The Prophets and Warrior Righteousness as Precursors to the Kingly Messiah
The Jewish Messiah is a king in the line of David, chosen by God and specially empowered by the Spirit, to take on the impossible task of redemption for the entire world process. Whilst Christian tradition has tried to attribute to the Messiah priestly attributes, as well as prophetic attributes, it is clear that for the ancient Jews the Messiah was a king, but ‘king’ means something in Judaism closer to what ‘chief’ means in Shamanism: the central lodge pole of the tipi, against which all the other poles lean. The king is the ‘heart’ of the people, and this heart reveals, and represents, the heart of God. Moreover, only the king straddles the whole world, with its existential arena and contentions of history, whilst the priest occupies the sacred space of the temple where people unite in ceremonies, and the prophet occupies the wilderness where God, and the spirits, are directly encountered, by the person who can be alone.
David, as a king, is an extraordinarily human person. He was a great warrior, lover, poet, betrayer of his best friend [to steal the man’s wife], and creator of songs to God of extraordinary depth. In him, uprightness of heart is complicated by heart depth: this complication is crucial to how Righteousness shades into Redemption; this is why David is the ancestor of the Messiah. David is not a man of stiff rectitude nor self-righteousness; he is aware of his many flaws, and he openly acknowledges them, and repents of them. This too is key to paving the way for the Messianic dynamic that has to seize all of history, all of society, all of ‘this world’– or fail.
The Messianic king has powerful precursors. First the prophets, who speak of both Righteousness and Redemption; second, the entire warrior tradition that upholds Righteousness, not just as a personal integrity, but as the very key to justice for the community of all persons. Obviously, however, a real warrior is not a soldier, nor is he a thug.
It is worth looking at these two allies of the Messianic King more closely, to reach a better understanding of the Messianic calling of the Jewish religion, a calling never really fulfilled by the Jews. It is also doubtful it was taken up by Christians, though this should have been their task.
[I] Enter The Dragon– The Prophets Come
The prophets of Yahweh are adapted from the Seer and the Ecstatic, which are in reality the two sides of the Shaman. The line between the Jewish prophets and Shamanism is hidden, but direct. In a Greek setting, we might call the Seer Appoline and the Ecstatic Dionysic. This is not the point. In the religion of the Jews, these two ancient persons of Spirit, at odds with priests, advisors to kings and warriors, and closer to the ordinary lay people, become vehicles of the Daemonic God. They become ‘all fire.’ They speak and act ‘in the Spirit’, and their task is to reveal Yahweh, this mysterious God, and school the Jews so they can bear and endure the Daemonic, coming step by step, or stage by stage, to the uncovering of Yahweh as the Fire of Love. A fire seeking material which it can take hold of, and on which it can burn; a fire warm and all consuming. What St Dionysus says about this Fire of God is incantatory:
“Fire is in all things, is spread everywhere, pervades all things without intermingling with them, shining by its very nature and yet hidden, and manifesting its presence only when it can find material on which to work, violent and invisible, having absolute rule over all things.. It comprehends, but remains incomprehensible, never in need, mysteriously increasing itself and showing forth its majesty according to the nature of the substance receiving it, powerful and mighty and invisibly present in all things.”
A statement of Christ preserved in Eastern Orthodox Tradition says, “He who is near me is near the fire.”
The Jewish prophets are the Daemonic dragon, breathing the fire breathed into them.
Later the Seer and the Ecstatic become one person, but early on, they are distinct.
Seer in Hebrew is ‘Hoze’ [or Ro’e], and a paradigm example is Samuel. The story recounted in I Samuel, 9-10, tells how Saul is looking for his father’s donkeys who have run away. After days of searching, he comes to Ramah, and his servant tells him there is ‘a man of God’ there, and so they go to see this person of ‘good repute.’ They catch Samuel on his way to a high place where there is going to be a sacrifice which the most prominent persons in the locale will be attending. Samuel is called a Seer, and is running the event, to which he invites Saul and the servant. It turns out that the Seer has been in communication with Yahweh the day before, and thus without hesitation he tells the visitors that their animals have been found. After the sacrificial meal, at which the Seer’s guests are given special honour, Saul and the servant are invited to Samuel’s home. The next day he accompanies them out of the town, and anoints Saul as the next king of Israel. He says three signs will occur, to confirm the veracity of his statement regarding the kingdom. This all happens as Samuel says it will.
This story illustrates the nature of the Seer. He can hear and see things others do not, which come directly from God. To some extent, the ability is under his own control, since he can be asked questions, and get answers, as the need arises. The Seer is master of his own powers and can work to order. His task is to describe events, past, present, future, hidden from ordinary sight and hearing. He has a second sensing, or spiritual sensing, denied to most people. His channel of communication is sufficiently pure, and clear, that it can tune in to what God wants people to pick up on in the world. It might be argued that the Seer reveals a hidden stream flowing through the world’s events that allows them to be seen or heard with God’s eyes or ears. The Seer allows humans access to the unseen dimension of history where God is at work. Without the Seer, Sacred History – or the real story of the world as God and humanity are co-creating it — would disappear, and the follies, errors, crimes, of humanity would render history into the ‘nightmare from which we cannot wake up’, as James Joyce put it.
Unlike the Shamanic visionary rooted mainly in nature’s sacredness, and conveying it to people who seek instruction or healing from its source of power, the Jewish Seer is God’s eyes and ears on history, and as such, he is also the oracular teller of the true story, existential and spiritual, of the journey and battle of the world that ‘makes history.’ Samuel knows who the real king of Israel is, for example, thus he knows the story that serves righteousness, and is redemptive. The Seer does not necessarily comprehend the full breadth and depth of what God sees and hears on the ground in history, to keep it on track. There is an implicit dimension to the story telling of the Seer; what is conscious to God, but beyond humanity at a certain time and certain place, becomes the unconscious of the vision. There is often, in all prophecies that tell the story of God and humanity’s struggle for the world in history a part that can be understood, at that point, and a bigger part which cannot yet be understood because it speaks to a future not imaginable or conceivable. Prophetic revelation thus always contains more explicit and more implicit elements; it has a conscious and an unconscious.
