Ask your average American what they think of when you say the word “prophecy” and you’ll likely hear something about Nostradamus. The word brings with it images of cash register tabloids suggesting the New England Patriots latest Super Bowl win is a sign of the end times. It carries the baggage of end time preachers who claim to know the very hour when Jesus will return; even if Jesus himself said he wasn’t even privy to that information. If you average American happens to be a liberal mainline protestant (such persons being far from the average in 2017), then the word may conjure images of social justice. They note that their church is acting prophetically in opposing Trump or promoting marriage equality or whatever specific political ax they have to grind.
While it is true that the prophets of Scripture did predict the future, the prediction wasn’t the purpose of their words. While it is true that the prophets of Scripture did call the people to act with justice, what justice looked like wasn’t based on their FEELZ about whatever biased article came across their newsfeed on that particular day. No, the prophets job wasn’t to predict or to renounce, the prophets job is exclusively to serve as the mouthpiece for God.
Sunday’s Old Testament lesson makes this point abundantly clear by using the word “prophesy” to simply mean “talk.” “Prophesy to these bones,” the Lord commands the prophet. Command them to come back to life. Offer them the very breath of God that they might once again have life. The prophet, in this case Ezekiel, does his job. He speaks the word of God to the valley of dry bones, and God does the rest. Sinews and flesh was restored. He speaks the word of God to the breath, and God does the rest. Breath and life are restored. And in this experience of prophecy, the prophet learns what it means to be a prophet.
God gives Ezekiel one more task. Prophesy to the house of Israel and tell them that just as these bones live, so will I give them life in their sadness. It is a promise for the future. It carries with it the expectation of a just society. And yet, neither of these are the point of God’s word to Israel through Ezekiel. The point of the prophecy is simply this: God cares; God is here; and God has a plan for you. I love the story of the dry bones because it reminds me of the work of the prophet and the task of the preacher: to speak the word of God to the people of God.