The Latter Prophets

The literary prophets had a difficult and often unpopular mission.

Print this page Print this page

"And after all is said and done ... just words. But in those words, the invisible God, the Creator, the great mystery, becomes audible. The prophet helps us to hear, helps us to see. But it is up to us to believe and to think." (Harry Rasky, introduction to his film "Prophecy")

Sheldon H. Blank, therefore, considered that the word navi originally meant "one who has been divinely called," and that in this sense the word was older than the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible). Being called, the prophet spoke as a mouthpiece of God and announced, without further explanation, "Thus says God…"  In turn, the listeners understood that they were urged to lead a God‑pleasing life, though none of the prophets depicted this as an easy course to follow (Understanding the Prophets, p. 40).

Teachers, Not Philosophers

On the contrary, they painted reality with unvarnished colors. They spoke as teachers, not philosophers. Abraham Joshua Heschel put it this way:

"Instead of dealing with the timeless issues of being and becoming, of matter and form, of definitions and demonstrations, [the prophet] is thrown into orations about widows and orphans, about the corruption of judges and affairs of the market place. Instead of showing us a way through the elegant mansions of the mind, the prophets take us to the slums. The world is a proud place, full of beauty, but the prophets are scandalized and rave as if the whole world were a slum...Why such immoderate excitement? Why such intense indignation? The things that horrified the prophets are now daily occurrences all over the world…" (The Prophets, p. 3).

Because of this, the prophetic challenges remain relevant today. They apply to all human beings and to all societies, and with special urgency they address Jews, who are the inheritors of the Covenant, which demands devotion to God and Torah and carries its own rewards.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut

W. Gunther Plaut (1912-2012) was a leading figure in modern Reform Judaism. He was rabbi emeritus and senior scholar at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, Canada. Rabbi Plaut is the author of numerous books including The Torah: A Modern Commentary and The Haftarah Commentary.