Ideas For Deuteronomy 18:15-20 Part 2
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 presents God's promise to send a prophet to the children of Israel. How dramatically this promise has been fulfilled is seen in the procession of prophets which emerge from the pages of scripture.
One of the early developments of Christian liturgical drama arose from a famous sermon attributed (probably wrongly) to St. Augustine. This sermon summons the Bible's towering prophetic figures to come forward and bear witness to the Messiah. One by one, in this sermon, the prophets are described adding their voice to witness to the coming of the Christ. As early as the Eleventh Century, liturgical drama had begun to develop in the churches from this sermon.
This drama, The Play of the Prophets, was quickly adopted by churches throughout France. Sculpted into the West Facade of Nortre-Dame-la-Grande, in relief, appear the procession of prophets mentioned in the sermon. The intent of the sermon and the art it inspired, was to found the authority of Christ upon the authority of the Old Testament prophetic witness. But these forms of art also bear witness to Christians of the rich prophetic heritage without which Christian faith is greatly diminished if not impossible. Moses serves as the prototypical prophet. Major landmarks in the history of Western art are charted in the numerous portrayals of this key biblical figure.
Perhaps the most familiar of these treatments is the overpowering sculpture of a seated Moses by Michelangelo.
The artist's creation was executed for the tomb of Julius II.
In the artist's rendering, Moses is facing to the left, his waving beard falling almost to his lap. He is a powerful, stern figure, yet somehow introspective. His gaze seems directed inward. It is conjectured that this image of Moses reflects and is inspired by medieval concepts of the human creature as microcosm. In this case, attributes of this Moses would refer allegorically to aspects of the world.
Moses' beard thus would bring to mind the waters of the world, his wildly twisting hair suggests fire, his heavy clothing the earth itswelf.
Michelangelo's Mosyes, as monumental as it is, seems to stand as a powerful symbol of the importance to Western civilization of the ancient prophetic tradition of Israel.
Deuteronomy founds the promise of a prophet for the people upon the people's dread of God's immediate presence. "If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die."
The classic study, The Prophets, Abraham J. Heschel probes the prophetic nature and temperament, and associates these atttributes with human dread. While others in the land may live contentedly and see the world around them as a "proud place, full of beauty," the prophet is "scandalized and raves as if the world were slum."
"The prophet feels fiercely with a divine burden, and is full of outrage toward human greed. Frightful is the specter of human pathos, and a single human voice scarcely can convey the terror. Prophecy is the voice God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profanced riches of the world. It is a form of liing, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet's words."
Capturing this sense of the prophet's temperment for our century is the vision of the German expressionist Emilde Nolde. In 1912, Nolde produced a woodcut titled simply, The Prophet. With a simplicity of expression, the tired, bearded face of the prophet appears. His eyes have seen too much and deep care has sunken regions of his face. This is the face of one who inter cedes for us in behalf of a passionate God, and we are shaken. We are shaken in the midst of our easy accommodation to the world's plight and pain. The face helps us to continue to hope, however, in God's promise to raise up prophets. Beneath the prophet's anguished face is the promise of God's unrelenting faithfulness to the many generations of women and men.