World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


The Prophet And Reformer

As long as there is a contradiction between the absolute standard of righteousness and the corrupt and evil ways of worldly society, there will be those righteous people who will rise up and call society and their rulers to account. These are the prophets and reformers who put their lives at risk to speak out for the welfare of the community. We do not refer to those specially chosen to bring the revelation of a new religion into the world--those rare founders of religions are covered in another chapter--but of the much larger group of people who arise in every age to call society to practice truth and justice.1 The prophetic mission in its broadest sense includes all those saints and righteous people who struggle to remind the rulers of their day of the eternal divine message which was first spoken long before. Often they must recast that message into terms with contemporary relevance. The company of those who call for justice includes the prophets of the Old Testament and the Qur'an, the Confucian and Hindu sages, and all those who have followed their examples. In this latter group are many reformers and leaders of moral vision whose righteousness is not recorded in scripture because they came long after the scriptures were written; we might include such people as Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Iqbal, Nichiren, and Simon Kimbangu, to name a few. But a prophetic ministry is not limited to a few saints; in various ways, large and small, it is required of us all.

A second attribute of prophecy is the ability to predict the future. This gift is not used for private ends; it is first and foremost a powerful qualification of the prophet that when he speaks on the affairs of state his words carry authority. The prophet's predictions are accurate because of his or her intimate relationship with Ultimate Reality, in whose hand lies the destinies of nations. Prophecies of the future, selected from various religions, are the subject of the concluding passages of this section.

1 Islam regards Muhammad as the last Prophet, but only in the former, special sense that after him there will be no new revelation.

Every nation has its messenger. Once their messenger comes, judgment will be passed upon them in all fairness and they will not be wronged. They will say, "When will this promise be, if you have been telling the truth?" Say, "I possess no harm nor any advantage by myself, except concerning whatever God may wish. Every nation has a term; whenever their term comes, they will not postpone it for an hour nor advance it."

Islam. Qur'an 10.47-49

The word of the Lord came to me, "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved your life. Again, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you will have saved your life."

Judaism and Christianity. Ezekiel 3.16-21

Qur'an 10.47-49: Cf. Qur'an 40.78, p. 61. Ezekiel 3.16-21: Thus God holds His prophet responsible to the people for giving timely warning, just as a watchman is responsible to warn of an approaching army.

Now the word of the Lord came to [Jeremiah], saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth." But the Lord said to me, Do not say, "I am only a youth"; for to all to whom I send you shall go, and whatever I command you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.

Then the Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.

Judaism and Christianity. Jeremiah 1.4-10

Do Thou give, O Right, that bliss, that gift of Good Mind; Do Thou give, O Devotion, power to Vishtaspa and my disciples; Do Thou give, O Wise Ruler, whereby Thy Prophet may command a hearing!

Zoroastrianism. Avesta, Yasna 28.7

Our hope is that the world's religious leaders and the rulers thereof will unitedly arise for the reformation of this age and the rehabilitation of its fortunes. Let them, after meditating on its needs, take counsel together and, through anxious and full deliberation, administer to a diseased and sorely afflicted world the remedy it requires.

Baha'i Faith. Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah 110

My mission, today, is the same as it was at the time of the Prophet. I shall strive till I eradicate impiety and injustice, and till I establish a rule of justice and truth, a humane and heavenly regime.

By God! Have the Quraysh given up realizing who or what I am? I have fought against them and defeated them when they were infidels, and now I will fight against them to remove their tyrannous, unjust, and impious rule. Today I am as much their well-wisher as I was during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet, and my courage and determination have not diminished.

Islam (Shiite). Nahjul Balagha, Khutba 38

Yasna 28.7: Vishtaspa became Zarathustra's patron, the long-sought ruler whom he convinced to put his doctrine into practice. See Yasna 46.1-3, p. 526. Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah 110: This passage enunciates Baha'u'llah's prophetic ministry to the nations. Nahjul Balagha, Khutba 38: `Ali is speaking of his own mission as a Caliph, carrying forward the mission of the Prophet Muhammad.

The most excellent jihad is the uttering of truth in the presence of an unjust ruler.

Islam. Hadith of Tirmidhi

Confucius said, "How can he be said truly to love, who exacts no effort from the objects of his love? How can he be said to be truly loyal, who refrains from admonishing the object of his loyalty?"