The ability to know where lost things have got to is Shamanic, as well as Jewish; another illustration of the links between Jewish prophet and Indigenous shaman.
Priests were not able to access the kind of knowledge given by Yahweh which the Seer shares with people. For this reason, the Seer is held in high respect. He has a certain authority among the town grandees, and does not answer to them, but is free to do as he chooses. Samuel is treated as weighty, in favour with God and in honour with people.
This picture changes when we come to the other kind of prophet.
Ecstatic in Hebrew is ‘nabi’, and the plural is ‘nebi’im.’ The ecstasy referred to seems virtually the same as going into trance; there is often some kind of attack of bodily contortions, crazy leaping, or other manifestations that were rhythmical and dance-like. The state of ecstasy was akin to wild dancing. Inarticulate cries were sometimes uttered, and the face was so changed, the Ecstatic ‘became another man.’ Another factor is that the Ecstatic was insensible to pain.
Ecstatics often travelled in bands, and were very gregarious. This was partly because the ecstatic state was infectious. After leaving Samuel, Saul meets a company of nebi’im and falls into an ecstasy as well, and henceforth he is subject to these violent seizures for the rest of his life. Saul’s first battle is conducted in an ecstasy, because ‘the breath of God rushed upon him’ [I Samuel, 11, 6]. This is similar to Viking berserkers, who fought savagely in trance. Many hyper skilled activities, indeed so advanced and gifted that they are impossible in any ordinary state of mind, are conducted in the ecstatic, or trance, state.
There is a hint that the restless distress Saul suffered from in later years, and could only be calmed by David’s music, was an ecstasy become frenzied, or somehow unhinged [I Samuel, 18, 10]. Does this suggest it is harder to root the ecstatic state in the divine than is the case for the visionary state? Does Yahweh prefer the Apolline to the Dionysic? Or is the fine line distinguishing divine madness and human psychosis easier to discern in calmness and seeing than in excitement and action? In his later years, Saul engaged in wild actions that today would be considered insane, such as stripping off all his clothes and lying naked for twenty four hours [I Samuel, 19, 24]. But maybe Saul, as a king, was not meant to be an Ecstatic. His story could be advising us that not everyone who can ‘let go’ and get into a condition akin to mania is really called by God to serve his purpose. Perhaps both the true Seer and the true Ecstatic have to be called to their prophetic role, and also have to do the homework, the difficult work on ‘what has been spoiled’ in oneself, to make them ready for it. Having a few visions or having a few fits do not qualify you as a prophet.
The Ecstatic was likely to be regarded a maniacal lunatic, while the schitzoid detached mind could more easily get away with seeming to be a Seer. Each gift of divine madness has its shadow of human psychosis, but in the former case this is more obvious, whilst in the latter case this is more obscured.
The ecstasy was usually spontaneous, but as in the Shamanic inducement of trance, could also be brought on by music, and drumming. Fixing the gaze on a particular object, and not wavering from the intense staring, was also a trigger.
Yet there is something openly, and nakedly, a little crazy about the Ecstatic even when serving God. An aura of the disreputable, the anarchic, the wild, the drunken, clung to these persons. Though popular with poor people, they were not welcome to the ‘upholders of decorum.’ Saul was looked at askance by ‘decent society’ for associating with these persons who were regarded as almost like wild animals. You could picture them as Shamanic shape shifters, possessed by the old animal spirits, or they have an ethos of the holy fools who tell uncomfortable truths to the high and mighty, or the sacred clowns who perform obscene gestures at the most sacred rituals; there is something of the wild desert dweller about them, the people living at the ‘margins’ where human moral and rational organisation breaks down, and a wilderness populated by untameable spiritual forces begins. The ikons of John the Baptist, and Ezekiel, showing fierce men with long, unchecked, dishevelled hair, tattered and torn robes, burning eyes and unadorned faces, are echoes of the early nebi’im.
The Ecstatic therefore becomes a vehicle of Yahweh in several main respects. Their lack of human restraint, predictability, orderliness, is a state of abandonment to God; their wildness reflects the wildness of God. They were relied upon yet feared, because they are naked to God, with ‘no frills’, and therefore God ‘rushes’ through them, like a living breath of wind, and they pass that on directly to people. It was not the Seer, with the second sight and the second hearing, but the Ecstatic, who was the most direct mouthpiece of God.
But this has a more intense extension. The Ecstatic is also not only in-rushed by the breath of God, but also burns with the fire of God. This is more than knowledge, and becomes the love which can ignite even seemingly burnt out wood, or dead stone. If you were next to the burning of a nabi, then you got singed with the burning of God, and that told you how on fire with God’s love, and the love of God, you actually were or were not. It is much more uncomfortable to ask if you are on fire ‘with’ God than to ask for knowledge ‘from’ God: you can receive the latter, be grateful and venerate it, yet still go back to your old life as it was, but if you are burned by the fire burning in the nabi, then it will flame up in you, and then your old life is over and you are launched into a life ‘consumed’ by God.
Whereas the Seer conveyed divine knowledge otherwise inaccessible, the Ecstatic’s energy conveyed the presence of the divine, coming through with power, and seizing those near the Ecstatic by virtue of seizing him. He is affected by God, wholly, unreservedly, without escape, and thus get near him and let him affect you and you may very well be affected by God in the same passionate way. The nebi’im are the first ‘passion bearers’, the first ‘Spirit bearers.’ The Ecstatic warms you as the Seer cannot, but for this to happen, you have to be willing not only to feel the fire of God, but also to be kindled by its flames.
