What is Prophecy? and Singing
Psalm 63:1-8; Daniel 12:1-4; Revelation 3:1-6
What is a prophet? What is something if it is prophetic? What is prophesy (the noun)? What does it mean to prophesy (the verb)? More to the point today is Daniel being prophetic in today's reading? What about Revelation? There are many meanings attached to these words, and collectively, that builds up to what's called the semantic field of the words. Prophets are perceivers of the world who see the world as God sees the world. Prophets are critical of the world where it is not as God wants it. Prophets are a conduit of God's divine speech. Sometimes people attach the meaning of "predictive" to prophesy. Sometimes people prefer the meaning of "corrective" to prophesy. To confuse things further, there are words like "apocalyptic" (which means coded) and "eschatalogical" (which means concerning the end, or the end times).
Daniel, aside from the narrative parts that include yesterday's story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, has some of all of the above. Sometimes prophets seem crazy or at least mysterious to us because they are being obtuse, veiled, coded, or apocalyptic. Referring to Antiochus the IV as the "Abomination of Desolation" is such a move. You don't insult the emperor and live, so you frame your critical speech in apocalyptic metaphors. The beast with ten horns in Revelation is, too. The ten horns represent ten kings. If we think of this as predictive, then we look for kings that came after Revelation was written and maybe that haven't come yet, kings that may be eschatological and intended to predict the end times. If we look at Revelation as corrective, then we look for kings that had already come or were alive contemporary with the writing of Revelation.
I tend to look at predictive things in prophesy last. The writings were written for a purpose in their own time, and I try to understand that purpose first. Daniel and Revelation had messages to say to their first audience. I think there's a common theme here in the idea that empires and oppression seem big and beyond our control. An apocalyptic book might be coded to keep criticism of contemporary oppressors from taking offense, but it can't be too coded, because it has something to say to its audience. I think both of these book are speaking to people who have lost hope against the oppressors. So when I read these I try to find that message of hope.
Daniel gives hope that the people will be delivered. Daniel gives hope that we will be raised to eternal life. Daniel motivates people to be wise and bring many to righteousness in the face of difficult times, even in the face of increasing evil. Revelation urges us to be awake, to keep from being soiled, and holds out hope that we can walk with the Lord in robes of white. Revelation commends our name to God.
These positive messages are there in these difficult texts regardless of the context, regardless of what we think prophesy is or means. They are messages of comfort and encouragement to those who have to endure difficult times, whether those are then-times, end-times, or our-times.
I want to also lift up a thing in the Psalm that is much less heavy. We read this Psalm every week in the Service of Daily Prayer, but today I recognized this image for the first time. Psalm 68:7 says, "in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy." The image is a mother hen (or eagle) protecting her brood, her children, under her wings. We saw this in the Gospel of Luke recently when Jesus says he wants to gather and protect the children of Jerusalem like a mother hen. God's protection is certainly comforting, and I've seen this image before, but today I noticed the other part: "I will sing for joy." To my ear, sing is a bird verb. The children of this protective mother bird sing for joy because they also are birds. We are children of God, protected by God, and we sing God's praises,, we sing for joy because we are baby birds in this linne of the Psalm.