The U.S. elections this year feature lots of commentators with lots of opinions about who is right for America. Which “prophets” should we listen to? God knows.
[The prophet Elijah said,] “Therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” ~ 1 Kings 18:19
I am interested in politics, and so I follow the news carefully. However, I try to limit my listening to political commentators in the media. Today, you can find people of all political persuasions pushing out their opinions 24X7 on cable news, and on the Internet, as well as in newspapers and magazines. Most of these people pushing out commentary seem to be in it for the power and the influence that it provides themselves. It is a rare commentator who seems to be interested in really telling it “like it is.” Instead, they focus on telling it the way that profits them best.
This is not really so different from politics in biblical times. Today, we call them “pundits,” “commentators,” or, maybe, “talking heads,” but in biblical times, these sorts of people had a different name: “prophet.” We may think of biblical prophets as very pure and holy people with great insight into God’s plan for us. However, the truth is that such prophets were a minority even in biblical times. A prophet was usually someone who was directly or indirectly on the payroll of a king or other ruler. Basically, they were paid to say what the boss wanted to hear from their gods.
Are our pundits so different from “payroll prophets?”
Some prophets in biblical times developed followings of their own and became powerful in their own right. Mostly, though,, prophets were “yes-men,” who allowed their culture’s gods to affirm their leaders or their opponents. We can see this mix in today’s cable TV news world in the U.S. News show “anchors,” who are often also commentators, speak to a parade of guests. Sometimes the guests are experts in a topic, but very often they are speaking because of their political or business connections. Many of these commentators are also paid by a TV news service to speak on their broadcasts. Some work for non-profit political foundations, who pay them to develop research and opinion-making reports that support a particular political opinion.
In other words, most of the opinion-makers today are pretty much like the “payroll prophets” of the Bible. They may say that they’re not in it for themselves, but they are. We hear them in part because they keep ad-supported news media profitable. We get upset listening to what they say, and then, wham, next thing you know you’re watching a commercial about some drug to make you feel better. In biblical times, the payoff for payroll prophets was pretty much the same. Instead of buying stuff for themselves, they brought stuff to the temple of the local idol or god that would take away their fears, after having listened to their prophets.
Real prophets aren’t in it for power or money
Now and again, though, God would send real prophets into the world. It was pretty easy to tell who was more likely to be a real prophet. One, called Elijah, walked around in very simple clothes, and worked for no kings. He was from a remote place called Gilead, which in Hebrew means “eternal joy.” Elijah focused his whole life on God, and I would guess that it brought him eternal joy! When he talked to powerful kings and queens, often they didn’t like what he said, because he didn’t play favorites. But others loved Elijah, and followed in his footsteps to become prophets also.
We see in the Bible book of 1 Kings that eventually there was a huge showdown between Elijah and the corrupt rulers of Israel. King Ahab, and his foreign wife Jezebel, were both very nasty people. They were trying to round up and kill any prophets who embarrassed them or disagreed with them. Finally, Elijah had had enough of this, and challenged Ahab and Jezebel – your four hundred and fifty “payroll prophets” and their false gods against just Elijah and the God of creation. Elijah didn’t want to be proven “right” – he wanted people to know which God was worth listening to!
A bonfire showdown
In 1 Kings 18, we see the results of this showdown. Ahab and Jezebel’s “payroll prophets” try to get their gods to set fire to a huge pile of wood. Lots of words, but, sorry, no fire. It reminds me of when some of today’s “payroll prophets” will declare that an election victory for their master is inevitable – right up to the moment that they lose big! There was no chance for any of these prophets to win, because they weren’t doing God’s real work. They were in it for themselves.
Then came Elijah’s turn. He ups the ante, asking that his equally large pile of wood be doused in water several times. He calls upon the God of creation, and instantly the whole pile is ablaze! I assume that this was the presence of the Holy Spirit, as in the burning bush that appeared before Moses. The Holy Spirit was so intense that the wood itself caught fire, it seems! God came for God’s own sake, to let the people know that there was a real God, who could not be manipulated by any prophet’s chants or power plays.
Ready to turn off our own false prophets?
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions on politics, yet God doesn’t play politics. God wants us to become aware of just how powerful God really is, whatever happens in this world. God wants us to put aside our fears of lacking power and security that politicians manipulate to get our attention. Think of Elijah – in the middle of the most corrupt and frightening power plays of his time, he walks right up to the source of these evils, and asks for a showdown! This was a fearless man, but not a stupid man. He was at peace with the eternal joy that God had brought into his heart, and so he was in tune with what God was able to do. He tuned out fear, and he tuned in faith.
I am sure that the media will do its very best to stir us up this election season to lose faith in the true God’s power in our lives. We will be tempted to listen to the “payroll prophets” and to make false gods of quick fixes and power plays that do little to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. But for a change of pace, maybe turn them off – or at least mute them – and listen to the still, true, loving, and powerful voice that calls out to you from God. Maybe do that often – say, even more often than you pay attention to the false prophets. Maybe then, we’ll see some real fires of hope lit this election season – in your heart. I pray that this will be so!