Oracles of the ancient world (Habakkuk 1)

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Illustration: The oracles in ancient Greece made smoke of cannabis

An oracle is any divine pronouncement through a prophet that directs human action in the present or foretells future events. In the Old Testament an oracle always refers to a communication from God through a prophet (2 Kings 9:25, Isaiah 13:1, Habakkuk 1:1, Malachi 1:1). The three New Testament instances of oracles all have Israel’s God as their source and refer to the revelation begun in the Old Testament and finalized in Christ (Acts 7:38, Romans 3:2, Hebrews 5:12 with 1:1-2). Significantly, Scripture (Numbers 22-24, 1 Kings 18:20-40), along with numerous extra-biblical texts from Syria-Palestine, Anatolia, Mesopotamia and (to a lesser extent) Egypt, attest to the fact that peoples of other nations believed that they too received oracles from their gods.

  • The Bible presents the classical prophets as ambassadors of the heavenly court (2 Kings 17:13) who authoritatively presented the revelation of God for His people (2 Chronicles 36 15-16, Isaiah 44:26).
  • Prophets sometimes mentioned the Holy Spirit’s role in inspiration (Joel 2:28-29, Micah 3:8, Zechariah 7:12).
  • At times the source of the message is said to have been a dream or vision (Isaiah 6:1-13, Jeremiah 31:26, Zechariah 2:1), but ordinarily the mode of inspiration is unspecified.
  • Sometimes oracles provided a divine answer to human questions (2 Samuel 2:1, Habakkuk 1-2), but often they would br initiated by God.
  • The divine revelations were at times framed as parables or allegories (2 Samuel 12:1-7), and sometimes oracles were acted out (2 Kings 13:14-0, Ezra 4).
  • The prophets pronounced oracles of warning against both individuals (1 Samuel 13-14) and nations (Isaiah 17, Ezekiel 15, Amos 4:1-3) but also oracles of salvation that predicted a day when God would restore His people (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:16-32, Amos 9:13-15, Zechariah 8:18).

Prophets of pagan deities sometimes delivered messages similar to those of Israel’s prophets. Like Israel’s God, these gods purportedly demanded homage and declared judgements. But Biblical prophecy was distinct in at least three ways:

  • Only Yahweh among the gods of the ancient world spoke in order to establish, maintain and enforce a covenant relationship with His people (Deuteronomy 4:5-9).
  • Whereas many pagan oracles were ambiguous as to their intent and fulfilment, Biblical oracles were generally clear and specific (Deuteronomy 18:14-22).
  • Only from Israel’s prophets did a staunch monotheism confront polytheistic idolatry (Deuteronomy 5:7-10, 6:4-5, Psalm 115, Isaiah 40:18-31).

 

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