The following article or speech prepared for ‘young Calvinists’ by Prof. K. Schilder has much to say to us today during similar church struggles as also happened in Isaiah’s day and throughout history.

Head or Tail, Prof. K. Schilder (Isaiah 9: 14, 15)


In this city, in Haarlem that is, lives a man, known by the pen-name Charivarius, who serves the (Dutch) people week after week with his pointed critique of the language of well known writers and speakers.

More than one author has already been worked over by his critically sharp scalpel as he continues tirelessly for the defense of proper use of language.

This critic also gives his attention to the use of metaphors and whenever he meets an example of impure or badly applied imagery he immediately publishes such failed compositions under the telltale headline: that they are treading on “slippery paths”.

Isn’t this so, his purpose is clear. The metaphoric pathway is truly a slippery road, many have walked in danger of slipping off their feet.

I imagine that this Charivarius, upon hearing something of a discourse under the title of “Head or Tail”, would immediately react and prick up his ears, contemplating upon what slippery path also this metaphor will send us.

And maybe it is not impossible for even some of you to thoughtfully shake our heads over this metaphorical heading.

As far as I’m concerned, I can calmly await any criticism for such a choice of metaphor. For the point is, to say it unambiguously - it is not mine; it is not a product of my brain, it is borrowed directly from the prophet Isaiah. When you read His prophecies in the 15th verse of chapter 9 you meet the remarkable expression: “The elder and honorable, he is the head, the prophet who teaches lies, he is the tail”.

There you have what I meant: the imagery of head and tail, the query of head or tail discovered by Isaiah and written and discussed by Isaiah.

We now know enough. Because it is Isaiah (who says it) - and the name assures us that his foot will not slip on the slippery path. Is there anyone who can say it better, more powerfully, and sometimes with more irony, then this great prophet?

Head and tail; head or tail; note how this rich figure of speech is hidden between the many other words of Isaiah. There is not much which is showy, nor demanding in the application of this metaphor. The thought expressed here comes to the prophet momentarily and is written down without further explanation, he writes them down just like that. He does not give these words as a conceited slogan, because although the man would be a guide for his people, yes for whole nations, a demagogue in the bad sense of the word he is not. He does not spin the fine thread of his metaphor with literary embellishment. Although he is an artist, also in speaking, he has a loftier goal than art. Although the prophet Isaiah can deride whole-heartedly, he does not work his metaphor in a ridiculous direction, nor with any disgraceful rudeness. He makes no one despicable.

Yet the metaphor of the head and the tail is fixed in his writings. And, all what has been written, is written for our instruction. We would do well to ask what has been said for us in these words of Isaiah, for us, also as we are gathered together here.

We have to read the words in their context to know that. I have already pointed out to you where it can be found, Isaiah 9 verse 15. In that chapter the prophet gives us a description of the judgments which will come upon apostate Israel. With grim revenge ~ so he predicts it ~ the Lord will awaken over Ephraim and Samaria. Reasons for such punishment are many, too many to be mentioned here now. However one of the reasons, and not the least blameworthy, is the rise of false prophecy.

The false prophecy!

When Isaiah thinks about it his whole person is roused to complete disapproval, and that disapproval is given air in every way thinkable. One time it chooses the form of a heated tongue lashing in a sermon for repentance, and then again, a lofty, sharply ironic satire.

Believe freely that Isaiah also had reason to defend himself against the false prophets. They had crept in everywhere, the life of the nation was heavily infected by the false prophets. Their influence was as dangerous as it was great. In politics they were the ones who pushed for an alliance with Egypt; as if there was no God anymore to preserve His people. As if paganism was not yet strong enough within the borders of the land. As if they could use heathens to fight and defeat heathens!

They were the ones who often prophesied for profit, as it is called. And anyone who kept a full purse could obtain a pricy prophecy for his precious coin according to taste. Doesn’t the world want to be deceived?

