Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University, Wellington. Vol. 21, No. 8. 2nd July, 1958
Part Two — The Religion of the Old Testament Prophets
The Religion of the Old Testament Prophets
The first point to remember about the Old Testament prophets is that they were profoundly unpopular. They met with the determined hostility of both the courts and the people. This was because the religion of the prophets was essentially different from other Asian religions. Asian religions were not ethical. They were not concerned with character and morality. They were at their roots, nature worships—often worships of productive and reproductive powers of nature. They consisted only of sacrifices and rites ("Guy Fawkes Day" religion). The Jews were displeased at the denunciations by the prophets of the ceremonial cults of religion—sacrifices, incense, festivals, etc. As the Jews were much given up to sexual immorality, drunkenness, social oppression, fraud and cruelty, they were angered by the prophets' emphasis on morality.
The second point to remember about the Old Testament prophets is that they, with fullest conviction, declared that the prophetic messages were derived not from their own reasoning or speculation nor from tradition but from God; e.g., Amos VII, 14, "I was no prophet; neither was I a prophet's son; but I was a herdsman, and a dresser of Sycamore trees: and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel. Now therefore hear the word of the Lord." Also, Jer. XXIII, 9-29: "Mine heart within me is broken, all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, and like a man whom wine hath overcome; because of the Lord, and because of His holy words. . . . Is not my word like as fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?"
Notice that the prophets are acutely conscious of the contrast between their own feelings and ideas on the one hand, and on the other the purpose and mind of God, who constrains them. This is vividly presented where the prophets hold conversations with God, represents to God his own feelings, questions and complains, and is answered. See Amos VII, 2-9 and 15; VIII, 1-2; Isa. VI, 5-12; XXI, 2-10; XXII, 4-14; Jer. 1, 6-14; IV, 10; XIV 7 to end; XV 10 to 21. These prophets are clearly conscious of the two distinct currents or forces within them—the current of their own feelings, and the overpowering pressure of God. The prophets, conscious of being even violently dealt with and possessed, claimed to utter with supreme authority a message from God to man.
The prophecies on the whole were remarkably fulfilled. Indeed it is a miracle of history that, Israel though absorbed again and again by the great nations such as Babylon or the empire of Alexander, was preserved to fulfill its special task. There is force in the famous answer which is said to have been given to Frederick the Great's question: "What is the best argument for the truth of the Christian religion?" "The Jews, your Majesty."
The next point to bear in mind when assessing the worth of the Old Testament prophecies is that there is no plausible alternative suggestion as to how the prophets came to make their utterances. Firstly, the utterances of the prophets were not philosophical speculations arrived at by reason or by observation of nature. As a race the Hebrews showed almost no tendency towards philosophical speculation. Nor were the prophets philosophers but rather ill-educated herdsmen, etc. Secondly, Judaism cannot be attributed to the adoption of neighbouring religious practices. On the whole Semitic religions were not characterised by ethical monotheism. The religion of the prophets only established itself by violent conflict with the accepted Semitic customs and practices. There is no Semitic genius for monotheism. Judaism was undoubtedly unique. Likewise, Judaism could not have come from Egypt or Babylon — their religions were devoted to polytheism, idolatry, the dead, and the world of the dead.
—T. J. Kelliher.