This also means that the Ecstatic does more than convey a message; even their wild gestures have a symbolic significance in revealing God’s will for the world of human inter-actions, happenings, events. The Ecstatic conveys a God of energy, of spirit, of movement, of action. He warns people not to take the communications of God only in their head, or merely verbally, as formulae to be held on to like coins safely tucked away in our pocket, but to realise that God is igniting the human heart as the engine of action in and commitment to the world. Indeed, God is changing the human material, cold and dead and static, by sparking it and transforming its very substance. Holiness enters us violently, because we are so resistant to it, yet the heart is able to burn with the fire of Spirit once it gets going.
This new heart and new life, new heart and new spirit, is what the prophets of Yahweh are ultimately conveying to the Jews. The Ecstatic, though often disrespected, and avoided in ‘polite company’, is in a sense the corrective of the Seer. God’s revelation to humanity is not a mere set of verbal messages, just a set of teachings, just a set of instructions; God’s revelation to humanity is– Fire, and that we can actually burn with this Fire. The Fire is love, and thus its ‘sufferings and raptures’ are a result of its concern with the world that needs it.
The Fire seeks the heart because every heart must burn so that the world can be sparked.
The Ecstatic seems not to have existed in Babylon, or in Arabia, though the modern Sufi whirling dervishes constitute a gentler version of it. Moreover, the Ecstatic seems not characteristic of the religion of the Jews in the nomadic period. Ecstasy in religion seems originally to have been confined to Asia Minor and Palestine, from where it spread to Greece. Plato’s ‘Divine Madness’ is Asiatic.
Something significant happened in the early monarchal period, once the Jews are settled and oriented to living by agriculture. The early contrast between the Seer and Ecstatic disappeared, and this occurred because the Seer left the scene, or rather seems to have been absorbed entirely into the Ecstatic. The second sight and second hearing became a usual part of the nabi’s possession by the breath and fire of God. This evolved Ecstatic is the ancestor of all the prophets, particularly the most fiery ones.
In this convergence, message and fire, Word and Spirit, are united. God delivers new insights and understandings, yet these are only alive to you if you read them as on fire.
Fundamentalists and rationalists have this strongly in common: both grab at the Logos, but exclude the Spirit, and hence the ‘message’ they are left with is puny, devoid of meaning, surface. You cannot reduce revelation to God ‘speaking’; the revelation burns as it speaks. If you fix on the speaking, you lose the burning, and so the word deprived of any spirit is all you are left with in your grasping little palm.
The Ecstatic–Seer converging as the foundation of Jewish prophecy, with the Ecstatic assimilating the Seer, means that the craziness of the nebi’im plays a vital part in the prophetic voice and deed, for it implies that human structure has to be reversed, or overturned, to let in God. ‘My Ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts.’ This is not the gap supposedly separating God and humanity, but the disturbing reality that what is up to us is down to God, and so on. Much that we value is trash to God, and much that is trash to us is valued by God. God’s big is small to us, our big is small to God. The wildness of the Ecstatic insinuates an atmosphere of paradox, of having to be turned upside down and inside out, to get close to God and become enflamed by God.
It is at the very point in time when the dangers of the settled way of life start to creep in that the Ecstatic rises up by the power of Yahweh, to stop the rot, by bringing not just the heat of the desert, but the existentially ‘moving’ fire of God, to the Jews.
This inaugurates a new phase in the religion of the Jews. Getting softened up by commerce, trade, and the precursors of capitalism, is suddenly challenged by the most fiery prophecy.
The Ecstatic came to be recognised by the Jews as a human being in whom God dwelt, and through whom God spoke life, action, spirit.
The prophet was a ‘man of God’, and it was in his burning, not merely in his message, that he could show to the Jews what God was like. A God of love, a God of Righteousness, a God of Redemption, and finally, a Suffering God: a God suffering for love of humanity.
The nabi, and all the nebi’im, for all their craziness in terms of the standards of worldliness — safe from and secured against God — were special persons who ‘stood for God’ in some radical way. They were enthusiasts for Yahweh, and gave up everything to surrender to Yahweh; they followed no human authority, in order to follow God’s will.
These wild persons were naked before God and naked before the rest of humanity. No pretence, no barriers, no walls, between you and the truth which is not a verbal procession ’round and about’ God, but ‘is’ God.
These persons of wild abandon fought for Yahweh, against false idols, false gods, false answers, false solutions. They opposed anything that came between the ‘all or nothing’ relationship between Yahweh and his people, his world, his story.
The prophet knew that all people, all the world, all the story, is ‘his’, belongs to Yahweh, so that only Yahweh is the ultimate hope.
You might on a sunny day think the gods and goddesses of fertility can ‘take care of business’, but on the day of trouble, you will discover who your real friends are, and on that day, you will need the Daemonic God in your corner. No other divinity will turn up in the extreme place of trouble. This is when you will know Yahweh is your God because he loves you, and will go to any lengths for you. All the others, human and divine, bail out before that point is reached.
The nabi was ‘Yahweh’s own’ in a fundamental, extreme sense, and it fell to him to insist to all the Jews that they were Yahweh’s own as well.
Only later would they learn that those who are Yahweh’s are called to give most to those who are not Yahweh’s. This is the supreme fire, the fire to come. Its first ecstatic music is sounded at the end of the Exile, as the Messianic Spirit dawns.
[II] The Pre-Exilic Prophets– Righteousness
The hallmark of the distinctively Jewish nabi was that he had ceased to operate in a group of the nebi’im, but stood alone, and as such, could speak out even if at odds with them. The Jewish nabi becomes a lone wolf. Micah would seem to be the first Jewish prophet to operate independently of the other prophetic persons widespread at that time [I Kings, 22, 5-28]. His story is instructive.