That such natures, when it came down to it, were also not averse to inferior practices, to intrusion, speaks for itself. The facts actually prove it. Like school dogs they tipple behind important, influential persons. They wriggle around a thousand bends to remain in the grace of the great lords who have something to add to their store. Two contemporaries, Micah and Isaiah, speak repeatedly in the same breath about these two groups. On one part; the notables, the lords of politics, the upper clique, and on the other, the false prophets. Also in the chapter which I just mentioned, Isaiah 9, you see them in league, in sad camaraderie. The aristocrats, the political big-wigs and then also the twisted visages of the false prophets. And they are inseparable. The lords of power and the intellectual grandees who take upon themselves the grand label of “prophet”! Yes, now and then they were locked in friendship too. This was evident in the not so rare occasions to which the so-called gentlemen prophets were invited; to the junkets and carousals of the dignitaries. And its true, Isn’t it, that they didn’t even look so bad there. Such religious ornamentation set a seal of respectability upon the festive assemblies and, it is whispered among us, they were liberal enough to not spoil the mood. Naturally the result of all this was that these prophets of falsehood would end up walking on the leash of their refined patrons. Thus they came to follow completely in the wake of the important gentlemen. That is how hey had to lose the last shred of independence.

They first started off by hobbling after their rich “protectors” but later could do no more than continuously say yes and amen. It can’t be otherwise can it, when, a short time ago, the money barons showed the quasi-intellectual aristocrats their places at the wine table with condescending gestures? Many contracts have been pushed through by alcohol and also the business of the nation was often arranged through the political violin players at banquets and carousals for which they always received approval: the “thus says the Lord” from the mouths of false prophets.

And Isaiah?

That man, the man with his pious moralizing, was so beautifully worked away. The man was always so uncontrollable, so completely inflexible. They could miss him. Decisions were made despite his protests, and Isaiah the zealot could keep fishing gloriously behind the net.

So they thought. 1)

But Isaiah certainly did not fish behind the net. Therefore he sees through the pushing and thrashing and maneuvering all too well .

Not his reckoning, but theirs, will fail.

Because the reproach will be complete when the judgments of God come. These will not only turn against rank and file but also against the party leaders, who are really misleaders. Not only the powerful but also their para-nymphs, the false prophets will undergo punishment. No one escapes. Indeed the top branch, the man who walks up ahead, exalted, but also the reed, which shoots up in the bog, the man of the masses will be cast away by God’s hand. The leader and the follower, whoever leads and whoever lets himself be led, all lie under the verdict’s decision. And this judgment will sharply differentiate as do all God’s judgments.

Because in the hour of visitation differentiation will be made between the two groups, which are so clearly marked out in the leading circles.

The first group is formed of the notables, the party of the vice-regent, the great and their minions, who walk in and out of the court. To these Isaiah gives the name: head.

And the second group allow themselves to be selected from the circle of false prophets. The prophet has no name left over for them other than: tail!

Description: head and tail. (see footnote.)

I think you will understand this metaphor of head and tail. The prophet compares the people here with the cumbersome body of an animal. There is still some stirring in that large body; no, it is not without movement. The head shakes itself and moves, and that head is the governing man, raised on a shield. He is the man who leads and directs and goes on ahead, even as the head of the animal always goes first. Where ever the head wends its way the whole body must follow, all of its members, and - and also - the tail. Yes also the tail.

The tail, that is the slightest, the most contemptible part of the animal. Cut the head off the beast, and it no longer is. But remove its tail, life remains in it just the same. And then the tail, the tail which always comes behind, which has nothing else to do except to meekly let itself to be lugged around, which always follows faithfully and must go where ever the head of the animal wants its body to go. Does’t the tail have a passive role even if it can shake itself so impressively.

Well, that animal tail; that is a fitting image for the false prophets.

Oh Isaiah, you could not have said it more sharply or more belittling.

We will not imply derisively, that here “in cauda venenum”, the poison is found in the tail. For being tail is what bites and hurts prophetic reasoning, even if the pain is well intentioned.

