The tragic death of David Wilkerson last week reminded me of an image that he found useful. In 1985 - after he was well-established as the evangelist among gangs through his book, The Cross and the Switchblade, David Wilkerson came out with a very different kind of book called, Set the Trumpet to Thy Mouth. It was a book of what passes among many folks today as prophetic utterance. It certainly had the feeling of gloom and doom, as many people often ascribe to some of the prophets like Jeremiah or Nahum. The most compelling quality of this kind of "prophecy," however, is it's predictive nature. The words "soon" and "at hand" and other such indicators of time are scattered readily and often in this kind of literature. That may be why the imagery of the prophet as the one 'blowing the trumpet' is so popular. The trumpet - among its other great qualities (namely that it is LOUD) - is immediate. Start blowing and it starts sounding. So, part of the imagery of blowing a trumpet as a warning is that it's attention-getting qualities are immediate. TOOOOOOOOOOOOOT! = NOW!
However, most predictive prophecies simply do not come true. Or, if they do, it is usually in manner that is less devastating or less cosmic, or quite different than the predictor predicted. "America will be utterly destroyed" is the prophecy; "See, 9/11 happened!" is the fulfillment. And, as tragic and heart-wrenching as 9/11 was, it was not the utter destruction of America, it didn't stop the USA from exhibiting whatever sins the prophet seemed to be condemning, or anything like that. "America will be destroyed" is the prophecy; "See, hurricane Katrina destroyed the wicked city of New Orleans!" is the fulfillment. Well, Katrina was powerfully destructive, but it missed Bourbon Street and destroyed a lot of good people's homes. The predictive prophecies - by and large - go unfulfilled, at least to the magnitude and in the manner that the prophets predict.
Therefore, we get the caveats that accompany predictive prophecy: "No one knows the day or the hour" is the caveat; "But, we're reading the signs of the times and it is going to happen soon!" persists the prophecy. "With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years," is the caveat; "But we're on the END of those thousand years" persists the predictive prophecy.
In the end, predictive prophets seem passive-aggressive to me. They want all of the bluster and fear-mongering that the real meaning of their immediate words ("soon!" and "at hand!") conjure up; but they also want to cover their prophetic asses by hiding behind the caveats when 25 years pass and nothing the size of their predicted catastrophe has really taken place.
It's sad. I suggest a better metaphor - if we insist on having this kind of predictive prophecy - would be "Set the bagpipe to thy lips." Those bagpipers blow and blow and blow, filling up their windbag long before they actually start playing notes. At least with this image the predictive prophets would recognize that their use of immediate words is mistaken. It's a start.