The two kings, Ahab and Jehoshaphat of Judah, want to make war against Damascus. The crowd of local prophets claim that they have been granted a vision of coming Jewish victory. The king of Judah has a funny inkling, and asks if there is any other prophet he can consult. He is told there is one, but his utterances are never what people want to hear.. None the less Micah is summoned, and his first reply to Ahab agrees with the other oracular persons. A victory is guaranteed. But Ahab senses this is not serious, and requires him to tell the truth. Micah then conveys an experience in which he had seen Israel scattered like sheep without a shepherd. This could mean that Ahab was going to be defeated and killed. Micah further shocks the assembly by recounting his vision in full. He had seen Yahweh surrounded by attendant spirits, asking them who would go to enter the mouth of the prophets of Ahab, and by giving him a false promise, lure the king to his doom.
This story shows that Yahweh will sometimes use the prophetic spirit to deceive ‘influential’ people to their ruin. But this is not capricious. It is clear that Yahweh, God of Armies, does not support Ahab’s motives for a war of conquest, and glory; war that does not serve justice, and hence has about it no grounding in Righteousness, is repudiated by the Daemonic God. The true fight is nothing like the nasty spats, and vicious hostilities, that humans routinely indulge in; nor is it anything to do with the use of force by one nation to dominate, and steal from, another [as modern Israel is guilty of in regard to Palestine]. An arrogant lack of moral shame for misusing warfare as bullying ‘power over the other’ always accompanies the wars that are invalid in Yahweh’s eyes, heaping on them a double transgression: you do ill, and then you lie about it, to yourself as well as other people.
The Daemonic God fights, and is a warrior, but the gap between true warriorhood and thuggish soldiering is vast. It is the former that Yahweh will support, but the latter receives his anger.
The warrior spirit is rooted in ‘anger for truth’; thus, coming from motives such as hatred of rivals, egoic ambition, lust for power, which justify imposing the will of a nation, or a person, on another nation, or another person, is a betrayal of warriorhood, and hence has nothing to do with Righteousness.
Isaiah, further down the road, has a vision in the temple of Yahweh with attending spirits who are ‘winged serpents of blazing fire’; these are ‘dragon’ beings who manifest the Daemonic God. The attempt to pervert the fighting spirit of the Daemonic for one’s own small ends, however grand they may seem, is ‘playing with fire’ indeed.
Another vital theme of this first run in with a Jewish prophet is Yahweh’s harsh treatment of the big people with power and money.
These leaders come in for severe handling, because by their leadership and example, Righteousness stands or falls. The leaders who betray Yahweh betray his purpose for the people, and the world. They block the forward thrust of what Yahweh is doing in time, on the ground, historically and existentially. This is a very foolish stance for any human being to take up, and high status will be no shield against Yahweh who is ‘no respecter of persons.’ Consistently down the centuries Yahweh shows more sympathy, and forbearance, toward ordinary people than for those ruling over them by virtue of political status and financial clout. The ‘top dogs’ who wield much authority and are privileged by having much money are in the firing line. ‘Wickedness in high places’, as St Paul echoes the Jewish prophets, is the worst evil in the world, and far more of a problem than the sins which might be termed everyday. To those who are given more, from them more is required. To have advantage in this world, and use it for selfish benefit rather than as a means to serve one’s brothers and sisters, is asking for trouble with the Daemonic God. The poor come in for special compassion, and are a constant rebuke to the pretensions of the high and mighty.
Micah’s story is also warning that there are true prophets and false prophets. You can have prophetic gifts, yet somehow abuse them, to mislead those gullible enough to follow you. The ‘discernment of spirits’ is necessary, right at the beginning of ‘spirit possession.’ The purification, or cleansing, of the human vehicle of spiritual seeing and spiritual trance is necessary. Not everything that glitters is gold. A prophetic gift not offered to God, and shaped by God, can ‘voice’ false spirits, or unconscious forces, and not be recognised as such.
Today there is a lot of this non-discrimination. The visionary and ecstatic state has been cheapened.
Distinguishing true from false prophecy is no easy matter. Even Jeremiah is regarded a ‘madman’ by some of his contemporaries [Jeremiah, 29, 26]. Maybe like art, only time tells what is great and what is merely a temporary splash in the river of time. It is also probably the case that in any era where the people as a whole have little experience of the Spirit, they cannot judge the matter, whilst in an era where the people’s relationship to Spirit is stronger, they can judge the matter. In short, maybe you need a good audience not only to arouse, but also be able to evaluate, a good singer.
The people have a responsibility toward their prophets, not just vice versa.
Another feature of prophecy, as it gets going among the Jews, is that the only authority a prophet can fully accept is that which came to him through ecstatic experience. Neither the opinion of others, nor his own opinion, counted; and no worldly station, religious or secular, cowed him. The implication is that to try to impress your views on other people without divine inspiration behind it is presumption.
It is not hard to see why the prophet was a champion to the ordinary people who were under the heel of worldly station, religious and secular, all their lives. The prophetic voice was invariably nothing short of treason to those with vested interests who did not want the boat to be rocked. Only the respect in which the ‘divine ecstasy’ of the prophet was universally held saved many of them from being put to death [Jeremiah, 38, 1-13], though of course prophets were often heaped with opprobrium by the ‘great and good’ of their day. No one is so anti-authoritarian, and so little pressured by worldly status, as the prophet.