Imagine ~ to be called prophet and to be tail-man! A tangible taunt for sure!

And how well will Isaiah especially have tasted his tongue flinging these razor sharp words in their direction. Because this messenger of God, oh, he had always reserved that other role for the prophets, the role not of the tail which comes behind, but of the head, which goes before, which sees, leads, even directs.

Isaiah understands that prophets must serve as eyes for the people, eyes by which they see, the head by which they think. 2)

That is the holy calling of the prophets, there they find themselves, their high commission.

However not a shadow of superiority remains with these false prophets . They have shredded their epistle of nobility, have trampled their eminence underfoot.

And now, according to the prophet, they have two choices.

The eyes by which the people must see, according to Isaiah 29; 10, could be blindfolded and the head by which the nation must think, can be covered as in deep sleep, comfortably buried under the blankets.

That is the first possibility.

If someone wants to form a picture of what is meant here they should think of the prophet in Bethel who lived quietly far away and who saw the abominable worship of the golden calves in the days of Jeroboam, the public abuse of God’s commandments and the holy traditions of the fathers. This prophet who stayed far away so as not to make false prophesy his calling nevertheless did not protest against the evil but passively looked on without his spirit passionately casting out the fiery sparks of his hot words of protest. He is the man who sank into asleep; there you have the embodiment of an example of blindfolded eye and the shielded head. He does not protest nor in any case participate. He does not scream against the multitudes. But at least he still doesn’t sing along with the choir.

Yet that is not the case here.

Here the second possibility is in effect, is being realized when prophets are no longer the head. The head don’t you know? These false prophets, who Isaiah has it in for, do not go ahead. Yet it cannot be said that they lie in passive slumber. No, the image of the blindfolded eye does not fit, that would be much too nice for them. It does not appear that they, like the eye, have a place in the head. Tail, that’s what they are. They do not sleep, these gentlemen are much too self assertive for that passive role. See how busily they gad about. These gentlemen have work enough in store, they stir busily enough ~ precisely as the tail would. Yet, although they are so busy, although they carry an air of great consequence, although they walk around with portfolios under the arm, just like the great politicians, yet ~ yet….

Yet these self conscious ones are not conscious at all.

When it really comes down to it, with all their bustle and nervous activity, they remain people in a passive role. They are pitiable stragglers, even if they may live familiarly with the people’s idols and with those chief in the kingdom.

Yet they are the tail, lagers, followers.

Because the eminent ~ ‘he is the head‘.

But the prophet who teaches falsehood ‘is the tail‘.

As long as the world exists, so long will this biting, piercing word from Isaiah of God’s protest against prophets, who are no prophets, burn into the conscience of his people.

And that is no wonder.

Because as long as that the world will be, so long history will, with its never flattering reality, give witness to this Word that it is true and spoken and supported by God.

Every age will come to prove that a people led in pretense by such “leaders”, though in reality becoming mislead, is lost. It rushes them toward the abyss.

According to one of the proverbs, ‘wherever there is no prophecy the people become destitute‘.

And such a situation can arise, even if the streets are teeming with prophets, prophets that is, understand well, of such an (above mentioned) alloy. Because even though there is a proliferation of prophets and prophecy, real true Godly prophecy is gone. Prophecy that moves forward, prophecy from the head is gone, irretrievably gone.

Now don’t think that such caricature-prophets, such tail preachers, only ordain themselves to fall, for they drag all the people with them. They dig a grave not only for themselves but also for their people. And amazingly ~ when true prophecy, real prophecy has disappeared from the head, and takes over the subordinate role of being the tail ~ then the head itself can no longer be supported. Soon also the chief dignitaries will fall to the thresher, in the end also they can no longer rule, not with dignity nor power.

Are you looking for proof?

