Gathering manna vs. eating ‘prophetic’ crow

“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)

“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

With Joe Biden’s inauguration less than a week away, one by one, like soap bubbles on tepid bathwater, the prophecies of a second term for President Trump have popped and disappeared.

I saw two separate articles online today, one a Christian site and the other a daily newspaper, that described the wildly inaccurate and strange to the point of bizarre “prophetic words” of some charismatic Christians regarding the outcome of the election. I skimmed parts of both articles to get the gist but didn’t bother finishing them. This is definitely a “dog bites man” story, in my estimation.

I thought charismatic had gone the way of cassette tapes and floppy disks in favor of the milder, more palatable (i.e., euphemistic) labels Spirit-filled or continuationist. But the latter sounds too technical or theological and the former overbroad, so charismatic it is even though the so-called “charismatic renewal” was decades ago. I encountered it in its later stages, when some charismatics were, in effect, already starting to shunt certain notorious members of their camp to the attic apartment of God’s house.

I didn’t stop reading the articles because it was embarrassing. What I find embarrassing are the inevitable reactions and conclusions. To wit, “This is yet another vindication of cessationist interpretations of Scripture.” As if obvious misuse and abuse of spiritual gifts was proof that they are obsolete or unscriptural.

Still, there has to be some explanation for the persistence of some—like Balaam and his donkey until they are immobilized by their own folly and gross errors (Num 22:25). Why is this kind of “ministry” so appealing?

Part of it is that it is the manifest power of God when it is properly handled. I can count on one hand the number of significant prophetic words spoken over me in the last three decades, but every one of them came true just as delivered. They were not detailed messages with specific times and dates and names, but expressions of the will of God being done in ways that exceeded my limited imagination and self-estimation.

They combined a broad scriptural thrust with a sharp, specific personal application. They were substantial and edifying, not sweet spiritual nothings whispered in my ear as too many “prophecies” are. And the glory and credit for the prediction/fulfillment bookends belonged solely to God; they were not by might nor by power but by his Spirit (Zech 4:6).

It’s because of results like this that anyone familiar with the charismatic movement knows that church or meeting attendance always spiked when “a prophet of God” would be on hand to minister. There was always a palpable air of expectation when the prophet approached the pulpit or made his way into the midst of the congregation to address individuals one-by-one.

I can understand that and have felt that same excitement myself at times. But what bothers me is the notion that prophetic words become a substitute for something else—a strongly preferred substitute, in fact.  The crackling spiritual electricity of the prophetic word overshadows the manna of God, that daily provision that had to be gathered each day else it would not keep. The occasional and the sublime has replaced the ordinary and mundane, to our spiritual detriment.

If you’ve studied it, or read the small type in your study Bible, you know that manna means “what is it?” That’s why Moses described it in Deuteronomy as that which neither you nor your ancestors had known.” Nobody knew what it was. It was like nothing they knew in Egypt.

In contrast, the prophetic word is all about knowledge—how to make sense of present perplexing circumstances, what God is doing through them, where am I going and when will I get there? The prophet is my pipeline to answers.

In the wilderness, the people of God grew tired of the manna. “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Num 11:5-6)

I can remember times in the past twenty years when I simply threw up my hands and said to God, Nothing ever seems to change in my life. It’s like driving toward a mountain range. You drive and drive and you never seem to be getting any closer! I was tired of the daily diet of things that seemed to have no real meaning or connection to the call of God on my life. “What is it?” was the way I felt from day to day at my lowest points. It was all new and strange and unprecedented. I’d never been this way before.

When you don’t know and you want to know, there is a strong temptation to seek out a spiritual lightning strike to ignite your mundane life. Or to look for shortcuts through the wilderness. And something besides the manna.

The prophetic word is the quail that some crave to replace manna—but end up eating it “not . . . for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of [their] nostrils and [they] loathe it” (Num 11:19-20).

When Naaman came to Israel to be healed from his leprosy, he was put off by the prophet Elisha sending a messenger instructing him to dip in the muddy Jordan River. The rivers of Damascus were sparkling clear by comparison.

Naaman wanted a crusade-style power encounter, not something humbling and tedious. “But Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy” (2 Ki 5:11).

Fortunately for Naaman, his servants weren’t so blinded by pride. They persuaded him to take the prophet’s prescription. “So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy” (5:14). Seven is the number of thoroughness, completeness. Seven is seven times longer than one, but every immersion counted for something. It all meant something.

In days to come there will be a lot of disillusionment in the camps of the false prophets. Living down these mistakes will be difficult. But sometimes eating the fruit of disobedience is the best prescription for recognizing the will of God next time around.

No one needs to gloat over them or publish theological post mortems as a kind of warning to others. Their manifest failure is a vivid enough warning, like the gnarled wreck of a car that MADD and the local Sheriff used to park outside the high school just before Graduation Week. That silent monument said everything about drinking and driving that a teenager needed to hear.

But if we grow weary of the manna of mundane, ordinary spiritual life, we may need to hear this: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work among you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6).

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