It is no wonder that the priests who think of themselves as necessary intercessors with an arbitrary divinity resented the unmediated ‘hotline’ the prophets have to God, for this undermines the priest’s hierarchic power by rejecting the claim that only priestly mediation can connect people to God. With the prophet around, the priest loses power, and returns to the humbler role of running the ceremonies people attend, pastorally caring for them in their day to day existence, interpreting the scriptures, preserving the traditions.. This is basically a sacramental role, without any suggestion of the priest having to ‘stand between’ God and the people. Rather, the priest is chosen by the people, and thus ‘stands in’ for them, indeed ‘stands as’ them, in the inner sanctum, offering their soul, and life, including the soul, and life, of everything created which they handle in the everyday, ‘back’ to God, for God to cleanse, sanctify, bless. This is ‘making sacred’; the divine rests on, indwells, and regenerates, people and ordinary existence. This Mystery works via the soul, and is incarnational in impetus and meaning; it enters the soul but passes into the body. The sacraments are ways God comes down to us in our embodied and enworlded situation, to renew our old sick ways of deadness into new healed ways of aliveness, and at the key moment in the ceremony, the priest must stand back, and acknowledge that it is the spiritual power of God, and God alone, who accepts the offering and transforms it. The priest is not a conduit, not a bridge, not a necessary link without which the people have no access to divine power. As their focus, indeed as their ‘elder’, he simply leads them in making the offering that calls down divine renewal. The offering is made by everyone gathered together and by everything gathered in, and the change of their gift into a healing balm, or healing food, comes to them all no different, and comes to them precisely in their ‘unity within diversity.’ This is like a conductor leading an orchestra which is playing the music. The priest facilitates this coming together of all people and all things to give their core self up to transformation by the Sacred, but the power of the Sacred does not flow ‘through’ him. By contrast, the prophet does have a direct line to God, and thus encourages people to trust their own personal experience of God– provided they accept the rigours involved in that. The Jews had spiritual leaders, guides, sages, but ‘intercession’ is a pagan idea rooted in superstitious fear of a dangerous divinity you could neither trust nor love, but needed a virtually magically skilled priest to cajole.
Equally, kings who betrayed their calling to serve and die for the people also resented prophets. King Jehoiakim killed the prophet Uriah [Jeremiah, 26, 23] and this event probably expresses how many kings whom Yahweh pronounced unjust and unrighteous must have felt about many prophets. Even Saul, originally appointed by the prophet Samuel, goes badly off the rails in later life, perhaps because his attitude to ecstasy is wrong; it may be he dabbles with it, not realising the cleansing and purification it requires. Or, it may be he loses his bearings in regard to the calling of kingship. Whatever happened to Saul, his leadership of the people became increasingly imperilled, and his ecstasies degenerated into states of psychotic mania. Something in his relationship to the ecstatic state is badly amiss, which is why he goes to the witch of Endor, and de facto betrays the prophetic meaning of the ecstasy entered by Yahweh. Doubtless this witch is the proponent of the old Middle Eastern Great Mother religion promoting mother-son incest; for a king, not only a prophet, this is a huge regressive step.
Though prophets could foretell the future, their real calling was to understand the mysterious and unknown God in his dealings with his people and the whole world. What was he doing? What was he doing with the Jews? What was he doing with the wider world beyond them? Why had he called the Jews out from the world? Why was he later calling the Jews to return to the world? What was Israel’s mission in that world?
The prophet was, like the God who inspired him, a reader of human hearts. He was the earliest psychologist and therapist, seeing and understanding the conflicts and twists, the struggles and distortions, raging in every human heart. The Buddha also saw this heart ground with clarity, but the Jewish prophet’s concern was more existential, less ontological. Like Buddha, he taught people that there is a karma governing their deeds– there is a connection between motive and action, and there is a cause and effect link between true actions and their consequences, just as there is such an unbreakable link between false actions and their consequences. If you act from good motives, the consequences of this will be good, for you and others, but if you act from bad motives, the consequences of this will be bad, for you and others. Indeed, from a more subtle spiritual perspective, crime and its penalty are not two things, with an accidental link, but one and the same thing: the crime you do that harms others harms you, whether you get away with it or not. The same is true for goodness and its felicity: the goodness you pour out to others pours back into you, whether you get thanked or not.
Unlike Buddha, the Jewish prophet pushed the need for differentiation of the heart’s motives and actions, and their outcomes, in a direction that emphasised the differing impacts a true heart or a false heart has upon the destiny of the world. This is not morality as a discipline which curbs me, so I can get into a better state of being; this is not morality as the social glue holding people together. It is a call to arms for the sake of the world.
Righteousness is twofold, in having an outer and an inner that cannot be divided: it fights against everybody and everything pushing the world toward the ruin of its possibility, and it struggles for a heart ground, and heart standing, in the truth only known to the heart. Righteousness is given over to the truth of the world and the truth of the heart, in their binding together.
Righteousness, both outwardly and inwardly, is the fight for nobility. As the expression of the warrior spirit, its more subtle meaning is ‘chivalry.’ It is a greater protecting and serving a lesser, not a greater exploiting a lesser. This is why the strong abusing the weak is ignoble, and condemned by Yahweh in every form in which it rears its ugly head, from the abandonment of the poor, to the cheating of a worker out of his wages, to the neglect of the widow and the orphan, and the suspicion toward the stranger. The greater does not pridefully ‘condescend’ to the lesser, as Nietzsche misunderstood it, but offers a genuine hand to them, and uses its strength to rouse the weak to courage, effort, and risk, so that they can become stronger.
Righteousness is the service by the heart towards the world that needs its sacrifice. Nobility is expressed in chivalry, bravery and generosity, and a self-control that knows the difference between bigness and smallness of heart, eschewing the latter to free the former. Such is the warrior spirit that Yahweh respects, and is commended by the prophets to the Jewish people.
The Righteous person is a ‘stand up’ heart, a pillar of fire, for the protection of the world. Righteousness is a warrior ‘standing’ in a human heart usually flat on its back, and unable to stand up or step up.
Equally crucial to conveying the meaning of Righteousness is understanding it is neither harsh nor lax on heart failings. It is realistic, not idealistic or romantic; its realism can be compassionate and merciful toward the heart even as it is uncompromising and urges the heart not to give in or give up. This realism is kind to our failings along the way, but it exhorts us not to abandon the hard road for the easy road which takes short cuts and evades everything difficult within and without, so that the heart slides down a slippery slope into a weakness so toxic, it cannot make any steps uphill.
Acknowledging one’s failings of heart to God is part of the warrior way, as is being sorry for them. Thus sincerity, honesty, truth in the inward parts, are all crucial to Righteousness.