Just think of Isaiah’s own time. Corruption was the greatest in Ephraim, especially with the ruling clique. Under Jotham it still looked like something. But later the decay and powerlessness came to light with brutal candor. They no longer had their own politics, nor their own faith, didn’t have their own God. Egypt,… Egypt must help! And you find the same concerning Judah. Leaders are no longer leaders because prophecy is silenced, even if the so-called prophets snap out a hundred prophecies. There you see a parvenu like Shebna on a pillow. A man, note well, in critical days of impending national danger, who does not pull his hands out of his sleeves but on a pleasant afternoon tours outside the city to see how his beautiful grave is coming along which he had someone dig amongst the noble peerage of Jerusalem.

And then the weakling Achas… but why continue? When prophesy moves to the tail, as you can see, then the head droops low. If prophesy does not rouse assertiveness in God’s power, if it does not point to the goal in the distance, far ahead, if prophesy is not head-prophesy, then the nation becomes destitute.

Because tail-prophets do not rescue. They cannot, they are powerless. As you know;

Be yourself, I told somebody,

But he could not, he was nobody.

The foundation

And if we now finally ask ourselves what Isaiah’s gripping metaphor has to tell us, us as we are here, then I will start with a warning.

A warning to not wrongly apply Isaiah’s comparison of head and tail.

Do not say that this all comes about when people who must prophecy meddle with politics, with public life. When prophets seek the company of rulers and move about in government circles. That is also a sort of application, isn’t it, that you often hear “made” amongst those who seek the essence of being reformed in a passive hiding in a (peacefulness not devoid of every feeling of bliss suitable to a) ‘fleeing from this world party‘. Then they say that prophets should leave politics to the politicians, because politics is beyond rescue. Politics means to set the beacons according to the tide. Politics suggests nothing other than the compromise and flexibility that belong at length to the longings of the day. Politics is wearing a cloak according to the wind direction. Therefore we should keep the changeability of politics, the eminent and ruling aristocracy far from us and retreat with our unchangeable prophecy into our own circle. Open the church doors but do not ring the bells, open your bible but do not let light shine upon it and certainly do not open the window shutters! Otherwise ~ so they say ~ if you bring the bible to politics, if you prophecy to the market place, you will become the tail, wagging on behind the head.

But you must all certainly understand that this is very remote from Isaiah’s own train of thought.

Isaiah is very far from condemning the mingling of prophets and their prophesies in governing circles. He was busy doing that himself, an aristocrat from birth he consciously attempted to win access and influence in the court.

How could it be otherwise?

If prophesy would really be head and not tail prophesy then it should especially try to speak the word in everything, its word, before the fact. It must want to be first in everything. Then it must say what must be spoken and what subject will be spoken of and when they will speak of it. No, Isaiah does not criticize the lying prophets for their prominence. He only has against them that their prominence is only posturing, a nice pose without actually being able or seriously willing to set the tone.

It is this very grievance of the prophet that obligates us to accept as comprehensively as possible his warning against all tail-prophesy so as to waken us to vigilance and sobriety.

Perhaps you thought we should quit talking of tail-prophesy. Us (young) Calvinists don‘t look like that at all do we? Look at our full ranks, are we not assertive? Don’t we work busily? Don’t we purposefully raise many matters and doesn’t our prophesy have a clear glint to it?

Certainly, certainly. I think so too and am glad for it.

But ~ do not forget that we can take up the role of tail while at the same time appear oh so independent, play the role of head oh so well. People can intend to be head people but in reality are no more than tail people. Prove it you ask?

Well, I have already mentioned it. But if you are not satisfied because you want nothing to do with the cowardly, week stick-in-the-mud spirits from Isaiah 9: 15, then I have other examples. I will remind you that there were also false prophets who were so full of their own peculiar self-consciousness that they even defied death for their false prophesy. Think for example of Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah (Jeremiah 29: 21..), men who were prepared to give their life for their convictions. Sometimes they dared to engage in confrontations with the ruling powers, think of the lying prophets who, in the days of the exile, prophesied that Babel’s yoke would soon be broken. Such prophesying brought their heads into danger as they well knew. 3)

You might find that false prophets on first sight and after closer acquaintance often appear otherwise then weak, pliable, pitiful cowards.