Confucianism. Analects 14.8

"Do not preach"--thus they preach-- "one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us." Should this be said, O house of Jacob? Is the Spirit of the Lord impatient? Are these his doings? Do not my words do good to him who walks uprightly? But you rise against my people as an enemy; you strip the robe from the peaceful, from those who pass by trustingly with no thought of war.... If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, "I will preach to you of wine and strong drink," he would be the preacher for this people!

Judaism and Christianity. Micah 2.6-11

Hadith of Tirmidhi: cf. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 34, p. 886. Analects 14.8: A minister should not hesitate to send admonitions to his superiors in government, sincerely setting forth his advice. For example, see Book of Songs, Ode 254, pp. 921f. Cf. Chuang Tzu 33, pp. 869f.; Book of History 4.8.1-3, p. 896. Micah 2.6-11: Cf. Jeremiah 19.14-20.16, pp. 767f.

A king who does what is not righteous And not suitable is mostly praised By his subjects, for it is hard to know What he will or will not tolerate; Therefore it is hard to know What is useful or not to say.

If useful but unpleasant words Are hard to speak to someone else, What could I, a monk, say to a king Who is a lord of the great earth?

But because of my affection for you And through my compassion for all beings, I tell you without hesitation That which is useful but unpleasant....

O steadfast one, if true words Are spoken without anger, One should take them as fit to be Heard, like water fit for bathing.

Realize that I am telling you What is useful here and later. Act on it so as to help Yourself and also others.

Buddhism. Nagarjuna, Precious Garland 301-6

King Hui of Liang said, "I am ready to listen to what you have to say." "Is there any difference," said Mencius, "between killing a man with a staff and killing him with a knife?" "There is no difference." "Is there any difference between killing him with a knife and killing him with misrule?" "There is no difference." "There is fat meat in your kitchen and there are well-fed horses in your stables, yet the people look hungry and in the outskirts of cities men drop dead from starvation. This is to show animals the way to devour men. Even the devouring of animals by animals is repugnant to men. If, then, one who is father and mother to the people cannot, in ruling over them, avoid showing animals the way to devour men, wherein is he father and mother to the people?"

Confucianism. Mencius I.A.4

After all the kings had been seated and perfect silence had ensued, Krishna, possessing fine teeth and having a voice as deep as that of a drum, began to speak, "In order that, O Bharata, peace may be established between the Kurus and the Pandavas without a slaughter of the heroes, I have come hither. Besides this, O king, I have no other beneficial words to utter.... Know, O thou of Kuru's race, that those wicked sons of thine, headed by Duryodhana, abandoning both virtue and profit, disregarding morality, and deprived of their senses by avarice, are now acting most unrighteously towards their foremost kinsmen. The terrible danger [of universal slaughter thus] has its origin in the conduct of the Kurus. If you become indifferent to it, it will then produce a universal slaughter. If, O Bharata, you are willing, you may be able to allay that danger even yet, for peace, I think, is not difficult of acquisition. The establishment of peace, O king, depends on you and myself. Set right your sons, and I will set the Pandavas right."

Hinduism. Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva 95

Mencius I.A.4: On the ruler as father and mother to the people, see Book of History 5.1.1, p. 902. On other Confucian and Taoist prophetic critiques of courtly extravagance while the poor suffer, see Mencius II.B.4, below; IV.A.3, p. 920; Book of Songs, Ode 254, pp. 922f.; Tao Te Ching 12, p. 801; 53, p. 904; Chuang Tzu 25, p. 904. Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva 95: Here Krishna takes the part of an honest advisor and mediator in a fruit- less effort to prevent war.

Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, "Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land. And Amaziah said to Amos, "O seer, go flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom." Then Amos answered Amaziah, "I am no prophet, nor one of the sons of the prophets; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel.' Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. You say, 'Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.' Therefore thus says the Lord, 'Your wife shall be a harlot in the city, and your sons and daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; and you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'"

Judaism and Christianity. Amos 7.10-17

Has not the history of those before you reached you: the folk of Noah, and `Ad and Thamud, and those after them? None save God knows them. Their messengers came to them with clear proofs, but they thrust their hands into their mouths, and said, "Lo! we disbelieve in that with which you have been sent, and lo! we are in grave doubt concerning that to which you call us." Their messengers said, "Can there be doubt concerning God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth? He calls you that He may for- give you your sins and reprieve you until an appointed term." They said, "You are but mortals like us, who would fain turn us away from what our fathers used to worship. Then bring us some clear warrant." Their messengers said to them, "We are but mortals like you, but God gives grace to whom He will of His slaves. It is not ours to bring you a warrant unless by the permission of God. In God let believers put their trust! How should we not put our trust in God when He has shown us His ways? We surely will endure that hurt you do to us. In God let the trusting put their trust!" And those who disbelieved said to their messengers, "Verily we will drive you out from our land, unless you return to our religion." Then their Lord inspired them, "Verily We shall destroy the wrongdoers, and verily We shall make you to dwell in the land after them. This is for him who fears My Majesty and fears My threats." And they sought help from their Lord, and every froward potentate was brought to naught.

Islam. Qur'an 14.9-15

Amos 7.10-17: Israel had its professional prophets who divined for money; Amos denied that he was one of those. He is accused of treason for pro- claiming the coming destruction of the dynasty of Jeroboam. Compare Jeremiah 19.14-20.12, pp. 767f. Qur'an 14.9-15: The Islamic conception of a prophet is one who always preaches faith in the One God as the primary message. But this does not neglect the issues of justice and righteous- ness, for they are implicit in God's message. Hence those who reject God are inevitably oppressive evildoers.

Mencius went to P'ing Lu. "Would you or would you not," said he to the governor, "dismiss a lancer who has failed three times in one day to report for duty?" "I would not wait for the third time." "But you yourself have failed to report for duty many times. In years of famine close to a thousand of your people suffered, the old and the young being abandoned in the gutter, the able-bodied scattered in all directions." "It was not within my power to do anything about this." "Supposing a man were entrusted with the care of cattle and sheep. Surely he ought to seek pasturage and fodder for the animals. If he found that this could not be done, should he return his charge to the owner or should he stand by and watch the animals die?" "In this I am at fault."

Confucianism. Mencius II.B.4

Furthermore, since the prophet places his life in God's hands, he is always vindicated in the end. Mencius II.B.4: See note to Mencius I.A.4, above.

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go forth to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking upon the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, "Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" So David sent messengers, and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.... And the woman conceived; and she sent and told David, "I am with child." So David sent word to Joab, "Send me Uriah the Hittite." And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab was doing, and how the people fared, and how the war prospered. Then David said to Uriah, "Go down to your house, and wash your feet." And Uriah went out of the king's house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the door of the king's house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, "Uriah did not go down to his house," David said to Uriah, "Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?" Uriah said to David, "The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as my soul lives, I will not do this thing."... In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, "Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die." And as Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant men. And the men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was slain also.... When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she made lamentation for her husband. And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord. And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his morsel, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared it for the man who had come to him." Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, "As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity." Nathan said to David, "You are the man. Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul; and I gave you your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.'"

Judaism and Christianity. 2 Samuel 11.1-12.10

O Lord, your power is greater than all powers. Under your leadership we cannot fear anything. It is you who has given us prophetic power, And has enabled us to foresee and interpret everything.

African Traditional Religion. Dinka Prayer (Sudan)

And the Lord answered me, "Write the vision; make it plain upon tablets, so that he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its time; it hastens to the end--it will not lie. If it seem slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay."

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Habakkuk 2.2-3

2 Samuel 11.1-12.10: David first tried to conceal his adultery by urging Uriah to sleep with his wife so that there would be no suspicion about who was the child's father. When that failed, he had Uriah killed. Thereupon follows the prophet Nathan's famous oracle. For other prophetic critiques of courtly extravagance at the expense of the poor, see Jeremiah 7.1-15, p. 921; 22.13-16, p. 904; Ezekiel 34.2-10, p. 902; Isaiah 10.1-4, p. 920; Amos 1.3-2.16, pp. 924f.; 8.4-8, p. 421. Habakkuk 2.2-3: Cf. Isaiah 46.9-11, p. 100.

