As we move closer to the return of Israel’s Messiah, our planet is beginning to show signs of stress (Isa.25). Yeshua prophesied that local and global wars, earthquakes and roaring of the waves would be another sign indicating His soon return (Matt.25:6-8; Luke 24:25-28). The recent events in New Orleans and the GulfCoast have shaken everyone whose heart is still able to feel pain (see Matt.24:12).
What is the role of the prophetic in such heart-breaking circumstances? When apocalyptic scenarios become last night’s television news, how can a word from the God of Jacob equip, encourage and edify the Body of Messiah? Does God anything to do with catastrophes that shake the earth? To be more direct, does God have something to say about the catastrophes that are now shaking the earth, and which will soon increase in intensity and severity? At the heart of the matter is the question: does God want to communicate and is He really communicating what He is doing on the earth today to men and women touched by the spirit of prophecy?
These questions are very important. We are thankful that there is opportunity to consider them, as well as opportunity to help bring a measure of balance and clarity regarding the ministry of the prophetic – for all believers in general, and to believers who love Israel and honor her calling and destiny in particular.
Offending the mind, revealing the heart
“God offends the mind to reveal the heart,” says Mike Bickle, director of International House of Prayer in Kansas City. Simeon, a righteous and aged Jewish man, took the baby Yeshua in his arms and prophesied, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed – to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). God brings events into our own lives and into the life of the world which offend our minds. Natural catastrophes are definitely one of those events. One of the side-effects of those catastrophes is to reveal the thoughts of our hearts.
The Apostle Paul agrees, adding that one of the purposes of the prophetic is to reveal the secrets of men’s hearts, and sometimes even to reveal those secrets publicly. He explains that if, when believers are gathered, “all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, his is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed. And so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (1 Cor.14:24-25).
Though it sometimes brings glory to God for Him to conceal a matter (see Prov.25:2), there are many other times when He delights in revealing His will and His purpose: “Hear the word that YHVH has spoken… O sons of Israel … Surely YHVH the Lord does nothing unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets. A lion has roared; who will not fear? YHVH the Lord has spoken; who will not prophesy?” (Amos 3:1, 7-8).
One of the core values of the prophetic is to communicate the heart of God to a people who are thirsty and hungry. “Behold, the days are coming, declares YHVH God, when I will send a famine on the land. Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of YHVH. People will stagger from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east. They will go to and fro to seek the word of YHVH – but they will not find it!” (Amos 8:11-12).
Now more than ever it is imperative that the word of God be heard. But it will not be heard unless it is boldly preached. “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things’” (Rom.10:14-15).
Why catastrophic judgments?
God does not wish “for anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet.3:9). Yet natural catastrophes cause people to perish. Why then does God allow or even catalyze such judgments?
When God shines His light on darkness, a power encounter erupts between two kingdoms. The end result is clear: Light triumphs over darkness. “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overwhelm it” (John 1:5). Note that John is using ‘battle terminology,’ words of warfare. When darkness in a society takes hold and rises to a certain level, God has often brought the ‘severe mercy’ of natural catastrophes or other judgments to bear. His judgments are a response to evil. They are catalyzed by evil. His judgments also expose evil and destroy evil. The clearest example of such a judgment on an international scale is Noah, who alone escaped the Flood, along with his immediate family.
Yet it is painfully true that innocent bystanders are sometimes caught in the crossfire when such a ‘battle royal’ breaks out. When God judged the nation of Judah, people like Jeremiah and Daniel suffered persecution, imprisonment and exile. Army people use the impersonal military term ‘collateral damage’ in such cases. The sad truth is that when a nation is judged, innocent people often suffer. We will look at one biblical aspect of this dynamic later.
Part of the prophetic calling of all believers is ‘to let our little light shine,’ to expose darkness by shining what light we have on localized sources of darkness. Of course, that little light is none other than Yeshua, the Light of the World who dwells within us (see John 9:5; Matt.5:14). “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them . . . All things become visible when they are exposed by the light…” (Eph.5:11,13).
One judgment, two different responses
Not everyone wants to have ‘that little light’ shining on him. One of the reasons Ahab King of Israel did not want to inquire of YHVH through the prophet Micaiah ben Imlah was because the prophet “does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil” (1 Kings 22:8). Ahab tried to explain away what the prophet was saying by turning the tables on him – suggesting that Micaiah had both a bad attitude and a judgmental spirit. Rather than Ahab humbly accepting that his own sins had brought judgment down, Ahab tried to charge the prophet with presumption, and accused him of not speaking from God but rather from malice. The rest of the chapter plays out the sad ending of this dramatic event.