And yet ~ yet Isaiah would, even when he stands opposed to these people of solid granite, not hesitate to expose the elements of tail prophesy in them. Their error lies in their point of departure. They do not build their doctrine on the foundation of the revelation of God, they dare not become absolute mavericks if necessary, they do not live from the inspiration that comes from above which reckons with no man. They form a world of ideas from themselves, from the facts, as they are, as they present themselves to them, from the situation of the moment.

And their error is found in their starting point, not approaching the facts with the truth, head-prophesy; but arranging their ideas according to the facts, according to the given situation and inventing a system: tail-prophesy.

Yet you will allow that, when considering all this, it is no insult to your legitimate assertiveness if I come to warn against all tail-prophesy, even in its first appearance.

I do not have an eye so much on that type of tail-prophesying which you can recognize as such even from afar, tail-Christianity, which Kierkegaard for example was so angry about. It was not because of his opposition to Christendom, but against the abjectness of tail-Christianity that he pounces on the “silk-pastors” who gracefully sprayed water three times on the lovable children presented to them while he is nothing more than an ‘official’, a minister of the sort who jumps like a jack in a box when he sees a five dollar bill, popping into sight from a snuffbox when someone touches a button. The minister who became an official of the state and the tail, and who lowers himself down to a servant of public opinion. A man for whom the New Testament no longer has any truth; because the new Testament says that the way is narrow and the gate is small, though in their practice the way is broad and comfortable in every aspect and the gate is as wide as possible, isn’t that the gate where people can enter en-mass?

No, for that is a demonstration of tail-prophesy which announces itself in its intrinsic poverty.

But do you know how and when we, also in other ways and while retaining the appearance of independence and self-assertion, can become tail-prophets?

It can happen every time we, under the pretension of being bearers of the Word of God and words of prophesy, walk in the leash of a different power than the one which comes to us in God’s Word itself.

It happens as soon as we follow strangers with our prophetic word, strangers who build on a different foundation than ours, who plant in different soil than ours, who live by a different principle than we do and we must do.

If we allow others to introduce anything into our thinking, not according to our principles or whatever does not naturally proceed from our own confession.

And if we then shake our heads seriously in agreement, and whole heartedly search for one or more texts about it, and actually find “a text” or let ourselves be pressured to find it; and we then say to the other ‘that is correct, thus says the Lord‘; see ~ then we, with all our good intentions have come to be tail-prophets.

If we, although we mean well enough, go on listening to others, and only listen to others, while at the same time neglect to build our own house, and forget to study further into our confessions or simply undermine them;

if we make ourselves I don’t know how busy with anything and everything only because someone else introduces us to something that interests him most, then we are busy conforming ourselves to others, then we do not lead but we follow.

We are then not of the head but of the tail fraternity.

We have then become unfaithful to the loftiness of our calling.

Then we are actually no longer church, but on our way to being sect, a group, a party.

We then have no more prophesy and banner of our own. We will march behind others.

Truly, the danger for such well intentioned tail-prophesy lurks near at hand, is even at the door.

Need I point to the happenings which also trouble us in our time? Isn’t it true that on every side of the spiritual market place people stand advertising their spiritual wares? And isn’t it also true that we run into the danger sometimes to involve ourselves with these market vendors when we have the great calling to consider God’s truth more deeply according to our principles and by our own methods, and go to the market ourselves with what we can offer to the people and the world. To buy the truth and not to sell it.

Look, someone says, our age cries out for self-analysis. The human soul must listen to itself again. In its self-focus it must sing the beautiful song of soul intimacy and inner beauty to itself . Self analysis has sometimes become a kind of pitiful yearning and they want to urge that upon us as well. They say that your sermons must display more of the self confidence proceeding from a wholesome human life. Your meditations should be more a whispering of the soul who listens to the self. And so they would teach us to pour all our attention onto our own selves. But if we only do that because someone else says it, only because the custom proscribes it, only because the ruling consensus wills it, and not because we feel why and to what extent our soul intends to extend attention to itself, then we have lost our way and we follow after others, even if we were to speak so many beautiful and true things. Then we have fallen into tail-prophesy.

