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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Of patriots and prophets

No prophet also, except perhaps Jeremiah, felt more keenly than Isaiah the cost of genuine patriotism, or the burden which all true prophets in every age are forced to bear.  He saw clearly that a man cannot be a faithful patriot and always be optimistic, saying complimentary things about his nation or their deeds.
-George Livingston Robinson, p. 22
While I might quibble with Robinson about how one could possibly measure the comparative keenness of feeling among the ancient prophets, I agree with the gist of his statement.  It would appear that Isaiah (and Jeremiah as well) would not have confused love of one's country with blind, jingoistic loyalty.  The quantity of prophecies against Israel and/or Judah made by other Old Testament prophets shows that they were hardly the only two prophets who rejected a "my country, right or wrong" mentality (1).  Rather, such an attitude seems more appropriately attributed to those who opposed them.  For example, Amaziah's adjuration to Amos that he should "go, flee thee away into the land of Judah" (Amos 7:12 KJV) would play well with the "America, love it or leave it" crowd, while his accusation that Amos' pronouncements against Israel constituted conspiracy (7:10) seems eerily  analogous to claims that equate criticism of the U.S. by Americans with sedition or treason.  However, the willingness of the prophets in refusing to whitewash the sins of Israel and Judah stemmed from love: they saw the self-destructive paths down which the two nations were headed and saw repentance as the only means to avoid such consequences.. and repentance requires that one recognize one's sins and amend one's behavior accordingly.  And that's just as true for nations (including the U.S.A.) as it is for individuals.

(1) According to the popular (mis)interpretation of the saying, rather than its original intention by Stephen Decauter.

Robinson, George Livingston.  The Book of Isaiah in Fifteen Studies.  New York: Young Men's Christian Association (1910)

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