Father Francisco’s class on the prophets, What is prophecy?

Father Francisco Nahoi gave his class on the prophets on 27 October in Rhigini Hall at our Cathedral in Reno. Father mentioned one of the three great Jewish Medieval Scholars, Rambam, the other two being Rashi and Spinoza.

Father pointed out, Rambam, an eleventh and twelfth century scholar was influenced by Aristotle’s idea of the Demiurge, the unmoved mover, the nous, or mind, the first cause that causes all other things but is in turn caused by nothing. Because God is One, nothing can properly be said about him. For Rambam, Moses signals a major course shift in prophecy.

St. Thomas Aquinas was a near contemporary of Rambam

All that Abraham knew of God we learned from observing nature. All things have a cause, so we look to find that first cause. We only know God from what he has done and often confuse God and his creation, idolatry. We speak about God through what we see with our imperfect senses, through what he created. We speak about God using allegories, and parables.

According to Rambam, prophecy goes through twelve stages, the first being prophecy through action, the second stage being through words. In the third stage, the true prophetic first state the prophet sees an allegory in a dream, and the allegory is interpreted. Such are most of the allegories of Zechariah.

In the fourth stage, the prophet hears in a prophetic dream, but does not see the speaker. This was the case with Samuel in the beginning of his prophetic mission. In the fifth stage, a person addresses the prophet in a dream, as in some of the prophecies of Ezekiel. “The man spoke to me, Son of man,” Ezekiel. 40: 4.

In stage six, an angel speaks to the prophet in a dream. An example is Genesis 31:11. In stage seven, a prophetic dream appears to the prophet as if God spoke to him. Examples are Isaiah 6:1-8, and I Kings 22:19.

A pond can be an allegory for the way we live our lives

In stage eight, something presents itself to the prophet as allegorical figures. The example is Genesis 15:9-16. In stage nine, the prophet hears words in a prophetic vision as in Genesis 15:4. In stage ten, the prophet sees a man speaking to him in a prophetic vision, as in Genesis 18:1. In stage eleven, the prophet sees an angel speaking to him in vision, as when Abraham was addressed by an angel in the Acheidah, the binding of Isaac, Genesis 22:15.

The last stage is that of Moses. He no longer needs to develop Kavanah, or the intention to see God. He no longer needs the Dionysian build up of the fundamentalists, with the trance like state. He simply walks up to the mountain and converses with God as if he were talking with a human being. He sees God face to face, like with anyone else.

In Mishneh Torah, Sefer Madda, Yesodey haTorah, Chapter Seven Halacha 6 Rambam says of Moses, “When Moses gazed upon the form of God there was no metaphor. He perceived matters in their fullness. Exodus 33:11 relates: “God spoke to Moses… as a man speaks to a friend.” As a person will not be awe-struck from hearing his friend’s words, Moses’ mental power was sufficient to comprehend the words of prophecy while standing in a composed state. God becomes known directly, resulting in a major shift in the way we see God. He is no longer seen through nature, with its tendency toward idolatry, but directly, through the revelation of Sinai.

With prophecy explained, Father began to discuss prophecy as it relates to King Saul and King David,

Rambam wrote in his guide to the Perplexed, “The first degree of prophecy consists in divine assistance which is given to a person, and induces and encourages him to do something grand.” He also states in this Chapter XLV Part 2, “All the judges הַשֹּׁפֵט of Israel possessed this degree.” “הַשֹּׁפֵט” is also the Hebrew word for “Lip.” He similarly relates, “All the noble chiefs of Israel belonged to this class.” One of these was King Saul.

“Saul” means “request,” or “demand.” In I Samuel, it says that the people demanded a king. Saul is the answer to that request. I Samuel 8:5 states, “שִׂימָה-לָּנוּ מֶלֶךְ לְשָׁפְטֵנוּ–כְּכָל-הַגּוֹיִם. Set to us a messenger to judge (Literally, “from the lips,” as all the Goim.” Military leaders are strong type “A” personalities. They are assertive to the point of aggressive.

An example of this is from I Samuel 11:6-7, “The Spirit of God came mightily upon Saul …and took a yoke of oxen, cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the borders of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying: ‘Whosoever does not come after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done unto his oxen.”

This is the work of a strong type “A” personality, and it shows how a strong military leader is not a good choice for a civilian leader. The message was, “Do it or else.” “Saul, not only means “request,” or “demand.” “Saul” also means “grave” or “Hell.” After the Israelites received their leader, they also found their grave.

In contrast, “King,” “Melech,” in Hebrew, means “messenger,” therefore, “angel,” and “salt.” The Melech is the person who seasons, adds flavor to the life of the people. The king is the messenger of the will of God to the people, and is the messenger between the people and themselves. He is also the messenger between the people and his administration. King Saul did not realize this. This caused him to overstep his authority.

Father mentioned ancient Jewish governance had a system of checks and balances. The priests anointed the King who ruled over the priests. There was a clear separation of church and state. The king was not to give sacrifices, say the prayers or give literal sacrifice, and the priests were not to govern. Then there were the prophets who appointed by the priests, ruled over the kings, and confronted the priests when necessary.

King Saul chose not to recognize the balance. In an emergency, he chose to take over the role of priests, giving the sacrifices before battle.  I Samuel 13 gives the story of how King Saul took over the role of priests. For that, he lost his job and his life.

Father Francisco presented the view that what was being tested was obedience. Obey comes from a Latin verb meaning to listen. The Hebrew word is Shema. Father presented the view that King Saul had to obey Torah, the will of God, even in emergencies.

When confronted with the view that some people have not had good bosses, and have a problem with obedience, in the sense of “Me boss, you labor; me tell you what to do and you do it,” Father pointed out that Rambam stated that Shema, also means “To know,” “to understand,” in this case “To understand God and his plan.”

The true leader follows the teaching of King David in Psalm 72 and Psalm 82. He represents the people. Psalm 72 ends, in essence, “From David.” It begins, “לִשְׁלֹמֹה,” “to Solomon,” his son and successor. In this Psalm David says the role of the king is to “judge his people with charity, and his poor with justice, from the lips, as in the lips of God, the divine plan.

David, whose name means, “beloved,” also forgets from time to time, but repents and goes back to being a servant of the people. At the lowest level, being a prophet therefore includes being a representative, a servant, a messenger of the people, like salt, seasoning the people so that they savor the rich joys of life.


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