Intriguingly enough, the sermon this past Sabbath was a spiritual Passover preparation message that discussed a great deal about the issue of confession. Somewhat independently, I have come across a great deal of people over the course of my life, especially in books, who have wanted to be prophets . Today I would like to discuss how these two seemingly unrelated matters are related. What is it about wanting to be a prophet that makes the issue of confession such an important one? In order to answer this question I would like to begin by taking a bit of a look at what contemporary writers and speakers mean when they wish to be a prophet, and what this tends to involve and how it tends to manifest itself in our world, and what hazards people face in trying to be prophets without first having paid the cost of confession for their own sins.
I am aware that this may seem like a lot to talk about in a brief fashion, but there are some patterns that make this easier to understand. When we look at prophets, we see a few qualities that they tend to share. For one, many self-appointed prophets have a desire to condemn the world around them or the institutions around them of sin, and taking the prophetic mantle gives them some legitimacy in their own eyes (and the eyes of those who support them) to do so authoritatively. There may be different types of sins that are discussed. Some would-be prophets focus on end-time prophetic geopolitics, other prophets focus on personal morality and especially sexual sins, and other wannabe prophets focus on social sins and questions of social justice. For the purposes of analysis, though, these differences (such as they are) pale in significance to the similarity that these are people who want to criticize and tear down the powers that be in the world today and who see their prophetic mantle as something that gives them the power to support alternative means of authority that give them a great deal of influence and that serve to their glory.
And it is here where we run into trouble. Those who are familiar with the history of prophecy in the Bible will know that it was not a popular task. The prophets of God did not, by and large, win glory. God called prophets (they did not appoint themselves, after all) in times of social upheaval where there were a great deal of personal and social sins committed and supported by a wide base of the people and their rulers and it was the job of prophets to bring them back into obedience to God through their divinely inspired appeals. Many prophets suffered a great deal for their efforts. Jonah had to preach to Israel’s enemies for a rare prophetic success that he did not want. Amos was thrown out of Israel for his unpatriotic message after having been called out of his service as a modest shepherd and tender of sycamore figs. Jeremiah faced imprisonment during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem and was dragged unwillingly to Egypt by later Judean leaders. Even those who were prophets to godly kings had to deliver unpopular messages. Nathan the prophet had to tell David of his sin with Bathsheba and Jehu the son of Hanani the seer had to tell Jehoshaphat about his alliances with the wicked Omride kings of Israel. Likewise, even godly self-appointed prophets like Urijah during the time of Jeremiah faced brutal deaths when speaking truth to power without divine sanction. So those who appoint themselves prophets in the contemporary world are unwise because those who need prophetic encouragement the most are the least likely to take it, and even godly prophets get little glory for their message.
There is another problem as well, though, that we need to examine. What is the motive behind people wanting to be a prophet? As we have said, a godly prophet is someone whom God calls to the office and not someone who appoints themselves to the office. To be a critically minded writer (such as myself), one needs only to turn on a computer and start a website and one can say what one will. If one has a big enough following and enough support, one can even earn a career of sort as a writer of books and articles about the sorts of evils that one wants to criticize in society. That does not make one a prophet, though, in the godly sense. A godly prophet shares the love of God for those whom he serves as a prophet, and that desire is not to destroy or punish the wicked but to convince them to repent and confess and acknowledge their sins and be restored to a loving relationship with the God who made them. This tenderness and concern for the well-being of even the wicked is distinctly lacking among those who appoint themselves as prophets, who take the prophetic mantle in order to condemn, who want to write and speak jeremiads but not be like Jeremiah. We may want to list our own grievances and condemn the obvious sins of those around us, but until we have confessed our own and struggled with our own fallen nature and our own humanity we will not be in the right place to look upon evildoers with the compassion that we need to genuinely serve God.
After all, the people whose sins threaten God’s judgment upon a nation are people like ourselves. The sins that lead to judgement are complicated in nature, and not everyone shares every sin. We may be able to see some sins more clearly than others and may condemn some harsher than others because such sins offend our own political worldview, and this bias may make us unsympathetic to those who sin in ways that offend us the most. It is hard enough to urge repentance on those with whom we do wish the best for and whose well-being we are deeply concerned about. When we add the barrier of contempt and disregard to the ordinary barriers faced by those who call upon others to repent we can expect that such people who serve as self-appointed prophets preaching messages of doom and gloom to those they hate and despise and whose they abhor without having examined their own attitudes will only get grief for themselves. Being self-appointed, they can expect for no glory or credit from God for having claimed an office that was not theirs to have, and not having repented and confessed their own sins before God and wrestled with their own compassion for (other) sinners, they can expect no favorable response from the sinners they excoriate. Let us learn from the examples we see so that we do not repeat them ourselves.
 See, for example: