Why did God go from talking to people, then only speaking to certain prophets, then talking through the wind, to only talking to some through prayer? Is it considered a punishment for a lack of followers or because of disobedience?

That’s a great¬† discussion question with no fixed answer. Here are a couple of ways one might approach it:

  1. In terms of history, once Ezra and Nehemiah set up a priest and book-centered theocracy, they couldn’t really have ordinary people saying they talk to God, because that could disrupt the whole community. My favorite story about this is in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a puritan theocracy. The elders needed to be able to justify their decisions based on revelation from God. But one day Anne Hutchison said she talked to God too, and based on that she challenged the elders. They needed to be able to discredit her vision for the stability of the community. (They did it by using her miscarriage as proof of God’s disfavor; in those days, monstrous births were a common way to attack the beliefs of the mother). So while the idea of direct revelation from God was okay in the distant past, in an age that was structured around God’s rules for living, direct revelation could turn Judah upside down.
  2. In terms of the Deuteronomistic theory of why bad things happen, you could say that God’s chosen continually disappoint him. Or you could say that God gives them the book so that they don’t need to hear from him directly, and he gives them the priests to interpret it.
  3. In folkloric terms, figures like Moses from the distant past were portrayed as literally larger than life in many cultures. Literally, because the Greeks believed the race of the titans was bigger than later gods. The Irish created myths of giant forebears to explain how people made the ancient stone circles and mounds that they found all around them. In the bible, the patriarchs speak directly to God, and they also seem to have lived a really long time.¬† All these past figures are “larger than life,” but in later ages, people lost their magical powers and their special bond with God. They became ordinary, like us. The Hebrew bible is a very nostalgic text; it’s based on a vision of the past in which the country was bigger and stronger and was led by great kings like David. The people who wrote it lived in a tiny community buffeted about by great military powers, so that nostalgic vision of the past comforted them.

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