The Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians typically call the “Old Testament” or the “First Testament”) give us accounts of the writings, speeches and actions of the prophets. Most people misinterpret what prophecy was. Seldom did it involve foretelling the future. The prophets spoke to the present. Their words were highly contextual messages from God to his people, especially to those in power. The prophets railed against corruption and the exploitation of the weak. They demanded that the powerful use their power for the poor and oppressed. And they emphasized that if you didn’t care for the most vulnerable among you, you had no right to consider yourself a follower of God.
The prophets were routinely ignored or scorned or persecuted. Speaking truth to power is seldom rewarded.
Of course, not everyone who called himself a prophet was the real deal. Kings and rulers liked to select “holy men” as part of their court to give them credibility. The “court prophets” would tell the king what he wanted to hear. They would also assure the people that what the king said was blessed by God. So when the king spoke, his religious minions would assure everyone that, regardless of what seemed right and regardless of what the law of the Lord taught them, the King was to be honored and obeyed. The rules didn’t really apply to him. He had an understanding about governing that superseded the wisdom of the masses. Trust us prophets when we tell you that you can trust the king.
The true prophets started with justice and confronted the rulers, no matter the cost. One of the clearest examples was when Nathan stuck his finger in the face of King David—the most popular and powerful king in all of Israel’s history—and said, “You’re the man” who committed grave sin against the weak. (It took great courage because David had already evidenced that he was willing to kill in order to cover up his crime.)
The court prophets didn’t start with justice and confront the king. They started with the king and twisted justice to fit his agenda. I’m sure they fared better than those armed with truth.
Little has changed. Rulers and would-be rulers always want us to believe that God is on their side. And since our politicians are not theologians, they need court prophets to bless their actions before the masses.
The court prophets were on display this week in Cleveland. They didn’t start with God’s justice for the weak and oppressed, demanding that Donald Trump and his party implement that kind of justice. They started with the goal of electing a Republican. Then they did theological somersaults to make it work for themselves and their followers. Supreme Court appointments. Protection of religious rights. Defeating Hillary Clinton. These and other rationale were used to describe the would-be king as a man chosen by God, when common sense and a simple reading of the New Testament shows that Donald Trump has stood for nothing that reflects the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Trump loves the evangelicals. But, of course, the evangelicals of today’s America have lost the meaning of the evangel. The evangel—the good news—becomes pretty bad news when the court prophets distort it for the king.