The false version is called ‘Self Righteousness’, and this is what every kind of fundamentalism is gripped by without knowing that is so. Self Righteousness is rooted in a false, and non-prophetic, teaching about ‘individual rectitude’ that has been pursued in Western Christian, and Protestant, tradition, but has no basis in the Jewish existential and historical understanding that binds person and community, indeed person and world.
 Individual rectitude is always harsh and judgemental toward the sin of the other person, because it has no inner honesty about its own sin. This is clear-cut in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector, where the former brags about his virtue to God and sneers at the vice of the latter, whilst the latter makes no judgement on anyone but himself, admitting his meanness and cheating to God with tears of genuine sorrow.
 Individual rectitude is always exclusionary, its mantra is ‘I’m saved, and you’re damned’, because it feels relieved from its own unacknowledged guilt when condemning the other person. This is clear-cut in the story of the woman taken in adultery and about to be stoned by a morally outraged mob. Yeshua stops them in their tracks with ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’
Both these features signify the heart is not in the truth of Yahweh: a heart that becomes judgemental and exclusionary, moralistic and divisive, condemning and deciding who is in and who is out, is lying to Yahweh, itself, others, about its own non standing. There is no humility in this stance, no repentance; such is the conservative, the authoritarian, the fundamentalist. It is but a short step from this fundamental error to falling into the hands of Satan the Accuser.
The modern liberal has fled from Righteousness, the modern conservative has tried to appropriate it for evil ends, and thus has falsified it.
The prophet could see where failures of heart would lead, for all involved, not just the single person. Every deed affects everything and everyone. If you see this ripple effect clearly, it is not so surprising that you can see where things will lead, and are very aware of how ‘it will end in tears’ when people act from what the Lakota call ‘a bad heart.’
Yet this is not like the unconditional laws of science, which relentlessly tick over. Prophecy is conditional, in that it says, ‘if you go down this road, there will be those consequences, but if you have a genuine change of heart, and go down a different road, there can be different consequences.’ It is not fixed. This is the Semitic heart, not the Greek ‘kardiza’ which is the ‘centre’ of our being. The only point of that Greek metaphor is that it reminds us that ‘everything passes through the heart’, so the heart is central, the engine, of everything. But the Arabic metaphor is more in terms of which the heart can always ‘turn over a new leaf.’ The heart can change. This is also why it is stupid to be judgemental, or exclusive, about the heart; you cannot fix it in anything static, it is always on the move, and even when humanly stuck, divine help can get it moving again– and no human can say when the divine will or won’t intervene, because no human owns God, or has God’s Spirit in their back pocket to dish out only where and when they see fit. Fundamentalists blaspheme, in talking as if they ‘know’ God, have God pinned down and boxed in, just because they have misread some mere words of Scripture. No one knows what God is doing, and God does what he wants, with no apologies to humans who are surprised, or upset, because they were idiotic enough to believe they had God figured out. God constantly pulls the rug out from under the Jews, and wrong foots them, to keep them humble, and respectful of God’s mysteriousness and unknowability.
A friend= “..the work of Rene Girard shows how the Jewish people are brought through the history of their relationship with God to an ever deeper understanding of the true nature of God.. It is a process, and in the course of this process much that is old and false must be discarded, even though it is enshrined in the earlier sacred texts.”
The prophets did not engage in philosophy, including metaphysical philosophy, like the Greeks. Nor did they have theology, mystical [like Eastern Christianity] or rationalistic [like Western Christianity]. They had yokes, too many for any poor human flesh to bear and to endure, as Deuteronomy makes only too evident, but even this has a special meaning. These are not yokes of asceticism, spiritual yogas, nor are they yokes of ethics, moral directives, though they can accrue those rationales along the way. Really, they are signs of loyalty to Yahweh, irrational commitments to an irrational God. They also were necessary in historical context, because early on the Jews were practising a mixed religion with many Canaanite — Phoenician and Babylonian — features mixed in with the features genuine to Yahweh. This mixture was tolerated by Yahweh over a very long span of time, from the very beginnings down to the time of Moses and beyond. The plethora of ‘observances’ with which a Jew is burdened constitutes a way of gradually putting clear blue water between the practices of the Baals and the practices of Yahweh. Quite late the prophets still say to Israel, ‘you use the name of Yahweh only, because you worship him as you would a Baal.’ Neglecting Yahweh’s Righteousness is a major sign of this confusion of wheat and tares.
Neither philosopher nor theologian, the Jewish prophet was a psychological reader of God’s heart in dynamic inter-action with the human heart, and the human heart in dynamic inter-action with the world. He revealed how this contention of divine and human hearts was fated to be crucial to the destiny of the contention in the world. The Jews had to be reconciled to God’s heart, his intent, will, and passion, to become an instrument of his heart in the world. The Jewish prophet is a ‘heart man’ — not a soul man, not a mind man — and his task is to reveal the heart of God, the heart of humanity, the heart of the world, in their dramatic, agonised and anguished, tragic, and yet finally redemptive, three cornered inter-relation.
Yahweh is ‘I’– ‘I am that I am’, or ‘He who is.’ His personhood rests on nothing, and needs no grounding. Yet this personal God ‘has a heart’, and is passionate. The prophet’s calling is to participate in, understanding it as it is forged, the story of God’s heart and passion intersecting our heart and passion in the world where our doings are decisive to what the world becomes.
A psychological reader of ‘the heart of every matter’, in its bearing on the embodied, concrete, changing, landscape of the here and now but moving from the past into the future– such is the prophet. The prophet has no interest in Platonic theoria, but is closer to Aristotelian praxis.
God is Personal. God is Love. God is Spirit. These announcements are prophetic revelation. The prophet asks, who is God? What is the ‘character’ of God? This identity and character is not revealed to us abstractly, in some overview that hardly touches our living fibre, but merely strokes and tantalises the mind; no, it is revealed to us dynamically, as the moving force that has violently seized, and will not release, our dynamic.
Such is the Daemonic God.