And another says you must contribute more towards culture in your worship service, in your liturgy, in your personal development and in your overall life relationships. And now these spiritual dandies rise in large numbers with their mouths full of culture and the problems of art and aesthetics. But when we dwell on questions of beauty only because it is in style with those fellows, and if we do not seek an answer to the questions posed here from our own principles, but seek to cover the questions with a text and a confessional quote ~ well, then again we are busy hobbling behind other souls. Then we have lost our bearings although we say I don’t know how many nice things. We have fallen into tail-prophesy.

We could continue in this vain. Someone praises synthesis, fusion, collaboration as much as possible with others. Elsewhere someone polishes his billboard for a Christendom with the largest common denominator. Again, further off, another makes a rush upon our ranks about social matters, and the social misfits become the ram by which they plan to storm our gates. But about these things and many others I say; if we listen to them and say to one, you may be right, I will study the matter directly. And also answer another in a friendly way that his reasoning also has an element of truth in it and that we will address the matter immediately, and when we have “touched” this element of truth and have carefully covered all the strange charges with a reformed flag and a text included, then we have lost the truth with all our truths. We may have said a thousand good things and still remain false prophets. Then there is a hypocritical knocking on all doors as someone said, and not entering through the door, the one door, through which we must enter the house of God’s truth. We are then servile followers of the fashion of the times and the whim of others. Then we are tail-prophets.

Do not understand me wrong.

Note well; I preach no Calvinistic haughtiness.

I do not say: we have arrived.

I will never pretend that our house is finished.

And I would not readily deny that we might learn oh so much from others. Certainly, others can point out our one-sidedness, our imperfections, misjudgments, our inadequacies. We give everyone the right, if they can, to name the subjects we have not or have not properly handled, which must receive our Godly attention.

But if we would start listening and if we would then consider reviewing our position and amending it, we must not do so, never do so, because others want it, but only because we have learned to see that God desires it. We must not attach a lean-to onto our spiritual house, a new addition not resting on our own foundation like the rest of the house. We should not plant in our garden plants not grown in our own soil. Instead we have to live by our own principles, operate from our own thankfulness, build on our own foundation. Then we will not mechanically import from abroad but allow natural growth from our own spiritual field.

Only on these conditions and no other will we talk about soul and art, about beauty and mysticism, about cooperation and brotherliness, about the questions of the day. We want to see through our own glasses. We want to be the head and not the tail.

Once more, we do not preach pride. We do not say that the church, also our church, has no unpaid bills. But we will not let ourselves be put out by people who run after us with our unsettled accounts. Pride you say? Or pendant stolidity? No, I say it is self-preservation.

I direct you to history, I remind you of the rise and fall of SECTS.

Point 3: pretension and consequence

Sects, so it is said repeatedly, sects are the unsettled accounts of the church. There may be some truth to that, perhaps very much so. But this argument intending to justify sects actually condemns their existence.

Look, watch the sectarian, see how many accounts the church has never settled! Shame! To your tents!

We shall pay up these unpaid bills, immediately!

So they separate one church debt loose from the others, and that can never be; because all debts are one and the obligation to pay them is also one. They settled the accounts they found, but the other debts, which the church also had, that it had to have, which it will always have, these other debts were left unsettled.

And so they actually lived from someone else’s unpaid account, so they came staggering after the vices of the church and not the virtues. So they appeared self-assertive although in reality they had nothing but pure pitiful dissension. They had no principles, no spiritual husbandry and no price to pay, of their own. They built doctrine upon lies, they came via the negative to the positive and they grasped for the vices of those from whom they had liberated.

Let no such coercion be necessary for us. Let every unpaid account testify to our face. But when you begin to settle them, be yourself, do not become someone else. Pay with your own coin. Remain faithful to God’s Word and to your faithful confession and let the light shine from there over every matter that they bring up.

