Thursday, August 29, 2019
Dale Ralph Davis in defense of the "predictive element" in OT prophecy
OT scholars steeped in the modern historical-critical method are fond of saying of the prophets that they should be understood as “forthtellers," rather than “fore-tellers.” Though it is true that prophets bring “forth” God’s Word, it also appears that such scholars desire to downplay the ability of the prophet to predict or describe future events. So, when Isaiah mentions the future Persian ruler Cyrus in Isaiah 45:1, the modern scholar is more likely to suggest this as an ex eventu device reflecting compositional authorship of Isaiah than to say that Isaiah “fore-told” the rise of Cyrus. To suggest that Isaiah actually prophesied the suffering of Christ in Isaiah 53 would, of course, be rejected out of hand.
I mention all this is to say that I was struck by a footnote I read last week in Dale Ralph Davis’s 1 Kings: The Wisdom and the Folly (Christian Focus, 2002), while preparing to preach on 1 Kings 11. In his discussion of the prophet Ahijah’s encounter with Jeroboam and his pronouncement of the Lord’s declaration that he would take ten tribes from the house of David and give them to Jeroboam, leaving only one tribe to David’s house (1 Kings 11:29-32).
Davis writes (p. 119, f.n. 13):
One often hears the predictive element of biblical prophecy played down. Introductory lectures on the prophets often stress that the biblical prophets were primarily forthtellers rather than foretellers, perhaps due to a paranoia of encouraging eschatological kooks. But the kooks will always be with us, so why justify distorting the character of prophecy by our panic? Biblical prophecy is primarily not tangentially predictive. Anyone who doesn’t think so should spend an afternoon with Isaiah 40-48.
Davis is one of my favorite modern commentators on the OT historical narrative. His commentaries on Joshua-2 Kings from Christian Focus are great resources for preaching.
I appreciate Davis’s comments on the modern playing down of the “predictive element” of the prophets. I’m not sure the motivation is to avoid encouraging “eschatological kooks” but, more generally, to avoid supernatural interpretations for naturalistic one.