Actually, the Scriptures do not blush when describing the judgments of God. The Bible also notes that very few people are going to learn what God wants to communicate through His judgments. Over 2,700 years ago the prophet Isaiah explained, “When the earth experiences Your judgments, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness” (Isa.26:9b). Natural catastrophes are meant to draw men’s attention to consider what is on God’s mind and heart. Some men and women hear His voice roaring ‘out of the storm’ and above its din: “Then YHVH answered Job out of the storm and said, ‘Now gird up your loins like a man. I will ask you and you will instruct Me. Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? Or do you have an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like His?”(Job 40:6-9)
Isaiah continues his message in the next verse, adding that the wicked just don’t get it. They do not see the hand of God in His judgments. Though the power and kingliness of the God of Israel is revealed through natural disasters, the wicked man refuses both to recognize God’s hand of judgment and to turn toward the Light. “Though the wicked is shown favor, he does not learn righteousness. He deals unjustly in the land of uprightness and does not perceive the majesty of YHVH” (Isa. 26:10).
History reveals that this pattern is part of God’s dealings with mankind. The Lord reveals His mighty arm and His holy nature through catastrophic judgments. This offends the minds of mankind and reveals the thoughts of everyone’s hearts. In the end most people don’t understand what God is doing. But those who do understand are described as men and women who are learning God’s lessons about righteousness.
It is worth meditating on these matters in the light of John 16:8, where Yeshua describes the ministry of the Holy Spirit: “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” The whole world is indeed sinful and in need of redemption. The whole world also stands under God’s judgment. But repentance is the key which is “knockin’ on heaven’s door” and it will open up the floodgates of rescue and safety.
Faulty Towers and Unrepentant Hearts
Throughout the ages Jewish prophets echoed certain themes, including the guilt of the Israel and the world, and the need of personal repentance. When Messiah Yeshua taught in Jerusalem, He also reiterated the same point. “Do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5).
Yeshua was not saying that no one was allowed to know why the tower fell. Nor was He saying that the 18 men killed in its collapse were guiltless. He Himself ended His teaching with a prophetic and time-sensitive warning of soon-coming judgment to the entire Jewish nation (Luke 13:6-9).
Yeshua stated that there was plenty of guilt to go around – the 18 were guilty, but so were the majority of Jerusalem’s inhabitants. Yeshua linked the tower’s casualties with judgment on sin. And He did not consider such a link simplistic or primitive, for He was speaking in the name of His omniscient Father, the God of glory whose voice thunders over the many waters (see Psa.29:3-4). The main point of Yeshua’s teaching was an exhortation to His listeners not to think that they were more righteous than those being judged. As Paul said, “For all have sinned …” (Rom.3:23).
What Yeshua wanted His hearers to understand is that, even though catastrophic events are due to sin, they are meant to be a tool in God’s hands to shock all of us into repentance. If we do not recognize that God’s hand is somehow in the catastrophic event, we will not humble our hearts and soften our spirits before the God of Israel. We will not learn what He wants us to learn. We will not move into repentance. We will move against the prophetic spirit of God.
Judgment and the King
The connection between sin and judgment is part of a biblical worldview. The awareness that God will punish sins even in the ‘here and now’ is supposed to motivate us to bow low before His footstool in the fear of God (see Isa.11:1-5). But the Bible also teaches us that it is not always the individual who is directly in the crosshairs when God’s judgments roll like thunder across a nation. Sometimes God brings judgment on a people due to the sins of their leadership.
One such example is found in 2 Samuel 24 and I Chronicles 21. God was angry with Israel for some sins which are not directly described in context. He allowed Satan to influence David into taking a census. Even a rough and tumble soldier like Joab discerned that David’s census was contrary to God’s own heart. Perhaps this is connected to Deut.17:16-20 where the Davidic king is called to base his “State Department” policy on strict obedience to the covenants and not to lean on his own wisdom and power. Or perhaps it ties in with Deut.8:10-20, wherein Israel is warned against ‘trusting in chariots’ – depending on its own strength to save it, instead of following the promises and heeding the warnings of God’s covenants.