For the third time we do not preach pride.

We only ask for consequence.

We ask for consequence from our highest pretensions.

We ask for consequence from our faith, not to the extent of our grasping, but according to God’s giving.

We ask for consequence from our faith not to our understanding but to God’s revelation.

We do not claim that we have arrived.

But we do say that God has given us enough. We have enough with His Word. And we will ever expand the power of that Word and allow the content of that Word to speak clearer also against the questions of the day. But then only according to the Word and because of the Word and through the Word.

Only then are we head and not tail.

If someone would say: ‘I am scared of all that talk of consequence and more consequence’ then I would say ‘me too’.

But I do not fear it on one condition . That is the condition that we are consequent to our principles, not only in the dogmatic provisions we have found, but also in the important dogmatic acknowledgement that we have not exhausted God’s Word and must find more in it. Finding, not from the treasures of others but from the treasure chamber of God’s Word itself. Consequence not only in the dogmatic, but also in the ethic (doctrine and life). Then the consequence of our pretension becomes thankfulness and self humiliation. Thankful because we have come so far, and self-humiliation because we have not reached the end, where God wants us.

I say; God and not people.

I say; God and not the fashion.

I say: God and not the spirit of the times.

That’s how we answer the outsider, that we will honestly research every plausible complaint he has, yet that we build our own house (do it on our terms). This is not pharisaic but self-preservation. Not sauntering in spiritual poverty on our own little path, not doddering on a self marked trail, but walking on GOD’S WAY.

That is not believing that we are so good in duplicating; but it is believing that God is eternally good in giving the revelation which He granted for us to extricate from it everything that is in it. To appropriate from it, even if there was no one nor any spirit of the age requesting us to do so.

My friends (beloved), hold high this calling.

Not the tail but the head.

Reach for the Word and take from it tirelessly, not only what the elderly want nor only what the youth desire, for in both cases that is following from behind, tail prophesy. Endeavor to find out all that is in it.

Do not light your dogmatic candle where someone else’s candle of devotion is burning. Hold the Word of God, and your confession high so that everything that you meet falls under the light of what you have set as criterion beforehand.

Naturally that will earn you people’s indignation. Perhaps even from people who stand close to you. Perhaps, who knows, also from those who have accompanied you in the ranks.

Because it is always true that sometimes in the eyes of man we may appear to be party of the head, while before God we are in fact faction of the tail. Then we are quickly inebriated, but…. approved are those who God praises and not who man praises.

And it could also be that God does praise us, but that people incriminate us. We are often reviled by man as tail when bringing prophesy, while being prophets of the head.

Even Isaiah did not escape this. His enemies thought they were head and he was tail. And from the outside they appeared to be right for the moment. They were standing in the front rows and Isaiah often had to look on, not receiving any audience. They were secretly making with the leading men while Isaiah could accomplish nothing. They lampooned him, ‘you from the rearguard, you are with the laggards, you the tail and we are head‘.

Oh, if only they saw the historical perspective.

Doesn’t everything change then?

The proverb rings true, many last shall be first and many first shall be last also in this Because when the gentiles came and the exile came, and the misery, then Isaiah was proved right and the false prophets, who had plastered with whitewash become tail anyway, and must now accept the facts as they are. And when later the people return from exile to rebuild the temple to fulfill the times, the times of the promises. Then Isaiah is right again and the false prophets had not seen it, at least not in its deep, spiritual, messianic core. They again became the tail. And finally when the Christ of God appeared, when the glory of God’s Messiah unfolded from fallen Israel, Isaiah was again proved right and the others, the lying prophets had not seen it, understood none of it. It appeared then that Isaiah, who was out of fashion, was head. And the others who were very much in fashion were tail.

Do we dare defy the spirit of the times and its whims with the high-spirited and humble assertion, that we, not in ourselves, but by the Word living in us, are head indeed and tail never.

Let us fear all tail-prophesy.

It can, it must itself always be a judgment of God.

