Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, “Does this offend you? … And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. … At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. [John 6:60-61,63b,66 (NLT]
Some prophets weren’t bothered by the truth and were available for hire. Ahab, for example, had 400 prophets on his payroll acting as his “yes men.” When he asked Jehoshaphat to join him in a campaign against Aram, Jehoshaphat requested the advice of prophets so Ahab summoned his seers. Jehoshaphat, however, recognized them as pagans; when he asked for a true “prophet of the Lord,” Micaiah was summoned.
Honest prophets, like Micaiah had a difficult life; if they prophesized an unpleasant truth, they often were punished or killed. Although warned to promise victory, Micaiah was unafraid of offending the king and responded with God’s truth about Israel’s defeat and Ahab’s death. His reward for telling the truth was a slap on the face, prison and a diet of bread and water; Ahab’s reward for ignoring the truth was death by a randomly shot arrow.
Daniel served as prophet to four kings; facing a series of egocentric and powerful rulers and surrounded by idolatry, his was not an easy job. When Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about a tree, the troubled Daniel hesitated to tell the king that it predicted a period of insanity for him. Nevertheless, he truthfully interpreted the dream and, at the risk of offending the king, bravely advised him to stop sinning. When the proud king didn’t, he ended up spending time living in the fields like an animal.
When Belshazzar called Daniel to interpret the mysterious writing on the wall, the king offered him beautiful gifts and great power for explaining the message but Daniel declined. His prophetic gift was never about gaining reward or power and, knowing the words’ meaning, he knew the reward was worthless. Unafraid of offending the king, Daniel boldly began by taking him to task for the way he’d dishonored God with his sinful disobedience, pride, desecration of sacred objects, and idolatry. The prophet finished by telling Belshazzar that his days were numbered, his reign had been found deficient, and that Babylon would fall and be divided among the Medes and Persians. Confident that he had an impregnable fortress and enough provisions to survive a twenty-year siege, Belshazzar didn’t take the words of warning seriously. Daniel’s prophecies proved correct. The ancient historian Xenophon writes that while the Babylonians were in the midst of that drunken feast, Darius the Mede diverted the Euphrates. Walking on the dry river bed, his army easily entered the city through the water gates. Belshazzar died that very night and the kingdom of Babylon was divided into 120 provinces.
Even when they knew their messages were unpleasant and that the consequences for speaking the truth and offending a king could be severe, neither Micaiah nor Daniel ever sugar-coated God’s truth. Finding their prophecies distasteful, Ahab, Nebuchadnezzar, and Belshazzar chose to ignore them. Like those kings, many of the people who heard Jesus found His truth offensive and inconvenient; choosing to ignore it, they walked away from Him. The fact that the truth is often unpleasant and can be ignored, however, doesn’t change its veracity.
Sometimes, as Christians, we are afraid to offend people with the truth and so we say nothing when God calls us to speak. While we never want to come off as domineering, disparaging or arrogant, we must not let fear keep us from speaking the truth. That God’s truth, even when lovingly and considerately spoken, may offend some people doesn’t mean the truth must not be told.