They Shall Know That There Has Been a Prophet Among Them

He said to me: “O mortal,” And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. He said to me, “Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.”

(Ezekiel 2:1-5, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

Many who heard George Fox preach in the early years of the Religious Society of Friends believed they had met the sort of prophet God called upon Ezekiel to become. William Penn, in his preface to Fox’s journal, described Fox as “a Man that God endued with a Clear and Won­derful Depth, a discerner of others Spirits, and very much a Master of his own.”

Although Fox’s words “might sound Uncouth and Unfashionable to Nice Ears,” Penn continued, “his matter was nevertheless very profound; and would not only bear to be often considered, but the more it was so, the more Weighty and Instructing it appeared.… And indeed it showed beyond all Contradiction that God sent him, that no Arts or Parts had a­ny share in his matter or manner of his Ministry; and that so many Great, Excellent and Necessary Truths as he came forth to Preach to Mankind, had therefore nothing of Man’s Wit or Wisdom to recommend them.”

TL;DR, as we say online: Fox didn’t sound smart or clever, but he did sound convincing—and divinely inspired. To fellow spiritual seekers in seventeenth-century England, Penn reported, he offered “sensible and Practical Truths, tend­ing to Conversion and Regeneration, and the setting up (of) the King­dom of God in the Hearts of Men.”

(For more on the power of Fox’s preaching, read Matt Rosen’s “When the Earth Shook” at Friends Journal.)

Image: George Fox preaching in Maryland (litho), public domain

Have you ever heard anyone like that giving ministry in your meeting?

I mean, not just sharing a lovely sentiment or a wish for this or that, but offering a ministry so profound it forced you to rethink aspects of your life up to that point and sent you out into the world resolving to live differently?

Or maybe it didn’t happen in a Quaker meetinghouse. I went to see the Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen speak at my college once—thirty years on, I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember his presence, a gentle and straightforward way of being in the world that has stayed with me long after the specific words of that evening. (And while those words might have faded, I’ve come back to Nouwen’s books again and again over the decades; the pattern and example of his love for others continues to serve as a model I struggle to emulate.)

Of course, prophetic speech can land the other way, too.

Luke tells us how Jesus went back to Nazareth to teach at the synagogue, where all his old neighbors “were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But then he told them he wouldn’t perform any of the miracles they’d been hearing so much about, and to make matters worse, he told them why. “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage,” Luke reports. “They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” (4:22, 28-29)

Earlier this spring, my meeting gathered to worship over business, and a discussion about whether we should make a donation to a Quaker school in Palestine became quite contentious. (Full disclosure: I had the leading to bring that proposed donation forward for discernment.) Finally, a Friend named John stood up and said, roughly, “I’ve been listening to your messages, and I’m hearing that clinging to wealth means more to this meeting than helping Quaker ministry in an oppressed community. I’m hearing that you care more about having electricity for an attic you don’t use than you do about Palestinian children. I can’t believe you call yourselves Quakers. I can’t even be in this meeting with you right now. I don’t know if I can be in this meeting at all.”

With that, John left the main room of the meetinghouse, and the meeting paused while a number of us followed to comfort him. However, as you might imagine, his impassioned speech failed to soften the hearts of those Friends who rejected the call to giving—if anything, having their Quakerhood called into question made their refusals all the more adamant once we settled back into worship.

By God, though, it gladdened me to hear his words. I didn’t care quite so much that he was supporting my leading—that felt good, but not as good as seeing someone in our meeting prioritizing spiritual concerns over material comfort, without compromise. I don’t know if I’ll ever convince those other Friends to loosen the meeting’s purse strings. Buoyed by John’s words, though, I’ll never stop trying.

Ron Hogan

Ron Hogan is the audience development specialist for Friends Publishing Corporation, and the author of Our Endless and Proper Work (Belt Publishing).

3 thoughts on “They Shall Know That There Has Been a Prophet Among Them

  1. Most people prefer donating to local needs, as well as natural disasters (man-made not as much), so we need to patiently teach discipleship to achieve a shared goal of donating 50% to greatest local unmet needs and 50% to greatest global unmet needs, let alone 100% to greatest global unmet needs.

    After three years of careful discernment (and mistakes), so far reached the following priorities for most effective charity, but would love to hear about other greater unmet needs.
    1) disciple training to multiply helpers and charity far more than any one person.
    2) expand patient listening of consensus/spiritual unity to equally share power, esp. in churches and governments.
    (consensus helps avoid divisive majority rules force and mistakes leading to endless conflicts)
    3) dependents (child/disabled/senior) without family basic needs in poorest nations (mostly Africa), esp. if minority/indigenous
    4) natural and man-made disasters.

    PS Enjoyed reading this great full article directly in email without going to website, unless use button for comments if feeling inspired!

    (Thanks, George! And thank you for the other bit of practical advice, which I’m going to share with my colleagues privately.—Ron)

  2. If one reads the full scripture in Luke 4:22-30, without skipping the verses in the middle, this account has a larger significance than just Jesus refusing to perform on demand for his hometown. Pointing out that Elijah and Elisha were not heard by the Israelites, but instead spread their blessing to people of the nations, was truly what the listeners objected to – the idea that Jesus, and the prophets before him, had come not only for the nation of Israel but for the entire world.
    The underlying message is the same, though. Jesus’ ministry set the example of being outrageously generous, whether earned or unearned. And, by quietly leaving the people of his hometown behind, He is letting the hearts of the people accuse or excuse themselves.

    (That’s a wonderful point, John—thank you for lifting it up!—Ron)

  3. When wondering where to give my limited funds, I was urged to “give locally.” But not long ago, I read an article (I cannot remember the author’s name) where he, too, said he had been urged to give locally. But as he pondered how and where he wanted to give (he had greater financial resources to share) he realized he was led to give WHERE IT WOULD DO THE MOST GOOD. I took this to heart and began to scrutinize how great was the good being done with the dollars I was giving. It led me to make some changes.

    I also think that when we live a life of privilege–for example, a life where we have electricity in a little-used attic–it behoves us to also scrutinize that privilege and how it has been won at the expense of other people and peoples around the world. Someone else said, “Life simply that others may simply live.” We should take that to heart.

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