In this latest addition to the series What Does the Kingdom of God Look Like we review the prophets, those amazing men of God who never lost sight of God’s shalom vision and constantly reminded the children of Israel and particularly the rulers what God expected of them
Bring on the prophets
It was into this corrupt environment that the prophets of God came with a scathing message of judgment for the idolatry, sexual immorality and prosperity of God’s people at the expense of the poorest in their community. The prophet Jeremiah declared “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy of gain; prophets and priest alike all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace’ (Shalom, shalom) they say when there is no peace. Are they ashamed for all their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they don’t even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them.”(Jer 6:13-15). And of course they did fall, and God did punish them by allowing Babylon to invade Israel, destroy Jerusalem and take the chosen people of God into a galling captivity.
Fortunately, God’s messengers did more than pronounce judgment on this false idea of shalom. They also reminded the Children of Israel of God’s shalom covenant in which they were called to be God’s shalom representatives on earth. They pointed towards the future and to the coming of the Messiah who would return their society to the justice, wholeness and compassion of God’s original shalom vision.
Ezekiel and Isaiah both speak of a covenant of shalom and the coming of a time when Yahweh will bless all God’s people again. “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed yet my unfailing love will for you will not be shaken, nor my covenant of shalom be removed says the Lord who has compassion on you.” (Is 54:10) proclaims Isaiah with confidence.
Ezekiel is even more explicit “I will make a covenant of shalom with them and rid the land of wild beasts so that they may live in the desert and sleep in the forests in safety. I will bless them and the places surrounding my hill. I will send down showers in season. The trees of the field will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. The will know that I am the Lord when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild beasts devour them. They will live in safety and no one will make them afraid.” (Ez 34:25-28).
At the centre of this wonderful vision Ezekiel assures us God will once more live amongst these people and be their ruler. “I will make a covenant of shalom with them…and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Ez 37:26,27)
In Isaiah 65:17-25 we are presented with what I think is the most beautiful imagery of God’s shalom vision as depicted by the prophets:
“Behold I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. No longer will there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old man who dies not live out his years;…they will build houses and live in them; they will plant vineyards and at their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat….The wolf and the lamb will feed together, the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord”
What a wonderful day of rejoicing and celebration that will be when we all come home to this Kingdom of shalom. Listen to the imagery of the homecoming celebration in Isaiah 25: 6-9.
“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich foods for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine- the best of food and the finest of wine. On this mountain he will shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day we will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25: 6-9)
What a glorious hope these prophets proclaimed to sweep us into the New Testament and herald the coming of Christ in whom the shalom vision is fulfilled and all that was promised in the Old Testament comes into being. No wonder Isaiah calls the Messiah “the Prince of shalom”. No wonder the angels burst forth out of the spiritual realm and into our physical world at Christ’s birth proclaiming “Shalom on earth” Heaven and earth all rejoiced at the coming of this promised Messiah through whom all things would be made whole, reconciled and brought into unity again.