Are Prophets for Real?

It is important to begin this lesson by asking students, “What/who are prophets?” Young people and adults alike tend to restrict their thinking about prophets to people who were long dead and who are specially Christian. They also tend to see the role of prophet much like that of a fortune teller…predicting future events. We need to help them adopt a broader perspective around the concept of prophetic witness. There are powerful prophets who are living and who belong to diverse faith traditions. Even more important, the role of prophets is not to predict the future, but to speak truth to power and invite people to reconsider their own role in bringing about God’s vision.

We have tended to fall into the trap of “predictive thinking” during the season of Advent. We take a lot of biblical stories (Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Testament), and we weave them together to create a story that is easy and uplifting to tell at this time of year. We can preserve what is precious and touching our Advent stories while also taking care to share accurate information about prophetic witness, when it was written, what is actually pertained to, and to whom it is really making reference.

It may make sense for your group to talk about “modern day prophets” (real and fake), famous or those who we know. What message(s) have they sent/shared? What have you learned from them?

Prophets are not fortune tellers, and their primary purpose is not to predict the future. Their primary purpose is to speak and bring messages of truth to those who have gone astray, lost their vision, or grown weary in doing good.

Judgement (The Former Prophets)

Scripture Readings: Judges 6-8 (the story of Gideon) & Isaiah 2:1-5 (Advent lectionary)

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will understand what a prophet is and what a prophet does.
  • Students will make the connection between prophets of the Old Testament and those prophet voices today.
  • Students will explore what God’s vision is for us today.

Teaching Points:

We tend to be aware of the “major” and “minor” prophets, but most people don’t realize that the prophetic corpus is actually larger even than those volumes. In this podcast, we will introduce people to the concept of the “former prophets” and revisit the reality that a great deal of the Hebrew Scriptures date from the period of exile or after (even stories that seem to be about much earlier times/events).

The former prophets are Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. Please note that the delineations (i.e. I&II Samuel) are not original to the writings.

Looking at the book of Judges can help us redefine the concept of prophecy and the role of prophets. In it, we see Israel go through times of being unfaithful, season of repentance, and times of liberation/peace in a cycle that plays out several times. The “judges” who participate in their liberation/return to peace play a prophetic role: hearing God’s voice, calling out the sin of the people and inviting them to turn around (“repent”) and return to embracing God’s intention for them (which tends to play out in military terms).

The Book of Samuel tells stories of Saul and David, ultimately describing the period we call the United Monarchy, a time when Israel was said to be unified under a single king. There is some question around whether Israel was ever truly united under a single king, but that is probably beyond the purview of today’s discussion.

The Book of Kings tells stories of Solomon’s accession to the throne, his reign, his death, and the splitting of the Kingdom of Israel when his son, Rehoboam, becomes king. It goes on to describe the kings of both Israel (Northern Kingdom) and Judah (Southern Kingdom) during the period we call the Divided Kingdom.

Discussion Questions:

  • When you hear the word “prophet” what comes to mind?
  • Who is a modern day prophet? Can an everyday individual be a prophet?
  • What do you know about Isaiah, a prophet in the Bible?
  • What were messages the prophets were sending during this time?
  • The lectionary reading for the First Sunday in Advent is a familiar passage from Isaiah in which the prophetic voice speaks of a future in which the weapons of are very deliberately fashioned into tools for cultivation and growth. Is it accurate to see this prophetic vision as a prediction of the future? What other understanding might we have of such a passage? How do we embrace this vision of a peaceful and growth-oriented world amidst so many stories of violence, death and conquest?
  • What do you think Isaiah would have to say to our world today?
  • What vision do you have for the future? (of the church, youth group, community, world, etc.) How does having a hopeful vision change the way you live daily? Or does it?
  • What is it that we are waiting for/hoping for during the season of Advent? How might that change/grow if we place it against the backdrop of the prophetic witness of the Hebrew Scriptures?

Resources: (Podcast)

Jacob and His Many Sons

Intro

This is a continuation of our study of the Patriarchs. Students may find the twists and turns of Jacob’s story quite interesting. There is a lot to cover, so it may be helpful to share the most of Jacob’s story with students and pick important verses to read together.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Students will understand the twelve tribes of Israel
  • Students will explore the role of women
  • Students will think about the role God plays as we wrestle with our conflicts.

Scripture: Genesis 32:22-32 and Genesis 37:1-11

Teaching Points:

  • It is through Jacob that the legendary twelve tribes of Israel are born, albeit by four different women. We can acknowledge that these tribes may well have existed and interacted but their origin story is probably unknown.
  • We might make the observation that this entire section of podcast focuses on the patriarchs (men) through whom God’s blessing was passed down. It is important to observe the role that women play (or don’t play) through this narrative and consider how women may struggle to find themselves in this unfolding story of the Jewish/Christian tradition.
  • If you have logical thinkers, you may want to draw a family tree to help them see the connection through each generation from Abraham through Jacob.

