These people are stubborn rebels who refuse to pay attention to the Lord’s instructions. They tell the seers, “Stop seeing visions!” They tell the prophets, “Don’t tell us what is right. Tell us nice things. Tell us lies. Forget all this gloom. Get off your narrow path. Stop telling us about your ‘Holy One of Israel.’” [Isaiah 30 9b-11 (NLT)]
Being a prophet was a calling from the Lord and probably an unwelcome one at that. Amos, a businessman from Tekoa in Judah, was minding his own business when God called on him. He probably would have preferred tending his sheep and cultivating his fig trees to pronouncing judgment upon the Israel, Judah, and other nations. Nevertheless, this layman accepted God’s call and denounced the nations’ sins with brutal frankness. It was at the height of Israel’s prosperity that he prophesied their end by singing a funeral song for the northern kingdom. Needless to say, the words of a Judean pronouncing judgment upon Israel were not welcomed. Even though Amaziah ordered him back to Judah, Amos continued to give God’s message to the people.
It never seemed to go well for God’s prophets. Having infuriated the priests by going to the Temple to rebuke the people for their idolatry and falseness, Jeremiah was banned from the Temple even though he was the son of a priest. Seeing him as a traitor and conspirator, the priests plotted his death and Jeremiah was arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and thrown into a cistern to die. Although he was rescued from the cistern, he later was forcibly taken by rebels to Egypt and church tradition holds that he was stoned to death there.
It didn’t go any better for the rest of God’s prophets. Blaming Elisha for his troubles, the king of Aram wanted him beheaded and Elijah spent much of his time fleeing from the wrath of Jezebel and Ahab. Micaiah was tossed into prison for predicting Israel’s defeat and Ahab’s death, Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den, John the Baptist was beheaded and, according to rabbinical tradition, King Manasseh executed Isaiah by having him sawn in half! If the prophets weren’t losing their lives, they were running for them!
These prophets were unpopular because they fearlessly told the truth instead of what the people wanted to hear. They revealed the people’s sins and warned of their consequences. Sent to confront rather than comfort, their messages often were unwelcome and ignored. What those who persecuted them failed to realize is that, while they may have silenced the men’s voices temporarily, the truth of their messages didn’t disappear!
Let’s face it—reproach, sacrifice, and repentance are never popular messages. Not everything we read in the Bible or hear from the pulpit is going to be comforting and cheerful; it does, however, need to be heard. Not everything the Holy Spirit tells us is going to be approving, but it will be edifying. Not everything God instructs us to do will be easy, but it will be worthwhile. Not everything said by our brothers and sisters in Christ will be appreciated, but it will be honest. God gives warnings so we won’t have to suffer his wrath. Rather than ignoring, persecuting, or killing God’s messengers, we’re better off listening to them and heeding their words.