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Bible Study

When prophets are silent and faith a distortion: Andrew Pratt

Verse 1
Before the prophet speaks religious faith has degenerated, is distorted, from what it ought to be.

The situation confronting Amos provides an apt illustration of this:

  • Amos 2: 6 – 8

Amos preached during the period from 786 to 746 BCE but the problem he addressed is one which has followed humankind through history.

Second Isaiah (circa 586 BCE) recognised the need for a person who would change attitudes and restore faithfulness:

  • Isaiah 42:1 – 7

Notice that verse 1 and line 2 of the hymn directly quotes Isaiah 42: 3.

The servant in this passage has been variously interpreted as referring to a messianic figure, to the people of Israel as a whole or to Jesus. The restoration can be expressed in terms that seem to prefigure resurrection.

Verse 2 and line 1 of the hymn summarise the story found in Ezekiel.

  • Ezekiel 37: 1 – 14

Ezekiel wrote during the Babylonian exile after 586 BCE. The message is one of hope for the displaced people. The imagery is vivid. The bones of those who have died are exposed and dry. In spite of this God is depicted as being able to breathe life into them.

Verses 3 and 4

Applied to today all of this speaks of a change which is still needed, a shaking of foundations such as that envisaged by Paul Tillich. Such change does not gloss over injustice or oppression, and to address what is happening is painful. Paradoxically it is only through such pain, and even death, that appropriate change can take place.

The most powerful metaphor of this transformation is the death and resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection as recounted in the gospel of John indicates the reality of Jesus’ death underlined by Mary’s response. As recognition dawns Jesus affirms her but also sets her free from the necessity of clinging to him. It is life in the here and now which is to be important for her:

  • John 20: 1 – 17

Some questions:

In the light of all this, is the view of God which is portrayed in the readings and the hymn realistic for you?

How much is the change which Amos sought for dependent on a transcendent God and how much is it the people’s responsibility?

Look at a change which you recognise as being necessary in the world today. Is that change achievable by people and, if not, how do you envisage God making any difference to the situation?

Does God create? Does God raise from the dead? What evidence have you aside from the Bible?

Do we have any part to play in living out a resurrection faith? If so, what does this mean practically, aside from belief?

Useful further reading:

Paul Tillich Shaking the Foundations
Don Cupitt The Sea of Faith
Any of the work of Walter Brueggemann.

© 2000 Andrew Pratt. Copying facilities provided are limited to local use by owners of HymnQuest. Wider or commercial use needs negotiation with the copyright holder.

The copyright in this bible study vests in the author. Permission is given for them to be reproduced by HymnQuest purchasers for local use. Wider or commercial use requires their consent.

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