I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; (Lam. 3:1 ESV).
When God takes in hand to make a prophet from common clay, His first order of business is to make the man the message. God told Ezekiel, “I have made you a sign for the house of Israel”, not “Go hold up a sign to the house of Israel.” He first makes the man the message. God told Isaiah, “Tell Egypt and Cush that they will go naked and barefoot in a foreign land, and oh, by the way, Isaiah, you’re going to go naked, as well.”
When God gently and wonderfully stretches forth his fingers to the lips of a man, and puts His words in the mouth of the prophet, those words are to the prophet’s palate as sweet as honey. The prophet assumes from this experience that God’s intentions are for him to preach those wonderful words from the highest roof-tops, not pray them in the lowest pit. But, the process of assimilation, where the word goes down into the inward parts of the belly, where the man becomes the message, is a terribly bitter process. The words that were once as sweet as honey in the mouth, become as bitter as gall in the depths of the man, where the word becomes wordless groans of intercession, as deep calls to deep.
He bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow. He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver; He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood (Lam. 3:12, 13, 15 ESV).
The billows and waves of God’s bitter process overwhelm the man, as the word of the Lord transforms him from within, into the message, and when whelmed in the pain, weakness, confusion, and brokenness of those waves, the man finds no outlet, no receptive ear, no hungry longing in God’s people for a word that burns like a fire and that breaks the rock in pieces. The word that was once so sweet to the prophet’s palate, is now a bitter churning in the depths of his weak humanity, and he finds no joy in musing over the words that once brought such sweet pleasure. He grips his stomach, and rolls and writhes in pain and weakness while the word works in the secret place where Christ is enshrined – that place that is hidden from the eyes of all but God.
Paul said, “You all may prophecy.” However, not all who prophecy are prophets. There is a world of difference between the gift that edifies, exhorts, and comforts, and the word of the Lord that breaks the rock in pieces, confronts God’s people with a Holy God and their own sinful corruption, and turns men from their corrupt way, or mode of life, to His way. The prophet stands at the crossroads of men’s hearts and lives, and at the crossroads of human history, casting up a toll gate, pointing men to the ancient way, the costly way – the way of the cross.
A thousand how-to-self-help books litter the shelves of Christendom’s bookstore, and a thousand “prophets” lead God’s people astray with their lies and their lightness. The true prophet stands outside, as always. He slips from the isles of Super God Mart as he senses the Lord Jesus approaching His house, scourge in hand, to cleanse it of those who merchandize truth (“ministry”) and profit from party membership dues (“tithes”). He offends men by calling their god a golden calf, by calling their self-improvement Christianity a sham, and by treating as a profane thing, that which they call holy. Seven Mountain Mandates, Purpose Driven Lives and Churches, Wild Hearts, Shacks, and a thousand others… he mocks at their Baals, and rebuilds the altar of God, pointing men back to the cross, God’s only method and means. He stands at a crossroads that men don’t recognize that they must negotiate, and he points them to the ancient path and the narrow gate.
Like Bunyon’s character Christian, when the true prophet meets other pilgrims on the path, he is supremely interested in how they came to enter the path. Christian’s question was, “Why did you not enter at the Wicket-gate which is located at the beginning of this way?” What does it matter, as long as they are on the path? The true prophet understands that the nature of a gate is to latch securely closed, as well as to swing wide. That’s what makes it a gate and not a freeway. He has beheld the goodness and severity of Him who is the gate into the sheepfold, and his question is, “Did you enter by yonder Wicket-gate, or are you a thief and a robber (those who feel entitled to that which does not rightfully belong to them) who climbed up some other way?” The true prophet is very severe in his insistence upon a true conversion that saves form sin, rather than the false conversion of the wide gate and the broad way worn thin by the sin-enslaved masses.
I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long (Lam. 3:14 ESV).
I have often cringed at the sight of some poor soul wearing a silly suit, pointing passing motorists to the business establishment that employs them as a human sign. The whole thing strikes me as degrading, as the business sets a human being before the eyes of his or her community as nothing but an object, stripping them of their human dignity and individual identity, using them as a sign animated with human life, all to arrest human attention for the purpose of casting their gaze upon, and turning their thoughts to the business and the chicken, or pizza, or insurance, or tires that they sell. The employee surrenders his or her individual identity and dignity for the identity and success of the establishment. The same is true of the prophet. The prophet is made a spectacle before men and angels, as his individuality and his dignity are stripped before his community to point men to another. However, the single and striking difference is that this human sign represents and points men to Christ alone, and never to the establishment of “Christian Religion” or the merchandise that she peddles.
This is a bitter process for the man who has stood in God’s council and heard His words. This type of prophet sells no books or DVDs, for his life and his message cause men to recoil in horror from the means that God employs and promotes through his life experience. The cross is still an offence and foolishness to those masses thronging the isles of Super God Mart, so they naturally turn from his thoroughfare to the wide freeway of destruction, as they race to their end, following the flashy sports cars of false prophets who run, having never been sent of God, and who prophecy, having never heard God’s word, and who, in the end, will not profit God’s people at all. These blind leaders of the blind race headlong into a ditch wide and deep enough for the masses that follow.
This whole shameful degeneration, as the bad figs become completely rotten and useless, breaks the prophet’s heart, as he is allowed the great privilege of entering into Christ’s ministry of intercession for His people who love to be led by prophets who prophecy lies, and by shepherds who bear rule by their means.
The sweet words that the years and the dealings of God have turned bitter, deep within the bowels of the man-message, are now kindling for the fires of intercession that burn deep within Christ and within the man who is allowed to be one with Christ in His ministry of intercession. His bitterness has become his joy, as he finds deep calling to deep, and as he senses a power with God on behalf of men that preaching sweet words could never approach. His bitterness is turned to sweetness as he now speaks to God on behalf of men more than to men on behalf of God. This is the secret passion and pleasure of the true prophet.
Between the time the Lord called Isaiah a prophet and then actually sent him to speak, was perhaps sixteen years. I suspect this interim period was a baptism in the bitter process that all men or women of God must endure: that of God making the man the message. Ministry schools and seminaries put men in hoppers and crank out preachers, but all true ministers, or servants, or signs, as with Paul, Peter, Jeremiah, and other true messengers, go through the school of Christ where they learn Christ. They go from doing, to being, as the death of Christ works in them, so that life might work in others (the essence of true ministry). The true prophet eats the roll before he speaks, therefore, he becomes the message before he becomes a messenger. This is God’s way… the way of the prophet, as God makes the man the message – as God makes the man a sign.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust– there may yet be hope; (Lam. 3:21-29 ESV)