently read the five-volume book set by Les D. Crause and his daughter Colette Toach entitled “The Way of the Prophet Series,” and the same understanding came to me – the life of a prophet is not glamorous and not easy. Indeed, I believe if I search back through their 1160 pages of wisdom and experience, I will be able to find words equivalent to: “I don’t know why anyone would want to be a prophet.”
As I was reading the bible today, I came across the same sentiments from three of the Old Testament’s minor prophets. The first such statement comes at the beginning of the Book of Nahum as we read in Nahum 1:1
“The burden against Nineveh . The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite” (MKJV).
The Book of Nahum was also called the “Vision of Nahum” and here the “burden of Nineveh” (KJV) means the oracle of judgement against Nineveh which God had given Nahum to deliver. Just how much this oracle became a burden for Nahum can be guessed at, in the way in which he then proceeds to write, beginning in Nahum 1:2 “God is jealous, and Jehovah revenges; Jehovah revenges and is a possessor of wrath. Jehovah takes vengeance against His foes, and He keeps wrath against His enemies.”
Nahum then proceeds in Nahum 1:2-14 to list out 20 facts about God (see below). These can be grouped under five headings: The Vengeance of God, The Longsuffering and Justice of God, The Omnipotence of God, The Holiness of God and finally The Goodness and Omniscience of God.
The second minor Prophet is Habakkuk and in Habakkuk 1:1 we find a reiteration of the sentiment of Nahum as he says “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet saw.”
As “Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible” says of Habakkuk 1:1 “The burden – המשא hammassa signifies not only the burdensome prophecy, but the prophecy or revelation itself which God presented to the mind of Habakkuk, and which he saw-clearly perceived, in the light of prophecy and then faithfully declared, as this book shows. The word signifies an oracle or revelation in general; but chiefly, one relative to future calamities.” Again the prophet was burdened by the oracle of revelation of God and as in the case of Nahum, it was in the form of a vision.
The third and final minor Prophet is Malachi. The Book of Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament and Malachi 1:1 continues the same reiteration of the sentiments of both Nahum and Habakkuk saying “The burden of the Word of Jehovah to Israel by Malachi.”
“Matthew Henry’s Commentary of the Whole Bible” says of this verse
“The prophecy of this book is entitled, ‘The Burden of the Word of the Lord’ which intimates:
1. That it was of great weight and importance; what the false prophets said was light as the chaff, what the true prophets said (Jeremiah 23:28) was ponderous as the wheat.
2. That it ought to be often repeated to them and by them, as the burden of a song.
3. That there were those to whom it was a burden and a reproach; they were weary of it, and found themselves so aggrieved by it that they were not able to bear it.
4. That to them it would prove a burden indeed, to sink them to the lowest hell, unless they repented.
5. That to those who loved it and embraced it, and bade it welcome, though it was a light burden, as our Saviour calls it (Matthew 11:30), yet it was a burden.
This burden of the word of the Lord was sent:
1. To Israel, for to them pertained the lively oracles of prophecy as well as those of the written word. Many prophets God had sent to Israel, and now he will try them with one more.
2. By Malachi, by the hand of Malachi, as if it were not a message by word of mouth, but a letter put into his hand, for the greater certainty.”
Without doubt, Prophets, whether of the Old Testament or as the itinerant Prophets and Preachers today, seem to see a different aspect of God than that which most Christians see today. Today, Christians often see and express God in short succinct seeker-friendly phrases such as “God is Love”. Sometimes this is expanded to overarching, all inclusive phrases to encompass the unencompassable: “God is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient.” Compared to the words of Nahum 1:2-14, these epithets cannot be seen as personal or relational views of God.
Many Christians feel and understand that they chose to accept God. I believe that all Prophets will attest to the salutary fact that God chose them. Not only that, but that God trained them to perform in this calling and office to His satisfaction, not to the satisfaction or expectations of the Prophet. In that training, it is obvious that God has exposed them to different aspects of Himself than other Christians see, and that they become changed persons. In First Samuel 10:6-7 we find out just what it was like to be chosen as a Prophet and being a changed person as Samuel prepares Saul saying:
“And the spirit of Jehovah will come powerfully on you, and you shall prophesy with them, and shall be turned into another man. And it will be when these signs have come to you, you will do for yourself what your hand finds; for God is with you.”
I believe the main differences can be summed up in the phrase: “the Fear of the Lord.” As Wikipedia says ” Fear of the Lord is one of the Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, as described in Isaiah 11:2-3. In Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 9:10, the fear of the Lord is called the beginning or foundation of wisdom. In Proverbs 15:33, the fear of the Lord is described as the “discipline” or “instruction” of wisdom. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that this gift “fills us with a sovereign respect for God, and makes us dread, above all things, to offend Him.”
We can see in the words of Nahum 1:2-14 that he too clearly fell into this category. Seeing the awesomeness of the naked power of the Lord, must be a humbling, fearsome and belittling experience, irrespective of the oracle of the Lord which they (Old Testament Prophets) were tasked to convey.
The burden which I have seen on present day prophets is no lighter. Certainly the conditions are different and they are unlikely to be stoned to death – yet the persecution and burdens which they face, seem to come with the office, just as in the Old Testament times.
The next time you stand before prophets, I pray that you will bear this all in mind. The calling of a Prophet is the calling which the Lord has required of them and for which the Lord will judge them accordingly. As Ezekiel 33:6 says regarding watchmen (Prophets):
“But if the watchman [Prophet] sees the sword coming, and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned; if the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity. But I will require his blood at the watchman’s [Prophet’s] hand.”
Yes, the burden of the Prophet is a burden indeed.
In closing, there is one last interesting fact about the three Old Testament minor prophets mentioned above: Nahum is only mentioned once in the Bible, in Nahum 1:1. Habakkuk is only mentioned once in the Bible, in Habakkuk 1:1. Malachi is only mentioned once in the Bible, in Malachi 1:1. No signs of pride there.
Amen and Amen.
The 20 Facts about God from Nahum 1:2-14
1 He Manifests jealousy (v2)
2 He demonstrated anger (v2-3)
3 He takes revenge on enemies (v2)
4 He reserves wrath for His enemies (v2)
5 He is slow to anger (v3)
6 He has great power (v3)
7 He will not acquit the wicked (v3)
8 He has His way in the whirlwind (v3)
9 He has His way in the storm (v3)
10 He stands on the clouds (v3)
11 He rebukes the sea (v4)
12 He makes the sea dry (v4)
13 He dries up rivers (v4)
14 He causes earthquakes (v5-6)
15 He will renovate the earth (v5)
16 None can stand before his wrath (v6)
17 He is good (v7)
18 He is a stronghold in the day of trouble (v7)
19 He knows those who trust Him (v7)
20 He brings judgement when needed (v8-14)