Scripture: And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. Deuteronomy 18:21-22 ESV
Observation: Addressing the laws concerning Israel’s future kings, Moses reviews the provisions for the priests and Levites (18:1-8) and again cautions Israel to refrain from abominable pagan practices (18:9-14). Then, reminding the nation of how at Horeb they pled for him to intercede for them as their intermediary to God, so will Yahweh appoint prophets among them in the Promised Land to speak on his behalf (vv.15-18). And for those who disregard the prophetic word of God, the Lord himself will hold them accountable (v.19). Additionally, the false prophet who claims to speak on behalf of the Lord will surely die (v.20).
Lastly, anticipating Israel’s concern regarding discerning who is a true prophet versus a fake, Moses presents a litmus test: the word he utters will come to pass. Otherwise, the false prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be afraid of him or his message (above verses).
Takeaway: The future kings of Judah and Israel who strayed away from God surrounded themselves with soothsayer prophets who would tickle their ears and present a false sense of security. The few brave prophets of God like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, and Elisha, would initially pay the price of challenging these corrupt kings and their false prophets. Nevertheless, the truth of God’s prophetic word would prevail, and the Lord would rescue his prophets and mete consequences to those falsely speaking on his behalf.
This passage also points us to the greatest of all prophets: Jesus. He foretold the birth and growing pains of the church, the persecution and blessings of his disciples, and the horror and glory of the end times. And while the ebb and flow of the church and our crucible journeys as his disciples verify his prophetic ministry, we must wait in faith for confirmation of the last days when he returns.
So what about here and now? Even in recent history, we have read articles and seen news reels of would-be prophets of the Lord who led people astray, often to their demise. Even in certain charismatic circles of established denominations, people claim to have the gift of prophecy and speak boldly in the name of the Lord. For such instances, Moses’ advice is pertinent. Take note, prudently carry on with life under the authority of the law (Scripture), and patiently wait for evidence of the message’s veracity. Meanwhile, we would do well to remember that the gift of prophecy is for the building up of the church. And whether spoken as encouragement or warning, it should align with the written Word, and grace and humility should undergird it.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, the pinnacle of your prophetic Word. Would you please help us through the aid of your Holy Spirit to discern among the competing voices of modern-day prophets whether their message expresses grace and humility and aligns with your Word? And then patiently wait for verification while pressing on with our Gospel commission? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling