What our culture needs – Prophets and Nazirites

OK, so I was hoping the title would catch your attention and you would read on.  I have been reading the Old Testament prophet Amos in my Bible reading, and I came across a passage in Amos 2 that caught my attention.  At the time of Amos, God’s people had split in two sub-nations, with ten of the original twelve tribes of Israel creating their own nation, capital, and places of worship to the north.  They are called Israel during this time.  The southern two tribes are called Judah, and their king was a descendant of David, with his throne and God’s Temple in Jerusalem.  Amos was a shepherd who lived in the Southern Kingdom, but God sent him as a prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.   In the first two chapters Amos has pronounced judgment toward all of Israel’s neighbor nations, including Judah.  But in the second half of chapter 2 and throughout the rest of the book God puts His Word in Amos’ mouth directed to the king and people of Israel.  In His initial indictment on Israel he says this to them in chapter 2:

[11] And I raised up some of your sons for prophets,
and some of your young men for Nazirites.
Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?”
declares the LORD.
[12] “But you made the Nazirites drink wine,
and commanded the prophets,
saying, ‘You shall not prophesy.’
[13] “Behold, I will press you down in your place,
as a cart full of sheaves presses down.
[14] Flight shall perish from the swift,
and the strong shall not retain his strength,
nor shall the mighty save his life;
[15] he who handles the bow shall not stand,
and he who is swift of foot shall not save himself,
nor shall he who rides the horse save his life;
[16] and he who is stout of heart among the mighty
shall flee away naked in that day,”
declares the LORD.
(Amos 2:11-16 ESV)

Speaking God’s very word, Amos had just reminded the nation that God had rescued them from slavery and defeated all of their enemies for them en route to the Promised Land.  He had then given them the very land they inhabit, and they are using the land God gave them to willfully pursue other gods.  As a result they are caught up in all kinds of immorality, idolatry, and injustices.  They oppress the poor, and have sexual slaves in their cities.  In this passage God reminds them that as a gift He sent them two types of people whose purpose was to call them back to Himself.  The first are prophets, whose job is to speak on God’s behalf, to bring His very word.  But the nation despised the prophets, because they did not like God addressing their sin and calling for repentance.  The nation found false prophets who would tell them exactly what they wanted to hear, and then claim that God had sent the message, which He hadn’t.  But worse, they would arrest God’s true prophet and force them to agree with the false prophets or forfeit their lives.  Second, God send Nazirites.  These are somewhat bizarre characters in the Old Testament, but basically God called them to an extraordinary level of holiness and devotion.  Nazirites were to avoid all forms of alcohol, unclean foods, and dead bodies.  They were to live separated lives wholly devoted to God.  God sent these people as a living reminder of the call to holiness.  Prophets spoke the words of God, Nazirites displayed the holiness of God.  God sent both to His people as gifts, but the type of gifts we don’t usually want.  We want to choose our own lifestyle and values, and then have God affirm our choices and path.  But God calls His people to holiness, and in the Old Testament He sent these two groups of people to the nation as a reminder of this.  But rather than receiving them as gifts from God, they made the prophets agree with the false prophets, and the Nazirites they forced to drink wine, a breaking of the vow they had made to God.  So they rejected the leaders God had sent them and instead put their faith in the strength of their leaders, the power of their army, and the ability of their soldiers.

So God warns them, judgment is coming.  He tells them that if they trust in their armies and leaders there will be no hope for them.  As a nation, they believe that if their soldiers are strong enough, they can withstand any foe.  But they have failed to realize that the true foe that is building up wrath against them is Yahweh, their redeemer God.  Their soldiers will not stand against Him, their leaders will not overcome His purpose, and their armies will end up fleeing naked before him.

Reading this got me to thinking about our culture, the church, and the political season.  In a real way, God still works in the same way.  He saves a people, calls them to Himself, and then shows His glory through His people, the church, as He changes their lives.  But we too tend to drift from our redemption toward sin, idolatry, immorality, and injustice.  Often, as this happens, we too join the chorus of people who begin to look to election of the right leaders, the strength of our government, the power of our military, and the quality of our soldiers as the hope and answer to this crisis.  And while these are all good, what our culture really needs are Nazirites and prophets.  Not in the exact same way as the Old Testament dudes.  We act as prophets when we are faithful to proclaim and live out the implications of the Scriptures.  We are prophetic when we are honest about the nature of sin and when we hold passionately to the True Jesus revealed in Scripture.  We will become like Nazirites as the beauty of the Gospel fills our lives and moves  us toward holiness, so that the character of our lives looks more like Jesus.  As this happens, both the culture and much of what is called the church will reject our words and ridicule our lives.  Yet, when we function as God’s transformed people in these roles we are actually God’s gift to our culture and nation.  And believe it or not, our culture needs us filling these callings much more than our nation needs the right President, the correct appointment to the Supreme Court, or even the strongest military.  We have to understand that the hope of any nation, any culture, and even any church is the Gospel of God redeeming His people by shedding His blood and delivering them from slavery.  We have to know that our joy is found in God overcoming our enemies by His might and power.  And we also have to know that no military or governmental power can stop the justice of God as He stands up for the powerless, broken, and poor in the world.  May we, God’s people in His church live our lives with hope in Him, and allow our lives to be transformed so that our speech and lives declare His character and glory to a culture that does not know Him.

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