Since YHVH had given David much, He would now hold him responsible for much. God’s judgment on David would be most severe (see Rom.2:4-11; Amos 3:2; Isa.40:2). Through the words of the prophet Gad, God gave David three choices of judgment – three years of famine, three months of military invasion, or three days of plague. David chose the shortest possible judgment, declaring that it is better to fall directly into God’s hand of judgment than into that of Israel’s surrounding neighbors!
The prophesied plague sent from YHVH fell on Israel, and 70,000 men died within only a few days. This judgment was accepted by David as coming from the hand of the Lord. He humbled his heart. He did not reject the prophetic word. And he wept.
“Then David lifted up his eyes and saw the angel of YHVH standing between earth and heaven, with his drawn sword in his hand, stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces. David said to God, ‘Is it not I who commanded to count the people? Indeed, I am the one who has sinned and done very wickedly, but these sheep, what have they done? O YHVH my God, please let Your hand be against me and my father’s household, but not against Your people that they should be plagued’… Then David built an altar … and he called to YHVH, and He answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering. YHVH commanded the angel, and he put his sword back in its sheath” (1 Chron.21:16-17, 26-27).
The biblical principle here is that judgment on a nation can be due to the sins of the country’s leadership. This scenario actually happened with David, a man after God’s own heart, and with Israel, God’s chosen people. The principle was commemorated in the Bible, a record of God’s dealings for all time. Today the same dynamic may play itself out in your country, or in any country.
When God brings judgment on a nation for the sins of its leadership, our 21st century minds may get offended. Please don’t get offended! Press on through to the other side. The God of Jacob is testing our hearts and revealing our thoughts. He is calling us to repentance and to acknowledge our nation’s sin.
When any nation’s leadership actively campaigns and brings pressure to bear to shrink Israel’s borders, this is a national sin. These actions eventually bring national judgment (see Joel 3:1-2), and this sin requires national and identificational repentance.
When Israel sins before God, He may even reveal His displeasure by temporarily trimming away land from her (see Judges 2). Even so, the nations which threaten and pressure Israel into shrinking her own land borders will also be judged. When Israel gives in to such pressures, this is a sin on Israel’s part (see Isa.26:13). This sin requires Israel’s national and identificational repentance.
Do Not Prophesy at Bethel!
In the year 755 BC (approximately) a gentleman farmer from Tekoa in the Kingdom of Judah had a visitation from YHVH. He was told to cross the borders of his nation and to move into enemy territory, there to deliver a word of judgment to the King of the breakaway Kingdom of Israel – Jeroboam the Second.
Amos’ message of judgment upset the powers that be. Specifically it upset Amaziah the priest of Bethel. No wonder, for it was not the first time that a pesky Judean prophet had upset Bethel’s priests. In the year 930 BC Jeroboam the First, King of Israel had “made priests of all the high places from among all the people. Any who would, he ordained to be priests of the high places. This event became sin to the House of Jeroboam, even to blot it out and destroy it from off the face of the earth” (1 Kings 13:33-34). In I Kings 14 a nameless Judean prophet brought a prophecy of future judgment to Jeroboam the First. Now, 180 years later Amos (another prophet from Judah) was coming into hostile territory (to Bethel of Israel) with the same word of judgment, this time for Jeroboam the Second, King of Israel.
Amaziah the priest sent a message from Bethel (one of the centers of false worship) to King Jeroboam the Second, King of Israel who was probably at Samaria, his capital city. Amaziah complained that Amos was preaching judgment, that nobody in Israel wanted to hear what he was prophesying, and that Amos had no right to speak, since he was not from the Kingdom of Israel but from a foreign country – from Judah. He then barked out an order to Amos the Judean, “Go, you seer. Flee away to the land of Judah and there eat bread and there do your prophesying. But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence” (Amos 7:12-13).
Amos’ response was twofold. He answered with quiet sarcasm, saying that he actually was not a professional prophet nor in any way connected with the prophetic guilds, the schools of the prophets. His specialty, he explained, was harvesting figs and shepherding sheep. Nevertheless, God took Amos from following after the sheep (as He had done with David as well) and sent him with a prophetic word to the people of Israel in the Northern Kingdom.
