Unexpected Messages by Azila Reisenberger

Unexpected Messages by Azila Reisenberger

There is a famous hymn that implores God: ‘Make me a channel of your peace…’ I love the words of the song and in fact I see prophecy as a channel – a channel of communication between the Divine and humanity. Thinking about this raises the humorous question of what language God uses to communicate with us? Will God talk Hebrew to me and English to other South Africans? Or maybe Afrikaans? We might think that God doesn’t use language, but one cannot say that God talks in ideas or emotions because if you read the Prophets God is very specific on many occasions God – such as giving detailed commandments.
If God talks to us in a Divine language then prophets are actually ‘translators’ –who tell us in our language and concepts what was said in terms that were far beyond our understanding.

Not all prophets wanted to take this mammoth task upon themselves. When the call was issued, some humbly said: ‘well I am not a good speaker’ (like Moses), or ‘I am not worthy of Divine speech’ (like Isaiah) while some simply ran away and tried to hide (like Jonah). We find it strange to think of running away from God today, but ancient people thought God reigned over a specific country – they saw God as the overseer (ruler) of a particular land. Of course, this led them to believe that if they moved to another country God would not be there. This explains why mighty empires exiled inhabitants of countries that they conquered and settled them in other lands (to ‘disable’ their Deity). Jonah ran away to sea because he thought that if there is no land, there is no local god and he could avoid God’s decree.

Most prophets had a calling from heaven, (up-down), but some, interestingly, were appointed by the people, and started the channel of communication down-up. One such prophet, who was called by the people to prophesy, was Ezekiel. Desperate, the exiled Hebrews described themselves like dry bones – signifying death and disintegration. Ezekiel approached God on their behalf and ‘got the job’. Amongst his many prophecies, he used the people’s image of the dry bones, but turned it instead into a message of hope (Ezekiel 37).

What of prophetesses? Well, we had a few women prophets. There are named ones like Deborah and Miriam, whose prophecies we have in their own words, and nameless prophetesses like ‘Isaiah’s wife’. But there are also named prophetesses of whom we have few records of their prophecies but who we know were very important, like Hulda. Hulda, who is mentioned in 2 Kings 22:14 (and in the repetition of the story in 2 Chronicles 34:22), was ‘The prophet of choice’ of King Josia. Given that Josia was an exemplary ‘believer king’, if he chose Hulda from all the famous prophets of the time, including Jeremiah, she must have been a VERY important channel of God’s messages. Yet when you ask people: ‘Do you know who Hulda was?’, most people will say: ‘Who?’
A funny aside, and nice reversal of today’s stereotypical roles, is that Hulda’s husband – whose name was Shallum – was the keeper of the court’s wardrobe. Today we may find more women with large wardrobes and husband who think they are prophets but in their case he kept the clothes while she kept God’s words.

Last, but not least, in the Bible we not only have men and women who prophesied, but also animals who were channels of the Divine message – such as the ‘Ass who knew better’.

After the Exodus out of slavery in Egypt, before the Israelites were about to enter the holy land, they were in the Jordanian wilderness (where modern Jordan is today). The local king, Balak, was worried about their intentions vis-à-vis his land and in order to ensure that they would not harm him, he hired a soothsayer/prophet to curse them.

The soothsayer, who was a ‘known’ prophet in the land, was Balaam. A few times he tried to earn his living by cursing the Israelites, as he was commissioned to do, but whenever he opened his mouth only praise came out (Numbers 22) – a good lesson to all would-be and want-to-be prophets not to go against God’s words! When it happened once, he thought that his ‘mouth’ may have made a mistake and he tried again. Even when repeatedly what came out of his mouth were songs of praise to the Israelites, he still didn’t get it. He decided to try one last time to ‘prophesy’ – this time from another locality (maybe he thought that the ‘reception’ was bad where he stood before). So he got on his ass and rode to another place. God, who was amazed at how ‘thick’ Balaam was, decided to show his stupidity to the world. On the trip an angel appeared to the ass and spoke to the animal. Balaam, who failed to see the angel, reprimanded the ass for disobeying him, at which point the ass opened her mouth and to Balaam’s shame delivered God’s words.

What can we learn from these few examples? That God selects messengers and channels of communication as God sees befitting. So next time we sing: ‘make me a channel…’ we should sing it with all our hearts, and our whole soul and all our might because you never know who God might choose to pass on God’s message on earth, or what form it might take.