He is not the God of philosophers, he is not the God of theologians. He is the breaking and remaking of the heart that returns us to the world, to fight for Righteousness.
He is the truth of all the agony and ecstasy, sorrow and hope, that afflicts the heart.
Throw away Yahweh and you throw away the heartache and restoration of the heart. Throw away Yahweh and you throw away the conundrum of our existence in this world, so vulnerable and so powerful in its affectedness.
The prophet’s message, whatever its past rooting and future flowering, is addressed to the particular and couched in the circumstances at play there. Though imaginary idols cannot take the place of Yahweh’s personalness, love, and spirit, the language of prophecy is radically metaphorical, symbolic, and analogical. The Psalms of David are songs, and many prophetic utterances are in ancient literary forms that are like poetry. There is thus much beauty, mystery, paradox, hidden meaning, subtle resonances, in the prophetic declarations. They are not simplistic commands of the nature ‘do this, don’t do that.’ They are not computer print outs where everything has to be clearly defined, and nothing is left implicit. They are not explanations. They operate on several levels at once, historical, symbolic, existential, spiritual. Mainly they are stories. The prophets tell stories about deep things that cannot be voiced in any other way. They deal not in words, but in the music behind words.
Revelation affects the heart, moving it to tears, shaking its timbers and very foundation. The prophet can ‘ponder’ in the heart, but is not very reflective, nor speculative, in a Greek sense. The aim is to hit a nail on the head, and so once this is done, there is no logical elaborating, no logical argumentation, no logical analysis. The target is hit, job done, you move on. Your responsibility is to use poetry to get the arrow that hit your heart to hit the heart of the people. You cannot do more. You are not trying to prove, to demonstrate, to tie up in a package, yet you are trying to communicate by passing on an influence that hit you so that it hits the people. If they cry and laugh, if they rip off their clothes, if they are silenced, they ‘got’ it. But once the event of communication is over, you do not go away and write its content down. If others want to record it, so be it. You agree with Heraclitus, who was more Asian than Greek, that the spoken logos has a father, while the written logos is — unless a poet’s care is taken — without a father.
Truth is inductive, proceeding from the specific to the common, but not vice versa. Truth is emergent, over time. Truth is hard won, by the heart and its passion.
Righteousness is the first coming of truth, and as such, is an unfolding reality, locked into unfolding historical clashes and crises. Righteousness is not, however, the end of the story, but is only the means of getting there. A lot turns on this ‘only.’
Amos has been called a ‘reformer’, and this is so, to put it mildly. At his time, the north is more ‘civilised’ but still a Canaanite and Jewish mix, whilst the hot desert breath still sweeps through the pastoral south and east. The representative of this purer and simpler religion in the early days was Elijah [850 B.C.], who thundered against the ongoing worship of the Baals, as well as conveying Yahweh’s insistence upon Righteousness. Though none of Elijah’s contemporaries seems to have listened to him, his stand arguably is crucial in paving the way for Amos, who pushes the theme of Righteousness with fervour and vehemence. Amos came from the hills of the far south, and had never been exposed to the temptations of luxury and comfort that gripped the northern kingdom of Samaria, vitiating the land owner and town dweller.
Amos had lived in Nature, and so confronts the artificiality of the city with fresh eyes, not prepared to become complicit with its compromises, and penetrating below the surface. The society in which Amos found himself at Bethel was rotten, and he confronted this head on.
Though the north was growing rich on trade, this brought no relief to the poor, or the lower classes more generally. As usual, there was no ‘trickle down’ effect. Merchandise from Africa and Asia was flowing through Israel, and Israel was growing fat on taxing it; in this climate there began to flourish some evil plants: making money for its own sake and the profession of money lending both sprouted up. Avarice, greed, possessiveness, were on the rise. In earlier times, the possessor of money would never have profited from his neighbour’s misfortunes, but this restraint no longer held, and thus the small farmer who failed to redeem his mortgage lost his land, and became a serf allowed to cultivate it by the new owner, paying a large part of the produce as rent. Land grabbing of this kind is strenuously denounced by Amos, and Isaiah. Amos is particularly scathing about taking the best part of the land’s crops as payment for rent [Amos, 5, 11]. As happens today all over the West, and America is the paradigm, the wealthy have the legal machinery on their side. Thus starts the corruption of justice by ‘valid authority’, which is no more and no less than the instrument of the rich. This is the crime against Righteousness that Yahweh hits hard, again and again, through Amos. Particularly hit is the venality of the judge who renders injustice ‘respectable.’ The legality that sanctions injustice is far from Righteousness, indeed is its main enemy. Amos is no friend of big money, nor of the rulers and judges who are in its pocket, doing its bidding, however much the laws and rules allow them to do so. These seemingly ‘good and decent’ persons in legal authority are the prototypical example of the ‘whited sepulchres’ whom Christ denounced. In Yahweh’s eyes, they are criminals, and evil doers, though they regard themselves as the best, the most successful, the winners, islands of probity in a sea of inferior people who are the worst, the losers.
Hand in hand with the oppression of the poor by the powerful and wealthy went the shallowness of their ‘life style.’ Selfish and shameless women, ostentatious decoration of homes, jingoism and nationalistic conceit — rally round the flag extreme patriotism, judging one’s own country as superior to others — are all blasted. By implication, military adventures rooted in blind patriotism are to be rejected. ‘My country right or wrong’ is incompatible with Righteousness.
Some of the fiercest condemnation that Amos delivers hot from Yahweh is directed at the religious worship which continues in the face of all these injustices, exerting no challenge to them. At one point Yahweh declares that the whole of Jewish worship displeases him. Amos, 5, 21-24= “I hate and despise your feast days, and the incense of your solemn assemblies stinks in my nostrils. Though you offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take away from me the noise of your songs; for I will not hear the melody of your music. But let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Prayer, from the individual or from the congregation in the temple, that ignores and by implication condones a corrupt and tyrannical social structure is repudiated by Yahweh. Such human praying is not from the heart, and it does not touch God’s heart; on the contrary, it adds to Yahweh’s anger. People need to stop using the sacred temple, or the ascetic desert, as a shelter where they can escape from ‘social sin’; instead, they need to rise up and confront it, and overturn it.