Amos, Jonah and Joel are biblical examples of how God will sometimes cross national boundaries to bring a word of repentance, a warning of judgment or even a prophetic explanation of judgments in process. Sometimes God used Judeans to speak to Israelites, Israelites to speak to Assyrians, or even Messianic Jews to speak to Romans and Greeks. Jeremiah and Isaiah were used to prophesy to all the major superpowers of their time, as well as to all the surrounding hostile Arab nations. The moral of the story is, “When God wants to ‘prophesy in Bethel,’ better just let Him do it!”
When silence is dangerous
As the Jewish sometimes-prophet Bob Dylan has remarked in his remarkable voice, “The times, they are a’ changin’”. The God of the Old Testament is the God of storms and earthquakes (see Habakkuk 3). And His handiwork is beginning to show up as the lead story on the nightly news. The God of the Exodus is incrementally revealing His mighty arm at present. Part of the reason He is doing this is buried in the pages of the Hebrew Prophets. He is letting the superpowers of the world know that He is “exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and Zion” and that He is “very angry with the nations who are at ease; for while I was only a little angry (at Israel), they furthered the disaster” (Zech.1:14-15).
The God of Israel wants the superpowers of the world to have a revelatory experience – to experience that “he who touches (Israel) touches the apple of His eye” (Zech.2:8). YHVH wants the nations to know that any person or nation who says “It’s only Zion; no one cares for her!” (Jer.30:16-17) is in danger of having himself, his family and his own land plundered, devoured and exiled – curse for curse, just like the superpowers in times past (and present!) have allowed these things to happen (or even encouraged them) in regard to the Jewish people and their land.
As events barrel forward, God’s eyes are roaming to and fro throughout the earth, looking to strongly support those whose hearts are completely His (as King Asa said in 2 Chron.16:9). Now is the time to seek God’s face and to dedicate ourselves afresh for His service and His kingdom. Now is the time, as Isaiah says (see Isa.58:1), to cry out loudly and not hold back, raising our voices like a shofar and declaring to the House of Jacob (and to all the families of the earth) their sins.
Now is not the time to be afraid of what governments may say, or of what financial supporters of one’s ministry might say. Judgment is certainly not a nice or easy message to bring. But it is part of the whole counsel of God. And as we move into a season of God revealing His holy arm in the sight of all nations, we will need to be able ambassadors of Messiah, not hemming and hawing, not embarrassed or ashamed of what our Master is doing (see 2 Cor.5:20).
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:23-26).
“What is truth?” (Pontius Pilate in John 18:38)
Today there are bona fide believers who are certain that God either cannot or will not communicate directly with mankind. But as God’s voice begins to thunder out more loudly across the world, many of these dear men and women will soon realize that the God of the New Testament is also the God of the Old Testament and, to paraphrase Francis Schaeffer, this God “is here, and He is not silent,”.
But there is a cost to speaking truth. Pilate questioned Yeshua about truth one Friday morning and warned Him to be careful. But it was actually Pontius who would soon learn the cost of sidestepping the Truth. The truth costs, and standing for God is going to cost us. As God’s message gets better understood, many people will harden their heart to it as did Pharaoh. At that time it will cost people more to open their mouths and speak God’s heart. That cost may entail being sniped at from the world or even from fellow believers. It may result in imprisonment, torture or death. But assuredly, saints, these days are coming. At the same time remember – we will also stand before kings and rulers, proclaiming His heart with boldness and great courage! As the song says, “These are the days of Elijah!”
Now is the time to count the cost. Now is the time to get ready. Now is the time to commit ourselves to Micaiah’s declaration in 1 Kings 22:13-14: “Then the messenger who went to summon Micaiah spoke to him saying, ‘Behold now, the words of the prophets are uniformly favorable to the king. Please let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably. But Micaiah said, “As YHVH lives, what YHVH says to me, that I will speak.”
Jeremiah warns us, “If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in a land of peace, how will you manage in the jungle of the Jordan river?” (Jer.12:5). Now is time to gird up our loins and make ready.
The choice is now upon us: either be prophetic or be politically correct. Either fear God or fear man. Please God or please man. And be aware – the cost of gasoline is not the only thing that has recently gone up in price. The cost that believers will have to pay for friendship with the world has just now gone up as well (see James 4:4).
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As the world begins to shake, let us press into Him – to hear His heartbeat, and to get marching orders and clear prophetic direction for the challenges and battles that lie ahead.
In Messiah Yeshua, the Lord of Armies,
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