It is an attribute of the possession of the absolute true self to be able to foreknow. When a nation or family is about to flourish, there are sure to be lucky omens. When a nation or family is about to perish, there are sure to be signs and prodigies. These things manifest themselves in the instruments of divination and in the agitation of the human body. When happiness or calamity is about to come, it can be known beforehand. When it is good, it can be known beforehand. When it is evil, it can be known beforehand. Therefore he who has realized his true self is like a celestial spirit.

Confucianism. Doctrine of the Mean 24

Doctrine of the Mean 24: Cf. I Ching, Great Commentary 1.10.1-2, p. 690.

Do two walk together, unless they have made an appointment? Does a lion roar in the forest, when it has no prey? Does a young lion cry out from his den, if he has taken nothing? Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth, when there is no trap for it? Does a snare spring up from the ground, when it has taken nothing? Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does evil befall a city, unless the Lord has done it? Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. The lion has roared, who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?

Judaism and Christianity. Amos 3.3-8

And there the sons of Dhritarashtra enter you, All of them, together with a host of kings, Bhishma, Drona, and also the charioteer's son, Karna-- And our own commanders, even they are with them!

They rush into your awful mouths With those terrible tusks. Some can be seen stuck between your teeth, Their heads crushed.

As the many river torrents Rush toward one sea, Those worldly heroes Enter your flaming mouths....

I bow before you, supreme God; be gracious. You, who are so awesome to see, tell me, who are you? I want to know you, the very first Lord, For I do not understand what you are doing.

I am Time who destroys man's world. I am the time that is now ripe to gather in the people here; That is what I am doing. Even without you, All these warriors drawn up for battle In opposing ranks will cease to exist.

Therefore rise up! Win glory! When you conquer your enemies, your kingship will be fulfilled. Enjoy it. Be just an instrument, You who can draw the bow with the left as well as the right hand! I myself have slain your enemies long ago.

Do not waver. Conquer the enemies Whom I have already slain--Drona and Bhishma and Jayadratha, And Karna also, and the other heroes at arms. Fight! You are about to defeat your rivals in war.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 11.26-28, 31-34

Nanak, sitting in this city of corpses, sings the Lord's praise And enunciates this principle: He who raised this creation and in manifold pleasures engaged it, Sits apart, watching it. Holy is the Lord, holy His justice; True shall be the judgment pronounced by Him. As will its body's vesture be torn to shreds, India shall remember my word. In '78 they come; in '97 they depart-- Another hero shall someday arise. Nanak utters the word of truth-- Truth he utters; truth the hour calls for.

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Telang, M.1, p. 722f.

Bhagavad Gita 11.26-28, 31-34: Krishna gives Arjuna a vision of the future: his enemies are already defeated and slain. The belief that in giving a prophetic word, God has already acted is characteristic of prophecy in the Bible and the Qur'an (see Qur'an 94, p. 537). For the first part of the theophany, on Krishna's transcendence, see Bhagavad Gita 11.1-25, pp. 95f. Telang, M.1: Here Guru Nanak is prophesying that the Mughal invaders, who, led by Babur, descended on India in Vikrami year 1578, will leave in 1597. In that year the Mughals were, in fact, routed by Sher Shah. (The Vikrami chronology is one of the classical calendrical systems of India; its reference point is 58 <b.c.).

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, Who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

Christianity. Micah 5.2

And remember Jesus, the son of Mary, said, "O Children of Israel! I am the apostle of God to you, confirming the Law which came before me, and giving glad tidings of an apostle to come after me whose name shall be Ahmad." But when he came to them with clear signs, they said, "This is evident sorcery."

Islam. Qur'an 61.6

Micah 5.2: According to the New Testament (Matthew 2.6), this is a prophecy of the birth of Jesus Christ. There are many similar prophecies in the Old Testament; cf. Deuteronomy 18.15, p. 576; Isaiah 9.6-7, p. 939; 42.1-4, p. 449; 52.13-53.12, p. 556; Daniel 7.13-14, p. 939. Qur'an 61.6: This is a prophecy by Jesus about the coming of Muhammad. Ahmad is probably a translation of the Greek word Parakletos, Counselor, from John 14.16, p. 560. Since Ahmad and Muhammad are cognates, this is taken to be a prophecy of the future advent of Muhammad by name. For an example of prophecy in the Qur'an about the later career of Muhammad, see Qur'an 94, p. 537.

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