Recall the terrible scene of all those lying prophets before Ahab’s throne. They tell him just what he wants….. they are the tail and allow themselves to be led everywhere. But above them, in heaven there is, as Micaiah prophecies, the voice which proclaims that this tail prophecy does not carry on outside of heaven’s plan. Ahab will perish; God’s judgment for him is accomplished, the lies of his prophets become a judgment of God, and this judgment arouses greater judgment.

So it will always be.

The lie ~ is also punishment for rejecting the truth.

The question of head and tail does not appear outside of God.

Let us always be careful, also in our method of thinking and investigating, in presenting and discussing matters dealing with our relationship with the prophets of the tail.

That will create friction, and strife, also within. For not everyone will agree with us. Even in our midst there are those who mean to speak a good, liberating word, and yet remain walking leashed to the always capricious spirit of the age. Then comes the clash, the suspicions, the grim faces and tasteless words, if you oppose.

Will we escape that battle?

Will we give our churches over to heresy because of the struggle?

Will we, tired of all the bother, give in to it all?

We will not.

For the battle might well be unsavory, yet we say it is a thousand times better to have an unsavory conflict or a nasty debate then to have apathy or careless cynicism!

If we can not become fired up about the matter of head or tail then God has lost us and we have lost Him and ourselves. Only where the struggle keeps the spirit taut and the weapons sharp the true, pure prophecy remains alive.

If you continue to doubt I will remind you of the beautiful observation that Prof. Aalders 4) makes in his book about false prophesy in Israel. He points out there that also outside of Israel one false “truth-teller” contradicts the other; that there are soothsayers who make their oracles available for anyone who can pay, and who will give the better “oracle” according to the payment. But it is impossible that the oracles of Rome and Greece, of Babel and Egypt, might compete with each other, might contradict each other as strongly as Isaiah does with the false prophets. Gentile oracles parallel each other, never oppose each other. Thus says heaven, thus say the gods, is all they said and they never believed the oracles themselves. The lie can never draw strength from itself for independence and zeal. Only the truth can do so when it clashes against the lie. And Isaiah could not keep silent because Israel set the truth of God against the lie of the false prophets.

Therefore the matter of head or tail could never be trifling and therefore the struggle for this claim had to be fought to the bitter end. The heathen had no pretension but Isaiah does. His God had taught him that.

That is how we want the struggle, for “thus says the Lord”.

That is how we want the battle to be head and not tail.

That is how we will spare nothing and no one if we fear only our God.

That is how we will settle our accounts; not by the authority of a stranger, but on the authority of God.

That is how we will go on and prophesy, prophesy.

And we will remember Moses. When Moses was about to die he admonished his people. If ~ so he spoke, if you deny the commandments of God and are no longer mindful of His words, then….. The stranger, the barbarian, the man who does not recognize your life, does not serve your God, that stranger will become head and you will become a tail.

But, if you will listen to the commandments of the Lord which I have ordered you to keep and do, then ~ oh Israel, hear Moses’ word ~ then not Moses, not yourself but the Lord will make you to be head and not the tail.

And you will only be on top and not underneath. 5)

Only then will your path not always be rushing down but rising up, ever upwards.

Thus we find the way to the heights.

It becomes ‘Excelsior’.

Not the tail.

But the head.

Text ~ Isaiah 9: 13 - 16 Read ~ Deut. 28; 1 - 14

Sing if used as a sermon (Ps. 135: 1,6; Ps. 78: 1,3; Ps. 44; 3; Ps. 81: 12,13; Ps. 72: 10)

Theme: The reality of Isaiah’s metaphor on true and false prophecy

1 ~ its description: Head and tail!

2 ~ its foundation

3 ~ its pretension and consequence.

1) See Dr. G. Alders, The false prophets in Israel Wageningen, pg. 98 - 108.

2) Dr. Alders, a. w. pg. 107.

3) Dr. Alders, a. w. pg. 64.

4) Dr. Alders, a. w. pg. 203.

5) Deut. 28: 13, 44.