Discussion Questions:

  • Opening Question: What is something in your life that you have had to wrestle with? A decision you had to make or a relationship where there was conflict?
  • There is a lot of deception in Jacob’s story. What do you make of the fact that God’s blessing/covenant is passed down through a man who lies, cheats, schemes and takes unfair advantage of situations?
  • What role did the women play in the narratives? How can we read these stories today so that women can see their importance in God’s story and blessings?
  • In Genesis 32, we read about Jacob wrestling with an angel, perhaps a representative of God. This happens while he is in conflict with his brother. Can you relate to this idea of wrestling with God?
  • In Genesis 37, we begin to learn about Joseph. Verse 3 suggests that the practice of having a favorite son has continued into the next generation, and the stories that follow seem to demonstrate that Joseph has a big ego. What can you take from this? How does it speak to us today that God continued to use flawed Biblical characters?
  • What can we learn about God and about humans in these chapters?
  • Joseph’s story continues through Chapters 38-50. Encourage students to continue to explore the rest of the story using the same interpretive tools we have been using.

Father Abraham

Introduction: There are no fossil record, extra biblical support, or other historical evidence for any of the stories in Genesis or Exodus. (As opposed to early New Testament texts, for which we have ample supporting texts written by other folds outside the tradition.) So, the genealogies provided may or may not have any measure of historical accuracy to them, and they are certainly not reliable for establishing timelines or supposed time elapsed. So, it is assumed these stories were passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition in order to reveal how people thought about God and how they imagined their own origins and development. So, it might be a good idea if you are leading a group to start a chart of what we are learning about the character of God and of humans

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will understand the story of Abraham and Sarah
  • Students will explore what we learn about human nature through this story

Scripture Reference: Genesis 22:1-19

Teaching Points:

We are introduced to Abraham in the final verse of Genesis 11; his story begins in earnest in Genesis 12. It begins with a command and a promise that God will make a great nation of him and his family.

A few points will bear some explanation:

  • God makes a covenant with Abraham (Abram)to make a great nation of him, but God takes a long time to deliver on that promise. In the meantime, Sarah and Abraham take matters in their own hands in multiple ways. Sometimes these efforts have heartbreaking consequences, and we can learn a lot about our own human nature from these stories. (i.e. Hagar/Ishmael)
  • God is not always consistent in God’s response to human beings. Sometimes God seems quite frustrated and judgmental (i.e. when Sarah laughs), while sometimes God is quite forbearing (i.e. in his tolerance of Abraham having a son with Hagar and God’s later care for Hagar and Ishmael).
  • Once Abraham finally gets his promised son with Sarah, we encounter this bizarre and disturbing story in Genesis 22, in which Abraham is “tested” and asked to sacrifice the very son for which he has waited so long. It may help us contextualize this story to know that first-born children were sacrificed in many of the surrounding cultures as a way to gain favor and power with various deities.

Discussion Questions:

  • Springboard Question: Have you ever wanted something really bad, but had to wait awhile to get it? Please share.
  • What do we learn about human nature from the stories of Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael? Can you think of situations in your own life when you have taken matters into your own hands? Maybe were impatient about something? What happened?
  • What troubles you about this story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22? What are some traditional interpretations of this story? What do those interpretations suggest about Abraham? About God? Do you agree?
  • If child sacrifice was likely prevalent in the surrounding cultures at this time, how might it help us to reinterpret this difficult story?
  • Does understanding the historical context of this story change your thinking about the story?
  • Do you think God requires sacrifice from us? Are there other/better ways to think about loyalty/faithfulness?
  • Abraham was called by God even though he was flawed. Where do you think God is calling you?

Cain & Abel…Cities Civilizations

As we continue our journey through Genesis, our next stop is with the age-old sibling rivalry of Cain and Abel. This may be one of the most relevant stories for teens to relate to! (Not the killing part, of course!) But we have probably all, at some point, been frustrated with a sibling. (You may help an only child relate by talking about an extended family member, like a cousin.) And that is a great place to start the discussion and time of sharing. Think of a story of your own you can share, then ask them to do the same. But we will dive deeper than the surface story.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Have an understanding of how the main characters could be a representation of how cities and growing communities came about.
  • Acknowledge the pitfalls of jealousy
  • Discuss the character of God and human as we learn from this story

Biblical Reference: Genesis 4:1-22

Teaching Points:

  • It has been suggested that this story is an epic tale of the rise of civilizations (cities) and the end of agrarian nomadic communities. Using this idea, Abel represents the nomadic farmer who was “killed off” (metaphorically speaking) by settled communities that built walls and chose to develop the land.
  • The text tells us where Cain settled, that he had sons, and that his sons also settled cities. There are other details included (i.e. development of tools and musical instruments) that suggest the focus of the story was intended to be broader than simply a conflict between two brothers.
  • This is one of the stories that has been used to justify racism and slavery by suggesting that certain people (ethnic groups, skin tones, etc.) bear the “mark of Cain.” We would do well to acknowledge the ways that scripture can be harmfully interpreted to exclude or subjugate others.
  • Understand the phrase “mark of Cain” and how it has been used

Discussion Questions:

  • What is the root cause of the conflict between Cain and Abel? Do you think God shows favoritism for Abel’s offering without any justification?
  • Do you find anything else in the story unfair?
  • Why would God go to so much trouble to protect Cain when he was guilty of murder?
  • The “mark of Cain” has been used in a way that has been hurtful to many people. How would you respond to someone who would use this scripture in that way?
  • Do you think God shows favoritism today? Why or why not?
  • How can we avoid these interpretations of Bible passages?
  • Let’s review what have we learned about God and ourselves through the lessons so far.