Biblical Prophecy, by Ellen F. Davis

Ellen Davis is full of surprises. Some are delightful, and others raise questions for further thought and study. Still others throw up stumbling blocks for her readers.

A professor of Bible and practical theology at Duke Divinity School, Davis denies that the prophetic role is to speak truth to power and contends that those who read the prophets in that way act as though they have God in their back pocket. She quotes Walter Bruegge­mann: “It may be that we fit the part of the royally and sinfully acquisitive, rather than the truth-teller.” It is not that she thinks prophets never speak God’s promises or God’s critical words to those in power. Rather, Davis sees the prophetic task as larger than that: a prophet is one who interprets the faith for the time and the time for the faithful.

Davis names Huldah of Jerusalem as the first “clear exemplar of the pro­ph­etic interpreter” in scripture. King Josiah sent to Huldah the scroll found in the temple during its renovation. She replied with scathing words from God. Davis says that this “is the first clear account of someone who encounters God’s word in written form and recognizes how it speaks to current and emerging circumstances.” Josiah, in turn, “models the (tragically) rare ability to hear God’s word spoken against one’s own apparent interests.” These two figures are valuable examples for us as we hear Bonhoeffer’s admonition that it is the public responsibility of Christian teachers and theologians to engage in “the discomfiting yet life-giving practice of reading the Bible against ourselves.”