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namer98 Bookclub: The Prophets – Chapters 1-3

I mentioned here that I was going to start reading more Jewish books this year, and writing about it here. So I just finished the first three chapters of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Prophets. The first chapter was really the meat of the book so far, with the first several chapters discussing examples as the first chapter talks about them. So really, I just think for this post, I will share quotes I liked, in order of their appearance.

  • Chapter 1: What Manner of Man is the Prophet?
  1. “The thing that horrified the prophets are even now daily occurrences all over the world. There is no society to which Amos’s words (8:4-6) do not apply…. To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people: to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence: to us, an episode: to them, a catastrophe, a threat to the world”
  2. Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet’s words.
  3. Prophetic utterance is rarely cryptic, suspended between God and man, it is urging, alarming, forcing onward, as if the words gushed forth from the heart of God, seeking entrance to the heart and mind of man, carrying a summons as well as an involvement.
  4. We and the prophet have no language in common. To us the moral state of society, for all its stains and spots, seems fair and trim; to the prophet it is dreadful.
  5. Yet their concern is not with facts, but with the meaning of facts
  6. Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of the people. Few are guilt, but all are responsible.
  7. To the person endowed with prophetic sight, everyone else appears blind….the Prophet’s word is a scream in the night
  8. To be a prophet is both a distinction and an affliction
  9. The prophet is a lonely man. He alienates the wicked as well as the pious, the cynics as well as the believers, the priests and the princes, the judges and false prophets. But to be a prophet means to challenge and to defy and to cast out fear.
  10. There are no proofs for the existence of the God of Abraham. There are only witnesses. The greatness of the prophet lies not only in the ideas he expressed, but also in the moments he experienced. The prophet is a witness, and his words a testimony.
  11. But the prophet deals with relations between God and man, where contradiction is inevitable.
  12. A careful analysis however, compels us to reject the characterization of a prophetic inspiration as a mere act of passive and unconscious receptivity….The prophet is not a mouthpiece, but a person; not an instrument, but a partner, an associate of God
  13. Sympathy is the prophet’s answer to inspiration….the emotional experience of the prophet becomes the focal point for the prophet’s understanding of God.
  • Chapter 2: Amos
  1. Man is waiting for the day of sanctity to come to an end (shabbos) so that cheating and exploitation can be resumed.
  2. There is a living God who cares. Justice is more than an idea or a norm. Justice is a divine concern. What obtains between God and his people is not only a covenant of mutual obligations, but also a relationship of mutual concerns. The message of God is not an impersonal accusation, but the utterance of a Redeemer who is pained by the misdeeds, the thanklessness of those whom he has redeemed
  3. Indeed, what God demands of man is expressed not only in action, but also in terms of passion
  4. Harsh is God’s intolerance of injustice, but the gate of repentance remains opens….”The Lord Repented” (Amos 7:2-6) not because the people are innocent, but because they are small. His judgement is never final. There is always a dimension of God pervading affection where compassion prevails over justice, where mercy is a perpetual possibility.
  5. Israel has failed to seek Him, so He will go out to meet Israel
  6. This is the burden of a prophet; compassion for man and sympathy for God
  • Chapter 3: Hosea
  1. (regarding paganism) a God who in return for the blessings of fertility demanded the gifts of incense and the excitements of the flesh rather than a God who in return for all the blessings demanded righteousness and justice, love and mercy, faithfulness and attachment.
  2. Hosea never tries to plead for the people or to dwell upon the reason for the people’s alienation from God. He has only one perspective, the divine partner. As a result there is little understanding on his part for the weakness of man (my note: this is all about setting up Hosea as characteristically different from Amos who felt for the people)
  3. Is the covenant a tether, a chain, or is it a living intercourse?
  4. In contrast, the symbolic function of Hosea’s marriage would have been to re-enact the past. Yet the sins of the past were known. What purpose would be served by illustrating what was notorious? (Answer: The marriage is an act of sympathy)
  5. A more accurate translation (of Da’at) would be “Adam attached himself to Eve, his wife” (my note: he understood Chava, sympathized with her)
  6. To Amos, the principle sin is injustice, to Hosea, it is idolatry. Amos inveighs against evil deeds, Hosea attacks the absence of inwardness.

Heschel in the past few chapters is setting up sympathy as a major component. A vital relational piece of connecting, God to man, man to man, man to God. Not just understanding each other, but working with each other towards a better and complete society.

I will try to post something every few chapters, which I hope is 1-2 times a week. This is annoying to type up this way, but honestly digesting this takes so long, and I am not sure I can summarize this well. Maybe if I discussed every chapter as I did them, but I would spend so much time typing up posts that it would eat into reading time. But I do intend to keep doing something.

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