Abraham Heschel= “A mighty stream, expressive of the vehemence of a never ending, urging, fighting movement, as if obstacles had to be washed away for justice to be done.. Justice is not a mere norm, but a fighting challenge, a restless drive” [pp 271-272, ‘The Prophets’]. “..what is required is a power that will strike and change, heal and restore, like a mighty stream bringing life to the parched land. ..righteousness is God’s power in the world, a torrent, an impetuous drive, full of grandeur and majesty. The surge is choked, the sweep is blocked. Yet the mighty stream will break all dikes” [p 272]. “God’s concern for justice grows out of his compassion for man. The prophets do not speak of a divine relationship to an ..absolute idea.. called justice. They are intoxicated with the awareness of God’s relationship to his people and to all [humanity]” [p 276]. “Justice is not important for its own sake.. For justice is not an abstraction, an invariant principle. ..Justice exists in relation to a person and is something done by a person. An act of injustice is condemned, not because the law is broken, but because a person has been hurt.. ‘You will not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will hear their cry.. If he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate’ [Exodus, 22, 22-23; 27].”
In America, as elsewhere in the Western capitalist world that so closely resembles the northern kingdom of Israel, an Amos would be considered not only a rebel, un-American, unpatriotic, but probably a terrorist as well. A modern Amos would be behind bars, or in the cemetery, in America. The insistence on communal fairness, in terms of financial dealings, would no doubt earn Amos the title of ‘socialist, communist, Marxist’ and similar nonsense.
As Micah will later say, burning with revolutionary ardour, in regard to Judah, the iniquitous rich must be overthrown for justice to be done.
As God’s mouthpiece, the more subtle attack that comes through Amos, which links all the political, financial, legal, social, failings he audaciously targeted, is that people are putting outer masks of rightness over inner iniquity. In short, what things seem to be — fine and dandy — hides what they really are. Things are bad, but they are presented as if they were good. Outer show, without inner substance, is the norm, so it must be all right to go along with it. America is tyrannical and corrupt, a very model of injustice, in reality– yet the image everyone pays homage to has America as the world’s last hope, the light on the hill, the comfort of the poor and oppressed. America is the world’s chief impediment to justice, there is a darkness in America beneath the surface that is tangible and weird, America spits on her poor and subjugates her oppressed. The ‘land of the free and home of the brave’ is a place of rampant conformity, and jittery nervousness. Sitting Bull said, ‘Americans are great liars.’ What would Amos make of a country that has genocidally murdered 12 million native inhabitants declaring itself a beacon to other nations?
A whole people lying to themselves about what they are up to, a corrosive social hypocrisy, and revisionist history, is what Amos, the warrior prophet of Yahweh, is attacking. Modern Israel, no less than ancient Israel, is in this exact position, as are so many ‘advanced’ countries. It is worse to say you are good and continue under that cloak to do evil; better to just admit you are a bully and a cheat, and get on with it.
In a nation such as Amos decries, nothing gets through to the conscience. No honest critic can get a hearing. Yahweh’s passion for Righteousness is disregarded, and religion as a personal and spiritual relationship with the Holiness of God is lost.
The sin within, and the crime without, were hardly connected, nor were the disasters befalling Israel recognised as a consequence of the nation’s sickness of spirit. Worse, Amos implied, was a kind of resulting spiritual starvation, by the atrophy of the people’s spiritual faculty.
Nor was Amos demanding a return to an earlier nomadic and pastoral way of life that had passed, but he was arguing that Yahweh be involved in farming and trade. Yahweh had made the whole universe, the earth and the sky were alike the outcomes of his creativity, and all human history was his concern. He was not interested only in Israel, but also in other peoples and nations as well [Amos, 3, 2]. Yahweh upheld criteria of common humanity for all the different tribes of people. His special relationship to Israel meant not the right to do wrong, but the responsibility to do right. It was Israel which had to adapt to the universal humanness, not Yahweh who must be pre-occupied with the material advantage of Israel. If the Jews failed in this, then they would lose their only rationale for existing, and far from protecting them, Yahweh would himself destroy Israel.
In Amos it becomes clear that Israel has a mission to all the world, as the bearer of Yahweh’s passion for Righteousness. Amos therefore is telling the Jews that they must embody this Righteousness in all walks of life, religious, political, social, financial– or perish. In the absence of a change of heart, and reform of the entire community, the earth’s forces would be marshalled by Yahweh to lay waste to Israel. Foreign enemies, and captivity, would complete the ruin of Israel.
The Day of Yahweh would reveal the God of Righteousness, not necessarily the God of Israel. Amos saw no hope for Israel, as the chance for reform was ignored. After Amos, things went from bad to worse.
But a time comes when Righteousness is complicated by Redemption.
This is poetically and mysteriously laid out by the unknown prophet in the Book of Isaiah, operating at the time of the Jewish Exile in Babylon, in the 4 ‘Slave Songs of Yahweh.’ In these strange oracles, the Messianic King is Reversed, Inverted, like the Sacred Clown or Holy Fool, or Hanged Man. He is abased, rejected, spat on; he is made to suffer for all the people, to redeem them. The Righteousness that stands for Truth also Sacrifices itself for Love. Thus in the Messianic King, truth and love are reconciled.
To rule, the king must serve.
To complete his mission to the afflicted, he must be afflicted with what afflicts them.
The Upright is undergirded and undermined by Depth.
This is a strange story: introducing into the old story of the fight for history, a new and unexpected wildcard in the deck.
The Sword and the Cross– the necessary contradiction, of fighting for the people and dying for the people.
The calling of the ‘royal heart and its bloody passion’ to the protection, and redeeming, of the entire world.